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Peter the 'Rock': his story in the Bible


People in the story

Golden keys

Peter's story  

Andrew at the feeding of the five thousand 


Mary Magdalene as portrayed in 'Passion of the Christ'

Mary Magdalene

Map of the Sea of Galilee and surrounding countryside

The Sea of Galilee

John the Baptist preaching

John the Baptist 

Jesus at the house of Caiaphas



Peter was there

Jesus, Peter and Andrew at the Transfiguration


The kiss of Judas

Arrest of Jesus

Reconstruction of a 1st century house in Jerusalem

Trial at the house 
of Caiaphas

Peter denies knowing Jesus

  Peter denies 
knowing Jesus

The Risen Christ, painting


Peter and John run towards the tomb on Easter morning, painting

  Peter and John at the tomb of Jesus





Who was Peter?Map of Palestine at the time of Jesus in the New Testament; map shows Bethsaida, home town of Peter

Peter was a Galilean fisherman who lived on the shores of the Sea of Galilee (see top right of map) with his wife, his brother Andrew and his mother-in-law. 

People at the time worked as a family unit, so the men and women of Peter's family worked together to catch and preserve/dry fish for export to the surrounding towns. 

This particular family was probably in partnership with Zebedee and his sons, James and John (Matthew 4:21). 

Jesus calls the disciples

Like his father and brother Andrew, Simon Peter was a fisherman by trade, working on the Lake of Galilee. His family seems to have been caught up in the revival movement led by John the Baptist. 

Peter met Jesus at Bethany through his brother Andrew, and was immediately impressed. Jesus called him 'Peter', the rock - an odd choice of name since Peter seems to have been passionate and impulsive rather than rock-like. Note: Jesus actually called Peter 'Cephras', which is the Aramaic equivalent of 'Petros', a rock.

Gospel reference: Matthew 4:18-22, Mark 1:16-20. See Bible Texts for St Peter 

Jesus Calls the Disciples, Duccio

Jesus Calls the Disciples, Duccio

Jesus heals the mother-in-law of Peter

It is hardly surprising that Peter was bowled over by Jesus. When he had only known Jesus a short time, Peter witnessed first-hand an unforgettable healing. His wife's mother was ill with a fever, apparently bad enough to cause concern. Jesus went to her, took her by the hand and lifted her up. The fever vanished immediately. Not only was she cured - she was strong enough to get up and cook for the visitors to her house, and serve up the sabbath meal after the synagogue service. A doughty woman indeed.

Gospel reference: Mark 1:29-31. See Bible Texts for St Peter 

Jesus heals the mother-in-law of Peter, Rembrandt van Rijn, black and white drawing

Jesus heals the mother-in-law of Peter, Rembrandt van Rijn

Jesus Walks on Water

Peter was with Jesus all through the three years of Jesus' travelling ministry - rock-like in his steadfast loyalty. He witnessed all the major events of this extradordinary time. For example, one night Jesus was on the shore while the disciples, including Peter, were out on the Lake of Galilee. The weather was stormy, the water rough. Suddenly the men in the boat saw a figure walking towards them over the water. It was Jesus. 

They shouted in fear, thinking it was some evil spirit. It was not. Jesus called to them not to be afraid. Peter, relieved and always impetuous, called out to Jesus that if Jesus wanted, Peter would walk towards him on the water. Jesus called for him to come, and Peter stepped out onto the water. 

As long as he kept his focus on Jesus he was safe, but when he noticed how stormy the water was, he began to sink into the water. He called to Jesus for help. Jesus held out his hand and pulled him up to safety. 

Gospel reference: Matthew 14:22-33, Mark 6:45-52, John 6:16-21. See Bible Texts for Peter

Jesus walks on the water, painting by an unknown modern artist

 Jesus Walks on Water, artist unknown

Peter at the Transfiguration of Jesus

This was a momentous event in Jesus' life. Peter had just proclaimed his belief that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. 

Jesus, Peter, James and John became separated from the others and went up onto the flat summit of a mountain. Something happened there that the disciples tried haltingly to explain to the others later on: Jesus had been transformed, and at the same time the figures of Moses (the Law) and Elijah (the Prophets) appeared talking with him. 

They experienced something like a voice that came from nowhere and everywhere, telling them that Jesus was the Son of God, chosen by God and now revealed to them. 

Peter, always enthusiastic, wanted to put up tents or bowers, but Jesus gently restrained him. Peter and the other disciples did not understand what all this meant until after the Resurrection.

Read the story at Bible texts for Peter

The transfiguration of Christ, Fra Angelico

The Transfiguration, Fra Angelico

Painting of the Transfiguration showing Jesus, Elijah and Moses, with three apostles looking on

Transfiguration, unknown artist

Peter at the Last Supper

At the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of each of his disciples. Peter objected to having his feet washed by someone he venerated, but Jesus insisted. 

Jesus also predicted that his disciples would scatter and flee when danger threatened. But Peter contradicted him, assuring Jesus and the other disciples that even if everyone deserted, he would remain faithful to the end. 

Gospel reference: Matthew 26:30-35, Mark 14:26-31, Luke 22:31-34, John 13:1-38. See Bible Texts for St Peter 

Christ Washing the Feet of St Peter, Ford Madox Brown

Christ Washing the Feet of St Peter, Ford Madox Brown

Painting of the Last Supper by Jacopo Bassano. Peter sits at Jesus' right hand

The Last Supper, Jacopo Bassano. Peter sits at Jesus' right hand

Peter and Jesus in the film 'Passion of the Christ'

Peter and Jesus in the film 'Passion of the Christ'

Peter at Gethsemane

Peter was with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane just before his death. When the soldiers tried to arrest Jesus, Peter unsheathed his sword and swung it at the head of one of them, a slave of the High Priest called Malchus. He missed, but cut off the ear of the unfortunate man. 

Gospel reference: John 18:10-11, Matthew 26:47-56, Mark 14:43-52, Luke 22:47-53. See Bible Texts for St Peter 

Painting of the arrest of Jesus, by Fra Angelico

The Arrest of Jesus, Fra Angelico

Peter, with a sword in his right hand, slashes at the ear of Malchus; painting by James Tissot

Peter Smites the Ear of Malchus, James Tissot

Peter Denies Jesus

Reconstruction of the Palace of the Jewish High Priest Caiaphas, who carried out the first trial of Jesus
Right: click on the image at right to see a reconstruction of the palace of the High Priest Caiaphas, where Jesus faced a hasty trial

After Jesus' arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was taken to the house of Caiphas the High Priest. This was an official residence with an open central courtyard. Peter was there, waiting outside while Jesus was being questioned. 

Up until this point, Peter was being true to his word: he was staying by Jesus when the others fled. But someone, a woman servant, recognised him as a follower of Jesus, and challenged him. Peter took fright and said three times that he did not know Jesus. At once he was bitterly sorry for his own weakness. 

Gospel reference: Matthew 26:69-75, Mark 14:66-72, Luke 22:56-62, John 18:25-27. See Bible Texts for St Peter 

Saint Peter's Denial, Antoine/Louis Le Nain

Saint Peter's Denial, Antoine/Louis Le Nain

The Denial of St Peter, Gerrit van Honthorst

The Denial of St Peter, Gerrit van Honthorst

The Third Denial of Peter, painting by Caravaggio

The Third Denial of Peter, Caravaggio

Peter at the Resurrection

When Mary Magdalene burst into the room where the disciples huddled, and announced that Jesus had risen from the dead, Peter and the much younger John did not hesitate. They took off running as fast as they could towards the tomb. John outpaced Peter and arrived first. But as soon as Peter arrived, he went straight into the tomb, alone. There was no-one there - just a cloth lying where the body of Jesus had been. See more about this at Running to the Tomb.

Peter and John running to the tomb of Christ, by Eugene Burnand

Peter and John running to the tomb of Christ, by Eugene Burnand

Peter is imprisoned, and escapes

After Pentacost, Peter began a whole new phase of his life. Inspired, he began telling anyone who would listen about Jesus of Nazareth. He was, in effect, the father of early Christianity. It was not an easy path. The early Christians were hunted and imprisoned by Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great (who slaughtered the Innocents at the time of the birth of Jesus). 

Peter too was imprisoned, but the Christian communities prayed and God set him free: an angel of the Lord appeared, the chains fell off his wrists, and Peter followed the angel out of the prison cell. 

New Testament reference: Acts 12:1-11. See Bible Texts for St Peter 

St Peter in Prison, painting by Rembrandt

St Peter in Prison, Rembrandt


The Angel of God liberates St Peter, painting by Gerrit van Honthorst

The Liberation of St Peter, Gerrit van Honthorst (click image to enlarge)


The Liberation of St Peter, Raphael: three panels showing different parts of the story

The Liberation of St Peter, Raphael

The Death of St Peter

There is no description of St Peter's death in the New Testament, but traditionally he is supposed to have died in Rome during the persecution begun by the Emperor Nero. It was said he was crucified, like Jesus, but upside down.

The Crucifixion of St Peter, painting by Caravaggio; Peter is nailed head downwards on a cross

The Crucifixion of St Peter, Caravaggio


The central events of St Peter's life show a man of simplicity and faith. He suffered from a common human ailment: he wanted to do and be good, but was not always able to live up to his goals. Jesus loved and forgave him, because whenever Peter fell, he got up and tried again. 

You can read more at PETER THE APOSTLE 

FOR BIBLE STUDY GROUPSGroup and individual activities for ST. PETER



Bible Study Guide:  Jesus Christ:  the story of Jesus' disciple and apostle Simon Peter, called the Rock

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Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Fletcher