One of the things we do for people we love is give them a nickname. In our family, the person with the most nicknames is our beloved youngest son. On one funny occasion, someone who was with us for the first time stopped and asked, “What is the youngest son’s actual name?” They had heard so many fond names and nicknames for the boy, but they had no idea what his actual name was.

Some people have had the same experience studying the life of Peter. Widely loved like an entertaining brother, he has a lot of names and nicknames.

A guide to Christian history provides helpful technical information about the story behind Peter’s name: “There are actually four forms of Peter’s name in the New Testament: the Hebrew translated into Greek, ‘Simeon’ to ‘Simon’, and the Aramaic translated into Greek, ‘Cephas’ to ‘Petros’ (meaning “rock”). His given name was Simeon bar-Jonah (Matthew 16:17; cf. John 1:42), ‘Simon the son of John,’…It is most likely that ‘Simon’ was not merely the Greek equivalent of ‘Simeon’ but that, having his home in bilingual Galilee, ‘Simon’ was the alternate form he used in dealings with Gentiles. In fact, it was quite common for a cosmopolitan Jew to employ three forms of his name depending on the occasion: Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. The double name ‘Simon Peter’ (or ‘Simon called Peter’) demonstrates that the second name was a later addition, similar to ‘Jesus, the Christ.’ The number of times that the Aramaic equivalent ‘Cephas’ is used (once in John, four times each in Galatians and 1 Corinthians), as well as its translation into the Greek (not common with proper names), indicates the importance of the secondary name. Both Aramaic and Greek forms mean ‘the rock,’ an obvious indication of Peter’s stature in the early church (see below on Matt. 16:18). It is obvious that he was called ‘Simon’ throughout Jesus’ ministry but came to be known as ‘Peter’ more and more in the apostolic age.” (1)

As you learn more about the life of Peter from the Bible, this insight will be helpful. In other Bible books, such as the early church history book of Acts, Peter is reported using multiple names, so paying attention is helpful to your learning about this towering figure in Christian history.

(1) G.R. Osborne, “Peter, the Apostle,” ed. J.D. Douglas and Philip W. Comfort, Who’s Who in Christian History (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1992), 549.

To download the free e-book ODD LIFE: Good God which is a study in 1 Peter for individuals, groups, and families from Pastor Mark click HERE. To listen to Pastor Mark’s 9 sermons on 1 Peter preached in the summer of 2020, click HERE. These and other resources are made possible by our ministry partners who support Real Faith as a Bible teaching ministry of Mark Driscoll Ministries to whom we say THANK YOU! 

Mark Driscoll
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