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Mr. Peter? By Jimmy Akin
From Jimmy Akin’s excellent blog

A reader writes:

I thought I had seen it all regarding arguments against Petrine Primacy until a day or so ago. In arguing the case that Peter’s name change was not significant, a Protestant gent asserted that since his text says that Simon ‘was surnamed’ Peter, that Jesus did not give the Apostle a new name but rather just decided to call him by his already given surname.

Is there evidence that first century Jews used surnames in the sense we do today? I find it difficult to fathom that Jesus would decide that he would do something as petty as calling someone by a different name for the mere reason that He did not like the original name. Thanks.

The guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about. First century Palestinan Jewish nomenclature didn’t work that way. They didn’t have family names the way we do, they had patronyms–which is to say, they were distinguished from others of the same personal name by an appellation designating them as the son (or daughter) of their father.

Thus Peter’s birth name was Simon bar-Jonah, or “Simon the son of John,” and Jesus bestowed the name Peter on him, as we see in John 1:42:

He [Andrew] brought him [Simon] to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

There also is no history of anybody prior to Peter having kepha (the original Aramaic form of the name) as a name, either as a personal name or as a surname (since they didn’t have surnames in first century Palestinian Jewish culture).

This custom of using patronyms to distinguish indiviuals with the same personal name is still used in many places in the world today, including other Middle Eastern cultures.



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