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A Biographical Study of the Apostle Peter

Updated: Dec 31, 2019


Introduction

This paper is a biographical study of Peter and his miraculous transition from that of disciple of Jesus to apostle of Christ as signified by such dualistic events as his name and identity change; a dramatic water and spiritual baptism; and the severe test of denying Christ at crucifixion followed by putting his own life on the line to minister in Christ’s name (Matt 10:2, 14:26-31, 16:18, 26; Acts 2:1-41).[1] The magnificent Transfiguration of Christ, which Peter witnessed, is reflected within the transfiguration of Peter’s own life through many pivotal accounts which inevitably resulted in his journey into ministry (Matt 17:1-4; Mark 9:2; Luke 9:28-33; Acts 2:1-41). This paper will address four main areas drawn from the New Testament accounts of Peter’s experiences with Christ: discipleship, transformation, denial and apostleship. The goal of this paper is to demonstrate that the many traumatic transitions imposed upon Peter were miraculously designed and orchestrated by Christ to psychologically and circumstantially prepare him for apostleship and to cultivate the spiritual bravery required to undertake a life-threatening ministry.

The initial method of research included a review of Peter’s name and dialogue as found in the Synoptic Gospels, beginning with Matthew and concluding in Luke. Following contrast and comparison between the Synoptics, notations of extra narrative regarding Peter, and citations of key passages, John, Acts and the Petrine epistles were researched as well. Various contemporary sources were reviewed in order to locate emerging biographical themes based upon scripture, such as Peter’s impulsive nature and Christ’s unlikely selection of him as “the rock” on which to build his church (Matt 16:18). As the study continued, more focus was granted to the uniqueness and intensity of Peter’s spiritual experiences which seem to set him apart from the other twelve disciples. Christ’s special indication regarding Peter as “the rock” of his church lends itself toward a special reflection upon the man’s recorded account, which in comparison to the other disciples seems to have been substantially more taxing (Matt 14:26-31, 16:22-23; Luke 9:33, 12:48, 22:31-32; John 18:10-11).

Discipleship

Obedience

Peter is mentioned in the Bible more than any other apostle, and the term “apostle”, or special messenger, is unique to the New Testament.[2] Peter’s rather difficult spiritual transformation and the title, apostle, merge together within the pages of the New Testament, simultaneously pinpointing Christ’s church toward the Great Commission (Matt 28:16-20). Like Peter, those fulfilling it today are spiritually transformed to suit the call. Peter’s biographical account sets forth a pattern of Christian training in spiritual advancement and ironic, predestined parallels.

Peter, one of the twelve chosen disciples, or learners, of Jesus, is often referred to as the Apostle Peter, “the rock” on whom Christ would build his church (Matt 4:18-23, 10:24, 16:18). Jesus takes the initiative in this relationship, purposefully choosing Peter and thusly accepting his impulsive personality type through which to work. However, the road to apostleship included many dramatic exchanges while Simon became Cephas (Aramaic), otherwise known as Peter (Greek).[3] Don Howell, in Servants of the Servant, states:

Jesus stepped into Simon’s boat and began teaching the people gathered on the shore of Lake Galilee. When Jesus commanded [Peter] to cast out the nets he did so out of deference because they had toiled all night and…caught nothing. The miraculous catch of fish was too heavy… As the boats began to sink, Peter fell to his knees… Peter began his journey of faith with a deep understanding of…his unworthiness to stand in the presence of such a majestic person.[4]

Peter receives Jesus’ initial invitation and eventually refers to himself with the singular title, “an apostle of Jesus Christ”, as he writes his epistle to the sojourners, or strangers, “scattered about” (Matt 4:18-23; Mark 1:16; 1 Pet 1:1). However, prior to this apostolic ministry, Peter, the disciple, seemed impulsive of character and often tested the boundaries between bold approach and complete submission to Jesus as Lord (Matt 16:22-23; Mark 8:32-33; John 18:10-11).

Despite his evident impulsiveness of character and inconsistencies in faith, Peter inevitably exhibited obedience to Christ’s commands. The first introduction to him reveals that Simon Peter was the brother of Andrew, and both were fishermen who “at once” left their nets and became Jesus’ disciples (Matt 4:18-23; Mark 1:16-18). The term “at once” (eutheos) indicates immediate action in response to Jesus’ request to follow him (Matt 4:19).[5] It is at their first meeting that Jesus’ command and Peter’s impulsive nature collide in what would eventually become a full pre-destined mission (Matt 4:18-23; Mark 1:16-18). Peter was, however, prone to verbal expressions toward Jesus in the form of inquisition, possibly complaint, and, on occasion, rebuke (Matt 15:15, 16:22-23 ; Mark 8:32-33, 11:21; Mark 13:4; Luke 5:4-5, 12:41; John 13:37). In defense of Christ at his arrest, Peter resorted to violent action (John 18:10-11). Nevertheless, once Peter rides out the waves of each experience, whether literally or figuratively, obedience to Christ prevails (Matt 14:26-31; Luke 22:31-32). The hallmark of this ebbing and flowing faith is the denial of Christ, after which Peter is filled with the deepest remorse shown of him in the Bible (Matt 26; Mark 14; Luke 22; John 18:27). The result of this deep setback is a high comeback relationship with Christ which results in the baptism of the Holy Ghost and an expansion of Christianity into hostile locations (Mark 16:7; Acts 2:1-41, 10).

For contemporaries to partake in the call of the Great Commission, it is imperative to study the significant and seemingly strange or traumatic events which struck along the continuum of Peter’s biographical timeline as Christ transformed the man into an ambassador. Peter was engaged with Jesus as an active, dedicated learner in close relational context. Jesus traveled about all Galilee, teaching, preaching and healing, while Peter followed, observed, assisted and obeyed (Matt 4:23). Though Peter had many impulsive and challenging behaviors, Christ channeled this boldness into a ministry through careful training and close fellowship in the areas of obedience, witness and faith. As a reward for his obedience, Peter’s apostleship status is recorded in Matthew 10:2. Peter’s willing obedience to follow Christ closely is what gives readers a complete apostleship timeline to study as well as emulate.

Witness

Each significant Christological encounter in Peter’s recorded life ends with Peter assuming the role of a witness who must determine how to react to the Lord’s astounding power or wisdom. Peter was present for many miraculous events performed by Christ, some of which were very personal, such as the healing of his mother-in-law (Matt 8:14-15; Luke 4:38). Others had many witnesses, such as the feeding of the five thousand, which made the supernatural work of Christ undeniable (Matt 14:19). Peter exhibited a stretching of his human psychology in both his show of fear and his verbal responses, such as his statement, “Lord, if it is you..,” while Jesus was walking on the sea (Matt 14:28). Some supernatural events included intense fear, life or death scenarios, and psychological grappling (Matt 14:26-31). The surreal circumstances that present themselves to Peter seem to teach spiritual principles which are founded in outlandish belief over psychological stability or physical safety. It is physically impossible for a human being to walk on water, however, with God all things are possible (Matt 19:26; Mark 10:27). Peter was the target for such traversable lines between the natural world and supernatural events at Christ’s hand.

Peter relied upon relationship with Christ to hold him together while he was continually tested on undefinable spiritual realities. For example, after one of Jesus’ most controversial speeches in which the disciples are inquired about their abandonment during difficulty, Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. And we have learned to believe and trust, and we have come to know that you are the Holy One of God, the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:50-69). However, while learning how to follow Christ through a miraculous existence, he, in turn, also tested the boundaries between objection and complete submission to Jesus as Lord (Matt 16:22-23; Mark 8:32-33). In the company of Christ, Peter witnessed great highs and lows and his level of faith and dialog echoed these extreme fluctuations. Inevitably, with the intercession of Jesus, the apostle maintained his walk regardless of how bizarre the conditions or miracles were (Luke 22:31-32, Mark 16:7).

Faith

Jesus both patiently and firmly worked a solid faith within Peter’s fluctuating personality. Peter’s boldness in approaching Jesus and his extreme reliance upon Jesus’ spoken word to keep his life was exhibited when he asked the Lord, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to You on the water” (Matt 14:28). This is indeed a case where perfect love cast out fear (1 John 4:18a). Peter’s familiarity with the humanity of Jesus seems only to give way through an ever-increasing intensity of Jesus’ displays of divinity, such as walking on water or the Transfiguration (Matt 14:26-31, 17:1-4; Mark 9:2; Luke 9:28-33). It is interesting to note that an actual water baptism is not specifically mentioned for Peter, however, metaphorical interpretation allows the consideration that Peter had one of the most profound water baptisms recorded amongst the disciples of Christ. Markus Bockmuehl, in Simon Peter in Scripture and Memory, offers:

Nowhere in the NT is Peter said to have been baptized… Moving on through the Gospel of Luke, even Peter’s identification of Jesus as ‘the Christ of God’ (9:18-20) does not generate reference to his repentance and conversion. …Jesus’ encounter with Moses and Elijah leads to a correction of Peter’s misunderstanding of Jesus’ significance at the Transfiguration, an episode that comes to prominent focus when it is cited in 2 Pet. 1 as undergirding the apostle’s definitive access to the revelation of the gospel in the person of Jesus.[6]

During his water “baptism” Peter attempted to walk on the raging sea, but when he felt the “strong wind” he was frightened and began to sink (Matt 14:30). When he cried out, “Lord, save me [from death],” the Lord reached out his hand (Matt 14:31). This traumatic water baptism performed by Christ for Peter ends with Jesus indicating the event was to expel doubt and instill faith (Matt 14:31). Though Peter’s boldness is fleeting during this account, he learns that the result of his life or death situations on the earth are completely dependent upon the Lord’s sustaining salvation (Matt 14:26-31). While reviewing Jesus’ miracles, Peter states the true identity of Christ as God’s Son—a reference Jesus attributes to Peter hearing from the Father (Matt 16:6-19; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20). First-hand knowledge of Christ’s identity and life-saving power is imperative for an ambassador called to go forth to preach the gospel in a hostile world.

Transformation

Relational Education

Peter was transformed through an educational relationship with Christ, which might be described as conversant and comfortable at times. Peter asked Jesus to explain parables or detail signs in order to learn principles more thoroughly (Matt 15:15; Mark 11:21; Mark 13:4; Luke 12:41; John 13:37). He asked Jesus for clarification on things like forgiveness of others (Matt 18:21). These instances prove that Peter was a serious student of the Lord. On occasion, Peter was asked to speak on behalf of Jesus, such as the inquiry of the tax collectors at Capernaum (Matt 17:24). This marks Peter as being recognized as a close associate of Christ’s (Matt 17:25-27).

This educational relationship also suffered clashes of intensity and moments of awkwardness. Jesus washed Peter’s feet, but only after Peter’s refusal and Jesus’ correction (John 13:6-9). Peter exemplified issues with other disciples in response to the Lord’s individual assignments, such as his inquiry if John were the betrayer just after Jesus’ direct command to Peter to feed his sheep/lambs (John 21:15-22). In response to Jesus’ forewarning of his crucifixion, Peter rebuked the Lord and suffered a stern correction when the Lord said, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are in My way…for you are minding what partakes not of the nature and quality of God, but of men” (Matt 16:22-23; Mark 8:32-33). However, without Peter’s somewhat verbally combative relationship with Jesus, many teaching opportunities may not have presented in the Gospel, as most of these confrontations are followed with further instruction (Matt 16:24-28).

Transfiguration

In addition to practical education, Peter was transformed from disciple into apostle through witnessing the Transfiguration of Christ, both pivotally, such as at the mount, and gradually, as from friend to the resurrected Lord (Matt 17:1-4; Mark 9:2; Luke 9:28-33). During this witnessing of Christ’s progression through his ministry, crucifixion and resurrection, the imprint of the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit was at work within Peter in a type of personal transfiguration. Peter grappled with spiritual adjustments as ever-increasing increments of Christ’s divine power were revealed to him. His statement regarding the booths at Christ’s Transfiguration establishes his attempt to psychologically and spiritually process things too divine for human understanding (Matt 17:4; Mark 9:5; Luke 9:33). His reaction was to perform an action of service in the building of booths, but God himself interrupted Peter’s pride, saying, “This is My Son, My Beloved, with Whom I am…delighted; listen to Him” (Matt 17:5).

David Eastman, in The Ancient Martyrdom Accounts of Peter and Paul, attributes non-canonical writers to have quoted Peter as saying, “Divinity is in the one who reveals the secrets of the heart.”[7] Regardless if Peter actually made the statement, it exemplifies the indescribable nature of the transformative work of God in one of Christ’s ambassadors. There is a two-fold pattern of transfiguration that immerges in the life of Peter—one of a first, or natural account, and another of a second, or divine account. The pattern increases in intensity as Peter’s responsibility as an apostle advances. For example, the divine encounters of Peter’s recorded life illustrate Paul’s indication of transference between two baptisms, as recorded in Acts 19:1-6, in that Peter was a disciple “baptized” by Christ in raging water, yet he required the spiritual baptism of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost prior to full ministry (Matt 14:26-31; Acts 2:1-41). Both were life-threatening—whether momentary from the perils of sinking at sea or the continual pressure of entering the unknown in ministry.

The principle of Peter’s personal transfiguration can also be seen in the change of his name and identity—both done by Christ. What started as his naturally given name in Matthew 16:17, Simon, son of Jonah, is changed into a spiritually figurative name with reference to Christ’s advancement, or use of him (Peter, “the rock”). Douglas Harink, in 1 and 2 Peter, explains:

As the Gospels testify, Peter’s name itself (Petros) is a sign of his exilic existence. In terms of his paternal origin and home, he is Simon Bariona (Simon son of Jonah; Matt 16:17). But when Jesus calls Simon to be his follower, he gives him the Aramaic name Kephas (rock; John 1:42). And when Simon utters the confession that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus declares that Simon is Petros, the “rock” upon which Christ will build his church (Matt 16:17-18). Jesus conscripts Simon son of Jonah into the messianic revolution; he becomes Petros and is thereby rendered a stranger among his own people. At the same time he is made a binding sign of the existence of the church that is, not first by social or political circumstance, but by God’s election, calling, and sending, perpetually in exile, perpetually in Diaspora among the nations. Peter testifies to this when he writes in 1 Pet. 5:13 that both he and the church in Rome from which he writes…are in ‘Babylon’.[8]

This transformation in name and identity shores Peter up spiritually for the ministry he will undertake in Christ’s absence. Jesus earmarks Peter’s spiritual progression in personal ways. Bradford Blaine, in Peter in the Gospel of John, states:

Just as Jesus referred to Peter with the patronymic “Simon son of John” when he first enlisted him as a disciple in Galilee, now, once more in Galilee, he again refers to him by this name. …Jesus uses [the title] here because this passage, like [John] 1:40-42, is a call narrative: Peter’s natural-born identity, defined in part by his paternal line of descent, is being transformed. He is being called from one mode of existence to another. The major difference between the two narratives is that in this new one the stakes are higher. …[F]or Peter, committing fully to Jesus will mean caring for others in Jesus’ absence and, ultimately, surrendering his own life.[9]

These two distinct “existences” exemplified by Simon Peter, may have felt perplexing and challenged him emotionally and mentally. What modern hermeneutical study may judge as impulsive character in Peter may simply have been the result of a spiritually transformative pressure not experienced as intensely by the other eleven disciples (Luke 12:48). For example, Jesus specifically calls Peter out by name in the challenge, “Peter, do you love Me? …[Then] feed My sheep” (John 21:15-19). In addition, Jesus talks directly to Peter regarding Satan’s question to “sift the disciples” in Luke 22:31.

Peter stated the true identity of Jesus as “the Christ” and Christ declared him “the rock” upon which his church would be built, against which the gates of Hades would not prevail (Matt 16:16-20; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20). In addition, Jesus stated, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 16:19). Petros, the “rock”, keys and the kingdom are spiritual concepts, tied strongly to the afterlife, given in direct dialog from Christ in order to strengthen Peter throughout the remainder of his earthly mission. Through the miraculous transformative power of Christ, Peter finds himself named among this mysterious list of divine things which are indeed revealed within the secret places of the heart.

Peter’s personality is transfigured in boldness against Christ, as when he rebuked him, to boldness for Christ, such as when he journeyed to Jerusalem and was imprisoned (Matt 16:22-23; Acts 12:3-10). Harink addresses Peter’s often discussed personality:

As apostle of Jesus Christ, Peter is an exile, homeless in relation to every other factor (genetic, ethnic, sociopolitical, etc.) that might constitute him as the personality that he is. Factors of Peter’s personality become apostolic insofar as Jesus Christ appropriates them and renders them serviceable to Peter’s calling and commission.[10]

Peter’s personality, identity, name, and spiritual and relational state with Christ all change to suit the magnanimity required of a representative of Jesus. Peter counted the cost of following the Lord saying, “…we have yielded up and abandoned everything..,” to which Jesus promised a hundred-fold return (Mark 10:28-30). Harink expounds on Peter and Paul’s apostleship experience: