Simon – not Simon Peter

By Sardar Anees Ahmad

Abstract:

Simon, according to the Gospels, was the foundation for the church and was given the title “Cephas” or “the rock” – “Peter” serving as its translated form. Research, however, reveals Simon receiving this title is most inappropriate.

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“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).

After Jesus Christ, the most prominent New Testament personality is that of Simon Peter. An unlettered fisherman who became the first pope and one of the earliest martyrs of Christianity, Peter is an inspiration to Christians worldwide. Encyclopædia Britannica notes [1] Peter was resolute [2] while gentle [3], and a wise and adept leader. [4] His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI noted that Peter’s example illustrates, “You think you have the recipe and that it is up to you to transform Christianity, but it is the Lord who knows the way. It is the Lord who says to me, who says to you:  follow me! And we must have the courage and humility to follow Jesus, because he is the Way, the Truth and the Life.”[5] Again, Pope Benedict notes, “Peter is responsible for guaranteeing communion with Christ.” [6]

But careful study reveals that Peter’s example is not that reliable.

To begin, while (Matthew 16:18) states that Jesus himself gave Peter the title of “Cephas” – lit. rock, stone, (Matthew 10:2) states that Simon was known as Peter. In other words, Matthew’s account states that Jesus gave Peter this title but also suggests that Simon was known as “Peter” before Christ’s advent. If so, this “rock” does not seem to be that sturdy. But what other information does the Bible give in support of either one of these two views?

When the Romans come to arrest Christ, Simon draws his sword and smites the high priest’s ear (Matthew 26:51; Mark 14:47; John 18:10). While one can understand why emotions would run high during such an occasion, if Pope Benedict is correct in assuming Simon guarantees communion with Christ, he should be in full control of his emotions. For what precedence does Simon’s example set for Christians when confronted with a similar situation? Simon’s example demonstrates it is permissible to allow for one’s emotions to dominate oneself, clearly contradicting Christ’s teaching of forgiveness (Matthew 5:39). One may argue that Christ’s harsh rebuke demonstrates Simon’s behavior was unacceptable. Remember, however, that this is the man upon whom the entire church was to be founded. What building can stand with such an unpredictable foundation?

Pope Benedict acknowledges[7] Simon was impulsive, which earned a severe rebuke from Jesus, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men” (Mark 8:33). Pope Benedict argues the incident demonstrates Peter’s ever evolving understanding of God’s plan. Unfortunately, Pope Benedict ignores the import of Jesus’ usage of “Satan.” In Hebrew, “Satan” means an adversary. “Satan” here may refer to Simon’s incomplete faith, but it can also refer to serious moral imperfections which Simon possessed at the time. Whatever the case, if improvement is not exhibited it would not be wise to found the entire church on such a personality. One may assume Simon’s disposition changes as Christ’s ministry continues, but events leading up to and including the crucifixion demonstrate Simon was no Peter.

Despite Christ instructing Simon to  “strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32) and Simon boldly declaring that he will stand beside Christ whatever the circumstance, Christ famously prophecies that Simon will disown him three times before the cock crows (Matthew 26:33-34; Mark 14:29-30; Luke 22:31-34; John 13:37-38). And Simon did not disappoint (Matthew 26:71-75; Mark 14:50, 66-71; Luke 22:57-59; John 18:15-18, 25-27). While those denied Christ’s company weep at being denied such a blessing, the man upon whom the church was to be founded could not muster up enough courage to declare his loyalty to Christ – a loyalty he had previously so boldly declared! Simon’s actions not only disrespect Christ, but also contravene the message of every prophet of God – to abstain from appeasing the masses when it requires the sacrifice of truth.

Prior to the crucifixion, Christ is extremely perturbed and repeatedly prays that he avoid the crucifixion (Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42). Despite being removed by 2 millennia, today one can still sense the anguish with which Christ is offering these prayers. But what do we see of Christ’s contemporaries, namely Simon? We read when Jesus takes him to Garden of Gethseme he repeatedly falls asleep, rather than pray for Christ’s safety (Matthew 26:40, 43, 45; Mark 14:37-41, 40-41; Luke 22:45). Note the disappointment in Christ’s words: “”Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?” (Mark 14:37). The night before the crucifixion, Christ has yet to earn the most basic respect from Peter, or any of the other disciples! Moreover, Simon, along with the rest of the disciples, abandoned Christ at the crucifixion (Matthew 27:55; Mark 15:40; Luke 23:49; John 19:25). A dog exhibits more loyalty to his master than Simon did at this moment.

Based upon the Gospel narrative, it is incredible to allege this man exhibited the qualities upon which one should found a new world order. It seems Christ’s utterance of “Satan” indicates a far more severe assessment of Simon than Pope Benedict admits.


[1] “Saint Peter the Apostle.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 07 Nov. 2010 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/453832/Saint-Peter-the-Apostle>.

[2] (Acts of the Apostles 4:10; 5:1–10)

[3] (John 21:15–17)

[4] (Matthew 16:15–18; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20)

[5] Address, 5/17/ 2006

[6] Address, 6/7/2006

[7] Address, 5/17/ 2006

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