Peter: A Biblical Portrait

In the 16th chapter of Matthew's Gospel, Christ singled out the Apostle Peter for the central position of founding His Church and gives to Peter the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The best spokespersons for an understanding of Matthew would be members of the Apostolic Church, those who heard the words of Christ and writers of the New Testament who recorded the words and deeds of Christ and the early church.

The Evangelists usually make Peter the spokesperson for all the apostles.

Mk 8:29
And he (Jesus) asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter said to him in reply, "You are the Messiah."
Mt 18:21
Then Peter approaching asked him, "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?"
Lk 12:41
Then Peter said, "Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?"
Jn 6:67-68
Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."

In especially dramatic scenes in the Gospels, Peter is often the central figure.

Mt 14:27-28
At once (Jesus) spoke to them, "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid." Peter said to him in reply, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water."
Lk 5:3-8
Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he (Jesus) asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. ... He said to Simon, "Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch." Simon said in reply, "Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets." When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. ... When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man."
Mk 10:28
Peter began to say to him, "We have given up everything and followed you."
Mt 17:24-25
...the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and said, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?" "Yes," he said. When he came into the house, before he had time to speak, Jesus asked him, "What is your opinion, Simon?"

Peter is always named first when the apostles are listed in the synoptic gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.

Mk 3:16-17
He (Jesus) appointed the twelve: Simon, whom he named Peter; James, son of Zebedee, and John ...
Mt 10:2
The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John;
Lk 6:13-14
When day came, he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew,
Acts 1:13
When they entered the city they went to the upper room where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip ...

It is not uncommon that the apostles are simply referred to as Peter and "his companions" or "the apostles."

Acts 2:37
... they asked Peter and the other apostles, "What are we to do, my brothers?"
Lk 9:32
Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep ...
Acts 5:29
But Peter and the apostles said in reply, "We must obey God rather than men."

In light of the special calling on his life, the sacred authors refer to Peter as being singled out and being shown signs of respect.

Jn 20:3-8
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first, ... but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths ... Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first ...
Jn 21:15-17
Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs" ... "Tend my sheep." ... "Feed my sheep."

In Paul's letters, Peter is called the first witness to the Resurrection.

1 Cor 15:3-5
... Christ died ... was buried ... was raised on the third day ... that he appeared to Kephas, then to the Twelve.

Paul repeatedly call Peter "Kephas," the name given him by Christ.

Gal 1:18
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to confer with Kephas and remained with him for fifteen days.
Gal 2:9
James and Kephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas their right hands in partnership ...
Gal 2:11
And when Kephas came to Antioch, I opposed him ...
Gal 2:14
... I said to Kephas in front of all ...
1 Cor 1:12
I mean that each of you is saying, "I belong to Paul," ... "I belong to Kephas," ...
1 Cor 3:22
Paul or Apollos or Kephas, or the world or life or death, or the present or the future: all belong to you ...
1 Cor 9:5
Do we not have the right to take along a Christian wife, as do the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Kephas?

Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, clearly acknowledges Peter's leadership role.

Acts 2:14
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them, "You who are Jews ..."
Acts 3:12
When Peter saw this, he addressed the people, "You Israelites, why are you amazed at this?"
Acts 4:8
Then Peter, filled with the holy Spirit, answered them, "Leaders of the people and elders"
Acts 5:3
But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart ..."
Acts 5:29
But Peter and the apostles said in reply, "We must obey God rather than men."
Acts 8:20
But Peter said to him, "May your money perish with you ..."
Acts 10:34
Then Peter proceeded to speak and said, "In truth, I see that God shows no partiality."
Acts 11:4
Peter began and explained it to them step by step, saying...
Acts 15:7
After much debate had taken place, Peter got up and said to them ...
Acts 3:6
Peter said, "I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, (rise and) walk."
Acts 9:34
Peter said to him, "Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and make your bed."
Acts 9:40
Peter sent them all out and knelt down and prayed. Then he turned to her body and said, "Tabitha, rise up."
Acts 5:15
Thus they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them.
Acts 10:9-10
The next day, ... Peter went up to the roof terrace to pray at about noontime. ... he fell into a trance.
Acts 10:46-47
Then Peter responded, "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people, who have received the holy Spirit even as we have?"

The Gospels make explicit statements about Peter's unique role in the church.

Lk 22:31-32
"Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers."
Jn 21:15-17
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." He then said to him a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." (Jesus) said to him, "Feed my sheep."
Mt 16:15-19
He (Jesus) said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter said in reply, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

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By Paul Flanagan and Robert Schihl.
Catholic Biblical Apologetics, © Copyright 1985-1997, Paul Flanagan and Robert Schihl

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture texts are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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Last Updated: January 3, 1997