the Fourth Week of Lent
Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
PETER.—The use of the names Simon and Simon Peter in the Gospels is instructive. Mt., when he first mentions the Apostle, calls him ‘Simon who is called Peter’ (Matthew 4:18); he uses the same language in his list of the Apostles (Matthew 10:2). Again, with most obvious appropriateness he calls him ‘Simon Peter’ at the time of his celebrated confession (Matthew 16:16), while on the two occasions on which our Lord addresses the disciple directly, he is ‘Simon bar-Jona’ (Matthew 16:17) and ‘Simon’ (Matthew 17:25). In Mk. the name ‘Simon’ is employed up to the selection of the Twelve, and thereafter ‘Peter’ is used; but when our Lord accosts him in Gethsemane, He names him ‘Simon’ (Mark 14:7). In Lk. also he is designated ‘Simon’ with a single exception (Luke 5:8) till the choice of the Apostles, after which he becomes ‘Peter’; but when our Lord speaks to him he is ‘Simon, Simon,’ which is softened to ‘Peter’ (Luke 22:31; Luke 22:34). His fellow-believers give him the same name when they relate that our Lord appeared to him after His resurrection (Luke 24:34). The practice of Jn. is equally notable. Before Peter appears on the scene at all, his brother Andrew is described as ‘the brother of Simon Peter’ (John 1:41). This double name is that which the Evangelist chiefly employs; in fact, he prefers it except when its repetition would seem pedantic. At the same time, he indicates clearly that the Apostle’s original name was ‘Simon’ (John 1:42), and he places this name on the lips of Jesus just as the other Evangelists do (John 1:43).
The life of Peter has a triple interest. (a) His personality is attractive because of its naturalness, buoyancy, and vigour. Belonging to the class of men who are readily understood, his impetuosity, candour, freedom of speech, transparency of motive, his large and genial humanity, appeal strongly to our hearts. Peter is the Luther among the Apostles, (b) Again, he is the most representative of the Apostles. Were it not for him, our knowledge of their views, tastes, hopes, prejudices, and difficulties would be scanty; but, owing to his words and acts, these stand out in bold relief. It is in Peter that we see the kind of men whom our Lord deliberately chose to be His closest friends and the agents for the fulfilment of His purposes. The methods, too, by which the disciples became qualified for their great functions are most fully revealed in the treatment of Peter by Jesus—the patient wisdom, the boundless charity, the humour, the severity, the perfect frankness, the unreserved intimacy. (c) Again, the career of Peter after the Ascension is the most striking evidence at once of his natural capacity and of the transformation effected in him by his friendship with Jesus. The disciple is now worthy of the designation ‘Rock.’ He snows himself to be the natural leader of the new community: its most powerful and energetic member both in counsel and in act.
The career of Peter falls into two great sections, divided by the Ascension: his life as a disciple and Apostle under our Lord, and his life as the first leader of the Christian Church.
1. Prior to our Lord’s Ascension.—Simon Peter was the son of a man called Jonas (Matthew 16:17) or John (John 1:42), or possibly Jonas John, a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee. His mother’s name is not recorded. The place of his birth was probably Bethsaida (John 1:44). No mention is made of the date of his birth; but, as he was a married man when our Lord’s ministry opened, it is likely that he was born about the same time as Jesus. How long his parents lived is not known: they may have died before he became intimate with Jesus. It may be assumed from his later life that he was brought up by them in habits of temperance, frugality, diligence, and piety. He could read and write, and had considerable acquaintance with the Greek tongue as spoken in Galilee. He followed his father’s occupation, obtaining by it an income adequate to all the wants of his household. By the time he is first spoken of in the Gospels he is married, and living in Capernaum, where he has a house of his own, which at a subsequent date appears to have been the centre of the labours of our Lord in Capernaum (Mark 1:21; Mark 1:29; Mark 9:33).
Attracted by the Baptist, Peter and his brother Andrew became his disciples. Andrew was one of the two disciples of the Baptist who heard him declare that Jesus was the Lamb of God (John 1:35), and who, after their interview with Jesus, were convinced that He was the Messiah. He communicated to his brother the great discovery he had made, and brought him to Jesus, who, reading his very soul, and perceiving what he was and what he was capable of becoming, announced that he should bear the name Peter or ‘Rock’ (John 1:42). The acquaintanceship thus formed passed after an interval of a few months, during part of which Peter was with Jesus, into discipleship and permanent fellowship. When our Lord began His ministry in Galilee, the two brothers Peter and Andrew were summoned by Him to become, in His own striking language, ‘fishers of men’: and this call was immediately followed by that of two other brothers, their partners in business, James and John (Mark 1:16; Mark 1:20). The final stage of Peter’s relationship to Jesus was that of Apostle. Our Lord had determined to select a very few persons from the larger number of His adherents to be constantly in His society, and to act as His messengers. Peter was the first to be chosen (Mark 3:13). This place was not given him by accident. He was the first of the Apostles, not in authority or rank or precedence, for ideas of this description were utterly foreign to the mind of our Lord; but his courage, resourcefulness, energy, and devotion constituted him the natural leader of the new body. He was their spokesman, the interpreter of their wishes, hopes, desires, and purposes. Many words specially uttered by him or spoken by our Lord to him are preserved in the Gospels, and in several of the miracles of our Lord he has a unique place. The perception of our Lord’s character, and familiarity with His views of God, of man, of righteousness and of salvation, as well as with His hatred of unreality and formalism, and with the depth and range of His sympathies for the common people and even for social outcasts—set up an intellectual ferment in the mind of Peter which ultimately engendered a fixed and definite view of our Lord’s Person. On two occasions that conviction was expressed in memorable terms. At Capernaum, Peter, undismayed and unmoved by the rapid fall in our Lord’s popularity due to His refusal to become a political instead of a religious leader, affirmed Him to be the only possessor of the words of eternal life, the Holy One of God (John 6:66 ff.). Then, not long after, when the common people had ceased to regard our Lord as the Messiah, and assigned Him only the subordinate place of a forerunner, Peter, without a moment’s hesitation, clothed in fit words the conviction which had now attained maturity and consistency in his mind—the ripe fruit of his intercourse with our Lord; he affirmed that He was the Messiah (Matthew 16:13 ff.). This confession was rewarded with the famous promise, the sense of which is still in dispute—‘Thon art Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.’ The common view among the Fathers that the rock is Jesus Himself has scarcely any support among the interpreters of to-day. A number of Protestant scholars agree with the Roman Catholic Church in understanding the rock of Peter himself; but this explanation fails to answer two questions. Why, if Peter is the rock, did not Jesus simply say ‘on thee’? Whence, too, the distinction in the present text between the two words for ‘rock’ (πέτρος and πέτρα), a distinction which must surely have been found in some form in the original Aramaic? But be the rock Peter himself or his confession, it is clear that our Lord was deeply gratified with the declaration, and that He recognized in it a spiritual insight and capacity which qualified the speaker for high office and service in the Kingdom of God. But, though Peter had grasped the truth that Jesus was the Messiah, he was still in bondage to the traditional conception of the Messiah as a conqueror. For hardly had our Lord, relying on his confession, proceeded for the first time to announce plainly His impending death, when Peter, shocked at His apparent despondency, remonstrated with Him, and thus drew from His lips the rebuke, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan’ (Matthew 16:23).
The prediction of His death was made by Jesus at least thrice, in language which admits of but one meaning; but neither Peter nor any of the Apostles appears to have believed that the words were intended to be taken literally. Not one among them seems to have accepted the truth that Jesus would be crucified. But that event drew near, and Peter, as was to be expected, figures largely in the closing scenes. He refuses to allow his Master to degrade Himself by washing his feet; but when told that this refusal involves forefeiture of all interest in Him, under the impulse of the reaction generated by this reproof, he wishes that his hands and head as well as his feet should be washed (John 13:6 ff.). Conscious of his devotion to his Lord, he declares that though all men should stumble at Him, he never will, but would die for His sake; and draws from our Lord’s lips the sorrowful announcement that he is about to deny Him thrice (Mark 14:29). When our Lord is arrested in Gethsemane, he has the courage, perhaps rather the rashness, to draw a sword and seek to cut down the very person who, it may be, was making the arrest (John 18:10); he follows our Lord into the palace of the high priest, and there, outworn, perplexed, thrown off his guard, unmanned, he three times declares that he knows nothing of Jesus. Then, having met the eye of his Master as He was led from one room to another, the sense of his guilt becomes intolerable, and he bursts forth into tears of deepest penitence and self-abasement (Luke 22:54 ff.). What the Apostle did after he quitted the palace of the high priest, has not been told us. Whether he was too overpowered by emotion to draw near the cross we cannot tell, but it is certain that his hopes were buried in the grave of Jesus. He and the rest of the disciples must have poured out their hearts to one another, suggesting, doubting, fearing, unable to resolve as to the future.
Not two days after the Crucifixion, Mary of Magdala informed Peter and John that the grave of Jesus was open and no body there. The two disciples started off in hot haste to verify the statement. John, the younger and fleeter, reached the tomb first, but awe prevented him from entering. Peter, unaffected by this ‘motive, went into the grave as soon as he arrived, and then both disciples saw the grave-cloths lying in orderly array, with the napkin which had bound the head rolled up in a place by itself: facts which excluded the view that the corpse had been removed by enemies. The meaning of the words which they had heard again and again from Jesus as to His rising again from the dead began to dawn on their understanding: He was risen from the dead (John 20:1 ff.). Soon the testimony of the women confirmed the inference they had drawn, and if any doubts continued to haunt the Apostle’s mind, they were finally dispelled by a personal appearance made by Jesus to himself. The interview stands with no record save the bare circumstance, but is possibly on that account only the more impressive (Luke 24:34). It formed perhaps the most important event of Peter’s life, and certainly produced on him the most extraordinary effects. What was soft and fluid in his ideas and convictions now hardened into rock: his courage acquired a new temper: his passionate loyalty to our Lord became measureless trust and devotion, chastened by a new reverence and awe. All that he had ever ventured to hope regarding Jesus was now confirmed, and rested on a basis of adamant.
Another scene is related in the appendix to the Fourth Gospel (ch. 21), which forms the fitting close to the earthly relations of the Master and His disciple. Here again Peter and John are the two chief actors, and each exhibits his distinctive characteristics. John is the first to identify the solitary figure on the shore of the Sea of Galilee with the Lord; while Peter is the first to try to reach Him, casting himself into the lake in his eagerness to welcome Him. There followed the triple question to Peter touching his love for Jesus, with answers from the Apostle which show that he had now been purged of presumption, boasting, and rash self-confidence. Then he in his turn is entrusted with the weightiest and most honourable of all charges: he is commissioned and commanded to feed and tend the flock of Christ. Finally, and as if it were the natural sequel of the high trust just allotted him, he is told that he will end his days by martyrdom. Accepting this declaration without a shadow of doubt, lie ventures to inquire as to the fate of his fellow-disciple John, but is forbidden to meddle with such questions, his task being to concentrate his energies on the fulfilment of the duties imposed on himself.
2. Subsequent to the Ascension.—If Peter was the foremost of the disciples before the Ascension, he was still more so, if possible, after that event. He is represented throughout the Acts as the leader of the Church; and this view is confirmed by the references that St. Paul (Galatians 2:7-9) makes to his position, which prove that his was the commanding personality in the Church. The suggestion that a successor to Judas should be appointed was made by him, and at once adopted by the body of believers (Acts 1:15 ff.). The explanation of the descent of the tongues of flame at Pentecost is given by him (Acts 2:14 ff.). He performs the first Christian miracle (Acts 3:6 f.). The defence of the new community when its leaders are arrested by the Sanhedrin falls on him (Acts 4:8 ff.). The doom of Ananias and Sapphira is pronounced by his lips (Acts 5:4; Acts 5:9). When the gospel is preached in Samaria, John and he are appointed commissioners to investigate the new situation (Acts 8:14). He is the first to throw open the Church to the Gentiles on the condition of faith only (ch. 10). Herod Agrippa sentences him to death as the chief leader of the sect of the Nazarenes (ch. 12). He takes a foremost place in the deliberations of the Congress at Jerusalem which determined the relations that should thereafter exist between the Gentiles and the Jews, pronouncing that the Gentiles should be exempt from all Jewish ordinances (ch. 15). At this point the account in the Acts terminates, and the remainder of his career is obscure. That he travelled about preaching the gospel, accompanied by his wife (1 Corinthians 9:5), is certain, but the one place he is known to have visited is Antioch (Galatians 2:11) in Syria, the second capital of Christianity. He may have gone to Greece (Euseb. Historia Ecclesiastica ii. xxv. 8); he may have preached in the provinces to which his first letter is addressed (1 Peter 1:1); it is possible that he spent some time in Babylon (1 Peter 5:13). From the far East he turned to Rome, where he died as a martyr according to our Lord’s prediction, but when and under what conditions cannot be ascertained (Clem. Rom. [Note: Roman.] Ep. ad Cor. v. 7).
Literature.—Lives of Christ; the Comm.; F. Godet, Studies on the NT (English translation 1879), 246; G. B. Stevens, The Messages of the Apostles (1900), 42; G. Matheson, Representative Men of the NT (1905), 93; H. T. Purchas, Johannine Problems (1901), 68; J. G. Greenhough, Apostles of our Lord (1904), 52, 221; W. M, Taylor, Peter the Apostle (1891); W. H. G. Thomas, The Apostle Peter (1904); H. A. Birks, Life and Character of St. Peter (1887); S. Cox, Genesis of Evil (1880), 280, 351; W. B. Carpenter, Son of Man (1893), 91; Expos. 3rd ser. iv. (1886) 183, ix. (1889) 187; JBL [Note: BL Journal of Biblical Literature.] xvii. (pt. 2, 1898) 31.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Peter (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​p/peter-2.html. 1906-1918.