Peter, formerly Simon Peter, was the son of Jonas (John 1:42, 21:13, 16), and probably a native of Bethsaida in Galilee (John 1:42). He and his brother Andrew were fishermen on the Sea of Tiberias (Matthew 4:18; Mark 1:16), and were partners with James and John (Luke 5:10). This humble occupation required some mental culture and was quite remunerative.
Andrew along with Peter was a disciple of John the Baptist when the latter pointed Jesus out to him, saying there was the Lamb of God. Andrew went to Peter saying, “We have found the Messiah.” He immediately took Peter to Jesus who said upon seeing him, “You are Simon, the son of Jonas, you shall be called Cephias” (John 1:36-42). The meeting did not immediately affect Peter’s life, returning to his daily activities he waited a further call. This call came on the Sea of Galilee, where the four partners were fishing. A crowd had gathered and was anxious to hear Jesus, when they pressed too close Jesus went on Peter’s boat and asked him to move a ways from the shore where he talked to the people. The fishing had been poor and after speaking to the people Jesus told the fishermen to cast their net again, and it filled abundantly. Jesus issued the call for them to become fishers of men; Peter and Andrew first accepted, soon followed by James and John (Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11). Immediately following Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14, 15; Mark 1:29-31; Luke 4:38-40).
During the time that followed Peter and the others did and witnessed many things while accompanying Christ. One incident greatly affected the disciples, they were in the boat on the tossing sea when Jesus appeared walking upon the surface of the water. The disciples, being alarmed, proclaimed that they were seeing a spirit. Peter decided to test the situation, and said, “Lord, if it be you, bid me to walk on the water with you.” Jesus answered, “Come,” and the disciple obeyed walking for a little while on the sea’s surface, but losing his confidence because of the tempest, he began sinking and anxiously cried, “Lord, save me!” Christ took him by the hand and accompanied him to the boat. Once in the boat Peter fell to Christ’s feet, and declared, “Of truth, you are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:25-33).
Later Christ asked the disciples, “But, who do you say I am?” Peter promptly replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” This led Jesus to say, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:13-19; Mark 8:27-29; Luke 9:18-20).
Peter appeared to be a faithful and trustworthy disciple, but at one point Jesus appears to rebuke him. The occasion was when Christ was telling of his forthcoming sufferings and death, Peter took him aside saying, “Be it far from you, Lord.” Christ responded with, “Get behind me, Satan” (Matthew 16:21-23; Mark 8:31-33). It appears, at first, that Christ is addressing Peter as Satan; but, in truth, Christ recognized Satan as speaking through Peter.
Peter with James and John witnessed the transfiguration on a very high mountain. There Jesus’ face shined as bright as the sun, and he spoke with Moses and Elijah. Then Peter said unto Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you are willing, let us make here three tabernacles, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While they spoke a bright cloud overshadowed the three; and out of it came a voice saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, hear you him.” When the disciples heard this they fell on their faces, very much afraid. Then Jesus touched them, telling them not to be afraid. He then told them not to tell anyone of the vision until the Son of man is risen from the dead (Matthew 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-9; Luke 9:27-36).
At the Passover feast, Last Supper, Peter told Christ, “You will never wash my feet, Master.” Christ replied, “If I do not wash you, then will have no part of me.” Upon hearing this Peter consented, asking that both ands and head be included too (John 13:2). Later Peter said that he would never deny Christ under any circumstances. Christ foretold that before the cock crowed twice Peter would deny him three times (Mark 14:29-30).
After Jesus’ betrayal and capture in Gethsemane Peter cut off the ear of Malchus, a servant of the high priest, for which he was rebuked (Matthew 26:31; John 18:10). And, while Jesus was in the palace of Caiaphas Peter waited in the courtyard fearfully; there he denied thrice that he knew the prison inside, after his third denial he heard the cock and realized what he had done (Matthew 26:73-75; Mark 14:70-72; Luke 22:59-62; John 18:26, 27).
Jesus next encounter with Peter was at the Sea of Galilee, Tiberias. The disciples had gone fishing but caught nothing. In the morning they saw someone on the shore whom they initially did not recognized. It was Jesus who inquired of them, “Children, have you any food?” To which, they answered no. He told them to cast their net out by side of the boat, and they would find; they did, and the net became abundantly filled with fish. It was then that the disciple whom Jesus loved said, “It is the Lord.” This announcement caused Simon Peter to wrap his fisher’s coat around himself, for he was naked, and dived into the sea (John 21:1-7).
When coming ashore they saw a fire was made ready. The disciples, with the help of Simon Peter, had brought the abundant catch ashore as well. They ate with Jesus and afterwards Jesus asked Simon Peter three times if he loved him. Each time Peter professed the he did, and each time Jesus told him, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). This was the enactment of the restoration between Jesus and Peter after the latter’s denials of Christ. Jesus reinstated Peter as the leader or shepherd of his flock. Thus, Peter was the first missionary preacher and leader of the Jerusalem church.
Peter was with the disciples on the day of Pentecost, a meager group huddled together in the house until they heard a rushing wind and the cloven tongues of fire touched each of them. Then filled with the Spirit Peter with the other began preaching, and about three thousand were converted (Acts 2:1-14).
The first miracle recorded was when Peter and John went to the temple to pray. Outside they were met by a lame man begging alms. Peter said unto him, “Silver and gold I have none, but what I have, I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” Peter helped the man up, his ankle gained strength, he walked and entered the temple praising God with them. All who saw them were amazed for they knew the man had been lame (Acts 3:1-11).
Among those that were amazed there were many who sold their possessions and laid the money at the apostles’ feet. Within this group were the man and wife named Ananias and Sapphira. They sold their property but secretly held back a little money for themselves. Peter, somehow knowing of their actions, asked the man why he had withheld part of the price; “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back part of the price of the land? While it remained, was it not yours? After you sold it, was it not in your power? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied unto men, but unto God.” When the man heard this he immediately fell dead, and his body was wrapped up by young men, carried out and buried. After about three hours the wife came not knowing what had happened to her husband; and Peter asked her the price of the land. She tells him. He then asked her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold the feet of those who buried you husband are at the door, and shall carry you out.” She immediately fell at his feet and died, and the same men carried her out and buried beside her husband (Acts 5:1-11).
According to tradition Peter visited Rome where he became bishop and was martyred. Roman Catholics believe he was the first bishop of Rome, the Pope. Tradition also has him fleeing Rome during Nero’s persecution, when meeting Jesus on the road Peter asked Jesus where he was going. Jesus replied to be crucified again, which made Peter return to the city and face martyrdom. Peter’s tomb is in St. Peter’s Basilica, feast day is June 29.
Peter is acclaimed to have written two epistles although some dispute their authorship. The first letter emphasizes Christ’s example to those who are suffering and the need to lead a godly life in a heathen environment. The second letter warns against false and corrupt leaders. A.G.H.
Unger, Merrill F., Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Chicago, Moody Press, 1966, pp. 847-852
Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 746