Kepha not transliterated...why?


An interesting question came up in another thread. Here it is:

In the gospels, Simon is supposedly called Kepha, translated into Greek as Petros, from which we transliterate (through French, I believe?) the name Peter.

My question is why would the name Kepha ever have been translated to Petros, and not be consistently translitterated as Cephas (as John and Paul both did in at least some instances)?

Simon, Jesus, Israel, Jacob, and so many other names were transliterated (sound for sound) into other languages from their originals. Why not do the same with Kepha? Does it make sense at all for this particular name to have been a translation of a Hebrew/Aramaic name’s meaning instead of a transliteration of the name itself?


Im not sure I understand your question, but it looks like you are asking why in English and such we go by the name “Peter” rather than “Cephas”.

Im not sure but this reminds me of how some Messianic Jews prefer to use “Yeshua” (Joshua) for Jesus, which I thought was Iesus in the Greek. :shrug:


It seems to me that the New Testament writers wanted to make sure their Greek readers would know who the “rock” of the Church was, namely Simon Peter. That identification would have been much less apparent to Greek readers if the name “Cephas” was used.


In Greek, we see both Petros (presumed a translation of Kepha) and Cephas (presumed a transliteration of Kepha) used describing Simon. This is what I’m curious about – why not follow the standard and transliterate in all cases? Why are all instances in Greek not Cephas, as would seem to be normal for translational practices?

As for Jesus/Joshua…Yah-ho-shu-a (I believe that’s the correct pronunciation in Hebrew) can be shortened to Yashua, and since names have to end in “ous” or “as” in Greek (or so I was told by someone), we get Yasous, which can easily become Iesous. Into English we get the original soft-“yi” sound for J, so Jesus, which changes as J developed the “hard J” sound. It’s a transliteration through two languages. In fact, my understanding is Joshua (from the Old Testament) is recorded as Iesous in the Greek Septuagint.

Transliteration tries to maintain the sound, whereas translation tries to maintain meaning. Usually names are transliterated, and most other words are translated. So why the difference with Simon (something like Shi-mon in Hebrew)?


Interesting thought – but why would John and Paul not do the same? Why not simply say Cephas, and provide a translational note for Matthew 16:18 to clarify what Christ’s intent was?


The difference I see between Kepha/Petros and the other examples you gave is that in the Kepha/Petros instance, both languages were being spoken side by side in the same time and in overlapping places, while in the other examples the transliteration would have come much later.

Do you have some theory you’re going to spring on us, or are you just asking?


Have to wonder if Mike isn’t on to something here. Kepha isn’t a name, it’s the ancient aramaic word for rock and it has no masculine - feminism forms. Luke, writing for the Greeks, would translate that to petra, the Greek form for "massive/solid rock. Applying it to Simon he would have used the masculine form, Petros, later transliterated to Peter.

I’m wondering what Mike is wondering, are we headed for that classic protestant “argument” about whether rock was meant to refer to Peter or Christ because of the usage of the two Greek words, petra and petros? If so, please see Karl Keatings book, “Catholicism and Fundamentalism”. You’ll get your answer and it will save you a lot of time.


I dont see how PCM could “spring” something on us here, in fact the dual usage of Peter/Cephas actually helps the Catholic case because Cephas takes away any option of saying Peter was actually just a pebble.


I don’t know if PC Master has a hidden agenda, but I could see where someone who cared to do so could argue that the decision of the inspired writers of Scripture to translate the name ‘Cephas’ into ‘Petros’ (rather than transliterating the Hebrew word) may have been an attempt by the Holy Ghost to underscore the fact that Peter is not himself the ‘rock’ upon which the Church was built, but that something else is intended. I do understand that someone fluent in Koine Greek might find this a compelling theory, which is why no less a luminary than Augustine apparently bought into the idea. If this is the direction that PC Master intends to develop, I congratulate him on developing what appears to be a fresh argument in Protestant exegesis of this passage.

I’m not going to pursue this much further since, Greek or not, I think the plain reading of the whole passage in Matthew 16 tends to break down if one argues in this fashion. In other words, I personally can buy the Catholic interpretation that Peter was given some sort of special role by Christ’s pronouncement in Matthew 16:16-18. For me the debate would be over what that role really represented: was Peter first above his peers or first among his peers? (There’s a Latin phrase for this distinction but I forget it and can’t be bothered to google the subject at the moment–I’m taking a break from mowing my grass and need to finish this and get back to work).

In other words, I think one need not interpret from this passage that Simon Peter was basically declared King-designate in the place of Christ over the whole church by Christ’s words in Matthew 16. THAT IS essentially what the Papacy has evolved into over time but I don’t think it was the historic understanding of the Petrine role in the Church.


That would be the point of transliterating the name consistently, if we assume this is the argument that PC Master is developing here. Since the Holy Ghost did NOT inspire Matthew to transliterate this name consistently, but rather to translate it to a Greek name that carries with it some inherent ambiguity–one could argue that this ambiguity may have been intentional on the part of God.


flameburns> That’s actually an interesting point. I’m not sure that I agree with it, but it’s certainly not something that had crossed my mind before. It’s certainly worthy of further consideration – would God act in this way?

I don’t understand what you’re saying. Names in scripture are transliterated most of the time, and while I haven’t done an exhaustive study on this subject, I’m not sure why it would not be done in the case of Kepha. That’s what I’m asking about here – what reason is there for Kepha to not always have been transliterated as Cephas? Why should it ever have been translated to petros?

I suppose you can argue that they wanted to really point out that Peter was the rock of the church, but I think this argument makes little sense. All of the gospels record Christ’s name as the transliterated Iesous (Jesus), even though Jesus’ name certainly has meaning in its original tongue.

Do you have some theory you’re going to spring on us, or are you just asking?

It’s a linguistic oddity that came up in a thread about Peter being “the rock”. I personally find oddities such as this worthy of investigation, because there’s usually some misunderstanding in such cases.

I never have suggested that Simon Peter was a pebble. That’s generally sloppy scholarship (on the part of protestants) or straw-man argumentation (on the part of Roman Catholics).

In any case, the dual usage is seemingly unique from what I can see. Thus, we have to consider what the possible reasons for this are.

Is it possible that the use of Petros is not actually a translation of Kepha (except, of course in John, where it clearly is indicated as such), but instead is the transliteration of another name Simon possessed (perhaps making the similarity with the Greek word petros a mere coincidence)?

Is there some other possibility I’m missing here? Why would a seemingly “standard” linguistic practice be violated in this case?

I realize most of you will want to simply insist that the traditional understanding is correct, but I’m looking for genuinely interested people with possible ideas here – not folks looking to defend the RCC at any cost. This isn’t a petros/petra discussion, nor is it about the role of Simon in the church. Let’s keep the ad hominem out of it, and address the question I raised.

Thanks, guys. :slight_smile:


But Matthew never uses “Cephas”. Paul (writing first) does. John (last to write) explains “Cephas” and “Petros” are the same. See:


Because Rock at that time and in both languages were not used as names. to call Simon by ‘Rock’ you were addressing his function, His Title Name, as it were.


It might be that the authors of the Gospels/Epistles were reporting what people hear.

Some may have called Simon, Kephas. In that they had heard him referred to in this manor many times. So in the NT you find that nickname being used.

As Simon travelled through Greece, some, who know both languages, may have begun to use Petros as a nickname. So in the NT occationally the other nickname was used. It would then have been very approriate to use Petros when writing in Greek and comparing his nickname to Jesus statement that he is a Rock.

Our Priest (Fr Young) had the same problem when he first arrived. Many in the community called him Padre Joven (Spanish for father young). It took a while for him to figure out what they were calling him. Then he asked them to begin using Young rather than Joven.

This may have resulted from the diocese joke. They kept telling us we were getting a ‘young’ priest, so at the masses in spanish it was announced we were getting a ‘joven’ priest.


For what its worth, in Latin, Iacob is used for both Jacob, and James. From Iacob to French, we have Jacques (James), and Jacob. From Iacob to Spanish, we have Hime and Iago.

God bless,


Understanding Paul’s Jewish pun gives the clue. If we read all of chapters one and two of Galatians (and 3 and 15 of 1 Cor.) we see it at work as St. Paul is precise in switching between the names “Peter” and “Kephas”. The name “Kephas” (or “Cephas”), as we know, is clearly the Greek transliteration of the Aramaic name “Kepha” ("Rock) - the name which Our Lord actually used for St. Peter; however, in Greek “Kephas” means something all on its own. In Greek, “Kephas” means “Head” (as in cephalopod). When St. Paul boasts of rebuking “Kephas” he is saying how he even stood up to “the Head” (of the Church) for the sake of the Gospel. This meaning would not be lost on Paul’s Greek-speaking audience. So in looking at the alternation between “Peter” and “Kephas”, whenever St. Paul refers to St. Peter’s position of leadership, it’s “Kephas” (Gal. 1:18, 2:9, 2:11, 2:14), yet when he refers to St. Peter’s position as a fellow Apostle, he uses the name “Peter” (Gal. 2:7-8). St. Paul’s meaning is strikingly clear.


I don’t know if this helps, but wondering why different writers use different forms can have theological significance. For instance:

Matthew 8:14 When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever.

Mark 1:30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about herSince Matthew had emphasis on Peter being the rock, his use of “Peter’s house” invoke’s an image of the Church. Then it is Jesus who comes in and “heals” the occupant.

It tells you something about Matthew’s theology compared to Mark (or Luke’s) emphasis.


So you would argue that Kepha (Rock) was a title, much as Messiah was for Jesus, thereby being worthy of translation, instead of transliteration, just as Messiah was translated to Christ?

This angle actually makes a lot of sense. However, if it were indeed a title, and not a name, such as Messiah/Christ, we should expect it to be translated all of the time, and not just part of the time.

I’ll definitely be reading up on this.

While I’m not disputing your claim, this does raise the question of what Mark was trying to emphasize here? Why was he not paying special attention to Simon’s status as the rock of the church, especially having been a disciple of Simon? What was Mark’s focus?


The angle strikes me as sensible as well.

But PC’s leap, if I understand it, is:
that once we see appear
the translation Petros from Kepha
rather than the transliteration Cephas from Kepha
we should see from that point forward the translation favored over the transliteration–
well, that is a leap.

Joshua/Yah-ho-shu-a (Yashua) is transliterated from this Hebrew through Greek as Yasous/Iesous into English as Jesus. The name throughout would be translated “Jehovah is salvation.” The given name “Jesus” is used in the NT until after the Resurrection, when the title/name “Christ” becomes more prominent but the use of “Jesus” also continues (see Acts 2:31-32).

(And the English Christ is transliterated through the Latin Christus and the Greek Christos; but translated from the Hebrew Messias; all meaning “anointed”.)

Anyway, from the example of “Jesus” and “Christ” it seems that having a Title/Name doesn’t short-circuit use of the given name. I’m not sure if the example says anything about translations trumping transliterations.

So Simon can sometimes be called by the translation Petros from Kepha, and sometimes by the transliteration Cephas from Kepha.

Why not?


In John 1:42, the gospel writer supplies a translation for the word Kepha for his Greek-reading audience that might not have any idea what the Aramaic word Kepha meant. ("…you shall be called Kepha (which is translated Petros))… So, “Petros” is indeed a TRANSLATION - and NOT an attempt to create a new “nickname” in Greek.

My guess is that Simon was (probably) called “Kepha” in his Aramaic-speaking circles, but when various authors were writing about him, or quoting him in Greek, they would sometimes use “Petros” (and, sometimes not).

“Petros” was a seldom-used word in Koine Greek, but it was indeed used… Twice it was used as “stones for throwing” in II Maccabees (which was written about the time of Christ). It seems like a very infrequent usage, but on the other hand, it was actually used with more frequency than the word “audiophile” is used in English (less than once per one-million words of text), yet we all know - or have at least probably heard - the word audiophile.

So, “Petros” was indeed a translation (as the gospel writer states), and whether it fits with ones particular dogma or not, it meant “small stone” (as is evidenced by it’s usage in II Macc, written contemporarily).

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