Simon | Biography
Here are Peter's greatest moments, told in the Bible's own words...
Jesus calls Peter
Peter gets Jesus right
Peter gets Jesus wrong
Walking on water
"I don't know him!"
Simon Peter was a fisherman in Galilee, a bit of a backwater in Palestine, and was introduced to Jesus by his brother Andrew. For three years he was Jesus' right hand man, travelling, preaching, healing and baptizing, as well as just hanging round the Master.
According to Matthew, Mark and Luke, it was Peter who first declared that Jesus was the Messiah, who succeeded in walking on the water, and who was the first man to enter the empty tomb. Less impressively, he tried to persuade Jesus not be crucified, disowned Jesus three times on the night of his arrest (cue cockerel), and when walking on the water ended up getting very wet (but I think we'll cut him a bit of slack on that last one, don't you?).
After Jesus' resurrection, it was Peter who preached the first public sermon. The book of Acts says that 3,000 of the people who heard the sermon were converted, which must have been about all of them, so it was probably quite a good one.
Peter was the leader of the first church, in Jerusalem, until Jesus' brother James took over. This may have happened because of a narrow escape Peter had when he was arrested and almost executed. He escaped from prison and probably became a travelling preacher to avoid the same thing happening again.
After extensive missionary travels, Peter probably died in Rome in AD64, in the Emperor Nero's sadistic massacre of Christians after the great fire of Rome. According to 2nd-century tradition, he was crucified upside down on the Appian Way on 29 June.
Simon was given the name Peter by Jesus, who said, "I will call you Peter, which means 'a rock'. On this rock I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18). The word "rock" had never been used as a name before. "Simon," in contrast, means "reed".
This verse is very popular with fans of the Pope who traces his lineage and authority back to Peter and to this incident in particular. Less popular is the verse just afterwards where Jesus calls him Satan and says, "You're in my way" (Matthew 16:23).
Peter is traditionally pictured as a kind of bouncer at the Pearly Gates, from medieval pictures to modern jokes. This is because Jesus says to him in Matthew's gospel, "I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven". (Matthew 16:19)
According to a 2nd-century writer, Peter was crucified upside-down by his own choice, saying, "I am not worthy to be crucified like my Lord". This is quite widely accepted as fact, although his conversation in the same book with a talking dog is not.
This book also contains the "Quo Vadis?" legend, where Peter was fleeing Rome only to meet the risen Jesus coming the other way. When Peter asked where he was going, Jesus replied, "To Rome, to die again". So Peter turned back to face his death.
Saints Peter and Paul did not have an entirely smooth relationship. Paul says, "When Peter came to Antioch, I told him face to face that he was wrong" (Galatians 2:11). A letter written later in Peter's name calls Paul "our dear friend", adding "part of what he says is hard to understand", which is true enough (2 Peter 15-16).
Peter is the patron saint of butchers, bakers and clock makers, not to mention foot problems, Las Vegas and the Pope.
Peter is held to be the first Bishop of the church in Rome, and therefore the first pope. No connection between Peter and Rome is mentioned in the New Testament, but many 2nd-century writings agree that he died there. St Peter's Basilica marks the spot where he is supposed to be buried, and excavators claimed to have found his bones in 1952.
Two letters in Peter's name are included in the New Testament, but the second is so extraordinarily florid in style that few but the most determined scholars accept that he wrote it himself. A fairly impressive tradition says that Mark's Gospel, the earliest, is based on his reminiscences.
"Where Peter is there must be the church."
St Ambrose, 4th century
"I've never been to heaven, but I've been told
Old St Peter knows how to jelly roll."
Hesitation Blues (traditional)
"St Peter, prince of the apostles, by the mercy shown you and the power given you, loose my chains, heal my wounds."
St Anselm, 11th century
"They realized that God had sent me with the good news for Gentiles, and that he had sent Peter with the same message for Jews."
Paul (in Galatians 2:7)