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.


Anonymous said...

In Christian Science, we believe that all is Love as well.

macdufal said...

Just found this blog post.It answered many of my questions, and I would just like tot thank you for taking the time to post :)

Thank you so much!