The Apostle Peter is the only other Apostle who can be said to be Paul’s equal in terms of significance for the history of the early church. His given name was Simon (Matt. 4:18; Mark 1:16; Luke 5:4), but he would become most well-known as Petros, the Greek translation of the Aramaic nickname Cephas (meaning “rock”), given to him by Jesus (Matt. 16:18). His prominence in the early church is anticipated by his special naming by Jesus and would develop in light of his association with the church at Rome (1 Peter 5:13). Here are five things about Peter that can help explain his prominence among Christ’s Apostles.
1. Mark likely wrote his gospel based on Peter’s account of Jesus’ ministry.
Most scholars today understand Mark’s gospel to be the first written among the four accounts. The early church historian Eusebius reports testimony from Papias that Mark wrote his account based on Peter’s teaching concerning Jesus. According to Papias: “Mark became Peter’s interpreter and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not, indeed, in order, of the things said or done by the Lord. For he had not heard the Lord, nor had he followed him, but later on, as I said, followed Peter, who used to give teaching as necessity demanded but not making, as it were, an arrangement of the Lord’s oracles, so that Mark did nothing wrong in thus writing down single points as he remembered them.”
2. Peter was the first among Jesus’ disciples to identify Him as the Messiah (Matt. 16:16; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20).
This is the occasion where Jesus designates Simon as “the rock” (Peter). However, Mark and Matthew also demonstrate that Peter likely had not yet grasped how that identity would contradict prevailing expectations of God’s kingdom and its coming. Indeed, in the very next passage where Peter rebukes Jesus for speaking about His betrayal, death, and resurrection, Jesus responds by rebuking the newly named Peter as “Satan” (Matt. 16:21–23; Mark 8:31–33). Both Peter’s first sermon in Acts (Acts 2:14–36) and the opening blessing of his first epistle (1 Peter 1:3–5) demonstrate that he would eventually never forget that moment’s lesson on the centrality of Christ’s death and resurrection for the coming of God’s kingdom.
3. Peter was also among the first two Apostles to witness the empty tomb (Luke 24:1–12; John 20:1–10).
Like Peter’s recognition of Jesus as Messiah, this event also demonstrates the inability to grasp the full significance of Christ’s death and resurrection apart from Jesus’ own teaching and the work of the Holy Spirit. In Luke’s gospel, it is only after Jesus instructed Peter and John in the Scriptures about Himself and signified it in the breaking of bread that they understood (Luke 24:25–35). In John’s gospel, they leave the empty tomb not yet understanding (John 20:9). It is only later when Jesus appears to them that He then breathes the Holy Spirit upon them to equip them for their upcoming gospel mission (John 20:21–23).
4. Peter is the first among the Twelve to witness and confirm the conversion of the gentiles in Luke’s second volume, the Acts of the Apostles.
This happens in an ironic fashion that seems to echo Peter’s initial resistance to Jesus’ death and resurrection message, as well as his behavior at Christ’s crucifixion. Peter receives his famous vision wherein three times he’s resistant to Jesus’ command and is then corrected by Him (Acts 10:1–16; 11:5–10). It is during the next moment when three men visit Peter and he is explaining the significance of his vision to them that the Holy Spirit falls upon them, confirming that they too should be baptized as Christians (Acts 10:17–48; 11:11–18).
5. Finally, the Apostle Peter is the only human author of Scripture within his own inspired work to refer to Paul’s letters and associate them with Scripture.
At the conclusion of his instruction concerning the coming day of the Lord, Peter reminds his readers to be patient, just as Paul had also written them concerning these things (2 Peter 3:14–15). In an encouraging example of humility, and a demonstration of growth in God’s grace for one who in the past was slow to understand, Peter recognizes that there are some things about these matters in Paul’s letters that are hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16a). Thus, Peter warns his readers to avoid the teaching of some who seek to twist Paul’s words and the other Scriptures to deceive them (2 Peter 3:16b–17).
While many more things could be said to explain Peter’s prominence among Christ’s Apostles, the points outlined above compel us to focus on a common theme: the redemption and transformation that comes by faith in the risen Lord Jesus Christ despite our own weakness.
This article is part of the 5 Things You Should Know collection.