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Are Cephas and Peter Two Different People?

QUESTION:

I remember your saying that you once – wrongly – entertained a theory about “Cephas” and “Peter” being two different people. I *don’t* remember your explaining why you’d thought that, and what convinced you the theory was wrong. I’d still like to know!

 

RESPONSE:

I get asked this question on occasion and I’ve decided to do something unusual (for the blog) to answer it.  Years ago I wrote a controversial article on the topic for an academic journal.  Here I thought it might be interesting simply to reproduce the article for readers of the blog, over several posts.  Among other things, this will show – to anyone who is interested in such things – how a work of scholarship on the New Testament is different from a work presenting scholarship to a general (non scholarly) audience.

Now that I read through this first of the article, thinking about how it would “play” to a general audience, I think that the problem is not that it is particularly difficult to understand, but simply that it assumes knowledge that not everyone holds and it does not try particularly hard to make a subject interesting, on the assumption that to scholars it already is interesting.  Anyway, see what you think.  The rest of the article is probably more inherently interesting, since there (as you’ll see if I reproduce it for the blog) I argue that there are indeed reasons for thinking that Cephas and Peter were in fact two different persons, not the same person.

*********************************************************************

 

Most ancient authors who discuss the relationship of Cephas and Peter explicitly identify the two, or at least speak of Peter when referring to NT passages that name only Cephas.  This is not at all surprising given the unequivocal statement of John 1:42: “You are Cephas (which translated means ‘Peter’).”   What ”is surprising is that other early Christian authors, all of whom also knew and used the Fourth Gospel, refused to make this identification, and asserted either explicitly or by implication that there were in fact two different persons, one called Cephas, the other Peter.  This dissenting opinion is striking for both its antiquity and its persistence.  How ancient is it?

 

Evidence from the Early Church

It first occurs in the first half of the second century in the Epistula Apostolorum.  The author of this pseudepigraph opposes a docetic kind of Christology by penning a letter, ostensibly written after Jesus’ resurrection by the eleven remaining disciples, in which he repeatedly affirms both the fleshliness of Jesus and the doctrine of the resurrection of the flesh.  Since this author otherwise makes repeated use of the Fourth Gospel, he must have known that “Cephas” and “Peter” refer to the same person.  This makes it all the more striking that in his own delineation of the eleven disciples he names Cephas and Peter as two distinct individuals (Epistula Apostolorum, 2).

Somewhat later in the second century…

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Lecture at Fresno City College
A Different Interpretation of the Mischievous Boy, Jesus

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    doug  December 12, 2016

    Wow – this is another good example of the confusion and disagreement that existed among early Christians. And trying to figure out which NUMBER Cephas was among the seventy apostles – it sounds like they are in “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” territory.

  2. talmoore
    talmoore  December 12, 2016

    Well, from reading this excerpt, it appears rather obvious to me that the distinction between “Peter the disciple” and “Cephas of the Seventy” was a (seemingly well-intentioned) fabrication by the early Church in order to clear Paul of the accusation of being disrespectful to Peter. Paul being critical to “one of the Seventy,” while possibly embarrassing, is not nearly as embarrassing as Paul acting all high and mighty before Jesus’ righthand man.

    And this scenario is certainly not uncommon. In fact, it’s merely a more sophisticated version of the “It wasn’t me” excuse. “Who me, Paul, disrespect Jesus’ top disciple Peter? No, never in a million years! I did get into the face of Cephas, though, but he was only one of the Seventy. Whoever disrespected Peter, it wasn’t me!” However, in this case it’s not Paul making the excuse (he’s the one who originally boasted about his actions!), but rather it was the Church after him that found Paul’s braggadocio embarrassing enough to excuse.

    • Avatar
      bbcamerican  December 14, 2016

      This is exactly what I was thinking as I was reading the post. All other things being equal, it’s certainly plausible that either a) It was a deliberate fabrication created by someone who knew them both to be the same person who wanted to hide the fact or b) Someone a little more well-intentioned who simply could not wrap his head around Paul and Peter disagreeing about, well, anything. The former is an insidious attempt to deceive while the latter may simply have been an honest attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable. But either way, I think that it really may have been the Paul vs. Peter issue that led to attempts to identify Peter/Cephas as two distinct individuals. Just an opinion, of course.

  3. Avatar
    Wilusa  December 12, 2016

    Fascinating – I’d never imagined *many* people thought Cephas and Peter were two different men! Is it possible that the earliest among them *didn’t know* the two names meant the same thing? (I don’t remember, offhand, what language “Cephas” was – but I’d assume Aramaic.)

    • Avatar
      fcp  March 16, 2017

      Cephas (KFS) in Syriac, Petros in Greek, Petrus in Latin, Peter in English, and something else entirely on Urban Dictionary.

  4. John4
    John4  December 12, 2016

    Your Cephas and Peter post is *wonderful*, Bart. I look forward to the remainder of the thread! 🙂

  5. Avatar
    Hficher  December 12, 2016

    Could the confusion be due to ignorance in the second century about the fact that “Cephas” was not a name, but a nickname?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 13, 2016

      Possibly. But the confusion may go back to the first century.

  6. Avatar
    James  December 12, 2016

    Well, it’s a neat way of minimizing whatever happened at Antioch…

  7. Avatar
    Petter Häggholm  December 12, 2016

    I anxiously await the rest of the article—and I hope that you will find time to expand on the article to explain what changed your mind about it (as the reader’s question seems to suggest you did).

  8. Avatar
    Stephen  December 12, 2016

    Please continue. I can only speak for myself but I love this kind of stuff.

    I have a question about pronunciation. In Greek Is CEPHAS a hard “C” ( KEE-fas) or a soft “C” (SEE-fas)?

    In the original Aramaic was it hard (KEE-fa) or soft (SEE-fa)?

    thanks!

  9. Avatar
    Tempo1936  December 12, 2016

    While apocalyptic teaching is clear in the synoptic Gospels, where do you find it in the Gospel of John?

  10. Avatar
    Jason  December 12, 2016

    Thanks for posting this-it reminds me a lot of the style of (>brag<my signed copy of) "Orthodox Corruption." I think that the grounding provided by the rest of the material on the blog makes this more interesting and accessible.

  11. Avatar
    Tony  December 13, 2016

    Interesting historical points. The mythicist view is that the Peter figure from the Gospels is certainly based on the Cephas mentioned in Paul’s letters. The Aramaic “Rock” (Cephas) becomes the Greek Petros, but there is no other correlation between the two.

    Paul never identifies Cephas as a follower of an historical Jesus. Paul’s Cephas is identified as one of the pillars of the Jerusalem church, an apostle to the Jews, and the apparent first to have a vision of Christ. Both Cephas and Paul only discovered Christ through scripture and visions (appearances) as per 1 Corinthians 15:3-9.

    Apparently, based on Paul’s letters, neither Cephas nor Paul knew anything about an itinerant preacher who got himself killed by the Romans during a Passover in Jerusalem.

  12. Avatar
    davitako  December 13, 2016

    Bart,

    So, Cephas mentioned in Galatians 1:18 might actually not be Peter?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 13, 2016

      See tomorrow’s post.

      • TWood
        TWood  December 14, 2016

        The only post I see is the video… did you post your answer about Galatians 1:18 and the Cephas/Peter conundrum? I’m quite interested to read your thoughts on this one… do you no longer believe Paul met Peter? Paul seems to consider the Cephas in Galatians 1:18 as one of the apostles… seems strange that he’d be referring to someone other than Peter here… and if that’s true here… it seems rather likely the Cephas in Galatians 2 is also Peter… but I await your understanding… please let me know if I missed your answer… and if you didn’t write it yet… please don’t forget! Thank you, sir.

  13. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  December 13, 2016

    I’m usually so mentally drained from work that the last thing I want to do is read something that requires extensive background knowledge. I’d much rather be spoon fed. That’s why I buy trade books! I have a great desire to learn, but I don’t have time nor the mental energy it takes to engage in something that requires a concentrated focus. Basically, I just need Christmas break right now!

  14. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  December 13, 2016

    The different writing style is amazing. Is this really Ehrman writing this or a doppelganger?

    Could Cephas, like James, have been a common name used by many people as well as nickname for Peter?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 13, 2016

      Ha! There’s only one of me. But, as you as a psychologist know full well — many sides of me.

  15. Avatar
    Scott  December 13, 2016

    It would be easy to see the Cephas/Peter bifurcation being driven by a desire to avoid a pillar of the church being rebuked much as John’s Gospel skims over the fact that Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist.

  16. Avatar
    Wilusa  December 13, 2016

    OT: I got a kick out of this. Some national religious group just declared that my region – consisting of three midsized cities (mine the largest) and their environs – is the *least* “Bible-reading” in the U.S.!

  17. Avatar
    dankoh  December 13, 2016

    I find this a lot easier to follow than a lot of the scholarly material I’ve been plowing through; Crossan and N. T. Wright, in particular, strike me as deliberately trying to be obscure. (Hogeterp, too, but he has the excuse of working with obscure material!) I also appreciate the presentation of original language text with translation supplied; a lot of scholarship does that, but a lot does not. In 6 languages!

    For me, an article like this tells me what I need to know (or would if I were seriously interested in this question, but I’m not, sorry). Obscure scholarly references are either fairly plain in context, or can be overlooked without losing the sense of the argument, or if necessary, one can look it up or pose a question.

    You should have no qualms in posting the rest of it.

    (I take back what I said about not being all that interested. I reread the next-to-last paragraph. If Paul did not know Peter until he went to Rome, it would be interesting to know whom he was interacting with in Jerusalem alongside James, and what his authority was.)

    Dan

  18. Avatar
    dragonfly  December 14, 2016

    I’ve always been confused about Galatians. Paul seems to talk positively about Peter, then suddenly he’s calling Cephas a hypocrite. If the Galatians didn’t know Aramaic from jibberish, is there anything in this letter that would make them think he’s talking about the same person?

  19. Avatar
    haoleboy26  December 14, 2016

    If Cephas was among the 72 apostles, rather than from the among the 12, it strikes me as odd that Paul would have him listed as the first to whom the resurrected Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15. Did any of the authors who addressed this tradition of Cephas is not Peter address this?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 14, 2016

      They would say that Paul is simply stating it the way it was. I deal with this in my article, but it gets kind a technical and I’m not sure many readers of the blog would be that interested….

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