Study Guide

Simon Peter in Acts of the Apostles

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Simon Peter

The last time we left Peter was in the Gospel of Luke. Peter had become a fisher of men (Luke 5:10), recognized Jesus as the Messiah (Luke 9:20), seen Jesus stand in the presence of Elijah and Moses (Luke 9:30), and then promptly denied he ever knew him. Seriously, Peter? Let's see if things start looking up for him in the sequel.

It's All Good

Oh, yeah. Even though Peter kind of hits a low point at the end of the gospel, all seems to be forgiven by the time Jesus has his "I'll be back" moment. Jesus hangs around with the apostles for forty days and then ascends into Heaven on a cloud (what can we say? The guy's got style). As soon as Jesus's grand exit is done, Peter jumps right out in front to take his place.

  • Peter's the one who tells everyone Judas needs to be replaced. (1:15-22)
  • He sets the rules for who is an apostle and who is not (Paul, we're looking at you). (1:21-22)
  • He explains the whole tongues of fire thing (not an easy task). (2:14-36)
  • His disapproval kills Ananias and Sapphira. That's hardcore. (5:3-10)
  • Peter lays his hands on believers and—poof—they receive the Holy Spirit. (8:17)
  • He tells Simon money can't buy him power. Preach. (8:20)
  • He sees a vision from God telling him that the Gentiles are a-okay. Weird, but cool. (10:11-15)

If you think that's impressive, Peter (and the rest of the apostles) also get super-miracle-powers on par with Jesus himself:

  • Peter heals a guy who can't walk in the temple. (3:6-7)
  • He helps Aeneas—who's paralyzed—walk again. (9:34)
  • He brings Tabitha back to life. (9:40)

In fact, Peter is so powerful and so renowned that people "even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he came by" (5:15). When even your shadow can perform miracles, you know you've arrived.

A Little Suffering Never Hurt Anyone

So, like Paul, Peter's pretty Christ-like in this story. But if he's truly following in Jesus's footsteps, he's gonna have to suffer just a little. Make that a lot. Even though Peter's pretty darn good at converting people (one time he snags 5,000 new believers (4:4)—awesome!), he's also pretty darn good at ticking people off.

It probably doesn't help that every time he addresses the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem he gives them some version of his "you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life" (3:14-15) speech. No one finds that endearing.

So Peter gets thrown into jail a few times (5:17-18, 12:5). And flogged (5:40). No it's not pretty, but Peter is actually super psyched about the chance to follow in Jesus's footsteps. After one nasty run-in, Peter and the apostles "rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name" (5:41). That's one way to spin it.

Just like with Paul, Peter is setting the example for believers. Is Jesus your Lord and Savior? Then you've got to tell the world. No backing down. If they don't like it and lock you in jail and beat you up, well that's just the price you have to pay for getting a little share in the kingdom of God.

Peter vs. Paul: The Apostolic Smackdown

Throughout Acts, there seems to a tiny bit of tension between Peter and Paul. Maybe this is because Peter was the one who actually knew Jesus while he was alive. All Paul has is that story about the time Jesus asked him one stupid little question and then blinded him. And he won't stop telling it. Over and over again. It's enough to make an original disciple sick.

It wouldn't be right to say the two men are foils. After all, they're both playing for the same team and modeling proper Christian behavior, but there's something a little off between them during their one and only meeting in Jerusalem.

When Paul comes to Jerusalem to get some clarification for Gentile converts, Peter stands up and reminds the group that "God made a choice […] that [he] should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers" (15:7). Paul may bill himself as "apostle to the Gentiles," but Peter wants it to be known that he was the one who figured out they were cool with God in the first place. A little jealous, Peter?

Paul's Side Of The Story

But Paul tells this story a little differently in his letter to the Galatians. He says the apostles in Jerusalem "contributed nothing to me" (Galatians 2:6) and that Peter "recognized the grace that had been given to [him and agreed that Paul] should go to the Gentiles and [Peter] to the circumcised" (Galatians 2:9). Snap.

Paul also describes some other hairy episodes with Peter—whom he usually calls Cephas—in his letters. In 1 Corinthians, Paul is annoyed that some people claim to follow Peter and some follow him (1 Corinthians 1:12). Paul also flat-out draws a line in the sand and says that he's "been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised" (Galatian 2:7). Later, Paul "opposed [Peter] to his face" (Galatians 2:11) when he came to Antioch and Paul thought he was backing down from his earlier support of the Gentiles. Luke leaves those little details out, but we still get some hints that these two might not be the best of friends.

Can't We All Just Get Along?

Why the Peter and Paul drama? Well, Peter probably rightly sees himself as a leader of the church (Were you there when they crucified the Lord? Because he was). And then along comes Paul—whose resume includes persecuting the church—and suddenly everyone is falling all over themselves to get baptized. No fair!

Both men have similar stories of redemption, though. Paul may have persecuted the church, but Peter also denied he knew Jesus in his hour of need. Acts shows that you can come back from anything and go on to lead others to Christ. Rock bottom is just the beginning for Peter and Paul.

The End For Peter

So what happens to Peter after he puts in his two cents during the Council of Jerusalem? Just like Paul, no one knows. Christian tradition says that Peter went on to author two epistles (though, of course, that over achiever Paul would write fourteen). Legend says he joined up with Paul in Rome and the two guys founded the church there. Later they were both martyred by Emperor Nero in 64 CE. Except instead of taking the easy way out and being beheaded, Peter was crucified upside down. Peter sees your suffering Paul, and raises you.

Is this likely? Probably not. Even though Saint Peter's Basilica is supposedly built over the site of Peter's grave (that's quite a tombstone), we don't have any evidence that Peter actually went to Rome. And we know that he and Paul didn't start the church there (remember that it already existed when Paul set foot on Roman soil).

But whether or not they saw eye-to-eye in life, people love to group Peter and Paul together in death. Because word has it that they died on the same day, Peter actually shares his feast day with Paul on June 29th. Seriously? Would two totally separate days be too much to ask? Shmoop thinks they've earned it.

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