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Was Cephas Peter? The Rest of the Argument

I have received a number of emails asking me about the Cephas and Peter article I started giving a couple of posts ago, and most of the questions, as it turns out, are answered in the *second* half of the article, which I had originally planned not to provide here on the blog.  So now I’ve decided, well—why not?

And so here is the rest of the article for anyone who is interested.  For those not interested in all the convoluted ins and outs of the argument, you may want to see the end, the summary and conclusions, as the pay-off of the argument is rather significant.  As with the rest of the article, I have not included any of the footnotes, where I give some of the logic and evidence for my sundry points.

As it turns out, I’m not sure I buy the argument anymore.  I’ll explain why in simple terms in a later post.




The evidence of Paul has not been exhausted by this consideration of Gal 2:7-9.  There remain the other references to Cephas in Paul’s letters, references that provide other points of interest.  Indeed what is striking is that in virtually every instance, Paul’s references to Cephas contain something that is difficult to explain if in fact he meant “Peter,” Jesus’ disciple, the one who had received the “apostolate to the circumcised” (Gal 2:8) just as Paul received that to the uncircumcised.

In some respects the reference in 1 Cor 15.5 is the most interesting.  In reciting the tradition he had received concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus …

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My Work for the New Revised Standard Version Committee
Cephas and Peter in the Writings of Paul (Who Knew Them)



  1. Avatar
    godspell  December 15, 2016

    From an historical POV, fascinating.

    From a hierarchical POV, irritating, at least if you happen to be the current Patriarch of Antioch.

    I assume no bishoprics in any of the other Antiochs would be impacted.

    What’s truly amazing about this is how obvious it is. Why would Paul use multiple names for the same well-known person? He’s trying to clarify things to the communities he’s writing to, and this would make it less clear. He’d pick a name and stick with it.

    I’ve had this notion of Peter and Paul butting heads for most of my life, and of course they might still have done so. Peter is trying to help create a unified Christian community–why would he want to advertise the fact that he’s been fighting with Peter? A disagreement with Cephas would just be two Christians having a disagreement (as would have happened on a constant daily basis, where two or more Christians were gathered, some things never change).

    But then again, maybe Peter was quite content to leave the uncircumcised to Paul, and wasn’t inclined to try and force the gentiles to follow Jewish practices. He was having enough problems of his own trying to convert the circumcised. And he may, like Paul, have felt that Jewishness was a personal matter, something you couldn’t just impose on a person later in life. He, like Paul, would have figured God would sort it all out when the Kingdom came, and they should try to save as many as possible against that fateful day.

    • Avatar
      godspell  December 15, 2016


      Certain branches of early evangelical Christianity–“Convert ’em all and let God sort ’em out!”

      Certain branches of modern evangelical Christianity–“Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out!”

      Progress. :\

      • Avatar
        Eric  December 16, 2016

        Which branches of modern Evangelical Christianity are advocating killing everybody (or anybody)?

  2. Avatar
    Tony  December 15, 2016

    “Indeed what is striking is that in virtually every instance, Paul’s references to Cephas contain something that is difficult to explain if in fact he meant “Peter,” Jesus’ disciple, the one who had received the “apostolate to the circumcised” (Gal 2:8) just as Paul received that to the uncircumcised”

    It should be made clear that Paul not only never uses the word “disciple”, but also never describes the concept of a disciple. If it was not for the gospels nobody would have associated “the twelve” from Gal 15:5 with earthly followers of an historical Jesus. Paul does not write, “…the twelve followers of our Lord Jesus while he was with us in the flesh…”. The twelve are a unknowns and assigning discipleship to them is pure speculation not supported by anything Paul writes.

    “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,  4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas…..”

    1 Cor 15 gives us the answers as to where Paul, and everybody else, got their Jesus from: scripture and appearances (revelatory visions).

    • Avatar
      Eric  December 16, 2016

      I do have to agree that if Cephas is not Peter, but rather another recipient of a visionary experience, that strengthens some (non-extremist) mythicist lines of argument (or rather weakens some counter-mythicist points).

    • Avatar
      godspell  December 17, 2016

      Paul never describes most things that were already well-known to those he was writing to. These are letters, not treatises. It’s very clear he’s referring to the twelve disciples, though it’s less clear which specific persons he considers ‘The Twelve’ to be.

      The lack of clarity in Paul is annoying–he didn’t know his epistles would be the only first-hand account of many things relating to the early church. He didn’t know people would be reading him many centuries later, and imputing all kinds of ridiculous things to him–like the notion that Jesus wasn’t a real flesh and blood person). But being, self-evidently, an exceptionally intelligent man, he may have underestimated how dense some people can be.

  3. TWood
    TWood  December 15, 2016

    IDK… the 1 Cor 15:5 seems like a stretch to make Cephas someone other than Peter… but who knows I guess… so if Cephas is NOT Peter:

    1. Then there is no evidence that Paul ever met Peter… is that right?

    2. Then John (Zeb’s son) is the only earthly disciple Paul ever met… is that right? *I know Paul met James (Jesus’ bro), who obviously *knew* Jesus, but James didn’t *follow* Jesus until after Jesus died.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 16, 2016

      If this theory is right, then yes to both questions.

      • TWood
        TWood  December 16, 2016

        I’m confused on your view here…

        In Did Jesus Exist, you seem to argue that Paul did know Peter (I’ve also read and heard you say Paul knew Peter elsewhere). Has your view changed since writing Did Jesus Exist? Or do you not buy the theory? Even the Catholics admit it’s Peter Paul rebuked… seems like it’s the better argument?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 18, 2016

          I have been trying to stress that this is an article I wrote a long time ago and that I no longer find it persuasive.

          • Robert
            Robert  December 18, 2016

            Why did you previously find this view persuasive? Was it related to your earlier, more fundamentalist views whereby you might have found it scandalous that Peter and Paul might have had such a fundamental disagreement?

          • Bart
            Bart  December 19, 2016

            Ah, not that! No fundamentalist on the planet would buy the argument, because John 1:42 explicitly says that Cephas was Peter. I bought it because I thought contrary to almost universal Christian opinion, Paul’s letter to teh Galatians seemed to differentiate the two. (I wasn’t at all a conservative Christian when I wrote the article)

    • Avatar
      godspell  December 17, 2016

      1. No, but he probably did. I think they might have had a hard time understanding each other, but the early church wasn’t given much to serious internecine conflicts–they simply couldn’t afford them. Too many external enemies, and they were so few in number.

      Diplomatically speaking, the best policy was for these two strong-willed men, each of whom felt he had a special understanding of Jesus (one from personal experience, the other from divine revelation) to not say much to or about each other.

      I think it’s unlikely they were never introduced, unless somehow the opportunity never arose. If they’d been in the same place at the same time, they would have met, but we need to understand–Paul NOT mentioning something in a handful of short letters doesn’t prove anything, one way or another. If I write you a bunch of letters, and never mention my parents, that doesn’t prove I was a foundling.

      2. We don’t know James didn’t follow Jesus until he died. That is far from clear. He wasn’t considered one of the twelve, and there is evidence Jesus’ family was not unified in support of his activities, but there’s just not enough data to draw any firm conclusion about James. He may simply not have been able to travel with Jesus during the time of Jesus’ ministry.

      • Avatar
        godspell  December 17, 2016

        Actually, now I think on it, Paul never mentions his parents, or any specific member of his family, so that proves he had no family, right? He says he was circumcised on the eighth day after his birth, that he is of the tribe of Benjamin, and a Pharisee. Most of the other autobiographical information is from Acts, not the epistles. You could INFER parents and other relations from that, but apparently inference is not allowed in certain quarters, no matter how obvious it may seem. 🙂

  4. Avatar
    uziteaches  December 15, 2016

    The reason that Peter/Cephas would be in Antioch is because he has gotten word that Paul is preaching that Mosaic law is no longer necessary, and so Peter/Cephas goes there to sort things out.
    The early Church did not see its mission as directed to Gentiles. Jesus had been clear that they should not do that, but instead preach to the lost sheep of Israel. Why would any of his disciples go against that?
    Paul innovates the idea of reaching out to Gentiles, and when in Jerusalem arrives at an accord with the Apostles. Where is the evidence that anybody before Paul thought of outreach to Gentiles?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 16, 2016

      I don’t think there is any evidence, outside of the book of Acts. Then again, our only sources of information are Paul and Acts.

  5. talmoore
    talmoore  December 15, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, a worthy effort, indeed. Alas, I find it totally unconvincing. For starters, I can’t seem to figure out whether you think Paul thinks Cephas was one of the Twelve and Peter was a middling apostle, or vice versa. If Peter is the middling apostle assigned to convert Jews, and Cephas was of the Twelve “Pillars” of the Jerusalem Church, you may have a point, but the evidence you presented doesn’t make that conclusion clear. Indeed, much of your evidence concludes the exact opposite, thus undermining your entire argument. Furthermore, if the opposite were the case, one would have to wonder why a Jewish “Pillar” of the Jerusalem Church would go by the Greek “Peter,” while a middling Jewish missionary to Jews outside of Jerusalem would go by the Aramaic “Cephas”. One would reasonably expect it to be the other way around.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 16, 2016

      What I was arguing is that Peter was the disciple of Jesus who became a missionary to the Jews and Cephas was a non-disciple who became one of the pillars of the church of Jerusalem.

      • Avatar
        llamensdor  December 16, 2016

        I think I understand that you have changed your mind on this subject. Do you now believe that Peter and Cephas were the same person?

  6. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  December 15, 2016

    For a while, I thought Cephas and Peter were 2 different people, but Dale Allison made a persuasive argument that they’re one and the same. I believe it’s a refutation to this article actually. Written in the early 90’s.

  7. Avatar
    Hume  December 15, 2016

    How do you get on without your father each day, and knowing as a non-believer you will not see him again? I dread that day with my parents, and also uncertain that I could carry on after it.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 16, 2016

      I guess I just don’t find what I consider to be reality to be disturbing. I have no expectation of seeing my father, so I’m not upset by the idea of not seeing him. And I certainly wouldn’t think that I *should* think that I will see my father because that would be a nicer expectation, if you see what I mean.

    • Avatar
      godspell  December 17, 2016

      Why don’t evangelical Christians who claim to desire heaven, and fear hell, act as if they genuinely believe that they can attain one and avoid the other by doing as Jesus commanded them?

      They seem to me increasingly concerned with worldly things, like politics, and material wealth, and telling other people how to act and think and believe, and fearing their brothers and sisters of other faiths, or none.

      Rhetorical questions cut both ways, don’t they?

  8. Avatar
    clipper9422@yahoo.com  December 15, 2016

    The last 5 numbered points show the implications of Peter and Cephas being different individuals. Does it help clear up any other mysteries or inconsistencies? The sort of inconsistency I have in mind is your point that it’s hard to understand why Peter would be associating with pagan Christians in Antioch if he was the missionary to the Jews. Distinguishing between Peter and Cephas helps things to fall into place better with regard to that incident..

    • Bart
      Bart  December 16, 2016

      Yes, the whole point of the article in some ways is to show that the thesis resolves the problems.

  9. Avatar
    greenbuttonuplift  December 16, 2016

    Just to confirm – based on the evidence of Paul – cephas and peter are two different people! or am I confused! Its tough handling Brexit over here 🙂

    • Bart
      Bart  December 16, 2016

      That’s what I was arguing in the article. In an imminent post, I’ll explain why I am not sure I buy the argument any more!

      • Avatar
        llamensdor  December 16, 2016

        Have you read Bernard Brandon Scott’s book, “The Real Paul”? He has a very plausible explanation of why Peter withdrew from “table” in Antioch.

  10. Avatar
    falter  December 16, 2016

    Hello Bart:
    A great post. Thought provoking…

    Your readers may also be interested in reading your 1990 article “Cephas and Peter” that appeared in the Journal of Biblical Literature 109(3) 463-467.

    Perhaps you would elaborate on the following issue: Why would Peter run to the tomb to examine it [Lk 24:12] IF, according to 1 Cor. 15:5 he was presumably the first person to see the resurrected Jesus. Of course, Paul’s text omits any women…Presumably then, he [if Cephas was Peter which you disproved] would already would have known that Jesus was resurrected. Again, why, then should he had run to the tomb to examine it? Of course, it could be argued that Paul’s list was not historical/literal.

    Thank you.

    Michael Alter

    • Bart
      Bart  December 16, 2016

      Yes, thanks. These posts *ARE* that article! On Luke 24:12: the verse may be a scribal addition to the text. But in any event, it is very hard indeed to reconcile what Paul says with what the Gospels say about the resurrection appearances.

  11. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  December 16, 2016

    A more intesting post than you give yourself credit for:
    About 1Cor. 15:3-8, how much room for interpretation is there for what Paul may have meant by Jesus having “appeared” to various individuals. I’ve read your posts and am aware from other sources that people not infrequently see and speak with a deceased loved one as a normal part of grieving, but I have for some tiime had serious doubts that 500 people in the same place and time had essentially the same vision or hallucination. I think it more likely that such a story circulated later on, but that its origins were a bit more typical of mass conversions. Could Paul have meant, when he said that Jesus “appeared” to these people, that they experienced a certainty that he was in fact alive? Something like the line in the evangelical hymn: “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.”
    Could that even suggest that Paul’s personal confession, “Last of all to me…” was part of a baptismal confession that all believers were required to make?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 16, 2016

      My sense is that Paul has simply heard that a large group of people saw Jesus, and someone estimated the number at 500, just as today we hear about the Blessed Virgin Mary appearing to 200 people or 300 people at once.

  12. Avatar
    ComputersHateAndrewLivingston  December 16, 2016

    Doc, I’m going to write a follow-up question to something I asked in another thread because I don’t know how you prioritize these things. Why is it that the Gospel writers (after Mark) were so interested in throwing in propagandic details about Jesus rising from the dead in his old body?

    The resurrection in Mark seems to have meant an ascension directly to heaven right out of the tomb: flash forward to John and Jesus is saying, “Stick your hand in these nail wounds.” That must mean that there was somebody around whom Not-John wanted to rebut. Who was it? Were there any first-century docetics? And if not, who was it that the Gospel writers were writing in opposition to?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 18, 2016

      Yes, there appear to have been Christians already maintaining that Jesus had some kind of spiritual resurrection, not in the body, and these additional stories were meant to counteract such views.

  13. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  December 18, 2016

    If Paul’s “Cephas” is not Peter, it does change a lot of things. Thanks for this interesting series.

  14. Avatar
    Xeronimo74  December 22, 2016

    Bart: Ah, what a nice surprise to see you address this subject! 🙂 I read your article years ago and was fascinated by it.

    But as a previous commentator wrote: “Why would Paul use multiple names for the same well-known person? He’s trying to clarify things to the communities he’s writing to, and this would make it less clear. He’d pick a name and stick with it.”

    I’m not sure you have answered that question? Or maybe I missed it?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 22, 2016

      Yup, that’s the problem — the reason for thinking there were two of them. But there are problems with *that* view too, which I haven’t addressed yet!

      • Avatar
        Xeronimo74  December 23, 2016

        Ah, ok. When can we expect that post? 😉

        • Bart
          Bart  December 23, 2016

          Yeah, the blog got highjacked by something else. I’ll get to it!

          • Avatar
            Xeronimo74  December 23, 2016

            Ok, great! Looking forward to it 🙂 Happy holidays until then!

  15. Avatar
    bmacrae  January 8, 2017

    Bart, thanks great topic. Looking forward to one person argument. I have a question on Peter (the disciple) in Acts. Acts chapter 12 has Peter put in jail to be executed by Herod Agrippa I, he miraculously escapes, is seen by a servant girl and other believers, then leaves. He is not written about again.
    – Is it plausible Peter was executed by Agrippa I (circa 41-44CE) & the escape was just legend/myth? Therefore, Cephas in Paul is a different person?
    – Does Acts refer to the disciple Peter as “Peter” or “Cephas” in the Greek version (my English version just says Peter).

    • Bart
      Bart  January 8, 2017

      Nothing in the text suggests he died then, and we know that he didn’t because Paul knew him personally in the 50s. (Whether or not he was the same person as Cephas). Acts uses the Greek name Peter.

  16. Avatar
    bmacrae  January 25, 2017

    Bart, thanks for the feedback, I have done some more research and thinking. Note, I have a science background, so tend to build a hypothesis and test it with facts. Not sure this lends itself to history very well, but I am having loads of fun with Peter & Cephas none the less. The hardest part is to avoid confirmation bias.

    Question – Is it plausible that the author of Acts got confused and it was Herod Agrippa II whom imprisoned apostle Peter? My understanding is this would fit a 50’s date. Agrippa I was better known (especially for his legendary death), so the author just created the legend his death was inspired by God?

    As a side note, in my research I read a theory that when Paul referred to Cephas in 1Cor 3-9, he actually meant the High Priest Caiaphas (18-36CE) (ref: Adriana van der Hoeven). Is this plausible? By extension the 12 are the Council of the Temple, not the disciples!

    Has there been much research on apostle Peter?

    Thanks again….Brett

    • Bart
      Bart  January 27, 2017

      I’m not sure why one would think it wasn’t Agrippa I. On Cephas/Caiaphas, I’ve never heard that before and don’t see what would make it plausible and can think of roughly 76 reasons it is implausible!

      • Avatar
        bmacrae  January 27, 2017

        Thanks for the feedback. I thought it was a bit far fetched. When I read a bit further, Adriana van der Hoeven also suggested the 4th gospel was written by John Mark and Mary (mother of Jesus)! I think I will stay away from that website in future!

        Thanks again, enjoying your blog. Learning lots.

  17. Avatar
    Hngerhman  March 5, 2019

    Dr Ehrman,

    You make the point in this thread that you no longer find this argument (Cephas = ~Peter) persuasive – what changed your mind? I.e., which premise(s) of the argument did you come to reject (and why)?

    Apologies if you posted on it later (the post mentions your intention to do so at some point, but I was unable to find it with the search function). Thanks much!

    • Bart
      Bart  March 6, 2019

      Ha! I never did get around to explaining that! Short story: since it wasn’t actually a name anyone ever had, it seems unlikely that two people were independently given it as a *nick*name.

      • Avatar
        Hngerhman  March 6, 2019

        Excellent – thank you!

      • Avatar
        JohnKesler  March 22, 2019

        Am I understanding you correctly that the thorough case that you laid out for Cephas and Peter being two separate people is foiled because you think two people couldn’t have had the same nickname?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 24, 2019

          I wouldn’t say “couldn’t”; I’d say it seems unlikely.

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