By Bill Warren, NOBTS
Question: What do we know from the New Testament about Simon Peter?
Bill Warren responds: Peter is probably the best known of the original 12 disciples of Jesus: he had a major role in the early church as he preached at Pentecost in Acts 2, was used by God in a mighty way in Acts 10 to open the door for Gentiles to become Christ-followers without becoming Jews also, and wrote part of the New Testament.
While we don’t know as much as we might like about the disciples, several details about Peter are reported. As mentioned in John 1:41, Simon is Peter’s original name, with “Peter” being the Greek translation of the Aramaic name “Cephas” (“rock”) that Jesus’ gave him, with Paul normally using the name “Cephas” for Peter (two exceptions to this are in Galatians 2:7-8).
According to John 1:44, Peter and his brother Andrew came from Bethsaida (and Philip also), a fishing town on the other side of the Jordan river from Capernaum and in the territory of Herod Philip, not that of Herod Antipas. By the time when Peter encounters Jesus by the Sea of Galilee and is called to be a disciple (Mark 1:16-17), he is married and living in Capernaum with his mother-in-law living there as well in a house that is apparently jointly owned by Peter and Andrew (Mark 1:29).
As part of the “inner circle” of disciples with James and John and sometimes Andrew, Peter was present at the transfiguration, present for Jesus’ discourse in Mark 13, and one of those closest to Jesus at Gethsemane.
Peter stands tall as he speaks up at Caesarea Philippi with that magnificent confession about Jesus being the Messiah (Christ = Greek for Messiah). But Peter’s weakness also shows itself:
Peter seems to have had too much confidence in himself, perhaps even bordering on arrogance. We see this when Peter rebukes Jesus in Matthew 16:22 because he cannot imagine the Messiah being rejected and suffering the outcome that Jesus had just indicated.
Peter is also the one who says at the last supper that he will never deny Jesus even if the others falter (Matthew 26:33-34). Jesus replies that Peter will indeed deny him three times that night, which is exactly what happens.
In that setting, a three-fold denial was a total denial, a denial beyond the realm of an accidental verbal slip or misunderstanding. Peter denied Jesus totally. Remarkably, this total denial is then totally reversed by Jesus in John 21 as Jesus fully reinstates Peter by asking him three times about his love for Jesus.
Peter’s reinstatement and subsequent ministry serve as shining examples of how God can fully reinstate us when we fall and then use us in mighty ways.
Bill Warren PhD is Professor of New Testament and Greek in the Landrum P. Leavell, II, Chair of NT Studies, Founding Director of the H. Milton Haggard Center of New Testament Textual Studies at NOBTS.