Simon (Peter) the Apostle

Saint Simon (Cephas) Peter the Apostle (a.k.a. Simon Bar-Johan, “the Brother of Andrew”; died around A.D. 64)

Icon of Simon – Cephas (Saint Peter)

The New Testament tells us that Simon was the son of John (Bar-Johan) and was from the village of Bethsaida (house of fishing) located on the north shore of Lake Galilee, in the province of Galilee. His brother Andrew was also an apostle, and the Apostle Phillip was also from the town of Bethsaida. The apostles John and James, the sons of Zebedee were also from Bethsaida and they were all partners with Peter in his fishing business. The bible tells us that Peter owned his own fishing boat (Luke 5:1-11), hence Peter was not just a fisherman, he was also an entrepreneur. The bible also tells us that Peter was married and Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14-15 & Luke 4:38-39) and Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 150 to 215) in his Stromata, III, said St. Peter was married, had children and his wife accompanied him on his missionary journeys and that Peter witnessed his wife’s martyrdom in Rome.

Simon was chosen and invested (ordained, see Mark 3:14) by Jesus to be one of His first disciples and Simon was one of the twelve apostles (Simon, Andrew, and James & John the sons of Zebedee were all chosen to become “fishers of men” in the same episode, while all were fishing on the sea of Galilee; see Mark 1:16-20). When Simon was chosen by Jesus to be a disciple Jesus renamed him Cephas (i.e., Aramaic for rock; in Latin: petra, hence Peter). He played a leadership role amongst the apostles and disciples (Peter is listed first in the list of the 11 apostle given in Acts 1:13) and he was with Jesus during events witnessed by only a few of the apostles, such as the Transfiguration and it was Peter who walked on the water (briefly) with Jesus.

In Matthew 16:13-19, Peter confessed Jesus as the Messiah (“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”), and Jesus then stated that upon that rock (upon that truth; not upon the person of Peter) he would build his church. Peter was part of Jesus’ “inner circle”. On the day of the arrest and subsequent crucifixion it was Peter who thrice denied Jesus. Peter is also the one who preached on the day of Pentecost (in the 2nd chapter of Acts).

The Book of Acts, reports Peter preaching in Jerusalem (Acts 3:11-26) and his being arrested (repeatedly) and brought before the Jewish Sanhedrin (the same Jewish Sadducees who had ordered Christ to be crucified) to answer charges (Acts 4 1:-12, and again on another occasion in Acts 5:17-32).

Around A.D. 44 (after persecution from King Herod Agrippa) Peter undertook missionary journeys to Lydda, Joppa, and Caesarea, and the Holy Spirit told Peter that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah of the Gentiles as well as of the Jews (Acts 10:34 to 11:18).

Some time in the late 40s Peter traveled to the prosperous commercial city of Antioch and he helped to organize the nascent Christian there. Antioch was one of the Mediterranean terminal points for the trade of the Silk Route. As a leader of that church Peter would have been a voice of support for the substantial funds which the church in Antioch raised to help the financially struggling church in Jerusalem and to finance each of Paul‘s missionary journeys and the missionary journey of Barnabas and John Mark to Cyprus.

In Acts 15:6-29 the Council of Jerusalem was called to correct Peter’s doctrinal error of Judaizing (see A.D. 50). This council was the very 1st ecumenical council of the Christian church (i.e. the zeroth ecumenical council). This event clearly demonstrates the biblical orthodoxy of the disseminated model of authority and control used in the early church, and it clearly shows Peter as willing to be corrected by the opinions of his fellow apostles. It strongly conflicts with the Imperial Roman centralized model of authority which was later adopted by the Roman arm of the church and which led to the doctrine of Papal infallibility which Roman church subsequently asserted.

After the Council of Jerusalem Peter returned to Antioch where he helped to build the church there and where he served as the Bishop of Antioch for 7 years. It is thought that he wrote the Epistles of 1st and 2nd Peter while he was in Antioch (perhaps with the help of a Greek scribe, although as a commercial fisherman and entrepreneur Peter would have been familiar with Koine Greek which was the language of commerce in Galilee and throughout the eastern Mediterranean world at that time).

Sometime around A.D. 57 Peter journeyed from Antioch to Rome where he worked establishing the Church in Rome, and where (Roman Catholic sources state) he acted as the first Bishop of Rome. The three “Petrine sees” (bishoprics established by Peter) are Antioch, Alexandria (to whom Peter sent Mark the Evangelist) and Rome.

Saint Peter is thought to have been martyred in the first official Roman government persecution of Christians under the Emperor Nero. According to oral tradition Saint Peter requested that he be hung upside down on his Cross because he wasn’t worthy enough to died like Christ (see A.D. 64), and later illustrations and icons of Saint Peter often shown him hanging inverted from a roman cross. The ancient Christian churches all venerated Peter as a major saint and associate him with founding the churches of Antioch, and later the church in Rome.