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Why is Peter the Apostle (Simon Peter) Important?

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Apostle Peter striking the High Priests' servant Malchus with a sword in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Photograph by Rama/Wikimedia Commons

Why is Peter the Apostle Important?:


There are two reasons why Peter is important for understanding Christianity. First, he is treated as a model for Christians to follow. In theory, Christians are expect to act much as Peter is described as acting — for better and for worse. Second, the gospels describe Jesus as calling Peter his “rock” upon which the future church would be built. After his martyrdom in Rome, traditions developed which led to the belief that the most important Christian church organization was located in Rome. This is why popes today are regarded as the successors of Peter, first leader of the Roman church.

Peter the Apostle as a Model for Christian Behavior:


Making Peter a model for Christians may sound strange at first because the gospels relate many examples of Peter’s faithlessness — for example, his three denials of Jesus. Because of the varied traits ascribed to Peter, he may be the most fleshed-out character in the gospels. Peter’s failings are treated as symptoms of man’s state of sinfulness or weakness which can be overcome through faith in Jesus. When Christians insist on pestering others in order to convert them, it's likely that they are consciously imitating Peter's example.

Peter and the Church in Rome:


Catholic belief that the church in Rome, and the pope who heads that church, lead the entire Christian church are based on the belief that Jesus gave this job to Peter who in turn founded the first Christian church in Rome. Questions about the truth of any of this thus challenge beliefs about the place and role of pope. There is no independent verification of the gospel stories and it's unclear that they even mean what Catholics claim. There is also no good evidence that Peter was even martyred in Rome, much less that he founded the first Christian church there.

What did Peter the Apostle do?:


Most of Jesus’ twelve apostles remain largely silent in the gospels; Peter, however, is often depicted speaking. He is the first to confess that Jesus is the Messiah as well as the only one depicted actively denying Jesus later. In Acts, Peter is depicted as traveling widely to preach about Jesus. Little information about Peter is contained in these early sources, but Christian communities filled in the gaps with other stories to fulfill theological and communal purposes. Because Peter was a model for Christian faith and activity, it was important for Christians to know about his background and personal history.

Who was Peter the Apostle?:


Peter was one of the most important of Jesus’ twelve apostles. Peter is known as Simon Peter, the son of Jona (or John) and brother of Andrew. The name Peter comes from the Aramaic term for “rock” and Simon comes from the Greek for “hearing.” Peter’s name appears on all of the lists of apostles and his being called by Jesus appears in all three synoptic gospels as well as Acts. The gospels describe Peter as coming from the fishing village of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. The gospels also indicate that he was a native of Galilee, based upon his having an accent typical of the region.

When did Peter the Apostle live?:


The years of Peter’s birth and death are unknown, but Christian tradition filled in the blanks for theological purposes. Christians believe Peter died in Rome during the persecution of Christians around 64 CE under emperor Nero. Under St. Peter’s Basilica a shrine to Peter was discovered and it could conceivably have been built over his grave. Traditions about Peter’s martyrdom in Rome were instrumental in the development of the idea of the primacy of Rome’s Christian church. Any challenges to this tradition are thus not simply historical speculation, but challenges to the basis of the Vatican's power.

Why was Peter the Apostle important?:


Peter is important for the history of Christianity for two reasons. First, he is generally treated as a model for Christians to follow. This may sound strange at first because the gospels relate many examples of Peter’s faithlessness — for example, his three denials of Jesus. Because of the varied traits ascribed to Peter, he may be the most fleshed-out character in the gospels.

Yet Peter’s failings are treated as symptoms of man’s state of sinfulness or weakness which can be overcome through faith in Jesus. Peter did just this because, after Jesus’ resurrection, he travelled widely to preach Jesus’ message and convert people to Christianity. In Acts, Peter is portrayed as a model disciple for others to emulate.

He is also important because the gospels describe Jesus as calling Peter his “rock” upon which the future church would be built. He was the first to begin preaching to the gentiles. Because of Peter’s martyrdom in Rome, traditions developed which led to the belief that the most important Christian church organization was located in Rome — not in cities like Jerusalem or Antioch where Christianity was older or where Jesus actually visited. Because Peter was given a unique leadership role, the places where he was martyred has taken that role over and popes today are regarded as the successors of Peter, first leader of the Roman church.

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