PETER (Greek petros, "rock") Simon Peter, apostle of Jesus Christ, leader of the Twelve, and chief shepherd of the early Christian Chruch. He is seen and heard frequently in the Gospels and Acts and is the alleged author of two New Testament epistles, 1 and 2 Peter (1 Pet 1:1; 2 Pet 1:1).
Peter was originally known as Simon the son of John (John 1:42) and the brother of Andrew (John 1:40). He was a fisherman from Bethsaida, a small community just north of the Sea of Galilee (John 1:44) and was married (Matt 8:14). He also had a residence in Capernaum (Mark 1:21, 29).
Jesus called Simon to be a disciple at the beginning of his ministry. In Mathew, Mark, and Luke, Simon receives the summons to follow Christ while he is fishing (Matt 4:13-20; Mark 1:16-18; Luke 5:1-11). In John, we learn of another enocounter arranged by Simon's brother Andrew (John 1:40-42). On this occasion we discover that Jesus had intentions to change Simon's name to Peter: "So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas" (John 1:42). "Cephas" is an Aramaic term that means "rock" and is rendered in Greek as petros or Peter. The formal change of his name comes later in the ministry when Simon confesses the divine sonship of Jesus (Matt 16:16). In response, Jesus makes Simon the foundation of the future Christian community: "I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church" (Matt 16:18). Hereafter the apostle is known mostly as Peter or Simon Peter, although Paul also refers to him by the Aramaic designation Cephas (1 Cor 1:12; 9:5, 15:5; Gal 2:9, 11, 14).
The change of Simon's name Signals a change in Simon's mission. He was not to be one apostle among others, but the one who ranked "first" among the Twelve (Matt 10:2). He thus enjoyed an especially close relationship with Jesus (Matt 17:24-27) and was privileged, along with James and John, to witness such marvels as the raising of Jairus's daughter (Mark 5:37) and the Transfiguration (Matt 17:1-8).Peter likewise acted as the spokesman for the twelve apostles (Matt 15:15; Mark 9:5, 10:28; Luke 12:41; John 6:67-69).
The prominence of Peter in the Gospels is much more than honorary. Jesus conferred great responsibilities on him. As the "rock" and foundation of the Church, he was entrusted with the "keys of the Kingdom" and given the authority of heaven itself to "bind" and "loose" as the chief steward and teacher of Christ's disciples on earth (Matt 16:19). Confirmation of Peter's role is given after the Resurrection, when Christ commissions Peter to "Feed my lambs...Tend my sheep...Feed my sheep" (John 21:15-17). He is thus to represent and act on behalf of Jesus "the good shepherd" (John 10:14). No other apostle is singled out by Jesus for such an exalted mission.
Yet Peter struggled to remain faithful to Christ as the events of the Passion began to unfold. When authorities came to arrest Jesus in Gethsemane, Peter reacted with violence and cut off the ear of a man named Malchus (John 18:10-11). When questioned about his ties with Jesus as he lingered in the high priest's courtyard, Peter three times denied even knowing Christ (Matt 26:69-75). Jesus had foreseen this bout with cowardice (Mark 14:29-30) and had encouraged Peter to "strengthen" the brethren once Peter had turned back again after his fall (Luke 22:31-32).
Finally, Peter was the first apostle to inspect the empty tomb (Luke 24:12; John 20:3-7) and the first of Twelve to see Jesus risen again (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor 15:5) (CCC 442, 552-53, 765, 880-81, 1429).
Peter also features prominently in the early chapters of the book of Acts, which describe the founding of the Church in Jerusalem and the initial spread of the Gospel (Acts 1-12). His role in these earliest days is precisely what one would expect after reading the Gospels: he stands out among the apostles as the principal teacher, shepherd, and decision maker of the early Church.
His leadership played out in a variety of circumstances.
The NT says nothing about the end of Peter's life. Christian tradition, however, fills in some of the details. Eusebius of Caesarea a fourth-century historian, relays a tradition that Peter first came to Rome during the reign of Emperor Claudius between A.D. 41 and 54 (Hist. Eccl. 2:14), and many ancient writers agree that Peter spent the final years of his life in the imperial capital (in agreement with 1 Pet 5:13). Eusebius later says that Peter was martyred in the Roman capital; he was crucified upside down at his own request (Hist. Eccl. 3.1). Saint Irenaeus of LYon, a second century churchman, makes the claim that Peter and Paul were cofounders of the Church of Rome (Against Heresies 3.3). Peter's martyrdom has been dated in the reign of Emperor Nero around A.D. 67.