Simon Peter, son of Jonas, was a fisherman who lived in Bethsaida and Capernaum. He did evangelistic and missionary work among the Jews, going as far as Babylon. He was a member of the Inner Circle and authored the two New Testament epistles which bear his name. Tradition says he was crucified, head downward, in Rome.
In every apostolic list, the name Peter is mentioned first. However, Peter had other names. At the time of Christ, the common language was Greek and the family language was Hebrew. So his Greek name was Simon (Mark 1:16; John 1:40, 41). His Hebrew name was Cephas (1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:22; 9:5 and Galatians 2:9). The Greek meaning of Simon is rock. The Arabic meaning of Cephas is also rock.
By trade, Peter was a fisherman. He was a married man (1 Corinthians 9:5) and his home was Capernaum. Jesus probably made His headquarters there when He visited Capernaum. Peter was also a Galilean as was typical of many of the other disciples. Josephus described the Galileans this way, “They were ever fond of innovation and by nature disposed to change and delighted in sedition. They were ever ready to follow the leader and to begin an insurrection. They were quick in temper and given to quarreling and they were very chivalrous men.” The Talmud says this of the Galileans, “They were more anxious for honor than for gain, quick-tempered, impulsive, emotional, easily aroused by an appeal to adventure, loyal to the end.”
Peter was a typical Galilean. Among the twelve, Peter was the leader. He stands out as a spokesman for all the twelve Apostles. It is he who asked the meaning of the difficult saying in Matthew 15:15. It is he who asked how often he must forgive. It is he who inquired about the reward for all of those who follow Jesus. It is he who first confessed Jesus and declared Him as the Son of the Living God. It is he who was at the Mount of Transfiguration. It is he who saw Jairus’ daughter raised to life. Yet, it is he who denied Christ before a maiden. He was an Apostle and a missionary who laid down his life for his Lord. It is true, Peter had many faults, but he always had the saving grace of the loving heart. No matter how many times he had fallen and failed, he always recovered his courage and integrity.
Peter was martyred on a cross. Peter requested that he might be crucified head downward for he was not worthy to die as his Lord had died. His apostolic symbol is a cross upside down with crossed keys.
Jesus’ first words to Simon Peter were “Come follow me” (Mark 1:17). His last words to him were “You must follow me” (John 21:22). Every step of the way between those two challenges, Peter never failed to follow – even though he often stumbled.
When Jesus entered Peter’s life, this plain fisherman became a new person with new goals and new priorities. He did not become a perfect person, however, and he never stopped being Simon Peter. We may wonder what Jesus saw in Simon that made him greet this potential disciple with a new name, Peter – the “rock.” Impulsive Peter certainly didn’t act like a rock much of the time. But when Jesus chose his followers, he wasn’t looking for models; he was looking for real people. He chose people who could be changed by his love, and then he sent them out to communicate that his acceptance was available to anyone – even to those who often fail.
We may wonder what Jesus sees in us when he calls us to follow him. But we know Jesus accepted Peter, and, in spite of his failures, Peter went on to do great things for God. Are you willing to keep following Jesus, even when you fail?
Strengths and Accomplishments
- Became the recognized leader among Jesus’ disciples – one of the inner group of three
- Recognized Jesus as the Messiah
- Was the first great voice of the gospel during and after Pentecost
- Probably knew Mark and gave him information for the Gospel of Mark
- Wrote 1 Peter and 2 Peter
Weaknesses and Mistakes
- Often spoke without thinking; was brash and impulsive
- During Jesus’ trial, denied three times that he even knew Jesus
- Later found it hard to treat Gentile Christians as equals
Lessons From His Life
- Enthusiasm has to be backed up by faith and understanding, or it fails
- God’s faithfulness can compensate for our greatest unfaithfulness
- It is better to be a follower who fails than one who fails to follow
- Christians falter at times, but when they return to Jesus, he forgives them and strengthens their faith
Vital Statistics for Peter
- Occupations: Fisherman, disciple
- Relatives: Father: Jonas, Brother: Andrew
- Contemporaries: Jesus, Pilate, Herod
Key Verse for Peter
“And I tell you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18).
Peter’s story is told in the Gospels and the book of Acts. He is mentioned in Galatians 1:18 and 2:7-14; and he wrote the books of 1 Peter and 2 Peter.
Click here to print or download the Bible character study “Peter – Brother of Andrew, Son of Jonas“