Birth name, Shimeon bar-Yona (Simon, son of John)
“As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, [Rabbi Yeshua] saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’” Mt 4:18-19. In Hebrew, Simon’s name was Shimeon. Rabbis Matityahu, Marcus, Lucas and Yokhanan wrote their Gospels in koine Greek, which could not render Shimeon accurately, so the four Evangelists used the closest available approximation, Simon. Rabbi Yeshua’s shlikhim rendered Shaul as Saul for the same reason.
Rabbi Yeshua chose a good listener to become Kefa the Rock Jn 1:42, his vicar on earth Mt 16:18, to feed his sheep Jn 21:15–17. The name “Shimeon” comes from the Hebrew root shma, to hear, with overtones of listen and obey. “Hear O Israel…” The original Hebrew is shma israel Deut 6:4 a command, from the active side of the verb. God’s people Israel responded, na’aseh v’nishma, literally, “We will do and we will be obedient” Ex 24:7. Shimeon comes from the passive side of the verb; it means one who hears well. Rabbi Yeshua chose a good listener to become Rabbi Kefa the Rock, his vicar on earth, to feed his sheep. Solomon had prayed, “Give thy servant therefore an understanding mind to govern thy people, that I may discern between good and evil; for who is able to govern this thy great people?” 1 Kings 3:9. In the original Hebrew Solomon had asked for a lev shomea, a hearing heart, from the root shma. But where Solomon failed, by God’s grace Rabbi Kefa succeeded. Rabbi Kefa’s na’aseh v’nishma came at Capernaum when he told Rabbi Yeshua, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” Jn 6:68.
How Shimeon Became Peter
Rabbi Yeshua told Rabbi Shimeon bar-Yona, “Who do you say that I am?” Mt 16:15. Rabbi Shimeon replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” Mt 16:16. And Rabbi Yeshua answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” Mt 16:17. Our Father had indeed chosen a good listener for his Son. And so Rabbi Yeshua declared, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it” Mt 16:18. Rabbi Yeshua had named him Kefa, an Aramaic word that means a great rock. “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” Jn 1:42. Biblical Aramaic had a completely different word, evna, for a small stone. Mt 16:15–18.
Yet afterward Rabbi Yeshua continued to call him Shimeon! Why would he do that? Rabbi Yeshua wanted to constantly remind Rabbi Kefa and the shlikhim that, while he remained visibly with us, he alone was the Rock. But after Rabbi Yeshua ascended to the Father, Rabbi Kefa was never again called Shimeon. On a few occasions the Acts of the Apostles refers to him as “Simon who is called Peter,” Acts 10:5; 18; 32; 11:13, but after the Ascension in every other case he is called simply Rabbi Kefa.
Speaking Aramaic, Rabbi Yeshua had said, “You are [Kefa], and on this [kefa] I will build My church” Mt 16:18. Rabbi Paul confirmed it four times in First Corinthians 1 Cor 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; 15:5 and four times in Galatians Gal 1:18; 2:9, 11, 14. In Hebrew Peter’s name is kef, spelled kaf-feh. In Aramaic, kefa, spelled kaf-feh-alef. Rabbi Yokhanan and Rabbi Paul added a samekh in transliteration to the Greek to make it kaf-feh-alef-samekh, perhaps because it sounds better in Greek. The RSV2CE and Douay-Rheims transliterate it as Cephas Jn 1:42. Some people mispronounce it “seh-fas” so Second Exodus uses the Aramaic form, pronounced with the accent on the first syllable, Kéfa, and uses an initial K instead of a C to further assure accurate pronunciation.
Rabbi Yeshua made sure Rabbi Kefa would always be known, throughout the apostolic succession, as his Vicar. In the Tanakh, God’s word for himself as the great rock was tzur. Maoz Tzur, Rock of Ages, the timeless song of the Maccabees’ fight for freedom, is often sung after lighting the menorah. Tzur would be the Hebrew word for God himself. Kefa would be the man authorized to exercise God‘s power in earthly life. And in the song Maoz Tzur, the very next word is yeshuati, which means my salvation. Maoz tzur yeshuati, “The rock of my salvation.” More on this in The Land of Israel.
Rabbi Kefa became Rabbi Yeshua‘s vicar, or personal representative, on earth. As Rabbi Yeshua‘s vicar, Rabbi Kefa, with his infallible authority on faith (love God) and morals (love one another), would teach the other shlikhim, who would in turn teach the whole body of Rabbi Yeshua’s faithful. “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” Jn 16:12–15. Because Rabbi Yeshua told us: “I am with you always” Mt 28:20, we know that he intended it to continue in a line of apostolic succession, with successors of Rabbi Kefa and successors of the shlikhim.
Rabbi Yeshua sent the twelve to preach the good news. “These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” Mt 10:5–6. Thus they became his shlikhim. He told the eleven, “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” Acts 1:8.
When Rabbi Yeshua said, “On this rock I will build my church,” Rabbi Matityahu translated kanesakh, his Aramaic word for church, to the Greek ekklesia, a church or gathering place. The Catholic Church still uses this word today.
Rabbi Yeshua gave Rabbi Kefa in particular, and the shlikhim teaching in union with him, infused knowledge as he had promised Jn 16:14. “And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” Acts 2:2–4. Rabbi Kefa and the other shlikhim had at last received power to proclaim the Word of God Made Flesh.
And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall its sovereignty be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand for ever; just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. A great God has made known to the king what shall be hereafter. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure Dan 2:44–45.
And behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed Dan 7:13–14.
When Rabbi Yeshua asked Rabbi Kefa, “Who do you say that I am,” Mt 16:15, and Rabbi Kefa replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Mt 16:16, they fulfilled Daniel’s prophecy of “one like a son of man” Dan 7:13.
Taylor Marshall tells us, in The Eternal City Kindle 317, that in retrospect we can see that the four kingdoms were the Babylonian Empire (587-539 BC), the Medo-Persian Empire (539-331 BC), the Greek Empire (331-168 BC), and the Roman Empire (63 BC to AD 70). The stone cut out by no human hand was Rabbi Kefa, who was Rabbi Yeshua’s Vicar, Mt 16:17–18.
Fall and Recovery
Rabbi Kefa loved Rabbi Yeshua with all his heart. In the synagogue at Capernaum, when Rabbi Yeshua gave his Bread of Life discourse, Jn 6:48–59, no one who heard him understood this hard saying: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” Jn 6:53–56. Many of his followers abandoned him. Rabbi Yeshua asked his shlikhim whether they too would abandon him. Rabbi Kefa spoke for the twelve: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” Jn 6:68–69. Rabbi Kefa hadn’t the foggiest idea of what Rabbi Yeshua meant, but if he said it Rabbi Kefa believed it.
There were many occasions when Rabbi Kefa’s enthusiasm outran his good sense. At Caesarea Philippi, when Rabbi Kefa tried to defend Rabbi Yeshua. “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you” Mt 16:22, Rabbi Yeshua startled him, ”Get behind me, Satan!” Mt 16:23. During the Last Supper Rabbi Kefa told Rabbi Yeshua, “You shall never wash my feet” Jn 13:8. When Rabbi Yeshua replied, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me,” Jn 13:8, Rabbi Kefa instantly replied, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jn 13:9. That wasn’t quite right either, but the moment passed. Most important, on the Mount of Olives, when Rabbi Yeshua said, “You will all fall away because of me this night,” Mt 26:31, Rabbi Kefa boldly replied, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away” Mt 26:33. Rabbi Yeshua gently told him, “Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times” Mt 26:34. Rabbi Kefa was certain that he would never betray his Rabbi, but he did, “And he went out and wept bitterly” Mt 26:75.
After that, Rabbi Kefa did not believe that he could give Rabbi Yeshua the agape love that was proper, but could only manage phileo, the love between friends who enjoy one another’s company. Rabbi Kefa was honest. When Rabbi Yeshua asked, “Simon, son of John, do you love me [agapas me] more than these?” Rabbi Kefa replied, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you [philo se].” Rabbi Yeshua tried again to get Rabbi Kefa to reply “agapo se,” but Rabbi Kefa again replied, “philo se.” Finally Rabbi Yeshua, knowing that Rabbi Kefa had not fully recovered but was trying his best, asked him, “phileis me,” so that Rabbi Kefa could finally could reply at the same level, “philo se.” Jn 21:15–17.