Sunday, June 29, 2014

Is Peter "Cephas"?: A follow up

Image of Peter wondering who this "Cephas"
fellow is. (Just kidding)
So the person who sent in the email asking about whether or not Peter and Cephas are one in the same person wasn't apparently entirely satisfied with my answer.

In a charitable response, the following arguments were brought up. First, I was criticized for not considering the possibility that Mark, Paul's companion, is the "pillar" named "John" in Galatians  2.

The reader then writes:
And more significant, the article glossed over the evidence from Acts, specifically on three points: (1) Acts never says Peter went to Antioch; (2) Acts makes it clear that Peter stood up boldly to the Jews, never caving into Judaizing; and (3) Act 15 shows Peter as the star witness at the Council of Jerusalem, which makes no sense if he was a hypocrite, nor does it fit with 15:1-2 where it says "certain persons" were opposed by Paul, and 15:24 says again "certain persons without our permission," which can hardly be referring to Peter.

If you believe Acts 15:1-2 is speaking of the Galatians 2 incident, then everything changes because identifying Peter as the "certain persons" becomes very untenable.
Let's take these one at a time.

Normally, I wouldn't offer such a detailed response but, since it's the feast of Peter and Paul, I think it's appropriate to spend some more time thinking about Petros. 

1. The John who is a "Pillar" could be "John Mark".
The emailer writes: "the article didn't even take note of the possibility that 'John' mentioned in Gal 2 as a 'pillar' was likely to be 'John-Mark,' which Acts frequently puts as Paul's companion."

I'm still not quite sure how this proves that "Cephas" is not Peter. Either way, let's be clear: it is
incredibly unlikely that the "John" in Galatians 2 is Mark.

First, nowhere outside of Acts is Mark ever called "John" in the New Testament. That the references to him in the Pauline corpus (Philm 24; 2 Tim 4:11) never identify him as "John" should also be pointed out.

This highlights an irony. We are supposed to think that Paul's use of two different names, "Peter" and "Cephas", points to there being two different people involved. However, when the Pauline corpus refers to the same figure in every case by one name--"Mark" (Philm 24; 2 Tim 4:11)--we are supposed to believe that a figure named "John" in Galatians is suddenly a reference to someone else.


Although Acts identifies Mark with the name John, it does clarify for us that this figure went by two names. It obviously does this because John the apostle was clearly the more important John (see below) and Luke was apparently concerned that calling Mark "John" might lead to confusion. He makes it clear therefore that there are two Johns--John Mark and John the apostle. The latter is clearly the more prominent figure.

That the pillar identified as "John" is not John the apostle but “John Mark” is just too hard to believe. Yes, Paul knew John Mark. But it is just too much of a stretch to think that he was more important than John the apostle. John the apostle and Peter are clearly the spokespersons for the apostolic college (cf., e.g., 4:13, 19; 8:14). John is also mentioned with Peter as among the most prominent oft he apostles in Acts 12:2; he is the brother of the first apostle to be killed.

To think that the reference to the pillars somehow includes John Mark and not Peter or John the apostle is far fetched in the extreme. First, the only other author who identifies Mark as "John" makes it clear that he is doing so because John the apostle was the more famous figure with that name. Again, that “Cephas” is a different figure—i.e., that it is more likely that a figure other than Peter is in view here—is especially difficult to believe given the fact that Paul is explicitly proving his authority in Galatians 2 by comparing himself to Peter, not a different figure named "Cephas" (cf. Gal. 2:8)!

Peter is the important figure here--why wouldn't he rank among the "pillars"? One might come up with an unlikely scenario to explain this but that's just what any such explanation would be: unlikely.

2. Acts never says Peter was in Antioch. 

Peter doesn’t go to Antioch in Acts--so what? Acts shifts from focusing on Peter to focusing on Paul’s trips. In fact, we know that Peter left Jerusalem. Acts 12 tells us that after Peter was delivered from prison he went to "another place" (Acts 12:17). There is no reason to believe he couldn’t have gone to Antioch.

In fact, we’d almost expect him to go there since that’s where the largest Christian community was after Jerusalem. In fact, in Acts 11 we know that after Stephen’s death many left for Antioch (cf. Acts 11:19). If others left Jerusalem for Antioch when persecution arose, why wouldn’t we suppose that when Peter left Jerusalem he first went there?

Moreover, Acts doesn’t give us every detail of what the apostles did. It doesn’t for example, tell us about Paul staying in Jerusalem for "fifteen days" and chatting with "Cephas" (cf. Gal 2:18).

So the fact that Peter doesn’t go to Antioch in Acts is not a serious argument. There are too many reasons to think that we can’t read anything into that!

3. Peter probably wasn't perfect. 
Just because Peter defended the Gentile mission in Acts 15 doesn’t mean he never acted like a hypocrite. So what that Peter defended Paul at the Council? Why is it unlikely that Peter failed at times to practice what he preached? I just don’t see any problem here. 

In fact, the very reason Paul was upset with Peter is because he says that before “men came from James” he had “ate with the Gentiles”. Cephas (=Peter) did not insist at first on keeping kosher. He was not a Judaizer. That’s consistent with what happens with Peter in Acts. Paul condemns Peter not for being wrong about that but for being a hypocrite—he backed away from what he knew was otherwise right.

In conclusion, you can always find a way to make a “possible” objection to the Peter=Cephas identification. On the whole, however, the arguments separating the two are too problematic. Given all the considerations, it is far more probable that Peter=Cephas. 

“Possible” is not “probable”—and you can’t choose the latter over the former. 


Richard Fellows said...

Michael, I think you mean Gal 2, not Acts 3, in your second paragraph.

I too have suggested that the "other place" was Antioch. This fits well with the better attested "he came" textual variant at Gal 2:12. Peter ate with Gentiles in Antioch. Then he returned to Jerusalem. Then, after the council of Acts 15 (=Gal 2) he came to Antioch again and this time he decided not to eat with Gentiles.

Fr Geoff Horton said...

Origen and Eusebius both say that St. Peter founded the Church at Antioch. If his presence there is not a capital-T Tradition, it's pretty close.

Michael Barber said...


Thanks for the correction. Glad to be on the same page with you.

As per your comment on the previous post, I think there is a possible answer for why Peter would be "Cephas" in certain sections in Gal. 2. Davies and Allison show numerous parallels between Gal. 1-2 and Matt. 16. Could it be that Gal. 1-2 draws on a shared Aramaic tradition (note: Peter is "Bar Jonah"!)? Perhaps in those sections where Paul especially intends an allusion to the traditions also found in Matthew 16 he intentionally uses "Cephas". In fact, Peter's "scandalizing" actions fit well with Matthew 16:20ff--i.e., Peter's confession was followed by his being a "stumbling stone" to Jesus. I hope to work that up into an article. Thanks again for your comments.

Fr Geoff,

Thanks for posting here. I agree. It seems pretty likely Peter was in Antioch at some point. Given the city's prominence in early Christianity and Peter's prominence in the church, it seems more likely that he spent some time there than that he didn't.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the questions from the emailer are coming from the heart, and not the head. For heart questions, even boatloads of factual information will never suffice. The heart question needs to be exposed to the light, prayed over and reflected on. Perhaps the emailer is actually looking for loving guidance through that process.
Just a thought.

Nick said...

Hello Dr Barber and others,

Thank you for addressing this issue, because I consider it fascinating. I'm a faithful Catholic and believe this issue is just speculative fun. Also, I believe it's a Big-T Tradition that Peter was in Antioch at some point, just not in the timeframe under consideration.

Now my thoughts:

(1a) I think you are misreading the use/meaning of "Pillars" here. In the Gospels and Acts, we know which Apostles are prominent by the very mention of their name and how they act (e.g. Jesus often singled out Peter, James and John), so there is no need to add the detail "regarded as pillars," for it's obvious that they are Top Dawgs. When Paul uses similar language in 2:6, saying some in the Church were "reputed to be something (but what they were makes no difference to me)," this nonchalant language suggests that "reputed to be" need not be taken in a highest-authority sense. So if "James, Cephas, and John" were non-prominent Christians who rose to prominence in the Church as key missionaries, then saying they took on a reputation as Pillars makes perfect sense. Notice that 2:9b says Barnabas also took the “right hand of fellowship” with JCJ out in the mission field, which hardly makes sense if JCJ are the Magisterium (since Barnabas was already supposed to subordinate to them).

(1b) After Acts 12, John Zebedee the Apostle isn't mentioned by name, but Luke repeatedly brings up "John who was also called Mark" (indicating he went by both names) and places him in the mission field with Paul. The 3 verses where Paul mentions "Mark," he is clearly talking of John-Mark. Paul never mentions John the Apostle, unless Gal 2:9 is the one exception.

(1c) We know the "James" in question is not James Zebedee the Apostle, for he was killed by Herod in Acts 12. So this means it was either James Alphaeus the Apostle or "James the Lord's Brother" - if they are actually two different people - was the one elevated to Pillar status. And given that James is mentioned before Cephas gives the impression James is superior to Cephas, which is dubious if Cephas is Peter. (Recall that Peter is mentioned FIRST in every listing of the Apostles.)

(2) Did you address Acts 15:1-2? (I don’t see where) If Peter was also in Antioch, then surely it would fit right in Acts 15:1-2, as Peter's actions in Antioch would have played directly into how the Council reacted. But Acts 15:2 simply says Paul and Baranbas came down from Antioch to Jerusalem to speak with the Apostles (including Peter). Peter is already in Jerusalem, and Peter is the star witness, reaffirming his constant teaching of Acts 11:1-17. How does someone who succumbed to heretical pressures become the star witness?

(3) The idea that Peter wasn't perfect after Pentecost is completely against the theme of the Acts. The Apostles were emboldened by the Holy Spirit to stand up to any opposition, including suffer persecution. Peter wasn't afraid of Judaizers as Acts 11:1-17 makes clear. He simply wasn’t. And realize what else is being said: Some laymen came to Antioch, and the Pope suddenly became afraid of these laymen. Why would the Pope be intimidated by laymen?

I'm not saying you have to buy what I'm saying, but surely you realize there is a reasonable case being made here.

Richard Fellows said...

Nick, I think you have the chronology wrong in your point #2. Peter's failure to eat with Gentiles was during his second visit to Antioch, which was after the council of Acts 15 (=Gal 2:1-10).

Much depends on how we understand the background of Galatians. I believe that the agitators were appealing to Paul's authority, saying that Paul believed in circumcision. They were saying that Paul wanted to please the pillars (who opposed circumcision) and that that is why Paul preached against circumcision in Galatia. If this is the background to the letter, then Paul's motive for writing Gal 2:11-14 becomes clear. He wrote it to show that his support for Gentile liberty was genuine and was not just motivated by a desire to please Cephas. This confirms that Cephas had a reputation for being a supporter of Gentile liberty, and this is a point of agreement with the Peter of Acts.

Michael, I would suggest the opposite understanding of Paul's name selections. It is the name "Peter", not "Cephas", that had meaning to Paul's (Greek-speaking) audience. English translations should replace the word "Peter" with "the Rock" in Gal 2:7-8. Therefore, it is surely these verses that allude to the naming of Cephas/Peter.

New names were often given to those, like Peter, who were appointed to a leadership role. In such cases the new name was always positive rather than derogatory. I doubt that Cephas's name would have been translated into Greek and used in the Diaspora if it held negative associations. So I don't think Matt 16:23 is what would have come to anyone's minds when they heard the name "Peter" or "Cephas". Also, Paul is not trying to discredit Peter in Galatians or elsewhere, for they were on the same side (see above).

Nick said...


While it's possible that the Galatians Incident happened *after* the Council of Jerusalem, that seems highly unlikely for a few reasons. Is there even a group of Scholars who believe it took place *after* the Council?

I think the chronology of Acts places it at 15:1-2. Unless you're suggesting Paul was hit with one Judaizing scandal prior to the council and then a second one after? I just don't see that in Acts. It would mean that "certain men came from James" on *two* occasions, one of them being after James sent out the Letter in 15:24 already warning Antioch of the heresy, the ruling, and the trouble makers...only to have history repeat itself.

I also see it as highly unlikely that after Peter's star testimony at the Council fighting off Judaizers that he would be tricked shortly after and succumb to Judaizing. That simply doesn't fit the role model the Holy Spirit wanted the Apostles to be for the early Church.

Your second paragraph is hard for me to follow, so if you would clarify that would be cool.

I do agree with you that Peter was not referred to as Cephas outside of John 1:42. The Bible uses the name Peter over 100 times, indicating that was the common, understood name, the Greek name which the Greek world understood. On the flip side, the name Cephas only appears about 7 times in the Bible, once in John 1:42, four times in 1 Corinthians, and three times in Galatians 2.

De Maria said...

I think you guys are all missing the point. Its not about Peter eating/or not eating with the Gentiles.

St. Paul himself preached the following:

1 Corinthians 8:13King James Version (KJV)

13 Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.

But suddenly, when St. Peter recuses himself from eating pork in view of his Jewish brethren, he is accused of hypocrisy?

What's really going on?

Well, let's see. Who wrote these words?

As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, ....

Who wrote these words?

Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

AND, who wrote these words?

1 John 2:19King James Version (KJV)

19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

Peter (i.e. Cephas), James and John, in that order,that's who.

This episode shows that St. Paul had feelings. Peter (aka Cephas) didn't understand what St. Paul was saying under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit???!!!

James, seemingly contradicted his every word which he said under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit?

And, to whom was St. John making reference? Was St. Paul not the one who was confronted by St. John's brother and commanded to shave and make a vow because he was accused of preaching against Moses?

To me, the first two chapters of Galatians, depict a man who was agonizing about what was going on? How could these so called Pillars, who were purportedly Jesus Christ's Apostles, how could they disagree with that which Jesus Himself had handed on to St. Paul?

This is what we are witnessing here brothers. The agony of St. Paul. And, to a certain extent, his very human reaction of lashing out against those whom he believes are undermining the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Read more


De Maria

Richard Fellows said...

Nick, the majority of scholars, with good reason, have Paul confronting Peter after the council of Acts 15. See the commentaries. Even many of us south Galatianists agree.

You are still misunderstanding the chronology, perhaps because you are reading a translation that has "they came" in Gal 2:12? The men from James are probably the men from Judea of Acts 15:1. They came to Antioch before the council. Peter's first visit to Antioch, in which he ate with Gentiles, was also before the council. After the council Peter returned to Antioch and ate only with Jews. If those of the circumcision, whom Peter feared are to be equated with those from James (Gal 2:12) then we can suppose that they were still in Antioch when Peter made his second visit there.

Peter's change of behaviour is entirely understandable. During the council it was decided that Paul and Barnabas would take responsibility for evangelizing Gentiles. This freed up Peter to focus on the Jews(Gal 2:8-9). Therefore, after the council Peter had to be a "Jew to the Jews to gain the Jews". This explains why Peter ate with Gentiles before the council but ate only with Jews after it.

Yes, it is hard to understand the background of Galatians. I think we can imagine a conversation between the agitators and the Galatian Christians:
Agitators: "You should be circumcised because your apostle, Paul, who is educated in the scriptures, agrees that circumcision is necessary. His circumcision of Timothy shows that he values circumcision".
Galatians: "But if Paul believes in circumcision, why does he tell us not to be circumcised?"
Agitators: "Because he wants to please the Jerusalem apostles who wrote that letter."
Paul: "My opposition to circumcision is sincere. I'm not just saying this to please the Jerusalem church leaders, for I'm not their messenger boy." (Gal 1-2).

I hope this helps.