Saturday, June 28, 2014

Is Peter "Cephas"?

I 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 Cephas 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 unsurprising. Important 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?

5. Jesus calls Simon Peter "Cephas" in John. The author of the Fourth Gospel apparently thought Simon Peter was "Cephas": "Jesus looked at him, and said, 'So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas' (which means Peter)" (John 1:42).

6. Jesus' resurrection appearance to Simon/Cephas. Paul elsewhere reports that after the resurrection Jesus "appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve" (1 Cor 15:4). Ehrman thinks the construction here indicates that Cephas was not one of the twelve, but the Greek does not necessarily indicate that, as Allison observes (p. 491). What is interesting is that Luke reports something similar. The disciples who encountered the Risen Lord on the road to Emmaus return after their experience to learn from the disciples that "“The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” (Luke 24:34). The honor of being the first (male) disciple to see the Lord is in some way associated with both Cephas and Peter.

Are we really to believe still that these figures are not to be identified with one another?

7. Cephas as a "pillar" with James and John. Paul specifically identifies "Cephas" as among of the three figures reputed to be "pillars" of the church. Are we really to believe the figure in view here is someone who is NOT Peter but is an otherwise unknown member of Jesus wider group of disciples? That seems highly unlikely.

8. Cephas and Peter are both described as "apostle." See Gal. 2:8 and Gal. 1:18-19; 2:9.

9. There are too many parallels for these to be different persons. Allison finishes his article by drawing out the similarities between texts describing "Peter" and "Cephas" (pp. 494-95). Here are a few of the parallels he mentions:
  • Both are names that mean "rock". This is an unusual name as it is! How likely is it that two figures who were prominent among the leaders of early Christianity both had this name? Very unlikely. 
  • Both names are identified as the first to see the Risen Lord (Luke 22:32; Luke 24:34; 1 Cor 15:5)
  • Both names are associated with a Jewish figure who was among the prominent leaders of the early Jerusalem community (Acts 1-15; Gal. 1-2)
  • As "Cephas" is associated with James and John in Galatians 2:9, Acts also links Peter to James and John. Peter is linked with John in Acts 3:1-26; 4:1-31; 8:14. Peter is linked with James in Acts 15:1-21. The three are described as prominent figures among the Jewish believers (Acts 1:13, 15-26; Acts 2:1-42; Acts 8:14-24; Acts 11:1-18; Acts 15:1-21; Acts 21:18; etc.; "Cephas" with James and John, Gal. 2:9).
  • Both names are said to participate in the Gentile mission (Acts 10-15; Galatians 2)
  • Both names are associated with someone who knew Paul personally (Acts 15; Gal. 1-2)
  • Both names are associated with someone who was an itinerant missionary (Acts 1-15; and the combined impression created by 1 Cor 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; Gal. 2:11). 
  • Both names are associated with a figure who was the subject of a conflict with Jewish Christians regarding eating with Gentiles (cf. Acts 11; Galatians 2).
Allison writes, ". . . apodictic certainty is always beyond our reach: as historians we trade only in probabilities. One can always ignore what is likely, wave the magic wand of skepticism, and doubt anything" (p. 495).

Let's put the wands away. Peter is Cephas.


Fr. Michael Robinson said...

Thanks Dr. Barber. A well reasoned response.

Michael Barber said...

Thank you, Father. It means a lot to me that you read this site! May God continue to bless your ministry!

Richard Fellows said...

Does anyone know if Ehrman still thinks Cephas was not Peter?

I do think that more needs to be done to explore why Paul calls him "Peter" where he does. While Allison finds cases where authors switched from one name to another for no obvious reason, it was much more common for authors to choose the appropriate name according to context. Indeed, when Paul uses different names for the same person he usually does so for good reasons. Gal 2:7-8 is the only place where Paul discusses Cephas's role in the church, so this surely has something to do with why he calls him "Peter" here and only here.

Anonymous said...

Eisenhower was troubled by his quarrelsome generals. Ike also had to rebuke Patton for his treatment of soldiers suffering from PTSD.

Jackson's election was no surprise. Old Hickory was very popular due to his defeat of the British in the Battle of New Orleans.

-- Howard