Dear Straight Dope:
I have a folklore/religion question for you. We all have heard dozens of jokes that start out like this: "A man dies and goes to heaven. He meets St. Peter at the gates and says ..." My question is, how and when did St. Peter get cast in the role of gatekeeper of heaven? I can't find any biblical reference to Peter in that role. Any ideas when this might have started?
Ron, it’s a matter of who you know. And about 2,000 years ago, Simon Peter had connections.
Pull out that Bible of yours and open it up to the gospel of Matthew, chapter 16. There you’ll find Jesus chatting with his disciples on the seashore (after having given the Pharisees and Sadducees the “red sky at morning” talk).
He asks them, “Who do YOU think I am?” And Simon, always being the overachiever in the group, says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus immediately calls him Peter (meaning “rock”) and says, “I will build my church upon this rock; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” Then he bestows the BIG honor, telling the future saint “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”
I don’t know about you, but I feel much better knowing that the guy working those Pearly Gates was once an average schmuck who publicly denied knowing Jesus three times — and STILL got in.
It means there’s hope for all of us.
Send questions to Cecil via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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