His original name was Simon in Greek (or the Hebrew variant Shimon), and he was one of the most prominent of Jesus’ original twelve disciples. Like his brother, Andrew, and another of Jesus’ disciple Philip, Peter was originally from a place called Bethsaida (John 1:44). It was a town north of the Sea of Galilee that once had a vibrant fishing industry. He was the son of a man called John (John 1:42, 21:15-17; Matt. 16:17) and received a very basic education that was enough to go into a small fishing business with his partners. He was considered a simple layman by the Sanhedrin because he did not receive a formal scriptural training (Acts 4:13).
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Peter was able to speak Greek as well as his native Aramaic as Bethsaida was a town where the majority of the inhabitants were Greeks. He lived in the Jewish village of Capernaum (Mark 1:21-29), and according to Luke 5, was a fisherman who plied the Sea of Galilee along with his partners James and John (the sons of Zebedee). Peter was already married when Jesus called him to be his disciple. He was nicknamed by the Lord as ‘Cephas’ in Aramaic or ‘Peter/Petros’ in Greek—both of which means ‘rock.’ Indeed, Peter would become one of the foundations of the Jesus movement and the early Christian church (Matt. 16:13-20).
Peter as Jesus’ Disciple
Peter was part of Jesus’ inner circle who, along with Andrew, James, and John, personally witnessed the Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36). Jesus also directed some of the most important questions about his identity as the Messiah to Peter (Matthew 16:13-20; Mark 8:27-30; Luke 9:18-20). Peter reciprocated by questioning Jesus—often clarifying what the Lord meant when he discussed parables and other lessons (Matt. 18:21, 19:27; Mark 13:3-4; Luke 12:41; John 6:68 and 13).
Peter was an unforgettable Biblical character as he was the only one among the disciples who tried to walk on water during a violent storm (Matt 14). Often described as impulsive and headstrong, Peter would declare his loyalty to Jesus several times after the Lord told him that he would deny the Lord three times when the time came(Matt. 26:31-35; Mark 14:27-31; Luke 22:31-38; John 13:31-38). Peter would later redeem himself as one of the leading apostles and spokespeople after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven (Mark 16; Luke 24; John 18 and 20).
After Jesus’ Death
After Jesus’ ascension to heaven, it was Peter who suggested that Judas Iscariot be replaced with another apostle (Acts 1:15-26). He preached to the people who assembled with them during the Pentecost (Acts 2). He and John also healed a crippled beggar in the temple which aroused the anger of the high priests and Sadducees. Because of this, both disciples were imprisoned after they preached to the crowd but were released later (Acts 3). Peter held Ananias and Sapphira accountable for the sin they committed, and he went on to heal many in the temple which attracted additional conflicts with the high priests and Sadducees. Peter and John were sent to Samaria to lay hands on the new believers who later received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8).
The persecution of the early church intensified in 44 AD, and Peter made a miraculous escape after he was imprisoned by Agrippa I. The prominence of Peter would be eclipsed later by the apostle Paul. Although he remained active in the ministry, New Testament passages mentioning his name would be few and far between. Additionally, he wrote the two letters named after him near the end of his life to encourage the new believers in Asia Minor. According to Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical Histories and St Jerome in his De Viris Illustribus (The Lives of Illustrious Men), he was crucified upside down during the reign of Roman Emperor Nero and was buried in the Vatican. The feast day of the apostles Peter and Paul is held on the 29th of June.
Picture By François Boucher – Unknown, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1791513
Eusebius, and Paul L. Maier. Eusebius–the Church History: A New Translation with Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1999.
Jerome, Massilionsis Gennadius, and Ernest Cushing Richardson. Lives of Illustrious Men. Oxford, 1802.
Jestice, Phyllis G. Holy People of the World: A Cross-cultural Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2004.