Old Names

Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on May 19, 2007 under Ask the Pastor | Be the First to Comment

A recent visitor to our website asks: “Who was Cephus in the Bible?”

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Cephus is actually someone you know very well, if you are a reader of the Bible. That’s just another name for the Apostle Peter. He is actually called by several names in the Bible; and that sometimes makes for a little confusion.

‘Cephus’ is his Aramaic name. Aramaic is the language that the Jewish people of Jesus’ day commonly spoke; and Cephus is an Aramaic name that means “rock”. ‘Peter’ (as we say it in English) is his Greek name (pronounced Petros in Greek). Greek was the language that the New Testament was written in; and it – like ‘Cephus’ – means “Rock”.

Peter’s original name was Simon (which meant “God has heard”); and his father’s name was “Jonah” or “Jona” (which was also a common name in those days). If you read John 1:41-44, you’ll see all three names being applied to the same person. We’re told that Andrew, after having met Jesus, “first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, ‘You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephus’ (which is translated, A Stone).

“The following day, Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.” So, you see; Jesus met Simon, the son of Jonah, and immediately gave him a new nickname: “Peter” (Greek) or “Cephus” (Aramaic), which means “Stone” or “Rock”. (If he were alive today, his nickname might have taken the modern form “Rocky”.) That’s why you sometimes find his name called “Simon-Peter” (see, for example , Matthew 16:16). (I don’t want to get too fanciful here; but isn’t it intersting that before he could be could be called Peter, “Rock”, he had to first be known as Simon, “God has heard”!)

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You might wonder why Jesus changed Simon’s name to Cephus (or Peter). Jesus, I suspect, did that often. You might remember that He even gave a nickname to the two feisty brothers James and John – “Boanerges, that is, ‘Sons of Thunder’” (Mark 3:17). Jesus, I believe, has a wonderful ability to capture the essence of a person and put it into a new name – both as an encouragement and as a gentle rebuke.

He gave this nickname to Peter – I believe – because He was calling Peter by what he would actually become . . . and what he would have to strive to behave like. It was Peter’s testimony that would be the foundation upon which the church would be built; “. . . having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20). When Peter testified that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), Jesus responded by saying, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter [that is, Petros - a single stone], and on this rock [and in this case, it's a different Greek word petra - which means "bedrock" or "a massive rock formation] I will build My church . . .” (vv. 17-18).

Peter was called “Rock” because it was upon the “massive stone” of the testimony he would one day give – that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God – that Jesus Himself would build His church. (Jesus didn’t build His church on Peter, as some have said; but rather on Peter’s testimony.) No wonder the Lord changed his name when He first met him!

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Peter didn’t always behave in a manner that was in keeping with the new name the Lord gave him, though. He didn’t always act as solid as a rock. In fact, it’s very interesting to notice the times when Jesus reverts to calling Peter by his old name.

When dealing with Peter’s concern for paying taxes, for example, the Lord called him “Simon” (Matthew 17:25). When He prophesied of Peter’s eventual denial of the Lord, Jesus told him, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith should not fail . . .” (Luke 22:31-32; and by the way, I suspect the Lord has to say my name twice sometimes too – just to get my attention!). When Peter failed to stay awake with the Lord in the garden, Jesus said, “Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour?” (Mark 14:37). And after Jesus was raised from the dead and had a beach-side breakfast with the disciples – after Peter felt terrible conviction about his denial – we’re told that “Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” (John 21:15).

This reminds me that Jesus has changed my life. He has truly redeemed me from my sins, and has given me a brand new destiny. I’m a brand new man in Him – with a brand new identity. But sadly, I still stumble and fall at times. I still end up behaving like the “old Greg” that I was – and not like the “new Greg” that Jesus has saved me to be. I can’t point too many accusatory fingers at Peter for having acted like the old “Simon”; because all too often, I do the same.

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The Bible tells us that, in heaven, the saints whom the Savior redeems “shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads” (Revelation 22:4); and Jesus Himself says of the one who will live in the New Jerusalem, “I will write on him My new name” (Revelation 3:12). Could it be that Jesus has a new name already picked out for each and every one of His loved ones – a whole new identity that reflects the marvelous work of His grace in making them into brand new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17) and God’s new “workmanship” in Him (Ephesians 2:10)? Personally, I suspect so. And if that’s the case, then I long to live up to my new name, don’t you? – less of a “Simon”; and more of a “Peter”!

Blessings in Christ’s love,
Pastor Greg Allen
(old name; new name yet to be revealed)

(All Scripture quotes are taken from the New King James Version.)

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Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on May 3, 2007 under Ask the Pastor | Be the First to Comment

A visitor to our website writes with a question about “vengeance” in the Bible. He reads Romans 12:19 – “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” He was told that to avenge does not mean vindictiveness, revenge, or retaliation; but that it means restoration of wholeness and integrity. He was told that cries to God for vengeance in the Bible are often cries for redemption, restoration, health, and healing. He writes to ask for clarification on this.

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Dear friend,

The verse that you are pointing to, Romans 12:19, uses the Greek word edikeõ; which, in different forms, is translated “avenge” or “vengeance”. It can mean “to punish” (2 Corinthians 10:6); or “to avenge” sin (Revelation 6:10; 19:2). It can also refer to the act of bringing about justice for someone; as in Jesus’ parable, when a judge is compelled to bring about justice for a poor widow (Luke 18:3, 5). As it’s used in Romans 12:19, I believe it has the meaning of “seeking to avenge” one’s self, or “brining about justice” for one’s self. This is made clear by the fact that Paul urges that ‘place’ be given to God to act; because God says, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay”. (“Repay” is the Greek wordantapodidõmi; which means “to pay back” or “to give retribution”.)

The apostle Paul is quoting loosely from Deuteronomy 32:34-35; and from the “Song of Moses”. It’s a passage that speaks of God’s judgment on Israel for having turned away from Him. In that passage, God says, “Is this not laid up in store with Me, sealed up among My treasures? Vengeance is Mine, and recompense; their foot shall slip in due time; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things to come hasten upon them” (New King James Version). The Hebrew word translated “vengeance” in that case is nakãm; and it is also used in reference to God in Lev. 26:25; Deut. 32:41, 43; Psalm 58:10; Isa. 34:8; 35:4; 47:3; 59:17; 61:2; 63:4; Ezek. 24:8; and Mic. 5:15. The same Greek word as used in Romans 12:19 (edikeõ,) is used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) of Deuteronomy 32:35. I suggest carefully reading the Old Testament passages above concerning God’s “vengeance” – each verse in its surrounding context – and see how the word is used.

When you or I attempt to avenge ourselves, we can’t do it without bringing sin into it. We tend to do it with a wicked spirit of vindictiveness and revenge. And I would have to say that when it comes to God – though His vengeance is never sinful – it is not always redemptive or intended to bring about healing or restoration. Often for God, it is a matter of justice. God, however, is the only one who can bring about justice without committing sin. He alone knows all the circumstances and the motives of all the hearts that are involved; and He knows how to bring about perfect justice in a way that is truly just. And yet, sometimes, I believe it is intended by Him to bring about healing or restoration or holiness. But the sobering fact is – at least, so it seems to me – that God’s “vengeance” is not always “redemptive”.

I would say, though, that that’s the thing we need to leave to God. Anything that we do toward someone who does us wrong needs to be genuinely redemptive, or to bring about restoration or wholeness. We are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), and leave the rest to God. Perhaps this was what Paul had in mind when he said what he says in Romans 12:20-21!

I hope this helps.

Pastor Greg

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