Sunday, September 19, 2021

Some Undesigned Coincidences Related To Peter's Names

Jesus gave Simon the name Peter (Mark 3:16, Luke 6:14, John 1:42), yet Jesus often refers to him as Simon (Matthew 16:17, 17:25, Mark 14:37, Luke 22:31, John 1:42, 21:15-17). In fact, Jesus refers to him as Simon more often than he refers to him as Peter in the records we have in the gospels. Why would Jesus give Simon a new name, yet keep reverting to the original name?

Only two of the gospels report that Jesus had a brother named Simon (Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3), but his having a brother with that name makes his interest in the name Simon, even when he had given the individual a new name, more coherent. And his use of the name Simon occurs in Luke and John as well, not just in the two gospels that name Jesus' brothers. Even in Matthew and Mark, the reference to a brother named Simon is brief and occurs in passing, and that brother didn't have the sort of later prominence that James and Jude had. So, Jesus' ongoing use of the name Simon in those two gospels has some significance accordingly. Jesus' tendency to keep using the name Simon, even after giving him a new name, seems best explained as something the historical Jesus did. Not only is it reported by all of the gospels, but his having a brother named Simon makes the ongoing use of that name more coherent.

It's also noteworthy that James referred to Peter as Simeon (Acts 15:14). Scholars often date Paul's letter to the Galatians close to the time of the events of Acts 15. Contrast how Paul never refers to the disciple as Simon in Galatians, but instead keeps referring to him as Cephas or Peter, with James' choice to refer to him as Simeon in Acts 15. So, we need to explain both Jesus' preference for Simon, even though Jesus is the one who gave that disciple his new name, and James' preference for Simeon, even though James was speaking at a time in church history when Peter was the more common way of referring to the disciple, as we see in Galatians. If both Jesus and James were drawing a connection to the name of one of their brothers, that's an efficient explanation for the use of that name by both Jesus and James when they address Peter.

One potential reason why the name Simon would stand out to Jesus and James is that Simon was their youngest brother. He's mentioned last in Mark 6:3, which may be because he was the youngest, though his being mentioned third instead of last in Matthew 13:55 complicates the situation. Youngest children often get treated differently because of their status as the youngest. Jesus may have had more affection for his brother Simon accordingly. And that may have been a factor not only in Jesus' referring to Peter as Simon so much, but also in his choosing Simon to begin with, giving him such a prominent position among the disciples, and giving him a second name.

It's also striking that the angel who appears to Cornelius in Acts 10 not only refers to Peter as Simon (verse 5), but does so in a context in which there was another Simon from whom Peter had to be distinguished (Simon the tanner). The angel refers to Peter as Simon, only to go on to add a qualifier to distinguish him, which could have been avoided by just referring to him as Peter. The angel didn't have a brother named Simon, as Jesus and James did. But who would have sent the angel? God, perhaps Jesus in particular. And an angel might have deference for Jesus' preferred way of referring to Peter even if Jesus hadn't been directly involved in the sending of that angel.

The situation is somewhat reminiscent of Jesus' frequent references to himself as the Son of Man, a title rarely applied to him by the New Testament authors. Those authors, with the exception of James, also seem to have not had as much interest as Jesus had in referring to Peter as Simon. The difference isn't as pronounced as in the Son of Man context, but there is a significant difference in both contexts.

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