Pe’ter (a rock or stone). The original name of this disciple was Simon, i.e., “hearer.” He was the son of a man named Jonas, Matt. 16:17; John 1:42; 21:16, and was brought up in his father’s occupation, that of a fisherman. He and his brother Andrew were partners of John and James, the sons of Zebedee, who had hired servants. Peter did not live, as a mere laboring man, in a hut by the seaside, but first at Bethsaida, and afterward in a house at Capernaum belonging to himself or his mother-in-law, which must have been rather a large one, since he received in it not only our Lord and his fellow disciples, but multitudes who were attracted by the miracles and preaching of Jesus. Peter was probably between thirty and forty years of age at the date of his call. That call was preceded by a special preparation. Peter and his brother Andrew, together with their partners James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were disciples of John the Baptist when he was first called by our Lord. The particulars of this call are related with graphic minuteness by St. John. It was upon this occasion that Jesus gave Peter the name Cephas, a Syriac word answering to the Greek Peter, and signifying a stone or rock. John 1:35-42. This first call led to no immediate change in Peter’s external position. He and his fellow disciples looked henceforth upon our Lord as their teacher, but were not commanded to follow him as regular disciples. They returned to Capernaum, where they pursued their usual business, waiting for a further intimation of his will. The second call is recorded by the other three evangelists; the narrative of Luke being apparently supplementary to the brief and, so to speak, official accounts given by Matthew and Mark. It took place on the Sea of Galilee near Capernaum, where the four disciples, Peter and Andrew, James and John, were fishing. Some time was passed afterward in attendance upon our Lord’s public ministrations in Galilee, Decapolis, Peræa, and Judea. The special designation of Peter and his eleven fellow disciples took place some time afterward, when they were set apart as our Lord’s immediate attendants. See Matt. 10:2-4; Mark 3:13-19 (the most detailed account); Luke 6:13. They appear to have then first received formally the name of apostles, and from that time Simon bore publicly, and as it would seem all but exclusively, the name Peter, which had hitherto been used rather as a characteristic appellation than as a proper name. From this time there can be no doubt that Peter held the first place among the apostles, to whatever cause his precedence is to be attributed. He is named first in every list of the apostles; he is generally addressed by our Lord as their representative; and on the most solemn occasions he speaks in their name. The distinction which he received, and it may be his consciousness of ability, energy, zeal, and absolute devotion to Christ’s person, seem to have developed a natural tendency to rashness and forwardness bordering upon presumption. In his affection and self-confidence Peter ventured to reject as impossible the announcement of the sufferings and humiliation which Jesus predicted, and heard the sharp words, “Get thee behind me, Satan; thou art an offence unto me; for thou savorest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” It is remarkable that on other occasions when St. Peter signalized his faith and devotion, he displayed at the time, or immediately afterward, a more than usual deficiency in spiritual discernment and consistency. Toward the close of our Lord’s ministry Peter’s characteristics become especially prominent. At the last supper Peter seems to have been particularly earnest in the request that the traitor might be pointed out. After the supper his words drew out the meaning of the significant act of our Lord in washing his disciples’ feet. Then, too, it was that he made those repeated protestations of unalterable fidelity, so soon to be falsified by his miserable fall. On the morning of the resurrection we have proof that Peter, though humbled, was not crushed by his fall. He and John were the first to visit the sepulchre; he was the first who entered it. We are told by Luke and by Paul that Christ appeared to him first among the apostles. It is observable, however, that on that occasion he is called by his original name, Simon, not Peter; the higher designation was not restored until he had been publicly reinstituted, so to speak, by his Master. That reinstitution—an event of the very highest import—took place at the Sea of Galilee. John 21.
The first part of the Acts of the Apostles is occupied by the record of transactions in nearly all of which Peter stands forth as the recognized leader of the apostles. He is the most prominent person in the greatest event after the resurrection, when on the day of Pentecost the Church was first invested with the plenitude of gifts and power. When the gospel was first preached beyond the precincts of Judea, he and John were at once sent by the apostles to confirm the converts at Samaria. Henceforth he remains prominent, but not exclusively prominent, among the propagators of the gospel. We have two accounts of the first meeting of Peter and Paul—Acts 9:26; Gal. 1:17, 18. This interview was followed by another event marking Peter’s position—a general apostolical tour of visitation to the churches hitherto established. Acts 9:32. The most signal transaction after the day of Pentecost was the baptism of Cornelius. That was the crown and consummation of Peter’s ministry. The establishment of a church in great part of Gentile origin at Antioch, and the mission of Barnabas, between whose family and Peter there were the bonds of near intimacy, set the seal upon the work thus inaugurated by Peter. This transaction was soon followed by the imprisonment of our apostle. His miraculous deliverance marks the close of this second great period of his ministry. The special work assigned to him was completed. From that time we have no continuous history of him.
Peter was probably employed for the most part in building up and completing the organization of Christian communities in Palestine and the adjoining districts. There is, however, strong reason to believe that he visited Corinth at an early period. The name of Peter as founder or joint founder is not associated with any local church save the churches of Corinth, Antioch, or Rome, by early ecclesiastical tradition. It may be considered as a settled point that he did not visit Rome before the last year of his life; but there is satisfactory evidence that he and Paul were the founders of the church at Rome, and suffered death in that city. The time and manner of the apostle’s martyrdom are less certain. According to the early writers, he suffered at or about the same time with Paul, and in the Neronian persecution, a.d. 67, 68. All agree that he was crucified. Origen says that Peter felt himself to be unworthy to be put to death in the same manner as his Master, and was therefore, at his own request, crucified with his head downward. The apostle is said to have employed interpreters. Of far more importance is the statement that Mark wrote his Gospel under the teaching of Peter, or that he embodied in that Gospel the substance of our apostle’s oral instructions. [Mark.] The only written documents which Peter has left are the First Epistle—about which no doubt has ever been entertained in the Church—and the Second, which has been a subject of earnest controversy.