What We Can Learn from Peter’s Witness of Christ
Contributed By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer
“Perhaps Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John speak so often and intimately of Peter’s association with Christ because they hope that as we come to understand Peter, we will be more ready and able to accept his special witness of Christ, a testimony that he seems to have been carefully prepared to bear.” —Terry B. Ball, professor of ancient scripture at BYU
Though it might be wished that the New Testament preserved more of the activities and writings of the Apostle Peter, “what has been preserved is a treasure and endears us to this faithful fisherman,” said Terry B. Ball, professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, as he addressed the 43rd annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium October 24.
“The record, small as it is, shows how Peter was carefully and personally prepared by Christ to be a special witness of Him,” Brother Ball said. “As we read the account, we can discover our own faith and understanding growing along with Peter’s. That growth can give us hope and perspective in our personal journeys to faith.”
Held Friday evening and Saturday morning October 24–25, the symposium featured presentations from 28 scholars, most from the BYU Provo campus with some from BYU–Idaho and elsewhere, pertaining to the theme “The Ministry of Peter, the Chief Apostle.”
“What deep affection we have for this remarkable Apostle,” Brother Ball remarked. “Perhaps it’s because he seems so authentic, so approachable to us. We understand him. We empathize with him. We recognize and admire his courage as he forsook all straightway, leaving his nets when Christ beckoned, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’ (Matthew 4:19).”
Brother Ball added, “We certainly understand his confusion over the meaning and message of some of the parables. Perhaps we too have found times when our feet and faith have faltered on stormy seas and felt to cry, ‘Lord, save me!’
“We appreciate Peter’s awe at the Transfiguration. We weep with him for the shame of his thrice-made denial. We grieve with him at Gethsemane, and we join in his joy and wonder at the empty tomb.”
Gospel writers, Brother Ball observed, appear to purposely preserve more of Peter’s experiences and conversations with Jesus than any of the other original Twelve. “Many of us, I think, assume that so much attention is given to Peter in the gospels because he became the spokesman and chief Apostle. But perhaps Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John speak so often and intimately of Peter’s association with Christ because they hope that as we come to understand Peter, we will be more ready and able to accept his special witness of Christ, a testimony that he seems to have been carefully prepared to bear.”
Accompanying Christ through His mortal ministry, Peter’s testimony that Jesus was the Messiah seems to have been acquired through intellectual, practical, and revelatory experiences, he said. “That is to say, like us, his testimony seems to be one of the head and the hands and the heart.”
For example, he said, Peter learned that if he cast his net as the Savior directed, he would gather a great multitude of fishes. “He learned that if he stepped forward with faith when the Savior bid him come, that he too could walk on water. And he learned that if he passed the few loaves and fishes to the great multitude, as futile and as absurd as that may have seemed, that if he followed the Savior’s directions in doing so, the miracle of multiplication would take place right under his very hands.”
Those witnesses, he said, were supplemented by the most powerful of witnesses, that which was revealed in his heart. He cited the occasion when Christ questioned His disciples on whom men say that He is, then asked the disciples how they themselves would answer.
“Without hesitation, Peter avowed, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’
“‘And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 16:16–17).
Brother Ball remarked, “The Savior may have been employing an instructive play on words by using Peter’s full Aramaic name, Simon Bar-jona, in that appellation. Simon Bar-jona means literally Simon, the son of Jona, or Simon begotten of Jona. In the text, Jona can be understood to be the Aramaic form of the Hebrew name Jonah, like the prophet Jonah. And Jonah appears to be the actual name of Peter’s father. Interestingly, in Hebrew, the word Jonah literally means dove. Thus, in using the name Bar-jona, son of Jonah, or son of the dove, Christ may have been not only speaking of Peter’s biological parentage but also further explaining how Peter had obtained his testimony, how it had been conceived.”