The Missionary Journeys of Peter (Part 1)


In Sunday School, and college, and seminary we studied the four missionary journeys of Paul. Of course the fourth journey was hardly a missionary journey, but I can see why it is called that because it completes the structure of the book of Acts (of the Apostles). Most of the latter half of Acts is structured on these journeys. Perhaps this was because Luke was developing background material for “Theophilus” in Paul’s defense in Rome. I don’t know. But the structure can lead some to see the New Testament church as being all about Paul. That is, of course, a discussion for a different website.

But it is an interesting thought exercise as to whether the Book of Acts could have been structured off of another Apostle’s journeys. Let’s consider a few candidates.

Option 1. Philip. Philip was one of the Seven. He was also PROBABLY one of the 70 and one of the 120, though that is not certain. His known ministry started in Jerusalem in Acts 6. His missionary journeys come up starting in Acts 8 and consist of two phases— a Samaritan phase and a Judean phase. It ends with him settled in Caesarea. Noting the structure of Acts built around Acts 1:8 (Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, Ends of the earth), Philip had an important role in the early church but not enough “ends of the earth” to provide that structure.

Option 2. John. John was involved in the early church from the very beginning as one of the Twelve. However. we know little of John’s mission journeys with certainty. He was certainly part of the Samaritan Mission. Later, we believe he is in Ephesus. Some argue for two Johns (the apostle and the presbyter) but I will go with them being one and the same. The Didache speaks of Prophets (traveling preachers) choosing to change roles to Elder (Presbyter) in a church. The context suggests to me at least that this applied also to Apostles (churchplanters). As such, we may imply a second missionary journey, one that ended in Ephesus and the surrounding region. Unfortunately, that seems inadequate for us. Since we don’t know more, we must move on.

Option 3. Barnabas. This case seems more promising. Barnabas (Joseph) came from Cyprus to Jerusalem originally, but that cannot be described as a missionary journey. We first come upon him in Acts 4. We could see him as having a first missionary journey— The Antiochan Mission that started and ended in Jerusalem with his work in Antioch and a side-trip to Tarsus. His second trip could be seen as starting in Jerusalem or Antioch (and ending in either as well). This was his mission trip to Cyprus and Asia Minor with Paul (the “First Missionary Trip” of Paul). After that Barnabas and John Mark travel to Cyprus. It is hard to say whether this was his Third Missionary voyage or he was simply returning to his family home. If we accept Barnabas as the author of Hebrews (which does make sense to me in terms of theology, style, and target audience), then Barnabas knew Timothy, suggesting that his travels continued after his time in Cyprus. The apparent age of the “Book of Barnabas” and some similarities between it and Hebrews is suggestive, but we just don’t know enough with any certainty to take it further.

Option 4. John Mark. The challenge with Mark is that we don’t know how many Marks there were. Both John and Mark were common names. This is hardly a unique case. I already mentioned earlier about questions regarding the Apostle John versus John the Presbyter, and the early church often confused the Apostle Philip with Philip the Evangelist (especially since Philip the evangelist could clearly be labeled an apostle even if he was not one of the Twelve). However, I will discount the “Three Marks” and “Two Marks” and assume there is only one Mark. If so, there are tantalizing suggestions that he might make a strong candidate. He probably references himself in the Gospel of Mark, making him a young follower of Jesus and probably with the church from the beginning in Jerusalem. He eventually is in Antioch. Perhaps he joined Barnabas as part of his mission work in Antioch. Then he joins Paul and Barnabas in the Mission journey to Cyprus. If we take seriously early church tradition (and if we link the Marks together), John Mark joined Peter and wrote the Gospel of Mark based on the recollections of Peter. We do know that John Mark also helped Paul later in his life and that Paul sought for John Mark to join him in Rome. We have no idea whether he did indeed make it to Rome. Early church tradition suggests him going to Alexandria and establishing the church there. There is too much speculation due to lack of sources. However, if the speculation was true, what a great biography of his life would be, and what a great framework for understanding the early church!

Option 5. Peter. Peter, in my opinion, is the one person other than Paul that we have enough information about to provide a valuable structure for the history of the early church based on his missionary journeys. While some of it is speculative, I believe there is enough there that we could talk about the expansion of the early church through the framework of the missionary journeys of Peter.

You are welcome to go to Part 2 to continue

One thought on “The Missionary Journeys of Peter (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: The Missionary Journeys of Peter (Part 2) – MMM — Mission Musings

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