Peter and Cephas

Last week in New Testament, we were talking about the differences between Paul’s letters and some descriptions in Acts. The class split into groups and were given the task to either look at Paul’s conversion experience or the Apostle Throwdown in Jerusalem and Antioch. I, luckily, got assigned the Apostle throwdown – Galatians 2 and Acts 15. And, then, after our groups met and chatted, we had our own in-class throwdown. Sadly, no metal cage descended down from the ceiling but I was surprised to find that, at least vocally, my view of the throwdown differed from others because I take Paul’s view much more seriously than Acts. And that made me, in some way, the outsider – or at least the outsider willing to vocalize an outside view.

Now, I don’t mind that one bit and I’ll admit that, before that little exercise, I never had compared the two descriptions of the events. It just had not showed up on my radar. But I think the major difference, at least in how Paul describes the events, relates through Paul’s use of Peter’s name. In Gal 2:7, Paul uses Peter; in Gal 2:9, Paul switches to Cephas. Is Paul just flipping back and forth between Peter’s names because Paul and Peter are so close, Paul uses all of the versions of his name? Maybe….but, well, I don’t think so. Instead, Paul is calling Peter Cephas for a reason – he’s explicitly labeling Peter as the “other” to the gentiles of Galatia. It is Paul’s way of showing his authority (which is why he never calls himself Saul). Peter is labeled as different, the other, the one called to preach to the circumcised, not the gentiles. His authority, in the matter of Galatia, is different from Paul’s – and this is a difference that was sanctified not only by the apostles in Jerusalem but by the ultimate authority, Jesus. And even though Paul describes his logic throughout Galatians 2, he really didn’t have to. The fact that he called Peter Cephas laid this all out well enough.

In essence, Paul is a gamer; a baller; a playmaker. Paul is playing rhetorical hardball right here. He is willing to throw it down, and, in a sense, defend his house. And I like the idea of a Paul who’s willing to throwdown. But should I really trust Paul’s vision of the throwdown since he’s speaking to a people where he had to throw around his authority? Maybe not. I should probably consider his explanation with a huge grain of salt. But that willingness to throw his weight around, his cattiness, that willingness to fight? That feels more real to me and it’s why I give Paul’s point of view more weight than Acts. Is that one of my biases? I think so.