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Peter: An Ordinary Man Used in Extraordinary Ways


            While Paul may be considered the most famous apostle of Jesus because of the huge impact he had on Christianity through his extensive missionary journeys and numerous books of the New Testament that have clearly laid out Christian theology, Peter was just as important though in less obvious ways to the casual reader. He came from an unextraordinary background that one would not think a man of Peter’s importance to the church would have come from. Leaving his life behind, he chooses to follow Jesus. During Jesus’ ministry on earth, he is groomed to be Christ’s successor. Then, after Christ’s ascension to heaven, Peter is left with the task to establish the Lord’s church. Therefore, after the life of Peter is examined, it will show that he is an excellent example of an apostle that represents the average person and how God can use them in mighty ways for His kingdom.

            Information for the research of the apostle Peter was gathered through the Jerry Falwell library online. Out of the eight sources that were used to compile the life of Peter two are Bible commentaries. Therefore, since the Bible was used there is historical information that was gleaned. Along with the historical information, there were also contemporary sources that were used.

            Initially, the background of Peter will be examined to help better understand the man he was and the life he came from prior to following Jesus. The next step will be to look at his time as a disciple of Jesus. After that, later in his discipleship journey the point at which Jesus seems to commission Peter to be His successor will be explored. And finally, after Jesus has ascended back to heaven, Peter becomes the rock of the church. This also will be looked at.


Peter an Ordinary Man

Before he became known around the world as the Apostle Peter he was Simon. In his book The Life and Witness of Peter, Larry R. Helyer provides ample information on the life of Simon. Perhaps it would be best to first take a look at his hometown of Bethsaida. According to Bockmuehl, prior to Peter’s birth, Bethsaida had experienced a short-lived time of prosperity and then had declined.[1] He goes on to say that, architecturally speaking, there is no evidence that there was ever any real Jewish presence there.[2] After having grown up in Bethsaida, at some point, Peter moved to Capernaum. As Stein explains,

"The city of Capernaum (Hebrew, kĕpar nā ḥ ûm, village of Nahum) was located on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, about two and a half miles west of where the upper Jordan River enters the lake. It was an important city of about ten thousand people, whose ruins (Tell Ḥ um) cover a strip about a mile long. Its prosperity was due to its lying on a major east-west trade route and being the site of a major toll station (cf. Matt. 9:9– 13). Consequently, it contained a contingent of Roman soldiers led by a centurion (cf. Matt. 8:5– 13/Luke 7:1– 10; cf. John 4:46– 54). It possessed a major synagogue, whose black basalt foundation can still be seen below the impressive ruins of the later, fourth-century white synagogue."[3]


Next, it would be helpful to look at Peter’s name and how he acquired it. Peter was not Peter’s given name at birth. He was known as Simon until he met Jesus. As Helyer states,

"Peter was not the apostle’s given name; Jesus gave it to him. Peter is a Greek name (petros) meaning “rock” or “stone” (Mk 3:16). His Aramaic name was šim´ōn, meaning something like “hearing” or “obedient.” 1 But he also went by the good Greek name Simōn (occurring seventy-five times in the NT), though occasionally his name is transliterated into Greek as Symeōn, a spelling reflecting his Aramaic name (Acts 15:14; 2 Pet 2:1 [majority of Gk MSS])."[4]


It is interesting to note that God at other times in the Bible had changed people’s names. According to Helyer, Jesus had to have given Simon the name Peter because it was reflective of what he was to become.[5] Thus, since the name Peter means “rock” Jesus was giving him the name because it would be representative of what he would later become, the foundation that He would build His church on. Harink thinks that once Jesus conscripted Simon and changed his name to Peter that it essentially made him a stranger among his own people.[6] This would make sense since Simon is Jewish and had an Aramaic name. Having a Greek name would have made him different from the average Jew. Considering that Peter had both a Greek and Aramaic name and that he was born in Bethsaida a Hellenistic town, he had to have been bilingual in both Aramaic and Greek.[7] Most likely Peter was stronger in Aramaic. Brockmuehl surmises that he spoke at least passable Greek.[8] This perhaps may be the equivalent of speaking a language at a casual conversational level.

Turning to Peter’s academic background it is harder to obtain a really clear picture. Brokmuehl affirms that “Very little can be said with confidence about Peter’s education. Acts has his adversaries in Jerusalem call him an uneducated, common man— an agrammatos (Acts 4:13). An elementary family upbringing in marginal conditions of Jewish life might well extend only to the most basic rudiments of literacy.”[9] The episode in Acts 4:13 where his adversaries referred to him as uneducated or common could have been based on something that they noticed about the way he talked, thought, or carried himself. Much can be ascertained from listening to how a person talks (word selection, pronunciation, accent, long complex sentences compared to shorter simpler sentences, which reflect complexity or simplicity of thought, critical thinking, etc.) and behaves. It is possible to gain a general understanding of a person’s possible educational level, economic background, geographical background, level of thinking and reasoning skills, etc. With that said, though Peter was obviously not as educated as his adversaries, and they were most likely comparing him to them, it still is telling that they determined that he was uneducated. This is because they would have been able to recognize another who had received proper education even if it was at a lower level than theirs.

We see in the gospel accounts that Peter was a fisherman in Capernaum. Mark 1:16 demonstrates that Peter was doing this prior to meeting Jesus. In reference to the overall economic state of fishing in general, and to Peter specifically, Brokmuehl states,

“It is true that the living standard of those in the fishing industry would have been a little more stable than the experience of the many casual and unskilled day laborers, who faced the daily threat of unemployment and imperiled subsistence. Nevertheless, the Gospel narratives seem to concur that Peter was less prosperous than some other disciples. Zebedee, the father of James and John, evidently ran a business that could rely on its own boat, supplies, and hired staff (Mark 1:19– 20)."[10]

Needless to say, being a fisherman was neither considered prestigious nor lowly. And even if Peter had owned his own boat as Helyer posits from Luke 5:9-10, it still becomes apparent that Peter was by no means prosperous. He appears to be a man that is working to make ends meet. Or as it is said in modern terms “living paycheck to paycheck.” After having looked at Peter’s background it seems that it paints a mosaic of an average man working hard to support himself, his wife, and mother-in-law.[11]


Disciple of Jesus

One day, in all likelihood a day like any other day, while Simon was fishing Jesus entered his life. As Helyer states, this took place in Capernaum. “While Peter and Andrew were born and grew up in Bethsaida, when they encountered Jesus they were in Capernaum. And they were there during Jesus’ ministry.”[12] According to Blaine, Peter’s brother Andrew, after having spent a day with Jesus and being convinced that He is the Messiah, goes to Peter and shares what he has discovered.[13] Andrew then brings Simon Peter to Jesus. As John 1:39b-42 says,

So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent the day with him. It was about four in the afternoon. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John and said and who followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And brought him to Jesus.

Peter’s path of discipleship was not a smooth one. Or, if one wants to look at it as a conversion, it was anything but a quick one in comparison to Paul’s. In Peter’s defense it was the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry and so there were no other Christians around, besides Jesus and the other disciples, to help him along his path of learning and understanding. And to him, Jesus was previously an unknown commodity. “Though Peter is called to follow Jesus along a path of unpredictable challenge, change, and adversity, the NT narrative of Peter’s life does not, in most people’s minds, evoke images of dramatic conversion.”[14]


With Peter having decided to follow Jesus he and the other eleven begin their path of discipleship. Throughout the gospel accounts there are moments interlaced that demonstrate the disciples’ inability to properly understand who Jesus is and what He is doing, even though in John 6:69 Peter confesses Jesus as the Messiah. Scholars agree with this assessment. A few quotes provide an adequate enough picture of the overall erroneous image that the disciples had of Jesus. Ehrman says, “Peter and the other disciples, much to Jesus’ chagrin, appear to have no clue as to who he really is. As Jesus finally says in desperation at one point, after doing miracles for eight chapters and confronting their constant inability to perceive his true character: “Do you not yet understand?” (Mark 8:21).”[15] Stein really sums up the whole of the issue by saying,

"That the disciples are dull and blind in certain respects is evident in Mark (cf. 4:10, 13, 40; 6:37, 52; 7:17; 8:4, 14– 21). But they are still dull and blind in 8:22– 10:52 (note the triple cycle involving passion prediction, disciple error, and Jesus’s teachings on discipleship in this section [see 8:22– 10:52]), and they remain blind throughout 11:1– 16:8. Mark’s readers know that the disciples will understand, as is clear from 14:27– 28 and 16:7."[16]

            In another way to show how uneven and rough Peter’s discipleship was, at various times during his discipleship he was rebuked. One of the most classic rebukes that comes to mind is in Matthew 16:21-23. Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He was going to go to Jerusalem, be killed, and then rise again on the third day. In verse 22 is where Peter pulls Jesus aside and rebukes Him because he does not want Him to be put to death. Clearly, Peter did not understand God’s plan or that Jesus came to ultimately die for the remission of all sins. And so, Jesus rebukes Peter when He says in verse 23, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

            Along Peter’s journey of being discipled by Jesus more happened then just being rebuked and struggling with understanding who Jesus really is, or why He was sent to earth. Peter witnessed and experienced some awesome events. He was one of the three that ascended a high mountain and witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus in Matthew 17:1-8. Matthew 14: 28-30, depicts the time Peter walked on water with Jesus. It initially showed the faith he had to step out of the boat. But, upon taking his eyes off Jesus to see the storm and the waves he began to sink. As Howell says, “Peter’s faith can get him walking on the water and moves him to cry to Jesus for help as he sinks, but cannot overcome his fear in the storm.”[17] In Matthew 26:36-46 he was with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was here, that his passion and love for the Lord coupled with his combination of ignorance and unwillingness to allow God’s plan to unfold led him to draw his sword and cut a man’s ear off.[18] Then, in the next moment to see Jesus heal the man.[19] In an interesting note Aus states that “The four Gospels are unanimous in representing Gethsemane as a place to which Jesus retreated to be alone with his closest followers. This motif of a place of “seclusion” most probably derives from the site where the high priest stayed the night before his bringing offerings of atonement the next day.”[20] It was after Jesus’ subsequent arrest that Peter infamously denied knowing or having anything to do with Jesus three times. While all of the earlier episodes of rebuke by his Master had to have stung and would be considered lowlights in his discipleship, this was even lower. He had deserted his Lord.


Successor to Jesus

With Jesus’ time on earth nearing its end, which coincides with Peter’s discipleship-leadership training ending, Peter is about to be commissioned to carry on the work of Jesus by establishing His church. It is often thought of the Paraclete as the successor to Jesus, as He should be; though, Peter, as a human agent took over as a physical presence. However, there is a reason for why Peter had been selected for this task of utmost importance, the establishment of the church. Perhaps there was something about Peter that made him stand out. Looking back at Peter’s discipleship, throughout it Peter appears to regularly be the spokesman for all of the disciples and seems to assert himself that way. In addition to that, Peter’s leadership ability may have become evident in the very beginning of his discipleship. As Howell states,

"When Jesus set apart the twelve to be his apostles, that is, commissioned representatives of the kingdom, Peter must have soon been identified as the primus inter pares, the first among equals. All four of the New Testament lists of the twelve apostles begin with Peter, followed by the other three fisherman, though not in the same order (Mt 10:2-4; Mk 3:16-19; Lk 6:14-16; Acts 1:13b)."[21]

In Matthew 16:17-19 Jesus told Peter that he is a rock and that He will build His church upon him. In keeping with that, Jesus appeared first to Peter before all of the other apostles.[22] This shows the importance of Peter to the early church. On this Helyer writes,

 “The fact that the Lord appeared to Peter before any of the rest of the apostles seems to have a twofold significance: it makes clear that Peter was truly forgiven for his denial (“But go, tell his disciples and Peter” [Mk 16:7]; “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon !” [Lk 24:34, italics added]), and it anticipates his future role as leader of the Jesus movement in which he will “feed my sheep” (Jn 21:15-19).[23]

            However, prior to Peter being able to become the leader of Jesus’ church he would first need to be reinstated after his denial of Jesus. In John 21:15-25 the account of Peter’s reinstatement is found. In regard to the reinstatement of Peter and the threefold repetition of the questions by Jesus and the responses by Peter, Aus observes,

"Almost all the commentators agree that the threefold repetition here is due to a conscious modeling of the scene on the threefold denial of Jesus by Peter in the courtyard of the high priest. I analyzed it above in chapter two, also noting an early Jewish legal formula for denying something three times, the threefold denial of Jesus as the Christ when under severe persecution, as well as other repetitions of something three times for the purpose of emphasis."[24]


Aus postulates, based on the existence of a threefold question and answer formula for ordination which existed pre-first century AD, that it could have influenced how Jesus may have commissioned Peter as His successor with the three questions and three responses from him.[25] However, others looking purely on the surface may see the repetition as a method to break down Peter. Though it did seem to do that it also mirrored the threefold denial of Peter’s. As Helyer powerfully puts it, “Jesus asks Peter, three times, if he loves him. The thrice-repeated question is not incidental; it is intentional, gently but painfully reminding Peter of his threefold denial. This time Peter does not swear or take an oath; his only recourse is to appeal to Jesus’ extraordinary understanding of the human heart: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you” (Jn 21:17; cf. 1:48; 2:24-25).”[26]

            With Peter’s denial and reinstatement behind him he is now ready to assume his position and role as the leader of Jesus’ church. While Peter became Jesus’ successor that did not mean that he would be a replica of Him. Just like Joshua was Moses’ successor, chosen by God, he was not identical to Moses. The same was true of Peter.

Rock of the Church

Up to this point Peter has had a whirlwind of an experience from the moment he decided to follow Jesus. He had struggled to completely understand who Jesus was and what He was sent to do, witnessed amazing things such as the transfiguration, proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah, denied Christ three times, and then been reinstated. But, this was not the end of his journey. With Jesus having returned to heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father, Peter begins to assert his authority as the rock of the church. As Howell says, “After the Lord’s ascension he takes his place as the leader of the renewed apostolic team as they pray and wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit.”[27] It is during this time at Pentecost that Peter delivers a sermon that three thousand people respond to by placing their faith in Jesus and being baptized. The church grew exponentially at that moment. It would seem that the Lord divinely used Peter’s sermon to accomplish this. On the importance of Peter to the early Christian church, Ehrman states,

"Peter is historically significant, and not only because he was Jesus’ chief disciple and was among the first to realize that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Peter is recorded as having been the first Christian evangelist and missionary; he is portrayed as the first Christian preacher; he is reputed to have been one of the first Christian authors; he is thought by some to have been one of the first Christian “bishops,” the bishop, in fact, of Rome and therefore the first pope; and he is widely regarded as being one of the earliest Christian martyrs."[28]

That sounds like a rock. This is a far cry from the man he was earlier, which was impetuous, open to rebuke, and unfaithful. On the matter of his authorship, Peter wrote I and II Peter. Harink gives a synopsis of the content of those two books.

"1 Peter, we have an extended exhortation for the church to take up, dwell in, and live out of its identity as “the elect, the exiles of the Diaspora” (1:1 DH), a chosen people called out from the wider social and political orders to embody and display God’s transforming holiness and love as its peculiar mission among the nations.[29]

At the heart of 2 Peter is a profound and passionate declaration of the divine justice, authority, and glory of Jesus Christ revealed in the transfiguration, of his imminent glorious coming that will purify and transform all of creation and make it the home of righteousness, and of the absurdity and indeed great danger of the heresies that deny these truths."[30]


At the end of his life Peter was crucified upside down, according to church tradition, during the reign of Emperor Nero. Jesus alluded to Peter’s crucifixion in John 21:18 when He said, “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” And in the very next verse Jesus tells Peter “Follow me!” While horrible death awaits Peter in the future because of his relationship with the Lord, in the meantime his focus needs to be on following Jesus.


            Peter had come a long way from his hometown of Bethsaida. While living and working in Capernaum he encountered Jesus and his life was never the same again. He was a part of and witnessed so many amazing things that Jesus did. Yet in his humanness, just like the rest of the disciples, he found it difficult to fully grasp what Jesus’ messiahship meant and what Jesus was ultimately sent to accomplish. Moreover, at what had to have been the lowest moment in his life, with his Lord being taken off to be crucified, Peter denied Him three times. Though, shortly after this episode, Peter is reinstated by the shore by Jesus and commissioned to lead the Lord’s church.

            The Apostle Peter is a wonderful example of what appeared to be an average human being that the Master used for magnificent things. It brings to mind I Corinthians 1:27-29 “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”

            Peter’s journey with the Lord had prepared him to lead the church in many ways. One is that it would have instilled humility in Peter. In addition to that it also would have helped him to be compassionate and empathetic with other believer’s shortcomings and failures. On this point, and in relation to Peter’s denial of the Lord, Helyer states,

"Peter’s denial can never be taken back. It happened, and he had to live with the painful memory. But rather than letting his failure cripple him spiritually and emotionally, he used it as a means of building up the flock of God (cf. Paul in 1 Tim 1:12-16). He becomes a living illustration of forgiveness and a second chance. He possesses a degree of compassion and understanding for wavering believers that others, sometimes rather self-righteously, are incapable of showing. We hear a tenderness in Peter’s first epistle that springs out of a bitterly disappointing failure in his own life (1 Pet 5:1-11)."[31]

            Many modern Christians, upon examining Peter’s life should be able to identify with him. His life and discipleship should resonate. Just like he came from a typical background for his time, many Christians today have a typical background and also struggle to get by. By all accounts Peter was not a highly educated person. In the same way the average Christian is not highly educated by modern definitions. Yet, when Jesus stepped into his life He changed his name and gave him a purpose. God had a plan for his life and desired to use him in mighty ways. Peter chose to follow Jesus that day on the shore and he was forever changed for it. He surrendered his life and the Lord used it. The same holds true today. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Therefore, the same Jesus that Peter followed two thousand years ago is the same Jesus today that Christians follow. If He can use a man like Peter for extraordinary things He can use Christians that are sold out to Him similarly. He is not looking for degrees, accomplishments, or already made leaders. He is looking for people that will give Him all of themselves and follow Him.





Aus, Roger David. Simon Peter's Denial and Jesus' Commissioning Him as His Successor in    John 21:15-19. Lanham, MD: UPA, 2013. Accessed July 5, 2018. ProQuest Ebook          Central.

Blaine, Bradford B. Peter in the Gospel of John. Boston, MA: Brill Academic Publishers, 2006.        Accessed July 5, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central.

Bockmuehl, Markus. Simon Peter in Scripture and Memory: The New Testament Apostle in the  Early Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014. Accessed July 5, 2018.   ProQuest Ebook Central.

Ehrman, Bart D. Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and     Legend. New York, NY: Oxford University Press USA - OSO, 2006. Accessed July 5,         2018. ProQuest Ebook Central.

Harink, Douglas. 1 and 2 Peter. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible Series. Grand  Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2009. Accessed July 5, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central.

Helyer, Larry R. The Life and Witness of Peter. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012.     Accessed July 5, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central.

Howell, Don N., Jr. Servants of the Servant: A Biblical Theology of Leadership. Eugene, OR:   Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2003.

Stein, Robert H. Mark. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids,            MI: Baker Academic, 2008. Accessed July 18, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central.


[1]. Bockmuehl, Markus. Simon Peter in Scripture and Memory: The New Testament Apostle in the          Early Church. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014), 173.

[2]. Ibid., 173.

[3]. Stein, Robert H. Mark. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 85.  

[4]. Helyer, Larry R. The Life and Witness of Peter. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 19.

[5]. Ibid., 20.

[6]. Harink, Douglas. 1 and 2 Peter. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible Series. (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2009), 43.

[7]. Helyer, 19.

[8]. Brockmuehl, 168.

[9]. Ibid., 168.  

[10]. Ibid., 168.  

[11]. Matthew 8:14 talks about Jesus entering Peter’s house and healing his mother-in-law, which would clearly demonstrate that Peter had a wife.  

[12]. Helyer, 28.  

[13]. Blaine, Bradford B. Peter in the Gospel of John. (Boston, MA: Brill Academic Publishers, 2006), 34.

[14]. Brokmuehl, 155.  

[15]. Ehrman, Bart D. Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press USA - OSO, 2006), 17.

[16]. Stein, 393.

[17]. Howell, Don N., Jr. Servants of the Servant: A Biblical Theology of Leadership. (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2003), 208.

[18]. John 18:10.

[19]. Luke 22:51.

[20]. Aus, Roger David. Simon Peter's Denial and Jesus' Commissioning Him as His Successor in John 21:15-19. (Lanham, MD: UPA, 2013), 42.

[21]. Howell, 207.

[22]. Luke 24:34 and I Corinthians 15:5.

[23]. Helyer, 62-63.

[24]. Aus, 158.

[25]. Aus, 160.  

[26]. Helyer, 65.

[27]. Howell, 214.

[28]. Ehrman, 58.

[29]. Harink, 33.

[30]. Ibid., 38-39.

[31]. Helyer, 61.

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