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Was St. Peter the Greatest Disciple?

Sunday, October 14, 2012 8:58 PM Comments (9)

"And an argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest" (Luke 9:46).

Was it St. Peter the greatest of Jesus' original Twelve disciples?

St. Peter is certainly the most commonly mentioned of the original Twelve. He always stands at the head of the list whenever the names of the Twelve apostles are listed in the Bible. And he was clearly part of Jesus' inner circle, even within the Twelve. He is, unquestionably, the most prominent of the Twelve.

But did Jesus give him a special role among the Twelve, a special position, or was he just more active than the others?

Jesus gives us an answer to this question, and in an unexpected place . . .

 

Who Is the Greatest? Round 1

Jesus took three disciples with him to the Transfiguration: Peter, James, and John. These three were uniquely privileged to witness the Transfiguration, and they--together with Peter's brother Andrew--formed Jesus' inner circle within the Twelve.

After these three received the special privilege of seeing their Master's glory, it's not surprising that a dispute broke out among the Twelve concerning their relevant ranks. This provided Jesus with an occasion to give them both a lesson in humility and a lesson in true leadership. In Luke 9, we read . . .

Luke 9

[46] And an argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. [47] But when Jesus perceived the thought of their hearts, he took a child and put him by his side, [48] and said to them, "Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me; for he who is least among you all is the one who is great."

 

Lessons Learned

It's possible for us to learn several lessons from Jesus' response to the disciples' quarrel.

One is that it was foolish--although still very human--for the disciples to be concerned with rank in this way.

A second is that, as so often is the case, the nature of Christian truth is paradoxical. The one who is great in God's eyes is not automatically the one who is great in man's eyes. It can even be the one who is least in the eyes of man, like a little child.

That is why it is important to receive even the least of God's people with Christian love, for to do so is to receive Christ and to receive his Father.

 

Another Lesson?

But there is another lesson that some may be tempted to draw out of this passage, which is that the apostles weren't just foolish to question who was the greatest among them because it revealed a preoccupation with pride and position rather than service to others.

Instead, this view would hold, it was foolish for them to ask the question because there simply was no greatest among them, that they were all equals, with none having any special position.

That would be a little hard to square with the fact that Jesus had just taken three, who we know from other passages were members of his inner circle, to witness the Transfiguration.

Indeed, Jesus himself indicates that some are greater than others in God's eyes, and who they are have to do with who serve others.

But we don't have to leave the matter there, surprisingly, it comes up again in Luke's Gospel, and the second time, Jesus gives a specific answer to the question.

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What Now?

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About Jimmy Akin

Jimmy Akin
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Jimmy was born in Texas, grew up nominally Protestant, but at age 20 experienced a profound conversion to Christ. Planning on becoming a Protestant pastor or seminary professor, he started an intensive study of the Bible. But the more he immersed himself in Scripture the more he found to support the Catholic faith. Eventually, he entered the Catholic Church. His conversion story, "A Triumph and a Tragedy," is published in Surprised by Truth. Besides being an author, Jimmy is a Senior Apologist at Catholic Answers, a contributing editor to This Rock magazine, and a weekly guest on "Catholic Answers Live."