Saint Peter Biography
PETER (Lat. Petrus, from Gk. p έτr os, petros, rock), or Simon Peter. One of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. His original name was the Hebrew Shim'ōn, or Simeon, which was easily shortened to conform to the Greek Simon. He was the son of a certain Jona and (cf. John i. 44) was a native of Bethsaida. In his. early manhood he was a citizen of Capernaum. Here he had a house, and with his brother Andrew was engaged in the fishing business in partnership with Zebedee and his sons (Mark i. 16–31 and parallels). He was married, but whether he had any children is not known. It is likely that he was a man of some property, not a poor, grossly ignorant laborer, though he was not rich. Of his early education and attainments we know nothing. Galilee, his home, was practically a bilingual country, with a fair degree of Greek culture possessed by the Gentile elements of the population. Hence Simon had opportunity for becoming acquainted with colloquial Greek, and there is no good reason for supposing that he was unable to use his Greek Old Testament intelligently.
When the news of the preaching of John the Baptist reached Galilee Simon and Andrew went to hear him. They were impressed and attached themselves to him as at least temporary disciples. Here they became acquainted with Jesus, who gave to Simon the Aramaic surname Cephas, rock, whence his Greek name Peter (John i. 35–42). After continuing with Jesus a while the brothers returned to their accustomed occupation. Soon after he opened his public ministry in Galilee Jesus summoned them from their nets to a permanent discipleship (Mark i. 16 and parallels). They at once left all and followed him. Into the details of Peter's experiences during his two years' intimate association with Jesus we cannot enter. The many incidents recorded in the Gospels give a fairly adequate idea of his general character and disposition. He was a whole-hearted though often blundering disciple. His willingness to be taught enabled him finally to grasp certain great essentials of Jesus' character and mission, so that Jesus could say that he was the rock on which he would build his Church (Matt. xvi. 18). He was one of the three disciples with whom Jesus was most intimate, who alone witnessed his transfiguration (Mark ix. 2–10) and the agony in Gethsemane (Mark xiv. 33). Thoroughly convinced of Jesus' Messiahship, even when the tide of popular favor had begun to ebb, he was yet in great need of enlightenment as to what it really signified (Mark viii. 29–33). His impulsive nature led him to deny his discipleship when Jesus was on trial, but his deeper and more permanent love for his Master soon reasserted itself, and he returned to the scene and was an eyewitness of the Passion. (Cf. 1 Peter v. 1, and the article Peter, Epistles of.) He was the first of the Apostles to whom Jesus revealed himself after his resurrection (1 Cor. xv. 5; cf. Luke xxiv. 34), was present at most of the post-resurrection interviews between Jesus and the disciples, and to him in particular Jesus tenderly and suggestively reintrusted his apostolic commission, at the same time intimating the self-denial and suffering that awaited him in his future career (John xxi. 15 et seq.).
After the departure of Jesus Peter was easily recognized as one of the leading spirits of the little company of believers who were hoping for something, just what they did not know, and who formed the nucleus of the Church. It was he who suggested the appointment of Matthias to take the place of Judas Iscariot, and a few days later, on the day of Pentecost, made the first public attempt to explain and set forth the claims of Christianity and urge its acceptance upon his fellow Jews. (Acts i and ii.) It is interesting to note how rudimentary and undeveloped are the definitions of the chief points of the Christian faith as stated by Peter in the Pentecost sermon. The main problem was how to prove to the Jews that the Jesus they had crucified was really the Messiah, and the chief dependence was naturally upon such Old Testament passages as seemed to support this position. During the next few years, when the first converts were being secured and the first steps in organization planned, Peter seems to have been the most influential man in the Church. His fellow worker and most intimate friend was John. When Christianity spread beyond the bounds of Jerusalem into the various districts of Palestine, Peter and John, and afterward Peter alone, rendered efficient aid by visiting and further instructing the new converts. In Samaria, on such a visit, he came in contact with the local magician Simon Magus (q.v.), a professed convert, whose ignorant cupidity he sternly rebuked. (Acts viii. 20.) Another such tour led him as far as Joppa, on the coast, whence, by divine guidance, but against his prejudices, he went to Cæsarea to proclaim Christianity to Cornelius, the Gentile centurion. He received him and his house into Christian fellowship, and set aside his prejudices so far as to sit at table with them, something he had never before done. (Acts x.) For such conduct an explanation was demanded by some in the mother Church. Though it was pronounced satisfactory, it is probable that certain ultra-conservatives did not approve of what had been done. (Acts xi.)
Up to the attempt of Herod Agrippa I to put him out of the way, i.e., near a.d. 44, or for about 15 years (cf. Acts xii. 3 et seq.), it is probable that Peter made his headquarters in Jerusalem. He was the one member of the apostolic band whom Paul, three years after his conversion, went to Jerusalem to consult. (Cf. Gal. i. 18.) Paul was with Peter 15 days, and in that time was doubtless given a full account of the earthly career of Jesus as complete as Peter's memory allowed. This notice from Paul's own letter is weighty evidence as to Peter's influential position in primitive Christian circles.
After his escape from Herod he left Jerusalem. We know nothing more of him until the time of the Council of Jerusalem (49 a.d.). Here, with characteristic loyalty to the witness of the Holy Spirit, he urged a liberal attitude towards Gentile Christians. With James and John he gave Paul and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship. Soon after this he seems to have visited Antioch (Gal. ii. 11 et seq.), and, true to his principles, fellowshiped heartily with the Gentile members of the Church there, making no distinction between them and himself. But when overzealous emissaries from James of Jerusalem came to Antioch and insisted that the two classes should not eat together, Peter vacillated and weakly submitted to their dictation. This brought forth a sharp and well-deserved public rebuke from Paul. (Gal ii. 14 et seq.) There is no reason to suppose that this resulted in any lasting personal animosity between the two. As the years passed Peter's views of Christian truth broadened and deepened, partly through the influence of Paul's doctrines, but also because of his own honest and earnest spirit. Of Peter's further career we possess almost no information. It is probable that he continued to be occupied in missionary labors, mainly among Jewish communities, in accordance with the agreement noted in Gal. ii. 9. On his journeys he was accompanied by his wife. (1 Cor. ix. 5.) In 1 Cor. i. 12 (written about 53 or 54 a.d.) reference is made to a Cephas party in the Corinthian church, but this does not imply necessarily that Peter had personally visited Corinth. If the word Babylon (1 Peter v. 13) is to be taken literally, he must have labored mainly in eastern Syria and the Tigris-Euphrates valley. But Babylon may be only another name for Rome and is usually so interpreted. The view that Peter wrote 1 Peter at Rome between 56 and 59 a.d. to Jewish and other Christian communities of Asia Minor has no decisive evidence against it, but of the corresponding view that 2 Peter was likewise sent from the same city, only at least 10 years later and to a different circle, the same cannot be said. The whole matter of Peter's presence in Rome at any time rests, it must be admitted, on a very insecure foundation. There is no positive evidence to that effect in the New Testament, and the earliest notice of Peter in early Christian literature (1 Clement, v) is equally indecisive. The next earliest notice (Ignatius, Ep. ad Rom., IV, 3), about 110 a.d., is almost as vague. Later writers (Justin Martyr is a notable exception) generally represent Peter as having labored long and suffered martyrdom in Rome. While obviously unhistorical legends, such as those relating to his controversy with Simon Magus, have grown up in order to fill out a complete story, his residence in Rome for a longer or shorter period is usually accepted, not only by Roman Catholics, but by Protestant scholars of high rank. That he was martyred under Nero about the year 64 is probable, though not certain. Tradition relates that he met his death by crucifixion, but at his own request with his head downward, counting himself unworthy to suffer exactly in the same way as his Master. Roman Catholics reckon St. Peter as the first Bishop of Rome and the first Pope.
The New International Encyclopaedia, Vol XVIII (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920) 414-416.