Spirit of Truth and spirit of error at Pentecost

Any good search engine will return thousands of hits for Simon Peter in return for the two words, impetuous apostle.  The same two words will fetch hundreds of Google Books titles dating back over 200 years which include a sketch of Simon Peter’s character along this line.  “Impetuous” is simply the epitome of this Apostle’s reputation, drawn from honest reflection on his behavior as recorded in the Gospels and Acts.

Not many, however, would judge impetuosity, given to headlong plunges, precipitous action, sudden resolves lacking in substantial reserve, as a trait in the character of a truth-seeker.  I think most of us would probably see it as more the spirit of error than the Spirit of Truth.

I think this fact about Peter’s temperament, and its opposition to the frame of mind required for entertaining new or greater truths, are evident at the first Christian Pentecost.  If Acts 2:14-41 preserves the true outline of his Pentecost sermon, I think we must admit that Peter on this auspicious day moves head-first into an error which embarrassed the church for more than a generation.

Peter Preaching at Pentecost - Masolino

By his quotations from Joel and David (Psalms), Peter proclaims “the great and manifest day” of impending doom for all who do not “call on the name of the Lord,” even Jesus of Nazareth, whom God  has raised, and who is now at God’s right hand until his enemies are made his footstool.  If this was Peter’s message, and it cut his listeners to the heart (2:37), we might assume that what led to the ‘conversion’ of about 3000 was a dread of impending retribution for shared guilt in the death of the Messiah.  Is this a gospel?

Not in my view.  Peter’s dire imagery – his fearsome but empty implications that the slain Messiah was to make an imminent return to judge the unrepentant Jews and the world – was in fact simply wrong.  Here we see perhaps the historical root of the error which Paul also taught – the Messiah’s imminent return.  Wrong and wrong.

[Note added May 16:  So much for the “spirit of error.”  I also am a firm believer that Pentecost marked the beginning of a real connection between the Spirit of Truth and the life of the church.  Suffice it for now to say I do not believe this Spirit to function in a manner which protects the church from all error whatsoever.]

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3 thoughts on “Spirit of Truth and spirit of error at Pentecost

  1. yeah, too bad, eh? But perhaps it is because people talk before they listen? Even Peter. But we don’t know just what voice he used as he preached that sermon. We do know though that they all thought that Jesus would return soon. They hadn’t quite believed that He left. So just as they believed it would happen almost immediately, today’s church doesn’t really think it will happen at all. 10 Virgins all had oil (Holy Spirit) but only 5 were prepared to wait. The light went out of 5 lamps. And when He did come 5 were not prepared. Do you think that the idea that He would come back quickly, when it didn’t come to pass, caused the church to stop watching?

  2. Thanks for writing. I think the church has always tried to ‘watch’ and that’s been a help in general. Except it doesn’t change the fact that there was a mistake made in transmitting the teaching. I am inclined to believe that it were better if Christians had interpreted it as referring to the end-time which inevitably comes to each individual rather than the end-time of the world (which only God runs).

    But I don’t think Jesus himself was confused about this – it was Peter who was wrong. And one of the points I will be developing is that a presupposition about Jesus as Incarnate Son and Lord of thought (and not given to being fooled) gives us a tool for separating at least one layer of error from truth in the New Testament. If the New Testament says Jesus taught something like this that didn’t happen, then that’s not Jesus but his disciples speaking.

    I do believe Jesus promised to return, just obviously not immediately. So the tension is still there, but the individual reckoning with death is still the more important one in my view.

  3. Pingback: Peter – Man and myth (free book offer) « Next Theology

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