Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 30 March 2017; Revised 11 January 2019
Scripture Text: Scripture quotations may be taken from different versions. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions.
Sources: Bibliographic data for works cited and resources consulted may be found at the end of the article.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic writings and message I use the terms Judah (Jude), Yeshua (Jesus), Messiah (Christ), Tanakh (Old Testament), and Besekh (New Testament). The abbreviation LXX stands for the Septuagint, the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, which was in use by Jews by the mid-2nd century B.C.
Grammar: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009), and the meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB."
The great apostle had three names.
Simon: Grk. Simōn, which almost transliterates the Hebrew name Shimôn ("Shee-mown"), meaning "he has heard." There are nine men in the Besekh with the name "Simōn," but this name does not occur in the LXX at all. In the Tanakh the Heb. name Shimôn appears for the first time as the second son of Jacob and Leah (Gen 29:33) and then the tribe descended from him (Num 1:22-23). His name is translated in the LXX as Sumeōn and in English "Simeon." The apostle may well have been named in honor of the patriarch. We should note that even though Yeshua gave Simon another name he only used "Simon" in directly addressing him (Luke 7:40; 22:31; Mark 14:37; John 21:15-17).
Cephas: Grk. Kēphas ("rock"), a transliteration of the Hebrew name Kępha ("kay-fah," "rock"). Yeshua gave Simon this name upon their meeting (John 1:42). The Synoptic Narratives also mention Yeshua giving Simon the new name (Matt 4:18; Mark 3:16; Luke 6:14). Hamp says that Kępha is probably of Aramaic origin, but the root kęph ("rock," SH-3710) is found twice in the Hebrew Bible (Job 30:6; Jer 4:29) (19f). BDB says kępha is a loanword in Hebrew (495), which for all practical purposes makes it Hebrew. (Many English words have their origin in other languages, but they are still part of English vocabulary.)
Kępha is transliterated as Kēphas in Greek and spelled "Cephas" in English Christian versions. The name carried great personal meaning for the apostle, because it came from Yeshua and not his parents (John 1:42). Paul shows respect for Yeshua's naming and the apostle's leadership position by referring to him as Kēphas 8 times in his letters (1Cor 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; 15:5; Gal 1:18; 2:9, 11, 14).
Peter: Grk. Petros, personal name meaning 'a stone' (BAG, Mounce), although Thayer says the name signifies a stone, a rock, a ledge or a cliff, and Danker defines the name as "rockman." Petros translates the name Kępha ("rock"). The name of Petros occurs frequently in the apostolic narratives (152 times), but only four times in the apostolic letters (Gal 2:7, 8; 1Pet 1:1; 2Pet 1:1).
The combination name "Simon Peter" occurs twenty times in the Besekh, all but three (Matt 16:16; Luke 5:8; 1Pet 1:1) in the book of John. The frequent use by John of the two names together is noteworthy and must be significant even though he never explains his purpose. The simple reason could be that with Simon being such a common name "Peter" became a good way to distinguish him rather than identify him by his city as other persons are identified. Then, Yeshua's choice of naming Simon "Kępha" indicated confidence in his ability to be a prominent leader and pillar of the Body of Messiah. "Peter" would be the name by which the apostle would be known in the Diaspora. Using the combination name conveyed John's respect for his fellow apostle who would become a powerful spokesman for Yeshua.
The name "Peter" carried great personal meaning for the apostle, in part because it came from Yeshua and not his parents. Moreover, the new name prophesied a change of character and purpose as exemplified in the name changes of Israel's greatest leaders: Abram to Abraham (Gen 17:5), Sarai to Sarah (Gen 17:15), and Jacob to Israel (Gen 32:28). Yeshua explained the purpose of the new name in response to the revelation that Peter received from the Father, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God" (Matt 16:16). Yeshua declared,
"Blessed you are, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood revealed it not to you, but my Father, the One in heaven! 18 Moreover I also say to you that 'you are Peter,' and upon this rock I will build My assembly; and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it." (Matt 16:17-18 mine)
In the history of Christianity ecclesiastical authority determined on the basis of Yeshua's pronouncement that Peter was the first Pope. Protestants and Evangelicals have disagreed with that belief and interpreted the reference to "rock" as pertaining to the revelation given to Peter. Yeshua does, of course, engage in a certain word play. In the Tanakh God is frequently called "rock" (e.g., Deut 32:15, 18, 30-31; 2Sam 22:2-3, 32, 47; 23:3). To be called "rock" was also a Semitic expression designating the solid foundation upon which a community would be built. For instance, a Jewish midrash explains Abraham to be the rock of Israel based on Isaiah 51:1-2:
"When the Holy One wanted to create the world he passed over the generations of Enoch and the Flood, but when he saw Avraham who was to arise, he said 'Behold, I have found a rock (petra) on which I can build and establish the world.' Therefore he called Avraham a rock, as it is said (Isaiah 51:1-2), 'Look to the rock from which you were hewn.'" (Yalkut on B'midbar/Numbers 23:9; cited in Kasdan 173).
Moreover Yeshua followed his declaration by making an important promise to Peter, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven" (Matt 16:19 NASB). The mention of the keys alludes to the authority that the overseer of the King's household wielded (cf. 2Kgs 18:17-19; Isa 22:19-22). The "kingdom of heaven" is not the third heaven where God dwells and Peter supposedly stands at the gate screening admissions. Rather the kingdom of heaven is an expression that alludes to the authority of the King Messiah ruling over his household (cf. Matt 13:52; Luke 17:21). The "keys" gave Peter leadership authority in the household of faith.
The terms "binding" and "loosing" illustrate rabbinic legal principles related to the right to judge and to decide points of halakhah or application of Torah. Thus, "binding" means to restrict or impose a requirement and "loose" means to permit or free from a requirement (cf. Matt 18:18-19). Yeshua clearly intended Peter to have significant authority in the Body of Messiah and saw in him potential for a great leader. Luke records multiple occasions when Peter exercised this authority in acting as the spokesman for the Yeshua movement, in resolving conflicts and making judgments (Acts 1:15; 2:14, 38; 3:12; 4:19; 5:3; 8:20; 11:1-4; 15:7). However, Yeshua forbade his apostles from exercising exclusive authority over others as the Sages and organizing disciples in their own names as the schools of Hillel and Shammai (Matt 23:8-10).
Peter never exercised superior authority over his fellow apostles and on one occasion had to be corrected by Paul (Gal 2:11). Yet Paul also included Peter among the preeminent apostles (2Cor 12:11). To take the leap from Yeshua granting significant authority to Peter in his future ministry to appointing him as the first pope and upon that decision supporting the rationale for the papacy, is a gross misrepresentation and misapplication of Yeshua's words. Peter was an observant Galilean Jew who faithfully and humbly followed Yeshua and proclaimed the good news of the Messiah of Israel. The very concept of the papacy as the head of a religion cut off from its Jewish roots, advocating replacement theology and fomenting widespread persecution of Jews, is anathema to everything that Peter represented.
Simon Peter lived during a momentous time in history. Significant events of the first century contemporary with the life of Peter include:
14–37: Reign of Caesar Tiberius.
37–41: Reign of Caesar Caligula.
41–54: Reign of Caesar Claudius.
54–68: Reign of Caesar Nero.
Rulers in Judaea
1–39: Tetrarchy of Herod Antipas over Galilee and Perea (Luke 3:1).
1–34: Tetrarchy of Herod Philip over Gaulantis, Ituraea and Trachonitis (Luke 3:1).
26–36: Procuratorship of Pontius Pilate over Judaea (Matt 27:2).
52–60: Procuratorship of Marcus Antonius Felix over Judaea (Acts 23:24). [Josephus, Ant. XX, Chap. 7]
60–62: Procuratorship of Porcius Festus over Judaea (Acts 24:27). [Josephus, Ant., XX, 8:9-11]
30: Crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Yeshua.
49/50: Expulsion from or restriction on Messianic Judeans from Rome under Caesar Claudius (Acts 18:2). The edict remained in effect until the accession of Nero. [Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Book V, 25:4; Cassius Dio, Roman History, LX, 6:6-7; Paulus Orosius, History Against the Pagans, Book VII, 6.15]
64: Fire of Rome, for which Nero blamed Christians. [Tacitus, Annals of Imperial Rome, 15.44]
66: Jewish war against Rome.
68: Suicide of Caesar Nero.
70: Destruction of the Jerusalem Temple.
The assignment of dates to events in the lifetime of the apostles is largely guesswork. The apostolic writings do not assign dates to events, other than references to the reign of a ruler (e.g., Luke 2:1-2; 3:1). The Church Fathers also date lives of the apostles in the same manner. Apostolic writings mention periods of time from one event to another, e.g., "two years" (Acts 19:10; 24:27; 28:30), "three years" (Acts 20:31; Gal 1:18), "fourteen years" (2Cor 12:2; Gal 2:1), and "several years" (Acts 24:17). The timeline of apostolic activity is typically computed from the year assumed for Yeshua's death. Some scholars date Yeshua's death in AD 33, but the evidence is strong for Yeshua's death in AD 30, which is the starting point for my timeline. I also consider the dating information of Eusebius in his Church History.
His Life and Ministry
Peter's date of birth is unknown and he was an adult when he met Yeshua. Peter was originally from Bethsaida (John 1:44). The name of Peter's father is given in John 1:42 and 21:15-17 as John (Grk. Iōannēs; Heb. Yochanan), but he had a very special family ancestry. Yeshua addressed him as "Simon Barjona" (Heb. bar Yona) (Matt 16:17), which means that Simon's family descended from the prophet Jonah. There are some remarkable parallels between the life of Jonah and of Peter: (1) they were both from Galilee; (2) they both experienced a great storm at sea; (3) they both initially rejected God's stated purposes; (4) they both went to the city of Joppa; and (5) they both were given a mission of taking the message of God to non-Israelites.
As a boy Peter would have been given the education common to boys in synagogue school. Jewish learning typically occurred in stages: "five years for [the study of] Scripture, ten for mishnah, thirteen for [becoming subject to] commandments, fifteen for talmud" (Avot 5:21). Educational subjects included Bible history, Torah standards and Hebrew grammar. He very likely learned the trade of fishing and boat handling from his father. Galilee had a diverse culture and Greek was the language of commerce, so it would have been natural for him to learn Greek, or at least the dialect of Jewish Greek. At some point in his youth as customary among Jews Simon took a wife (Mark 1:30; 1Cor 9:5).
As an adult Peter maintained a residence in Capernaum (Mark 1:21, 29). The typical age of marriage for males was at 18 (Avot 5:21), but marriage might also take place anywhere from 16-24 years of age (Kidd. 29b-30a). Peter together with his brother Andrew engaged in a business of fishing from the Sea of Galilee (Luke 5:2-3; John 21:3), including working in partnership with the sons of Zebedee (Luke 5:10). In the first century the Sea of Galilee was of major commercial significance and most Galilean roads passed by it. Nine towns lined its shores. Fishermen in their boats searched the edges of the lake by day and night and thousands of tons of fish were salted down or dried and sent to Jerusalem and abroad each year.
Then he met Yeshua and his life was irrevocably changed.
Calling and Preparation, A.D. 26-30
In the Winter of 26-27 Andrew, who had become a disciple (Grk. mathētēs; Heb. talmid) of Yochanan the Immerser, introduced Peter to Yeshua (John 1:40-42). Yeshua and Peter spent a short time together, but Yeshua did not issue a call for Peter to join him at that time. Peter's term of training as a disciple began in the spring of 28 when Yeshua came to Capernaum and called him to leave his fishing business (Matt 4:18). After Yeshua performed the miracle of the great catch of fish, Peter was clearly in awe of Yeshua and declared himself a sinful man and therefore unworthy to be a disciple (Luke 5:8). Yeshua insisted on Peter following him and Peter complied. In first century Jewish culture becoming a talmid would radically change a man's life and required commitment, sacrifice and obedience.
After their encounter in Galilee Peter took Yeshua to his home where Yeshua healed Peter's mother-in-law (Matt 8:14-15). A particular hardship of a married talmid was being away from his wife. By rabbinic law a married man needed the permission of his wife to leave home for longer than thirty days to study with a sage (Ketubot 5:6). We know that Peter's wife later traveled with him during his itinerate apostolic ministry (1Cor 9:5), but her presence with her husband may have begun during this period.
Peter soon became one of three apostles considered to be Yeshua's inner circle with Jacob ("James") and John (Matt 17:1). Among the Twelve Peter appears to be the chief leader. His name always occurs first in the lists of disciples (Matt 10:2; Mark 3:16; Luke 6:14). He frequently served as the spokesman for the disciples (cf. Mark 8:29) and was usually the one who raised questions they all seemed to be asking (Matt 15:15; 18:21; Mark 10:28; 11:21; Luke 12:41). Yeshua often singled out Peter for teachings intended for the entire group of disciples (cf. Mark 8:29-33).
Peter was present with Yeshua at the raising of the synagogue ruler's daughter (Mark 5:35-41). He demonstrated his courage after Yeshua calmed the stormy sea by attempting to walk on water (Matt 14:28). He faltered when he took his eyes off Yeshua, a valuable lesson to all disciples. Yet, his bravery is also a lesson to disciples. Peter was at the transfiguration of Yeshua on a mountain in the autumn of 29 and heard the bat qol, "This is my beloved Son" (Mark 9:2-8), after which he was the first apostle to publicly announce Yeshua as the Messiah (Matt 16:15). In the Spring of 30 Peter, along with John, was chosen to prepare the last Passover Seder for Yeshua (Luke 22:8). During this meal celebration Yeshua washed the feet of his disciples, Peter at first objecting, and then submitting to being washed (John 13:5-12).
During supper Yeshua prophesied that Peter would deny him, but Peter could not comprehend such a thing. When Yeshua and his disciples went to Gethsemane, Yeshua asked Peter, Jacob and John, to serve as watchmen during his agony of prayer, but unfortunately the disciples fell asleep (Matt 26:37, 40). Peter was thus present at the arrest of Yeshua in Gethsemane (Matt 26:36-37, 57-58) and sought to defend his Master by attacking the servant of the high priest with a sword and cut off his ear (John 18:10). Yeshua healed the man's ear to prevent Peter's arrest.
Peter manifested fierce loyalty by following Yeshua into the high priest's courtyard when the other disciples had fled and witnessed the trial before Annas (John 18:15-16). Yet his weakness showed with his infamous denial scene (Mark 14:66-72). Providentially he was the first apostle to witness the resurrection of Yeshua (Luke 24:34; 1Cor 15:5), and later the risen Lord restored Peter to his position of prominence (John 21:15-19; cf. Mark 16:7). Then he witnessed Yeshua's post-resurrection appearances and 40 days later his ascension to heaven (Acts 1:1-11).
The apostolic narratives preserve statements of various members of the Twelve, perhaps the most by Peter. Memorable quotes from Peter during his time with Yeshua include the following (taken from the ESV):
"Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." (Matt 14:28).
"Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." (John 6:68)
"You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God." (Matt 16:16; para. Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20).
"Far be it from you, Lord. This shall never happen to you." (Matt 16:22).
"Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah." (Matt 17:4; para. Mark 9:5; Luke 9:33)
"Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" (Matt 18:21)
"See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?" (Matt 19:27; para. Mark 10:28; Luke 18:28)
"Lord, do you wash my feet?" (John 13:6); "You shall never wash my feet." (John 13:8); "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" (John 13:9)
"Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you." (John 13:37)
"Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away." (Matt 26:33; para. Mark 14:29)
"Man, I am not." (Luke 22:58; para. John 18:25) This is Peter's first denial of being a disciple of Yeshua.
"Man, I do not know what you are talking about." (Luke 22:60) This is Peter's second denial of being a disciple of Yeshua.
"Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." (John 21:15) "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." (John 21:16) "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." (John 21:18)
Apostolic Ministry in Jerusalem, A.D. 30
In A.D. 30 Peter exhibited strong leadership early in the Yeshua movement. He was the lead prophetic voice on the day of Pentecost after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, when he declared the good news of the Messiah to Jewish and proselyte pilgrims who had come to the festival of Shavuot (Acts 2). Luke records that over 3,000 souls were added to the Body of Messiah that day. He followed the sermon with the miraculous healing of the lame beggar at the gate of the temple (Acts 3:1-8). When a crowd gathered in amazement he delivered a second sermon as anointed as the first (Acts 3:11-26). When Peter was arrested he was brought before the Sanhedrin and he eloquently defended apostolic ministry (Acts 4:5-22).
Peter boldly confronted the rulers with their responsibility in the unlawful execution of Yeshua, but affirmed that there is no other name under heaven by which people may be saved than the name of Yeshua. The Sanhedrin ordered Peter to cease proclaiming Yeshua whereupon Peter declared, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:19-20 ESV). Afterwards Peter led a prayer meeting in which the Holy Spirit came again in power (Acts 4:24-31).
Peter then gave leadership to the Jerusalem congregation. He gave oversight to the collection of offerings to distribute to the needy (Acts 4:32-35) and then conducted the first congregational trial in which two accused persons, Ananias and Sapphira were put to death by God (Acts 5:1-10). The divine judgment sparked a holy fear by the congregation and the apostles proceeded to perform many miracles, including healings and exorcisms (Acts 5:11-16). Peter's became such a revered figure in the city that people superstitiously tried to be close enough for his shadow to fall on them and dispense curative powers.
The high priest in a fit of jealousy had the apostles arrested, but an angel freed them from jail. After proclaiming the good news in the Temple the apostles were brought before the Sanhedrin to answer for violating their decree against proclaiming Yeshua. It was in this setting that Peter, supported by his fellow apostles, forthrightly declared, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). Acting on the advice of Gamaliel the Sanhedrin had the apostles flogged and demanded they stop speaking about Yeshua. But, of course, the apostles kept on teaching about Yeshua.
In Luke's next account we see Peter establishing his spiritual role in a dispute over distribution of charity to widows by declaring "we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:4 NASB). Then, with the assistance of other apostles he anointed a panel of men to oversee charitable activities (Acts 6:5-6).
Apostolic Ministry in Samaria, A.D. 31/32
Peter was mission-minded and in 31/32 gave leadership to spreading the good news among Samaritan Jews (Acts 8:14-25). While in Samaria Peter confronted a man also named "Simon," a sorcerer (Acts 8:9). Simon the Samaritan believed the message of Philip the evangelist who proclaimed the good news of Yeshua as the Messiah expected by the Samaritans, and was immersed (see my commentary on John 4:25 and Acts 8:9-13). Later Simon then he sought to buy the power of the Holy Spirit with money (Acts 8:18-19). Peter rebuked him by informing him that he had no part in the Kingdom of God and calling upon him to repent (Acts 8:21-23). Simon the sorcerer is known in church tradition as Simon Magus (Church History, Book II, 1:10-12). A fuller account of his activities may be found in Eusebius, Church History, Book II, Chap. 13 and Chap. 14.
Apostolic Ministry in Judea, A.D. 32-41
Three years later (AD 35) Peter received Paul in Jerusalem and they stayed together 15 days (Gal 1:18). Paul says this meeting occurred three years after his meeting with Yeshua. In c. 37-38 Peter ministered in Lydda and the coastal region of Sharon where he healed a paralyzed man Aeneas (Acts 9:32-35) and then he went to Joppa where he raised Tabitha (aka "Dorcas") from the dead (Acts 9:36-42). He ministered in Joppa "many days" and it was there while staying with a tanner that he was called to take the good news to Cornelius in Caesarea (Acts 10:5-48). The latter was a milestone event.
Paul identifies Peter as an Ioudaios or "Judean-type Jew," orthodox and conservative (Gal 2:14), and an apostle to the Circumcised (Gal 2:7), perhaps meaning the name of a Judean sectarian group (cf. Gal 2:12; Eph 2:11; Col 4:11). Yet, it was Peter who was called to be the first to take the good news of the Messiah to a Gentile, and a Roman centurion at that. Peter then had to defend his action to congregational leaders in Jerusalem (Acts 11:1-18).
According to the patristic record Peter traveled into the Diaspora and visited disciples in Asia Minor (as listed in 1Pet 1:1) whom Peter had met in Jerusalem in A.D. 30. He then pressed on to Rome where he ministered in 42/43–46. The date for this trip is supported by Eusebius who said that Peter went to Rome during the reign of Claudius accompanied by Mark (Church History, II, 14:1-6; 15:1-2). Jerome (347–420 AD) said Peter paid his first visit to Rome in the second year of Claudius (Lives of Illustrious Men, Chap. I). Likewise, Paulus Orosius (5th cent.) said that Peter went to Rome early in the reign of Claudius (History Against the Pagans, Book VII, 6.1). According to Eusebius and Jerome Peter had a very personal reason for going to Rome at this time.
Simon Magus had traveled from Samaria to other lands spreading his antagonism against the Messianic faith and eventually arrived in Rome where he became a cult leader (Church History, II, 13:1; Edmundson 50ff). Eusebius reports that in the reign of Caesar Claudius, Simon performed some mighty acts of magic by the art of demons, and was considered a god, and as a god was honored by the Romans with a statue, which was erected in the river Tiber, between the two bridges, and bore this inscription in the Latin tongue, Simoni Deo Sancto, that is, "To Simon the Holy God" (Church History, II, 14:3). Peter went to Rome in order to counteract the influence of Simon among disciples. Modern scholars treat the tradition of Simon Magus in Rome as a post-apostolic legend, but Eusebius was not a careless historian. In addition, modern scholars generally reject the patristic report of Peter in Rome at this time and believe he only went to Rome in the 60s.
Against such consensus of opinion Edmundson (44, 50) and Robinson (114) agree with the patristic report that Peter went to Rome in 42 accompanied by Mark. Many modern scholars, such as Gray, argue against Peter going to Rome before Paul because (1) Paul makes no mention of Peter having labored in Rome and said that he would not build on another's work (Rom 15:20; 2Cor 10:15-16), and (2) the report of the church fathers is just "tradition" and Scripture is silent on when Peter went to Rome. By the same token "silence" does not support a much later date in going to Rome, either. The fact remains that no historical evidence has been produced to rebut the patristic report.
In my view there is no contradiction with Peter having preceded Paul to Rome. Paul's Roman letter was written well over a decade after Peter ministered there and as Edmundson argues, Paul's comment in his Roman letter very much implies that Peter had laid a foundation in Rome. But, much had happened in the interim. In 49, well after Peter had departed, Caesar Claudius commanded Messianic Jewish leaders to depart from Rome (Acts 18:2) in order to quell open conflict between unbelieving Jews and believing Jews. (See the section Historical Setting in my commentary on Romans 1.) The banishment lasted until 54 at the accession of Nero.
When Paul wrote to the congregation they had only been reconstituted in the last four years. Paul desired to add something to the spiritual character of the Roman congregation (Rom 1:11-13). Paul's desire was to go where Messiah had not been proclaimed, which certainly didn't apply to Rome. Thus, his intention was merely to stop over in Rome on his way to Spain (Rom 15:24).
In AD 44 Peter returned to Jerusalem from his year-long mission trip into the Diaspora in order to observe Passover as an observant Jew. While there he was arrested by King Herod Agrippa I, but then was freed by divine intervention (Acts 12:3-12). Luke says that afterward he departed to "another place" (Acts 12:17).
Apostolic Ministry in Antioch and Corinth, A.D. 46-54
According to the 6th century The Book of Popes Antioch became the base of Peter's ministry for seven years, which Edmundson calculates as 47 to 54 (63). The apostle Paul provides an anecdote that at some point he confronted Peter in Antioch over hypocritical behavior (Gal 2:11-14), but it is not clear whether this incident preceded or followed the events recorded in Acts 15. In 48/49 Peter attended and participated in a meeting of leaders in Jerusalem (Acts 15). At this meeting Peter lent his voice to support rejection of legalism and affirm salvation through the grace of Yeshua alone (Acts 15:10-11). After the Jerusalem meeting Luke offers no more information on Peter's activities.
However, Edmundson suggests that Peter went to Corinth in the autumn of 54 (65). Dionysius, bishop of Corinth (A.D. 170), reported that Peter ministered in Corinth (Eusebius (Church History, II, 25:8), although he does not specify a year. Paul had begun the congregation in Corinth in c. 52 (Acts 18:1-11), but sometime later when he wrote to the congregation (c. 55) he refers to a group there that claimed allegiance to Peter (1Cor 1:12; 3:22). A similar situation developed with Apollos who also came to Corinth after Paul and ministered there for a time (Acts 18:24−19:1; 1Cor 3:6). After Apollos left a partisan group sprang up in the congregation claiming allegiance to him (1Cor 1:12; 3:22).
So, Peter went to Corinth, perhaps accompanied by Barnabas, and ministered there for a brief time as church fathers claim. It's no accident that Paul mentions Peter's name twice more in his letter to Corinth (1Cor 9:5; 15:5) in an effort to moderate the fanaticism of the group devoted to him. Paul knew there was no intention on the part of Peter or Apollos to undermine his work in Corinth, regardless of what certain congregational members did after they left. Peter may have only stopped in Corinth as a convenient halting-place, since it was the half-way point between Syria and Italy.
Ministry in Rome, A.D. 54-56
Edmundson makes a case for Peter going to Rome upon hearing of the death of Claudius in October of 54. He thought it opportune to visit the disciples in Rome to check on their welfare and then stayed until 56. There are many traditions from the fifth and sixth century that associate Barnabas with Rome and Italy. In Luke's narrative of the apostles Peter's name does not appear after chapter fifteen. After the Jerusalem leadership meeting Luke's narrative focuses on the ministry of Paul with whom Luke traveled. If Peter had been present for any of the momentous events in chapters 16–28 Luke would have mentioned it. Paul wrote his letter to the congregation in Rome c. 57-58, arrived himself to the city under arrest in c. 60 and left in 62 after release.
Final Ministry in Rome, A.D. 63-65
At any rate Peter's last arrival in Rome with his wife occurred after Paul's departure, most likely early in 63 (Edmundson 92). Peter may have returned to Rome to check up on disciples he left behind just as Paul did in his missionary journeys. In any event it was during this last time in Rome that Caesar Nero initiated the pogrom against followers of Yeshua and Peter was crucified as Yeshua had prophesied (John 13:36; 21:18). Yeshua had said that Peter would die when he was "old" and Gray suggests that Peter was at least 75 at his death.
According to church tradition Peter's wife died a martyr the same day as him. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-c. 215 AD) left this report :"that the blessed Peter, on seeing his wife led to death, rejoiced on account of her call and conveyance home, and called very encouragingly and comfortingly, addressing her by name, 'Remember thou the Lord.' Such was the marriage of the blessed and their perfect disposition towards those dearest to them." (Stromata, Book VI, Chap. 11; also reported in Church History, Book III, 30:2)
Patristic literature reported that Peter was crucified upside down at his request (Hippolytus, On the Twelve Apostles, 1; Eusebius, Church History, III, 1:2; Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, Chap. I; also in the 2nd century Pseudepigrapha work Acts of Peter, XXXVII).
When Did Peter Die? 65 or 67?
Clement of Rome (d. 99 AD) wrote of the fact of Peter's martyrdom (Letter to the Corinthians, Chap. 5), but provided no dating information. The 2nd century Pseudepigrapha work Ascension of Isaiah, Chap. 4:2-3, also reports on Peter's martyrdom by Nero but does not fix a year. Eusebius (Church History, II, 25:5, written in 323-325 AD) does not specify the year of Nero's reign in which Peter was executed, but the description of the pogrom instigated by Nero against disciples of Yeshua in 64/65 appears to be the context for Peter's martyrdom. Suetonius (69-122), the Roman historian reports the persecution of Christians by Nero, but he does not connect it to the fire of Rome and does not assign a year of Nero's reign for the action. See The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Nero, 16:2.
The fixing of the date for Peter's martyrdom in the year 67 is based on the report of Jerome. In Lives of Illustrious Men, written in AD 492, Jerome says that Peter "held the sacerdotal chair there [Rome] for twenty-five years until the last, that is the fourteenth, year of Nero" (Chap. I). In this chapter Jerome did not actually say that Peter died in the year 67, but in Chap. V concerning Paul he said that Peter was executed in the fourteenth year of Nero. The influence of Jerome's narrative is felt in the 6th century Liber Pontificalis ("Book of Popes"), which says that Peter "received the crown of martyrdom with Paul in the year 38 after the Lord's passion" (The Book of Popes, "I Peter.") This would set Peter's death in the year 67 or 68 since Yeshua died in the year 30.
However, according to Prudentius Clemens (d. c. 405-413), a Roman Christian lawyer and poet, Peter was executed a year before Paul (Liber Peristephanon, Hymn XII, cited by Edmundson 115). Augustine (Sermons, 296–7) held a similar opinion. Jerome appears to have regarded Peter as the leader of the Roman congregation from the time of his first visit, even during the time when he wasn't there, and that Peter's authority ended with the death of Nero. So, this could be more of a way of viewing history than a strict dating. In other words the "sacerdotal chair," or bishopric position began in Rome with Peter and Peter's association with that chair ended with Nero's death. Afterwards a leader named Linus assumed leadership of the Roman congregation. Because of the declaration of the Book of Popes, the year 67 became the accepted date for Peter's death. Today that tradition is challenged by some Catholic scholars (see Margherita Guarducci, The Date of Peter's Martyrdom, 1996). Evangelical scholars tend to generalize his death as occurring anytime from 64 to 68.
Simon Peter wrote two letters to congregations in the Diaspora in which he had ministered. The first letter was written about A.D. 42-45 during his first visit to Rome and the second letter was written during his last visit to Rome or while en route to the city, about 63-65. For an overview of his letters see the article here.
BDB: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. London: Oxford University Press, 1907. Reprinted by Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981. Online.
Danker: F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, University of Chicago Press, 2009.
Edmundson: Charles Edmundson, The Church in Rome in the First Century. Longmans, Green and Co., 1913. Online.
Gray: James M. Gray, Simon Peter, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Edited by James Orr, published in 1939 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Website HTML, 2011.
Guarducci: Margherita Guarducci, The Date of Peter's Martyrdom. Eternal Word Television Network, 1996.
Hamp: Douglas Hamp, Discovering the Language of Jesus. Calvary Chapel Publishing, 2005.
Kasdan: Barney Kasdan, Matthew Presents Yeshua, King Messiah: A Messianic Commentary. Lederer Books, 2011.
Robinson: John A.T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament. The Westminster Press, 1976.
Thayer: Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Harper Brothers, 1889. online.
In addition to the Works Cited above the following books and articles were consulted in preparation of this article.
William P. Barker, Everyone In the Bible. Fleming H. Revell Co., 1966.
Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Ariel's Bible Commentary: The Messianic Jewish Epistles. Ariel Ministries, 2005.
Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction. Third Ed. (Rev.) InterVarsity Press, 1970.
Nelson's Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible. Herbert Lockyer, ed. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986.
The Oxford Companion to the Bible. Ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan. Oxford University Press, 1993.
David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.
Merrill C. Tenney, New Testament Survey. Rev. ed. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1985.
Copyright © 2017-2019 Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.