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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature

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Pe´ter (originally Simeon or Simon, heard) was a native of Bethsaida, in Galilee, and was the son of a certain Jonas, or John; whence he is named on one occasion in the Gospel history Simon Barjona, that is, son of Jona (). Along with his brother Andrew, he followed the occupation of a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee. It is probable that, before they became known to Christ, they were both disciples of John the Baptist. Their becoming known to Christ was owing to John's pointing him out on the day after his baptism to Andrew and another disciple (probably the evangelist John), as 'the Lamb of God;' on which they immediately followed Christ, and spent some time in receiving his instructions. Shortly after this Andrew finding Simon, carried him to Christ, who, on receiving him as his disciple, bestowed upon him that surname by which he has since that time been most commonly designated: 'When Jesus beheld him He said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona; thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation a stone.' After this interview the two brothers seem to have returned to their usual occupation for a season, as we have an account in Matthew () of their being summoned from that occupation by Christ on a subsequent occasion, posterior to his temptation in the wilderness, and to the commencement of his public ministry as a religious teacher. From this time forward they were his devoted and admiring followers. In the course of the evangelical history several anecdotes of Peter are incidentally recorded, for the purpose, doubtless, principally of illustrating the character and teaching of our Lord, but which tend also to throw light upon the history and character of his attached disciple. Such are the accounts furnished by the evangelists of his walking upon the agitated waters of the Sea of Galilee to meet his master (; ); of his bold and intelligent avowals of the undoubted Messiahship of Jesus, notwithstanding the difficulties which he, along with the rest of the disciples, felt in reconciling what they saw in Him with what they had fondly expected the Christ to be (); of his rash but affectionate rebuke of his Lord for speaking of suffering and death as in prospect for Him, and as forming a necessary part of His mediatorial work (); of his conduct in first rejecting, with an earnestness bordering on horror, the offer of Christ to wash his feet, and then, when the symbolical nature of that act had been explained to him, his over-ardent zeal that not his feet only, but also his hands and his head, might be washed (); of his bold and somewhat vaunting avowal of attachment to his Master, and his determination never to forsake Him, followed by his disgraceful denial of Jesus in the hour of trial (; , etc.); of his deep and poignant contrition for this sin (); and of his Lord's ample forgiveness of his offence, after he had received from him a profession of attachment as strong and as frequently repeated as his former denial of Him (). From these notices it is easy to gather a tolerably correct conception of the pre-dominating features of the apostle's character up to this period. He seems to have been a man of undoubted piety, of ardent attachment to his Master, and of great zeal for what he deemed his Master's honor; but, at the same time with a mind rather quick than accurate in its apprehensions, and with feelings rather hasty in their impulse than determined and continuous in their exercise. Hence his readiness in avowing his opinions, and his rashness in forming them; and hence also the tendency which beset his honest openness to degenerate into bravado, and his determinations of valor to evaporate into cowardice at appalling forms of danger. His fall, however, and his subsequent restoration, connected as these were with the mysterious events of his Master's crucifixion and resurrection, and with the new light which had by them been cast around his character and work, produced a powerful change for the better upon the apostle's mind. From this time forward he comes before us under a new aspect. A sober dignity and firmness of purpose have displaced his former hasty zeal; sagacity and prudence characterize his conduct; and while his love to his Master shows no symptom of abatement, it displays itself rather in active labor and much-enduring patience in His service, than in loud protestations or extravagant exhibitions of attachment. In the subsequent Scripture history he is presented to us as the courageous herald of the kingdom of Christ, by whose mouth the first public declaration of salvation through the crucified Jesus was made to the people; by whose advice and counsel the early churches were planted and governed; and by whom the prejudices of Judaism were first fairly surmounted, and the Gospel preached in all its universal freeness to the Gentile world. The Acts of the Apostles contain recitals of many interesting incidents which befell him while engaged in those efforts. Of these, the chief are his imprisonment and trial before the Sanhedrim for preaching Christ, and his bold avowal of his determination to persist in that work (); his miraculously inflicting the punishment of death on the infatuated couple who had dared to try an experiment upon the omniscience of the Holy Ghost (); his visit to Samaria, and rebuke of Simon Magus, who deemed that the miracles of the apostle were the result of some deep magic spell of which he had not yet become possessed, and which, consequently he was desirous of purchasing from Peter (); the vision by which he was taught that the ancient ritual distinctions between clean and unclean had been abolished, and thereby pre-pared to attend on the summons of Cornelius, to whom he preached the Gospel (); his apprehension by Herod Agrippa, and his deliverance by the interposition of an angel, who opened for him the doors of his prison, and set him free (); and his address to the council at Jerusalem, on the occasion of a request for advice and direction being sent to the church there by the church in Antioch, in which he advocated the exemption of Gentile converts from the ceremonial institutes of the law of Moses (). In all these incidents we trace the evidences of his mind having undergone an entire change, both as to its views of truth and impressions of duty, from what is displayed by the earlier events of his history. On one occasion only do we detect something of his former weakness, and that, strangely enough, in regard to a matter in which he had been the first of the apostles to perceive, and the first to recommend and follow, a correct course of procedure. The occasion referred to was his withdrawing, through dread of the censures of his Jewish brethren, from the Gentiles at Antioch, after having lived in free and friendly intercourse with them, and his timidly dissembling his convictions as to the religious equality of Jew and Gentile. For this Paul withstood him to the face, and rebuked him sharply, because of the injury which his conduct was calculated to produce to the cause of Christianity. With this single exception, however, his conduct seems to have been in full accordance with the name which his Master had prophetically bestowed on him when he called him Simon the Rock, and with the position which Paul himself assigns to him, at the very time that he recounts his temporary dereliction, as one of 'the Pillars of the Church' (; ).

Thus far we are enabled, from the inspired documents, to trace the history of this apostle; but for what remains we must be indebted to evidence of a less explicit and certain character. Ecclesiastical tradition asserts that he performed an extensive missionary tour throughout those districts, to the converts in which his epistles are addressed. This tradition, however, though deriving some countenance from , is very uncertain. Another tradition reports the apostle as having towards the close of his life visited Rome, become bishop of the church in that city, and suffered martyrdom in the persecution raised against the Christians by Nero. The importance of these points in connection with the claims urged by the Catholics on behalf of the supremacy of the pope, has led to a careful and sifting examination of the accuracy of this tradition; the result of which seems to be, that while it is admitted as certain that Peter suffered martyrdom, in all probability by crucifixion, and as probable that this took place at Rome, it has, nevertheless, been made pretty clear that he never was for any length of time resident in that city, and morally certain that he never was bishop of the church there.

The assertion that Peter was bishop of Rome is connected with another, by which the claims of the papacy are sought to be established, namely, that to him was conceded a right of supremacy over the other apostles. In support of this, an appeal is made to those passages in the Gospels, where declarations supposed to imply the bestowal of peculiar honor and distinction on Peter are recorded as having been addressed to him by our Lord. The most important of these are: 'Thou art Peter, and on this rock will I build my church' (); and, 'Unto thee will I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven,' etc. (). At first sight these passages would seem to bear out the assumption founded on them; but, upon a more careful investigation, it will be seen that this is rather in appearance than in reality. The force of both is greatly impaired for the purpose for which Catholics produce them, by the circumstance, that whatever of power or authority they may be supposed to confer upon Peter, must be regarded as shared by him with the other apostles, inasmuch as to them also are ascribed in other passages the same qualities and powers which are promised to Peter in those under consideration. If by the former of these passages we are to understand that the church is built upon Peter, the apostle Paul informs us that it is not on him alone that it is built, but upon all the apostles (); and in the book of Revelation we are told, that on the twelve foundations of the New Jerusalem (the Christian church) are inscribed 'the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb' (). As for the declaration in the latter of these passages, it was in all its essential parts repeated by our Lord to the other disciples immediately before His passion, as announcing a privilege which, as His apostles, they were to possess in common (; ). It is, moreover, uncertain in what sense our Lord used the language in question. In both cases His words are metaphorical; and nothing can be more unsafe than to build a theological dogma upon language of which the meaning is not clear, and to which, from the earliest ages, different interpretations have been affixed. And, finally, even granting the correctness of that interpretation which Catholics put upon these verses, it will not bear out the conclusion they would deduce from them, inasmuch as the judicial supremacy of Peter over the other apostles does not necessarily follow from his possessing authority over the church. On the other side, it is certain that there is no instance on record of the apostle's having ever claimed or exercised this supposed power; but, on the contrary, he is oftener than once represented as submitting to an exercise of power upon the part of others, as when, for instance, he went forth as a messenger from the apostles assembled in Jerusalem to the Christians in Samaria (), and when he received a rebuke from Paul, as already noticed. This circumstance is so fatal, indeed, to the pretensions which have been urged in favor of his supremacy over the other apostles, that from a very early age attempts have been made to set aside its force, by the hypothesis that it is not of Peter the apostle, but of another person of the same name, that Paul speaks in the passage referred to. This hypothesis, however, is so plainly contradicted by the words of Paul, who explicitly ascribes apostleship to the Peter of whom he writes, that it is astonishing how it could have been admitted even by the most blinded zealot (). While, however, it is pretty well established that Peter enjoyed no judicial supremacy over the other apostles, it would, perhaps, be going too far to affirm that no dignity or primacy whatsoever was conceded to him on the part of his brethren. His superiority in point of age, his distinguished personal excellence, his reputation and success as a teacher of Christianity, and the prominent part which he had ever taken in his Master's affairs, both before his death and after his ascension, furnished sufficient grounds for his being raised to a position of respect and of moral influence in the church and among his brother apostles. These circumstances, taken in connection with the prevalent voice of Christian antiquity, would seem to authorize the opinion that Peter occupied some such position as that of president in the apostolical college, but without any power or authority of a judicial kind over his brother apostles.





Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Peter'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​p/peter.html.
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