Why talk about the Two? Why compare Peter and Paul?
These Two are the two about whom the bulk of the book of Acts is written.
The acts of these two men exemplify the Acts of the Apostles, which really ought to be known as the Acts of the Holy Spirit.
They were men so closely connected to the will of the Spirit, and yet still so completely human- zealous, judgmental, prone to mistakes, but so dedicated to the mission that nothing could tear them away from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.
“Saul! Saul!” We don’t know the name of the mother who may have yelled out this name from the doorway of her home in Tarsus. “It’s getting dark! Come inside!” The children would look at this young boy with two names, who spent so much time in the synagogue and dressed in traditional Hebrew attire. There may have always been confusion as to why his mother yelled out the name Saul. And Saul may have winced when he heard the name. Among his friends, he was known as Paul. When he heard the name Saul, not only was play time over, but he was reminded that he was different from the neighborhood kids with whom he played. His connection to those kids would have been the fact that he had a name common to them, and possibly that when he wasn’t in the synagogue school, he was learning a trade, from his father or from an artisan in town. They each had one. Paul was to be a tentmaker.
But that was plan B. The name Saul also was a reminder that his first dedication was to the Torah and the Jewish traditions, to rabbinical teachings and Pharisaical precision- to carry out he whole law of God, as it was understood. I imagine Saul experienced small incongruities as he grew up in a Roman-dominated, multicultural city in Cilicia, such as being called one thing by his mother but a different name by his friends. Like when you want to be called by your middle name but your folks keep calling you by your first.
But by the time Saul was an adult, he had fully integrated his Roman citizenship with his Hebrew ethnicity and culture. “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22 KJV) is not something Saul learned after becoming an apostle. He had learned to use his duel citizenship to its advantage, to have an audience before the high priest, and to move around all over the Roman Empire as he saw fit to carry out his mission, whether for good or evil.
“Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defence which I make now unto you. (And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence: and he saith,) I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day. And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women. As also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem, for to be punished.”
Acts 22:1-5 KJV
Paul stood before an angry crowd in Jerusalem, accused of teaching contrary to the law, and bringing a Greek into the temple. His accusers, Acts 21:27 says, were Jews of Asia. They were from the territory where Paul had carried out his missions for Christ.
His missions for Christ following his conversion had gone on for somewhere between 10-20 years at this point, and had carried him from Jerusalem to Macedonia, over the course of 3 distinct missionary journeys. His first, in Acts chapters 13 and 14, set the pattern for the missions work to come.
Paul preached to the Jew first. Acts 13:16-41 is his sermon, in the mode of Peter’s earlier sermons, calling on the Jews to recognize the error of crucifying Christ, evidenced by the prophecies of the Old Testament. He declared Jesus to be the Christ, as Peter had done. He called for those who heard to be redeemed. “But he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption. Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.”
Acts 13:37-39 KJV
After being rejected by the Jews in Antioch of Pisidia, Paul and Barnabas shook the dust from their feet. They felt they had to go into the synagogue and minister to the Jews first, but hearing their “contradicting and blaspheming,” they determined to go unto the Gentiles, who gladly received. They continued in this region for maybe as long as 3 years.
Paul had seen the rejection of the Jews. He had seen the hunger of the Gentiles. He had seen the work of God on the Gentiles, as Peter had when the door was opened to them. So when Judaizers came to Antioch from Judea, Paul had a problem with their teaching the Gentiles to be circumcised in the Jewish tradition.
Paul had no problem with circumcision on its own. He had Timothy circumcised so that he would be above reproach in his ministry work with Paul (Acts 16:3). It was the fact that, having been set free through the Spirit, these teachers were binding the new believers to the old covenant traditions, teaching it as a necessity. Paul was the foremost witness of the work of God among the Gentiles, which was key in the decision to free Gentile believers from the burden of the old covenant (Acts 15:12).
Paul’s second missionary journey (Acts 16-18:22) we start to see familiar names. After revisiting some of the churches, Paul picks up Luke in Troas. They go to places like Galacia and Phillipi in Chapter 16. It was in Phillipi they met Lydia, a seller of purple, and a Philippian jailer. Paul’s comfort level with his duel citizenship showed through when he would not allow the leaders to simply cast him away after treating him so horribly. Pride? It probably carried some gratification with it, having the magistrates come down and free him in person. But there is a lesson in that, as believers, there is no reason to hinder ourselves by allowing our rights to be trampled on.