Were the Apostle Peter and
Cephas of Antioch the same person?

By JAMES LIKOUDIS


There is no question that mainstream opinion in the Church has held that the Apostle Peter and the Cephas whom St. Paul rebuked in [the Epistle to the] Galatians were the same person. After all, did not the Gospel of John note that Christ Himself gave the name Cephas (meaning 'Rock') to his leading Apostle? Have not some of the greatest Fathers and Doctors of the Church and modern exegetes all taken for granted the identity of Peter and the Cephas mentioned in Galatians and I Corinthians? Was not Peter-Cephas censured by St. Paul who "withstood him to his face"?

Needless to say, if the Apostle Peter and the Cephas rebuked by St. Paul were not the same person, the polemical arguments of Protestants and Eastern Orthodox claiming that St. Paul's severe rebuke of St. Peter constituted a denial of Peter's Primacy of authority among the Apostles — fall by the wayside.

The following are the Scripture texts which refer to Cephas:

John 1:42 "And Andrew led him (Simon) to Jesus. But Jesus looking upon him, said, 'Thou art Simon, the son of John: thou shalt be called Cephas' (which is interpreted Peter)."
Galatians 1:18 "Then, after 3 years I went to Jerusalem to see Peter [some manuscripts have 'Cephas'] and I remained with him for 15 days."
Galatians 2:7-14 "On the contrary, when they saw that to me was committed the gospel for the un-circumcised, as to Peter that for the circumcised (for he who worked in Peter for the apostleship of the circumcised worked also in me among the Gentiles – and when they recognized the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John who were considered the pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised) provided only that we should be mindful of the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. But when Cephas came to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was deserving of blame. For before certain persons came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles, but when they came, he began to withdraw and to separate himself, fearing the circumcised. And the rest of the Jews dissembled along with him, so that Barnabas also was led away by them into that dissimulation. But when I saw that they were not walking uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all: 'If thou, though a Jew, livest like the Gentiles, and not like the Jews, how is it that thou dost compel the Gentiles to live like the Jews?'"
I Cor. 1:11-13 "For I have been informed about you, my brethren, by those of the house of Chloe, that there are strifes among you. Now this is what I mean: each of you says, I am of Paul, or I am of Apollos, or I am of Cephas, or I am of Christ. Has Christ been divided up?"
I Cor. 3:21 "Let no one take pride in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death; or things present, or things to come - all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's."
I Cor. 9:5 "Have we not a right to take about with us a woman, a sister, as do the other apostles, and the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?"
I Cor. 15:5 "For I delivered to you first of all, what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures and that He appeared to Cephas, and after that to the twelve."

The Jesuit Father D. Pujol published in "Etudes" in the last century some remarkable articles effectively demonstrating that the Apostle Peter and the Cephas of Antioch and Corinth could not have been the same person. It is surprising that more notice was not given to his arguments. He showed, moreover, that Peter and Cephas as two distinct individuals represents an ancient tradition that has never been lost in the Church. In the 3rd century Clement of Alexandria observed that "Cephas was one of the 70 disciples who happened to have the same name as Peter the Apostle." This same belief is found in the writings of St. Dorotheus of Tyre (4th c.) and Eusebius, the well-known historian of the ancient Church (4th c.). In yet another early Christian writing "Epistle of the Apostles" dated about 160 A.D. can be read:

"We, John, Thomas, Peter, Andrew, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Nathaniel, Judas Zelotes, and Cephas, write unto the churches of the east and west, of the north and south... "

Further, Greek-speaking Christians who would have known Matthew's early Gospel (originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic), would only know the Apostle by his name of Peter. In the famous Petrine text Matt. 16:15-19 the word 'Cephas' does not appear!    It is always Peter whom the Greeks outside of Palestine would be familiar.

Here is a summary of a few points made in Fr. Pujol's analysis of New Testament texts:
  1. Jn. 1:42 — The text of John 1:42 wherein Christ calls "Simon, son of John, 'Cephas' (which is interpreted as 'Peter')" could not have been known to the converted Greeks of Antioch or Corinth at the time of Paul's epistles. The Greeks only knew the name "Peter" as referring to the chief of the Apostles.
  2. Gal. 1:18 — Errors of copyists were responsible for "Cephas" often being substituted for "Peter"
  3. Gal. 2:7-14 — A critical examination shows that the references to Peter and Cephas must be understood as distinguishing Peter from Cephas. If they were the same, why does Paul refer to Peter in 2 places and to Cephas in 3 others? This strange lack of consistency makes no sense.
  4. Moreover, in Gal. 2:9, we have another example of reading into texts something which is not there. It is a pure assumption to identify the "James, Cephas, and John" mentioned there to be the Apostles Peter, James and John. Rather, James, Cephas and John were others: troubling Judaizers from Jerusalem whom St. Paul bitterly opposed.
  5. 1 Cor. 3:21 and 9:5 — Cephas clearly ranks below the Apostles.
  6. Nor does I Cor. 15:5 prove that Cephas is the Apostle Peter for that text implies a distinction between the two, since Cephas is distinguished from the Apostolic Twelve. Then who is Cephas? Fr. Pujol agrees with certain critics who believe the Cephas in question would have been one of the two disciples to whom Christ appeared after His Resurrection. We know that Cleophas was one of the two disciples to whom Christ appeared after the Resurrection. Why could not the other have been Cephas? This would certainly explain the prestige he had among the faithful in Jerusalem enabling him to be a formidable opponent and "party leader of the Judaizers" causing trouble in Corinth and Antioch.
  7. Those who opine for the identity of Cephas and the Apostle Peter take for granted the dating of Paul's rebuke of Peter at Antioch after the Council of Jerusalem. But the dispute between St. Paul and Cephas at Antioch took place before the Council. Further, it makes no sense for the Apostle who presided at the Council of Jerusalem to have acted so out of character in forcing others to retain Jewish customs no longer binding upon Christians. The psychological portrait of Cephas given by St. Paul does not match the character of St. Peter after Pentecost.

Other arguments are made by Fr. Pujol to make an impressive case for his thesis. It is interesting that in one of the visions of the famous stigmatist Theresa Neumann (died 1962) one finds further food for thought on this fascinating subject. In his 1942 booklet, "The Passion Flower of Konnersreuth", Fr. Frederick M. Lynk, S.V.D. makes this observation regarding one of the stigmatist's visions:

"Cephas of the Epistle to the Galatians, whom Paul withstood to his face was not Peter, the prince of the Apostles. That there is no mention of this important personage in antiquity is based on the fact that Cephas was drowned in the sea while on a mission tour and thereupon the opinion arose that he did nothing in his new field of endeavor or even fell away from the faith."

In the preceding paragraphs, I ventured to declare credible the thesis upheld by the French Jesuit Fr. D. Pujol in "Etudes" (1865) that the "Cephas" denounced by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians (2:7-14) could not have been Peter, Prince of the Apostles. Fr. Pujol drew upon an ancient tradition found in the writings of St. Clement of Alexandria (3rd c.) – and a view acknowledged by St. Jerome to have been held by certain writers in his own time (c.340-420 A.D.). Though St. Jerome himself thought that Peter and Cephas mentioned in St. Paul's letters were the same person, he acknowledged that:

"There are those who think that Cephas, whom Paul here writes that he resisted to the face, was not the Apostle Peter, but another of the 70 disciples so called, and they allege that Peter could not have withdrawn himself from eating with the Gentiles, for he had baptized Cornelius the Centurion, and on his ascending to Jerusalem, being opposed by those of the circumcision who said, 'Why hast thou entered in to men un-circumcised and eaten with them?', after narrating the vision, he terminates his answer thus: 'If, then, God hath given to them the same grace as to us who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I should withstand God?' On hearing which they were silent, and glorified God, saying: 'Therefore to the Gentiles, also, God hath given repentance unto life'. Especially as Luke, the writer of the history, makes no mention of this dissension, nor even says that Peter was at Antioch with Paul; and occasion would be given to Porphyry's blasphemies, if we could believe that Peter had erred or that Paul had impertinently censured the Prince of the Apostles."

The noted 19th c. Catholic apologist, Paul Schanz, in his "Christian Apology", vol. III, page 462, echoed other prominent Catholic writers in observing that:

"Some of the Fathers have tried to solve the difficulty (presented by the Galatians' account) by a distinction between Cephas and the Prince of the Apostles, or by representing the whole dissension as a simulation."

This latter explanation was that of St. Jerome, the greatest biblical scholar of his time, and who disputed St. Augustine's interpretation which involved St. Augustine's praising St. Peter for his humility in accepting the sharp rebuke of his fellow-Apostle.

It is fascinating to see how the Fathers of the Church who accepted the identity of Peter and Cephas came to contradictory explanations of the alleged dispute between Peter and Paul. Though they bent every effort not to disparage Peter's Primacy among the Apostles, there is no question that the Galatians' incident has always been seized upon by enemies of the Faith to discount Peter's supremacy of authority in the Apostolic College.

That Peter and the Cephas (of Antioch and Corinth) are two different personages needs to be seriously re-examined and not be testily dismissed as a "cockeyed theory" by a recent contributor to a "traditionalist" publication which only too often takes upon itself the role of a Paul castigating the present successor of Peter.

In a response to my critic, Mr. Charles Hart replied appropriately:
"The word Cephas appears only 9 (8?) times in the entire New Testament; and 8 (7?) of those are in St. Paul's letters (Galatians and I Corinthians). The sole exception is in St. John's Gospel (1:42) where it is immediately translated for the reader's benefit, to "Petros" – since "Cephas" would not have conveyed Simon's designation as Rock to the Greek-speaking audience to whom John's written Gospel is addressed. It should be observed that the name "Cephas" which St. Paul uses 4 times in I Corinthians and 4 (3?) times in Galatians is not a translation of the name "Rock" which Our Lord conferred on Simon – that name in Aramaic is Kepa and "Cephas" is a transliteration – not a translation – into phonetically adaptable Greek. A Greek reader – in the absence of translation – would have no reason to think that "Cephas" means "Petros" – which is, of course, the Greek translation of Kepa.
We see in St. John's Gospel, therefore, that the meaning of the title (or office) which Our Lord conferred on Simon had to be translated if it were to retain its significance. Thus, if a person's given name in Aramaic were Kepa it would be transliterated into "Cephas" for Greek-speaking Christians, — which is just what we find in St. Paul's letters. But, if the title of his office, in Aramaic, were Kepa (so that it is the title's meaning which is important) that title must be translated to "Petros", just what we find in St. John's Gospel."

The upshot of all the above is that in Gal. 2:7-14 where Petros is mentioned and then followed by a shift to Cephas, two distinct personages are differentiated. Similarly, there is reason to believe that in Gal. 2:9 – "James and Cephas and John" – these are not the three Apostles, but rather Judaizers disputing Paul's authority in the matter of circumcision.

Fr. Pujol's thesis is reinforced by such observations as the following:
  • Whether the dispute at Antioch between Paul and Cephas occurred before or after the Council of Jerusalem, it was chronologically impossible that Peter could have been there at either time.
  • The assumption that Peter and Cephas were the same person is dependent upon the Antioch incident occurring after the Council of Jerusalem (with Peter strangely subverting the Council's decree for which he was largely instrumental in obtaining). The fact is that the Antioch incident must have taken place before the Council of Jerusalem at a time, however, when Peter could not have been present in Antioch.
  • If the "New American Bible" (NAB) is correct in stating that the James of Gal. 2:9 – "James and Cephas and John" – could not have been the Apostle James the Less, why jump equally to the conclusion that the Cephas in the passage was the Apostle Peter, or that "John" was the Apostle? Moreover, "reputed to be pillars" is a strange expression to apply to Apostles whose role as foundations of the Church was indisputable. The expression rather smacks of irony as applied by Paul to his three Judaizing opponents.
  • The word-order of personages (in I Cor. 1:11-13 and 3:21) further militates against Cephas' identification with Peter whose primacy as first and chief of the Apostles would ordinarily have received due recognition.
  • Both I Cor. 9:15 and I Cor 15:5 are better interpreted as viewing "Cephas" as someone distinct from the Apostles.
  • The common opinion identifying Peter and Cephas has been based on the supposition that the name Cephas was borne by only one person in history, Simon Peter. The name Kepa (Kephas or Cephas) was surely more common than has been thought. Fr. Joseph A. Fitzmeyer has noted an ancient non-Palestinian Aramaic legal document (dated c. 416 B.C.) which witnesses to the existence of "Aqab, son of Kepa" (See his "To Advance the Gospel", Crossroad, N.Y., 1981).
  • Lastly, as Fr. Pujol has insisted, the "vulgar confusion" of Cephas with Peter was fostered by a faulty reading of Scripture resulting from the error of early Greek and Latin copyists who substituted Petros for Cephas and Cephas for Petros in various passages in Galatians.

It is not surprising that some of the Fathers (and later commentators) were misled in identifying two distinct personages.



This article was originally published in two parts in the SERVIAM Newsletter. The first part being published on Jan./Feb. 1996; the second on March 1997.
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