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Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Peter's Preaching and the Apostle's Preaching

It is not uncommon to hear people express doubts about the harmony of the preaching and teaching found in the New Testament often doing so by making the claim that the various writers of the New Testament differed in what they taught.  Often those who make such claims will pit Paul against James or Peter against Paul.

The truth is the scriptures do not belong to Paul, or James, or Peter, or any other writer even if their name happens to be attached to a letter.  "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." (2 Tim. 3:16 NKJV)  The scriptures came by inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  God used men's tongues and pens to give us the message of inspiration.  To say that one New Testament preacher/writer contradicted another is to say that God himself is inconsistent and says and teaches one thing at one time and another thing at another time.  It is to say there is more than one gospel which is the very thing scripture denies.

One can "pervert the gospel of Christ" (Gal. 1:7 NKJV) but you cannot make two gospels out of one.  Paul says, by inspiration, "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed." (Gal. 1:8 NKJV)  One gospel was preached by inspiration.

Jesus commanded the apostles, "But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit." (Mark 13:11 NKJV)  I quote that passage as I want you the reader to have it in mind for I want to take a look at a specific instance of just such an occasion and the preaching that was done on that occasion.  I want to examine the sermon Peter and the apostles gave in Acts 5 with a view of showing its harmony with Peter's first gospel sermon in Acts 2 and thus the agreement in preaching the gospel among all the apostles including one yet to come--the apostle Paul--who will not be converted until chapter 9 in the book of Acts.

In Acts 5 we have the apostles arrested and imprisoned (Acts 5:17-18).  That night while in prison an angel came to their rescue releasing them and instructing them to go to the temple and resume their teaching (Acts 5:19-20).  This they did but once again were rearrested and brought before the high priest and the Jewish council (Acts 5:27). 

Which of the apostles was the spokesperson for the group in Acts 5 we are not told but the text says "then Peter and the other apostles answered" (Acts 5:29 NKJV) so we can be certain that all the apostles were in agreement for the answer made is attributed to all of them.

The entire discourse as recorded follows:  "But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: 'We ought to obey God rather than men.  The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree.  Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.  And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.'" (Acts 5:29-32 NKJV)

Let us examine this sermon starting by talking about "obedience."  As it relates to the gospel being preached it is the last use of the word "obey" in this discourse that is of greatest interest in determining the gospel being preached.  Who receives the Holy Spirit?  It is "those who obey Him"--obey God, obey Jesus--as clearly stated in the text.  The Hebrew writer says of Jesus, “He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” (Heb. 5:9 NKJV)

Is obedience a part of the gospel?  Did Peter preach obedience in his first gospel sermon, the first such sermon ever preached to mankind, in Acts 2?  He commanded those that day to, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38 NKJV)  This statement was made after the Holy Spirit had fallen on Peter (see Acts 2:4) and he was thus speaking by means of the Holy Spirit.  Could you do what Peter asked those in that audience to do that day without being obedient?  Of course not!  Yes, Peter preached obedience on the Day of Pentecost just as he and the other apostles are doing this day in Acts 5.

They say the Holy Spirit is given to those who obey God (Acts 5:32).  One must obey God to have the Spirit.  When Jesus returns it will be "in flaming fire taking vengeance…on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Thess. 1:8 NKJV)  All the apostles were thus in agreement on the need for obedience and this would include Paul when he later became an apostle.

This was what Peter preached in his second gospel sermon recorded in Acts 3 as well when he quoted Moses, "For Moses truly said to the fathers, 'The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren.  Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you.  And it shall come to pass that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.'" (Acts 3:22-23 NKJV)  To "hear" does not just mean the physical act of hearing but rather means to obey.

To obey meant to obey what?  Well, it meant to obey all things the apostles spoke by the Holy Spirit.  What was that as it related to gospel obedience, to making one a Christian?  It included what Peter commanded in his Day of Pentecost sermon in Acts 2 preached by means of the Holy Spirit.  "Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'" (Acts 2:38 NKJV) 

Some may be troubled by the fact that faith is not mentioned in that sermon (the Day of Pentecost sermon in Acts 2).  My question is does it have to be when it is clearly implied?  For that matter, no mention of faith is made in this Acts 5 sermon either but it is implied.  Where is the man to be found capable of scriptural repentance who does not first believe?  Where is the man who is willing to be obedient to baptism who does not first believe?  Can a man be scripturally baptized who does not believe?  No!  When a thing is clearly implied in scripture it does not need to be mentioned.

It is said that the Catholics baptize babies who cannot believe.  Do they?  Where does the Bible teach that sprinkling is baptism?  Men made sprinkling baptism, not God.  It became a tradition of men.  In the New Testament a man was baptized when he was buried in water.  There was no other way to be baptized.  Secondly, the Bible teaches, "He who believes and is baptized will be saved" (Mark 16:16 NKJV) and not "he who is incapable of believing and is baptized will be saved."  One comes from God; the other is a man-made doctrine.  Besides, babies are pure in God's sight, sinless, and have no need of baptism. 

In Acts 5:31 the apostles state that Jesus is the Savior who gives repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.  How does he do that?  Peter has preached this before, saying basically the same thing simply phrasing it differently, in the Acts 2:38 passage.  God gives man repentance by giving him motives to lead him to repent.  One must first see his need for repentance, see his own sins so he will feel them in his heart, before he is capable of repenting of them.

In both the sermon in Acts 2 and this one in Acts 5 sin is pointed out--there is need of repentance.  In Acts 2 Peter says, "you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death" Jesus. (Acts 2:23 NKJV)  In Acts 5 the apostles refer to those whom they are addressing as murders (see Acts 5:30).  In Acts 3:15 Peter says to the crowd gathered there that they "killed the Prince of life." (NKJV)

The point is that apostolic preaching preached about sin and the need to repent.  So, we see repentance was preached by the apostles.  It was preached in Acts 5:31; it was preached in Acts 2:38; it was preached in Acts 3:19.  Preaching the gospel always involved the subject of repentance from sin and always will for that is a part of gospel obedience.

How did and how does Jesus give to man forgiveness of sins?  We could say salvation is the gift of God and is by grace and that would be true.  But is there anything God has asked man to do before he will extend that grace to man and grant him forgiveness?

If you say no then you have immediately rejected the need for both faith and repentance.  If we believe faith is essential and if we believe repentance is essential then we must admit man plays a role in his salvation despite it being a gift and we admit there are things man must do.  In Acts 2 Peter said one of the things a man must do was be baptized "in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins." (Acts 2:38 NKJV) 

Does Jesus give forgiveness of sins?  Yes, but it is conditional.  Jesus said, "He who believes and is baptized will be saved." (Mark 16:16 NKJV)  Most people want to make that read "he who believes and is baptized or is not baptized will be saved" but that is adding to the scripture and is not what Jesus taught but what man desires to teach.

Peter, by the Holy Spirit, speaking on the day of Pentecost told penitent believers, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38 NKJV) 

Some say yes that is what the text says but it is not what it means.  Evidently, Peter did not know that for years later he was still saying, "There is also an antitype which now saves us, namely baptism." (1 Peter 3:21 NKJV)  If a man is saved he is saved from sin and the only way that is accomplished is through God's forgiveness.  Peter says baptism saves.  He does not say baptism alone without faith or repentance. 

There was no disagreement among the apostles when Peter first preached baptism for the remission of sins on the Day of Pentecost.  All the apostles were in agreement with Peter's preaching.  Jesus himself had taught them while still on earth that "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." (John 3:5 NKJV)  They had been commanded at the time Jesus ascended back into heaven to go make disciples and do what?  Baptize them! (Matt. 28:19 NKJV)  Which ones?  Every single one of them with no exceptions.  If you say no then you are under obligation to tell us which ones were not to be baptized.

Just by coincidence, I am now reading a book entitled A History of Christianity, Vol. 1, Beginnings to 1500 by Kenneth Scott Latourette, copyright 1953, Revised Edition.  (That was years ago when this article was first written.)  This is a large book of nearly 700 pages by Mr. Latourette who was Director of Graduate Studies at the Yale Divinity School at the time of his retirement in 1953.  I want to quote from that book for it bears directly on the subject at hand.  "In its earlier days the Church maintained rigorous standards for its membership.  As we have seen, baptism was believed to wash away all sins committed before it was administered." (Page 138)  He says of the Emperor Constantine that he "did not receive baptism until the latter part of his life…from the conviction, then general, that it washed away all previous sins." (Page 93) 

People today do not want to believe that anyone at anytime ever believed that baptism was God's means of washing away (spiritually speaking) the sins of man but that will not change history or the teaching of the New Testament on the subject.  The modern-day idea of salvation by faith alone came from the Middle Ages and not from the first, second, third, or fourth centuries or from the Bible.

In the same book, I quote again only this time of Augustine.  "As a youth Augustine was given Christian instruction.  His mother did not have him baptized because, accepting the belief that baptism washed away sins committed before it was administered, she wished him to defer it until after the heat of youth was passed and with it the excesses of that ardent age." (Page 96)  Born in 354 AD he was baptized on April 25, 387 AD.

In closing, I want to point out that thousands of people were saved by obeying the gospel before Paul ever became an apostle.  Some would like to claim that Paul preached a grace that Peter did not.  They desire two different gospels.  Paul himself denied, as pointed out earlier in this piece, that there were two or more gospels.  When one understands Paul's preaching correctly he will find Peter's preaching for both taught and preached the same gospel and that gospel had baptism in it for the remission of sins.  It was the same gospel the 12 apostles put their stamp of approval on the Day of Pentecost.  They put their stamp of approval on it for the Holy Spirit gave it and who were they to dispute the Spirit of God.  Who are you and I to do so today?

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