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13. Peter
13.1 Peter’s Conversion || 13-1-1 Peter The Rock || 13-1-2 Peter Our Example || 13-1-3 Peter's Coversion || 13-2-1 Peter And The Cross || 13-2-2 Peter And Quo Vadis? || 13.3 Peter’s Preaching: 13-3-1 Peter’s Preaching || 13-3-2 Peter And The Stone Of Daniel 2 || 13-3-3 Peter's Realization Of Sinfulness || 13-3-4  Appreciation Of Christ’s Exaltation || 13.4 Peter The Shepherd: 13-4-1 Peter The Shepherd || 13-4-2 Peter And The Judaizers || 13-4-3 The Letters Of Peter || 13-5-1 Peter And Christ || 13-5-2 Peter And The Titles Of Christ || 13-6 Peter: Bible Student || 13-7 Walking On Water

13-4-1 Peter The Shepherd

As with his preaching, Peter’s pastoral work was shot through with an awareness of his own failure and taste of his Lord’s grace. The lack of energy in our collective care for each other is surely reflective of a lack of awareness of our sinfulness, a shallow grasp of grace, and a subsequent lack of appreciation of the need to lay down our lives for the brethren, as the Lord did for us. Jesus Himself encouraged Peter to see things this way, in that He arranged  circumstances so that Peter had to pray for Simon as Christ had prayed for him (Acts 8:24 cp. Lk. 22:32). And His triple commission to Peter to feed His lambs was prefaced each time with the question: Do you love me? It was an eloquent undoing of Peter’s triple denial of the Lord. Now, three times, he was asked: Do you love me? It could have been ‘Do you know me?’. But Jesus knew that to know Him was to love Him, and so He put it that way, more kindly and more graciously. And Peter knew that for all his denials, he loved his Lord. With hung head he commented from the heart: ‘You know that I love you’. And then, and only then, was the time right for the great commission to feed the sheep; to be a pastor in the fullest sense a man has ever been invited to be. Earlier the Lord had asked Peter to give himself to the strengthening of his brethren, “when thou art converted”. ‘Do you love me? Do you know me?’ was really asking him: ‘Are you converted now?’. Of course, Peter had been converted by Galilee, when he left all (or so he thought and felt then) and followed. But the Lord foresaw that there were levels of conversion; levels of accepting and living His truth. He understood Peter’s conversion as being the point where that man concentrated all his love upon Him, with a full awareness of his own frailty and specific failure. This was, and is, the conversion of the converted. And it is only on that basis that succesful and powerful pastoral work can be accomplished.  

An over-reaction against Catholic views of Peter can lead us to under-estimate the undoubted supremacy of Peter in the early ecclesia. He was in the inner three along with James and John, and in incidents involving them he is always mentioned first, as the leader (Mt. 17:1,2; 26:37; Mk. 5:37). He is the first to confess Jesus as Messiah (Mt. 16:13-17), the first apostle to see the risen Christ (Lk. 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5), the first to preach to the Gentiles. Being given the keys of the Kingdom is language which would have been understood at the time as the Lord making Peter the Chief Rabbi of His new ecclesia(1). The Acts record without doubt gives primacy to Peter as the leader and chief representative of Christ’s fledgling church. But, humanly speaking, he was the most unlikely choice. The one who in the eyes of the world and brotherhood should have sat a fair while on the back burner, done the honourable thing…in fact, many honourable things, in just keeping a respectful and bashful silence. And there is no lack of evidence that Peter himself would have preferred that. But no, he was commissioned by the Lord to specifically lead the church. The early church was to be built on the rock of Peter. Whether we like to read this as meaning the rock of Peter’s confession that Christ was the Son of God, or as simply meaning Peter’s work as the manifestation of Christ, the rock, the Acts record shows clearly that the early church was built upon the specific work of Peter. Remember that ‘Peter’s real name was Simon. ‘Peter’ was a name given to him by Jesus- ‘Simon the rock’ was how Jesus surnamed him. And the name stuck. He became known simply as ‘Peter’, the rock-man. “The fact that the word Kepha was translated into Greek is significant. It confirms that the word is not a proper name; proper names are usually not translated” (Oscar Cullmann, Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr (London: S.C.M., 1962) p. 21). There are many examples of names being changed or added to, in reflection of the Divine perspective upon the individuals (Gen. 17:5,15; 32:28; Is. 62:2; 65:15). It was common for Jewish rabbis to give their disciples such new names. The Lord likewise surnamed the sons of Zebedee Boanerges. Although Peter seemed so unstable, he ‘dissembled’ due to fear even in Gal. 2:11, he had the potential to be a rock; the basic stability of the man’s tenacious basic faith was perceived by the Lord. We too will be given a new name, and it is for us to live up even now to the name of Jesus by which we have been surnamed in Christ. Even though it seems too good for us- we are to live up to the potential which the Lord sees in us. I even wonder whether it was the Lord’s renaming of Peter which inspired him to the spiritual ambition of Pentecost- to stand up in front of the Jerusalem crowd, with all the gossip about his own denial of Jesus staring him in the face, and so preach that he achieved the greatest mass conversions of all time. Perhaps ringing in his ears were the Lord’s words: ‘You, Simon, are the rock, and upon you, Simon-rock, I will build my church’. The Lord entrusts us with the Gospel, and we respond to this trust and belief which He shows in us. It’s like the schoolteacher telling the most disruptive child: ‘I’m going out of the classroom for 5 minutes. You’re in charge. And when I return I want there to be deathly silence’. And there likely will be. After the shock of the high calling wears off, the pupil often rises up to the unexpected trust given him [or her].  

It is significant that ‘Peter’ occurs  a disproportionate number of items with the article- as if, ‘the Peter’.

Name            total                %w/o art.

Moses           79        16.46                    83.54

Abraham         72        16.4          83.6

David           58        8.6           91.40

Solomon                                12        8.33                     91.66

Elijah          29        0             100

Isaiah                     21              0                            100

Isaac                       20              20                          80

Jacob                      25              20                          80

I thought it best to test the closest parallel, which is OT PNs used in the NT, but the pattern seems to hold up with purely NT names, like John (the Apostle):

John            34              11.8            88.2

Curiously the pattern breaks down with ho Petros (Peter), since of the 92 occurrences 59 have the article. This seems to be explained by the fact that Peter often heads the lists of the 12 disciples and because his name occurs more often on its own in constructions that give him (and hence his name) prominence.

Many thanks to Steve Snobelen

Mt. 14:31 records the Lord rebuking Peter as he sunk into the water. He rebukes Peter for his “doubt”, using a Greek word meaning ‘to duplicate’ [Strongs]. Peter’s lack of faith is thus made equal to having a double heart. James alludes here in saying that “A double minded man is unstable…ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed” (James 1:6,8). James is clearly telling his readers not to be like Peter. It is easy for our reaction against Catholic extremism to lead us to under-estimate the high status of Peter in the early church. Here was James, also a respected elder, telling the flock to take a snapshot of their great leader Peter in his moment of weakness on the lake- and not be like him! Leaders of worldly organizations have a way of telling the flock that all their fellow leaders are as spotless as they are. But this wasn’t the case in the early church. It was Peter’s very humanity which was and is his inspiration.  

And the man chosen for this great work was one who so frequently referred to his own weaknesses, and seems to have gone out of his way to show to the world that the Lord’s commissions to him were not to be taken as meaning that he alone had the great responsibility of strengthening others and building up the ecclesia. He had been told that his experience of forgiveness and re-enstatement would be such that he would thereby be able to strengthen his brethren, feed the sheep, and therefore fulfil the prophecy that the ecclesia would be built up upon him. We can construct a parallel: 

Upon this rock (of Peter fully and truly believing in Christ as Son of God, with all it implies)

I will build my church

When thou art converted

Strengthen thy brethren

[As Peter with hung head says] " thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee"

Feed my sheep / lambs

Follow me to the cross, die my death with me

Building up the church, strengthening the brethren, feeding the sheep- this is the life of the cross. Self-giving to others, all the way. Peter often shows that he is the pattern of every true convert; all must strengthen their brethren, feed the sheep, and thereby the ecclesia will be built up upon them too. Thus the Lord’s words “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” can be read as meaning ‘on this type of rock and confession as you exhibit and will more fully show, I will build up the ecclesia’. This is why Peter can tell all his readers to build up the house (ecclesia) of God (1 Pet. 2:5 GK.), just as it had been promised he would after his conversion. Having promised that the ecclesia would be built up upon the rock of Peter’s faith, the Lord promised him the keys of the Kingdom to enable this to happen. But He repeated this promise to the others, as if to confirm that what He meant was that all who follow Peter’s pattern would quite naturally have the same abilities and achieve the same end, without consciously trying to do so. “Feed my sheep” is a commission passed on by Peter to all pastors (1 Pet. 5:2), whom he pointedly describes as “fellow elders”, as if to safeguard against any possible misunderstanding to the effect that he was the senior, special elder. They were all to follow his path and thereby achieve the same for others. It is only the typical perversity of the Catholic church which makes them read Peter as the very opposite: as a father figure unapproachable in achievment by any other. The way Peter calls Christ the petra of the ecclesia (1 Pet. 2:8) is surely to warn against any view of himself as the rock. 

It's significant and instructive that the other leaders of the early church not only accept Peter's authority, but do so exactly because of how he had dealt with his weaknesses and failures. It's as if they see in his humanity a reason to elevate him in their own estimations. Thus Peter’s wavering when walking on the water is picked up by James, in one of the earliest of the New Testament letters [note the allusions to Stephen, John the Baptist, the references to Christians as still meeting in the synagogue, etc.- it has been argued by John Robinson and Paul Wyns that James was in fact the first of the epistles. It seems that the “scattered abroad” audience of James 1:1 refers to the scattering abroad of the Jewish believers in Acts 8:1]. James warns that we shouldn’t waver in faith, like a wave on the water, blown and tossed around by the wind (James 1:6). James of course had seen Peter wavering on the water; and he holds up Peter, who at that time was the senior elder of the very early church, as an example of how not to be. My point is that the greatness of Peter was in his example of failure and how he overcame it.


(1) K. Stendahl, The School of St. Matthew (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968) p. 28.