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Peter may arguably be the second most important person named in the New Testament. Certainly, a case could be made for the Apostle Paul and his thirteen epistles, however, Peter is named over a hundred and fifty times in the New Testament, ranking him second, fittingly, to the name of Jesus. He was a man of an impetuous nature which caused him to him to be paradoxically suited and unfit for leadership at the same time. It is this essential quirk of his nature which makes Peter a perfect and interesting subject for the purposes of a biographical study.

The purpose of any biographical study is to more fully understand practical and applicable life lessons from the life of the subject under study. Therefore, this paper will systematically investigate the biographical information of the Apostle Peter which are reported within scripture. While the primary focus of the investigation will be centered on the nature of Peter’s experiences as related in the four Gospel accounts, this paper will supplement these accounts with appropriate scriptural references which fall outside of the Gospels. Additionally, outside scholarly sources will be investigated as appropriate. The goal of this methodology will be to demonstrate how God qualified Peter to be the leader of His Church and to provide a greater understanding of how Peter is portrayed in the New Testament.

 The Call to Discipleship

Customarily, a biographical study begins with an account of the subject’s birth or early childhood. At the very least, the study would present the reader with a genealogical list. While this tradition is beneficial as it provides historical and cultural background through which the reader may better understand the person being study. However, this paper will unorthodoxically begin with the “call of Peter”; since by the time the reader is introduced within scriptures, he is already a grown Jew with a wife. This literary difficulty necessitates that the study proceeds from the origination of Peter’s preparation which as will be discussed starts with his place within Jewish society.

Common Man

“Peter’s preparation consisted first of all in the fact that he was a man of the common people.”[1] In other words, there was nothing to necessarily separate Peter out as anything special. Peter was merely a Jew who lived in or around the city of Capernaum. His occupation was a simple fisherman. On the surface, there was nothing to indicate that Peter would accomplish anything other than to labor out a living for his family before eventually dying as a subject under Roman rule.

Still, Peter’s commonality shows God’s providence in preparing this future Christian leader in three significant ways. First, Capernaum was a significant commercial city. As Grey notes:

By the time of Jesus and Peter in the early first century AD, Capernaum was situated on the border of two realms: the Jewish tetrarchy of Herod Antipas to the west (in which Capernaum was located) and the predominantly Gentile tetrarchy of Herod Philip to the east. Because of its new status as a border town, Capernaum’s fishing and farming population expanded to include officials from Antipas’ administration, such as toll/tax collectors (see Mark 2:13–17; Matthew 9:9–13; Luke 5:27–32) and military officers (see Matthew 8:5–13; Luke 7:1–10). The growing village’s proximity to the lake and a local trade route also brought interregional traffic and may have attracted less reputable elements of society, such as prostitutes and beggars.[2]

Such an eclectic mixture of societal personages would have given Peter experience in dealing with people from various backgrounds. Such experience would be useful for a leader who would oversee an international organization.

The next way in which we find God’s providence in Peter’s call to leadership through his commonality is simply his Jewishness. Peter was a common Jew who shared the common expectations of the coming Jewish Messiah. This is can be seen by Peter’s quick (and perhaps impetuous) positive response to his brother’s assertion that “We’ve found the Messiah!” (Jn 1:40-43, KNT). [3] Such immediate response would be unlikely if Peter had no notion of the Messiah.

Finally, God’s providence in Peter’s preparation is seen in his occupation as a fisherman. Such an occupation, especially on the Sea of Galilee, required a certain amount of bravery and heroism. Also, the manual labor which such an occupation required would develop a hardy constitution for the experiences which the evangelistic and persecuted life that the church leader would later endure.[4] Additionally while Peter may or may not have been considered wealthy, fishing as an occupation provided a sufficient income to support his family during the three and half years in which he followed Jesus. Keener notes that the text in John’s account does not indicate any other exegesis other than Peter “left a behind relatively well-paying” occupation.[5]

The First Indication of Peter’s Impetuous Nature

The Gospel accounts present three different perspectives concerning the call of Peter. Matthew and Luke’s account are similar in that they place Peter’s call simultaneously with Andrew, his brother (Mt 4:18-22; Lk 5:1-11). However, Luke’s account implies that Peter was the first to recognize Jesus as the Messiah (vs. 8-11). Yet, John’s evidence suggests that Andrew prior to the call had introduced Jesus as the Messiah based upon John the Baptist recommendation (Jn 1:35-42). Peter, then, seemingly rejects this notion. It isn’t until later, as evidenced by Luke’s account, that Jesus is recognized by Peter as the Messiah. This occurs as a result of the miraculous catch of fish to which Peter replies, “Leave me, Lord! I’m a sinner!” (Lk 5:8) This reply echoes Isaiah 6:5;[6] after which Peter immediately responds to Jesus call.

This response gives the reader a glimpse of the impetuous nature of Peter which would re occur in later events. Peter’s initial rejection hastily turned to affirmation in a relatively short period of time. However, John’s Gospel may hint at second thoughts as Peter seems to disappear from the Gospel narrative. Indeed, Brad Blaine, suggests that an entire year may have passed in the Gospel timeline between Peter’s call to discipleship and his first vocal words.[7] This should not suggest that Peter was not being qualified by God. As Blaine also notes, “[H]e shows that he has not been idle in his discipleship.”[8]

There is one last factor that must be mentioned in regard to Peter’s call and his impetuous nature. The reader must not assume that Jesus’s request to follow him was a mere request. R. T. France suggests, “What Jesus issues here is not even an invitation, but rather a demand. Such a summons is more typical of a prophet than of a rabbi.”[9] It must also be remembered that such a summons would have required to most likely leave behind a wife and any kids Peter might have had. This would have made the decision to give up a sustaining job like fishermen in a society which consisted primarily of the “rich and powerful” and the “downtrodden poor.” The middle class was virtually non-existent in the Roman Empire. Additionally, the culture of both Jews and Greeks emphasized the taking care of one’s extended blood lines. “[S]uch abandonment could easily bring them dishonor in the community.”[10] Therefore, Peter’s quick decision to follow Jesus, highlights the impetuousness of his nature.

Discipleship

Two Key Points:

Peter, having decided to enter the discipleship of Jesus, experiences a number of successes and failures as part of his equipping to become the head of the future church. However, when examining these experiences, it is important to keep in mind two significant points. First, it is of tremendous significance to remember that Peter, like all of the disciples, had not yet received the Holy Spirit. Although it may be argued that the Spirit was given when Jesus sends the Twelve out to Israel with the authority to heal and cast out demons (Mt 10:1; Mk 6:7-13; Lk 9:1). However, this seems to be a temporary empowering of the Holy Spirit as was common throughout the Old Testament.[11] This seems especially true given the future events of Pentecost where the Holy Spirit indwells within the disciples (Acts 2).

The second significant point of remembrance is that Peter’s failures were not the result of some personal sin. While one may argue that any failures are the result of the sin nature common to all human beings through Adam (Rom 5:12-21); they certainly were not caused by any specific sin which Peter may have exhibited. In no way, did Peter transgress the law which is the Biblical definition of sin (1 Jn 3:4).

Failures and Successes

Continuing on the premise that Peter’s failures were not the result of some specific sin, nor was his success a result of the Holy Spirit; the impetus for these experiences must be the result of some characteristic which is to be found inherent within his nature. It has been suggested that this characteristic was Peter’s impetuousness. As noted previously, the Gospel accounts highlight this quality within Peter by offering a glimpse with their accounts of his call to discipleship. It is fitting, at this juncture then, to take a closer look at how this particular trait of Peter’s factored into his various decisions and experiences.

Walking On Water

Matthew’s account records this amazing incident where Peter walks on water. (Mt 14:22-36).  There are several unique features of this narrative which highlight both God’s equipping and Peter’s hasty nature. However, many have taught that Peter’s request was a moral shortcoming on Peter’s behalf. Barnes concurs with this exegesis: “Here is an instance of the characteristic ardor and rashness of Peter. He had less real faith than he supposed, and more ardor than his faith would justify. He was rash, headlong, incautious, really attached to Jesus, but still easily daunted and prone to fall.”[12] However, it must be noted that Jesus does not rebuke the request, rather he grants it. (v. 29) This would suggest then, that although Peter’s request was the result of his “characteristic impulsive manner,”[13] such a request was not sinful or Jesus simply would not have granted it.

Still others have suggested that this narrative is a commendation of Peter’s faith in stepping out of the boat. Boiling this narrative down to a simple keep your eyes on Jesus lesson.[14] The real point of this narrative is not that Peter walked on water and failed when he doubted by looking at the waves rather than Jesus (v. 29). This was Jesus teaching his disciples the essence of the Gospel, which is not that Jesus saves (although it’s true he does). No, the essence of the Gospel is simply this, Jesus is Lord; no one else is.[15] Jesus was demonstrating what the disciples would proclaim, “You really are God’s son!” (v. 33)

Peter’s Revelation

The revelation to Peter of the identity of Jesus is perhaps the crux of Peter’s life. Though it may be argued that his restoration was more significant. Still, it cannot be denied that without this revelation the restoration never comes about. It seems likely that this point in which Peter ends his second thoughts and commits to the Messiah.

Peter’s revelation served as an ordination of sorts. His proclamation that Jesus was the Messiah conferred upon him the authority of God’s kingdom (Mt 16:16, 18-19). It also signified that God had called Peter as the leader of the Church. Peter’s hasty nature led him to proclaim this faster than most of other disciples and in a fuller way than even that of his brother Andrew. The proclamation also signified the moment of revelation of Jesus’s death and subsequent resurrection (v. 21).

Once again, Peter’s initial success is short lived. Peter’s hastiness results in a rebuke. As Jesus begins to instruct his followers on His death and subsequent resurrection, Peter immediately get in the way of the death without hearing the resurrection. He cries out, “That’s the last thing God would want, Master! That’s never ever going to happen to you!” (v. 22) Jesus rebuke of Satan rather than Peter indicates that the impetuous nature of his lead disciple is being used to train him for leadership, Satan can use the same quality for his purposes. Peter was in step with Jesus’s identity, not his destiny (v. 23).

Transfiguration

As noted, Peter (and presumably the rest of the disciples) had come to accept Jesus’s identity, but still had to accept his destiny. The purpose of the transfiguration was to train the three most prominent leaders of the first Christians on that destiny. This explains while Peter, John, and James were chosen to experience the event. These three, especially Peter, were going to need to see Jesus in his glory if they were going to persevere through the trials and persecutions of the early church. Without this vision, it seems unlikely that the early church would have remained unified as long as it did. Still, by the late first century and early second the breaking up of the early fellowship has already begun.[16]

Despite the extraordinary significance of the transfiguration appearance to these disciples, Peter’s impulsiveness makes the scene almost comical. Jesus is standing there in full shekinah glory, talking with Moses and Elijah (17:1-3). Here is the first stage of the two-stage post-mortem resurrection being demonstrated and instead of listening, what does Peter do?[17] He talks. He wants to do something. Sitting there watching and learning is just not an option for Peter (v. 4). One can almost imagine the others rolling their eyes as Peter speaks out of turn. Certainly, neither Jesus nor the Father acknowledge the request. The command afterwards to tell no one of the vision is as much for Peter as anyone (v.9).

Washing of Feet

The washing of feet by Jesus was more than a simple demonstration of servant love (Jn. 13:1-17).  It is in John’s gospel the means by which power will be redefined in God’s kingdom.[18] The kingdom will not come by force but through sacrificial love. In typical Petrine fashion, Peter first tries to rashly prevent Jesus from performing such a degrading act (v. 8). After Jesus rebukes Peter once more, Peter then hastily over compensates. Peter now wants Jesus to wash his entire body (v. 9). Jesus responds that this is unnecessary (v. 10). The important thing here for Peter is not that Jesus washed anything. God is training Peter as well as the rest of the disciples to understand the power shift of God’s kingdom. Force will not be necessary. Nor will the Kingdom advance through political assaults and connections. No, it is the simple act of love which will storm the gates of Hades, and depose Caesar as lord. This why Jesus commands the washing of feet as a reminder of how kingdom people are to advance in hostile territory (vs. 12-15).

Garden of Gethsemane

The garden narrative has several interesting features concerning Peter development. First, Jesus takes the three disciples who are to be the cornerstone of the early church with him to the garden. He commands them to keep watch while he prays (Mt 26:36-39). When he returns, he finds all three disciples asleep (v. 40). This is a little odd seeing how it was Passover, and Jews were accustomed to staying up on this particular night in their celebrations. Keener notes: “It was customary to stay awake late on the Passover night and to speak of God’s redemption. They should have been able to stay awake and keep watch; they had probably stayed up late on most other Passovers of their lives.”[19] Yet upon his return, Jesus only calls out Peter (vs. 40-41). The reason for this simple, with the experience of the revelation, Peter had been placed in a role where he was now held responsible for their actions of the entire church. Jesus’s church had been inaugurated at the moment of proclamation. Peter’s leadership role held him as the responsible party.

The next momentous experience for Peter in the Garden is the cutting off of the High Priest’s servant ear. (Jn 18:10). Peter rash action here shows that he certainly did not understand the lesson of the washing of the feet; nor did he learn with his revelation of Jesus identity. Yet Jesus’s rebuke here is an interesting one. He does not rebuke Peter for trying to stop the will of God. Instead, he says, “Don’t you realize that I could call on my father and have him send me more than twelve legions of angels, just like that? But how then can the Bible come true when it says this has to happen” (Mt 26:53-54). Peter did not do wrong by attempting force. Again, he did not sin. Rather, Jesus tells him that the methodology of the advancement of the Kingdom is His prerogative. If it was not, Jesus would not have said that the Father would have honored His request. Again, Jesus is demonstrating the Gospel. He is showing that the methodology of his kingship will be through the suffering servant. This is by His choice, not the Father’s; nor the Holy Spirit. It is by this definition of Power that He will be coronated as Lord. This is what the disciples must come to understand, especially Peter.

Denial and Restoration

It may be correctly noted that the discussion so far as skipped over the prediction of Peter’s denial. For the sake of clarity and unity, this essay will discuss this experience in conjunction with actual event predicted and the subsequent restoration. Other than perhaps the receiving of the revelation, no other event affected Peter than of course his denial of Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest. Such an important event was this that all four Gospel accounts give evidence to it (Mt 26:31-35, 69-75; Mk 14:27-31, 66-72; Lk 22:32, 54-62; Jn 13:31-38, 18:15-27). However, it is Luke’s account that is most relevant for this study.

Luke’s account describes an interesting paradigm in that it seems that the satan wanted to use Peter to betray rather than Judas (22:31). However, this reality does not absolve Peter of his only failure as a result of sin – lying (vs. 54-62). Still, the satan is known as the accuser (Rev 12:10). Up until now, he had nothing upon which to build his case; however, the satan must have also had foreknowledge of Peter’s up-coming sin for he demanded that Peter be turned over to him (v. 31). This event rocked Peter to the core that all four gospels describe him as “weeping” (Mt 26:75; Mk 14:72; Lk 22:62; Jn 18:27). Peter most certainly must have thought what right did He have to lead the others.

While all four gospels focus on the prediction of Peter’s denial, only Luke mentions that Jesus also predicts his restoration (Lk 22:31). This restoring event occurs after Jesus has suffered the cross and been raised from the dead. Peter and John had already examined the empty tomb (Jn 20:1-10). Jesus had already shown himself to the disciples twice (vs. 19-29). Apparently, Jesus had left again and the disciples were waiting for his return. Peter decides to go fishing with some of the other disciples (21:2-4). The unique thing about John’s narrative here is that none of the disciples recognize Jesus as He calls out to them from the shore (v.4). It isn’t until the miracle of the catch of fish that John recognizes Jesus as Jesus. Peter does not recognize Jesus, but at John’s recognition Peter acts typically Peter by jumping into the water and swimming to shore (v.7).

Once all the disciples are on shore, Jesus begins the process of restoring Peter (vs. 15-17). He does not condemn Peter. He simply forces Peter to admit that He did not act in full love towards the Messiah. He commissions Peter to take care of his fellow Christians. Once again, restoring Peter to his role, in front of the others of authority and leadership.

The Selection of Matthias

This study of Peter must fittingly conclude with Peter’s first act as church leader – namely the selection of Matthias to replace Judas. This account is not found in the Gospels, but rather in Luke’s second volume, The Acts of the Apostles. Jesus final command to the disciples before his ascension was “not to go away from Jerusalem, but to wait… for the father’s promise, which I was telling you about earlier” (1:4, author’s emphasis). Peter being Peter, simply could not sit back and wait. He rashly felt that the number of Apostles had to be fulfilled right then and there. A replacement for Judas had to be chosen “for its symbolic message about the restoration of God’s people” (vs. 15-26)[20]

The rest of the disciples agreed despite the fact Jesus had clearly told them to wait. So, under Peter’s guidance the disciples chose Matthias. While it may be argued that replacing Judas was a logical step, it does not appear to be God’s design. This is evidenced by the amount of historical evidence that have been preserved on Matthias in comparison to God’s choice, Saul (Paul) of Tarsus.[21] While thirteen of the letters of Paul have been canonized, there is very little historical data outside the first chapter of Acts concerning Matthias. It must be conceded that God did not prevent Peter’s action, however, this may only imply that God’s sovereign choice was to honor Peter’s authority rather than condemn act.

 Conclusion

 The biographical study of Peter, as discussed in this essay, has demonstrated three very important features about the apostle. First, it shows that Peter was an ordinary man. He was a common Israelite, with a common occupation that provided a sufficient income for his family and nothing more. Peter was not a man of wealth and influence. He was not a natural born leader. He made rash decisions that usually got him rebuked or in trouble. Second, except for the denial of Jesus, these rash decisions were not the result of any specific sin, such as pride or faithlessness. No, rather, they were inherent within his personality. His rashness was no more wrong than a negative outlook by a person who is inherently pessimistic. Finally, despite all the failures, there were also success which point to the providence of God to develop the leader He had chosen. Lewis sums up Peter’s life brilliantly:

“To be sure, his ability may have been merely the happy complex of that variety of talents and experiences which have just been recalled. If so, all the better, since we thus see that efficiency is not a detached, unrelated endowment, but rather the union of ordinary qualities in a ready and responsive soul. Even Peter’s so-called fickleness became a means of might, for the fickleness was really an index of the enthusiastic nature that carried him over difficulties before which calculating minds would have stopped appalled. No other except the impulsive Simon could have been at once both the embodiment of the Adversary and the incarnation of the Rock on which the church should rest (Matt. 16: 16-23).”[22]

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Bibliography

Niv Looseleaf Bible. Hendrickson Publishers, 2004.

Barnes, A. Barnes Notes on the Nt (Barnes). Kregel Publications.

Blaine, B. Peter in the Gospel of John: The Making of an Authentic Disciple. Society of Biblical Literature, 2007.

France, R.T. The Gospel According to Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary. Inter-Varsity Press, 1985.

Guzik, D. Matthew. ENDURING WORD MEDIA, 2012.

Jr., Walter Kaiser. “The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament.” In Pentecostalism in Context: Essays in Honor of William W. Menzies, edited by Wonsuk Ma and Robert P. Menzies, 38-47. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997.

Judd, F.F., E.D. Huntsman, and S. Hopkin. The Ministry of Peter, the Chief Apostle: The 43rd Annual Brigham Young University Sidney B. Sperry Symposium. Deseret Book Company, 2014.

Keener, C.S. and InterVarsity Press. The Ivp Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Lewis, Frank Grant. “Peter’s Place in the Early Church.” The Biblical World 33, no. 3 (1909): 191-200. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3141444.

Radmacher, D., R.B. Allen, and H.W. House. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary: Spreading the Light of God’s Word into Your Life. Thomas Nelson, 1999.

Wood, L.J. The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1998.

Wright, N. T., “How God Became King: Why We’ve All Misunderstood the Gospels.” January Series, Calvin College, 2012.

Wright, N. T., “Cruciformed: Living in the Light of the Jesus Story.” Pepperdine Bible Lectures, Malibu, California, 2016.

Wright, N.T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Fortress Press, 2003.

Wright, N.T. The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation. HarperCollins, 2011.

 

 

[1] Frank Grant Lewis, “Peter’s Place in the Early Church,” The Biblical World 33, no. 3 (1909): 191, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3141444.

[2] Matthew J. Grey, “Simon Peter in Capernaum: An Archaeological Survey of the First-Century Village,” in F.F. Judd, E.D. Huntsman, and S. Hopkin, The Ministry of Peter, the Chief Apostle: The 43rd Annual Brigham Young University Sidney B. Sperry Symposium (Deseret Book Company, 2014), 27-66.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all New Testament scripture references are N.T. Wright, The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation (HarperCollins, 2011).

[4] Lewis,  191.

[5] C.S. Keener and InterVarsity Press, The Ivp Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 130-31.

[6] Unless otherwise noted, all Old Testament References are  Niv Looseleaf Bible (Hendrickson Publishers, 2004).

[7] B. Blaine, Peter in the Gospel of John: The Making of an Authentic Disciple (Society of Biblical Literature, 2007), 30.

[8] Ibid.

[9] R.T. France, The Gospel According to Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary (Inter-Varsity Press, 1985).

[10] Keener is referencing James in John with this quote. However, the same societal pressures would apply to Peter as well. Keener and Press, 54-55.

[11] The indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament is strongly debated among biblical scholars. For more on this debate, see Walter Kaiser Jr., “The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament,” in Pentecostalism in Context: Essays in Honor of William W. Menzies, ed. Wonsuk Ma and Robert P. Menzies (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997). L.J. Wood, The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1998).

[12] A. Barnes, Barnes Notes on the Nt (Barnes) (Kregel Publications), 69.

[13] D. Radmacher, R.B. Allen, and H.W. House, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary: Spreading the Light of God’s Word into Your Life (Thomas Nelson, 1999), 1167.

[14] Guzik offers this exegesis, see D. Guzik, Matthew (ENDURING WORD MEDIA, 2012).

[15] N. T. Wright, “How God Became King: Why We’ve All Misunderstood the Gospels” (paper presented at the January Series, Calvin College2012).

[16] Paul deals with these issues in several of his letters. See 1 & 2 Corinthians, Phillipians, and Colossians

[17] For explanation of the two-stage post-mortem resurrection, See N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress Press, 2003).

[18] N. T. Wright, “Cruciformed: Living in the Light of the Jesus Story” (paper presented at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures, Malibu, California2016).

[19] Keener and Press, 115-16.

[20] Ibid., 320-21.

[21] Paul’s selection as Apostle is recorded in Acts 9:10-42

[22] Lewis,  193.

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