The Confession of St Peter


Jesus and Disciples
The Confession of Peter

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“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). In these words, Simon bar-Jonah confessed his faith in Jesus, who accepted the title with an answering pun: “You are Peter, and on this rock (petra which translates as a small pebble) I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). Characteristically, Peter promptly gets things wrong and is denounced as a stumbling block (Matthew 16:22-23).

The rough and impulsive fisherman figures prominently in the New Testament. He and his brother Andrew were the first of the disciples to be called. It was Peter who walked on the water and when he took his eyes off Jesus began to sink, because he was the only one brave enough to get out of the boat. It was he who on the impulse of the moment wanted to build three shelters on the mountain of the transfiguration; it was Peter who rashly boasted his faithfulness to death and within a few hours denied Jesus 3 times.

After the resurrection, the Holy Spirit entered Peter and he was never the same again. Peter rapidly grows in importance as a leader, often risking imprisonment and death, yet continuing to speak out boldly in the name of Jesus and proclaim his belief that Jesus is indeed the Messiah and has been raised from the dead. He was, as Paul says, one of the pillars of the church (Galatians 2:9), the rock whose strength and courage sustained the young church as it felt its way beyond the boundaries of the Jewish community. First there was the mission to Samaria. Then, after initial doubts about the admission of Gentile converts, Peter has the humility to accept a change of heart and to baptise the Roman centurion Cornelius and his household (Acts 10).

Peter still had to struggle with his inbred prejudices. Paul, writing to the Galatians, reports how he felt bound to rebuke Peter for giving in to the pressure of Jewish Christians who wanted him to separate himself from the table-fellowship with Gentile Christians (Galatians 2:11-14).

Except for an oblique reference in the first letter of Peter (1 Peter 5:12) and a possible hint by Paul (Romans 15:20-22), there is no reference in the New Testament to Peter’s presence in Rome, but the reports that he was there are early and well-attested, and the site of his burial under the high altar of St Peter’s Basilica has considerable evidence in its favour. According to tradition he was executed during the persecution under the Emperor Nero in Rome in 64 AD.