🔼The name Peter: Summary
- From the noun πετρος (petros), stone.
🔼The name Peter in the Bible
As popular as the name Peter is in our world, in the Bible it is assigned only once, namely to Simon "Barjona"; Peter, the apostle of Jesus. The feminine version Πετρα (Petra) — a very popular female name in certain parts of the world, the Netherlands for instance — doesn't occur at all in the Bible, although the name Sela may be the Semitic version of it.
Peter was among the first followers of Jesus. Matthew and Mark tell how he was called together with his brother Andrew, while they were working on their fishing gear. John adds the detail that Andrew was initially a disciple of John the Baptist, who heard Jesus speak (together with an unnamed colleague) and switched masters. Right after that he went to his brother Simon and recruited him too. On this occasion, Jesus renamed him Cephas, which is a Syriac name and "which is translated Peter" (John 1:35-42). John also adds the detail that Peter and Andrew were from Bethsaida in Galilee (John 1:44).
After a rocky start, Peter became the most prominent of the original twelve apostles, and apart from being a fisherman and an apostle, he was also a family man. According to Paul, he took his wife along on his missionary journeys (1 Corinthians 9:5), and three of the four gospels tell of how Jesus healed her mother as one of his first miracles (Matthew 8:14-17, Mark 1:29-31, Luke 4:38-39).
According to Pope Clement of Rome (c 96 AD), Peter was martyred during the reign of emperor Nero. Tertulian (212 AD) adds that he was crucified. Origin (through Eusebius; 232 AD) tells us that Peter was crucified head-down, at his own request. Shortly before he died, Peter wrote the two letters that survive today as the First and Second Letter of Peter, and which radiate with the joy and wisdom of this wonderful man.
The name Peter occurs 162 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
🔼Etymology of the name Peter
The names Peter (petros) and Petra (petra) are regular Greek words; one means rock and the other means stone:
The feminine noun πετρα (petra) means rock or rather: mountain of a rock, used to build houses on or hew sepulchers in. The masculine noun πετρος (petros) describes a loose stone that one may pick up and throw or kick out of the way.
The most remarkable conjunction of these two words petra and petros occurs in the famous scene in which Jesus asks the disciples what they think of him. Only Peter submits that Jesus is the Son of the Living God. Jesus responds by saying that he couldn't have obtained that insight from any human teacher, or even have figured it out by himself, but that it was given to him by God.
And then Jesus says to Peter: You are petros (a small wobbly and easily movable stone), but on that petra (the unmovable faith that is not from man but from God) I'm going to build my church.
Just how wobbly and easily movable that stone actually is, Peter readily demonstrates by forwarding the daftest proposals, by jumping overboard to walk on water while his faith remains in the boat (Matthew 14:28-33), and ultimately, by denying that he was ever associated with Jesus after his arrest (Matthew 26:69-75).
The Bible is unique in many ways but also because there's not a single perfect person in it. If salvation had been up to any one of the major players of the Bible, or even up to ourselves, we would be in deep trouble. But with that great gift of God, the gift upon which Jesus builds his church and grafts his new creation, we can wake up each day and marvel at our fortune to be able to believe so great a promise.