Peter called "first" in Matthew's Gospel

Just curious: Do you find any significance to the word “first” in Matthew 10:2?

The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John;
Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus;Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him.—NAB

Clearly, from other scripture, Peter was not the first to be called by Jesus. He is not alphabetically first. So I’m left to ponder, what is the reason that Matthew says that Peter is “first”? I don’t want to imply this is “proof” of Peter’s primacy, but I am curious as to what interpretations are out there. It seems significant to me, in light of the argument about primacy, but maybe I’m reading too much into it. I did check a parallel bible for translational differences but all of the translations said “first” or even “the first” (both KJV and DRV say “the first”)


Even the very anti-Catholic John MacArthur believes the word “protos” there refers to “first in rank.” MacArthur believes Peter to be chief of the Apostles.

I happen to agree with his take on that verse. :o

One possibility is that Matthew is “setting up” Peter for a rather ironic critique, so that far from primacy being asserted, Peter is in fact being demoted to a place of equality with the other apostles.

A couple of interpretative principles are in order:

  1. Matthew is the best interpreter of Matthew. This doesn’t mean we don’t go to other scriptures to get the final picture of Peter; rather it means if you want to know how Matthew portrays Peter, you have to stick to Matthew, with the following caveat:
  2. If Matthew is following Mark (not a certainty, but the overwhelming majority opinion of most scholars, Protestant and Catholic, conservative and liberal), then it is valid to compare Matthew to his source to see how he differs, what he keeps the same, what he omits and what he adds to the portrait of Peter.
  3. Assuming 1 and 2 above, then a number of “clues” about Peter’s place in Matthew begin to stand out. I’m not going to go into all of those now, but let me simply point out how Peter ends up in Matthew’s gospel. The last we hear Peter’s name mentioned, is in Matthew 26:75: “And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.” Matthew is fond of bookends in his gospel. For example, at the beginning, Matthew tells us Jesus is called “Immanuel, which means God with us” (Matt. 1:22-23). And he ends his gospel this way: “Behold I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). Jesus says, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock" (7:24), and consistent with his principle, he says, “and upon this rock I will build my church” (16:18). Likewise, Jesus says, “but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:33). So the question is, is he just saying that, or does he mean it? If he means it, then when we find Peter denying Christ before men, that the Father in heaven will deny Peter as well. So how does Peter end up in Matthew? “He wept bitterly.” Peter is never mentioned again. Compare this to Mark 16:7, where the angel says this after the Resurrection to the women: “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee” (Mark 16:7). Peter isn’t mentioned in Matthew’s post Resurrection narrative. He has been “denied” the place of honor that Mark reserves for him. The “first” is in deed last, just as Jesus said in Matthew 20:16.

So if you’re truly interested in understanding what Matthew is saying about Peter, pay very close attention to how the portrait of Peter starts of gloriously, but ends on a rather sad note. Then ask yourself how likely it is that Matthew believed in the “primacy” of Peter as Vatican 1 defined that. (Not likely at all.)

Actually, the Peter’s denial was just a moment of weakness for him, and in your effort to denigrate Peter, you fail to see his heart, his repentance in weeping bitterly, you only see the negative. And there is another side to his denial which you fail to see, in your zeal to deny the papacy. Take note that after the arrest in Gethsemane, the apostles scatter and no mention is made of the other apostles except Peter. And where was Peter? In the very area where the Lord was brought, very close to where He was brought. What brought Peter there? His courage and bravery and Peter’s love for the Lord to be with the Lord. He was the only one brave and courageous enough to be close to Him, and the Holy Spirit has not even descended yet. He was brave and courageous to be close to Jesus, that Peter got noticed, and thus his moment of weakness…his denial of the Lord. But then, he repents and weeps bitterly. His heart and his repentance is what the Lord looked at, not what he had done in the past. And his heart, bravery and courage is what Jesus saw in Peter that He chose him for the role He had ordained for Peter…to build and be the first shepherd of His Church.

Respectfully, I feel it is a grave error to interpret scripture out of context with other scripture. In my view, the best interpreter of the gospel is not Matthew, but the Holy Spirit. God is the author of all scripture and He knows what He meant when He inspired the various authors to write what they wrote. To isolate Matthew’s gospel account of Peter from, say, John’s gospel account of Peter is to get an incomplete view of what God was trying to say about Peter (IMO). Peter clearly faltered when he denied Christ, however, his weeping bitterly is not the sad note you might think it is. This was the moment that he repented in the very deepest part of his heart. This is a victory, not a sad end. And, as we can see in John’s gospel, and later in the Acts of the Apostles, it most certainly is not the end of Peter’s story.

I agree that we must look at the literal sense of scripture first— what was a particular author saying at the time of their writing? However, we must also figure out what God is telling us through the author (what the author himself might not even have known at the time). You can’t do that if you isolate the text. For me, it is not as important what Matthew believed, but what God was saying through Matthew.

Thank you for your input!

Possible, yes, but actually? Let us go to the bible and see how “equal” Peter was…

Peter is mentioned 195 times in the NT. The next closest is John, “the beloved disciple” at just 29 times. Peter is always listed first among the Apostles (Mt 10:2-5, Mk 3:16-19, Lk 6:14-17, Acts 1:13)

Also, you read “Peter and the rest of the Apostles” or “Peter and his companions” (Lk 9:32, Mk 16:7, Acts 2:37), revealing his position amongst them

Peter is the only man ever (beside Christ) to walk on water (Matthew 14:30) Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus…

Peter is the only one of the twelve who raised the dead: (Acts 9:36-42) In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha…Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called the believers and the widows and presented her to them alive. This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.

Peter is the only one of the twelve whose healings were individually recorded: Acts 3:3-8 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.

Peter is the only one of the twelve whom Jesus commanded to pay the tax “for you and for Me” (Matthew 17:25-27).

Peter is the only one of the twelve who received a direct revelation from God regarding the true identity of Jesus (Matthew 16:15-17)

Peter is the only one of the twelve who received the keys to the Kingdom (Matthew 16:19).

Peter is the only one of the twelve whom Jesus both predicted would deny Him, then “turn” (Luke 22:32).

Peter is the only one of the twelve who affirmed Jesus three times (John 21:15-17).

Peter is the only one of the twelve to whom Jesus said “follow Me” in John 21:19.

Peter is the only one of the twelve about whom Christ predicted his death and its type (John 21:18-19).

Peter is the only one of the twelve whom Christ made the shepherd (John 21:15-17). Who feeds the sheep and tends the lambs? The shepherd.

Peter is the only one of the twelve whom Christ asked “Do you love Me?” (John 21:15-17).

Peter is the only one of the twelve who received the visions about all meats being made clean (Acts 10:11-16).

Peter is the only one of the twelve whose shadow healed the sick (Acts 5:14-16).

Peter was sent to the Gentiles as well as Paul (Acts 15:7) After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe”.

Paul went to Peter and stayed with him (Galatians 1:18).

So, even if Matthew was trying to show Peter’s equality, Jesus was not. This is Catholic belief and teaching only because it is Jesus’ teaching. And, there is even more evidence in our beloved bible - if one does not ignore it.

You are greatly mislead.

But I’m not doing that. As I said, in order to get the “final” portrait of Peter, you have to consult all the scriptures about him. But that doesn’t change what Matthew said (or did not say), who is also inspired.

In my view, the best interpreter of the gospel is not Matthew, but the Holy Spirit.

Absolutely. So if you’re serious about listening to the Holy Spirit, then understand that the Spirit used to voice of Matthew to teach us something about the proper place of Peter vis-a-vis Jesus and the other apostles. If you ignore what Matthew says, then ironically you ignore the very Holy Spirit you claim to be following.

God is the author of all scripture and He knows what He meant when He inspired the various authors to write what they wrote. To isolate Matthew’s gospel account of Peter from, say, John’s gospel account of Peter is to get an incomplete view of what God was trying to say about Peter (IMO).

I agree with you. However, when investigators wish to get the complete picture of what happened in, say, a traffic accident, they isolate the eye-witnesses so that they can find independent corroboration of the facts. All I am saying is that when we temporarily isolate Matthew, the testimony is strongly critical. This does not mean, however, that Matthew ha the only or final word regarding Peter. John, Luke, Paul, Mark and Peter himself all have things to say to round out our picture of him. But we can’t use all those other voices to silence or twist Matthew. That’s not exegesis. Nor is that taking the Holy Spirit seriously.

Peter clearly faltered when he denied Christ, however, his weeping bitterly is not the sad note you might think it is.

I’m glad you said “might,” for I too agree that Peter was repentant. I am only saying, when we compare Peter’s ending in Matthew to that of Mark, a contrast emerges. Peter clearly is being remembered as “first” in Mark. He seems to be “last” in Matthew. If you deny that Peter’s denials are a serious affront to the Father, then you make a mockery of Matthew 10:33.

I agree that we must look at the literal sense of scripture first— what was a particular author saying at the time of their writing?

Then we have an accord.

However, we must also figure out what God is telling us through the author (what the author himself might not even have known at the time). You can’t do that if you isolate the text. For me, it is not as important what Matthew believed, but what God was saying through Matthew. Thank you for your input!

Yes! There is finally the meaning that ensues when the entire canon is taken into consideration and any exegete who failed to do that would not be doing his job. But you started this thread by asking what Matthew meant by “first Peter.” That’s a valid question. That doesn’t mean that Matthew has the only or final word on the subject of Peter’s primacy. But he does get some input, doesn’t he? Or do we silence him with all the other more positive portrayals? Or-better–do we hold all views side-by-side, allowing them to speak in the belief that the Holy Spirit is saying something through all the voices he used–not in cacophony, but harmony.

To me, what finally emerges is a primacy among equals. Peter is “first” in rank, but equal in authority to all others. He is a “fellow elder.”

Thank you. :slight_smile:

**My brother in Jesus Miguel,

Your statement "Peter is “first” in rank, but equal in authority to all others. He is a “fellow elder.”, is incorrect.

Yes, Peter is equal as far as the love of God, but Jesus gave Peter primacy in matters of Faith & Morals exactly for these type of situations, where numerous, well meaning people disagree on interpretation of God’s Word!

There is no doubt Peter was chosen by Jesus to head His Church. Read the entirety of Sacred Scripture, don’t cherry pick verses or just one Gospel!

Peter’s name always heads the list of the Apostles, Peter’s name is mentioned 191 times in the New Testament, which is far more than all of the other Apostles combined, (about 130 times).

Read Sacred Scripture, in it’s entirety, Peter is involved in all of the Church’s important “firsts”; Peter led the meeting which elected the first successor to an Apostle (Acts 1:13-26), and received the first converts(Acts 2:41), Peter performed the first miracle after Pentecost (Acts 3:6-7), inflicted the first punishment on Annais and Saphria (Acts 5:1-11), and excommunicated the first heretic, Simon the magician (Acts 8:21), Peter is the first Apostle to raise someone from the dead (Acts 9:36-41), Peter first received the revelation to admit gentiles into the Church(Acts 10:9-16), and commanded that the first Gentile converts be baptized (Acts 10:44-48)

“Please note that the Early Church always accepted the Bishop of Rome as the head of the Church. Around AD 80, the Church of Corinth deposed it’s lawful leaders. The fourth bishop of Rome, Pope Clement I, was called to settle the matter even though St. John the Apostle was still alive and much closer to Corinth than was Rome.

St Irenaus, who was taught by St. Polycarp (a disciple of St. John the Apostle), stresses that Christians must be united to the Church of Rome in order to maintain the Apostolic Tradition. He then lists all the bishops of Rome up to his time.

St. Irenaeus was Bishop of Lyons from about AD 180-200. He is considered one of the greatest theologians of the immediate post Apostolic period. In his work Against Heresies, St. Irenaeus makes the following statement about the Church of Rome & the successors of St. Peter: “…the successions here of the bishops of the greatest & most ancient Church known to all, founded & organized at rome by two of the most glorious Apostles, Peter & Paul, that Church which has the tradition & the faith comes down to us after having been announced to men by the Apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all the churches must agree, that it is in her that the faithful have maintained the Apostolic Tradition” (William A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1970)3,3,3; Jurgens #211)

St. Irenaeus then goes on to name all the Popes succeeding Peter up to his time—12 in all. (3,3,3 Jurgens # 211)

For 250 years the Roman emperors tried to destroy Christianity through persecution. In the first 200 years of Christianity, every Pope but one was martyred-the Romans certainly knew who the head of the Church was!”

A Roman emperor’s greatest fear was a rival to the throne. Never the less, the Emperor Decius, one of the harshest persecutors of the early Christian Church, made the following remark: “ I would far rather receive news of a rival to the throne than that of another Bishop of Rome.” Decius said this after he executed Pope Fabian in AD 250. (Christian History, Issue 27, entitled “Persecution in the Early Church” (1990, Volume IX, no. 3, 22)

St. Ignatius of Antioch (AD 110) appointed by St. Peter also recognizes Rome’s Primacy.

Excerpts from; Father Frank Chacon and Jim Burnham, in ‘Beginning Apologetics 1 (
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, Ora Pro Nobis Peccatoribus!


I did a post on this a while back:

The Biblical data definitely favors “first” in Matthew as “Chief Leader”

Faith is not about personal opinions or free-market competition between ideas. It is a search for God’s revealed truth. Reading through your posts, it is clear that you have:

  1. a bible
  2. an opinion
  3. an agenda

From the veritable mountain of both scriptural and historical evidence that has been presented against your personal opinion, it is also very clear is that you do not have much of a:

  1. defense.

Questions: Have you even bothered to read and ponder the replies? Have you done any research at all? Have you considered the 1,977 year history of the universal Church? Have you considered that you might just be wrong? Have you even bothered to test the spirit that is leading you?

The Holy Spirit unites.
The demon divides.

(Edited) You are predisposed against the Catholic Church. I pray for you (Edited).

Here is the passage in question:

1 So I exhort the presbyters among you, as a fellow presbyter and witness to the sufferings of Christ and one who has a share in the glory to be revealed.
2 Tend the flock of God in your midst, (overseeing) not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly.
3 Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock.
4 And when the chief Shepherd is revealed, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
5 Likewise, you younger members, be subject to the presbyters. And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for: “God opposes the proud but bestows favor on the humble.”
6 So humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.
(Edited) If you were open to it, Peter is teaching about humility and not lording your position over your flock. He is showing this by example by declaring himself a fellow presbyter, while simultaneously giving direction to the flock. This is a clear sign of his leadership.

(Edited). Peter was clearly singled out as the leader in Matthew 15-19:
15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
16 Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
18 And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
19 I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
He is building his church on St. Peter, the rock and he’s giving him the keys to the kingdom. The keys were given to Peter after the resurrection with this discourse in John 2:
[INDENT]15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
16 He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” (Jesus) said to him, "Feed my sheep.[/INDENT]

As you can see, if you were open to it, the good Shepherd is setting up Peter to tend his flock.

Do they have the Acts of the Apostles in your bible? Lets go through the examples of Peter’s leadership :

  1. Peter names Matthias as an Apostle to replace Judas (Acts 1: 5-26)
    15 During those days Peter stood up in the midst of the brothers (there was a group of about one hundred and twenty persons in the one place). He said,
    16 “My brothers, the scripture had to be fulfilled which the holy Spirit spoke beforehand through the mouth of David, concerning Judas, who was the guide for those who arrested Jesus.
    17 He was numbered among us and was allotted a share in this ministry.
    18 He bought a parcel of land with the wages of his iniquity, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle, and all his insides spilled out.
    19 This became known to everyone who lived in Jerusalem, so that the parcel of land was called in their language ‘Akeldama,’ that is, Field of Blood.
    20 For it is written in the Book of Psalms: ‘Let his encampment become desolate, and may no one dwell in it.’ And: ‘May another take his office.’
    21 Therefore, it is necessary that one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us,
    22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to his resurrection.”
    23 So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.
    24 Then they prayed, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen
    25 to take the place in this apostolic ministry from which Judas turned away to go to his own place.”
    26 Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the eleven apostles.

Peter then preceeds to interpret scripture for the Church and declare the path to salvation for the first converts (Acts 2: Pentecost)
37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, “What are we to do, my brothers?”
38 Peter (said) to them, “Repent and be baptized, 7 every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit.
39 For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.”

Peter then effects the first healing in Acts 3 and addresses the crowds on behalf of the Church:
4 But Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.”
5 He paid attention to them, expecting to receive something from them.
6 Peter said, “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, (rise and) walk.”
7 Then Peter took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles grew strong.

In Acts 4 and in Acts 5 Peter again speaks for the chruch when confronted by the Sanhedrin.

Hardly… First Peter declares primacy over the others in terms of the Gentiles, which no one disputes and then he proclaims the doctrine that the Gentiles do not need to follow the Jewish laws. James, whose followers caused the issue in the first place then accepts Peter’s ruling and gives his followers face saving direction…


Our opponent fails to realize that James was the first Bishop of Jerusalem. Thus, he presided over the council, just as any current Bishop presides over councils at which even the Pope is present. It was still Peter, the bible says, who silenced the group. The office of the Bishop of Jerusalem is known, to this day, as the "“See of James”.

One must wonder just how much scripture he is willing to ignore in order to further his personal opinion.


I don’t really see Miguel as an opponent. He provides a useful focus for our apologetics. As for his understanding of James as a bishop of Jerusalem, well that’s from tradition, not the Bible so he’s predisposed to ignore that point. However, that doesn’t mean the point is lost on others.

This is always the surprising point to me. The “bible Christians” always have to ignore large swaths of scripture to support their " biblical" position, which is usually just a (false) tradition (like Calvinism) that has replaced Catholic Tradition.

There is certainly a more apropos term to use, but it escaped me at the time - still does. I do not doubt his faith or love of God - only the spirit that leads him. Does no one test the spirits anymore?

Altar calls. The sinner’s prayer. Sola scripture. The list of traditions of men goes on and on. The most shocking of which is ‘baptism by amniotic fluid’. This is of the evil one.

how about this one: “sin doesn’t matter, as long as you believe in God’s mercy” - how could that not be one of Satan’s greatest lies…

Anyway, the primacy of Peter is very well documented in scripture. If Miguel comes back on here, we’ll see how he answers this…

What I have always observed, is that in order to make arguments against the Pope, the arguments have to be in the negative always, and never realizing that this is blinding their eyes.

After watching the bio-movie of Padre Pio, I came to the belief that in the selection of our Popes, the pope is indeed pre-ordained or there is a divine hand in the selection. In the bio-movie, Padre Pio tells to one of the investigators of his stigmata, that in order for them to believe that what he is saying is true, he tells them of a young priest who had paid him a visit, and he tells the interrogator that this priest will be pope one day. The young priest turned out to be JPII. Anyway, this just strengthened my faith.

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