Taking up our cross in Matthew 16

The lectionary gospel reading for Trinity 13 in Year A is Matthew 16.21–28, in which Jesus declares he is heading for Jerusalem to die, Peter rebukes him, and Jesus counter-rebukes Peter. It follows on from the strong commendation of Peter by Jesus after his confession at Caesarea Philippi, and offers a contrast with it at almost every point. It is a challenging reading for the ‘restart’ of the autumn term after the summer break!

As we noted in relation to last week’s reading, for the first time in the Synoptic narrative, Jesus and his disciples now head south into hostile territory—though this cannot be a historical representation of his ministry, since he would have visited Jerusalem many times as a pilgrim.

The shadow of the cross the falls across this whole southward journey, as Jesus tries to get his disciples to understand the paradoxical and unwelcome nature of his mission (R T France, NIGTC, p 628)

The contrast between Galilee and the north, where Jesus has been mostly welcomed, and followed by large crowds, and the hostility of those in the south, corresponds with the contrast in the Fourth Gospel between the different meanings of ‘the world’. It is a place created through Jesus the Word, one which he loves and comes to rescue, but which also stands in enmity and opposition to him. (Note that, in the Synoptics, the welcoming crowd at Palm Sunday are pilgrims from the north, whereas the hostile crowd on Good Friday are local southerners. We know this because of the comment in John 12.12–13 that it is the pilgrim crowd who pick up branches, and there is a short exploration of this in articles here and here.)

It is tempting to look for neat divisions and markers of structure in the text, and we have one here in the declaration of ‘From that time…’ which previously marked the end of John’s ministry as he was imprisoned and thus the beginning of Jesus’ in Matt 4.17. But though this passage begins the journey to the cross, it still has multiple connections with what immediately preceded it, and there continue to be glimpses of glory to which it is closely tied up, most obviously in the account of the Transfiguration that follows.

The parallels in Mark 8.31 and Luke 9.22 describe Jesus as ‘teaching’ and ‘saying’, and it is striking that Matthew uses the language of ‘showing’ (the verb deiknumi) which is unusual as a term for verbal communication (though note in Rev 1.1 that the ‘showing’ involves nearly half of what John writes as a record of what he hears; see also Acts 10.28 and 1 Cor 12.31). Although we are reading the story backwards, knowing how it is going to end, if (like the disciples) you had only read or experienced the first half of the gospel, this explicit teaching of Jesus would indeed come as a new revelation. In John 20.20, using the same word, he ‘showed them his hands and his side.’

There is a strong sense in all three accounts of the ‘divine passive’: Jesus must go and must be killed and be raised; this is the divine plan and intention, rather than either being the choice of Jesus or the simple will of those involved—though the threefold agency of ‘elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law’ is spelled out carefully. Critical scholarship has consistently seen this kind of language in the gospels as the projection back of post-Easter faith onto the pre-Easter figure of Jesus. And yet there is plenty of precedent in the Old Testament for the idea of God’s chosen one experiencing rejection, suffering and death—in Psalms 22 and 69, both of which will be alluded to in Matthew’s passion account, in the portrait of God’s anointed one in Zech 9–14, taken up in Matt 21.4–5 and 27.9–10, and supremely in the description of the suffering servant in Isaiah 52.13–53.12 alluded to in Matt 20.28 and 26.28 (and already referred to in Matt 8.17).

The mention of being raised ‘on the third day’ is parallel to Mark 8.31 ‘after three days’; there is no contradiction here when we note the convention of counting ‘inclusively’, that is, including the first and last days in the numbering, a different convention from our own methods of counting.

The sharp exchange of rebuke and counter-rebuke between Jesus and Peter is both surprising and rather shocking, not least because of the praise lavished on Peter by Jesus just a few verses before. Although Peter is generally portrayed more positively in Matthew than in Mark, there is no holding back here. As previously, where Mark summarises Peter’s concern, Matthew records him as actually speaking in the strongest terms. Is there a sense here, I wonder, that Peter’s elevation by Jesus as ‘the rock’ has gone to his head, and he feels he can now decide what Jesus should and should not be doing? The idiomatic phrase hileos soi, ‘mercy to you’ is an abbreviation of the longer phrase ‘God have mercy on you!’ which we might colloquially translate as ‘God forbid!’ Peter clearly has a different idea of what God ‘must’ do in this situation. Ironically, the strength of Peter’s rebuke is paralleled by the later strength of his denial that he will ever betray Jesus in Matt 26.35—and we know what happened to that.

One moment, Peter is speaking the truth as revealed to him by his Heavenly Father; the next, he is leading Jesus astray under the influence of the father of lies! The language of ‘get behind me!’ isn’t merely a rebuke, since the phrase Jesus uses, opiso me, is the very language of discipleship that he then speaks to all the disciples (and in Mark 8.34, the crowds as well, who have disappeared from Matthew) ‘if anyone wishes to come after me’. Gundry comments:

Jesus tells Peter to go back to his position amongst the disciples where he belongs, following after Jesus, not taking him aside by walking ahead of him or at least beside him (cited in France, p 634).

We must surely read this along with the previous episode in understanding the qualifications around Peter’s distinctive position amongst the others and in the will of God for his people.

There is a curious contrast between Peter previously being a ‘rock’ and now becoming a ‘stumbling block’, not least because of the connection between the two similar terms as descriptions of Jesus by Peter in 1 Peter 2.4–8, citing Ps 118 and Is 8 and 28.

Whilst Peter’s rebuke to Jesus has been private, Jesus’ counter-rebuke appears to have been in the hearing of the disciples, and he now addresses them directly. The language of ‘taking up your cross’ must indeed have been startling to Jesus’ hearers, and it has lost its edge for us by being translated into the more anaemic terms of having some irksome burden to carry through life—which cannot possibly be what Jesus means. Its strangeness has again led critical scholarship to doubt its historicity; NT scholar James McGrath comments:

Taking up one’s cross certainly does not seem to have been an already-existing expression, nor is such a saying likely to have existed in that period. It seems as though it was only the reality of a crucifixion that could inspire such an idiom as in the case of Jesus and early Christianity. No one is likely to have used this horrific form of execution as a metaphor, just as we do not find “beheaded,” “put in the electric chair,” or “given a lethal injection” used metaphorically…

[A] historian will have to conclude that this saying is more likely to be a post-crucifixion invention than an authentic saying of the historical Jesus.

Against this, the one comment on the post suggests drily:

If Jesus actually said this, then it is possibly a case of him giving the answer to a question that no one had yet asked, namely, “What does it mean to follow a crucified Messiah?” When those who heard this saying, and perhaps thought it odd, crude, or awkward, months later heard that the same fellow had himself been crucified and was rumored to have been raised from the dead, they may have thought, “Hmm, didn’t he say something about carrying a cross? Maybe he knew what he was talking about after all.”

There are three major problems with historical scepticism here. First, crucifixion was well known to the Jews, primarily as an objectionable and humiliating Roman method of punishment, and the crucifixion of Jewish rebels is widely attested. Some Jews even adopted this method of execution (see the details in France pp 410–11). It is hardly surprising that Jesus reaches for a striking metaphor from the world around him, making use of something that was well-known to his hearers.

Secondly, this phrase comes as an integral part of his teaching here and elsewhere; though it stands out for us as a vivid metaphor, Jesus does not dwell on it, but quickly explains its meaning—that any who follow him must be prepared to ‘lose their lives’ that they might gain them from Jesus in a remarkable divine exchange. The phrase has already come in Matt 10.38, again as one idea fluently integrated into a series of sayings about the call to follow Jesus as involving a radical break from previous values and commitments, including the commitment to self-preservation.

Thirdly, as this also illustrates, the idea is completely in line with Jesus’ teaching elsewhere, and fits perfectly with the focus of the gospel from now on.

But we need also to note that Jesus does not talk about ‘bearing your cross’ as a continual burden; anyone in the first century would know what it meant if they saw someone carrying a cross, not that they were engaged in a long and burdensome journey, but that their life was forfeit and would soon come to a bloody end.

Subsequent Christian usage of the language of ‘self-denial’ (and even of ‘cross-bearing’) has blunted the force of Jesus’ words. They are about literal death, following the condemned man on his way to execution. Discipleship is a life of at least potential martyrdom. It may be legitimate to extrapolate from this principle to a more general demand for disciples to put loyalty to Jesus before their own interested and comfortable, but that can be only a secondary application of the passage. Jesus’ words are not to be taken as merely metaphorical. (France, NICNT, p 636)

The term ‘life’ (repeated in verses 25 and 26, though some ETs replace the second use with ‘soul’) translates the Greek psyche. Although on occasion this is paired with ‘body’ by way of contrast (Matt 10.28) or in a tripartite sense of ‘body, soul and spirit’ (1 Thess 5.23), it rather has the sense of ‘whole person’ or ‘reality of who you are’, and so should not be contrasted here with physical life.

The main thrust is the emphasis, here and elsewhere in the gospels, on Jesus as the one whose judgement really matters. The language of the ‘Son of Man about to come in his Father’s glory’ draws on Dan 7.13 to point to Jesus’ authority as the one who sits at God’s right hand after his ascension, something that we have repeatedly noted as vital to understanding multiple passages on NT eschatology. However, here Jesus goes on to connect it with final judgement, when all will be rewarded ‘according to what they have done’; judgment in the NT is always on the basis of actions rather than interior dispositions, since true faith makes itself known in a changed life (James 2.17, 26). The mention of the Son of Man, glory, angels and judgement will come again in the eschatological discourse ‘parable’ in Matt 25.31.

I noted last week:

The term ‘Son of Man’ has three senses. It begins life as a simple self-description…simply means human being. But within the biblical canon it then acquires a second sense, that of human mortality and fragility contrasted with the majesty and power of God…

Yet thirdly, and in some contrast, it features as the centrepiece of the visionary apocalyptic narrative of Dan 7, where the ‘one like a son of man’ (that is, a human figure) is exalted, ‘coming on the clouds’ up to the throne of the Ancient of Days to inherit an eternal kingdom…

Thus it is that the term ‘Son of Man’ expresses within itself the paradoxes of Jesus’ ministry set out in the gospel narratives. No wonder that it is Jesus’ own favourite term to describe himself.

The paradoxes here are pressed even further in this episode, with suffering and humiliation set alongside glory and the kingdom. It is clear from all three Synoptic accounts that the vision of ‘the Son of Man coming in his kingdom’ is a reference to the experience of the Transfiguration for Peter, James and John, not least because that episode follows on from this in all three. But notice that here in Matthew the kingdom of God is experience in an encounter with the ‘Son of Man’ in his true radiance, and the kingdom of God is now the kingdom of Jesus—God’s power, majesty and rule are truly seen in this human figure, heading to the cross.

In every aspect of this varied text, glory and suffering are constantly found side by side within the life and ministry of Jesus. They are therefore also juxtaposed in the life of anyone who is willing to follow him.

I add here two practical reflections from the discussion three years ago. Andy Griffiths comments:

Jesus commands the disciples not to tell anyone he’s the Messiah. Why would he do this? Well (and I am aware there could be more to say than this about the Messianic secret!) the word Messiah is right, but the disciples think being Messiah is about violence and victory whereas it’s actually about suffering and service and sacrifice. Peter proves by his reaction to talk of suffering that Jesus was right not to commission the apostles as preachers quite yet.

And that leads to thoughts about Zoom and Facebook and physical gatherings. Online and offline, there may be things that Jesus wants to teach us—perhaps they’re the same things as this article points out—in private forums like an Upper Zoom, before we’re ready to ‘go public.’ But we have the Bible and Spirit in ways Peter did not, so it won’t do to hide away for too long. What counts is that we learn discipleship in the shadows so we can speak truly and authentically about Jesus in the daylight.

And my good friend Warren Watson reflects:

Jesus’ words are so often turned over and seen as negative and ‘heavy’ eg “we’ve all got our crosses too bear.” But as I thought about it, the taking up of a cross for me as a former alcoholic and drug addict is in fact the opposite. The cross has enabled me to follow Jesus and walk in the ways of freedom, forgiveness, healing, hope, unselfishness and always into and towards an experience of the Father’s love and grace.

So when Jesus says, “Wazza you must deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me,” all I can do and say is, “Well thank you so much Lord, because on the cross you died for me. You absorbed all my sin and selfishness, my sadness and fears, my anger and addictions. You saved my life and in the cross I find my true identity and life in you. Lord, it is such a privilege and joy to take up a cross and follow you for it leads to a life of freedom and victory over the world, the flesh and the devil. Thank you for the cross and thank you for the cross you call me to take up—the world will be a better place.”

For a scintillating discussion of many of these issues, join Ian and James here:

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8 thoughts on “Taking up our cross in Matthew 16”

  1. Some see Matt 16:21 along with Matt 4:17 as the two key marker points in the structure of Matthew’s gospel, more so even than the five teaching blocks. Both start “From that time”. You mention the link but I wonder what your views are on the structure of the gospel. If this is a key turning point it makes the gospel closer in structure to both Mark and Luke and even John.
    I recognise the arguments about the crowds being different in composition, but it still leaves the question where were the pilgrim crowds later in the week and were they cowed into silence, or did they doubt, begin to doubt, whether Jesus was the Messiah / King? It seems a bit too compartmentalised to say Galilean crowd good, Jerusalemite crowd bad.
    One of the missing pieces is the extent to which the early followers of Jesus (in his lifetime) expected a King or Messiah who would bring an end to Roman occupation, which may well have been what Peter was wanting and expecting, and the crowd in John 6 want to make Jesus king, by force. We may overpoliticise the life and ministry of Jesus, but, equally, we can under-estimate the political immediacy. I think the average Anglican spiritualises the message, and downplays the political.
    I am not saying Jesus came to overthrow Rome, but that the expectation was that the Messiah or King would do so, and so there was popular expectation that Jesus might fulfil this role and disappointment, even anger when he clearly did not. There is a modern question which is how politically involved should Christians be, and in what areas, and how we see God at work, or not, in the political realm, whether our own fractured nation or the future of Ukraine, etc. What does it mean to pray “Your Kingdom come”, which is surely part of following the King?

  2. Ah, the Cross! The fulcrum of history, the nail which everything hangs on.
    In this time of transition to reality the cross had terrible significance.
    And perhaps they didn’t quite hear “and rise again”
    Jesus also slips in an “If “, which indicates a choice, a transaction, not a matter of life and death but a matter of Death and Life.
    Jesus’s ultimate purpose was not fully obvious until after the Resurrection.
    Then it was the apostles central force of their lives. They did have to “drink of the cup which He drank and be baptized with the same baptism as His. The Cup wich was meant to satisfy God’s thirst.
    Taking up your cross is a call to surrender your life completely to God, to die to yourself and your desires, and to embrace a life of sacrifice and service. It means being willing to endure suffering and persecution for the sake of Christ and to prioritize the kingdom of God above all else. Ultimately, it is a call to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, who showed us what it means to live a life of radical obedience to God
    Paul’s great passion was Phil 3:10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made* conformable unto his death*.
    It is not a matter of genuflexion or wearing an ornament the cross like the sword that went through Mary’s heart is meant to kill our own desires.
    One could go on but thankyou Ian for the introduction to this matter.
    For those not familiar with this aspect of the cross I recommend
    *Rom 15:13*

  3. The point about Jesus’ rebuke of Peter seems to be misunderstood by many. Jesus established Peter, the apostles, and their successors, amidst their human failings and flaws.

    The loud, audacious Peter who sank in the water, cut off the soldier’s ear, and denied Christ three times was to be the bedrock upon which Jesus was to begin His church. In the midst of his failings, Peter was learning. “Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious,” he later wrote. “And like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 2:4-5)

    God never gave up on Peter. He didn’t remove his strong personality, instead He transformed and perfected it. Just as He works within us – as we work to overcome our own flaws.

    God chooses men who are flawed – e.g., David and Moses. Peter is no exception to God using flawed people. He denied Christ three times and even after the Resurrection was rebuked by Paul in Galatians 2. Yet these things do not undermine Christ’s decision to choose Peter as the leader of the apostles. Indeed, we see Christ’s choice for Peter precisely amidst these moments of weakness.

    One of the clearest passages pointing to the papacy is Luke 22:24-34. The apostles are arguing amongst themselves about which of them is greatest, and Jesus responds by explaining true greatness: “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves.”

    He then turns to Peter and says, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you [plural], that he might sift you [plural] like wheat, but I have prayed for you [singular] that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.” Jesus is saying that Satan has demanded to have all twelve of them, to sift them all like wheat. And Jesus’ response to this isn’t to pray for all twelve of them but to pray for one of them, Peter, that his faith might not fail, and then to entrust him with the task of strengthening his brethren. Jesus entrusts Peter with the task of serving the other apostles.

    Immediately after this, Peter responds by saying “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death,” leading Jesus to say, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you three times deny that you know me.” This brings out the paradoxical dimension of Jesus’ command, “when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.” Jesus is entrusting the care of the Church to a man whom He knows is about to fall.

    This is what is present in Matthew 16. Peter confesses the true identity of Christ. This high point for Peter is immediately followed by a fall, and so we see in the next few verses Peter trying to keep Jesus from dying, leading Jesus to say “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance [skandalon] to me; for you are not on the side of God but of men.”

    It’s here that we get an ironic answer to the question of who the rock is, because a skandalon is a “stumbling stone.” Peter is simultaneously the rock upon which the Church is built (through his faith) and a scandalising stumbling stone (through his failings).
    In the words of Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, “Has it not remained this way throughout all Church history, that the pope, the successor of Peter, has been petra and skandalon, rock of God and stumbling stone all in one?”

    What was true of Peter has been no less true of his successors. And it’s the same for all of us called to serve Christ. We pick up our human weaknesses and failures, carry them, and trust them to God to transform and perfect, cooperating in our salvation.

    • I still cannot see any evidence that

      a. Peter should be regarded as a bishop
      b. Peter is uniquely the foundation of the apostolic community
      c. any suggestion Peter should have ‘successors’.

      The text from Luke 22 rather argues the opposite to monarchical ecclesial authority!

      • There is ample evidence in the New Testament that Peter was first in authority among the apostles. Whenever they were named, Peter headed the list (Matt. 10:1-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16, Acts 1:13); sometimes the apostles were referred to as “Peter and those who were with him” (Luke 9:32). Peter was the one who generally spoke for the apostles (Matt. 18:21, Mark 8:29, Luke 12:41, John 6:68-69), and he figured in many of the most dramatic scenes (Matt. 14:28-32, 17:24-27; Mark 10:23-28). On Pentecost it was Peter who first preached to the crowds (Acts 2:14-40), and he worked the first healing in the Church age (Acts 3:6-7).

        Two important things were told the apostle. “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19). Here Peter was singled out for the authority that provides for the forgiveness of sins and the making of disciplinary rules. Later the apostles as a whole would be given similar power [Matt.18:18], but here Peter received it first. Peter alone was promised something else too: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 16:19). In ancient times, keys were the hallmark of authority. This symbolism for authority is used elsewhere in the Bible (Isa. 22:22, Rev. 1:18).

        After the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples and asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” (John 21:15-17). In repentance for his threefold denial, Peter gave a threefold affirmation of love. Then Christ, the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14), repeated the authority He had earlier promised: “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17). This specifically included the other apostles, since Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15), referring to the other apostles who were present (John 21:2).

        It is Peter’s faith that will strengthen his brethren (Luke 22:32) and Peter is given Christ’s flock to shepherd (John 21:17). An angel was sent to announce the resurrection to Peter (Mark 16:7), and the risen Christ appeared first to Peter (Luke 24:34). He headed the meeting that elected Matthias to replace Judas (Acts 1:13-26), and he received the first converts (Acts 2:41). He inflicted the first punishment (Acts 5:1-11) and excommunicated the first heretic (Acts 8:18-23). He announced the first dogmatic decision (Acts 15:7-11). It was to Peter that the revelation came that Gentiles were to be baptised and accepted as Christians (Acts 10:46-48).

        Peter was the foundation of the earthly Church and what is more essential to any building than its foundation? Our Lord compared his Church to a building erected on the foundation of Peter’s faith and his authority. All the parts would be held together by that authority. Christ’s own guarantee of permanence to His Church implies that the authority He conferred on Peter will remain with it as the most essential feature, the foundation, i.e., the source of unity, strength, and endurance.

        Christ conferred upon His apostles the original task of shepherding the earthly Church in his absence. As the Church grew, the apostles themselves appointed different kinds of ministers to assist them. Among the apostles there were two groups. The first consisted of the twelve, who witnessed the whole of Christ’s earthly ministry. The second group of apostles, included Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:14). Paul had seen and commissioned as an apostle by the risen Christ (1 Cor. 9:1, Gal. 1:1), though he had not been a disciple of Jesus during his earthly ministry (Acts 9, 1 Cor. 15:8).

        As the apostles died, the task of shepherding the Church fell upon the ministers appointed by them. This group, known today as the bishops, are the successors of the apostles as the highest shepherds of the earthly Church. Apostolic succession involves the bishops serving as successors to the apostles, not serving as apostles. They received the governance of the Church when that office ceased.

        The New Testament appears to use the terms bishop (episkopos) and priest (presbuteros) interchangeably (Acts 20:17 with Acts 20:28, Tit. 1:5-7). It also speaks of there being more than one bishop in a given church (Phil. 1:1). From the end of the first century onward there appears to have been only one bishop (see the letters of Ignatius of Antioch, A.D. 107) or one main bishop plus assistant/auxiliary bishops, such as the chorepisopus.

        It seems that the individuals referred to in the New Testament as bishops or presbyters did not possess the fullness of holy orders but were equivalent to modern priests. As the apostles began to pass from the scene, they appointed certain non-apostles, e.g., Timothy, Titus, Mark, Philip, and Apollos-to oversee multiple local congregations and to appoint (Tit. 1:5) and discipline (1 Tim. 5:19-20) individual presbyters within them.

        At the time, these individuals were called evangelists (Acts 21:8, Eph. 4:11, 2 Tim 4:5). By the end of the first century the term overseer (bishop) may have gravitated to them because they oversaw the individual congregations and presbyters. The term bishop thus supplanted the earlier term evangelist.

        One should note that in the apostolic age all of the terms of ministry – episkopos (overseer, bishop), presbuteros (elder, priest), diakonos (servant, minister, deacon) -were fluid in meaning and could apply to different offices. Anyone who had an oversight role could be called a bishop, anyone who was an elder in the community could be called a presbyter, and anyone in the community who served or ministered could be called a deacon.

        This was true even if the person was an apostle. The apostles Judas and his successor Matthias could be described as having a “bishopric” (Acts 1:20). The apostle Peter could describe himself as a “fellow elder” (1 Pet. 5:1); and the apostle Paul could describe himself as a “servant” or “minister” (diakonos, 1 Cor. 3:5, 2 Cor. 3:6, 6:4, 11:23, Eph. 3:7, Col. 1:23, 25). The terms had not acquired the sense they did over the course of the first century.

        The evidence would seem to indicate that the functions of overseeing, serving as elders, and ministering to the Christian community were all exercised by the apostles. As the Church grew, they began to discharge these functions. Thus the apostles appointed first deacons (Acts 6:1-6), then elders (14:23), and lastly evangelists (cf. Acts 21:8).

        As the terms for these offices began to acquire their technical meanings, the term servant (diakonos) attached itself to the lower of these three ranks, as the more senior term elder (presbuteros) did to the second office. The term overseer (episkopos) at first attached itself to the office of presbyter when these men were the highest ministers in local churches. Later overseer became attached to the office of evangelist when the apostles began to appoint men with the higher authority to appoint and discipline presbyters.

        This is further supported by the strong tradition of the Church Fathers that the three offices date from the time of the apostles, to whom early Church writers who attribute the ordination of specific, individual bishops (e.g., Ignatius [Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3:36], Symeon [ibid. 3:11]). The understanding is also supported by later writers’ recognition as bishops of those known in the New Testament as evangelists (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3:4).

        Bishop was a distinct office by the late first century, the end of the apostolic age. This is evident because at the beginning of the second century, Ignatius of Antioch wrote a series of letters (A.D. 107) to local churches as he journeyed to Rome for his execution. In these letters, he repeatedly attests that each local church he passes has the three-fold hierarchy of a bishop, several priests, and several deacons. He is so confident of this usage that he can say that without these three offices a local body cannot be called a church (Trallians 3:1-2). These facts show that the usage was already widespread at the dawn of the second century, so it must have first been established in the late first century, at the close of the apostolic age.

        • H J’s long response to IP’s queries is full of interesting material, but I cannot find a direct response to the points that he (IP) actually made! Drawing particular conclusions from an emerging historical(or even biblical) pattern is not necessarily the same as basing the conclusions upon direct evidence from the scriptural text.
          Incidentally, your comment, based upon that of one Father Joseph Ratzinger, highlighting the “Successors of Peter” as being both ‘petra and skandalon’ and then applying it to followers of Christ, has a ring of truth (albeit it in distinctly less than biblical terminology).

          But I don’t think that many of us would compete with the house of Borgia and its *Father -figure*, Alexander 6th, who, as the progenitor of Cesare and Lucrezia, ‘ elevated’ skandalon on to an altogether different plain.

  4. Ian, how do you have any bandwith left after Jack cuts and pastes books here? ☺ That Peter was primus inter pares in the Jerusalem Church seems a fair conclusion. But Paul’s rebuke of Peter’s false teaching in Antioch (Galatians 2) is a bit of a blow to papal infallibility! Edward Feser discusses this question in a recent blogpost on Francis’s wobbly teaching that has upset traditionalist Catholics.

  5. I had hoped that the theology of the cross might be considered here.
    But I wonder if this spooked some into flying off to a theology of the church?
    There was at the very beginning of the Church a very vivid event which characterized the teaching of Jesus concerning the disciples taking up the cross viz a viz the martyrdom of Stephen;
    Where he “spoke against this temple” and that Abraham had no church and Moses was rejected and also declared Acts.7:48 Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet,
    And vs.52 Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:
    7:53 Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.
    After which the majority of the Apostles became martyrs.
    The distinguishing thing about a man crucified with/or for Christ
    Is that you can kick and spit on a dead man you can mock him take away his livelihood burn down his Church and his home and because he has the cross in and through his heart he will send forth a sweet fragrance as when a rose is trampled in to the ground it only gives forth its’ fragrance, as Stephen.
    It is lovely to hear *the stories* of Jesus but it is his teachings, the
    *hard sayings * that one rarely hears mentioned.
    Jesus tried and tested the spirits to determine their fruit by biting them, to see what they produced sweetness or bitterness, self-righteousness, pride etc.


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