Peter

PETER (pētêr, Gr. Petros, rock). The most prominent of the twelve apostles in the Gospels and an outstanding leader in the early days of the Christian church. His original name was Simon, a common Greek name, or more properly Symeon (Acts.15.14), a popular Hebrew name.

Background


The Gospel Period

Of the second period of his life, from his first encounter with Jesus until the Ascension, the Gospels give a vivid picture. Simon attended the preaching ministry of John the Baptist at the Jordan and, like Andrew, probably became a personal disciple of John. When he was personally introduced to Jesus by his brother Andrew, Jesus remarked, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (John.1.42). That John translated the Aramaic Kēphās into Greek Petros, both meaning “rock,” indicates that it was not a proper name but rather a descriptive title (cf. “Sons of Thunder,” Mark.3.17). The designation, afterward more fully explained in its prophetic import (Matt.16.18; Mark.3.16), came to be regarded as his personal name. (No other man in the New Testament bears the name Peter.) After a period of companionship with Jesus during his early Judean ministry (John.1.42-John.4.43), Peter resumed his ordinary occupation.


The development of an inner circle among the disciples is first seen when Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him into the house of Jairus (Mark.5.37; Luke.8.51). The three were further privileged to witness the Transfiguration (Matt.17.1; Mark.9.2; Luke.9.28) and the agony in the Garden (Matt.26.37; Mark.14.33). Even in this inner circle Peter usually stands in the foreground, but the fourth Gospel indicates that his position of eminence was not exclusive.


The account in Acts historically interprets Peter’s use of the keys in opening the doors of Christian opportunity at Pentecost (Acts.2.1-Acts.2.47), in Samaria (Acts.8.1-Acts.8.40), and to the Gentiles (Acts.10.1-Acts.10.48). The power of binding and loosing was not limited to Peter (Matt.18.18; John.20.3). But Peter was also the spokesman in attempting to dissuade Jesus from his announced path of suffering, thus proving himself a “stumbling block” (Matt.16.23; Mark.8.33).


On the Resurrection morning he and John ran to the tomb of Jesus to investigate the report of Mary Magdalene (John.20.1-John.20.10). Somewhere during that day the risen Lord appeared to Peter (1Cor.15.5). At his postresurrection manifestation to seven at the Sea of Galilee, John was the first to recognize the Lord; but, typically, Peter was the first to act. Following the group breakfast, Christ tested Peter’s love and formally restored him by the threefold commission to feed his sheep (John.21.1-John.21.23).

The Early Church


His Later Life

With the opening of the door to the Gentiles and the spread of Christianity, Peter receded into the background and Paul became prominent as the apostle to the Gentiles. In the Acts narrative Peter is last mentioned in connection with the Jerusalem conference, where he championed the liberty of the Gentiles (Acts.15.6-Acts.15.11, Acts.15.14). The remaining New Testament references to Peter are scanty. Gal.2.11-Gal.2.21 records a visit to Syrian Antioch, where his inconsistent conduct evoked a public rebuke from Paul. From 1Cor.9.5 it appears that Peter traveled widely, taking his wife with him, doubtless in Jewish evangelism (Gal.2.9).

Nothing further is heard of Peter until the writing of the two letters that bear his name, apparently written from Rome. In the first letter, addressed to believers in five provinces in Asia Minor, the shepherd-heart of Peter sought to fortify the saints in their sufferings for Christ, while in the second he warns against dangers from within. A final New Testament reference to the closing years of Peter’s life is found in John.21.18-John.21.19. John’s interpretation of Christ’s prediction makes it clear that the reference is to Peter’s violent death. Beyond this the New Testament is silent about him.

Tradition uniformily asserts that Peter went to Rome, that he labored there, and there in his old age suffered martyrdom under Nero. The embellished tradition that he was bishop of Rome for twenty-five years is contrary to all New Testament evidence. He apparently came to Rome shortly after Paul’s release from his first imprisonment there.

His Character

The character of Peter is one of the most vividly drawn and charming in the New Testament. His sheer humanness has made him one of the most beloved and winsome members of the apostolic band. He was eager, impulsive, energetic, self-confident, aggressive, and daring, but also unstable, fickle, weak, and cowardly. He was guided more by quick impulse than logical reasoning, and he readily swayed from one extreme to the other. He was preeminently a man of action. His life exhibits the defects of his character as well as his tremendous capacities for good. He was forward and often rash, liable to instability and inconsistency, but his love for and associations with Christ molded him into a man of stability, humility, and courageous service for God. In the power of the Holy Spirit he became one of the noble pillars (Gal.2.9) of the church.