Bookmark and Share

Open the online Arabic language course

Christianity / Early development /
Original name: Simeon
Also called: St Peter; Simon Peter; Simon ben Jonah; Simon BarJonah; Cephas; Kepha

1. Importance
2. Life story
3. Biography

(?-ca. 64 CE) In Christianity, the most prominent disciple of Jesus Christ; leader and missionary of the early church; first bishop of Rome.
The sources to his life and acts are the Gospels, the Acts, and the letters of St. Paul. The two canonical letters attributed to him are believed to have been written by another Peter and belong to the 2nd century.
His name is from Greek "petros", meaning "rock", which again came from the title that Jesus had given, "Cephas". It symbolizes a rock upon which the earliest community, thereby the church, was founded (Matthew 16:18).
Some traditions make the author of the Gospel of Mark an assistant to Peter.
The feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle is celebrated in the West on February 22, and that of St. Peter and St. Paul on June 29.

Peter appears often as the most important among the disciples of Jesus (Matt 16:18 and John 21:1516). Either he is mentioned alone as the most prominent, or when Jesus' three closest disciples are mentioned, Peter is always named first. Peter often acted as the spokesman of the disciples.
Peter also appear to have been the dominating figure of the early community of Jesus followers after Jesus' death.
Acts 4:13 indicates clearly that Peter was untrained in Mosaic Law. As the leader of the Jesus-Jews, he was at great risk of deviating unwillingly from mainstream Judaism. The quesion of permitting non-circumcised non-Jews to become followers of the teaching of Jesus was one which became central in forcing the Jesus-Jews to start considering themselves belonging to a separate religion. Whether it was Peter or Paul that most promoted this ideological change is not clear from the available texts.
Several central elements of the Roman Catholic Church is based upon Peter. Already towards the end of the 1st century, a tradition that Peter died a martyr's death in Rome had established itself. So was also the idea that he was buried at the Vatican Hill. In his remembrance the pope wears the Fisherman's Ring, on which there is an image of him casting his nets from a fishing boat. The pope also symbolically uses keys referred to as "keys of the kingdom of Heaven", promised to Peter in Matthew 16:18-19.

Life story
His original name was Simon, and depending on which gospel one reads, he was either called directly by Jesus to become a disciple, or he was called on by his brother, Andrew. Before that, Peter was a fisherman and most likely, also married.
Stories about Peter indicates insecurity, there are several examples of his changing his opinion about central regulations. He is even presented as rash, hasty and irritable. Still, other passages promotes his good sides, being a loyal and loving person.
Peter was the first to call Jesus the Messiah, but he would also become the one to deny him after his arrest. Still, it was Peter who became the first disciple to see the resurrected Jesus.
In John 13:7-9, Peter refuses to allow Jesus to wash his feet. But when Jesus responds, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me", Peter asks him even to wash his hands and his head. In Matthew 14:22-32, Peter was the only disciple able to walk on water, together with Jesus. One very interesting and unusual detail is told about in John 18:10, as Peter uses his own personal sword to cut off the ear of a servant of the High Priest (the incident is mentioned in the other gospels too, but with these the disciple is not identified).
John 20:6 makes Peter the first to enter the empty tomb of Jesus. The fact that both female friends of Jesus and the disciple that Jesus loved saw the opened tomb before Peter, but waited so that he could enter first, indicates Peter's prominence. In John 21:15-17, Peter's denial of Jesus was compensated with his three times confirming his love to the resurrected Jesus. Then Jesus expresses what is believed to be a transferring of leadership to Peter.
Peter's position was not uncontested, and there were most likely two contenders during the early years after Jesus' death. One was an orientation that identified itself with Mary Magdalene, or came to superimpose her to their orientation at a later point. The other contender appears by all likelihood to have been Paul.
Whether Peter even was the leader of the early Jesus-Jews is not certain when considering 1. Corinthians 1:12. This suggests that there was a special group of Peter-followers among the early Jesus-Jews.
The power struggle between Peter and Mary Magdalene is recorded in two apycryphal gospels; Gospel of Thomas, and Gospel of Mary Magdalene. Between Paul and Peter, the cooperation was already difficult, well illustrated with a sharp and bitter confrontation in Antioch (Galatians 2).
Peter was central in the foundation of the first post-Jesus congregation in Jerusalem. He was also central in allowing non-Jews into the fold of Jesus-supporters without having accepted specific legal and ritual regulation of Judaism (early Jesus-followers considered themselves Jews), even if Paul in his writings make a distinction between them in which he is the missionary to non-Jews.
Peter was central in spreading the message after Jesus' death, travelling across the Middle East. Most likely he contacted Jewish congregations. He was accompanied by his wife. The early stories indicates Peter being a figure of certain powers, in Acts 9:34 and 9:40 he performs miracles, although by invoking Jesus Christ, like healing the paralyzed and waking up the dead.
Peter participated at the Council of Jerusalem, where there were clear conflicts. In Acts 15, Peter speaks out during a heated discussion, and expresses points of view close to those of Paul, but also that he considered himself the chosen disciple. This passage is the last we hear of Peter; for the second half of the Acts he is not mentioned one single time. It may be suggested that Peter lost his prominent position at this council.
There are no Biblical accounts to where and how he ended his life. In John 21:18-19, Jesus describes to Peter that he will suffer death by martyrdom. His death year is set to 64, this being the year of the Great Fire of Rome, for which Emperor Nero blamed the Christians.

Around 0: Born. Exact year is unknown. His father's name was Jonah or John, and originally from the town of Bethsaida.
Around 30?: Being a fisherman in Galilee, Simon is called by Jesus to become one of his followers, together with his brother, Andrew (Matthew 4:18-19; Mark 1:16-17).
Mid 40's: Peter leaves Jerusalem.
Ca. 64: According to many theories as well as tradition, Peter dies in Rome as a martyr. He is possibly buried at the Vatican Hill.

By Tore Kjeilen