Ten Things Every Catholic Should Know About St Peter
February 17, 2015 by Fr. Dwight Longenecker
If you are involved in a discussion with an Evangelical Christian you can bet they will have John 3:16 memorized. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that whoever believes in his will not perish but have everlasting life.”
Sometimes Catholics are embarrassed that Evangelicals have that verse memorized, but I’ve found that almost all Catholics have our foundational verse memorized too. They just don’t know they do. So ask your typical Catholic to finish this verse: “You are Peter…” You bet they will say, “…and on this Rock I will build my church.” Most of them will go on to recite, “and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
These two foundational verses reveal the two different foundations of faith. For the Evangelical it is all about personal belief and trust in Jesus Christ. For Catholics it is through the dynamic life of the church that Jesus is experienced most fully.
Consequently, non-Catholic Christians will have a low view of Peter. They see him as a courageous disciple and faithful missionary, but that’s about where it ends.
It is important, therefore for Catholics to have at their fingertips some basic facts about Peter from the New Testament to explain to Evangelical Christians why he is so important.
So here are ten things every Catholic should know about St Peter.
1. He was given a new name – In the Bible when someone gets a new name they get a new identity and a new role. In the Old Testament Abram was re-named Abraham. When Jesus gives Simon the name “Peter” he is giving him a divinely appointed role and identity.
2.The name Peter links back to Abraham – “Peter” means “Rock” and the Jews in Jesus’ time interpreted the words of Isaiah 51:1 “consider the rock from which you were hewn” to refer to Abraham. So “Peter the Rock” is the new Abraham. As Abraham was the Father of Faith for the Jews, Peter will become the foundation stone of the new covenant.
3. Peter means “Boulder” not “pebble” – Some Evangelicals will try to interpret the words “this rock” to mean a little pebble. This is because the Greek word is “petros” which means “little stone”. However, in the form of Greek used in the gospel “petros” can mean either. To prove that “Peter” means a huge foundation stone you have to consider the context. The story took place at Caesarea Phillipi where Jesus would have been looking at a huge rocky outcrop with a pagan temple on top. That visual aid gives the real meaning to the word.
4. Peter and his confession are the Rock on which the church was built – Non Catholics will say the rock on which the church was built was Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Son of God and not Peter himself. Catholics believe the foundation is both Peter and his confession.
5. Peter was inspired by God – Jesus says it was not flesh and blood, but the Spirit that revealed the truth to Peter
6. Peter was the chief apostle – In every list in the gospels Peter comes first. Judas comes last. In the Acts of the Apostles Peter takes the lead and preaches at the foundation of the church at Pentecost. He takes the lead in admitting the Gentiles to the Church and it is his authority that even Paul defers to when there is a question or disagreement.
7. Peter was the steward in the kingdom of God – “The keys to the kingdom” refer to Isaiah 22:22 where the king places the keys of the kingdom on a sash over the steward’s shoulder. This was a sign of authority. The steward held the kings authority in trust if the king was absent. Jesus is therefore making Peter his vicar on earth–the steward of his kingdom in his absence.
8. Peter was the Chief Shepherd appointed by the Good Shepherd – At the end of John’s gospel Jesus says to Peter, “If you love me feed my sheep.” He says this three times solemnly. He is therefore appointing Peter as the Chief Shepherd of the flock in his absence. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He appoints Peter to take that responsibility.
9. Peter’s role was successive – Some non Catholics will admit that Peter had great responsibility, but deny that the authority continued to his successors. His role as steward sets that straight. The steward’s role in the Jewish kingdom was a successive office. When one steward was at the end of his term he handed the keys to his successor. The passage in Isaiah 22 shows this taking place.
10. Peter ended his days in Rome – When we say he founded the church at Rome we mean he was there as a founding father along with St Paul. We know he was in Rome because at the end of the first epistle of Peter he says he is in “babylon” which was an early Christian code word for Rome.