Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Why did Jesus rename Simon?

The apostle Peter is one of the most well known individuals from the Bible. In fact, he is mentioned in the New Testament more than any other person except for Christ Himself. Peter is a favorite of many because of his personality; he is a man whom modern readers have a very easy time relating to. This is because Peter's personality is timeless. It is not bound by the culture and age in which he lived. He was a working man, a fisherman. He was a passionate man, a trait which sometimes got him into trouble. He was also quick to speak his mind, seldom holding back or taking the time to think. Peter was the man who promised Christ he would follow Him wherever He went, yet he was also the man who denied Him three times. Every Christian can relate to this immediately, and every Christian takes comfort in Christ's forgiveness of the fisherman for even so great a sin. Yes, Peter was all of these things and more, expressing qualities in which perhaps any human in any age could easily identify with. Yet for all of this, for being so many things to so many people, Peter was not the one thing that is most central to his own identity; He was not born with the name Peter.

The man whom gave the first sermon in the history of Christianity was born Simon, son of Jonah. He grew up with his brother Andrew, who also would be an apostle, and together they fished the Sea of Galilee as their trade. However, it was when Christ, the God-man, came to make them fishers of men that Simon first learned that he was to be called by another name:

"Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas" (which, when translated, is Rock.)" (John 1:42)

The word Cephas is Aramaic, the language of Jesus and the apostles, and it means rock. Yet Simon continued to be called by his birthname as he followed Christ, learning from the Saviour's wisdom. It was not until he had spoken that earth-shaking truth revealed to him by the Father, the truth that his rabbi was indeed the Christ, the Son of the living God, that Simon would be given that most famous of names, as His Lord said to him, "I say to you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:18)

This name Peter, so common in our age, most certainly resounded as none other ever had in the newly renamed apostle's ear, for it had so different a meaning for he as it does now to us. He did not hear, as we read, the word 'Peter,' but instead the Aramaic word Kepha, the word we say in English as 'rock.' The New Testament manuscripts were written in Greek, andin fact the name "Peter" is nothing more than the Anglicanized Greek word for rock, 'Petros.' Whenever we see the word 'Peter' in our English Bible, if we turn to the same passage in the original Greek it says, 'Petros' - Rock. The significance of this is made more clear by the knowledge that Christ's declaration is the first recorded usage in all of history of the name Peter. To Christ, and to Peter, and to the apostles, he was not Peter in the way we know him. No, he was simply Rock.

The modern equivalent is to be found in the entertainment industry. Former WWF wrestler and current actor The Rock helps us to understand just what this name meant to those who lived with Peter. If one were to speak to this man, one would say something such as, "Hello, Rock, how are you doing?" When fans of his discuss his latest film, they might say, "Rock was particularly good in that last scene!" This is how Peter was spoken of throughout all of the Christian world in his days as an apostle. When news came to Anitoch that he was on his way to visit, the people said "Rock is coming here soon." When it was time to eat dinner at the house where Peter was staying, the children were instructed to "go and tell Rock that it is time to eat." And when the Holy Spirit inspired Scripture through the apostle Matthew, the Lord and giver of life said, "you are Rock, and on this Rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it."

Yet when they wrote, Matthew and the other Gospel writers chose to write 'Petros' instead of 'Kepha.' It very interesting that they did this, because 'Kepha' was Simon's new name, not Petros. Consider English translations of the French Masterpiece Les Miserables. Characters' names are kept in the original language even though all the other words, words such as 'go' and 'run' and 'eat' and 'he' and 'cat' are translated into English. Jean is still called Jean in the English translation, while 'pomme' is translated into 'apple' and 'vous' is translated into 'you.' Even though the French name Jean is equivalent to the English name John, translators keep names in their original language because names are not like other words. A name is just a way of referring to people. A name, in a certain sense, is just a particular sound by which we identify ourselves. Should a man from France named Jean travel to the US and be called John, he may be confused or offended because, though it is equivalent, John would not be his name - Jean would be.

Therefore it is indeed interesting that the Gospel writers, writers inspired by God Himself, used the Greek word for 'rock,' Petros, instead of the apostle's actual name, Kepha. Throughout the rest of the Scriptures, there are many examples of the New Testament writers preserving the names of Old Testament personalities in their original languages instead of writing their Greek equivalent. For instance, the name "Moses" means 'drawn from'; it was given Him by Pharoah's daughter because she drew him from the river. Just as translating 'Rock' into Greek yields Petros, translating 'drawn from' would result in Anaspaoek. Yet when Matthew and the other Gospel authors described the transfiguration, they did not write, "and standing there with Him were Anaspaoek and Elijah." No, they wrote "Moses and Elijah." Similarly, in his language, Abraham's name meant "father of nations," yet the Gospel writers referred to him as Abraham, not Paterekethnos. They do this because these words were the people's names. Names are not meant, like nouns verbs and adjectives, to be translated for each language in whic they are used; they are meant to be universal identifiers, identifiers that are in fact so deeply connected to the people they identify that they actually become part of their identities.

Yet in the Gospels, the authors do not call Peter by His name. Instead, they call him by what his name means. They do not call him by his identifier, but by his identity. These gospels were written by the power of the Holy Spirit to convey the truth of Christ to all future generations. Every word was carefully chosen by God to teach His people everything that He wished to. In doing this, Peter's name was ignored. That name by which every Christian living in the apostolic age knew him was not selected. Instead, the word which conveys a particular meaning was recorded. It would be as though a historian chose to write 'President' in the place of 'George Bush,' emphasizing the office and identity over the person. As they recorded Holy Writ, the "word settled forever in the Heavens" (Psalm 199:89), the inspired scribes said Petros. It is a part of the eternal word of the Creator, that same Word by which He created the Heavens and the Earth. As they wrote for all God's people for all time, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and even God Himself didn't care about telling us what Peter's name was. They cared about telling us that he was Rock.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Mary's Role in Heaven

Joh 2:1 On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.
Joh 2:2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples.
Joh 2:3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine."
Joh 2:4 And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come."
Joh 2:5 His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."
Joh 2:6 Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.
Joh 2:7 Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim.
Joh 2:8 And he said to them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast." So they took it.
Joh 2:9 When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom
Joh 2:10 and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now."
Joh 2:11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

There are several very key points here. First, note how it starts off:

Joh 2:1 On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.
Joh 2:2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples.

John introduces this scene by putting the emphasis on Mary. He says, this is what's going on, and this is who is there. Then he says, "Jesus was also invited..." This doesn't mean Jesus isn't important, but John begins by making sure we are paying attention to Mary. The reader is naturally inclined to be focused on Jesus, and the fact is that Jesus is prominent in this passage as well, so the reader would simply take no notice of Mary while reading this passage. However, John wants to make sure there is attention on her by immediately putting her in the forefront in the beginning before the narrative starts focusing on Christ. This way the reader will not pass her over, whereas if it began by saying "On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and Jesus was there. His mother was there also," Mary would fall into the background too quickly and the reader wouldn't pay any attention to her.

Next we see that Mary intercedes for the wedding guests so that Jesus will grant them something, which ends up being wine. So at a bare minimum this passage is showing us Mary in an intercessory role.

But there's something far, far more interesting about this passage. If we go back to John chapter 1, we see a summary of Christ calling the apostles. He is starting to build His kingdom. The last line of John chapter 1 says:

Joh 1:51 And he said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."

Immediately after John records Jesus saying "you will see heaven opened," he writes "On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there."

So John tells us that the kingdom of Heaven will be opened, then he says "on the third day there was a wedding." Again and again and again Heaven is described by Jesus as being a wedding. John, who wrote this very passage, uses the image in Revelation where he describes Heaven as the "marriage supper of the lamb." On top of this, Heaven was opened to all believers on the third day after the crucifixion.

So if we read through John chapter 1 into John 2, we see Jesus building the kingdom, then we are told we will see Heaven opened up, then we are told that there was a wedding on the third day. This happens to be the only wedding in the entire New Testament, a New Testament filled with the use of weddings to represent Heaven. What we are seeing in the wedding at Cana is Heaven. What we see in John 1-2 is a description of Christ building His kingdom, then of Heaven being opened on the third day in which Jesus brings desciples to Heaven.

There's more. John starts his gospel by paralleling Genesis 1:1, when he says, "In the beginning..." He then describes the creation, saying, "all things were made through him..." He then mentions the Mosaic Covenant, saying "For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."(17) He then mentions Isaiah and John the Baptist, two of the prophets, quoting John saying, "He said, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,' as the prophet Isaiah said."(23) John the prophet is leading the way to Christ. Then Jesus comes, and we are told "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (29) Then John mentions the coming of the Holy Spirit in verse 32. Then we see Jesus gather desciples.

Then So really, if we read John 1-2, we see John summarize:

1) The Creation
2) The Law
3) The Prophets
4) The coming of Christ (the Nativity)
5) The descent of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost)
6) The The Building of Jesus' Kingdom

John is paralleling his account to the entire history of the world. Then when this is done, he says we will see Heaven opened and then describes a wedding on the third day.

The wedding is, again, the only description of an actual wedding n the New Testament, even though the enitre New Testament, including John himself, use weddings again and again and again to describe Heaven. He presents this right after saying Heaven will be seen opened, and he places it on the third day, which is when Heaven was opened up. The wedding at Cana is a description of Heaven.

And in that description, John calls our attention to Mary, and Mary intercedes and Christ as a result performs a miralce involving wine, which connects directly to the concept of the Eucharist. Then the master of the feast rewards the bridegroom because the wine the bridegroom has provided is the good wine, the best wine, wine that is better than the previous wines. This is a description of the Father rewarding the Son for His good blood. This miracle, we are told, manifested Christ's glory.

After this, John introduces a new scene, this time keeping Christ in the forefront by introducing it, " After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother..." (12) This further makes the point that John's introduction of Mary first, almost in away describing the main character of a story and describing Christ the way one would describe a lesser character, is not just a fluke (nothing in Scripture could be anyways), but is significant.

Of course if you try to take John 1-2 as a literal timetable of the history of the world, it won't work, because He's already shown up in John 1 before Moses and Isaiah and so forth. The point is that John is drawing a parallel, not giving a summary. Protestant commentators have also noticed this parallel, in fact many of them. Same thing with the wedding. The analogy is not perfect, but Jesus' parables aren't either. Parables and anaolgies are things which are similar to other things; by their very nature, they are also dissimilar, or else they would be the things they represent, which they are not. The sorts of things I am describing here are what are called polyvalent symbolism, something studied in the Scriptures by Catholics and Protestants alike, in which one symbol has multiple meanings.

(By the way, this doesn't really have to do with the post but it is so related I will put it up anyways. We see that after this description, John turns attention to the Passover feast. Then he makes another reference to "three days" and says that also at the Passover feast He did signs which led people to believe, just as His sign at the wedding was described as leading people to believe. This seems to be a comparison between the Heavenly goings-on and the Mass.)