Cephas and Peter

16 May

This is not a post by me, but has relevance to some of my notes I've written about in the past.

That minefield keeps any non-believing scholars in line. They know that certain things are taboo in NT studies. Sometimes you can watch as the defenders of the faith move the barbed wire and redefine the perimeter. I would cite as an example Bart Ehrman’s fascinating article in the Autumn 1990 JBL, entitled “Cephas and Peter.” It’s well worth reading, but just to summarize here he pretty much concludes that although the names have roughly the same meaning, they are not the same person. He writes:

All the same, we can no longer afford to overlook the peculiar results of this study. When Paul mentions Cephas, he apparently does not mean Simon Peter, the disciple of Jesus.

In Ehrman’s other, later works, notably his popular press treatment of Peter, Paul, and Mary, you won’t hear him make this claim. Is this because he changed his mind, or because he discovered firsthand this subject is now inside the minefield? I cannot help but suspect the latter, because the final paragraph of his 1990 journal article lays out the devastating conclusions:

The implications of this conclusion will be obvious to anyone who has worked at any length with the NT materials. For those who have not, we can simply mention the following: (1) Paul would not have gone to Jerusalem, three years after his “conversion” (Gal 2:18-20), in order to learn more about the life of Jesus from one of his closest disciples, Peter. Instead, he would have gone to confer with Cephas, a leader of the Jerusalem church, perhaps concerning missionary strategy. (2) Peter may not have even been present at the Jerusalem Conference in which Paul’s Gentile mission was approved and sanctioned (Gal 2:1-10). (3) No longer would we know if Peter was accompanied by his wife on his missionary journeys (1 Cor 9:5), nor whether he visited Corinth. (4) The confrontation at Antioch (Gal 2:11-14) would not have been between Peter and Paul, that is, between Jesus’ closest disciple and his most avid apostle. It would have been between a Jerusalem and a Pauline form of Christianity, pure and simple. (5) Finally, there would remain no NT evidence of Peter’s presence in Antioch, where tradition ascribes to him the first bishopric (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 3.36).

Tim Widowfield

If Peter and Cephas are not the same person, then what happened to “Peter” before the gospel of Mark was written? What happened to “Cephas” after the gospel of Mark was written?

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