1. Name and Early Career
2. First Appearance in Gospel History
(1) First Period
(2) Second Period
(1) First Epistle
(2) Second Epistle
(1) Messianic Teaching
(4) Future Life
(5) Holy Scripture
(6) Apostasy and Judgment
(7) Second Coming of Christ
The data for this article are found chiefly in the four Gospels; in Ac 1:1-26 through Ac 15:1-41; in Ga 1:1-24 and Ga 2:1-21; and in the two Epistles of Peter.
1. Name and Early Career:
Simon (or Simeon) was the original name of Peter, the son of Jonas (or John), and brother of Andrew, a disciple of John the Baptist, as Peter also may have been. A fisherman by occupation, he was an inhabitant of Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee, though subsequently he dwelt with his family at Capernaum (Mt 4:18; 8:14; 10:2; 16:16-17; 17:25; Mr 1:16,29-30,36; Lu 5:3-4,5,8,10; 22:31; 24:34; Joh 1:40-44).
2. First Appearance in Gospel History:
His first appearance in Gospel history is in Joh 1:35-42, when Andrew, having discovered Jesus to be the Messiah, "first findeth his own brother Simon," and "brought him unto Jesus"; on which occasion it was that the latter, beholding him, said, "Thou shalt be called Cephas," an Aramaic surname whose Greek synonym is Petros, or Peter, meaning "a rock" or "stone" At this time also he received his first call to the discipleship of Jesus, although, in common with that of others of the Twelve, this call was twice repeated. See Mt 4:19; Mr 1:17; Lu 5:3 for the second call, and Mt 10:2; Mr 3:14,16; Lu 6:13-14 for the third. Some interpret the second as that when he was chosen to be a constant companion of Jesus, and the third when he was at length selected as an apostle.
The life-story of Peter falls into two parts: first, from his call to the ascension of Christ; secondly, from that event to the close of his earthly career.
(1) First Period:
The first period again may be conveniently divided into the events prior to the Passion of Christ and those following. There are about ten of the former: the healing of his wife's mother at Capernaum (Mt 8:14 ff); the great draught of fishes, and its effect in his self-abasement and surrender of his all to Jesus (Lu 5:1-11); his call to the apostolic office and his spiritual equipment therefor (Mt 10:2); his attachment to his Master, as shown in his attempt to walk upon the waves (Mt 14:28); the same attachment as shown at a certain crisis, in his inquiry "Lord, to whom shall we go?" (Joh 6:68); his noble confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, and, alas, the rebuke that followed it (Mt 16:13-23); the exalted privileges he enjoyed with James and John as witness of the raising of Jairus' daughter (Mr 5:37) and the transfiguration of his Lord (Mt 17:1-5); and finally, the incident of the tribute money, found only in Mt 17:24.
The events beginning at the Passion are more easily recalled, because to so large an extent are they found in all the Gospels and about in the same order. They commence with the washing of his feet by the Master at the time of the last Passover, and the two mistakes he made as to the spiritual import of that act (Joh 13:1-10); the first of his presumptuous boastings as to the strength of his devotion to his Master, and the warning of the latter as to Satan's prospective assault upon him (Lu 22:31-34), twice repeated before the betrayal in Gethsemane (Mt 26:31-35); the admission to the garden to behold the Saviour's deepest distress, the charge to watch and pray, and the failure to do so through sleepiness (Mt 26:36-46); the mistaken courage in severing the ear of Malchus (Joh 18:10-12); the forsaking of his Lord while the latter was being led away as a prisoner, his following Him afar off, his admission into the high priest's palace, his denial "before them all," his confirmation of it by an oath, his remembrance of the warning when "the Lord turned and looked upon Peter," and his tears of bitterness as he went out (Mt 26:56-58; Mr 14:66-72; Lu 22:54-62; Joh 18:15-27).
It will be seen that the story of Peter's fall is thus related by all the evangelists, but, to quote another, "None have described it in a more heinous light, than Mark; and if, as is generally supposed, that Gospel was reviewed by Peter himself and even written under his direction this circumstance may be considered as an evidence of his integrity and sincere contrition."
Nothing more is heard of Peter until the morning of the resurrection, when, on the first tidings of the event, he runs with John to see the tomb (Joh 20:1-10); his name is especially mentioned to the women by the angel (Mr 16:7); and on the same day he sees Jesus alive before any of the rest of the Twelve (Lu 24:34; 1Co 15:5). Subsequently, at the Sea of Tiberias, Peter is given an opportunity for a threefold confession of Jesus whom he had thrice denied, and is once more assigned to the apostolic office; a prediction follows as to the kind of death he should die, and also a command to follow his Lord (Joh 21:1-25).
(2) Second Period:
The second period, from the ascension of Christ to the conversion of Paul, is more briefly sketched. After the ascension, of which Peter was doubtless a witness, he "stood up in the midst of the brethren" in the upper room in Jerusalem to counsel the choice of a successor to Judas (Ac 1:15-26). On the day of Pentecost he preaches the first gospel sermon (Ac 2:1-47), and later, in company with John, instrumentally heals the lame man, addresses the people in the Temple, is arrested, defends himself before the Sanhedrin and returns to his "own company" (Ac 3:1-26; 4:1-37). He is again arrested and beaten (Ac 5:1-42); after a time he is sent by the church at Jerusalem to communicate the Holy Spirit to the disciples at Samaria (Ac 8:1-40). Returning to Jerusalem (where presumably Paul visits him, Ga 1:18), he afterward journeys "throughout all parts," heals Aeneas at Lydda, raises Dorcas from the dead at Joppa, sees a vision upon the housetop which influences him to preach the gospel to the Gentile centurion at Caesarea, and explains this action before "the apostles and the brethren that were in Judea" (Ac 9:32-41; chapter Ac 11:1-30).
After a while another persecution arose against the church, and Herod Agrippa, having put James to death, imprisons Peter with the thought of executing him also. Prayer is made by the church on his behalf, however, and miraculous deliverance is given him (Ac 12:1-25). Retiring for a while from public attention, he once more comes before us in the church council at Jerusalem, when the question is to be settled as to whether works are needful to salvation, adding his testimony to that of Paul and Barnabas in favor of justification by faith only (Ac 15:1-41).
Subsequently, he is found at Antioch, and having fellowship with GentileChristians until "that certain came from James," when "he drew back and separated himself, fearing them that were of the circumcision," for which dissembling Paul "resisted him to the face, because he stood condemned" (Ga 2:11-14).
Little more is authentically known of Peter, except that he traveled more or less extensively, being accompanied by his wife (1Co 9:5), and that he wrote two epistles, the second of which was penned as he approached the end of his life (2Pe 1:12-15).
The tradition is that he died a martyr at Rome about 67 AD, when about 75 years old. His Lord and Master had predicted a violent death for him (Joh 21:18-19), which it is thought came to pass by crucifixion under Nero. It is said that at his own desire he was crucified head downward, feeling himself unworthy to resemble his Master in his death.
It should be observed, however, that the tradition that he visited Rome is only tradition and nothing more, resting as it does partly upon a miscalculation of some of the early Fathers, "who assume that he went to Rome in 42 AD, immediately after his deliverance from prison" (compare Acts 111:17). Schaff says this "is irreconcilable with the silence of Scripture, and even with the mere fact of Paul's Epistle to the Romans, written in 58, since the latter says not a word of Peter's previous labors in that city, and he himself never built on other men's foundations" (Ro 15:20; 2Co 10:15-16).
The character of Peter is transparent and easily analyzed, and it is doubtless true that no other "in Scriptural history is drawn for us more clearly or strongly." He has been styled the prince of the apostles, and, indeed, seems to have been their leader on every occasion. He is always named first in every list of them, and was their common spokesman. He was hopeful, bold, confident, courageous, frank, impulsive, energetic, vigorous, strong, and loving, and faithful to his Master notwithstanding his defection prior to the crucifixion. It is true that he was liable to change and inconsistency, and because of his peculiar temperament he sometimes appeared forward and rash. Yet, as another says, "His virtues and faults had their common root in his enthusiastic disposition," and the latter were at length overruled by divine grace into the most beautiful humility and meekness, as evinced in his two Epistles.
The leadership above referred to, however, should not lead to the supposition that he possessed any supremacy over the other apostles, of which there is no proof. Such supremacy was never conferred upon him by his Master, it was never claimed by himself, and was never conceded by his associates. See in this Connection Mt 23:8-12; Ac 15:13-14; 2Co 12:11; Ga 2:11.
It is true that when Christ referred to the meaning of his name (Mt 16:18), He said, "Upon this rock I will build my church," but He did not intend to teach that His church would be built upon Peter, but upon Himself as confessed by Peter in Mt 16:16. Peter is careful to affirm this in the first of his two Epistles (1Pe 2:4-9). Moreover, when Christ said, "I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven," etc. (Mt 16:19), He invested him with no power not possessed in common with his brethren, since they also afterward received the same commission (Mt 18:18; Joh 20:23). A key is a badge of power or authority, and, as many Protestant commentators have pointed out, to quote the language of one of them, "the apostolic history explains and limits this trust, for it was Peter who opened the door of the gospel to Israel on the day of Pentecost (Ac 2:38-42) and to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius (Ac 10:34-46)." Some, however, regard this authority as identical with the great commission (Mt 28:19).
See KEYS,POWER OF THE .
The two Epistles of Peter were written presumably late in life, as appears especially of the Second (2Pe 1:12-15). Both were addressed to the same class of persons, chiefly Jewish Christians scattered abroad in the different provinces of Asia Minor, among whom Paul and his associates had planted the gospel (1Pe 1:1-2; 2Pe 3:1). The First was written at Babylon (1Pe 5:13), doubtless the famous Babylon on the Euphrates, which, though destroyed as a great capital, was still inhabited by a small colony of people, principally Jews (see Weiss, Introduction,II , 150).
See also PETER,THE FIRST EPISTLE OF .
(1) First Epistle.
The theme of the First Epistle seems to be the living hope to which the Christian has been begotten, and the obligations it lays upon him. The living hope is expounded in the earlier part of 1Pe 1:1-13, where the obligations begin to be stated, the first group including hope, godly fear, love to the brethren, and praise (1Pe 1:13 through 1Pe 2:10).
The writer drops his pen at this point, to take it up again to address those who were suffering persecution for righteousness' sake, upon whom two more obligations are impressed, submission to authority, and testimony to Christ (1Pe 2:11 through 1Pe 4:6). The third group which concludes the book begins here, dealing with such themes as spiritual hospitality in the use of heavenly gifts, patience in suffering, fidelity in service, and humility in ministering to one another. The letter was Sent to the churches "by Silvanus, our faithful brother," the author affirming that his object in writing was to exhort and testify concerning "the true grace of God" (1Pe 5:12).
The genuineness of this First Epistle has never been doubted, except of course by those who in these latter days have doubted everything, but the same cannot be said of the Second. It is not known to whom the latter was entrusted; as a matter of fact it found no place in the catalogues of the New Testament Scriptures of the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The first church employing it was at Alexandria, but subsequently the church at large became satisfied from internal evidence of its genuineness and inspiration, and when the Canon was pronounced complete in the 4th century, it was without hesitancy received.
(2) Second Epistle.
The Second Epistle claims to have been written by Peter (2Pe 1:1; 3:1-2), to doubt which would start more serious difficulties than can be alleged against its genuineness, either because of its late admission to the Canon or its supposed diversity of style from Peter's early writing.
See PETER,THE SECOND EPISTLE OF .
His object is the same in both Epistles, to "stir up your sincere mind by putting you in remembrance" (2Pe 3:1). Like Paul in his Second Epistle to Timothy, he foresees the apostasy in which the professing church will end, the difference being that Paul speaks of it in its last stage when the laity have become infected (2Ti 3:1-5; 4:3-4), while Peter sees it in its origin as traceable to false teachers (2Pe 2:1-3,15-19). As in the First Epistle he wrote to exhort and to testify, so here it is rather to caution and warn. This warning was, as a whole, against falling from grace (2Pe 3:17-18), the enforcement of which warning is contained in 2Pe 1:2-11, the ground of it in 2Pe 1:12-21, and the occasion of it in the last two chapters. To speak only of the occasion: This, as was stated, was the presence of false teachers (2Pe 2:1), whose eminent success is predicted (2Pe 2:2), whose punishment is certain and dreadful (2Pe 2:3-9), and whose description follows (2Pe 2:10-22). The character of their false teaching (2Pe 3:1-18) forms one of the most interesting and important features of the Epistle, focusing as it does on the Second Coming of Christ.
The theology of Peter offers an interesting field of study because of what may be styled its freshness and variety in comparison with that of Paul and John, who are the great theologians of the New Testament.
(1) Messianic Teaching.
In the first place, Peter is unique in his Messianic teaching as indicated in the first part of the Acts, where he is the chief personage, and where for the most part his ministry is confined to Jerusalem and the Jews. The latter, already in covenant relations with Yahweh, had sinned in rejecting Jesus as the Messiah, and Peter's preaching was directed to that point, demanding repentance or a change of mind about Him. The apparent failure of the Old Testament promises concerning the Davidic kingdom (Isa 11:10-12; Jer 23:5-8; Eze 37:21-28) was explained by the promise that the kingdom would be set up at the return of Christ (Ac 2:25-31; 15:14-16); which return, personal and corporeal, and for that purpose, is presented as only awaiting their national repentance (Ac 3:19-26). See Scofield, Reference Bible, at the places named.
But Peter's special ministry to the circumcision is by no means in conflict with that of Paul to the Gentiles, as demonstrated at the point of transition in Ac 10:1-48. Up until this time the gospel had been offered to the Jews only, but now they have rejected it in the national sense, and "the normal order for the present Christian age" is reached (Ac 13:44-48). Accordingly, we find Peter, side by side with Paul, affirming the great doctrine of justification by faith only, in the words, "We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we (Jews) shall be saved, even as they (Gentiles)" (Ac 15:11 the King James Version). Moreover, it is clear from Peter's Second Epistle (2Pe 1:1) that his conception of justification from the divine as well as the human side is identical with that of Paul, since he speaks of justifying faith as terminating on the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ. As we understand it, this is not the righteousness which God is, but the righteousness which God gives (compare Ro 1:16-17; 3:21-25; 2Co 5:20-21).
Passing from his oral to his written utterances, Peter is particularly rich in his allusions to the redemptive work of Christ. Limiting ourselves to his First Epistle, the election of the individual believer is seen to be the result of the sprinkling of Christ's blood (1Pe 1:1); his obedience and godly fear are inspired by the sacrifice of the "lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world" (1Pe 1:17-20 the King James Version). But most interesting are the manner and the connection in which these sublime truths are sometimes set before the reader. For example, an exhortation to submission on the part of household slaves is the occasion for perhaps the most concise and yet comprehensive interpretation of Christ's vicarious sufferings anywhere in the New Testament (1Pe 2:18-25, especially the last two verses; compare also in its context 1Pe 3:18-22).
(4) Future Life.
Next to the redemptive work of Christ, the Petrine teaching about the future life claims attention. The believer has been begotten again unto "a lively (or living) hope" (1Pe 1:3); which is "an inheritance" "reserved in heaven" (1Pe 1:4); and associated with "praise, and glory and honor at the revelation (Second Coming) of Jesus Christ" (1Pe 1:7,13; 4:13; 5:4,10; 2Pe 1:11,16; 3:13, etc.). This "hope" or "inheritance" is so real and so precious as to cause rejoicing even in times of heaviness and trial (1Pe 1:6); to stimulate to holiness of living (1Pe 1:13-16); to patience in persecution (1Pe 4:12-13); fidelity in service (1Pe 5:1-4); stedfastness against temptation (1Pe 5:8-10); and growth in grace (2Pe 1:10-11). It is a further peculiarity that the apostle always throws the thought of the present suffering forward into the light of the future glory. It is not as though there were merely an allotment of suffering here, and an allotment of glory by and by, with no relation or connection between the two, but the one is seen to be incident to the other (compare 1Pe 1:7,11; 4:13; 5:1; 2Pe 3:12-13). It is this circumstance, added to others, that gives Peter the title of the apostle of hope, as Paul has been called the apostle of faith, and John the apostle of love.
(5) Holy Scripture.
Considering their limitations as to space, Peter's Epistles are notable for the emphasis they lay upon the character and authority of the Holy Scriptures. 1 Pet 1:10-12 teaches a threefold relation of the Holy Spirit to the Holy Word as its Author, its Revealer, and its Teacher or Preacher. The same chapter (1:22-25) speaks of its life-giving and purifying power as well as its eternal duration. 1Pe 2:1-25 opens with a declaration of its vital relation to the Christian's spiritual growth. In 4:11, it is shown to be the staple of the Christian's ministry. Practically the whole of the Second Epistle is taken up with the subject. Through the "exceeding great and precious promises" of that Word, Christians become "partakers of the divine nature" (2Pe 1:4 the King James Version); that they may be kept "always in remembrance" is Peter's object in writing (2Pe 1:12-15 the King James Version); the facts of that Word rest on the testimony of eyewitnesses (2Pe 1:16-18); its origin is altogether divine (2Pe 1:20-21); which is as true of the New Testament as of the Old Testament (2Pe 3:2); including the Epistles of Paul (2Pe 3:15-16).
(6) Apostasy and Judgment.
This appreciation of the living Word of God finds an antithesis in the solemn warning against apostate teachers and teaching forming the substance of 2Pe 2:1-22 and 2Pe 3:1-18. The theology here is of judgment. It is swift and "lingereth not" (2Pe 2:1-3); the Judge is He who "spared not" in olden time (2Pe 2:4-7); His delay expresses mercy, but He "will come as a thief" (2Pe 3:9-10); the heavens "shall pass away," the earth and its works shall be burned up (2Pe 3:10); "What manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy living and godliness?" (2Pe 3:11).
(7) Second Coming of Christ.
Peter's theology concerning judgment is a further illustration of the Messianic character of his instruction. For example, the Second Coming of Christ of which he speaks in the closing chapter of the Second Epistle is not that aspect of it associated with the translation of His church, and of which Paul treats (1Th 4:13-18), but that pertaining to Israel and the day of Yahweh spoken of by the Old Testament prophets (Isa 2:12-22; Re 19:11-21, etc.).
The history of Peter is treated more or less at length in the introductions to the commentaries on his Epistles, and in works on the life of Christ. But particular reference is made to the following: E. W. Farrar, Early Days of Christianity, London, 1882; J. S. Howson, Studies in the Life of Peter, London, 1883; H. A. Birks, Life and Character of Peter, London, 1887; W. M. Ramsay, The Church in the Roman Empire, London, 1893; Mason Gallagher, Was Peter Ever at Rome? Philadelphia, 1895; A. C. McGiffert, The Apostolic Age, New York, 1897; W. H. Griffith Thomas, The Apostle Peter, London, 1904; G. Matheson, Representative Men of the New Testament, London, 1905; A. J. Southhouse, The Making of Simon Peter) New York, 1906; A. C. Gaebtelein, The Gospel of Matthew, New York, 1907; The Acts of the Apostles, New York, 1912; Edmundson, Church in Rome in the 1st Century, 1913; Smith, The Days of His Flesh, New York, 1911.
On theology of Peter, consult the subject in works on Systematic or Biblical, Theology, and see also R. W. Dale The Atonement, 97-148. London 1875: C. A. Briggs, Messiah of the Apostles, 21-41, New York, 1895; Scofield, Reference Bible, where pertinent.
Among commentaries on 1 and 2 Peter may be mentioned: Brown, 3 volumes, Edinburgh, 1848-56; Demarest, 2 volumes, New York, 1851-65; Leighton, republished, Philadelphia, 1864; Lillie, New York, 1869; G. F. C. Fronmuller, in Lange's Comm., English translation, New York, 1874; Plumptre, Cambridge Bible, 1883; Spitta, Der zweite Brief des Petrus, Halle, 1885; F. B. Meyer, London, 1890; Lumby, Expositor's Bible, London, 1894; J. H. Jowett, London, 1905; Bigg, ICC, 1901.
James M. Gray