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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(Πέτρος , a rock, for the Aram. כֵּיפָא ), originally SIMON (See SIMON) (see below), the leader among the personal disciples of Christ, and afterwards the special apostle to the Jews. We shall treat this important character first in the light of definite information from the New Testament and early Church historians, and disputed questions under a subsequent head, relegating many minor details to separate articles elsewhere.
I. Authentic History. —
1. His Early Life. — The Scripture notices on this point are few, but not unimportant, and enable us to form some estimate of the circumstances under which the apostle's character was formed, and how he was prepared for his great work. Peter was the son of a man named Jonas (Matthew 16:17; John 1:43; John 21:16), and was brought up in his father's occupation, a fisherman on the sea of Tiberias. The occupation was of course an humble one, but not, as is often assumed, mean or servile, or incompatible with some degree of mental culture. His family were probably in easy circumstances (see below). He and his brother Andrew were partners of John and James, the sons of Zebedee, who had hired servants; and from various indications in the sacred narrative we are led to the conclusion that their social position brought them into contact with men of education. In fact the trade of fishermen, supplying some of the important cities on the coasts of that inland lake, may have been tolerably remunerative, while all the necessaries of life were cheap and abundant in the singularly rich and fertile district where the apostle resided. He did not live, as a mere laboring man, in a hut by the sea-side, but first at Bethsaida, and afterwards 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. It is certain that when he left all to follow Christ, he made what he regarded, and what seems to have been admitted by his Master, as being a considerable sacrifice (Matthew 19:27). The habits of such a life were by no means unfavorable to the development of a vigorous, earnest, and practical character, such as he displayed in after- years. The labors, the privations, and the perils of an existence passed in great part upon the waters of that beautiful but stormy lake, the long and anxious watching through the nights, were calculated to test and increase his natural powers, his fortitude, energy, and perseverance. In the city he must have been brought into contact with men engaged in traffic, with soldiers and foreigners, and may have thus acquired somewhat of the flexibility and geniality of temperament all but indispensable to the attainment of such personal influence as he exercised in after-life. It is not probable that he and his brother were wholly uneducated. The Jews regarded instruction as a necessity, and legal enactments enforced the attendance of youths in schools maintained by the community. (See EDUCATION).
The statement in Acts 4:13, that "the council perceived they (i.e., Peter and John) were unlearned and ignorant men," is not incompatible with this assumption. The translation of the passage in the A.V. is rather exaggerated, the word rendered "unlearned" (ἰδιῶται ) being nearly equivalent to "laymen," i.e., men of ordinary education, as contrasted with those who were specially trained in the schools of the rabbins. A man might be thoroughly conversant with the Scriptures, and yet he considered ignorant and unlearned by the rabbins, among whom the opinion was already prevalent that "the letter of Scripture was the mere shell, an earthen vessel containing heavenly treasures, which could only be discovered by those who had been taught to search for the hidden cabalistic meaning." Peter and his kinsmen were probably taught to read .the Scriptures in childhood. The history of their country, especially of the great events of early days, must have been familiar to them as attendants at the synagogue, and their attention was there directed to those portions of Holy Writ from which the Jews derived their anticipations of the Messiah.
The language of the apostles was of course the form of Aramaic spoken in Northern Palestine, a sort of patois, partly Hebrew, but more nearly allied to the Syriac. Hebrew, even in its debased form, was then spoken only by men of learning, the leaders of the Pharisees and Scribes. The men of Galilee were, however, noted for rough and inaccurate language, and especially for vulgarities of pronunciation (Matthew 26:73). It is doubtful whether our apostle was acquainted with Greek in early life. It is certain, however, that there was more intercourse with foreigners in Galilee than in any district of Palestine, and Greek appears to have been a common, if not the principal, medium of communication. Within a few years after his call Peter seems to have conversed fluently in Greek with Cornelius, at least there is no intimation that an interpreter was employed, while it is highly improbable that Cornelius, a Roman soldier, should have used the language of Palestine. The style of both of Peter's epistles indicates a considerable knowledge of Greek; it is pure and accurate, and in grammatical structure equal to that of Paul. That may, however, be accounted for by the fact, for which there is very ancient authority, that Peter employed an interpreter in the composition of his epistles, if not in his ordinary intercourse with foreigners. There are no traces of acquaintance with Greek authors, or of the influence of Greek literature upon his mind, such as we find in Paul. nor could we expect it in a person of his station, even had Greek been his mother-tongue. It is on the whole probable that he had some rudimental knowledge of Greek in early life, which may have afterwards been extended when the need was felt, but not more than would enable him to discourse intelligibly on practical and devotional subjects. That he was an affectionate husband, married in early life to a wife who accompanied him in his apostolic journeys, are facts inferred from Scripture, while very ancient traditions, recorded by Clement of Alexandria (whose connection with the Church founded by Mark gives a peculiar value to his testimony), and by other early but less trustworthy writers, inform us that her name was Perpetua, that she bore a daughter, and perhaps other children, and suffered martyrdom. (See below.)
2. As a Disciple merely. — It is uncertain at what age Peter was called by our Lord. The general impression of the fathers is that he was an old man at the date of his death, A.D. 64, but this need not imply that he was much older than our Lord. He was probably between thirty and forty years of age at the date of his first call, A.D. 26. That call was preceded by a special preparation. He and his brother Andrew, together with their partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were disciples of John the Baptist (John 1:35). They were in attendance upon him when they were first called to the service of Christ. From the circumstances of that call, which are recorded with graphic minuteness by St. John, we learn some important facts touching their state of mind and the personal character of our apostle. Two disciples, one named by the evangelist Andrew, the other in all probability St. John himself, were standing with the Baptist at Bethany on the Jordan, when he pointed out Jesus as he walked, and said, Behold the Lamb of God! that is, the antitype of the victims whose blood (as all true Israelites, and they more distinctly under the teaching of John, believed) prefigured the atonement for sin. The two at once followed Jesus, and upon his invitation abode with him that day. Andrew then went to his brother Simon, and said to him, We have found the Messias, the Anointed One, of whom they had read in the prophets. Simon went at once, and when Jesus looked on him he said, "Thou art Simon the son of Jona; thou shalt be called Cephas." The change of name is of course deeply significant. As son of Jona (a name of doubtful meaning, according to Lampe equivalent to Johmnan or John, i.e., grace of the Lord; according to Lange, who has some striking but fanciful observations, signifying dove) he bore as a disciple the name Simon, i.e., hearer; but as an apostle, one of the twelve on whom the Church was to be erected, he was hereafter (κληθήσῃ) to be called Rock or Stone. It seems a natural impression that the words refer primarily to the original character of Simon: that our Lord saw in him a man firm, steadfast, not to be overthrown, though severely tried; and such was generally the view taken by the fathers. But it is perhaps a deeper and truer inference that Jesus thus describes Simon, not as what he was, but as what he would become under his influence — a man with predispositions and capabilities not unfitted for the office he was to hold, but one whose permanence and stability would depend upon union with the living Rock. Thus we may expect to find Simon, as the natural man, at once rough, stubborn, and mutable, whereas Peter, identified with the Rock, will remain firm and immovable to the end. (See below.)
This first call led to no immediate change in Peter's 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. There were several grades of disciples among the Jews, from the occasional hearer to the follower who gave up all other pursuits in order to serve a master. At the time a recognition of his Person and office sufficed. 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. It took place on the Sea of Galilee near Capernaum, where the four disciples, Peter and Andrew, James and John, were fishing, A.D. 27. Peter and Andrew were first called. Our Lord then entered Simon Peter's boat, and addressed the multitude on the shore; after the conclusion of the discourse he wrought the miracle by which he foreshadowed the success of the apostles in the new but analogous occupation which was to be theirs — that of fishers of men. The call of James and John followed. From that time the four were certainly enrolled formally among his disciples, and although as yet invested with no official character, accompanied him in his journeys, those especially in the north of Palestine.
Immediately after that call our Lord went to the house of Peter, where he wrought the miracle of healing on Peter's wife's mother, a miracle succeeded by other manifestations of divine power which produced a deep impression upon the people. Some time was passed afterwards in attendance upon our Lord's public ministrations in Galilee, Decapolis, Peraea, and Judaea — though at intervals the disciples returned to their own city, and were witnesses of many miracles, of the call of Levi, and of their Master's reception of outcasts, whom they in common with their zealous but prejudiced countrymen had despised and shunned. It was a period of training, of mental and spiritual discipline preparatory to their admission to the higher office to which they were destined. Even then Peter received some marks of distinction. He was selected, together with the two sons of Zebedee, to witness the raising of Jarius's daughter.
The special designation of Peter and his eleven fellow-disciples took place some time afterwards, when they were set apart as our Lord's immediate attendants, and as his delegates to go forth wherever he might send them, as apostles, announcers of his kingdom, gifted with supernatural powers as credentials of their supernatural mission (see Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:13-19, the most detailed account; Luke 6:13). They appear then first to have formally received 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. There was certainly much in his character which marked him as a representative man; both in his strength and in his weakness, in his excellences and his defects he exemplified the changes which the natural man undergoes in the gradual transformation into the spiritual man under the personal influence of the Savior. The precedence did not depend upon priority of call, or it would have devolved upon his brother Andrew, or that other disciple who first followed Jesus. It seems scarcely probable that it depended upon seniority, even supposing, which is a mere conjecture, that he was older than his fellow-disciples. The special designation by Christ alone accounts in a satisfactory way for the facts that he is named first in every list of the apostles, is generally addressed by our Lord as their representative, and on the most solemn occasions speaks in their name.
Thus when the first great secession took place in consequence of the offence given by our Lord's mystic discourse at Capernaum (see John 6:66-69), "Jesus said unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life: and we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God." Thus again at Caesarea Philippi, soon after the return of the twelve from their first missionary tour, Peter (speaking as before in the name of the twelve, though, as appears from our Lord's words, with a peculiar distinctness of personal conviction) repeated that declaration, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." The confirmation of our apostle in his special position in the Church, his identification with the rock on which that Church is founded, the ratification of the powers and duties attached to the apostolic office, and the promise of permanence to the Church, followed as a reward of that confession. The early Church regarded Peter generally, and most especially on this occasion, as the representative of the apostolic body — a very distinct theory from that which makes him their head or governor in Christ's stead. Even in the time of Cyprian, when connection with the bishop of Rome as Peter's successor for the first time was held to be indispensable, no powers of jurisdiction or supremacy were supposed to be attached to the admitted precedency of rank. Primus inter pares Peter held no distinct office, and certainly never claimed any powers which did not belong equally to all his fellow-apostles. (See below.)
This great triumph of Peter, however, brought other points of his character into strong relief. The distinction which he then received, and it may be his consciousness of ability, energy, zeal, and absolute devotion to Christ's person, seem to have developed a natural tendency to rashness and forwardness bordering upon presumption. On this occasion the exhibition of such feelings brought upon him the strongest reproof ever addressed to a disciple by our Lord. In his affection and self-confidence Peter ventured to reject as impossible the announcement of the sufferings and humiliation which Jesus predicted; and he 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." That was Peter's first fall; a very ominous one: not a rock, but a stumbling-stone; not a defender, but an antagonist and deadly enemy of the faith, when the spiritual should give place to the lower nature in dealing with the things of God. It is remarkable that on other occasions when Peter signalized his faith and devotion he displayed at the time, or immediately afterwards, a more than usual deficiency in spiritual discernment and consistency. Thus a few days after that fall he was selected together with John and James to witness the transfiguration of Christ, but the words which he then uttered prove that he was completely bewildered, and unable at the time to comprehend the meaning of the transaction. Thus again, when his zeal and courage prompted him to leave the ship and walk on the water to go to Jesus (Matthew 14:29), a sudden failure of faith withdrew the sustaining power; he was about to sink when he was at once reproved and saved by his Master.
Such traits, which occur not unfrequently, prepare us for his last great fall, as well as for his conduct after the resurrection, when his natural gifts were perfected and his deficiencies supplied by "the power from on high." We find a mixture of zeal and weakness in his conduct when called upon to pay tribute-money for himself and his Lord, but faith had the upper hand, and was rewarded by a significant miracle (Matthew 17:24-27). The question which about the same time Peter asked our Lord as to the extent to which forgiveness of sins should be carried, indicated a great advance in spirituality from the Jewish standpoint, while it showed how far as yet he and his fellow-disciples were from understanding the true principle of Christian love (Matthew 18:21). We find a similar blending of opposite qualities in the declaration recorded by the synoptical evangelists (Matthew 19:27; Mark 10:28; Luke 17:28), "Lo, we have left all and followed thee." It certainly bespeaks a consciousness of sincerity, a spirit of self-devotion and selfsacrifice, though it conveys an impression of something like ambition; but in that instance the good undoubtedly predominated, as is shown by our Lord's answer. He does not reprove Peter, who spoke, as usual, in the name of the twelve but takes the opportunity of uttering the strongest prediction touching the future dignity and paramount authority of the apostles, a prediction recorded by Matthew only.
Towards the close of our Lord's ministry (A.D. 29) Peter's characteristics become especially prominent. Together with his brother and the two sons of Zebedee he listened to the last awful predictions and warnings delivered to the disciples in reference to the second advent (Matthew 24:3; Mark 13:3, who alone mentions these names; Luke 21:7). At the last supper Peter seems to have been particularly earnest in the request that the traitor might be pointed out, expressing of course a general feeling, to which some inward consciousness of infirmity may have added force. After the supper his words drew out the meaning of the significant, almost sacramental act of our Lord in washing his disciples' feet — an occasion on which we find the same mixture of goodness and frailty, humility and deep affection, with a certain taint of self-will, which was at once hushed into submissive reverence by the voice of Jesus. Then too it was that he made those repeated protestations of unalterable fidelity, so soon to be falsified by his miserable fall. That event is. however, of such critical import in its bearings upon the character and position of the apostle, that it cannot be dismissed without a careful, if not an exhaustive discussion. Judas had left the guest-chamber when Peter put the question, Lord, whither goest thou? words which modern theologians generally represent as savoring of idle curiosity or presumption, but in which the early fathers (as Chrysostom and Augustine) recognised the utterance of love and devotion. The answer was a promise that Peter should follow his Master, but accompanied with an intimation of present unfitness in the disciple. Then came the first protestation, which elicited the sharp and stern rebuke, and distinct prediction of Peter's denial (John 13:36-38).
From comparing this account with those of the other evangelists (Matthew 26:33-35; Mark 14:29-31; Luke 22:33-34), it seems evident that with some diversity of circumstances both the protestation and warning were thrice repeated. The tempter was to sift all the disciples, our apostle's faith was to be preserved from failing by the special intercession of Christ, he being thus singled out either as the representative of the whole body, or, as seems more probable, because his character was one which had special need of supernatural aid. Mark, as usual, records two points which enhance the force of the warning and the guilt of Peter, viz. that the cock would crow twice, and that after such warning he repeated his protestation with greater vehemence. Chrysostom, who judges the apostle with fairness and candor, attributes this vehemence to his great love, and more particularly to the delight which he felt when assured that he was not the traitor, yet not without a certain admixture of forwardness and ambition such as had previously been shown in the dispute for pre-eminence. The fiery trial soon came. After the agony of Gethsemane, when the three, Peter, James, and John, were, as on former occasions, selected to be with our Lord, the only witnesses of his passion, where also all three had alike failed to prepare themselves by prayer and watching, the arrest of Jesus took place.
Peter did not shrink from the danger. In the same spirit which had dictated his promise he drew his sword, alone against the armed throng, and wounded the servant (τὸν δοῦλον , not a servant) of the highpriest, probably the leader of the band. When this bold but unauthorized attempt at rescue was reproved, he did not yet forsake his Master, but followed him with John into the focus of danger, the house of the highpriest. There he sat in the outer hall. He must have been in a state of utter confusion: his faith, which from first to last was bound up with hope, his special characteristic, was for the time powerless against temptation. The danger found him unarmed. Thrice, each time with greater vehemence, the last time with blasphemous asseveration, he denied his Master. The triumph of Satan seemed complete. Yet it is evident that it was an obscuration of faith, not an extinction. It needed but a glance of his Lord's eye to bring him to himself. His repentance was instantaneous and effectual. The light in which he himself regarded his conduct is clearly shown by the terms in which it is related by Mark, who in some sense may be regarded as his reporter. The inferences are weighty as regards his personal character, which represents more completely perhaps than any in the New Testament the weakness of the natural and the strength of the spiritual man — still more weighty as bearing upon his relations to the apostolic body, and the claims resting upon the assumption that he stood to them in the place of Christ.
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 (in words still used by the Eastern Church as the first salutation on Easter Sunday) and by Paul that Christ appeared to him first among the apostles — he who most needed the comfort was the first who received it, and with it, as may be assumed, an assurance of forgiveness. 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 took place at the Sea of Galilee (John 21), an event of the very highest import. We have there indications of his best natural qualities, practical good sense, promptness, and energy; slower than John to recognise their Lord, Peter was the first to reach him: he brought the net to land. The thrice-repeated question of Christ, referring doubtless to the three protestations and denials, was thrice met by answers full of love and faith, and utterly devoid of his hitherto characteristic failing, presumption, of which not a trace is to be discerned in his later history. He then received the formal commission to feed Christ's sheep; not certainly as one endued with exclusive or paramount authority, or as distinguished from his fellow-disciples, whose fall had been marked by far less aggravating circumstances; rather as one who had forfeited his place, and could not resume it without such an authorization. Then followed the prediction of his martyrdom, in which he was to find the fulfilment of his request to be permitted to follow the Lord.
With this event closes the first part of Peter's history. It was a period of transition, during which the fisherman of Galilee had been trained, first by the Baptist, then by our Lord, for the great work of his life. He had learned to know the person and appreciate the offices of Christ; while his own character had been chastened and elevated by special privileges and humiliations, both reaching their climax in the last recorded transactions. Henceforth he with his colleagues were to establish and govern the Church founded by their Lord, without the support of his presence.
3. Apostolical Career. — The first part of the Acts of the Apostles is occupied by the record of transactions in nearly all of which Peter stands forth as the recognised leader of the apostles; it being, however, equally clear that he neither exercises nor claims any authority apart from them, much less over them. In the first chapter it is Peter who points out to the disciples (as in all his discourses and writings drawing his arguments from prophecy) the necessity of supplying the place of Judas. He states the qualifications of an apostle, but takes no special part in the election. The candidates are selected by the disciples, while the decision is left to the searcher of hearts. The extent and limits of Peter's primacy might be inferred with tolerable accuracy from this transaction alone. To have one spokesman, or foreman, seems to accord with the spirit of order and humility which ruled the Church, while the assumption of power or supremacy would be incompatible with the express command of Christ (see Matthew 23:10). In the second chapter again, Peter 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 plentitude of gifts and powers. Then Peter, not speaking in his own name, but with the eleven (see Matthew 23:14), explained the meaning of the miraculous gifts, and showed the fulfilment of prophecies (accepted at that time by all Hebrews as Messianic) both in the outpouring of the Holy Ghost and in the resurrection and death of our Lord. This discourse, which bears all the marks of Peter's individuality, both of character and doctrinal views, ends with an appeal of remarkable boldness. It is the model upon which the apologetic discourses of the primitive Christians were generally constructed. The conversion and baptism of three thousand persons,who continued steadfast in the apostle's doctrine and fellowship, attested the power of the Spirit which spake by Peter on that occasion.
The first miracle after Pentecost was wrought by Peter (Acts 3); and John was joined with him in that, as in most important acts of his ministry; but it was Peter who took the cripple by the hand, and bade him "In the name of Jesus of Nazareth rise up and walk," and when the people ran together to Solomon's porch, where the apostles, following their Master's example, were wont to teach, Peter was the speaker: he convinces the people of their sin, warns them of their danger, points out the fulfilment of prophecy, and the special objects for which God sent his Son first to the children of the old covenant. This speech is at once strikingly characteristic of Peter and a proof of the fundamental harmony between his teaching and the more developed and systematic doctrines of Paul; differing in form, to an extent utterly incompatible with the theory of Baur and Schwegler touching the object of the writer of the Acts; identical in spirit, as issuing from the same source. The boldness of the two apostles, of Peter more especially as the spokesman, when "filled with the Holy Ghost" he confronted the full assembly headed by Annas and Caiaphas, produced a deep impression upon those cruel and unscrupulous hypocrites: an impression enhanced by the fact that the words came from comparatively ignorant and unlearned men. The words spoken by both apostles, when commanded not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus, have ever since been the watchwords of martyrs (Acts 4:19-20). This first miracle of healing was soon followed by the first miracle of judgment. The first open and deliberate sin against the Holy Ghost — a sin combining ambition, fraud, hypocrisy, and blasphemy — was visited by death, sudden and awful as under the old dispensation.
Peter was the minister in that transaction. As he had first opened the gate to penitents (Acts 2:37-38), he now closed it to hypocrites. The act stands alone, without a precedent or parallel in the Gospel; but Peter acted simply as an instrument, not pronouncing the sentence, but denouncing the sin, and that in the name of his fellow-apostles and of the Holy Ghost. Penalties similar in kind, though far different in degree, were inflicted or commanded on various occasions by Paul. Peter appears, perhaps in consequence of that act, to have become the object of a reverence bordering, as it would seem, on superstition (Acts 5:15), while the numerous miracles of healing wrought about the same time, showing the true character of the power dwelling in the apostles, gave occasion to the second persecution. Peter then came in contact with the noblest and most interesting character among the Jews, the learned and liberal tutor of Paul, Gamaliel, whose caution, gentleness, and dispassionate candor stand out in strong relief contrasted with his colleagues, but make a faint impression compared with the steadfast and uncompromisiing principles of the apostles, who, after undergoing an illegal scourging, went forth rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus. Peter is not specially named in connection with the appointment of deacons, an important step in the organization of the Church; but when the Gospel was first preached beyond the precincts of Judaea, he and John were at once sent by the apostles to confirm the converts at Samaria, a very important statement at this critical point, proving clearly his subordination to the whole body, of which he was the most active and able member.
Up to this time it may be said that the apostles had one great work, viz. to convince the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah; in that work Peter was the master builder, the whole structure rested upon the doctrines of which he was the principal teacher; hitherto no words but his are specially recorded by the writer of the Acts. Henceforth he remains prominent, but not exclusively prominent, among the propagators of the Gospel. At Samaria he and John established the precedent for the most important rite not expressly enjoined in Holy Writ, viz. confirmation, which the Western Church has always held to belong exclusively to the functions of bishops as successors to the ordinary powers of the apostolate. Then also Peter was confronted with Simon Magus, the first teacher of heresy. (See SIMON MAGUS).
As in the case of Ananias he had denounced the first sin against holiness, so in this case he first declared the penalty due to the sin called after Simon's name. About three years later (comp. Acts 9:26 and Galatians 1:17-18) we have two accounts of the first meeting of Peter and Paul. In the Acts it is stated generally that Saul was at first distrusted by the disciples, and received by the apostles upon the recommendation of Barnabas. From the Galatians we learn that Paul went to Jerusalem especially to see Peter; that he abode with him fifteen days, and that James was the only other apostle present at the time. It is important to note that this account, which, while it establishes the independence of Paul, marks the position of Peter as the most eminent of the apostles, rests not on the authority of the writer of the Acts, but on that of Paul — as if it were intended to obviate all possible misconceptions touching the mutual relations of the apostles of the Hebrews and the Gentiles. This interview was preceded by other events marking Peter's position — a general apostolical tour of visitation to the churches hitherto established (διερχόμενον δεὰ πάντων, Acts 9:32), in the course of which two great miracles were wrought on AEneas and Tabitha, and in connection with which the most signal transaction after the day of Pentecost is recorded, the baptism of Cornelius. A.D. 32. That was the crown and consummation of Peter's ministry.
Peter, who had first preached the resurrection to the Jews, baptized the first converts, confirmed the first Samaritans, now, without the advice or cooperation of any of his colleagues, under direct communication from heaven, first threw down the barrier which separated proselytes of the gate from Israelites, thus establishing principles which in their gradual application and full development issued in the complete fusion of the Gentile and Hebrew elements in the Church. The narrative of this event, which stands alone in minute circumstantiality of incidents and accumulation of supernatural agency, is twice recorded by Luke. The chief points to be noted are, first, the pecaliar fitness of Cornelius, both as a representative of Roman force and nationality, and as a devout and liberal worshipper, to be a recipient of such privileges; and, secondly, the state of the apostle's own mind. Whatever may have been his hopes or fears touching the heathen, the idea had certainly not yet crossed him that they could become Christians without first becoming Jews. As a loyal and believing Hebrew, he could not contemplate the removal of Gentile disqualifications without a distinct assurance that the enactments of the law which concerned them were abrogated by the divine Legislator. The vision could not therefore have been the product of a subjective impression. It was, strictly speaking, objective, presented to his mind by an external influence. Yet the will of the apostle was not controlled, it was simply enlightened. The intimation in the state of trance did not at once overcome his reluctance. It was not until his consciousness was fully restored, and he had well considered the meaning of the vision, that he learned that the distinction of cleanness and uncleanness in outward things belonged to a temporary dispensation. It was no mere acquiescence in a positive command, but the development of a spirit full of generous impulses, which found utterance in the words spoken by Peter on that occasion — both in the presence of Cornelius, and afterwards at Jerusalem. His conduct gave great offence to all his countrymen (Acts 11:2), and it needed all his authority, corroborated by a special manifestation of the Holy Ghost, to induce his fellowapostles to recognise the propriety of this great act, in which both he and they saw an earnest of the admission of Gentiles into the Church on the single condition of spiritual repentance. 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 followed, after an interval of several years, by the imprisonment of our apostle. A.D. 44. Herod Agrippa, having first tested the state of feeling at Jerusalem by the execution of James, one of the most eminent apostles, arrested Peter. The hatred which at that time first showed itself as a popular feeling may most probably be attributed chiefly to the offence given by Peter's conduct towards Cornelius. His miraculous deliverance marks the close of this second great period of his ministry. The special work assigned to him was completed. He had founded the Church, opened its gates to Jews and Gentiles, and distinctly laid down the conditions of admission. From that time we have no continuous history of Peter. It is quite clear that he retained his rank as the chief apostle, equally so that he neither exercised nor claimed any right to control their proceedings. At Jerusalem the government of the Church devolved upon James the brother of our Lord. In other places Peter seems to have confined his ministrations to his countrymen — as apostle of the circumcision. He left Jerusalem, but it is not said where he went. Certainly not to Rome, where there are no traces of his presence before the last years of his life; he probably remained in Judaea, visiting and confirming the churches; some old but not trustworthy traditions represent him as preaching in Caesarea and other cities on the western coast of Palestine; three years later we find him once more at Jerusalem when the apostles and elders came together to consider the question whether converts should be circumcised. Peter took the lead in that discussion, and urged with remarkable cogency the principles settled in the case of Cornelius. Purifying faith and saving grace (Acts 15:9; Acts 15:11) remove all distinctions between believers.
His arguments, adopted and enforced by James, decided that question at once and forever. It is, however, to be remarked that on that occasion he exercised no one power which Romanists hold to be inalienably attached to the chair of Peter. He did not preside at the meeting; he neither summoned nor dismissed it; he neither collected the suffrages nor pronounced the decision. It is a disputed point whether the meeting between Paul and Peter of which we have an account in the Galatians (Galatians 2:1-10) took place at this time. The great majority of critics believe that it did, but this hypothesis has serious difficulties. Lange (Das apostolische Zeitalter, 2:378) fixes the date about three years after the council. Wieseler has a long excursus to show that it must have occurred after Paul's second apostolic journey. He gives some weighty reasons, but wholly fails in the attempt to account for the presence of Barnabas, a fatal objection to his theory. (See Der Brief an die Galater, Excursus, page 579.) On the other side are Theodoret, Pearson, Eichhorn, Olshausen, Meyer, Neander, Howson, Schaff, etc. The only point of real importance was certainly determined before the apostles separated, the work of converting the Gentiles being henceforth specially intrusted to Paul and Barnabas, while the charge of preaching to the circumcision was assigned to the elder apostles, and more particularly to Peter (Galatians 2:7-9).
This arrangement cannot, however, have been an exclusive one. Paul always addressed himself first to the Jews in every city; Peter and his colleagues undoubtedly admitted and sought to make converts among the Gentiles. It may have been in full force only when the old and new apostles resided in the same city. Such at least was the case at Antioch, where Peter went soon afterwards. There the painful collision took place between the two apostles; the most remarkable, and, in its bearings upon controversies at critical periods, one of the most important events in the history of the Church. Peter at first applied the principles which he had lately defended, carrying with him the whole apostolic body, and on his arrival at Antioch ate with the Gentiles thus showing that he believed all ceremonial distinctions to be abolished by the Gospel — in that he went far beyond the strict letter of the injunctions issued by the council. That step was marked and condemned by certain members of the Church of Jerusalem sent by James. It appeared to them one thing to recognise Gentiles as fellow- Christians, another to admit them to social intercourse, whereby ceremonial defilement would be contracted under the law to which all the apostles, Barnabas and Paul included, acknowledged allegiance. Peter, as the apostle of the circumcision fearing to give offence to those who were his special charge, at once gave up the point, suppressed or disguised his feelings, and separated himself not from communion, but from social intercourse with the Gentiles. Paul, as the apostle of the Gentiles, saw clearly the consequences likely to ensue, and could ill brook the misapplication of a rule often laid down in his own writings concerning compliance with the prejudices of weak brethren. He held that Peter was infringing a great principle, withstood him to the face, and, using the same arguments which Peter had urged at the council, pronounced his conduct to be indefensible. The statement that Peter compelled the Gentiles to Judaize probably means, not that he enjoined circumcision, but that his conduct, if persevered in, would have that effect, since they would naturally take any steps which might remove the barriers to familiar intercourse with the first apostles of Christ. Peter was wrong, but it was an error of judgment: an act contrary to his own feelings and wishes, in reference to those whom he looked upon as representing the mind of the Church; that he was actuated by selfishness, national pride, or any remains of superstition, is neither asserted nor implied in the strong censure of Paul. Nor, much as we must admire the earnestness and wisdom of Paul, whose clear and vigorous intellect was in this case stimulated by anxiety for his own special charge, the Gentile Church, should we overlook Peter's singular humility in submitting to public reproof from one so much his junior, or his magnanimity both in adopting Paul's conclusions (as we must infer that he did from the absence of all trace of continued resistance) and in remaining on terms of brotherly communion (as is testified by his own written words) to the end of his life (1 Peter 5:10; 2 Peter 3:15-16). (See PAUL).
From this time until the date of his Epistles we have no distinct notices in Scripture of Peter's abode or work. The silence may be accounted for by the fact that from that time the great work of propagating the Gospel was committed to the marvellous energies of Paul. 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; this seems to be implied in several passages of Paul's first epistle to that Church, and it is a natural inference from the statements of Clement of Rome (First Epistle to the Corinthians, c. 4). The fact is positively asserted by Dionysius, bishop of Corinth (A.D. 180 at the latest), a man of excellent judgment, who was not likely to be misinformed, nor to make such an assertion lightly in an epistle addressed to the bishop and Church of Rome. The reference to collision between parties who claimed Peter, Apollos, Paul, and even Christ for their chiefs, involves no opposition between the apostles themselves, such as the fabulous Clementines and modern infidelity assume. The name of Peter as founder, or joint founder, is not associated with any local Church save those of Corinth, Antioch, and Rome, by early ecclesiastical tradition. That of Alexandria may have been established by Mark after Peter's death. That Peter preached the Gospel in the countries of Asia mentioned in his First Epistle appears from Origen's own words (κεκηρυκέναι ἔοικεν ) to be a mere conjecture (Origen, ap. Euseb. 3:1, adopted by Epiphanius, Haer. 27, and Jerome, Catal. c. 1), not in itself improbable, but of little weight in the absence of all positive evidence, and of all personal reminiscences in the Epistle itself. From that Epistle, however, it is to be inferred that towards the end of his life Peter either visited or resided for some time at Babylon, which at that time, and for some hundreds of years afterwards, was a chief seat of Jewish culture.
This of course depends upon the assumption, which on the whole seems most probable, that the word Babylon is not used as a mystic designation of Rome, but as a proper name, and that not of an obscure city in Egypt, but of the ancient capital of the East. There were many inducements for such a choice of abode. The Jewish families formed there a separate community; they were rich, prosperous, and had established settlements in many districts of Asia Minor. Their language, probably a mixture of Hebrew and Nabathaean, must have borne a near affinity to the Galileean dialect. They were on far more familiar terms with their heathen neighbors than in other countries, while their intercourse with Judaea was carried on without intermission. Christianity certainly made considerable progress at an early time in that and the adjoining districts; the great Christian schools at Edessa and Nisibis probably owed their origin to the influence of Peter; the general tone of the writers of that school is what is now commonly designated as Petrine. It is no unreasonable supposition that the establishment of Christianity in those districts may have been specially connected with the residence of Peter at Babylon. At that time there must have been some communication between the two great apostles, Peter and Paul, thus stationed at the two extremities of the Christian world. Mark, who was certainly employed about that time by Paul, was with Peter when he wrote the Epistle. Silvanus, Paul's chosen companion, was the bearer, probably the amanuensis of Peter's Epistle — not improlably sent to Peter from Rome, and charged by him to deliver that epistle, written to support Paul's authority, to the churches founded by that apostle on his return. (See PETER, EPISTLES OF)
More important in its bearings upon later controversies is the question of Peter's connection with Rome. It may be considered as a settled point that he did not visit Rome before the last year of his life. Too much stress may perhaps be laid on the fact that there is no notice of Peter's labors or presence in that city in the Epistle to the Romans; but that negative evidence is not counterbalanced by any statement of undoubted antiquity. The date given by Eusebius rests upon a miscalculation, and is irreconcilable with the notices of Peter in the Acts of the Apostles. He gives A.D. 42 in the Chronicon (i.e., in the Armenian text), and says that Peter remained at Rome twenty years. In this he is followed by Jerome, Catal. c. 1 (who gives twenty-five years), and by most Roman Catholic writers. Protestant critics, with scarcely one exception, are unanimous upon this point, and Roman controversialists are far from being agreed in their attempts to remove the difficulty. The most ingenious effort is that of Windischmann (Vindicae Petrinae, page 112 sq.). He assumes that Peter went to Rome immediately after his deliverance from prison (Acts 12), i.e., A.D. 44, and left in consequence of the Claudian persecution between A.D. 49 and 51. (See below.)
The fact, however, of Peter's martyrdom at Rome rests upon very different grounds. The evidence for it is complete, while there is a total absence of any contrary statement in the writings of the early fathers. We have in the first place the certainty of his martyrdom in our Lord's own prediction (John 21:18-19). Clement of Rome, writing before the end of the first century, speaks of it, but does not mention the place, that being of course well known to his readers. Ignatius, in the undoubtedly genuine Epistle to the Romans (ch. iv), speaks of Peter in terms which imply a special connection with their Church. Other early notices of less weight coincide with this, as that of Papias (Euseb. 2:15), and the apocryphal Praedicatio Petri, quoted by Cyprian. In the second century, Dionysius of Corinth, in the Epistle to Soter, bishop of Rome (ap. Euseb. H.E. 2:25), states, as a fact universally known, and accounting for the intimate relations between Corinth and Rome, that Peter and Paul both taught in Italy, and suffered martyrdom about the same time. Irenaeus, who was connected with the apostle John, being a disciple of Polycarp, a hearer of that apostle, and thoroughly conversant with Roman matters, bears distinct witness to Peter's presence at Rome (Adv. Her. 3:1 and 3). It is incredible that he should have been misinformed. In the next century there is the testimony of Caius, the liberal and learned Roman presbyter (who speaks of Peter's tomb in the Vatican), that of Origen, Tertullian, and of the ante- and post- Nicene fathers, without a single exception. In short, the churches most nearly connected with Rome, and those least affected by its influence, which was as yet but inconsiderable in the East, concur in the statement that Peter was a joint founder of that Church, and suffered death in that city. What the early fathers do not assert, and indeed implicitly deny, is that Peter was the sole founder or resident head of that Church, or that the See of Rome derived from him any claim to supremacy: at the utmost they place him on a footing of equality with Paul. That fact is sufficient for all purposes of fair controversy. The denial of the statements resting on such evidence seems almost to indicate an uneasy consciousness, truly remarkable in those who believe that they have, and who in fact really have, irrefragable grounds for rejecting the pretensions of the papacy. Coteler has collected a large number of passages from the early fathers, in which the name of Paul precedes that of Peter (Pat. Apost. 1:414; see also Valesius, Euseb. H.E. 3:21). Fabricius observes that this is the general usage of the Greek fathers. It is also to be remarked that when the fathers of the 4th and 5th centuries — for instance, Chrysostom and Augustin — use the words οΑ῾᾿πόστολος, or Apestolus, they mean Paul, not Peter — a very weighty fact.
The time and manner of the apostle's martyrdom are, less certain. The early writers imply,or distinctly state, that he suffered at or about the same time (Dionysius, κατὰ τὸν αὐτὸν καιρόν ) with Paul, and in the Neronian persecution. All agree that he was crucified, a point sufficiently determined by our Lord's prophecy. Origen (ap. Euseb. 3:1), who could easily ascertain the fact, and, though fanciful in speculation, is not inaccurate in historical matters, says that at his own request he was crucified κατὰ κεφάλης; probably meaning by the head, and not, as generally understood, with his head downwards. (See below.) This statement was generally received by Christian antiquity; nor does it seem inconsistent with the fervent temperament and deep humility of the apostle to have chosen such a death — one, moreover, not unlikely to have been inflicted in mockery by the instruments of Nero's wanton and ingenious cruelty. The legend found in St. Ambrose is interesting. and may have some foundation in fact. When the persecution began, the Christians at Rome, anxious to preserve their great teacher, persuaded him to flee, a course which they had scriptural warrant to recommend and he to follow; but at the gate he met our Lord. "Lord, whither goest thou?" asked the apostle. "I go to Rome," was the answer, "there once more to be crucified." Peter well understood the meaning of those words, returned at once and was crucified. See Tillemont, Mem. 1:187, 555. He shows that the account of Ambrose (which is not to be found in the Bened. edit.) is contrary to the apocryphal legend. Later writers rather value it as reflecting upon Peter's want of courage or constancy. That Peter, like all good men. valued his life and suffered reluctantly, may be inferred from our Lord's words (John 21); but his flight is more in harmony with the principles of a Christian than wilful exposure to persecution. Origen refers to the words then said to have been spoken by our Lord, but quotes an apocryphal work (On St. John, tom. 2).
Thus closes the apostle's life. Some additional facts, not perhaps unimportant, may be accepted on early testimony. From Paul's words it may be inferred with certainty that he did not give up the ties of family life when he forsook his temporal calling. His wife accompanied him in his wanderings. Clement of Alexandria, a writer well informed in matters of ecclesiastical interest, and thoroughly trustworthy, says (Strom. 3, page 448) that "Peter and Philip had children, and that both took about their wives, who acted as their coadjutors in ministering to women at their own homes; by their means the doctrine of the Lord penetrated without scandal into the privacy of women's apartments." Peter's wife is believed, on the same authority, to have suffered martyrdom, and to have been supported in the hour of trial by her husband's exhortation. Some critics believe that she is referred to in the salutation at the end of the First Epistle of Peter. The apostle is said to have employed interpreters. Basilides, an early Gnostic, professed to have derived his system from Glaucias. one of these interpreters. This shows at least the impression that the apostle did not understand Greek, or did not speak it with fluency. Of far more importance is the statement that St. Mark wrote his Gospel under the teaching of Peter, or that he embodied in that Gospel the substance of our apostle's oral instructions. This statement rests upon such an amount of external evidence, and is corroborated by so many internal indications, that they would scarcely be questioned in the absence of a strong theological bias. (Papias and Clem. Alex., referred to by Eusebius, H.E. 2:15; Tertullian, c. Marc. 4, c. 5; Irenseus, 3:1; 4:9. Petavius [on Epiphanius, page 428] observes that Papias derived his information from John the Presbyter. For other passages, see Fabricius [Bibl. Gr. 3:132]. The slight discrepancy between Eusebius and Papias indicates independent sources of information.) The fact is doubly important, in its bearings upon the Gospel, and upon the character of our apostle. Chrysostom, who is followed by the most judicious commentators, seems first to have drawn attention to the fact that in Mark's Gospel every defect in Peter's character and conduct is brought out clearly, without the slightest extenuation, while many noble acts and peculiar marks of favor are either omitted or stated with far less force than by any other evangelist. Indications of Peter's influence, even in Mark's style, much less pure than that of Luke, are traced by modern criticism (Gieseler, quoted by Davidson).
II. Discussion of Particular Points. — We subjoin a closer examination of certain special questions touched upon in the above history.
1. Peter's Name. — His original appellation Cephas (Κηφᾶς ) occurs in the following passages: John 1:42; 1 Corinthians 1:12; 1 Corinthians 3:22; 1 Corinthians 9:1; 1 Corinthians 15:5; Galatians 2:9; Galatians 1:18; Galatians 2:10; Galatians 2:14 (the last three according to the text of Lachmann and Tischendorf). Cephas is the Chaldee word Keyphia, כֵּיפָא, itself a corruption of or derivation from the Hebrew Keph, כֵּŠ, "a rock," a rare word, found only in Job 30:6 and Jeremiah 4:29. It must have been the word actually pronounced by our Lord in Matthew 16:18, and on subsequent occasions when the apostle was addressed by him or other Hebrews by his new name. By it he was known to the Corinthian Christians. In the ancient Syriac version of the N.T. (Peshito), it is uniformly found where the Greek has Πέτρος . When we consider that our Lord and the apostles spoke Chaldee, and that therefore (as already remarked) the apostle must always have been addressed as Cephas, it is certainly remarkable that throughout the Gospels, no less than ninety-seven times, with one exception only, the name should be given in the Greek form, which was of later introduction, and unintelligible to Hebrews, though intelligible to the far wider Gentile world among which the Gospel was about to begin its course. Even in Mark, where more Chaldee words and phrases are retained than in all the other Gospels put together, this is the case. It is as if in our English Bibles the name were uniformly given,not Peter, but Rock; and it suggests that the meaning contained in the appellation is of more vital importance, and intended to be more carefully seized at each recurrence, than we are apt to recollect. The commencement of the change from the Chaldee name to its Greek synonym is well marked in the interchange of the two in Galatians 2:7-9 (Stanley, Apostolic Age, page 116).
The apostle in his companionship with Christ, and up to the time of the Lord's ascension, seems to have borne the name of Simon; at least he is always so called by Jesus himself (Matthew 17:25; Mark 14:37; Luke 22:31; John 21:15), and apparently also by the disciples (Luke 24:34; Acts 15:14). But after the extension of the apostolic circle and its relations (comp. Acts 10:5; Acts 10:18), the apostle began to be known, in order to distinguish him from others called Simon, as Simon Peter; the name of Peter, which had at first been given him as a special mark of esteem, being added, as that of a father often was in other cases; and, in the course of time, it seems that the latter name superseded the former. Hence the evangelists call the apostle Peter oftener than Simon Peter. As to the epistles of Paul, he is always called Cephas in 1 Corinthians, but in the other epistles often Peter. As above suggested, the appellation thus bestowed seems to have had reference to the disciple individually and personally. Attaching himself to Christ, he would partake of t
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Peter'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/p/peter.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
the Fourth Week after Epiphany