Who is Saint Peter?
Saint Peter (Imperial Aramaic: 𐡔𐡌𐡏𐡅𐡍 𐡁𐡓 𐡉𐡅𐡍𐡄; died AD 64–68), also known as Peter the Apostle, Simon Peter, Simeon, Simon, or Cephas (Imperial Aramaic: 𐡊𐡉𐡐𐡀, lit. ‘Rock’), was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ and one of the first leaders of the early Christian Church. He appears repeatedly and prominently in all four New Testament gospels as well as the Acts of the Apostles.
According to Christian tradition, Peter was crucified in Rome under Emperor Nero. The ancient Christian churches all venerate Peter as a major saint and as the founder of the Church of Antioch and the Church of Rome, but they differ in their attitudes regarding the authority of his successors. According to Catholic teaching, Jesus promised Peter a special position in the Church. In the New Testament, the name “Simon Peter” is found 19 times. He is the brother of Saint Andrew, and both were fishermen. The Gospel of Mark in particular was traditionally thought to show the influence of Peter’s preaching and eyewitness memories. He is also mentioned, under either the name Peter or Cephas, in Paul‘s First Letter to the Corinthians and the Epistle to the Galatians. The New Testament also includes two general epistles, First Peter and Second Peter, that are traditionally attributed to him, but modern scholarship generally rejects the Petrine authorship of both. Nevertheless, Evangelicals and Catholics have always affirmed Peter’s authorship, and recently, a growing number of scholars have revived the claim of Petrine authorship of these epistles.
Catholic and Orthodox tradition accredits him as the first bishop of Rome—or pope—and also as the first bishop of Antioch. Based on contemporary historical data, his papacy is estimated to have spanned from AD 30 to his death, which would make him the longest-reigning pope, at anywhere from 34 to 38 years; however, this has never been verified.
Saint Irenaeus (c. 130 – c. 202 AD) explains the Apostle Peter, his See, and his successors in book III of Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies). In the book, Irenaeus wrote that Peter and Paul founded and organized the Church in Rome.
Sources suggest that at first, the terms episcopos and presbyteros were used interchangeably, with the consensus among scholars being that by the turn of the 1st and 2nd centuries, local congregations were led by bishops and presbyters, whose duties of office overlapped or were indistinguishable from one another. Protestant and secular historians generally agree that there was probably “no single ‘monarchical’ bishop in Rome before the middle of the 2nd century…and likely later.” Outside of the New Testament, several apocryphal books were later attributed to him, in particular the Acts of Peter, Gospel of Peter, Preaching of Peter, Apocalypse of Peter, and Judgment of Peter, although scholars believe these works to be pseudepigrapha.
The New Testament presents Peter’s original name as Simon (/ˈsaɪmən/ ⓘ; Σίμων, Simōn in Greek). In only two passages, his name is instead spelled “Simeon” (Συμεών in Greek). The variation possibly reflects “the well-known custom among Jews at the time of giving the name of a famous patriarch or personage of the Old Testament to a male child [i.e., Simeon] along with a similar sounding Greek/Roman name [in this case, Simon]”.
He was later given by Jesus the name Cephas (/ˈsiːfəs/), from the Aramaic 𐡊𐡉𐡐𐡀, Kipa, ‘rock/stone’. In translations of the Bible from the original Greek, his name is maintained as Cephas in 9 occurrences in the New Testament, whereas in the vast majority of mentions (156 occurrences in the New Testament) he is called Πέτρος, Petros, from the Greek and Latin word for a rock or stone (petra) to which the masculine ending was added, rendered into English as Peter.
The precise meaning of the Aramaic word is disputed, some saying that its usual meaning is “rock” or “crag”, others saying that it means rather “stone” and, particularly in its application by Jesus to Simon, like a “jewel”, but most scholars agree that as a proper name it denotes a rough or tough character. Both meanings, “stone” (jewel or hewn stone) and “rock”, are indicated in dictionaries of Aramaic and Syriac.
Catholic theologian Rudolf Pesch argues that the Aramaic word would mean “precious stone” to designate a distinguishing person. This cannot be sufficiently proven from Aramaic, however, since the use of the Aramaic root kp as a personal name has not been proven and there are hardly any known examples of the word being used to mean “precious stone”.