Sunday, May 22, 2011

Why Did Jesus Change Simon’s Name to Peter?

Jesus had twelve disciples, but He renamed only one of them. It’s not like the guy had a really long name that was difficult to pronounce (and there are plenty of those names in the Bible). The guy’s original name was Simon, and Jesus decided to rename him Peter.

Here’s how it happened:

“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ‘But what about you?’ He asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’” (Matthew 16: 13-19, NIV).

Let’s explore why this change occurred. I’ll give you a variety of possibilities and you can take your pick.

Why did Jesus change Simon’s name to Peter?

Because Peter was a great lover? Peter is a euphemism for something on a male body that gets rock hard, so maybe Jesus was remarking on Peter’s ability to be “fruitful and multiply,” as directed by the Jewish Scriptures. Isn’t that how some churches start? Somebody wants to form a church and so he or she gets all of the family members to be the core. Actually, Peter didn’t have a big family. He may have had a wife and a daughter (according to legends), but that’s not enough to make a whole church.

Because Peter was a Neanderthal? The Greek word used in Matthew is Petros. Some scholars say Jesus never called Peter a “rock,” but rather a “pebble,” pointing out that “petros” means pebble, while “petra” means rock. Honestly, you do you think Jesus called the guy Peter the Pebble? Wasn’t that a character on the Flinstones? No, wait. That was Pebbles. Maybe Jesus was telling Peter he belonged in the Stone Age. Isn’t a pebble rather small? How do you build a church on a pebble?

Guess what? Both petros and petra mean rock; the former is the masculine form and the latter is the feminine form. Lithos is the Greek word for pebble or small rock. Jesus didn’t use the term Lithos.

The Gospel of John avoids the confusion and uses the Aramaic word Cephas, which clearly means rock:

“Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas’ (which, when translated, is Peter)” (John 1: 42, NIV).

Because Peter was the first convert? One scholar points out that Jesus was using a little word play – saying that the word “petros” exists both in Aramaic and in Greek, but they mean different things. In Aramaic, it means “firstborn” and in Greek it means “rock.” Thus, you end up with, “You are Firstborn and on this Rock I shall build my church.” If that’s the case, can’t you reverse them and mess with this scholar’s whole theory? (You are Rock and on this Firstborn I will build my church.) Was the original sentence written in part Hebrew and part Greek?

The scholar’s theory is that in Christ, you are born again. Since that happens when you declare your faith in Jesus, Peter’s declaration was the first of its kind and thus Peter would be the “Firstborn” of those who have been born again.

Because Peter was trying – very trying? Peter at times showed great faith, but other times that faith dwindled down to almost nothing. Three of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and John) tell how Jesus walked on water. When Peter saw this, he decided to try it, too. Peter actually did walk on water for a little while, but began to sink when his faith “petered out.”

This is how Matthew describes it: “‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’ ‘Come,’ He said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ He said, ‘why did you doubt?’” (Matthew 14: 28-31, NIV).

During the Last Supper, Jesus foretold that Peter would be in denial three times:

“Peter declared, ‘Even if all fall away, I will not.’ ‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus answered, ‘today – yes, tonight – before the rooster crows twice, you yourself will disown me three times.’ But Peter insisted emphatically, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.’ And all the others said the same” (Mark 14: 29-31, NIV).

Peter said no he wouldn’t deny his Lord, but oh yes he did. During the frightful hours before Jesus’ Crucifixion, Peter three times denied that he was a follower of Jesus.

Even though Peter’s faith “petered out” occasionally, Jesus knew Peter’s potential. After the Resurrection, Jesus gave Peter and the other disciples something to boost their faith fuel: the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost, it was Peter who stood up and gave an impassioned speech about the day’s events (Acts 2: 14). Peter, thus empowered, became a leader of the early Christians.

Because Peter was a musician? According to the Eastern Orthodox Church, another title used for Peter is Coryphaeus, which could be translated as “choir director” or “lead singer.” There’s no mention in the Bible that Peter enjoyed loud music that could make a person deaf. However, the Bible does say Peter impulsively cut off the ear of a slave who was with one of the soldiers at the time of Jesus’ arrest:

“Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear” (John 18: 20 NIV).

A Christian band called Petra once issued an album with the great title, “Petra Means Rock.” We have no idea whether Peter would have liked the music that bears his name. Well, OK, rock and roll music wasn’t named after the disciple, but the band was.

Because Peter was rock solid? Peter was grounded in a firm foundation. He was taught by the best, Jesus Himself. As the apostle Paul points out, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11, NIV). In the passage from Matthew which is the foundation for this little discussion we’re having, Jesus wanted to know who His disciples thought He was, and only Simon correctly identified Jesus as the Christ (Matthew 16: 16-17). Immediately after that, Jesus renames Simon, calling him Rock. Some say that Peter’s confession of faith is the Rock and not Peter himself.

Because Peter would sit on a stone throne? Catholics believe that Peter became the first pope, that Peter the Pope ruled from Rome, and that every pope since then is descended from Peter in some magical, spiritual way. According to the Book of Acts, Peter was actually based in Jerusalem. There’s no evidence that he was ever in Rome. Legend places him there, claiming that he founded the church at Rome and became its first bishop and somehow that turned into the pope. Supposedly, Peter was persecuted in Rome by crazy Nero and then crucified – crucified upside down so he wouldn’t dishonor Christ on the cross.

Protestants certainly go out of their way to claim that Jesus never called Peter “Rock.” They’re so afraid that any acknowledgment of Peter’s name would prove the Catholic claim that Peter was the first pope. As a Protestant myself, I think that’s stupid.

It’s clear that Peter was called “Rock.” It’s in the Biblical text. But Peter wasn’t the first pope. The word “pope” is NOT in the Bible. By acknowledging Peter as Rock, I’m not saying anything pro or con about the papacy.

Because Peter would be a stumbling block? Legend has it that once Peter got to heaven, he was assigned the duty of gatekeeper (or bouncer), grilling everyone who shows up to determine whether the person gets in or not. However, there’s nothing in the Bible that says Peter would have this role. Actually, Jesus is the Judge and Gatekeeper.

Because Peter would be a prisoner? Apparently, Peter is a slang term for a prison cell, and prisons were often made of stone. I don’t think that was named after this Peter, as he didn’t make a very good prisoner. He was in jail twice, but he escaped both times (Acts 5: 17-25 and Acts 12: 1-19). I think Paul was in jail more than Peter was.

Because Peter was a great chef? Peter once had a vision, and it was all about food:

“About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’ ‘Surely not, Lord!’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’ The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven” (Acts 10: 9-16, NIV).

This may sound like a strange dream, but it was God’s way of telling Peter that all foods were now OK to eat. This meant Christians would not be restricted by the Jewish dietary laws which dictated which foods were Kosher. A variety of meat is a tasty treat. “Can you smell what the Rock is cooking?” So perhaps he was a chef, or maybe a wrestler.

Because Peter was a body builder? Perhaps he worked out and was rock-ribbed. We don’t know anything about his physique, but we do know about his faith and leadership ability. He definitely went on to build the Body of Christ.

If Christ is the Rock and also the Chief Cornerstone, then how can Peter be the Rock?

Did Jesus forget who He was when He called Peter the Rock? Was Jesus snorting rocks of crack cocaine when He said that?

Christ is definitely the Rock of our Salvation. Paul tells us Christ has been that since the time of the ancient Israelites:

“They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:3-4, NIV).

St. Maximus of Turin (AD 423) said, "Paul teaches the Rock was Christ, so through Christ, Peter was made the Rock, the Lord saying to him "thou art Peter."

It’s clear that Peter was the leader of the early Church. As with any organization, the Church cannot exist without leadership, and Jesus chose Peter to provide that leadership. In our study passage, Jesus gives Peter “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16: 19). Jesus didn’t give them to any other disciple, so Jesus must have intended for Peter to lead once Jesus ascended back into heaven.

That’s even clearer in the Gospel of John where Jesus directs Peter to feed His sheep:

“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’ Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’ The third time He said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep” (John 21: 15-17, NIV).

Peter had denied Jesus three times; now Jesus reinstated Peter three times – and instructed Peter to care for Christ’s followers.

Peter would lead the Church with Christ as his model. He would be an imitator of Christ. Even Peter, with his name being what it is, acknowledges that Christ is the Rock:

“As you come to Him, the living Stone – rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to Him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame’” (1 Peter 2:4-6, NIV).

That’s an interesting passage. Peter doesn’t remind people that his name is Rock and the Church is build on him. In fact, he says that all Christians are building blocks in the Body of Christ (the Church).

Origen points out, “If you shall think that the whole church was built on Peter alone, what shall we say of John and each of the apostles? Shall we dare to say that the gates of hell shall not prevail against Peter alone?”

All of the apostles had a role in the rock formation, as Paul acknowledges:

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19-20, NIV).

To put it another way, Christ is the cornerstone and Peter is the rock upon which the cornerstone and the Church rests. Each church leader since then has been another layer building up the Body of Christ.

The Church is the continuing presence of Jesus Christ in the world, and we are reminded that the Church is a people and not a building. We are, in fact, serving as the hands and feet of Christ, doing the work of the Church just as Peter did.


  1. gr8 thx 4 the info

  2. Very interesting! I enjoyed reading your information about Peter!

  3. Thanks for such a wonderful presentation on Peter! I'd like to add a couple of thoughts. For example, it would have been very unusual for someone to have their name changed back then. For Jesus to change Simon's name, it was a big deal. Not only did He change his name to "Rock", but He then immediately proclaimed that He would build his church on this rock. In this regard, the context helps with understanding that Jesus designated Peter to lead the disciples after His ascension. Also, Peter died in Rome in AD 67 under the persecution of Nero. Thanks and God bless!

  4. I ponder this titles in the metaphoric sense and I come up with the same understanding, but I fell more easily expressed as a double meaning. Weather it be stone, rock or peddle, the meaning still carries forward metaphorically.
    A peddle or stone being commonly used in reference to the casting of stone upon the waters. This creating a rippling effects upon those waters. The greatest achievement of early Christians being that with every effort made to still the waters, to silence the teachings of Christ, the ripples of Christ's words could not be stopped or denied. The apostles themselves and each newly converted christian becoming another stone cast on to the waters vast waters of humanity, creating the perpetuated ripples of Christ's words. In this time, for each singular Christian who died at the hands of Roman oppressors, many more would be converted. It was chiefly Simon Peter who was the main evangelist after Christ's death, This was Simon Peters role, known to Christ before Peter would ever come to know the entirety of the part he would play. He was in essence the first stone cast and the continued rippling of Christ's word, perpetuated through him and those he helped to convert.

    If we consider it as a rock (or stone), which I tend to believe is the more correct metaphorical reference when correlating to other specific language used. Language like foundation and corner stone. Metaphorically of course, you do not make a foundation of sand or wood, for this will fail in time. In other words, if you were intentional building a temple to last the ages, the common metaphorical "Foundation of Rock or Stone" becomes so important. It is to say in essence that through Peter will come the great foundation for the temple of Christ. Through his work as Christ's rock, will the foundation grow to be strong enough to stand to never fall.

    In both these examples, it supports the biblical portrayal of Jesus and his ability as a great prophesier. As a man who with purpose, chose very select people and to each of them, select teachings were given. A man who laid his own foundation through his Apostles. A man who seem to know and understand far before his death would even be considered, that it was not in his time that the great teachings would reach the masses. A man who understood that the work he invested in 12 men would effect the spiritual hearts of millions. And in this understand, Simon Peter was indeed the Rock, The Stone, The Peddle.

    I hope that my thoughts have added some contemplative value to this topic. 8~)

    Kevin Alexander

    1. I like that interpretation a lot! It makes sense

  5. Maybe I'm missing something? The entire basis for your interpretation seems predicated on Jesus renaming Simon to Peter in Matthew 18 (see your "Here’s how it happened:" section.

    However, it seems fairly clear that he had been named Peter well before he referred to him as Peter in Matthew. In fact, I really can't see where you are coming from there at all. Clearly he was renamed to Peter in John 1 and was simply calling him Peter in Matthew.

    Your "Here’s how it happened:" is actually not how "Why Did Jesus Change Simon’s Name to Peter?" happened at all and I think is very misleading.

    1. This was my thought entirely. It seems that Jesus changed the name of Simon son of John, to Peter when (or possibly even before) Jesus even called him. See John 1:42

      I agree with you entirely Anonymous, the whole basis of reasoning in this article falls apart in light of this, however, the question still remains...

      Why did Jesus change Simon's name to Peter?

  6. Internet search on the whole subject of Peter and rock gets confusing.

    I like this:
    The feminine "petra" occurs four times in the Greek New Testament:
    Matt. 16:18, "And I also say to you that you are Peter (petros), and upon this rock (petra) I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it."
    Matt. 27:60, "and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock (petra); and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away."
    1 Cor. 10:4, "and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock (petras) which followed them; and the rock (petra) was Christ."
    1 Pet. 2:8, speaking of Jesus says that he is "A stone of stumbling and a rock (petra) of offense"; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed."
    We can clearly see that in the three other uses of the Greek word petra (nominative singular; "petras" in 1 Cor. 10:4 is genitive singular) we find it referred to as a large immovable mass of rock in which a tomb is carved out (Matt. 27:60) and in reference to Christ (1 Cor. 10:4; 1 Pet. 2:8).  Note that Peter himself in the last verse referred to petra as being Jesus!  If Peter uses the word as a reference to Jesus, then shouldn't we?

  7. I made the association with other peoples names being changed as in Abram to Abraham and Sarai to denote that they were of The Faith which of the Spirit which is the Christ of God Who was to be named ""Jesus". The goes perhaps to the list of those in the Book Life. In regard to Peter being The Rock there are numerous passages in psalms that clearly negate that line of argument. Consider the story of the man who built his house on The Rock and one who did not. The potential for that to also be a prophecy is a bit striking to say the least all things considered...toward the End of The Age and considering the millions of 'heretics' that debated this very topic including the superstition of transubstantiation which was started a few hundred years well after the 'church' was being established as 'The Way'...until being labelled Christians by unbelieving Pagans in of all places, Rome. It's a frightening prospect...that any church making the Outward Claim has having its Foundation being Built on the Rock is in strict negligence See the trend..if the Rock is in fact not Peter..then anything arising from that can be totally neglected no matter what comes afterward..even if its true is irrelevant...see how the superstitions that have followed as a result? : "Isaiah 44:8
    Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one." P.S. the feminie thing is interesting..according to my Aramaic bible the reference to the Holy Spirit (as in Proverbs) are Feminie..not as in 'sex' but words say like in German are considered masculine, feminien and that context..the Holy Spirit in Aramaic is 'feminie'..and it was revealed by the Spirit of God who Jesus was for "no one can 'come to' the son unless enabled by The Father.'...That is to say, 'Enlightened'

  8. I enjoyed your humour and your biblical knowledge as well. Thanks!

  9. I found this to be very creative and can see you put a lot of work into it :)

  10. thanks for the great information, but maybe include the significance.

  11. I love this blog! Thanks for the info. Its been incredible helpful to me in particular. Just over 1 year ago, I had what is likely a sign from god that he names me the rock. At soul survivor (a christian camp) there was a sermon being preached about peter and when Jesus called them all out of the boat. But only Peter did. At the end of the talk I put my foot back in my boot to find a rock randomly in my shoe. My friend had planted it their as a joke but I immediately saw the significance of it. 'Peter stepped out of the boat in faith, this is what you are to do too'. But now I'm considering the possibility that it meant more than that since reading your blog. Thoughts and suggestions are welcome.

    One thing that bugged me was when you say that the vision of the animals on the sheet from heaven was a sign that all food is ritually clean. When you read further, you find its directly attached to Peter's prejudice against gentiles. God was in effect saying, you shall be a fisher of all men, not just the Jews. Check out the whole thing (Acts 10:9-26)