Sperry Symposium: ‘Fallible but Faithful: How Simon the Fisherman Became Peter the Rock’

Credit: R. Scott Lloyd
Credit: R. Scott Lloyd


Peter is one of Brent L. Top’s heroes, Brother Top declared at the outset of his lecture at the Sidney B. Sperry Symposium at Brigham Young University Oct. 24.

Brother Top, dean of religious education, said the chief apostle is his hero “not in some superficial, hero-worship sort of way, but rather in what I consider to be the truest meaning of the word: A hero is one who in the face of adversity or from a position of weakness displays faith, courage and sacrifice for others.”

He said his heroes, Jesus Christ excepted, are not perfect. “They have faults and foibles, frailty and fallibility, just like me. That’s what endears them to me. They have faith and faithfulness. That inspires me. Their faithfulness with fallibility and devotion despite deficiencies gives me hope.”

Peter was not perfect, Brother Top acknowledged, adding, “The New Testament record is an indirect admission of just that.”

Quoting Richard Bauckham, a Bible scholar not of the LDS faith, Brother Top said it has long been debated whether the predominantly negative portrayal of Peter as “the foolishly self-confident disciple who misunderstands Jesus and fails Him could be derived from Peter’s own self-depiction.”

Brother Top suggested, “As a primary source for the gospels, Peter may be consciously highlighting, perhaps even overstating, his weaknesses and failures while downplaying his accomplishments and understating his incredible faith in and devotion to the Master. We see his fallibility and imperfections up close and personal. But we also witness the remarkable transformation from Simon the fisherman to Peter the rock, the chief apostle.”

Brother Top cited two examples that illustrate Peter’s human nature: his words on the Mount of Transfiguration which, though well-intended, were a feeble attempt at best to capture the significance of the moment; and his rebuking of the Savior after He told the disciples of His impending death.

“Did Peter’s words demonstrate that he had zeal without knowledge, courage without comprehension?” Brother Top asked. “Whatever the case, Simon’s [Peter’s] words were not what he wished they would have been. No doubt he felt bad for his foolishness, yet the Savior loved him and saw in him more future strength than present weakness.”

Brother Top recounted that in the end, “Simon’s faithfulness overcomes his fallen, foolish, impetuous, speaking-without-thinking nature. He did what he said he would. He did lay down his life for the Savior’s cause. Will my faith be greater than my foibles? Will I allow my mortal selfishness to be consumed by charity, service and sacrifice, as it was for Peter?”

He said he sees in the scriptural account of Christ walking on the water and bidding Peter to come to Him a demonstration of both faith and fallibility.

“To me, this is a scriptural story of triumph and transformation more than failure or lack of faith,” he said. “The focus should not be on Simon’s sinking, but on Jesus’ lifting, not on Peter’ human fallibility, but on Christ’s divine ability.”

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