PETER (Simon Peter) (Cephas), the Apostle

Other apostles of the Lord
1 Peter and 2 Peter Bible Commentary Guides
1 & 2 Peter Outlines, NIV


Peter, the person [EBD]

Originally called Simon (=Simeon ,i.e., "hearing"), a very common Jewish name in the New Testament. He was the son of Jona (Matthew 16:17). His mother is nowhere named in Scripture. He had a younger brother called Andrew, who first brought him to Jesus (John 1:40-42). His native town was Bethsaida, on the western coast of the Sea of Galilee, to which also Philip belonged. Here he was brought up by the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and was trained to the occupation of a fisher. His father had probably died while he was still young, and he and his brother were brought up under the care of Zebedee and his wife Salome (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; 16:1). There the four youths, Simon, Andrew, James, and John, spent their boyhood and early manhood in constant fellowship. Simon and his brother doubtless enjoyed all the advantages of a religious training, and were early instructed in an acquaintance with the Scriptures and with the great prophecies regarding the coming of the Messiah. They did not probably enjoy, however, any special training in the study of the law under any of the rabbis. When Peter appeared before the Sanhedrin, he looked like an "unlearned man" (Acts 4:13).

"Simon was a Galilean, and he was that out and out...The Galileans had a marked character of their own. They had a reputation for an independence and energy which often ran out into turbulence. They were at the same time of a franker and more transparent disposition than their brethren in the south. In all these respects, in bluntness, impetuosity, headiness, and simplicity, Simon was a genuine Galilean. They spoke a peculiar dialect. They had a difficulty with the guttural sounds and some others, and their pronunciation was reckoned harsh in Judea. The Galilean accent stuck to Simon all through his career. It betrayed him as a follower of Christ when he stood within the judgment-hall (Mark 14:70). It betrayed his own nationality and that of those conjoined with him on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:7)." It would seem that Simon was married before he became an apostle. His wife's mother is referred to (Matthew 8:14; Mark 1:30; Luke 4:38). He was in all probability accompanied by his wife on his missionary journeys (1 Corinthians 9:5; Compare 1 Peter 5:13).

He appears to have been settled at Capernaum when Christ entered on his public ministry, and may have reached beyond the age of thirty. His house was large enough to give a home to his brother Andrew, his wife's mother, and also to Christ, who seems to have lived with him (Mark 1:29,36; 2:1), as well as to his own family. It was apparently two stories high (2:4).

At Bethabara (RSV, John 1:28, "Bethany"), beyond Jordan, John the Baptist had borne testimony concerning Jesus as the "Lamb of God" (John 1:29-36). Andrew and John hearing it, followed Jesus, and abode with him where he was. They were convinced, by his gracious words and by the authority with which he spoke, that he was the Messiah (Luke 4:22; Matthew 7:29); and Andrew went forth and found Simon and brought him to Jesus (John 1:41).

Jesus at once recognized Simon, and declared that hereafter he would be called Cephas, an Aramaic name corresponding to the Greek Petros, which means "a mass of rock detached from the living rock." The Aramaic name does not occur again, but the name Peter gradually displaces the old name Simon, though our Lord himself always uses the name Simon when addressing him (Matthew 17:25; Mark 14:37; Luke 22:31, comp 21:15-17). We are not told what impression the first interview with Jesus produced on the mind of Simon. When we next meet him it is by the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 4:18-22). There the four (Simon and Andrew, James and John) had had an unsuccessful night's fishing. Jesus appeared suddenly, and entering into Simon's boat, bade him launch forth and let down the nets. He did so, and enclosed a great multitude of fishes. This was plainly a miracle wrought before Simon's eyes. The awe-stricken disciple cast himself at the feet of Jesus, crying, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Luke 5:8). Jesus addressed him with the assuring words, "Fear not," and announced to him his life's work. Simon responded at once to the call to become a disciple, and after this we find him in constant attendance on our Lord.

He is next called into the rank of the apostleship, and becomes a "fisher of men" (Matthew 4:19) in the stormy seas of the world of human life (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:13-16), and takes a more and more prominent part in all the leading events of our Lord's life. It is he who utters that notable profession of faith at Capernaum (John 6:66-69), and again at Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:13-20; Mark 8:27-30; Luke 9:18-20). This profession at Caesarea was one of supreme importance, and our Lord in response used these memorable words: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church."

"From that time forth" Jesus began to speak of his sufferings. For this Peter rebuked him. But our Lord in return rebuked Peter, speaking to him in sterner words than he ever used to any other of his disciples (Matthew 16:21-23; Mark 8:31-33). At the close of his brief sojourn at Caesarea our Lord took Peter and James and John with him into "an high mountain apart," and was transfigured before them. Peter on that occasion, under the impression the scene produced on his mind, exclaimed, "Lord, it is good for us to be here: let us make three tabernacles" (Matthew 17:1-9).

On his return to Capernaum the collectors of the temple tax (a didrachma, half a sacred shekel), which every Israelite of twenty years old and upwards had to pay (Exodus 30:15), came to Peter and reminded him that Jesus had not paid it (Matthew 17:24-27). Our Lord instructed Peter to go and catch a fish in the lake and take from its mouth the exact amount needed for the tax, viz., a stater, or two half-shekels. "That take," said our Lord, "and give unto them for me and thee."

As the end was drawing nigh, our Lord sent Peter and John (Luke 22:7-13) into the city to prepare a place where he should keep the feast with his disciples. There he was forewarned of the fearful sin into which he afterwards fell (22:31-34). He accompanied our Lord from the guest-chamber to the garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-46), which he and the other two who had been witnesses of the transfiguration were permitted to enter with our Lord, while the rest were left without. Here he passed through a strange experience. Under a sudden impulse he cut off the ear of Malchus (47-51), one of the band that had come forth to take Jesus. Then follow the scenes of the judgment-hall (54-61) and his bitter grief (62).

He is found in John's company early on the morning of the resurrection. He boldly entered into the empty grave (John 20:1-10), and saw the "linen clothes laid by themselves" (Luke 24:9-12). To him, the first of the apostles, our risen Lord revealed himself, thus conferring on him a signal honour, and showing how fully he was restored to his favour (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5). We next read of our Lord's singular interview with Peter on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, where he thrice asked him, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?" (John 21:1-19). (See LOVE .)

After this scene at the lake we hear nothing of Peter till he again appears with the others at the ascension (Acts 1:15-26). It was he who proposed that the vacancy caused by the apostasy of Judas should be filled up. He is prominent on the day of Pentecost (2:14-40). The events of that day "completed the change in Peter himself which the painful discipline of his fall and all the lengthened process of previous training had been slowly making. He is now no more the unreliable, changeful, self-confident man, ever swaying between rash courage and weak timidity, but the stead-fast, trusted guide and director of the fellowship of believers, the intrepid preacher of Christ in Jerusalem and abroad. And now that he is become Cephas indeed, we hear almost nothing of the name Simon (only in Acts 10:5,32; 15:14), and he is known to us finally as Peter."

After the miracle at the temple gate (Acts 3) persecution arose against the Christians, and Peter was cast into prison. He boldly defended himself and his companions at the bar of the council (4:19,20). A fresh outburst of violence against the Christians (5:17-21) led to the whole body of the apostles being cast into prison; but during the night they were wonderfully delivered, and were found in the morning teaching in the temple. A second time Peter defended them before the council (Acts 5:29-32), who, "when they had called the apostles and beaten them, let them go."

The time had come for Peter to leave Jerusalem. After labouring for some time in Samaria, he returned to Jerusalem, and reported to the church there the results of his work (Acts 8:14-25). Here he remained for a period, during which he met Paul for the first time since his conversion (9:26-30; Galatians 1:18). Leaving Jerusalem again, he went forth on a missionary journey to Lydda and Joppa (Acts 9:32-43). He is next called on to open the door of the Christian church to the Gentiles by the admission of Cornelius of Caesarea (ch. 10).

After remaining for some time at Caesarea, he returned to Jerusalem (Acts 11:1-18), where he defended his conduct with reference to the Gentiles. Next we hear of his being cast into prison by Herod Agrippa (12:1-19); but in the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison gates, and he went forth and found refuge in the house of Mary.

He took part in the deliberations of the council in Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-31; Galatians 2:1-10) regarding the relation of the Gentiles to the church. This subject had awakened new interest at Antioch, and for its settlement was referred to the council of the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. Here Paul and Peter met again.

We have no further mention of Peter in the Acts of the Apostles. He seems to have gone down to Antioch after the council at Jerusalem, and there to have been guilty of dissembling, for which he was severely reprimanded by Paul (Galatians 2:11-16), who "rebuked him to his face."

After this he appears to have carried the gospel to the east, and to have laboured for a while at Babylon, on the Euphrates (1 Peter 5:13). There is no satisfactory evidence that he was ever at Rome. Where or when he died is not certainly known. Probably he died between A.D. 64 and 67.


Peter, the person [SBD]

(a rock or stone ). The original name of this disciple was Simon, i.e. "hearer." He was the son of a man named Jonas, (Matthew 16:17; John 1:42; 21:16) and was brought up in his fatherís 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 pears 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 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 Peterís 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 Lordís public ministrations in Galilee, Decapolis, Peraea and Judea.

The special designation of Peter and his eleven fellow disciples took place some time afterward, when they were set apart as our Lordís immediate attendants. See (Matthew 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 Christís person, seem to have developed a natural tendency to rashness and forwardness bordering upon resumption.

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 Lordís ministry Peterís 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 disciplesí 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 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; Galatians 1:17,18) This interview was followed by another event marking Peterís 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 Peterís 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 apostleís 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 apostleís 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.


Peter, Simon [ISBE]

pe'-ter, si'-mon):

The data for this article are found chiefly in the four Gospels; in Acts 1 through Acts 15; in Galatians 1 and Galatians 2; and in the two Epistles of Peter.

  • 1. Name and Early Career:

    Simon (or Simeon) was the original name of Peter, the son of Jonas (or John), and brother of Andrew, a disciple of John the Baptist, as Peter also may have been. A fisherman by occupation, he was an inhabitant of Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee, though subsequently he dwelt with his family at Capernaum (Matthew 4:18; 8:14; 10:2; 16:16-17; 17:25; Mark 1:16,29-30,36; Luke 5:3-4,5,8,10; 22:31; 24:34; John 1:40-44).

  • 2. First Appearance in Gospel History:

    His first appearance in Gospel history is in John 1:35-42, when Andrew, having discovered Jesus to be the Messiah, "first findeth his own brother Simon," and "brought him unto Jesus"; on which occasion it was that the latter, beholding him, said, "Thou shalt be called Cephas," an Aramaic surname whose Greek synonym is Petros, or Peter, meaning "a rock" or "stone" At this time also he received his first call to the discipleship of Jesus, although, in common with that of others of the Twelve, this call was twice repeated. See Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17; Luke 5:3 for the second call, and Matthew 10:2; Mark 3:14,16; Luke 6:13-14 for the third. Some interpret the second as that when he was chosen to be a constant companion of Jesus, and the third when he was at length selected as an apostle.

  • 3. Life-Story:

    The life-story of Peter falls into two parts: first, from his call to the ascension of Christ; secondly, from that event to the close of his earthly career.

    • (1) First Period:

      The first period again may be conveniently divided into the events prior to the Passion of Christ and those following. There are about ten of the former: the healing of his wife's mother at Capernaum (Matthew 8:14 ff); the great draught of fishes, and its effect in his self-abasement and surrender of his all to Jesus (Luke 5:1-11); his call to the apostolic office and his spiritual equipment therefor (Matthew 10:2); his attachment to his Master, as shown in his attempt to walk upon the waves (Matthew 14:28); the same attachment as shown at a certain crisis, in his inquiry "Lord, to whom shall we go?" (John 6:68); his noble confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, and, alas, the rebuke that followed it (Matthew 16:13-23); the exalted privileges he enjoyed with James and John as witness of the raising of Jairus' daughter (Mark 5:37) and the transfiguration of his Lord (Matthew 17:1-5); and finally, the incident of the tribute money, found only in Matthew 17:24.

      The events beginning at the Passion are more easily recalled, because to so large an extent are they found in all the Gospels and about in the same order. They commence with the washing of his feet by the Master at the time of the last Passover, and the two mistakes he made as to the spiritual import of that act (John 13:1-10); the first of his presumptuous boastings as to the strength of his devotion to his Master, and the warning of the latter as to Satan's prospective assault upon him (Luke 22:31-34), twice repeated before the betrayal in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:31-35); the admission to the garden to behold the Saviour's deepest distress, the charge to watch and pray, and the failure to do so through sleepiness (Matthew 26:36-46); the mistaken courage in severing the ear of Malchus (John 18:10-12); the forsaking of his Lord while the latter was being led away as a prisoner, his following Him afar off, his admission into the high priest's palace, his denial "before them all," his confirmation of it by an oath, his remembrance of the warning when "the Lord turned and looked upon Peter," and his tears of bitterness as he went out (Matthew 26:56-58; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:54-62; John 18:15-27).

      It will be seen that the story of Peter's fall is thus related by all the evangelists, but, to quote another, "None have described it in a more heinous light, than Mark; and if, as is generally supposed, that Gospel was reviewed by Peter himself and even written under his direction this circumstance may be considered as an evidence of his integrity and sincere contrition."

      Nothing more is heard of Peter until the morning of the resurrection, when, on the first tidings of the event, he runs with John to see the tomb (John 20:1-10); his name is especially mentioned to the women by the angel (Mark 16:7); and on the same day he sees Jesus alive before any of the rest of the Twelve (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5). Subsequently, at the Sea of Tiberias, Peter is given an opportunity for a threefold confession of Jesus whom he had thrice denied, and is once more assigned to the apostolic office; a prediction follows as to the kind of death he should die, and also a command to follow his Lord (John 21).

    • (2) Second Period:

      The second period, from the ascension of Christ to the conversion of Paul, is more briefly sketched. After the ascension, of which Peter was doubtless a witness, he "stood up in the midst of the brethren" in the upper room in Jerusalem to counsel the choice of a successor to Judas (Acts 1:15-26). On the day of Pentecost he preaches the first gospel sermon (Acts 2), and later, in company with John, instrumentally heals the lame man, addresses the people in the Temple, is arrested, defends himself before the Sanhedrin and returns to his "own company" (Acts 3; 4). He is again arrested and beaten (Acts 5); after a time he is sent by the church at Jerusalem to communicate the Holy Spirit to the disciples at Samaria (Acts 8). Returning to Jerusalem (where presumably Paul visits him, Galatians 1:18), he afterward journeys "throughout all parts," heals Aeneas at Lydda, raises Dorcas from the dead at Joppa, sees a vision upon the housetop which influences him to preach the gospel to the Gentile centurion at Caesarea, and explains this action before "the apostles and the brethren that were in Judea" (Acts 9:32-41; chapter Acts 11).

      After a while another persecution arose against the church, and Herod Agrippa, having put James to death, imprisons Peter with the thought of executing him also. Prayer is made by the church on his behalf, however, and miraculous deliverance is given him (Acts 12). Retiring for a while from public attention, he once more comes before us in the church council at Jerusalem, when the question is to be settled as to whether works are needful to salvation, adding his testimony to that of Paul and Barnabas in favor of justification by faith only (Acts 15).

      Subsequently, he is found at Antioch, and having fellowship with GentileChristians until "that certain came from James," when "he drew back and separated himself, fearing them that were of the circumcision," for which dissembling Paul "resisted him to the face, because he stood condemned" (Galatians 2:11-14).

      Little more is authentically known of Peter, except that he traveled more or less extensively, being accompanied by his wife (1 Corinthians 9:5), and that he wrote two epistles, the second of which was penned as he approached the end of his life (2 Peter 1:12-15).

      The tradition is that he died a martyr at Rome about 67 AD, when about 75 years old. His Lord and Master had predicted a violent death for him (John 21:18-19), which it is thought came to pass by crucifixion under Nero. It is said that at his own desire he was crucified head downward, feeling himself unworthy to resemble his Master in his death.

      It should be observed, however, that the tradition that he visited Rome is only tradition and nothing more, resting as it does partly upon a miscalculation of some of the early Fathers, "who assume that he went to Rome in 42 AD, immediately after his deliverance from prison" (compare Acts 111:17). Schaff says this "is irreconcilable with the silence of Scripture, and even with the mere fact of Paul's Epistle to the Romans, written in 58, since the latter says not a word of Peter's previous labors in that city, and he himself never built on other men's foundations" (Romans 15:20; 2 Corinthians 10:15-16).

  • 4. Character:

    The character of Peter is transparent and easily analyzed, and it is doubtless true that no other "in Scriptural history is drawn for us more clearly or strongly." He has been styled the prince of the apostles, and, indeed, seems to have been their leader on every occasion. He is always named first in every list of them, and was their common spokesman. He was hopeful, bold, confident, courageous, frank, impulsive, energetic, vigorous, strong, and loving, and faithful to his Master notwithstanding his defection prior to the crucifixion. It is true that he was liable to change and inconsistency, and because of his peculiar temperament he sometimes appeared forward and rash. Yet, as another says, "His virtues and faults had their common root in his enthusiastic disposition," and the latter were at length overruled by divine grace into the most beautiful humility and meekness, as evinced in his two Epistles.

    The leadership above referred to, however, should not lead to the supposition that he possessed any supremacy over the other apostles, of which there is no proof. Such supremacy was never conferred upon him by his Master, it was never claimed by himself, and was never conceded by his associates. See in this Connection Matthew 23:8-12; Acts 15:13-14; 2 Corinthians 12:11; Galatians 2:11.

    It is true that when Christ referred to the meaning of his name (Matthew 16:18), He said, "Upon this rock I will build my church," but He did not intend to teach that His church would be built upon Peter, but upon Himself as confessed by Peter in Matthew 16:16. Peter is careful to affirm this in the first of his two Epistles (1 Peter 2:4-9). Moreover, when Christ said, "I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven," etc. (Matthew 16:19), He invested him with no power not possessed in common with his brethren, since they also afterward received the same commission (Matthew 18:18; John 20:23). A key is a badge of power or authority, and, as many Protestant commentators have pointed out, to quote the language of one of them, "the apostolic history explains and limits this trust, for it was Peter who opened the door of the gospel to Israel on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38-42) and to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius (Acts 10:34-46)." Some, however, regard this authority as identical with the great commission (Matthew 28:19).

    See KEYS, POWER OF THE ,POWER OF THE .

  • 5. Writings:

    The two Epistles of Peter were written presumably late in life, as appears especially of the Second (2 Peter 1:12-15). Both were addressed to the same class of persons, chiefly Jewish Christians scattered abroad in the different provinces of Asia Minor, among whom Paul and his associates had planted the gospel (1 Peter 1:1-2; 2 Peter 3:1). The First was written at Babylon (1 Peter 5:13), doubtless the famous Babylon on the Euphrates, which, though destroyed as a great capital, was still inhabited by a small colony of people, principally Jews (see Weiss, Introduction,II , 150).

    See also PETER, APOCALYPSE OF ,THE FIRST EPISTLE OF .

    • (1) First Epistle.

      The theme of the First Epistle seems to be the living hope to which the Christian has been begotten, and the obligations it lays upon him. The living hope is expounded in the earlier part of 1 Peter 1:1-13, where the obligations begin to be stated, the first group including hope, godly fear, love to the brethren, and praise (1 Peter 1:13 through 1 Peter 2:10).

      The writer drops his pen at this point, to take it up again to address those who were suffering persecution for righteousness' sake, upon whom two more obligations are impressed, submission to authority, and testimony to Christ (1 Peter 2:11 through 1 Peter 4:6). The third group which concludes the book begins here, dealing with such themes as spiritual hospitality in the use of heavenly gifts, patience in suffering, fidelity in service, and humility in ministering to one another. The letter was Sent to the churches "by Silvanus, our faithful brother," the author affirming that his object in writing was to exhort and testify concerning "the true grace of God" (1 Peter 5:12).

      The genuineness of this First Epistle has never been doubted, except of course by those who in these latter days have doubted everything, but the same cannot be said of the Second. It is not known to whom the latter was entrusted; as a matter of fact it found no place in the catalogues of the New Testament Scriptures of the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The first church employing it was at Alexandria, but subsequently the church at large became satisfied from internal evidence of its genuineness and inspiration, and when the Canon was pronounced complete in the 4th century, it was without hesitancy received.

    • (2) Second Epistle.

      The Second Epistle claims to have been written by Peter (2 Peter 1:1; 3:1-2), to doubt which would start more serious difficulties than can be alleged against its genuineness, either because of its late admission to the Canon or its supposed diversity of style from Peter's early writing.

      See PETER, APOCALYPSE OF, THE SECOND EPISTLE OF.

      His object is the same in both Epistles, to "stir up your sincere mind by putting you in remembrance" (2 Peter 3:1). Like Paul in his Second Epistle to Timothy, he foresees the apostasy in which the professing church will end, the difference being that Paul speaks of it in its last stage when the laity have become infected (2 Timothy 3:1-5; 4:3-4), while Peter sees it in its origin as traceable to false teachers (2 Peter 2:1-3,15-19). As in the First Epistle he wrote to exhort and to testify, so here it is rather to caution and warn. This warning was, as a whole, against falling from grace (2 Peter 3:17-18), the enforcement of which warning is contained in 2 Peter 1:2-11, the ground of it in 2 Peter 1:12-21, and the occasion of it in the last two chapters. To speak only of the occasion: This, as was stated, was the presence of false teachers (2 Peter 2:1), whose eminent success is predicted (2 Peter 2:2), whose punishment is certain and dreadful (2 Peter 2:3-9), and whose description follows (2 Peter 2:10-22). The character of their false teaching (2 Peter 3) forms one of the most interesting and important features of the Epistle, focusing as it does on the Second Coming of Christ.

  • 6. Theology:

    The theology of Peter offers an interesting field of study because of what may be styled its freshness and variety in comparison with that of Paul and John, who are the great theologians of the New Testament.

    • (1) Messianic Teaching.

      In the first place, Peter is unique in his Messianic teaching as indicated in the first part of the Acts, where he is the chief personage, and where for the most part his ministry is confined to Jerusalem and the Jews. The latter, already in covenant relations with Yahweh, had sinned in rejecting Jesus as the Messiah, and Peter's preaching was directed to that point, demanding repentance or a change of mind about Him. The apparent failure of the Old Testament promises concerning the Davidic kingdom (Isaiah 11:10-12; Jeremiah 23:5-8; Ezekiel 37:21-28) was explained by the promise that the kingdom would be set up at the return of Christ (Acts 2:25-31; 15:14-16); which return, personal and corporeal, and for that purpose, is presented as only awaiting their national repentance (Acts 3:19-26). See Scofield, Reference Bible, at the places named.

    • (2) Justification.

      But Peter's special ministry to the circumcision is by no means in conflict with that of Paul to the Gentiles, as demonstrated at the point of transition in Acts 10. Up until this time the gospel had been offered to the Jews only, but now they have rejected it in the national sense, and "the normal order for the present Christian age" is reached (Acts 13:44-48). Accordingly, we find Peter, side by side with Paul, affirming the great doctrine of justification by faith only, in the words, "We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we (Jews) shall be saved, even as they (Gentiles)" (Acts 15:11 the King James Version). Moreover, it is clear from Peter's Second Epistle (2 Peter 1:1) that his conception of justification from the divine as well as the human side is identical with that of Paul, since he speaks of justifying faith as terminating on the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ. As we understand it, this is not the righteousness which God is, but the righteousness which God gives (compare Romans 1:16-17; 3:21-25; 2 Corinthians 5:20-21).

    • (3) Redemption.

      Passing from his oral to his written utterances, Peter is particularly rich in his allusions to the redemptive work of Christ. Limiting ourselves to his First Epistle, the election of the individual believer is seen to be the result of the sprinkling of Christ's blood (1 Peter 1:1); his obedience and godly fear are inspired by the sacrifice of the "lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world" (1 Peter 1:17-20 the King James Version). But most interesting are the manner and the connection in which these sublime truths are sometimes set before the reader. For example, an exhortation to submission on the part of household slaves is the occasion for perhaps the most concise and yet comprehensive interpretation of Christ's vicarious sufferings anywhere in the New Testament (1 Peter 2:18-25, especially the last two verses; compare also in its context 1 Peter 3:18-22).

    • (4) Future Life.

      Next to the redemptive work of Christ, the Petrine teaching about the future life claims attention. The believer has been begotten again unto "a lively (or living) hope" (1 Peter 1:3); which is "an inheritance" "reserved in heaven" (1 Peter 1:4); and associated with "praise, and glory and honor at the revelation (Second Coming) of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:7,13; 4:13; 5:4,10; 2 Peter 1:11,16; 3:13, etc.). This "hope" or "inheritance" is so real and so precious as to cause rejoicing even in times of heaviness and trial (1 Peter 1:6); to stimulate to holiness of living (1 Peter 1:13-16); to patience in persecution (1 Peter 4:12-13); fidelity in service (1 Peter 5:1-4); stedfastness against temptation (1 Peter 5:8-10); and growth in grace (2 Peter 1:10-11). It is a further peculiarity that the apostle always throws the thought of the present suffering forward into the light of the future glory. It is not as though there were merely an allotment of suffering here, and an allotment of glory by and by, with no relation or connection between the two, but the one is seen to be incident to the other (compare 1 Peter 1:7,11; 4:13; 5:1; 2 Peter 3:12-13). It is this circumstance, added to others, that gives Peter the title of the apostle of hope, as Paul has been called the apostle of faith, and John the apostle of love.

    • (5) Holy Scripture.

      Considering their limitations as to space, Peter's Epistles are notable for the emphasis they lay upon the character and authority of the Holy Scriptures. 1 Pet 1:10-12 teaches a threefold relation of the Holy Spirit to the Holy Word as its Author, its Revealer, and its Teacher or Preacher. The same chapter (1:22-25) speaks of its life-giving and purifying power as well as its eternal duration. 1 Peter 2 opens with a declaration of its vital relation to the Christian's spiritual growth. In 4:11, it is shown to be the staple of the Christian's ministry. Practically the whole of the Second Epistle is taken up with the subject. Through the "exceeding great and precious promises" of that Word, Christians become "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4 the King James Version); that they may be kept "always in remembrance" is Peter's object in writing (2 Peter 1:12-15 the King James Version); the facts of that Word rest on the testimony of eyewitnesses (2 Peter 1:16-18); its origin is altogether divine (2 Peter 1:20-21); which is as true of the New Testament as of the Old Testament (2 Peter 3:2); including the Epistles of Paul (2 Peter 3:15-16).

    • (6) Apostasy and Judgment.

      This appreciation of the living Word of God finds an antithesis in the solemn warning against apostate teachers and teaching forming the substance of 2 Peter 2 and 2 Peter 3. The theology here is of judgment. It is swift and "lingereth not" (2 Peter 2:1-3); the Judge is He who "spared not" in olden time (2 Peter 2:4-7); His delay expresses mercy, but He "will come as a thief" (2 Peter 3:9-10); the heavens "shall pass away," the earth and its works shall be burned up (2 Peter 3:10); "What manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy living and godliness?" (2 Peter 3:11).

    • (7) Second Coming of Christ.

      Peter's theology concerning judgment is a further illustration of the Messianic character of his instruction. For example, the Second Coming of Christ of which he speaks in the closing chapter of the Second Epistle is not that aspect of it associated with the translation of His church, and of which Paul treats (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), but that pertaining to Israel and the day of Yahweh spoken of by the Old Testament prophets (Isaiah 2:12-22; Revelation 19:11-21, etc.).

LITERATURE.

The history of Peter is treated more or less at length in the introductions to the commentaries on his Epistles, and in works on the life of Christ. But particular reference is made to the following: E. W. Farrar, Early Days of Christianity, London, 1882; J. S. Howson, Studies in the Life of Peter, London, 1883; H. A. Birks, Life and Character of Peter, London, 1887; W. M. Ramsay, The Church in the Roman Empire, London, 1893; Mason Gallagher, Was Peter Ever at Rome? Philadelphia, 1895; A. C. McGiffert, The Apostolic Age, New York, 1897; W. H. Griffith Thomas, The Apostle Peter, London, 1904; G. Matheson, Representative Men of the New Testament, London, 1905; A. J. Southhouse, The Making of Simon Peter) New York, 1906; A. C. Gaebtelein, The Gospel of Matthew, New York, 1907; The Acts of the Apostles, New York, 1912; Edmundson, Church in Rome in the 1st Century, 1913; Smith, The Days of His Flesh, New York, 1911.

On theology of Peter, consult the subject in works on Systematic or Biblical, Theology, and see also R. W. Dale The Atonement, 97-148. London 1875: C. A. Briggs, Messiah of the Apostles, 21-41, New York, 1895; Scofield, Reference Bible, where pertinent.

Among commentaries on 1 and 2 Peter may be mentioned: Brown, 3 volumes, Edinburgh, 1848-56; Demarest, 2 volumes, New York, 1851-65; Leighton, republished, Philadelphia, 1864; Lillie, New York, 1869; G. F. C. Fronmuller, in Lange's Comm., English translation, New York, 1874; Plumptre, Cambridge Bible, 1883; Spitta, Der zweite Brief des Petrus, Halle, 1885; F. B. Meyer, London, 1890; Lumby, Expositor's Bible, London, 1894; J. H. Jowett, London, 1905; Bigg, ICC, 1901.

James M. Gray


1 Peter, Epistle to [ISBE]


Peter's Vantage Points, N. Sween


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