Reflections on spiritual themes (and a few other things).

Tag: Peter

Pen & Paper

A fellow-preacher and friend of mine is currently vacationing in Ireland. While in Dublin, he visited the Chester Beatty, a library and museum which houses a document called “p46,” the oldest known manuscript of the apostle Paul’s letters. It’s a collection of most of Paul’s letters dating to the middle of the second century, discovered in Cairo Egypt in the 1930s. 

The earliest reference to a collection of the apostle Paul’s letters is in the New Testament itself in 2 Peter 3.15-16. There, Peter says to “regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” 

Peter was writing to an audience in Asia Minor (what we call Turkey) that was already acquainted with Paul’s writings. Peter equated Paul’s letters with “Scripture” (v. 16). So then, by about AD 64, Paul’s letters were already being collected and circulated in Asia Minor. The existence of manuscript p46 means that within a century, Paul’s letters were being published and distributed across the Roman Empire at least as far away as Egypt.

One interesting feature of manuscript p46 is the presence of reader’s marks – strokes and dots – written with a different ink than in the original text. Apparently, whoever owned this document made notations in it. They appear to be efforts to divide the text into smaller units (much like our chapter and verse divisions). Marking in your Bible is not a modern invention, it appears to be a long-held tradition for serious Bible students.

One of my great fears about modern publishing is the disappearance of physical documents. These days, everything is “virtual” – real documents, but only in electronic form. Much of what we know about ancient Christianity and Judaism comes in the form of physically written documents preserved over time. Once an electronic document is destroyed, they’re almost impossible to recover. At least with pen and ink, fragments are often left behind for us.

I’m thankful that God in his providence used pen and ink to preserve His Word in a permanent form. I’m thankful that ancient brothers and sisters in Christ loved their Bibles enough to mark in them. I’m thankful that something as simple as a stick with some ink at one end can be such a powerful instrument in God’s eternal plans.

I encourage you to do two things. First, don’t be afraid to write in your Bibles. It’s a great memory and study tool. Many electronic Bibles allow you to do this. Second, the next time you’re in your Bible, take a moment to thank God for preserving it for us to read today.

The Look

But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” Immediately, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had told him, “Before a rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. (Luke 22.60-62)

There are only a handful of incidents from the life of Jesus recorded in all four gospels. The few we have are significant. That’s certainly the case with Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus.

Jesus had warned Peter of it (Luke 22. 31-32). Peter, a chronic victim of “foot-in-mouth disease” denied that he would deny Jesus (v. 33). Then reality set in as Peter followed Jesus’ movements after his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. Three times, Peter denied Jesus. Three times a rooster crowed. At the moment of the third denial, Peter and Jesus were in a position to see each other (v. 61). 

Who knows what passed between them? Jesus’ friends had betrayed, denied, and abandoned him. In his eyes must have been heartache, disappointment, and immeasurable burden. Peter had thought himself beyond temptation. In his eyes must have been regret, despair, and self-loathing. 

Only Luke records the gaze between Peter and Jesus. Of the disciples, only Peter and John were present (John 18.15). Since Luke claims to record eyewitness information (Luke 1.1-4), Peter was apparently Luke’s source. Years after the fact, Peter still remembered. 

The real tragedy of Peter’s sin was that it was preventable. Of course, the real tragedy of our own sins is that they too are preventable. 

Just as Jesus warned Peter (v. 31-34), he warns us (1 Corinthians 10.12). Just as Peter had a way out (Luke 22.31-32, 40, 46), we too have a way out (1 Corinthians 10.13). Just as Jesus assured Peter of repentance and recovery (Luke 22.32), he assures us of the same (1 John 4.4; 5.4-5). 

If Peter’s eyes said, “What have I done,” Jesus’ eyes must have said, “What will you do?” When we fall and fail, that’s always the question.