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St_Peter_and_St_John_for_the_TransfigurationIn this short series I have been exploring what, if anything, the relationship between Peter and ‘the Beloved Disciple’ as depicted in John’s Gospel might tell us about the earliest Christian communities. Whether there was a Johannine ‘community’ is still a matter of scholarly discussion, but from the study undertaken here we can see how the writers of John’s Gospel and their view of John and Peter saw things.

It may be me, but the Johannine community has an attitude to the Apostolic one (as we might call the Petrine followers) which is more than a little condescending. They share the same Gospel message, but the Johannine community emphasises its intimacy with Jesus (via the ‘Beloved Disciple’) and the accompanying spiritual insight this brings with it. By contrast, the Apostolic community, whilst of course, inheritors of the same Gospel, are more dependant on empirical evidence and history for a more limited insight. This is modified, or again, so it seems to me, by Chapter 21, where we see more how John and Peter can serve each other.

The Beloved Disciple serves as a vehicle for Peter’s access to jesus. In chapter 13 Peter communicates his questions to Jesus through the BD; in chapter 18 he is allowed access to the courtyard through the BD; in chapter 21, he informs Peter that Jesus is on the shore. But the BD does not serve as a source of revelation, or saving faith, for Peter or those he represents.

The Johannine Christians know and abide in Jesus in a special way, and so have something to offer Peter and his community. But the Johannine community is, by the time chapter 21 was written, being subject to internal divisions and schisms; in this context, faith and inspiration are not enough to settle the problems, and, indeed, it seems, from the Johannine letters that there was a division. In this context, Peter and the Apostolic community actually have something some of the splitting Johannine community need and value

The BD may be close to the heart and mind of Jesus, but Peter is the leader and the spokesman; in 13:24 Peter directs the BD to ask the question which is in the minds of all the disciples, and the BD follows his direction. In 20:4-8, the BD arrives at the tomb first and waits for Peter before he goes in. Peter’s leadership seems to matter. Indeed, in chapter 21, Peter exercises authority both as a fisherman and as a disciple of Jesus. When the BD discerns the identity of Jesus he tells Peter. Jesus tells Peter to tend his flock and to follow him even to the point of death; the BD follows both Jesus and Peter. Such is the leadership the Gospel accords Peter.

In a situation where the Johannine community was fracturing, the limits if ‘inspiration’ and ‘the Spirit’ were clear in a way they had not previously been. In such a situation the question of authority was highlighted. Peter symbolises that authority. With John’s death, his fractured community could not simply rely on inspiration – that had already produced schism. In that context, Peter and Apostolic authority, whatever his, and its, limitations, assumed the sort of significance that I have tried to describe here.

I should be most interested to know what readers make of this attempt.