Who Was St. Peter?

J.K. Elliott argues that only the evidence of the New Testament, highly selective as it is, gets us close to the character of St Peter and to the events of his life

No reader of the New Testament can fail to be aware that one of the most important figures in the gospels and the Acts of the Apostles is Peter. Church tradition credits this disciple with being the founder of the church in Rome and consequently the first bishop of Rome and first Pope.

If we can accept that the gospels tell us the historical facts about the period of Jesus' ministry, then the importance of Peter in Jesus' movement revealed there would explain why he became the leader of the Jerusalem church after Jesus' death as recorded in Acts and in Paul's letters. Few scholars, however, would accept that the gospels can be read in this way: most would argue that the gospels, which for the most part were written at least thirty years after the events they speak of, were in fact influenced by the teaching, events and presuppositions of the early Christian communities which produced them. This means that the gospels are more likely to state Peter was the foremost of the disciples because he had been leader of the Jerusalem church, or founder of the church at the centre of the Empire.

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