Simon Peter: Son of a Son of a Rock

Jesus and his disciples in Matthew 16 where the "rock" was associated with Simon Peter
Jesus and His disciples in Matthew 16, when the meaning of the “new” name that had previously been given to Simon Peter would have been made clear. (image source: Hole, William, 1846-1917, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Songs, sailors, and Simon’s sonship

Jimmy Buffett’s album “Son of a Son of a Sailor” along with it’s title track was released in 1978. About 12-13 years later, I was in High School and can remember purchasing the album as one of my first Compact Disc’s (CDs). I remember how eager I was to play “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” the song I had bought the CD for, but the title track is the first on the album and it was the first to echo through my speakers. In my minds eye, I can still see myself kneeling down, placing the disc in the tray of my Pioneer CD player, pressing play, and hearing the sound of those ship bells ring for the first time. The addition of Buffett’s guitar, Greg “Fingers” Taylor’s harmonica, and the rest of the instruments of the Coral Reefer band made for a masterful tune. Thus began an obsession with the iconic crooner that lasted at least two decades and included more than 40 visits to see Buffett in various venues around the country with fellow “Parrotheads.”

I have many fond memories of those years and have never really lost my appreciation for Buffett’s music, though my love for the tunes and the times cannot compare to love for the Lord and the wonder of His Word. Now, I will occasionally cycle through a few Buffett songs on the road with the window down on a warm sunny day, or maybe inside during winter when cabin fever sets in but reading, studying, and meditating on God’s Word is a superior joy.

He certainly doesn’t appear to be a believer but Jimmy Buffett is well known for the Margaritaville “state of mind” (and corresponding song) and a beachcomber style he’s popularized, making over a half-billion dollar fortune in 50+ years. What many may not know is that he was raised a Roman Catholic and has alluded to his religious upbringing in song, books, and interviews, many times over the years. In a lesser known song (though most Parrotheads know it well) named “We are the People Our Parents Warned Us About” he begins by decrying: “I was supposed to have been a Jesuit priest…”

Getting back to “Son of a Son of a Sailor,” I recently read a blog post and commented with some observations I’ve made regarding Simon Peter’s name and Jesus’ use of the word “rock” in Matthew 16:18. Afterwards, it occurred to me there are a number of parallels one can draw between the famous Buffett song and Simon Peter. Buffett’s background and the importance of that verse in Roman Catholicism are unintentional irony, I’m sure, but they inspired me to write this.

The most obvious parallel with Simon, who was also given the name Peter by Jesus, and Jimmy Buffett’s song, is that Simon worked as a fisherman and was also likely a sailor before leaving to follow Christ as His disciple. He may have even been a son of a son of a sailor with the “sea in his veins,” though his tradition, whether it included prior generations of sailors in the family or not, ultimately did NOT remain (these are allusions to lyrics from the song). As we’ll see, the sonship of Simon Peter was set asail and destined for a course correction when the Lord Jesus called him. Whether he was truly a son of a son of a sailor, we’ll never know but what’s more certain is that he did eventually became a son of a son of a rock, as we’ll see.

What exactly was the Apostle’s name?

When people speak of the Apostle “Peter,” it is common for them to leave off “Simon.” For reasons that will be obvious later, it is generally my preference to include it and refer to him as “Simon Peter.” It is also common to hear that the Apostle’s name was changed, implying that “Simon” was replaced by “Peter” but that’s not true. After Jesus gives him the new name, he was still referred to as “Simon,” “Simeon” (the Aramaic equivalent), and rather frequently as “Simon Peter.” In the Gospel of John (ESV) which is one of the last books of the New Testament to be written (probably 80-90 AD and likely after Simon Peter died), the author refers to him as “Simon Peter” 17 times and “Peter” only 11 times, after subtracting four occurrences in unoriginal subtitles. He is also called “Cephas” a total of 9 times in Scripture, though only once in the Gospel of John.

It’s commonly thought “Cephas” was merely a transliteration of the Aramaic word for rock: “kepha” as an equivalent to the Greek word for rock: “petra” from which “Peter” (Petros) is derived. I find no reason to think these variations and the common explanation for them are incorrect, so I won’t discuss them at great length. The one time John uses “Cephas” in his Gospel, it seems he is doing so to communicate these very ideas. As led by the Holy Spirit, he is probably originally writing to (or for) a Greek-speaking audience, intending that they understand when they read “Cephas” elsewhere, it refers to Peter.

“He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas’ (which means Peter).”

John 1:42 (ESV)

Note how Jesus says: “You are Simon the son of John.” This is one of only two passages where Jesus refers to him this way. The other is Matthew 16:17 where He says: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah!” which is the Aramaic equivalent of “the son of John.” These phrases identifying the sonship of Simon Peter will be important later in this discussion. For now, it is also worth noting that Jesus Himself continues to call him “Simon” in events that occur chronologically after giving him the new name and after Matthew 16, see: Matthew 17:25, Mark 14:37, and Luke 22:31. James calls him the equivalent “Simeon” in Acts 15:14, and others continue to call him Simon as well, see: Luke 24:34. In 2 Peter 1:1, Simon Peter refers to himself as “Simeon Peter” (probably for a reason similar to that which I mentioned regarding John 1:42). All of these and other mentions occur chronologically after the new name is given. I have come to realize the reason we continue to see Simon Peter called “Simon/Simeon” (Greek/Aramaic) or called “Simon/Simeon Peter” is because Jesus didn’t actually change his name. This first occurred to me when I saw that some English translations refer to Peter as a “surname.” For example: Mark 3:16 (KJV) – “And Simon he surnamed Peter” and Mark 3:16 (RSVCE) – “Simon whom he surnamed Peter.”

What’s in a name, anyway?

When I came across the mention of Peter as a “surname,” and especially after comparing translations, I started looking for an explanation and found that it seems to be a case where modern Western culture, customs, and history obscure our understanding of what actually happened in the Scriptural accounts. Further, English translation necessarily falls short in communicating this.

You can easily find information on this online (e.g. here, here, and here) but Jews didn’t actually have “surnames” as we know them until at least the 10th-11th centuries, and most not until the 18th century. Surnames in ancient Rome were a complex development but they eventually took a form that most of us in the modern Western world recognize and this occurs much earlier than it’s adoption by (or imposition on) the Jewish people. Ancient Jews had markedly different customs and their naming conventions were no exception. In fact, with regard to names and naming, they retained an ancient custom much longer than many of the other customs that they lost over the centuries (an in-tact Oral Torah is complete non-sense). Cultural assimilation for an ethnic “nation” that was always intended to be “set apart” was always a problem and an example of their drifting from the Lord, His commands, and His promises, which can be seen all through the Old Testament and in later historical accounts. Exodus 16:3 and Numbers 14:4 record that the ancient Israelites quickly lost their gratitude for having been delivered from slavery in Egypt and even desired to go back. Hellenization leading up to the time of Christ is another prime example.

How exactly were ancient Jewish names different? They were patronymic, deriving from the father’s given name, not a fixed family name, the custom most of us recognize. In other words, part of their name was their fathers “first” name and there was no distinct, fixed “last” name. A patronymic name indicates that someone is the son or daughter of a specific individual, not from a particular family, as most of us think of last names today (see the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:1-16). Patronymic names necessarily change every generation. If such a convention applied to my father, myself, and my son, we would be known as: Larry Bar-John, Scott Bar-Larry, and Thomas Bar-Scott, respectively. Note how the name of my son would belie any discernable relation to my father but would communicate exactly who his father is. For Simon Bar-Jonah, as already mentioned, it indicated he was the son of a man named Jonah. The Hebrew prefix attached to the fathers name would be Ben- or Bat- (“son of” and “daughter of”) and Bar- is just the Aramaic equivalent. Concerning the development from “Ben” to “Bar,” it’s a minor example of the Jews having nearly lost their God-given language, too. Miraculously, Hebrew is known to be the only truly successful example of a language that was considered to be dead and later revived. That’s another discussion but patronymic significance is crucial to understanding the Biblical passages concerning Simon Peter’s new name.

By way of a personal example to illustrate the difference between patronymic names and modern surnames/family names, my wife and I have an adopted daughter from Ukraine. Many Slavic cultures, use both conventions, together. Their patronymic name is recorded as what we would call a middle name and the surname follows. In Western cultures, we generally only recognize the later and our conception of a middle name is something more flexible and informal (i.e. chosen by the parents). Another important difference between the Jews of Jesus’ day and most of us, is that we recognize certain scenarios where an actual “change” occurs that they would not have understood. For example, in the case of adoption (which is discussed later) or when a woman marries and changes her last name.

As a quick aside, it’s worth mentioning that there are actual name changes in Scripture and various reasons for them. I won’t go into these but Timothy Kauffman, the author of the blog I mentioned previously lists some of these and provides a helpful discussion. For the purpose of this discussion, my focus is on examining the specific case of Simon Peter. Kauffman’s blog has a lot of useful, well-researched information, and discussion on various topics including church history, baptism, the Eucharist, and eschatology. I’ve learned a great deal from his posts and recommend spending some time over there if these topics interest you.

Returning to the topic of ancient Jewish names, there is one other relevant custom that can be seen in Scripture. While every Jew had a given name and a patronymic name, we do see cases where additional names are given to certain individuals. This is the case with Simon Peter and we’ll see why after a few more important points…

As with other cultures throughout history, Jews had a way of assigning additional descriptive names/terms with certain meaning to an individual, apart from their actual name. We might think of this as akin to giving someone a “nickname” (but for a specific reason, unlike the affectionate, more arbitrary nicknames I’ve given to my kids – there’s a Nathan in Scripture but he’s never called Nafer-Wafer). Different cultures throughout history have had different reasons for and customs related to both actual and “nicknames.” My surname name (Cooper) indicates I descend from someone who was a barrel maker in England. That is a name of occupational significance, rather than hereditary, though it now carries on hereditarily and/or legally (in the case of adoption). Ancient Jewish “nicknames” seem to have been given not based on ones occupation, but with regard to one’s disposition or personality. Take for example the following verse about Barnabas:

“Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus”

Acts 4:36 (ESV)

Barnabas or “Joseph” would have had an actual patronymic name (he was Joseph Bar-[someone]) but Scripture doesn’t record it for us. Had he been a brother of Simon Peter, he would have been normatively called: Joseph Bar-Jonah. What we see in Acts 4:36 is that the apostles called him (something of a nickname) “Barnabas” meaning “son of encouragement,” probably because he was known as an encourager. Perhaps we see evidence of this when he comes alongside Paul in Acts 9:26-28 when the other disciples rejected him in fear. Or perhaps when he stuck with Mark in Acts 15:36-41. While we don’t know for sure why Joseph received the “nickname” Barnabas, what’s most important is that it was a name with certain significance and that it follows the Hebrew/Aramaic “son of…” convention, as I’ve highlighted. This isn’t as apparent as it could be in most English Bibles when he is mentioned because Barnabas is typically unhyphenated. The Orthodox Jewish Translation makes it more clear:

“And Yosef, a Levi from Cyprus, a man having been named Bar-Nabba by the Moshiach’s Shlichim, a name which being translated means, “Son of Encouragement,”

Gevurot 4:36 (OJB)

The most important takeaway in this discussion on ancient Jewish naming conventions, whether they communicate who one’s birth father was or a character trait the individual became known for at a later time, is that the name always involved the idea of “sonship” (or daughterhood). Even terms that are used in Judaism today embody this idea. A “Bar-Mitzvah” is a Jewish religious ritual that celebrates a boy’s entrance into adulthood at the age of 13. The literal meaning of the term is “son of the commandment” and the event marks a point in time when one is considered bound or subject to the law. The idea dates back in writing to the recording of the Mishna around 200 AD and almost certainly derives from the era in which Jesus lived or earlier.

Jewish identity is firmly embedded in the idea of sonship. The promise made to Abraham in Genesis 17:7 included his “offspring” and that clearly came to be understood as an exclusive ethnic group, to whom the law was given. What we learn in Romans 4 is that the true children of Abraham and genuine “offspring” come “through the righteousness of faith” (Romans 4:13). A revelation from God the Father and a gift of faith was the source of Simon Peter’s new sonship, and in keeping with ancient Jewish custom, it was the primary meaning behind the wordplay in his new name.

What happened when Simon Peter received his new name?

So what actually happened when Jesus gave Simon the name “Peter” and later revealed the meaning of His wordplay in Matthew 16? Regarding the first event, there are a number of clues. First, most English translations render the assigning of the name something like this:

“He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder);”

Mark 3:16-17 (ESV)

It’s commonly thought that Mark’s Gospel was written for a Gentile audience so with James and John, it’s no surprise we read “Sons of Thunder” here. If it had been to a Jewish audience like Matthew’s Gospel, it would possibly read: “James and John Bar-Boanerges,” thus conforming to the Aramaic convention. Regardless, what Scripture records and what we have translated into English is the Greek descriptive phrase meaning the same thing.

I don’t know what is in the Greek that occasionally results in the anachronistic term “surname” sometimes appearing with Simon but our English translations are much more consistent in qualifying the name given to James and John. This is likely just because the later is stated in the text, whereas the meaning of “Peter” is not. In the ESV, both accounts start with: “to whom he gave the name…” It’s just that the meaning of Simon Peter’s name isn’t included, but as we’ve seen, all such “nicknames” were characterized by the notion of sonship, relating the individual to whomever or whatever the name represented. Why then does Scripture include one and not the other? We can only speculate. My guess is that “Sons of Thunder” had a meaning they all understood, perhaps related to character traits or certain beliefs that James and John held. Many have suggested a connection with Luke 9:54, which seems reasonable but we simply do not have enough detail in Scripture to know. In any case, I believe “Sons of Thunder” had a meaning that was immediately understood, whereas the play-on-words with “rock” meant nothing discernable to them, at the time. As Simon Peter had one of the most unstable personalities of all the disciples, it seems unlikely to have been understood as describing his character, otherwise it’d be oxymoronic. It also wasn’t occupational and wouldn’t have been descriptive of any particular belief. Lastly, it wasn’t patronymic, at least they had no reason to think so at the time (I’ll get to this).

Secondary names or “nicknames” were very common for Galilean Jews at the time of Christ.[1]Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Volume 2. (United Kingdom, Longmans, Green, and Company, 1883). I would imagine the practice developed as a way to tell one “Simon Bar-Jonah” from another, etc. Regardless, “Petros” appears to be both unconventional and uncommon. Many today, with the objective of elevating Simon Peter’s status, will emphatically state that “Petros” (or more properly “Bar-Petros”) was only ever used for the apostle but there is evidence in ancient Jewish literature of at least one other person to go by that name (presumably also as a secondary name or “nickname”), thus it wasn’t without precedent.[2]Ibid. See page 82, including footnotes to other sources.[3]The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah” is also available online at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library website (ccel.org).

Again, my guess is the disciples had no idea what Jesus meant in calling Simon “Petros” until the events of Matthew 16, hence they may have simply recorded the earlier giving of the name to reflect that. It could also be that the significance of Simon Peter’s new name simply had more meaning to a Jew who would understand what Matthew wrote and those writing to non-Jewish audiences didn’t consider it important enough to explain. In suggesting that, I certainly don’t mean to trivialize what we find in the other accounts but if the main idea of Matthew 16:18-19 is captured by other authors in a way that made more sense to their audience, then we don’t even have a case of less vs. more information, but rather, the same information presented differently, using different terms. In fact, I suggest that is exactly what we see in the case of Ephesians 1:5 (and other passages cited below) when Paul says: “[God the Father] predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ [, the rock/cornerstone]…” This is not a verse most of us think of as being directly related to Matthew 16:17-18 but I believe they say essentially the same thing, as I’ll demonstrate. With my highlights and the incorporation of concepts from other verses, it may already be clear where this is going.

Simon as a son of a rock and an adopted son of God

For the Jewish disciples, everything comes together in Matthew 16, where we see the only passage since the giving of the new name where Jesus refers to Simon by his full, actual patronymic name: Simon Bar-Jonah. In Matthew, as previously mentioned, we’re reading a Gospel written to a Jewish audience so it’s not surprising or unusual to see the Jewish/Aramaic convention:

“And Jesus answered him, ‘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 tell you, you are [surnamed] Peter, and on this rock I will build my church…'”

Matthew 16:17-18 (ESV)

What was unusual, this far into His ministry and after so many other events recorded in Scripture where it doesn’t happen, is that Jesus uses his full, formal, patronymic name. It’s sort of like a parent today using a child’s full name (first, middle, and last) to get their attention. In this case, what seems clear is that Jesus is intentionally drawing attention to Simon’s sonship and birth father. Jesus is essentially saying: “Simon, you are a son of Jonah but you are also Peter, a son of a rock” or “Simon, born of Jonah, but Peter, reborn of a rock of the Father’s calling.” I’ve added “of the Father’s calling” to show the relation to the revelation mentioned. With the revelation and gift of faith given by the Father, Simon Peter was born again as a “son of God.” One might think of him patronymically as: “Simon Bar-Petros.” Rather than it being a name change from Simon TO Peter (as is often incorrectly suggested), Simon Peter received God as Father, as we all do by the gift of faith, through the Word of the Lord. Jesus is essentially saying: “My Father is your Father.” This relates to Matthew 23:9, as well. In his first epistle, Peter himself refers to rebirth from incorruptible seed (God the Father, through faith in Christ), in contrast to corruptible seed (the “flesh and blood” of Matthew 16:17):

“…having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because
‘All flesh is as grass,
And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass.
The grass withers,
And its flower falls away,
But the word of the Lord endures forever.'”

Now this is the word [of the Lord] which by the gospel was preached to you.

1 Peter 1:23-25 (NKJV)

Following the personal illustration I used earlier, my daughter is now a “Cooper” but she is still also, by her patronymic “middle” name, known as the daughter of a man named Anatoli, who was from Ukraine (her middle name is Anatolivna). When she was adopted, as is now reflected by the change in her surname, his daughter from birth also became known as my daughter, though legally, she is mine only, through a legal transaction we call adoption.

When you read Matthew 16:17-18, understanding the patronymic significance the way 1st century Jews would have, you can see how Simon Peter received new sonship, by revelation and choosing of God the Father, and how it was expressed/revealed in his new name. I trust that most people reading this can now also see the parallel with adoption. This is the exact concept the apostle Paul used to denote the same new “sonship” through being “born again” into a new family, in his epistles.

The difference between how Matthew describes Peter becoming a “son” and how Paul describes us becoming “sons” is only in the language Paul uses, which was oriented to a Gentile audience, using a concept they understood. Adoption, as most of us know it, derives from Roman law. Judaism has never had a formal equivalent of adoption and Jewish law (Halakha) is essentially incapable of recognizing the legal transfer of “sonship” because lineage and biological status are core values in Halakha.[4]Wikipedia contributors. “Adoption in Judaism.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 21 Jun. 2022. Web. 21 Jul. 2022. In fact, the word “adopt…” never appears in a familial context in most English translations of the Old Testament (or at all in many). In contrast, the ESV uses the word six times in the New Testament and none of them are in books we generally consider to have been primarily written to a Jewish audience (Matthew, Hebrews, and James, and possibly 1 Peter and 2 Peter). Acts 7:21 (written by Luke) uses the word to refer to Pharaoh’s daughter adopting Moses, clearly a non-Jewish context. All the others are the apostle Paul addressing Gentiles, addressing the new “sonship” in terms they would understand:

Romans 8:15 – “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!‘”

Romans 8:23 – “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

Romans 9:3-5 – “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” (this is Paul lamenting the stubbornness of his fellow Jews – see below)

Galatians 4:5 – “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

Ephesians 1:5 – “he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will”

That’s it…that’s all the passages in most English Bibles that mention adoption in a familial context (Father-son). You may have guessed from my mention of having an adopted daughter that the topic is near and dear to me. Our daughter is 19 and has been home three years. She is fully and legally ours, an orphan for 16 years, made a daughter in an instant, by just declaration of a judge, no longer fatherless (see: Psalm 68:5-6 and Isaiah 1:17). Her daughterhood and inheritance are as real and secure as that of our homegrown children (unsolicited advice: don’t EVER ask an adoptive parent about their “real” vs. adoptive children) but even as I write this very sentence, I’m getting text messages from a 20 year-old Ukrainian who fled the war and is living with us as a refugee. She is an aged-out orphan whom we chose not to adopt years ago. Her 5-year journey here is another long story but God used her to teach our family what orphan care and adoption are all about. In light of that, researching this portion of this post was sobering. I cannot begin to describe how humbling and joyful it is to come to understand the security in God’s choosing to adopt his children.

In the list of quotes above, I expanded Romans 9 a bit. It has always been one of my favorite passages of Scripture. It is the only one where adoption is discussed relative to the Jewish people. Adoption belonged to them but they didn’t recognize it. Think about how Matthew, James, the author of Hebrews, and Peter don’t, even can’t use the same term that the apostle Paul uses to describe the relationship of the elect with God, legally secured by the shed blood of Christ, God in the flesh, of their very race. Think about salvation, relative to Paul’s wish that he could be “accursed and cut off from Christ” for the sake of his fellow Jews if he could. Consider the depth of the love he had for his people to say and desire that. Think about Galatians 3:11 – “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.'” Think about how an adoptive parent chooses the child, not the other way around. The Jewish ethnic conception of sonship and it’s inability to accommodate a legally transactional adoption was, and still is, based on a humanly impenetrable axiom: they are sons of Abraham by birth and blood. Only the grace and mercy of God can overcome that.

I’m sure Simon Peter understood his new sonship but it still took him three times (his usual pattern) to fully understand the fulfillment of the Law, the legal certainty of adoption, and the ingrafting of the Gentiles. He didn’t fully get it after Cornelius (Acts 10) and he didn’t fully get it after being opposed by Paul (Galatians 2:11–13). It was only in Acts 15 that Peter finally understood the law had been fulfilled and shouldn’t be imposed as a burden. Another oft repeated error is that the meeting in Acts 15 was about circumcision, in itself. Acts 15:1b states: “…’Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.'” Remember, circumcision was given to Abraham, not Moses. Paul circumcised Timothy after the events of Acts 15 but I’m fairly certain he didn’t do it “according to the custom of Moses” (see: Leviticus 12:1-8).

Simon Peter as a son of a son of a rock

My characterization of Simon Peter as a “son of a son of a rock” isn’t exactly exegetical. It’s simply my own play on words to draw a parallel with the song I began this post discussing, but it is also based on a passage from Isaiah very much related to Simon Peter’s name:

“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness,
you who seek the Lord:
look to the rock from which you were hewn,
and to the quarry from which you were dug.
Look to Abraham your father
and to Sarah who bore you;
for he was but one when I called him,
that I might bless him and multiply him.”

Isaiah 51:1-2 (ESV)

The rock is God (Deuteronomy 32:4, Isaiah 17:10), the rock is Christ (Numbers 20:8-11, 1 Corinthians 10:4), Abraham is a (not the) rock (Isaiah 51:1), Simon Peter is a” (not the) rock (Matthew 16:18), and all who are hewn from the example of Abraham, born of incorruptible seed (1 Peter 1:23-25), and adopted as sons (Romans 8:5, 23, Galatians 4:5, and Ephesians 1:5), through the righteousness of faith (Romans 4:13), are living stones being built up as a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:4-10). Lest anyone think authentic faith was preserved in a line of clerical ordinations and maintained by a hierarchy of ecclesiastical elites in a system that approximates Jewish lineage, Jesus answered the equivalent claim made by the Pharisees and Sadducees, just substitute Peter’s name for Abraham:

“And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.”

Matthew 3:9 (ESV)

Understanding the patronymic significance of Simon Peter’s name, the concept of adoption, and the lineage of rocks/stones from a seed of faith might shed light on Matthew 16:16-18 but it doesn’t fully explain what Jesus meant when he said “…on this rock I will build my church…” Obviously, a great deal of ink has been spilled over whether the rock the church is built on is Simon Peter the man, his confession of faith, Christ, any two or all of the above, etc. I won’t get into the particulars of that, except to say that it’s unfortunate, that the statement has been used in so many divisive ways. Those involve audacious claims of power, authority, and dogmatic dominion over men’s consciences. Such ideas are antithetical to so many Scriptural principles (Matthew 18:4, 20:25, 23:8-10, Luke 9:48, Galatians 1:6-7, 2:9, 1 Corinthians 1:11-13, 1 Peter 5:1, and many others). It has been used to craft enticing, nostalgic, intellectualized, and idealistic histories, that are far more rooted in tradition than the “the Word of the Lord [which] endures forever” that Simon Peter associated with his new birth.

To those with such pride in the perceived ancientness of their liturgy and customs, the efficacy of material objects and rituals, the enticement of smells and bells, philosophical tapestries of metaphor and allusion, sophisticated typologies, and made-up words like “hyperdulia” to justify seeking spiritual motherhood, I fervently pray that you would “pursue righteousness” not ritual, and “seek the Lord,” as Isaiah 51:1 states. Seek new Fatherhood. Seek adoption. The spiritual house is not an institution founded on infallible extrabiblical revelation or a body of non-Gospel, conscience-binding dogma, any more than it’s an actual building. “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man” (Acts 17:24). I trust if you’ve read this far, you understand where “son of a son of a rock” comes from.

Jimmy Buffett will probably never read this and it’s highly unlikely I will ever have an opportunity to talk with him face to face, but what a privilege it would be to share the Word of the Lord that endures for ever, walk through Scripture and dismantle the limited, distorted view of “the rock” he was indoctrinated with from birth, and explain how he, a son of a son of a sailor, can truly be released from the indenture of sin, to become a son of a son of a rock.

References

References
1Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Volume 2. (United Kingdom, Longmans, Green, and Company, 1883).
2Ibid. See page 82, including footnotes to other sources.
3The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah” is also available online at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library website (ccel.org).
4Wikipedia contributors. “Adoption in Judaism.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 21 Jun. 2022. Web. 21 Jul. 2022.

3 thoughts on “Simon Peter: Son of a Son of a Rock”

  1. Understanding the patronymic significance of Simon Peter’s name, the concept of adoption, and the lineage of rocks/stones from a seed of faith might shed light on Matthew 16:16-18 but it doesn’t fully explain what Jesus meant when he said “…on this rock I will build my church…”

    In light of your adoption argument, it would seem that the logical conclusion of your treatise is that “Simon Bar-Petros” and “this rock” refer to the same rock: “Simon Bar-Petros means “Simon son of God”, so “On this Rock” means “On God[‘s foundation]”. That is, Jesus will build his church on the foundation of his Father, as reflected in Simon Peter’s confession:

    “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

    Why do you feel that this is an inadequate explanation?

    1. Hi Derek, thank you for the question. I don’t at all feel that it’s an inadequate explanation. That’s not what I intended when I said it “doesn’t fully explain.” I more so meant that I was stopping my discussion short of getting too far into that, especially what it means to “build the church.” I think you sum it up well.

      I will add that I think there’s room for nuance in the discussion. When one possesses faith, is regenerate, and is indwelt with the Holy Spirit, that faith (and the individuals confession) become intrinsically part of who they are as a person (“if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature”). In that regard, I don’t think it’s wrong to refer to the person of Peter, as many obviously have through history. It becomes a “both/and” at that point, I guess. Or, as Paul says in Galatians 2:20: “…It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me…”

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