Insights into the Apostle Peter’s Family

In Matthew 8:14-15 (and in Mark and Luke) an event is recorded where Jesus was back in his local area around Lake Galilee and visiting Peter’s home. Peter’s mother-in-law was in the house and very sick with a fever of an unknown description. Upon becoming aware of the situation Jesus heals the woman and she joins the other women in cooking and caring for Jesus and his noisy team of trainees, the disciples.

This gives a little bit of information about Jesus’ methods of travel and team dynamics. It suggests they frequented the homes of team members and supporters often for both nourishment and rest. This is confirmed by their strong relationship and extended visits with Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus when down at Jerusalem.

It also tells us a little about family structure in ancient Israel. Family looked after family, regardless of generational and relational differences. Since he was married, it is highly probable that Peter had children, possibly quite a few. Jesus was one of at least 6 children born to Mary and Joseph (Matthew 13:55-56) so this was probably a normal sized family for that era before birth control.

Why would a married, tough, smelly, burly fisherman leave his business, wife and children for 3 years? Since there was no government welfare state and these men were often the breadwinners for their families. The businesses were probably left in the hands of relatives, or if Peter was an older man, with an eldest son. The family must have been looked after somehow. In any case they were back home visiting friends and relatives frequently.

Fishermen, like dairy farmers, would only leave their livelihood if they had a very strong reason. That reason must have been the ongoing evidence that Jesus was a very special man worth the sacrifice. Peter announces his own conclusion in Matthew 16:16 where he says publically he believes Jesus is the promised Messiah, long prophesied in Jewish scripture.

This brings us the question of Peter’s wife. She is not mentioned in scripture, but we have some clues as to what she was like. 1 Peter 3:1-7 gives us a description of the ideal wife. He talks about inner beauty, a gentle heart, purity, and a women tuned into her husband. Could it be that Peter’s wife was the opposite of Peter, who was a brash man, given to compulsive behaviour (Matthew 14:22-23), taking risks and speaking his mind when not it was not appropriate (Matthew 26:69-76)? Opposites attract so this is a real possibility.

Did Peter’s wife join him in ministry after the resurrection of Jesus, after her mother-in-law had passed away and the children had grown up? Probably! There is a clue in 1 Corinthians 9: 5 where Paul makes the following statement: “Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles?” The whole tone of 1 Corinthians 9 suggests there was obviously friction between Paul and the other church leaders at the time, which, because of his big mouth, probably meant Peter.

Most scholars agree that there was a significant gap of some 10 years between the resurrection of Jesus and the reluctant decision by the apostles to begin reaching out beyond Israel after getting a spiritual kick up the backside by the Holy Spirit (Acts 10). This would have meant Peter spent a lot of time at home, the children would have grown up and the middle-aged couple were free to engage in serious ministry to the wider Roman Empire. Were their children in ministry too as they grew older?

This brings us to the final question. Was Peter’s wife in Rome when he was crucified? Once again, probably! If she was travelling with him she would have wanted to be there when he was incarcerated and facing the death penalty. If not travelling with him she would have heard about it quickly through the now widespread Christian grapevine and tried to get there ASAP as he was incarcerated for some time. If she was already with him when he was caught, was she also caught ministering with him and killed at the same time? These are questions that we cannot answer but history leans that way.

I trust this helps you as much as it helped me when I first started asking questions about Peter’s family.