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saint-peter-the-apostle1John’s Gospel falls into two main divisions: the Book of Signs (Chapters 1-12) and the Book of Glory (Chapters 13-20) with an epilogue (Chapter 21) -and if you want, a prologue in John 1:1-18; the basis for the relationship between John and Peter is set out in the Book of Signs, which is a portrayal of Peter.  There the portrait would surprise no one with a knowledge of the Synoptic Gospels; he has a central place in the calling of the disciples and in the Christological confession os John 6:60-71; but the account we are given and the picture we get is not simply that of the Synoptics.

In John’s account, it is Andrew who gets the first calling and makes the first commitment to Jesus, but Peter’s naming and commissioning in Chapter 21 single him out for a special charge. In John 6:60-71, Peter represents those who remain faithful at a time when other followers fall away en masse, especially in Galilee. In his three-part confession, Peter models John’s understanding of what it means to become a believer and a true disciple. Not all disciples share in the eternal life, because not all remain faithful. It is also worth noting that unlike Matthew and Mark, John never identifies Peter with Satan. His faith might not be ideal, but it is exemplary; he does not stand on some pedestal above the others, but no aspersions are cast on his character or faith; he plays an integral part in the Christian community which followed Jesus.

Peter’s leadership is evident in the Book of Glory: in the revelation of the betrayer, Peter speaks for the community; it is to him that Mary reports what she found at the tomb; when he and the beloved disciple stop at the tomb, it is Peter who goes in first; when the Beloved disciples realises who is on the shore, he reports it to Peter; Peter leads the way to shore and hauls up the full, unbroken net; he is given the pastoral charge of the sheep by Jesus. It is true that in the footwashing scene he misunderstands the actions of Jesus, but even that reveals the extreme attachment he has to Jesus. In Chapter 13:36-38, where Jesus predicts Peter’s denials, we see another example of Peter representing the eager, if sometimes ignorant, commitment of the Twelve. Peter acts impulsively out of loyalty and love when he takes his sword to defend Jesus. Even the denials (John 18:15-18, 25-27) are less condemnatory than it the Synoptics.

The threefold repetition of the questions to Peter, and the mention of a coal fire link the denials with a restoration and commission in John 21:15-19. Peter’s answers do not reflect that badly on him; they focus on his action in the garden rather than on his allegiance to Jesus.  John’s account of the third denial does not have the ‘oaths and curses’ of the Synoptics, neither does Peter deny he knew Jesus.  Although Jesus insists Peter will not be able to follow him as he goes through his last hour (13:36), he calls Peter anew in John 21:19, 22.  The certainty of Peter’s love is highlighted by his language in Chapter 21; the threefold repetition shows the strength and purity of that love.

Peter’s discipleship extends to the point of Jesus’ death (John 21:18-19). His martyrdom is commended as a means of glorifying God. His arrest and death are an extension of his following Jesus; this, in short, is Peter as leader, spokesman, witness, disciple and pastor.

Now to turn to the portrayal of the Beloved Disciple, before concluding with an attempt to analyse the relationship and its significance for the Johannine community.