Friday, October 18, 2013

Did St Paul really rebuke St Peter? ... Maybe not!

I came across a fascinating article by Catholic apologist James Likoudis which I'd like to discuss on whether or not Peter and Cephas were the same person. There appears to be strong evidence that would lead us to not make the identification of the two men, even if many people throughout Church history have. While this would not affect any dogma of the faith one way or another, it would shed a whole new light on the Incident at Antioch when Paul confronted "Cephas" (Gal 2:11-14) - which is a common text which opponents of the Papacy like to focus on. 

I will now summarize the evidence that one Catholic priest from 1708 compiled who seriously doubted Peter and Cephas were the same person:

(1) Paul mentions "Peter" and "Cephas" in the same context, suggesting they are two people:
Galatians 2: 7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised 8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), 9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. 11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.
Why is Paul shifting from "Peter" to "Cephas," especially in the same breath? This is very odd if Peter and Cephas are the same person. (I'll address more of this text later on.)

(2) Cephas seems to rank below that of an Apostle given the texts his name appears in:
  • 1 Corinthians 1:12, 3:22 list the order of Paul, then Apollos, then Cephas.
  • 1 Corinthians 9:5 says "the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas."
  • 1 Corinthians 15:5 says Jesus "appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve."
The idea of putting Cephas after Apollos and 'outside' the number of the twelve suggests Cephas was a high ranking Christian who helped Paul and Apollos, but who was also not Peter.

(3) The name Cephas only appears 7 or 8 times in the New Testament, while the name Peter appears 161 times. If Peter also (regularly) went by the name Cephas, then the New Testament did an odd job of making this clear. In fact, why use the name Cephas at all? Though John 1:42 does say that Peter was named Cephas, the text says that this translates as Petros (Peter). The use of Peter rather than Cephas was precisely because "Peter" was a Greek name, which was the common language, which was precisely so that the people would know he was "The Rock" (they wouldn't have known what Cephas meant). This is why many people who migrate to America change their name to an American-sounding name, and this new American-sounding name is what the public knows them as.

(4) There were some in the early church who said Cephas of Galatians 2:11 was not Peter the Apostle. The first church historian, Eusebius of Caecarea (325AD), said the following:
[Clement of Alexandria] says that Cephas was one of the seventy disciples, a man who bore the same name as the apostle Peter, and the one concerning whom Paul says, "When Cephas came to Antioch I withstood him to his face." (Church History 1.12.2)
Though only a minority of Fathers have seen Peter and Cephas as separate individuals, the earliest Father to make this claim was Clement of Alexandria around 200 AD. He says that the Cephas of Galatians 2:9,11 was one of the 70 disciples (Lk 10:1) rather than Peter the Apostle. This is significant because it shows there is a very old tradition behind this claim, even if unpopular.

(5) Peter's attitude towards the Gentiles makes it highly unlikely that he would ever succumb to Judaizing. Peter is described as a radically changed man after Pentecost. He is seen in Acts as full of the Holy Spirit and mightily proclaiming the Gospel, even suffering persecution from the Jews for doing so. In fact, Peter was the first person entrusted by God to bring the Gentiles to the faith, which was confirmed repeatedly by God (Acts 10-11). In Acts 11:1-3, the Jews confronted Peter for "simply" entering a Gentile's home, but Peter stood firm about how the Gentiles were accepted by God and that everyone should embrace them. If Peter was ever going to cave into Jewish pressure, this would have been the moment. But what about Peter's character closer to the time of the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15? If the Incident came after the Council, then this means Peter completely repudiated his own testimony at the Council and even contradicted the spirit of the Council. That doesn't seem likely, since if Peter was not afraid of Judaizers in Jerusalem before the entire Church, then why be afraid of them later on in Antioch? And if the Incident had taken place prior to the Council, then Peter's testimony (Acts 15:7-11) would have been hypocritical and a joke. Thus, it is highly unlikely that Peter ever succumbed to Judaizing.

(7) There is no indication that Peter was in Antioch with Paul at the time of the Incident. The book of Acts makes no mention that Peter and Paul were in Antioch at the same time. This is a significant detail for Luke to omit if Peter really was there. In fact, the details Luke does give suggests that Peter was in Jerusalem at the time when the Incident took place. A key clue comes from Acts 15:1-4. It is certain that Acts 15:1 is speaking of the Incident, with Acts 15:2 showing that Paul and Barnabas traveled to Jerusalem to speak with the Apostles on this matter. If Peter was in Antioch at that time, then surely Peter would have been mentioned accompanying Paul and Barnabas back to Jerusalem.

*          *          *

Given all those arguments, I think the Peter-is-not-Cephas theory makes a lot of sense. But I am not the type that likes to leave loose ends, so I decided to analyze some potential problems to this theory.

I don't think it's enough to say that because Peter was Cephas in John 1:42 then we can just carry this over to Galatians 2. But the mention of Cephas sandwiched between the two Apostles James and John in Galatians 2:9 is probably the main reason why people have though he must be Peter. Though it is not impossible, it wouldn't make sense to sandwich a non-Apostle "Cephas" between two actual Apostles. So this must be addressed.

The first detail to consider is that perhaps this James and John were not two of the Twelve Apostles.

This "James" could not have been James son of Zebedee (since he was slain by Herod, Acts 12:1-2), meaning he most likely was James son of Alphaeus, the only other James we know of (Acts 1:13). On the other hand, some in Church history have thought that the "James, the Lord's brother" mentioned in Galatians 1:18-19 was not James Alphaeus, but rather a new (third) James, and that he was the James who was mentioned in Galatians 2:9. If this latter case is true, then "James" is not one of the Twelve Apostles, and thus "Cephas" should not be seen as one of the Twelve Apostles either. But if the James in question is son of Alphaeus (who was one of the Twelve), then the matter comes down to examining who "John" is.

As for the identity of "John," up through Acts 8, the multiple references of "John" most certainly refer to the Apostle John, son of Zebedee (and brother of James). But from Acts 12 onward, a transition takes place. John son of Zebedee is never explicitly mentioned from there on, and instead a new John begins to appear, and he takes an active role with Paul and Barnabas (Acts 12:12, 25; 13:5, 13; 15:37-39). He is repeatedly referred to as "John, who's other name was Mark," who was also the cousin of Barnabas (Col 4:10; 2 Tim 4:11; Philem 1:24). This would suggest that the "John" of Galatians 2:9 is John-Mark, while identifying him as John the Apostle would be complete assumption. So even if James son of Alphaeus was the James in question, there is reasonable doubt about this John's apostolicity, which means the three men of Galatians 2:9 should not be assumed to be three of the Twelve Apostles.

The second detail to consider is the context surrounding these three men.

The ordering of "James, Cephas, and John" is interesting given that Peter is always mentioned first in every list of the Apostles. The ordering of names often signifies rank, so this text comes off as suggesting James is in some sense above Cephas. While many would point to this text suggesting that this James did in fact supplant Peter's primacy, that's quite uncalled for and unsubstantiated. More likely this signifies that Cephas was not Peter. 

The same verse says that these three men were "reputed to be pillars," which is also interesting. Many have read this as suggesting that James, Peter, and John were high-ranking Apostles among the Twelve. While that reading has merit, it seems a bit superfluous given that the mere singling out of three Apostles would in itself signify their superiority. But if these three men are not part of the Twelve, then "reputing them as pillars" would make a lot of sense because the audience would need to know these men held "clout" in Jerusalem.

Lastly, the actions of "James, Cephas, and John" are worth examining:
7 On the contrary, when they saw that I [Paul] had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised, 9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. (Gal 2:7-9; verse 8 was omitted to [hopefully] assist with clarity)
The "they" in verse 7 must be those in Jerusalem who Paul says were "reputed to be influential" (Gal 2:1,6) - using similar language as "reputed to be pillars" in 2:9 - and who recognized Paul had one mission while Peter had another. This passage is somewhat confusing since it can be rendered differently, but if Peter is Cephas then the text would be saying: "When the reputable leaders recognized my divine mission was to the Gentiles and Peter's divine mission was to the Jews - and when James, Peter, and John also recognized my divine mission to the Gentiles and Peter to the Jews - we all decided to unite and partition the Gospel duties, sending me to the Gentiles and James, Peter, and John to the Jews." In other words, everyone already recognized the Gospel was partitioned by divine decree between Peter and Paul, so it's absurd to think Peter and Paul had to unite and even more absurd to say this union resulted in a partition of already partituted Gospel duties. The only way this verse makes sense is if it is saying Paul, Barnabas, James, Cephas, and John, all went to Antioch but had different targets when they were up there.

Chronology of Events:
Knowing the time of the events of Galatians 2:9-11 will also help determine whether it makes sense to see Cephas as Peter.

It seems that when Paul says "before certain men came from James, he [Cephas] was eating with the Gentiles" (Gal 2:11), Paul is referring to the same incident that James wrote about in the Council's Letter to Antioch: "we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions" (Acts 15:24). That incident must be that of Acts 15:1-5, shortly after Paul returned to Antioch to tell them the success of bringing Gentiles into the Church (Acts 14:25-27). This is confirmed by Galatians 2:1-3, which speaks of Paul and Barnabas going to Jerusalem to settle the issue by the Apostles (Acts 15:1-5). (An important detail about Galatians 2:2-3 shows that Titus was not forced to be circumcised in Jerusalem, proving to Paul that Judaizing wasn't even a problem there.) With that in mind, when Paul says "they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me" (Galatians 2:9), this receiving Barnabas' and the others' friendship must have taken place between Paul's conversion (Acts 9) and Acts 15:1.

The first time Barnabas meets Paul is in Acts 9:26-30, but this does not seem to be what Galatians 2:9b is talking about, since there is no indication the Gentiles had come into the Church yet (which didn't happen until Acts 10-11). So the window of time encompassing Galatians 2:9-11 must be between Acts 11-14. Acts 11:19-26 appears to be the first time the Gentiles enter the Church of Antioch, which is followed by the Church in Jerusalem sending Barnabas to Antioch to track down Paul. This means the designating of Barnabas as a companion to Paul is what Acts 11:22-26 refers to. Interestingly, in Acts 11:27-30 it says a famine hit, which called for the Christians elsewhere to collect alms for the Christians in Jerusalem. This fits with Galatians 2:10 about "remembering the poor" (cf 1 Cor 16:1-3). So Galatians 2:9-10 seems to be well accounted for in Acts 11:19-30.

An important detail to take away from here is that Acts 11:22 simply says 'the church at Jerusalem' sent Barnabas to be Paul's companion, with no specific mention of the Apostles "James, Peter, and John" doing so. It is also worth noting that John-Mark was in Jerusalem during the Acts 11:22-26 event (Acts 12:12, 25), which fits with Galatians 2:9. And even though John-Mark traveled with Paul and Barnabas for a while, he was back in Jerusalem when the incident of Acts 15:1-5 took place (Acts 13:13-14; 15:36-39), supporting Galatians 2:11 which only mentions Cephas coming to Antioch. These details further strengthen the case that "John" of Galatians 2:9 is "John-Mark."


The main 'weakness' of the "Peter is not Cephas" theory seems to be that many of the great Saints throughout history have identified Peter as Cephas. Though there are apparently some Church Fathers that said they were two different people, I have not looked into this in depth. The article I cited says St Clement of Alexandria and Eusebius took this view, and that St Jerome acknowledged that this view was held by some (though apparently not himself, for some reason). It is worth noting there is a manuscript variant in Galatians 1:18, which says: "18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days." Some manuscripts put "Peter" (including the Latin Vulgate) here while others put "Cephas," so this is indecisive. But what is important about variant manuscripts on this verse is that it shows that there was confusion about the identity of Cephas in the early Church.

In the end, I feel a very good Biblical case can be made supporting the notion that Peter was not Cephas. The transition from "Peter" to "Cephas" in Galatians 2 is the first strong clue, followed by the fact Peter's character described in Acts is very robust and Luke makes no mention of a serious gaff. If we take it that 1 Corinthians was written after Galatians, this would mean the 4 references to "Cephas," not in a way that would identify him with Peter, means Cephas accepted Paul's rebuke and became a companion of Paul's missionary work. On the flip side, there isn't even any solid evidence in favor of identifying the two, and the main argument in favor comes from the "James, Cephas, and John" reference that has long simply been assumed to be the three Apostles.


Devin Rose said...


Daniel said...

I knew of the Clement of A quote...but that is friggin amazing!

Nick said...

Of the Church Fathers that say Paul rebuked Peter, I only was able to find Pope Gregory the Great, St Augustine, and St Chrysostom. Big names, to be sure, but only these three. And St John Chrysostom gives his own unique take on this passage which most people wouldn't pick out at first glance:

"Many, on a superficial reading of this part of the Epistle, suppose that Paul accused Peter of hypocrisy. But this is not so, indeed it is not, far from it; we shall discover great wisdom, both of Paul and Peter, concealed herein for the benefit of their hearers. … How could he [Peter] ever dissemble who had exposed his life to such a populace? He who when scourged and bound would not bate a jot of his courage, and this at the beginning of his mission, and in the heart of the chief city where there was so much danger,—how could he, long afterwards in Antioch, where no danger was at hand, and his character had received lustre from the testimony of his actions, feel any apprehension of the believing Jews? How could he, I say, who at the very first and in their chief city feared not the Jews while Jews, after a long time and in a foreign city, fear those of them who had been converted? Paul therefore does not speak this against Peter, but with the same meaning in which he said, “for they who were reputed to be somewhat, whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me.” But to remove any doubt on this point, we must unfold the reason of these expressions.

The Apostles, as I said before, permitted circumcision at Jerusalem, an abrupt severance from the law not being practicable; but when they come to Antioch, they no longer continued this observance, but lived indiscriminately with the believing Gentiles which thing Peter also was at that time doing. But when some came from Jerusalem who had heard the doctrine he delivered there, he no longer did so fearing to perplex them, but he changed his course, with two objects secretly in view, both to avoid offending those Jews, and to give Paul a reasonable pretext for rebuking him. For had he [Peter], having allowed circumcision when preaching at Jerusalem, changed his course at Antioch, his conduct would have appeared to those Jews to proceed from fear of Paul, and his disciples would have condemned his excess of pliancy. And this would have created no small offence; but in Paul, who was well acquainted with all the facts, his withdrawal would have raised no such suspicion, as knowing the intention with which he acted. Wherefore Paul rebukes, and Peter submits, that when the master is blamed, yet keeps silence, the disciples may more readily come over. Without this occurrence Paul’s exhortation would have had little effect, but the occasion hereby afforded of delivering a severe reproof, impressed Peter’s disciples with a more lively fear. Had Peter disputed Paul’s sentence, he might justly have been blamed as upsetting the plan, but now that the one reproves and the other keeps silence, the Jewish party are filled with serious alarm; and this is why he used Peter so severely. Observe too Paul’s careful choice of expressions, whereby he points out to the discerning, that he uses them in pursuance of the plan, (οἰκονομίας) and not from anger.

And the words, “I resisted him to the face,” imply a scheme for had their discussion been real, they would not have rebuked each other in the presence of the disciples, for it would have been a great stumblingblock to them. But now this apparent contest was much to their advantage; as Paul had yielded to the Apostles at Jerusalem, so in turn they yield to him at Antioch. The cause of censure is this, “For before that certain came from James,” who was the teacher at Jerusalem, “he did eat with the Gentiles, but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing them that were of the Circumcision:” his cause of fear was not his own danger, (for if he feared not in the beginning, much less would he do so then,) but their defection.

Nick said...

To SUMMARIZE Chrysostom here: Since Pentecost, Peter endured all kinds of persecutions at the hands of the Jews, so he really had nothing to fear from these Judaizers. So what really happened here was *not* hypocrisy, but rather more of an intentional object lesson. The Judaizers would have been scandalized to the brink of apostasy themselves, so Peter ate with them because they were weak. But this had a double purpose, because this gave the opportunity for Paul to really drive home the point that Judaizing is wrong. If the two Apostles were really fighting each other, this would have been a scandal to the faithful.

Anonymous said...

My head is spinning....

De Maria said...


You said,

But what is important about variant manuscripts on this verse is that it shows that there was confusion about the identity of Cephas in the early Church.

Non sequitur. Cephas and Peter mean the same thing. And it is common knowledge that Simon Son of Jonah was named "Cephas" and "Peter" by Jesus Christ. Therefore, the early Church probably knew precisely who was intended in that verse (Gal 1:18), but used whichever name they preferred in reference to Simon, the son of Jonah who had been appointed the foundation of the Church by Jesus Christ.

For my take on the rebuke, please go here.

Aloysius said...


I don't really have any comments on the whole identity issue; I just thought you might be interested in St. Thomas Aquinas' commentary on this particular passage. I don't really see why this passage would prove to be a point against the papacy even if we assumed that Cephas and Peter really were the same person.

"He says, therefore: Indeed, they advantaged me nothing; rather I conferred something upon them, and especially upon Peter, because "when Cephas was come to Antioch," where there was a church of the Gentiles, "I withstood him to the face," i.e., openly: “Reverence not thy neighbor in his fall and refrain not to speak in the time of salvation” (Sir 4:27). Or: to his face, i.e., not in secret as though detracting and fearing him, but publicly and as his equal: “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart: but reprove him openly, lest thou incur sin through him” (Lev. 19:17). This he did, because he was to be blamed.

But it might be objected: This took place after they received the grace of the Holy Spirit; but after the grace of the Holy Spirit the apostles did not sin in any way. I answer that after the grace of the Holy Spirit the apostles did not sin mortally, and this gift they had through the divine power that had strengthened them: “I have established the pillars thereof’ (Ps 74:4). Yet they sinned venially because of human frailty: “If we say that we have no sin,” i.e., venial, “we deceive ourselves” (1 John 1:8).

Apropos of what is said in a certain Gloss, namely, that "I withstood him" as an adversary, the answer is that the Apostle opposed Peter in the exercise of authority, not in his authority of ruling. Therefore from the foregoing we have an example: prelates, indeed, an example of humility, that they not disdain corrections from those who are lower and subject to them; subjects have an example of zeal and freedom, that they fear not to correct their prelates, particularly if their crime is public and verges upon danger to the multitude."

Check out the rest, it's good stuff.

Stephen Korsman said...

Thanks ... really thought-provoking. Of course it doesn't change whether or not someone could rightly confront a pope, but still very interesting.

One thing - 1 Cor 15:5 refers back to Luke 24:34, where Peter (there called Simon) seems to have seen the risen Jesus prior to the rest of the 12. I'd say 1 Cor 15 separates him as a matter of primacy; 1 Cor 9:5 could go either way; and the other 1 Cor texts not.

Nick said...

Thanks for your comment Stephen.

You referenced Luke 24:34, but I noticed something in the context: "33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!”"

The interesting thing about this context is that it says in verse 33b that the 'two Christians' on the road to Emmaeus returned to "the eleven" in Jerusalem. Obviously, Judas was dead, so the Eleven were the remaining Apostles, and by the term "eleven" this would imply it included Peter.

Second, the name "Simon" applies to a few different people in Luke: Simon Peter, Simon the Leper, Simon the Zealot, and Simon the Cyrenian. So it's not a guarantee this was Peter. The most likely candidate in my opinion would be Simon the Leper of Luke 7:44.

In my study on this issue, it would make a lot of sense if it was Simon the Leper, brother of Mary and Martha. Jesus loved this family and it was in Simon's house where Jesus was anointed.

Stephen Korsman said...

Certainly, that is plausible too. However, if 1 Cor 15:5 refers to Luke 24:34, then we need to have another Simon (in Luke) who is also called Cephas (in 1 Cor.) That seems unlikely. To me it makes sense that the two texts are linked.

Also, the "Eleven" seem to be a title for the group, and it would not be implausible for one of the 11 to be absent and still refer to the group as the Eleven.

Acts 2:14 talks about Peter standing up with the eleven (admittedly it could now mean 12 stood up, with Matthias included in the 11 plus Peter). I'm not sure the Bible intends being precise on these numbers in every instance - 1 Cor 15:5 talks about Jesus appearing to the Twelve (an equivalent title) but at this point there were only 11, so the title is just a general term for the group.

The number of people called Simon and James and John will always be a mystery.