In John 1:42 Jesus called Peter as Cephas.

Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

But throughout the Gospels, Peter was called as Peter and his books also called in his name I Peter and II Peter.

But why did Paul call Peter, Cephas (Galatians 2:7-14, I Cor. 1:11-13, I Cor. 3:21, I Cor. 9:5 and I Cor. 15:5)? In some occasions he also calls him as Peter. When I asked my mom, she said Paul was rebuking Peter in the name Cephas. Is this true? Or is calling Peter as Cephas normal?

At times, Paul and Peter had disagreements as in Galatians 2:11-16:

11 When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. 14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

How was their relationship as fellow apostles?

  • A good question, and an important one. Was Peter in the confrontation the same as the man Paul habitually addressed as Cephas, or Kephas
    – Waeshael
    Jun 22, 2013 at 21:49

6 Answers 6


Peter means "stone" in Greek, while Cephas is "stone" in Aramaic.

That verse is confusing in the NIV; the KJV is clearer:

John 1:42 (KJV) 42And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.

Christ was speaking in Aramaic, and would have called Simon "Cephas." John wrote his gospel in Greek, so he included the note for his readers that "Cephas" meant "a stone."

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    I've always been taught that in Matthew "...Peter, and upon this rock..." has two different words for Peter and rock, the former meaning stone and the latter referring to rock, something bigger. Have others been taught this?
    – Mirror318
    Nov 29, 2013 at 7:47
  • @Mirror318 They are slightly different, Petros (masculine) and petra (feminine) for the man and that whereupon the Church is built respectively. But that's due to peculiarities of Greek grammar, and any attempt to say "Peter was't the rock" is very difficult to maintain. Feb 6, 2014 at 8:27

Πέτρος (Petros) is simply Greek (naturally, because the New Testament was written in Greek) for the name Jesus actually gave him in Aramaic: כיפא (Kefa—Rock).

In Greek, Kepha is transliterated (not translated) as Κηφᾶς (Kephas—a representation of the Aramaic name with the necessary Greek grammar 'salting'), but is sometimes translated into the Greek, and so you see Πέτρος (Petros—the equivalent of כיפא in Greek; Rock, Stone).

St. Paul might have used kepha to emphasize St. Peter's role (as his name signifies) as the Rock or leader of the Church (such as emphasizing that he had to even rebuke the 'Rock' of the Church, when it was called for).

We see that Jesus, when He first called Peter (not later in His ministry is he given the new name, as is a common misconception) to be His disciple, gave him a new name. As we know from Scripture, this always signifies a new role or significance for the person: e.g. Abram (high father) to Abraham (father of many).

John 1:41

He findeth first his brother Simon, and saith to him: We have found the Messiah, which is, being interpreted, the Christ. And he brought him to Jesus. And Jesus looking upon him, said: Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas [still a Greek transliteration of Aramaic Kepha], which is interpreted Peter [i.e. which in the Greek in which this is written, is Petros].

Then later, Jesus reveals the reason behind the name change:

Matthew 16:16-19

Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona [Ar. for 'Simon, son of John']: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou art Peter [Petros*]; and upon this rock [petra*] I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.

* A name for a man cannot be the bare (feminine) word for rock in Greek (Petra) and so is made into a masculine name form: Petros. It has nothing to do with a big rock and a small rock; such is nonsense and destroys the grammatical connection of 'this' with 'rock'.

He is making Peter the 'rock' upon which His Church is built in the sense that He is entrusting him with the authority of 'steward' in His Kingdom of Heaven on earth. In saying what He does the way He does He harkens back to a passage in Isaiah where the same language is used of Eliakim:

Isaiah 22:20:-23

And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Helcias, and I will clothe him with thy robe, and will strengthen him with thy girdle, and will give thy power into his hand: and he shall be as a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Juda. And I will lay the key of the house of David upon his shoulder: and he shall open, and none shall shut: and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him as a peg in a sure place, and he shall be for a throne of glory to the house of his father.

This investment with authority (seen throughout Acts etc) is the sense in which Peter, the exemplar in the profession of the Faith in Christ as Messiah and Lord, the Son of the Highest, is the 'rock' of the Church. The hinge around which the unity of Faith is justly pivoted, per its institution this why by the Lord Jesus Himself.

St. Paul cleared up any disputes he had with St. Peter as we see in Acts 15.


Maybe Paul calls Peter (Greek) Cephas (Aramaic) because his actions in Gal 2 denote an Old Testament mindset regarding Gentiles?

Let me start by saying that in v6-9 Peter James and John recognises Paul's gift and anointing in reaching out to the Gentiles. In other words they recognize that Salvation through the Gospel is for gentiles too.

Paul notes that Peter had no problem dining with the gentiles until "certain" Jews from Jerusalem came to visit him in Antioch at which point he began to disassociate himself from gentiles. Paul notes that these "certain" Jews were "pro-circumcision" (no circumcicion; no salvation). What makes this especially bad is that they are men of influence and other Christians started doing the same thing - even Barnabas who was with Paul a long time.

Paul's contention with Peter is that he (Peter) was not acting in consistency with the truth of what he knows in the Gospel (salvation is for everyone and not just the circumcised). Since Peter was one of the 3 disciples closes to Jesus I guess it was assumed that Peter should have known better. (If Paul who was not one of the 12 disciples understood this then surely Peter would understand it more) and even more so that in v6-9 Peter, James and John understands the need to bring gentiles into the fold.

So the way I see it; Paul is using the old school name Cephas because of the old school way of thinking especially after recognizing that reaching out to the gentiles is important and being influential men, they have caused other christians to avoid gentiles too. The effects of v11-14 seem to take away what they did in v6-9

This use of differing names is an interesting study and similar to Jacob/Israel name change and name use in the OT (however I am unable to find out why Jacob was used after the name change).

Just my 2 cents anyway


I believe possibly he chose to call Peter Cephas because he was identifying both the church and the person Peter who was jewish and Church.

One lesson might be. We, both as God's children and as members of the church should not disallow what God has allowed. Jesus would call him (fallible: Simon Peter) as (Peter: positionally correct and one of the 12 apostles, and (Cephas: Jewish and Church).

I could be wrong and can't wait to find out from the man himself. Hope this helps. :)

  1. Thou art Peter (ou ei Petrov). Christ responds to Peter's emphatic thou with another, equally emphatic. Peter says, "Thou art the Christ." Christ replies, "Thou art Peter." Petrov (Peter) is used as a proper name, but without losing its meaning as a common noun. The name was bestowed on Simon at his first interview with Jesus (John i. 42) under the form of its Aramaic equivalent, Cephas. In this passage attention is called, not to the giving of the name, but to its meaning. In classical Greek the word means a piece of rock, as in Homer, of Ajax throwing a stone at Hector ("Iliad," vii. 270), or of Patroclus grasping and hiding in his hand a jagged stone ("Iliad," xvi. 734).

On this rock (epi tauth th petra). The word is feminine, and mean a rock, as distinguished from a stone or a fragment of rock (petrov, above).

Used of a ledge of rocks or a rocky peak. In Homer ("Odyssey," ix. 243), the rock (petrhn) which Polyphemus places at the door of his cavern, is a mass which two-and-twenty wagons could not remove; and the rock which he hurled at the retreating ships of Ulysses, created by its fall a wave in the sea which drove the ships back toward the land ("Odyssey," ix. 484). The word refers neither to Christ as a rock, but to Peter himself, in a sense defined by his previous confession, and as enlightened by the "Father in Heaven."

The reference of petra to Christ is forced and unnatural. The obvious reference of the word is to Peter. The emphatic this naturally refers to the nearest antecedent; and besides, the metaphor is thus weakened, since Christ appears here, not as the foundation, but as the architect: "On this rock will I build." Again, Christ is the great foundation, the "chief corner-stone," but the New Testament writers recognize no impropriety in applying to the members of Christ's church certain terms which are applied to him. For instance, Peter himself (1 Pet. ii. 4), calls Christ a living stone, and, in ver. 5, addresses the church as living stones. In Apoc. xxi. 14, the names of the twelve apostles appear in the twelve foundation-stones of the heavenly city; and in Eph. ii. 20, it is said, "Ye are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (i.e., laid by the apostles and prophets), Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone."

Equally untenable is the explanation which refers petra to Simon's confession. Both the play upon the words and the natural reading of the passage are against it, and besides, it does not conform to the fact, since the church is built, not on confessions, but on confessors - living men. "The word petra," says Edersheim, "was used in the same sense in Rabbinic language. According to the Rabbins, when God was about to build his world, he could not rear it on the generation of Enos, nor on that of the flood, who brought destruction upon the world; but when he beheld that Abraham would arise in the future, he said: 'Behold, I have found a rock to build on it, and to found the world,' whence, also, Abraham is called a rock, as it is said: 'Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn.' The parallel between Abraham and Peter might be carried even further. If, from a misunderstanding of the Lord's promise to Peter, later Christian legend represented the apostle as sitting at the gate of heaven, Jewish legend represents Abraham as sitting at the gate of Gehenna, so as to prevent all who had the seal of circumcision from falling into its abyss" ("Life and Times of Jesus").

The reference to Simon himself is confirmed by the actual relation of Peter to the early church, to the Jewish portion of which he was a foundation-stone. See Acts, i. 15; ii. 14, 37; iii. 13; iv. 8; v. 15, 29; ix. 34, 40; x. 25, 26; Gal. i. 18. Source(s): http://www.godrules.net/library/vincent/...


It seems to me that there are two reasons for name change. One, I infer, is the entire alteration of the soul and therefore the name as we'll to symbolize new life, like Saul to Paul. Another, seems to me, to be a change of role in situations like Jacob to Israel and Simon to Peter/Cephas. I am 17 and still studying, but from what I have read today this appears to make the most sense to me. As a Catholic, I believe Peter was called to the role of "rock" for Christ's church. Seeing how large a role that is I could definitely interpret it as a rock of his bishopricol church and his confirmed name. Just as Jesus loves and respects his mother, yet refers to her as woman when she is acting in her human role of woman, it could be this same distinction of role, rather than a degrading of the person referenced. I don't know if this helps, but it's my best inference:) Happy Sunday!

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    This answer would be a lot better if you could add references showing that this is a common understanding, and who teaches/believes it. On this site, we're not looking for personal interpretation, but rather focusing on what various Christian groups teach. See How we are different than other sites? and What makes a good supported answer? Feb 2, 2014 at 21:56
  • Name changes probably do accompany character or role changes, but in this case Peter and Cephas mean the same thing: rock. So why does Paul use the Aramaic version in some of his letters?
    – curiousdannii
    May 31, 2014 at 13:24

In 1 Cor 15 v.4-5,why does Paul say that after his resurrection Christ, "was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve.." Firstly it suggests that Cephas might have been one of the 70 disciples, rather than Peter the Apostle; secondly it omits the two Marys mentioned as the first to see the risen Christ in Matthew 28 v 1-10?

  • Welcome to Christianity.SE. We're generally looking for a little more than this in answers. I see how this is related, but it doesn't really resolve the question. Would you consider editing to expand this to fully address the original question? You might find What makes a good supported answer? a helpful reference.
    – Caleb
    Aug 15, 2013 at 8:03
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    Rather, it probably means "first seen to Peter, then to the rest of the twelve." Aug 15, 2013 at 15:06

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