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Peter The Apostle

Peter was among the first disciples whom Jesus called to follow Him. By profession a Galilean fisherman, he was promised that Jesus would make him a fisher of men, a prediction amply fulfilled in subsequent events. He possessed natural gifts of leadership and appears both in the gospels and the Acts as the leader among the twelve apostles. He is consistently portrayed as a man of impulse who could rise to the heights or be plunged to the depths.

Three events in which he figured prominently are significant during the ministry of Jesus. It was he who made the first confession of faith in Jesus as Christ and Son of God at Caesarea Philippi (e.g., Matt. 16:13-20); it was this event which marked the turning-point in the ministry of Jesus. Closely following this, Peter was one of the three who witnessed the Transfiguration and the one who wanted to preserve the experience by constructing booths (e.g., Matt. 17:4). Yet this was the man who denied his Master three times during the trial of Jesus, an action which led to bitter remorse (e.g., Luke 22:54-62). His impulsive nature is vividly illustrated by his action in striking off the ear of the high priest's servant on the occasion of the arrest of Jesus (John 18:10). Peter did not lack courage, and his denial must be judged against this background. The restoration of Peter is described in one of the Resurrection narratives. It came while he was fishing (John 21), a striking parallel to the circumstances of the original call. The instruction to him to become a shepherd of the people of God, given three times, is further borne out by subsequent experiences.

At Pentecost (Acts 2) his sermon, delivered in the power of the Spirit, resulted in the conversion of about three thousand people. He is notable also as the first apostle through whom the first Gentile convert, Cornelius, was admitted into the church (Acts 10). It needed a special vision to persuade him to undertake this mission in a Gentile home, although he had difficulty later over the same problem when he incurred Paul's remonstration because he withdrew from having fellowship with Gentiles at Antioch (Gal. 2:11ff.). In spite of the fact that his missionary work was eclipsed by that of the Apostle Paul, he remained a highly respected leader of primitive Christianity. Since Acts contains no details of his activities after the Council of Jerusalem, it is impossible to be certain what those activities were, and much must be left to conjecture.

Certain traditions concerning Peter have been preserved. Papias* speaks of Mark as Peter's interpreter, and the conviction that he was the eyewitness behind the gospel of Mark had wide support until challenged by the presuppositions of the Form Critics in their interpretation of gospel traditions. Moreover the NT canon contains two epistles under the name of the apostle, which if accepted as authentic enable a fair assessment of his theological position to be made. He was strongly influenced by Pauline theology. But some scholars dispute that either epistle is authentic, although many are prepared to accept 1 Peter but not 2 Peter.

Tradition also associates the death of the apostle with Rome, and this is usually dated at approximately a.d. 68. The further claim of the Roman Catholic Church that Peter founded the church at Rome and was for twenty-five years its bishop is without support in the earliest testimony. The growing ecclesiastical reverence for Peter, however, is reflected in the great quantity of pseudo-Petrine literature which circulated during the second and third centuries. This included among others a gospel, acts, and apocalypse attributed to his name (see Apocryphal New Testament). His influence seems to have been particularly strong among Gnostic and other heterodox groups.