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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary

Peter

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Simon Peter was one of the earliest believers in Jesus. Like his brother Andrew, he was probably a disciple of John the Baptist, till John directed them to Jesus (John 1:40-41; cf. Acts 1:15; Acts 1:21-22). Jesus immediately saw the man’s leadership qualities and gave him a new name, Peter (or Cephas), meaning ‘a rock’ (John 1:42). (The two names are from the words for ‘rock’ in Greek and Aramaic respectively.)

This initial meeting with Jesus took place in the Jordan Valley (John 1:28-29; John 1:35). Not long after, there was another meeting, this time in Galilee, when Peter became one of the first believers to leave their normal occupations and become active followers of Jesus (Matthew 4:18-22). When Jesus later selected twelve men from among his followers and appointed them as his special apostles, Peter was at the head of the list (Matthew 10:2).

Peter and Jesus

The son of a man named John (or Jonah) (Matthew 16:17; John 1:42; John 21:15), Peter came from Bethsaida on the shore of Lake Galilee (John 1:44). Either he or his wife’s parents also had a house in the neighbouring lakeside town of Capernaum, which became a base for Jesus’ work in the area (Mark 1:21; Mark 1:29-30; Mark 2:1). Peter and Andrew worked as fishermen on the lake, in partnership with another pair of brothers, James and John (Matthew 4:18; Luke 5:10). These men all became apostles of Jesus. Although they had never studied in the Jewish religious colleges, they developed skills in teaching and debate through their association with Jesus (Acts 4:13).

From the beginning Peter showed himself to be energetic, self-confident and decisive. Sometimes he spoke or acted with too much haste and had to be rebuked (Matthew 14:28-31; Matthew 16:22-23; Matthew 19:27-28; Mark 9:5-7; Luke 5:4-5; John 13:6-11; John 18:10-11; John 21:7), but he never lost heart. He went through some bitter experiences before he learnt of the weakness that lay behind his over-confidence. Jesus knew that Peter had sufficient quality of character to respond to the lessons and so become a stronger person in the end (Mark 14:29; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:31-34).

As Jesus’ ministry progressed, Peter, James and John became recognized as a small group to whom Jesus gave special responsibilities and privileges (Mark 5:37; Mark 9:2; Mark 14:33). Peter was the natural leader of the twelve and was often their spokesman (Mark 1:36-37; Mark 10:27-28; Luke 12:41; John 6:67-68; John 13:24; John 21:2-3; Acts 1:15-16). On the occasion when Jesus questioned his disciples to see if they were convinced he was the Messiah, Jesus seems to have accepted Peter’s reply as being on behalf of the group. In responding to Peter, Jesus was telling the apostles that they would form the foundation on which he would build his unconquerable church (Matthew 16:13-18; cf. Ephesians 2:20).

When Peter’s testing time came, however, he denied Jesus three times (Luke 22:61-62). Jesus therefore paid special attention to Peter in the days after the resurrection. He appeared to Peter before he appeared to the rest of the apostles (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5; cf. Mark 16:7), and later gained from Peter a public statement of his devotion to his Lord (John 21:15).

In accepting Peter’s statement and entrusting to him the care of God’s people, Jesus showed the other disciples that he had forgiven and restored Peter. At the same time he told Peter why he needed such strong devotion. As a prominent leader in the difficult days of the church’s beginning, Peter could expect to receive the full force of the opposition (John 21:17-19; cf. Luke 22:32).

Peter and the early church

The change in Peter was evident in the early days of the church. He took the lead when important issues had to be dealt with (Acts 1:15; Acts 5:3; Acts 5:9), and he was the chief preacher (Acts 2:14; Acts 3:12; Acts 8:20). But no longer did he fail when his devotion to Jesus was tested. He was confident in the living power of the risen Christ (Acts 2:33; Acts 3:6; Acts 3:16; Acts 4:10; Acts 4:29-30). Even when dragged before the Jewish authorities, he boldly denounced them and unashamedly declared his total commitment to Jesus (Acts 4:8-13; Acts 4:19-20; Acts 5:18-21; Acts 5:29-32; Acts 5:40-42). On one occasion the provincial governor tried to kill him, but through the prayers of the church he escaped unharmed (Acts 12:1-17; cf. 1 Peter 2:21-23; 1 Peter 4:19).

Peter had been brought up an orthodox Jew and did not immediately break his association with traditional Jewish practices (Acts 3:1; Acts 5:12-17). Yet he saw that the church was something greater than the temple, and he readily accepted Samaritans into the church on the same bases as the Jews (Acts 8:14-17). He showed his increasing generosity of spirit by preaching in Samaritan villages and in the towns of Lydda and Joppa on the coastal plain (Acts 8:25; Acts 9:32; Acts 9:36).

In spite of all this, a special vision from God was necessary to convince Peter that uncircumcised Gentiles were to be accepted into the church freely, without their first having to submit to the Jewish law (Acts 10:9-16). As a result of the vision he went to Caesarea, where a God-fearing Roman centurion, along with his household, believed the gospel and received the Holy Spirit the same as Jewish believers (Acts 10:17-48). More traditionally minded Jews in the Jerusalem church criticized Peter for his broad-mindedness. Peter silenced them by describing his vision and telling them of the events at Caesarea (Acts 11:1-18).

Another factor in Peter’s changing attitudes towards Gentiles was the influence of Paul. The two men had met when Paul visited Jerusalem three years after his conversion (Galatians 1:18). They met again eleven years later, when Peter and other Jerusalem leaders expressed fellowship with Paul and Barnabas in their mission to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:1; Galatians 2:9).

Although Peter understood his mission as being primarily to the Jews (Galatians 2:7), he visited the mainly Gentile church in Syrian Antioch and ate freely with the Gentile Christians. When Jewish traditionalists criticized him for ignoring Jewish food laws, he withdrew from the Gentiles. Paul rebuked him publicly and Peter readily acknowledged his error (Galatians 2:11-14). When church leaders later met in Jerusalem to discuss the matter of Gentiles in the church, Peter openly and forthrightly supported Paul (Acts 15:7-11).

A wider ministry

Little is recorded of Peter’s later movements. He travelled over a wide area (accompanied by his wife) and preached in many churches, including, it seems, Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:12; 1 Corinthians 9:5). Early records indicate that he did much to evangelize the northern parts of Asia Minor. The churches he helped establish there were the churches to which he sent the letters known as 1 and 2 Peter (1 Peter 1:1; 2 Peter 3:1).

During this time Mark worked closely with Peter. In fact, Peter regarded Mark as his ‘son’ (1 Peter 5:13). There is evidence that at one stage they visited Rome and helped the church there. When Peter left for other regions, Mark remained in Rome, where he helped the Christians by recording for them the story of Jesus as they had heard it from Peter. (For the influence of Peter in Mark’s account see MARK, GOSPEL OF.)

Later, Peter revisited Rome. Mark was again with him, and so was Silas, who acted as Peter’s secretary in writing a letter to the churches of northern Asia Minor. In this letter Peter followed the early Christian practice of referring to Rome as Babylon (1 Peter 1:1; 1 Peter 5:12-13). The letter shows how incidents and teachings that Peter witnessed during Jesus’ life continued to have a strong influence on his preaching (cf. 1 Peter 1:22 with John 15:12; cf. 1 Peter 2:7 with Matthew 21:42; cf. 1 Peter 2:12 with Matthew 5:16; cf. 1 Peter 3:9 with Matthew 5:39; cf. 1 Peter 4:15-16 with Mark 14:66-72; cf. 1 Peter 4:7 with Luke 22:45-46; cf. 1 Peter 4:19 with Luke 23:46; cf. 1 Peter 5:1 with Mark 9:2-8; cf. 1 Peter 5:2 with John 21:16; cf. 1 Peter 5:5 with John 13:4; John 13:14; cf. 1 Peter 5:7 with Matthew 6:25).

At this time Nero was Emperor and his great persecution was about to break upon the Christians. Peter wrote his First Letter to prepare Christians for what lay ahead. He wrote his Second Letter to give various reminders and warn against false teaching. (For details see PETER, LETTERS OF.) By the time he wrote his Second Letter he was in prison, awaiting the execution that Jesus had spoken of about thirty years earlier (2 Peter 1:13-15; cf. John 21:18-19). According to tradition, Peter was crucified in Rome some time during the period AD 65-69.


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Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Peter'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/bbd/p/peter.html. 2004.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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