The Apostles who have had the most profound impact on the Church are, without a doubt, Peter and Paul. One was an ordinary, uneducated fisherman who became the central leader of a movement and faith that has reverberated down through the ages. The other was the outstanding student of Judaism in his day who became a great theologian and missionary extraordinaire, writing a large part of the New Testament. Which one was more important? We cannot say. I believe that they both were needed by the Early Church and they are needed today.
Peter and Paul needed each other as well. Their messages played off one another. Without the leadership of either one we would not have had the fullness of the Gospel preached to the world. Nonetheless, Peter and Paul did not always see eye to eye. We read in Paul’s letter to the Galatians:
When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?
“We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:11-16)
Peter and Paul resolved their differences and came to a common understanding of the Gospel. With the help of James, the brothers of Jesus, they mapped out what they considered the essential tenets of the Faith. This opened the door for people of all nations to enter into the Kingdom of God.
Here is how Peter described Paul’s writings:
But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.
So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:13-16)
Each apostle started his ministry in the Church from a position of weakness. We remember that Peter had denied his Lord three times before Jesus endured the cross:
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:15-19)
In the flesh, Peter was weak. As a pharisee, Paul was persecuting the Church, thinking that he was saving Judaism from heresy. Without the intervention of Jesus he would not have become the great missionary that he was.
In looking back on his ministry, Paul wrote to Timothy:
As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
What is significant about both Peter and Paul is that, against all odds, they taught and preached the Gospel with boldness and perseverance. Although they both became martyrs for the faith, they did not shrink back from the great commission which the Lord Jesus had entrusted to them. The commonality in their leadership is that they did not rely on themselves but on the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
They both emphasized that the Kingdom was not of this world. Christian believers could look forward to a life to come with great hope. In the meantime, believers were to advance in purity and holiness.
Let us summon the courage to persevere in our own day. By the grace of God and the guidance of his Holy Spirit, may we boldly witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We need to remember that all the apostles were ordinary men with extraordinary callings. We, also, have our own callings. Let us follow the example of these two great apostles.