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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

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Peter, First Epistle of
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PETER. SIMON , surnamed Peter, was ‘the coryphÅ“us of the Apostle choir’ (Chrysostom). His father was named Jonah or John ( Matthew 16:17 , John 1:42; John 21:15-17 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ). He belonged to Bethsaida ( John 1:44 ), probably the fisher-quarter of Capernaum (Bethsaida = ‘Fisher-home’). There he dwelt with his wife, his mother-in-law, and his brother Andrew ( Mark 1:28-31 = Matthew 8:14-15 = Luke 4:38-39 ). He and Andrew were fishermen on the Lake of Galilee ( Matthew 4:18 = Mark 1:18 ) in partnership with Zebedee and his sons ( Luke 5:7; Luke 5:11 , Matthew 4:21 ).

Simon first met with Jesus at Bethany beyond Jordan (John 1:28 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ), the scene of the Baptist’s ministry ( John 1:35-42 ). He had repaired thither with other Galilæns to participate in the mighty revival which was in progress. Jesus was there; and Andrew, who was one of the Baptist’s disciples, having been directed by his master to Him as the Messiah, told Simon of his glad discovery, and brought him to Jesus. Jesus ‘looked upon him’ (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ) with ‘those eyes of far perception’; and the look mastered him and won his heart. He was a disciple from that hour. Jesus read his character, seeing what he was and foreseeing what the discipline of grace would make him; and He gave him a surname prophetic of the moral and spiritual strength which would one day be his. ‘Thou art Simon the son of John: thou shalt be called Cephas.’ Cephas is the Aram. [Note: Aramaic.] = Gr. Petros , and means ‘rock.’ He was not yet Peter, but only Simon, impulsive and vacillating; and Jesus gave him the new name ere he had earned it, that it might be an incentive to him, reminding him of his destiny and inciting him to achieve it. In after days, whenever he displayed any weakness, Jesus would pointedly address him by the old name, thus gently warning him that he should not fall from grace (cf. Luke 22:31 , Mark 14:37 , John 21:15-17 ).

Presently the Lord began His ministry at Capernaum, and among His first acts was the calling of four of the men who had believed in Him to abandon their worldly employments and attach themselves to Him, following Him whithersoever He went (Matthew 4:18-22 = Mark 1:16-20 , Luke 5:1-11 ). Thus he began the formation of the Apostle-band. The four were James and John, Simon and Andrew. They were busy with their boats and nets, and He called them to become ‘fishers of men.’ It was the beginning of the second year of Jesus’ ministry ere He had chosen all the Twelve; and then He ordained them to their mission, arranging them in pairs for mutual assistance ( Mark 6:7 ), and coupling Simon Peter and Andrew ( Matthew 10:2 ).

The distinction of Peter lies less in the qualities of his mind than in those of his heart. He was impulsive, ‘ever ardent, ever leaping before his fellows’ (Chrysostom), and often speaking unadvisedly and incurring rebuke. This, however, was only the weakness of his strength, and it was the concomitant of a warm and generous affection. If John, says St. Augustine, was the disciple whom Jesus loved, Peter was the disciple who loved Jesus. This quality appeared on several remarkable occasions. (1) In the synagogue of Capernaum, after the feeding of the five thousand at Bethsaida, Jesus delivered His discourse on the Bread of Life, full of hard sayings designed to test the faith of His disciples by shattering their Jewish dream of a worldly Messiah, a temporal King of Israel, a restorer of the ancient monarchy (John 6:22-65 ). Many were offended, and ‘went back and walked no more with him.’ Even the Twelve were discomfited. ‘Would ye also go away?’ He asked; and it was Simon Peter, ‘the mouth of the Apostles’ (Chrysostom), who answered, assuring Him of their loyalty ( John 6:66-69 ). (2) During the season of retirement at Cæsarea Philippi in the last year of His ministry, Jesus, anxious to ascertain whether their faith in His Messiahship had stood the strain of disillusionment, whether they still regarded Him as the Messiah, though He was not the sort of Messiah they had expected, put to the Twelve the question: ‘Who do ye say that I am?’ Again it was Peter who answered promptly and firmly:’ Thou art the Christ,’ filling the Lord’s heart with exultant rapture, and proving that he had indeed earned his new name Peter, the rock on which Jesus would build His Church, the first stone of that living temple. Presently Jesus told them of His approaching Passion, and again it was Peter who gave expression to the horror of the Twelve: ‘Be it far from thee, Lord; this shall never be unto thee.’ Even here it was love that spoke. The Sinaitic Palimpsest reads: ‘Then Simon Cephas, as though he pitied Him , said to Him, “Be it far from Thee” ’ ( Matthew 16:18-23 = Mark 8:27-33 = Luke 9:18-22 ). (3) A week later Jesus went up to the Mount with Peter, James, and John, and ‘was transfigured before them,’ communing with Moses and Elijah, who ‘appeared in glory’ ( Matthew 17:1-8 = Mark 9:2-8 = Luke 9:28-36 ). Though awe-stricken, Peter spoke; ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, I will make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah’ ( Matthew 17:4 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ). It was a foolish and inconsiderate speech ( Mark 9:6 , Luke 9:33 ), yet it breathed a spirit of tender affection. His idea was: ‘Why return to the ungrateful multitude and the malignant rulers? Why go to Jerusalem and die? Stay here always in this holy fellowship.’ (4) When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet in the Upper Room, it was Peter who protested ( John 13:6-9 ). He could not bear that the blessed Lord should perform that menial office on him. (5) At the arrest in Gethsemane, it was Peter who, seeing Jesus in the grasp of the soldiers, drew his sword and cut off the ear of Malchus ( John 18:10-11 ).

The blot on Peter’s life-story is his repeated denial of Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest’s palace (John 18:12-17; cf. Matthew 26:69-75 = Mark 14:66-72 = Luke 22:54-62 ). It was a terrible disloyalty, yet not without extenuations. (1) The situation was a trying one. It was dangerous just then to be associated with Jesus, and Peter’s excitable and impetuous nature was prone to panic. (2) It was his devotion to Jesus that exposed him to the temptation. He and John were the only two who rallied from the panic in Gethsemane ( Matthew 26:56 b) and followed their captive Lord ( John 18:15; cf. Matthew 26:58 = Mark 14:54 = Luke 22:54 ). (3) If he sinned greatly, he sincerely repented ( Matthew 26:75 = Mark 14:72 = Luke 22:62 ). A look of that dear face sufficed to break his heart ( Luke 22:51 ). (4) He was completely forgiven. On the day of the Resurrection Jesus appeared to him ( Luke 24:34 , 1 Corinthians 15:5 ). What happened during this interview is unrecorded, doubtless because it was too sacred to be divulged; but it would certainly be a scene of confession and forgiveness. The Lord had all the while had His faithless disciple in His thoughts, knowing his distress of mind (cf. Mark 16:7 ); and He had that solitary interview with him on purpose to reassure him.

At the subsequent appearance by the Lake of Galilee (John 21:1-25 ) Peter played a prominent part. On discovering that the stranger on the beach was Jesus, impatient to reach his Master, he sprang overboard and swam ashore (cf. his action in Matthew 14:28-31 ). And presently Jesus charged him to make good his protestation of love by diligent care of the flock for which He, the Good Shepherd, had died. ‘Be it the office of love to feed the Lord’s flock, if it was an evidence of fear to deny the Shepherd’ (Augustine). Jesus was not upbraiding Peter. On the contrary, He was publishing to the company His forgiveness of the erring Apostle and His confidence in him for the future.

Peter figures conspicuously in the history of the Apostolic Church. He was recognized as the leader. It was on his motion that a successor was appointed to Judas between the Ascension and Pentecost (Acts 1:15-26 ), his impetuosity appearing in this precipitate action (see Matthias); and it was he who acted as spokesman on the day of Pentecost ( Acts 2:14 ff.). He wrought miracles in the name of Jesus ( Acts 5:15 , Acts 9:32-42 ); he fearlessly confessed Jesus, setting the rulers at naught ( Acts 4:1-18 ); as head of the Church, he exposed and punished sin ( Acts 5:1-11 , Acts 8:14-24 ); he suffered imprisonment and scourging ( Acts 5:17-42 , Acts 12:1-19 ).

The persecution consequent on the martyrdom of Stephen, by scattering the believers, inaugurated a fresh development of Christianity, involving a bitter controversy. The refugees preached wherever they went, and thus arose the question, on what terms the Gentiles should be received into the Church. Must they become Jews and observe the rites of the Mosaic Law? In this controversy Peter acted wisely and generously. Being deputed with John to examine into it, he approved Philip’s work among the hated Samaritans, and invoked the Holy Spirit upon his converts, and before returning to Jerusalem made a missionary tour among the villages of Samaria (Acts 8:1-25 ). His Jewish prejudice was thoroughly conquered by his vision at Joppa and the conversion of Cornelius and his company at Cæsarea; and, when taken to task by the Judaistic party at Jerusalem for associating with uncircumcised Gentiles, he vindicated his action and gained the approval of the Church ( Acts 10:1 to Acts 11:19 ).

The controversy became acute when the Judaizers, taking alarm at the missionary activity of Paul and Barnabas, went to Antioch and insisted on the converts there being circumcised. The question was referred to a council of the Church at Jerusalem; and Peter spoke so well on behalf of Christian liberty that it was resolved, on the motion of James, the Lord’s brother, that the work of Paul and Barnabas should be approved, and that nothing should be required of the Gentiles beyond abstinence from things sacrificed to idols, blood, things strangled, and fornication (Acts 15:1-29; cf. Galatians 2:1-10 ). By and by Peter visited Antioch, and, though adhering to the decision at the outset, he was presently intimidated by certain Judaizers, and, together with Barnabas, separated himself from the Gentiles as unclean, and would not eat with them, incurring an indignant and apparently effective rebuke from Paul ( Galatians 2:11-21 ).

There are copious traditions about Peter. Suffice it to mention that he is said to have gone to Rome [which is quite possible] and laboured there for 25 years [utterly impossible], and to have been crucified (cf. John 21:18-19 ) in the last year of Nero’s reign (a.d. 68); being at his own request nailed to the cross head downwards, since he deemed himself unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord. According to the ancient and credible testimony of Papias of Hierapolis, a hearer of St. John at Ephesus, our Second Gospel is based upon information derived from Peter. Mark had been Peter’s companion, and heard his teaching and took notes of it. From these he composed his Gospel. He wrote it, Jerome says, at the request of the brethren at Rome when he was there with Peter; and on hearing it Peter approved it and authorized its use by the Church.

David Smith.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Peter'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible.​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​p/peter.html. 1909.