A fisherman who became an apostle and leader of the early Church.

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November 2017
Mark Watson
New Testament Studies, Characters in the Bible

Peter's orginal name was Simon, but was nicknamed Cephas or Peter (Aramaic and Greek for “rock”) by Jesus. Since Simon was a common Jewish name and a number of others are mentioned in the Gospels and Acts, the nickname became the common designation for the man, although the Gospels report Jesus often calling him Simon. Peter was the son of a Galilean fisherman, Jonah (Matt. 16:17) or John (John 21:15), who never appears in the Gospel narratives. Peter and his brother Andrew were themselves fishermen and partners of another pair of brothers, James and John bar Zebedee (Luke 5:10).

The Gospels introduce the reader to Peter three different ways: as called by Jesus while fishing (Mark 1:16–17 par.), as called by Jesus through a miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5:1–11), and as a disciple of John the Baptist introduced to Jesus by his brother (John 1:35–42). All three stories agree that Peter became a committed disciple of Jesus. The Synoptics also mention that Jesus later visited Peter’s house in Capernaum (Mark 1:29), where he healed Peter’s mother-in-law. The picture painted of Peter, then, is that of a somewhat better-off Galilean peasant who was a semi-observant Jew in the eyes of the Pharisees (i.e., he was one of the ʿam hāʾāreṣ) and yet religious (or nationalistic) enough to follow Jesus, having perhaps first followed John the Baptist.

Despite, or maybe because of, his humble origins, Peter is pictured as a disciple who was chosen to be one of the Twelve (Mark 3:16 par.; he is on every list of the Twelve), and then one of the inner core of three, a group which excluded his brother Andrew (Mark 5:37; 9:2 par.). All four Gospels record Peter as expressing the Twelve’s conviction that Jesus was the Messiah, although they place it in different contexts (Mark 8:29 par.; John 6:68–69). All agree that Peter was present during some of the core events of Jesus’ ministry. Futhermore, there is agreement that Jesus predicted that Peter would betray him and that in the courtyard of the high priest’s home Peter did in fact three times deny that he knew Jesus. Three of the Gospels place Peter among the disciples during the resurrection appearances, Luke 24:34 agreeing with Paul (1 Cor. 15:5) that Jesus also appeared separately to Peter. (Davids, P. H. (2000). Peter. In D. N. Freedman, A. C. Myers, & A. B. Beck (Eds.), Eerdmans dictionary of the Bible (p. 1035). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.)

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