(Peʹter) [A Piece of Rock].
This apostle of Jesus Christ is named in five different ways in the Scriptures: by the Hebrew “Symeon,” the Greek “Simon” (from a Heb. root meaning “hear; listen”), “Peter” (a Gr. name he alone bears in the Scriptures), its Semitic equivalent “Cephas” (perhaps related to the Heb. ke·phimʹ [rocks] used at Job 30:6; Jer 4:29), and the combination “Simon Peter.”
Peter was the son of John, or Jonah. (Mt 16:17; Joh 1:42) He is first shown residing in Bethsaida (Joh 1:44) but later in Capernaum (Lu 4:31, 38), both places being located on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee. Peter and his brother Andrew were engaged in the fishing business, evidently associated with James and John, the sons of Zebedee, “who were sharers with Simon.” (Lu 5:7, 10; Mt 4:18-22; Mr 1:16-21) Thus, Peter was no lone fisherman but part of an operation of some size. Though the Jewish leaders viewed Peter and John as “men unlettered and ordinary,” this does not mean they were illiterate or unschooled. Regarding the word a·gramʹma·tos applied to them, Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible (1905, Vol. III, p. 757) says that to a Jew “it meant one who had had no training in the Rabbinic study of Scripture.”
Peter is shown to be a married man, and at least in later years, his wife apparently accompanied him on his missions (or some of them), as did the wives of others of the apostles. (1Co 9:5) His mother-in-law lived in his home, one he shared with his brother Andrew.
Ministry With Jesus. Peter was one of the earliest of Jesus’ disciples, being led to Jesus by Andrew, a disciple of John the Baptizer. (Joh 1:35-42) At this time Jesus gave him the name Cephas (Peter) (Joh 1:42; Mr 3:16), and the name was likely prophetic. Jesus, who was able to discern that Nathanael was a man “in whom there is no deceit,” could also discern Peter’s makeup. Peter, indeed, displayed rocklike qualities, especially after Jesus’ death and resurrection, becoming a strengthening influence on his fellow Christians.
It was sometime later, up in Galilee, that Peter, his brother Andrew, and their associates James and John received Jesus’ call to come and be “fishers of men.” (Joh 1:35-42; Mt 4:18-22; Mr 1:16-18) Jesus had chosen Peter’s boat from which to speak to the multitude on the shore. Afterward Jesus caused a miraculous catch of fish, one that moved Peter, who had at first shown a doubtful attitude, to fall before Jesus in fear. Without hesitation he and his three associates abandoned their business to follow Jesus. (Lu 5:1-11) After about a year’s discipleship, Peter was included among those 12 chosen to be “apostles,” or ‘sent-forth ones.’
Of the apostles, Peter, James, and John were several times selected by Jesus to accompany him on special occasions, as in the instances of the transfiguration scene (Mt 17:1, 2; Mr 9:2; Lu 9:28, 29), the raising of the daughter of Jairus (Mr 5:22-24, 35-42), and Jesus’ personal trial in the garden of Gethsemane (Mt 26:36-46; Mr 14:32-42). These three, plus Andrew, were those who particularly questioned Jesus about Jerusalem’s destruction, Jesus’ future presence, and the conclusion of the system of things. (Mr 13:1-3; Mt 24:3) Though Peter is associated with his brother Andrew in the apostolic lists, the record of events more frequently pairs him with John, both before and after Jesus’ death and resurrection. (Lu 22:8; Joh 13:24; 20:2; 21:7; Ac 3:1; 8:14; compare Ac 1:13; Ga 2:9.) Whether this was due to natural friendship and affinity or because they were assigned by Jesus to work together (compare Mr 6:7) is not made known.
The Gospel accounts record more of Peter’s statements than of any of the other 11. He was clearly of a dynamic nature, not diffident or hesitant. This doubtless caused him to speak up first or to express himself where others remained silent. He raised questions that resulted in Jesus’ clarifying and amplifying illustrations. (Mt 15:15; 18:21; 19:27-29; Lu 12:41; Joh 13:36-38; compare Mr 11:21-25.) At times he spoke impulsively, even impetuously. He was the one who felt he had to say something on seeing the vision of the transfiguration. (Mr 9:1-6; Lu 9:33) By his somewhat flustered remark as to the worthwhileness of being there and his offering to build three tents, he apparently was suggesting that the vision (in which Moses and Elijah were now separating from Jesus) should not end but continue on. The night of the final Passover, Peter at first strongly objected to Jesus’ washing his feet, and then, on being reproved, wanted him to wash his head and hands also. (Joh 13:5-10) It may be seen, however, that Peter’s expressions basically were born of active interest and thought, coupled with strong feeling. That they are included in the Bible record is evidence of their worth, even though at times they reveal certain human weaknesses of the speaker.
Thus, when many disciples stumbled at Jesus’ teaching and abandoned him, Peter spoke for all the apostles in affirming their determination to remain with their Lord, the One having “sayings of everlasting life . . . the Holy One of God.” (Joh 6:66-69) After the apostles generally had replied to Jesus’ question as to what people said about his identity, it was again Peter who expressed the solid conviction: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” for which Jesus pronounced Peter blessed, or “happy.”
Peter’s being foremost in speaking was matched by his being most frequently corrected, reproved, or rebuked. Though motivated by compassion, he committed the error of presuming to take Jesus aside and actually rebuke him for foretelling his future sufferings and death as the Messiah. Jesus turned his back on Peter, calling him an opposer, or Satan, who was pitting human reasoning against God’s thoughts found in prophecy. (Mt 16:21-23) It may be noted, however, that Jesus ‘looked at the other disciples’ when doing this, likely indicating that he knew Peter spoke sentiments shared by the others. (Mr 8:32, 33) When Peter presumed to speak for Jesus on the payment of a certain tax, Jesus gently helped him to realize the need for more careful thought before speaking. (Mt 17:24-27) Peter revealed overconfidence and a certain feeling of superiority over the other 11 when declaring that, though they might stumble in connection with Jesus, he would never do so, being willing to go to prison or even to die with Jesus. True, all the others joined in making such affirmation, but Peter did so first and “profusely.” Jesus then foretold Peter’s threefold denial of his Lord.
Peter was not just a man of words but also a man of action, displaying both initiative and courage, as well as a strong attachment for his Lord. When Jesus sought out a lonely place before dawn to pray, Simon was soon out leading a group to ‘hunt him down.’ (Mr 1:35-37) Again, it was Peter who asked Jesus to command him to walk over the storm-swept waters to meet him, even walking a distance before giving way to doubt and starting to sink.
In the garden of Gethsemane on the final night of Jesus’ earthly life, Peter, along with James and John, was privileged to accompany Jesus to the area where he engaged in fervent prayer. Peter, like the other apostles, gave way to sleep, induced by tiredness and grief. Doubtless because Peter had so profusely voiced determination to stay by Jesus, it was to him that Jesus particularly addressed himself when he said: “Could you men not so much as watch one hour with me?” (Mt 26:36-45; Lu 22:39-46) Peter failed to “carry on prayer” and suffered the consequences.
The disciples, on seeing the mob about to take Jesus, asked whether they should fight; but Peter, not waiting to find out, acted, cutting off one man’s ear with a sword stroke (though the fisherman likely intended to inflict worse damage) and was then reproved by Jesus. (Mt 26:51, 52; Lu 22:49-51; Joh 18:10, 11) Although, like the other disciples, Peter abandoned Jesus, he thereafter followed the arresting mob “at a good distance,” apparently torn between fear for his own life and his deep concern as to what would happen to Jesus.
Aided by another disciple, who evidently followed or accompanied him to the high priest’s residence, Peter entered right into the courtyard. (Joh 18:15, 16) He did not remain quietly unobtrusive in some dark corner but went up and warmed himself by the fire. The firelight enabled others to recognize him as a companion of Jesus, and his Galilean accent added to their suspicions. Accused, Peter three times denied even knowing Jesus, finally giving way to cursing in the vehemence of his denial. Somewhere in the city a cock crowed a second time, and Jesus “turned and looked upon Peter.” Peter now went outside, broke down, and wept bitterly. (Mt 26:69-75; Mr 14:66-72; Lu 22:54-62; Joh 18:17, 18; see COCKCROWING; OATH.) However, Jesus’ earlier supplication on Peter’s behalf was answered, and Peter’s faith did not give out completely.
Following Jesus’ death and resurrection, the women who went to the tomb were told by the angel to carry a message to “his disciples and Peter.” (Mr 16:1-7; Mt 28:1-10) Mary Magdalene carried the message to Peter and John, and they began running to the tomb, Peter being outdistanced by John. Whereas John stopped in front of the tomb and only looked inside, Peter went right in, being followed then by John. (Joh 20:1-8) Sometime prior to his appearing to the disciples as a group, Jesus appeared to Peter. This, plus the fact that Peter had been specifically named by the angel, should have assured the repentant Peter that his threefold denial had not forever severed him from association with the Lord.
Prior to Jesus’ manifesting himself to the disciples at the Sea of Galilee (Tiberias), energetic Peter had announced he was going fishing, and the others joined him. When John later recognized Jesus on the beach, Peter impulsively swam ashore, leaving the others to bring the boat in, and when Jesus subsequently requested fish, Peter responded by drawing the net in to shore. (Joh 21:1-13) It was on this occasion that Jesus three times questioned Peter (who had three times denied his Lord) as to his love for him, giving Peter the commission to ‘shepherd his sheep.’ Jesus also foretold the manner of Peter’s death, causing Peter, on catching sight of the apostle John, to ask: “Lord, what will this man do?” Once more Jesus corrected Peter’s viewpoint, stressing the need to ‘be his follower’ without concern for what others might do.
Later Ministry. Having “returned” from his fall into the snare of fear caused largely by overconfidence (compare Pr 29:25), Peter was now to “strengthen [his] brothers” in fulfillment of Christ’s exhortation (Lu 22:32) and to do shepherding work among His sheep. (Joh 21:15-17) In harmony with this, we find Peter taking a prominent part in the activity of the disciples after Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Prior to Pentecost of 33 C.E., Peter brought up the matter of a replacement for unfaithful Judas, presenting Scriptural evidence in favor of such action. The assembly carried through on his recommendation. (Ac 1:15-26) Again, on Pentecost, under guidance of holy spirit Peter acted as spokesman for the apostles and made use of the first of the “keys” given him by Jesus, thereby opening up the way for Jews to become members of the Kingdom.
His prominence in the early Christian congregation did not end at Pentecost. He and John alone of the original apostles are thereafter named in the book of Acts, except for the brief mention of the execution of “James the brother of John,” the other member of the group of three apostles who had enjoyed most intimate fellowship with Jesus. (Ac 12:2) Peter seems to have been especially notable for the performance of miracles. (Ac 3:1-26; 5:12-16; compare Ga 2:8.) With the help of the holy spirit, he boldly addressed the Jewish rulers who had him and John arrested (Ac 4:1-21), and on a second occasion he acted as spokesman for all the apostles before the Sanhedrin, firmly declaring their determination to “obey God as ruler” rather than men who opposed God’s will. (Ac 5:17-31) Peter must have found particularly great satisfaction in being able to show such a change in attitude from that night when he denied Jesus and also in being able to endure the flogging meted out by the rulers. (Ac 5:40-42) Prior to his second arrest, Peter had been inspired to expose the hypocrisy of Ananias and Sapphira and pronounce God’s judgment upon them.
Not long after the martyrdom of Stephen, when Philip (the evangelizer) had aided and baptized a number of believers in Samaria, Peter and John traveled there to enable these believers to receive the holy spirit. There Peter used the second ‘key of the kingdom.’ Then on their return to Jerusalem, the two apostles “went declaring the good news” to many Samaritan villages. (Ac 8:5-25) Peter evidently went out again on a mission during which, at Lydda, he healed Aeneas, who had been paralyzed for eight years, and he resurrected the woman Dorcas of Joppa. (Ac 9:32-43) From Joppa, Peter was guided to use the third ‘key of the kingdom,’ traveling to Caesarea to preach to Cornelius and his relatives and friends, resulting in their becoming the first uncircumcised Gentile believers to receive the holy spirit as Kingdom heirs. Upon his return to Jerusalem, Peter had to face opposers of this action, but they acquiesced after he presented the evidence that he had acted at heaven’s direction.
It may have been about this same year (36 C.E.) that Paul made his first visit to Jerusalem as a Christian convert and apostle. He went to “visit Cephas [Peter],” spending 15 days with him, seeing also James (the half brother of Jesus) but none of the other original apostles.
According to available evidence, it was in 44 C.E. that Herod Agrippa I executed the apostle James and, finding this pleased the Jewish leaders, next arrested Peter. (Ac 12:1-4) ‘Intense prayer’ was carried on by the congregation for Peter, and Jehovah’s angel freed him from prison (and probable death). After relating his miraculous release to those at John Mark’s home, Peter asked that a report be made to “James and the brothers,” and then Peter “journeyed to another place.”
He next appears in the Acts account at the assembly of “apostles and the older men” held in Jerusalem to consider the issue of circumcision for Gentile converts, likely in the year 49 C.E. After considerable disputing had gone on, Peter rose and gave testimony as to God’s dealings with Gentile believers. That “the entire multitude became silent” gives evidence of the strength of his argument and, likely, also of the respect in which he was held. Peter, like Paul and Barnabas whose testimony followed his, was in effect on the witness stand before the assembly. (Ac 15:1-29) Evidently with reference to that time, Paul speaks of Peter along with James and John as “outstanding men,” “the ones who seemed to be pillars” in the congregation.
From the record as a whole it is evident that Peter, while certainly very prominent and respected, exercised no primacy over the apostles in the sense of, or on the basis of, appointed rank or office. Thus, when Philip’s work in Samaria proved fruitful, the account states that the apostles, apparently acting as a body, “dispatched Peter and John” on the mission to Samaria. (Ac 8:14) Peter did not remain permanently at Jerusalem as though his presence were essential for the proper government of the Christian congregation. (Ac 8:25; 9:32; 12:17; see also OLDER MAN; OVERSEER.) He was active in Antioch, Syria, at the same time that Paul was there, and Paul once found it necessary to reprove Peter (Cephas) “face to face . . . before them all” because of Peter’s being ashamed to eat and similarly associate with Gentile Christians because of the presence of certain Jewish Christians who had come from James in Jerusalem.
Further information on the question of Peter’s position in the Christian congregation is provided under ROCK-MASS. The view that Peter was in Rome and headed the congregation there has only dubious tradition for its support and does not harmonize well with the Scriptural indications. On this point, and with regard to Peter’s residing in Babylon and its being the site from which he wrote his two letters, see PETER, LETTERS OF.