Who is Peter?
(stone, or rock; Syriac Cephas; Greek Petros), one of the twelve apostles, one of the three favorite disciples (with John and James), and the most active of all in word and deed (except Paul, who did not belong to the twelve). His original name was "Simon" or "Simeon." He was a son of Jonas (John, according to the reading of the best manuscripts), a brother of Andrew, probably a native of Bethsaida in Galilee. He was a fisherman by trade, and resided at Capernaum with his wife and mother-in-law, who was healed by Christ of a fever. See John 1:42; Josh 21:15; Matt 16:18; Luke 5:3-10; Matt 8:14-15; Mark 1:29-31; Luke 4:38. When he forsook all to follow Christ he must have made a considerable sacrifice. His new name "Peter" ("rock-man") was given him when he was called to the apostleship, John 1:42, and was solemnly confirmed when he, in the name of all the other apostles, made that remarkable confession of the divinity of our Lord which is the fundamental creed of Christendom and the immovable foundation of the Christian Church.Matt 16:18. The name "Peter" or "Cephas" was a prophecy of the prominent position which he, as the confessor of Christ, would occupy in the primitive age of the Church. He laid the foundation of the Church among the Jews on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2, and, after a special revelation, among the Gentiles also, in the conversion of Cornelius. Acts 10. He appears throughout in the Gospels and the first part of the Acts as the head and mouthpiece of the twelve. He had an ardent nature, a sanguine, impulsive, hopeful temperament, was frank, open, fresh, enthusiastic, and energetic, and born to take the lead, but apt to overrate his strength and liable to change and inconsistency. He was the first to confess and the first to deny his Lord and Saviour, yet he repented bitterly, and had no rest and peace till the Lord forgave him. He had a great deal of genuine human nature, but divine grace did its full work, and overruled even his faults for his advancement in humility and meekness, which shine out so beautifully from his Epistles. The labors of Peter are recorded in the Acts. Chs. 1 to 12 and ch. 15. He was the leading apostle from the day of Pentecost to the Council of Jerusalem, in a.d. 50. After that time his whereabouts are involved in obscurity. Paul mentions him as being at Antioch, about a.d. 52, and censures him for inconsistency of conduct, which he showed at that time toward the Gentile converts, from fear of offending the Judaizing party. The alienation of the two apostles was merely temporary. We must admire the meekness and humility with which Peter bore the sharp rebuke of his younger colleague, and with which he alluded afterward to the Epistles of his "beloved brother Paul," 2 Pet 3:15, as much as the boldness and fearlessness with which Paul stood up for principle and the rights and liberty of the Gentile Christians. Paul mentions him again, a.d. 57, 1 Cor 9:5, as engaged, in company with his wife, in missionary journeys and labors, perhaps among the dispersed Jews in Asia Minor, to whom he addressed his Epistles. 1 Pet 1:1. This allusion to Peter's wife is important as proving that he did not give up the family ties when he entered upon his spiritual calling. Clement of Alexandria expressly states that Peter and Philip had children, and that both took about with them their wives, who aided them in ministering to women at their own homes. It is a singular fact that he whom Roman Catholics hold to be the first pope should have been and remained a married man and thus protested against clerical celibacy. According to the unanimous testimony of Christian antiquity, Peter suffered Portraits of Peter and Paul. (From a Gilded Glass Cup found in the Catacombs of Rome.) martyrdom in Rome under Nero, but the length of his residence in Rome and the year of his martyrdom are uncertain. When Paul arrived at Rome, a.d. 61, and during his imprisonment, a.d. 61-63, no mention is made of Peter. It is therefore improbable that he reached Rome before the close of 63. The report of a twenty or twenty-five years' residence of Peter in Rome rests on a chronological miscalculation of Eusebius and Jerome, who assume that he went to Rome a.d. 42, immediately after his deliverance from prison (Acts 12:17, "he went into another place"), and is entirely irreconcilable with the silence of Scripture, and we may say even with the mere fact of Paul's Epistle to the Romans, written in 58; for Paul says not a word of previous labors of Peter in that city, and never built on other men's foundation. Peter's martyrdom may have taken place either in a.d. 64, during the terrible Neronian persecution after the great conflagration, or in 67. He is said to have been crucified, and thus he followed his Lord literally in the mode of his death. Comp. John 21:18-19. Origen adds, however, that Peter, deeming himself unworthy to be, in the mode of his death, conformed to his Master, was at his own request crucified with his head downward. The Epistles of Peter belong to the last years of his life, and are addressed to churches in Asia Minor, chiefly planted by Paul and his companions. They contain precious consolations and exhortations, and confirm the harmony of his doctrine with that of the apostle of the Gentiles. 1 Pet 5:12; 2 Pet 3:15. They breathe a sweet, gentle, lovely, humble spirit, thoroughly mastered and softened by divine grace, and are full of joy and hope in view of the threatening persecutions. The First Epistle is dated from Babylon, 1 Pet 5:13; but commentators differ. Some refer it to the famous Babylon in Asia, which after its destruction was still inhabited by a Jewish colony, and remained for several centuries a chief seat of rabbinical learning; others refer it to Babylon in Egypt, now called Old Cairo; still others understand it mystically of heathen Rome, in which sense "Babylon" is certainly used in the Apocalypse of John. The last view is favored by the terms co-elect ("elected together with you") and Marcus my son, which occur in the same verse, and which scarcely bear a literal interpretation ("Peter's wife and son"), but probably mean the Christian Church and Mark the evangelist, who was his spiritual son. In this case the passage would be the first, and the only scriptural, proof for Peter's presence in Rome. If the letter was written during or after the terrible persecution of 64, he might have had good reason to call Rome by the name of Babylon, the ancient enemy of the people of God. Mark was a companion and interpreter of Peter in his missionary labors. The Epistle was transmitted by Silvanus, 1 Pet 5:12, a disciple and fellow-laborer of Paul, and a connecting link between him and Peter, well qualified to assure the Jewish converts in the churches of Asia Minor of the harmony of the two great apostles in all the essential doctrines of salvation. The Second Epistle is a valedictory of Peter, written shortly before his martyrdom, with warnings against Antinomian heresies, which began to disturb the harmony and purity of the Church. The external testimonies in favor of the Second Epistle are not so numerous as those in favor of the First, nor was it as much used. But the author expressly designates himself as an eye-witness of the transfiguration of Christ on the mount, 2 Pet 1:16-18, and bears ample evidence of apostolic depth and unction. It attests some of the most important facts in our Lord's ministry; it confirms the unity of apostolic teaching; it adds the doctrine of the final destruction of the material universe to make room for a new heaven and a new earth "wherein dwelleth righteousness;" and it appropriately closes with the exhortation to "grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever."