September 14, 2011

The Apostle with a Foot-Shaped Mouth?

Category: Bible - NT :: Permalink

Today, as I was driving to work, I happened to overhear some men on the radio speaking about Peter and referring to him as “the apostle with the foot-shaped mouth.”  Good ol’ Peter.  We all love him, they were saying, because he’s the guy who’s always blurting things out, always doing the wrong thing.

So they said.  But I began to wonder.  Of course, they listed their evidence: Peter’s demand to walk on the water to Jesus, followed by his subsequent sinking; Peter’s rebuking Jesus and receiving a rebuke in return; Peter’s insistence that he would never deny Jesus, followed by his doing just that; Peter’s “Of course I love you” after the resurrection, followed by repeated questions about that love and instructions to feed the sheep; Peter’s question about whether John would live till Jesus’ coming.  I suppose they could have added Peter’s comment about building tabernacles on the Mount of Transfiguration.  They even included Peter’s proposal to elect another apostle to replace Judas (Acts 1), indication (in their words) that Peter was almost ADHD: Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem, but Peter’s squirmy and can’t just wait but has to do something (by implication: something foolish) instead.

And then they reached their conclusion: All of that changed at Pentecost, when Peter gave his great sermon and went on to write his epistles and became a truly wise man.  The application?  Peter’s a lot like us — a guy who blunders around and puts his foot in his mouth — and if God could use him, he can use us too.

Well, I don’t deny that God can use people who have had foot-shaped mouths.  But I wonder if that description really fits Peter.  For one thing, I note that it’s after Pentecost that Peter has his “blunder” with regard to Jew-Gentile relations and receives a rebuke from Paul, which damages their narrative: it turns out that Pentecost didn’t leave Peter as a man who never blundered again.  For another thing, some of the things the guys on the radio pointed to as evidence don’t seem like evidence to me: I see no foolishness in Peter’s proposal in Acts 1, grounded as it was in Scripture (“Let another take his office”).

But it’s not just that I dispute some of the evidence presented.  I wonder, too, about this characterization of Peter before Pentecost.  Is it really true that Peter was, as he is so often presented, a rough-and-ready guy, always putting his foot in it, always getting everything wrong, like a big puppy, tongue flapping, knocking everything down as he skips and hops around his master?

It’s true that Peter sometimes did make mistakes.  He was wrong to rebuke Jesus for talking about his death.  But just before that happened, Peter was emphatically right when he said that Jesus was the Christ.  Far from being routinely foolish, Peter was a leader among the disciples in terms of his God-given insight.   And was Peter blundering when he wanted to walk on the water or was that, in fact, a good thing, a faith-grounded recognition that if Jesus commanded him to do so, then Peter really could do what Jesus commanded?

Perhaps the question is more general: Do we really have enough information about Peter to form a full picture of his character?  I doubt it.   It’s entirely possible that Peter, far from being the guy who blurted out whatever popped into his head, was actually one of the deepest thinkers among the disciples.   It’s possible that he spoke first because he was the recognized spokesman of the group, maybe even because of his general wisdom and insight, not because he opened his mouth before anyone even had time to think.  It’s possible that his mistakes and sins are recorded, not to characterize him as an apostle with a foot-shaped mouth (!), but because they were significant with regard to the story of Jesus the Gospels are telling.

What the guys on the radio said is true: A lot of people love Peter because they see him as the loveable oaf who gets everything wrong and always says the wrong thing at the wrong time.  But it doesn’t seem to me that that characterization has any foundation in Scripture.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:25 pm | Discuss (1)

One Response to “The Apostle with a Foot-Shaped Mouth?”

  1. Kata Iwannhn » Sons of Thunder Says:

    […] I wrote about the characterization of Peter goes double for the characterization of James and John, who seem to be taken as a couple of […]

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