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Is Peter Cephas?

via The Sacred Page

by Michael Barber

Michael BarberI received an email from a reader who asks question whether or not Peter is the figure also identified elsewhere in the New Testament as “Cephas”.

 “You said that Paul saw Peter as a “pillar” of the community. But in AD 200, St Clement taught that Paul rebuked not Peter but one of the Seventy, another guy named Cephas. As support of this, Paul uses the name “Peter” in Galatians 2:7-8, but shifts to “Cephas” in 2:9 and following. Why use two names in the same breath if the same person is meant?”

In short, the answer is, “No, these are not two individuals.”

Bart Ehrman advocated the view that Cephas and Peter were different figures in an article in Journal of Biblical Literature in 1990. Dale Allison persuasively rebutted his arguments in a follow up piece in 1992 (available here).

Here, as a kind of supplement to the reading reflection I have already offered for the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, I’d briefly like to look at this question and highlight some of the arguments Allison employs.

The text of Galatians. First, however, let’s take a look at Galatians 2:

“And from those who were reputed to be something (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who were of repute added nothing to me; 7 but on the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised 8 (for he who worked through Peter for the mission to the circumcised worked through me also for the Gentiles), 9 and when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship. . . “(Gal. 2:6-9)

So, does Paul’s shift in the use of names point away from the idea that Peter and Peter CephasCephas are the same figure? Was Clement conveying historical information here?

I don’t think so. Consider the following. . .

1. Clement isn’t the only source that relates this idea. In fact, in some ancient sources “Cephas” is said to be one of the Twelve. There seems to have been a great deal of confusion on the matter.

2. We know Clement’s view only through the later writings of Eusebius. Actually, Clement’s original source has been lost to us. We know this was Clement’s view only because it comes to us through Eusebius: “Clement, in the fifth book of his Hypotyposes, in which he mentions Cephas, of whom Paul writes: ‘When he came to Antioch, I withstood him to his face,’ says that one who happened to have the same name as Peter the apostle was one of the seventy” (Hist. eccl. 1.12.2).

3. It is easy to explain how the alternate tradition emerged. As Allison shows, the tradition probably sprung up in response to embarrassment over the passage in Galatians 2 where Paul condemns “Cephas” for hypocrisy. Indeed, this is precisely the context in which Clement/Eusebius introduce the Cephas/Peter distinction.

4. The shift in names is not at all unsurprisingImportant Jewish figures often went by more than one name (e.g., Jacob/Israel). In fact, in the work Joseph and Aseneth, the shift occurs in the space of a single verse: “And Jacob heard about Joseph his son, and Israel went to Egypt” (Jos. Asen. 22:2). Likewise, in the Testament of Jacob the Patriarch is identified as both “Jacob” and “Israel” alternatively, as Allison notes, “even in the same paragraph”.

In fact, Cephas appears to be an Aramaic form of “Peter”.

Moreover, Paul himself shifts in using other names. See, for example, Romans 8:9-11 where Paul refers to “Jesus”, “Christ,” and “Jesus Christ”, apparently intentionally offering a variety of names for the one he recognizes as “Lord”. Moreover, Peter himself went by yet another name: “Simon”. In some places other New Testament writers offer alternate names for him, describing him as both “Simon” and “Peter”. See Mark 14:37: “He [Jesus] came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, Simon, are you asleep?'” The shift from Simon to Peter also occurs prominently in the Last Supper narrative in Luke where Jesus goes from calling him “Simon, Simon” (Luke 22:31) to warning him, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow. . .” (Luke 22:34). If writers could do this with the name “Simon”, why couldn’t Paul do the same?

Other examples of figures going by two names could also be mentioned. In Acts, we have one person who is sometimes identified as “Mark” (cf. Acts 15:39) but he is also known as “John” (cf. Acts 13:13).

In short, given these examples, is it really likely that the shift in names in Galatians 2 really points to the identity of another disciple?

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