“You are Peter” in Jesus’ language of Aramaic

by Steve Ray on November 21, 2013

Since we recently visited Caesarea Philippi, the site where Jesus renamed Simon as “Peter” or Kepha (Matt 16:13-20), I thought you would find this interesting.

So, what did it sound like at Caesarea Philippi when Jesus renamed Simon and made him the rock of the Church: “And I tell you, you are Peter [rock], and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18)? Compare this with John 1:42. (Even though the auto link here says it means Peter, it should say “means rock”.)

You know of course, that Jesus did not speak English. If most of us heard Him speak those words today we would have no clue what He was saying. Jesus spoke Aramaic and that language is still alive in very small communities in the Middle East.

Aramaic sm.jpgWhat you see written to the right is Syriac Aramaic as written by my friend Efrem Nissan in Bethlehem. He is a Syrian Orthodox Christian. (Click on the text for a larger image.)

Now, not only can you see the script — which is close to what would have been written in the time of Jesus — but you can listen to it as well. I took this short video clip of Efrem reading the words you see written here. He read them on our pilgrimage. Listen for the word “kepha” twice. Kepha is the word “rock” in Aramaic.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike March 5, 2008 at 9:46 PM

Very cool. The theological commentary on The Passion DVD states that Kephas and Caiaphas both mean rock. The priest makes the point that the Scripture uses a play on words (or, in this case, a play on names) to point out the contrast between the Old Testament high priest, Caiaphas, and the New Covenant high priest (Peter). Obviously, Jesus is the High Priest, but it is clear in Scripture that he appointed Peter to lead His church. This contrast between Kephas and Caiaphas provides more support for the Catholic understanding of papacy. However, I have not been able to corroborate this from any of my online research. Does anyone have a resource to point me to verify this?

K March 10, 2008 at 2:29 AM

Thank you for this and your other articles on the “one holy Catholic and apostolic church” I have been struggling with my Catholic faith for a while now, feeling pulled in other directions. After reading your studies, I am learning new things and understanding better what it means to be Catholic.

Jim April 2, 2008 at 4:56 PM

An interesting point that Mike made. I would love to agree with his conclusion. ZIt may be that the Lord intended this to be a play on words involving Caiaphas. It certainly would not be the first time that he used this technique.

I guess it depends on when during Jesus’ ministry that the events of Matt 16 occurred. The high priest was a one-year term. This wouldn’t mean much if Caiaphas was not HP at the time.

Darla April 4, 2008 at 5:55 PM

Thank you so much — I feel so blessed to have heard that in the language Jesus said it in. Thanks be to God for you and your friend.

yunwiya April 8, 2008 at 8:02 PM

this is so cool. I loved viewing the script in Jesus language and hearing it. One time I heard the “our father” in the language Jesus spoke…now THAT was something…and so is this.

thank you steve..

Denis Egan August 23, 2009 at 1:50 PM

For what it is worth, my recollection of the Latin version of this sentence is ” Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam”. The name “Peter” is based on the word “rock” (petram). The sentence reads “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church”.

GPecoraro April 24, 2013 at 2:01 PM

It is also interesting, and essential, to note that cephas (or kephas) means “head.” Example: cephalosporin or electro-encephalogram. Thus Jesus made Peter the HEAD of the Church.

De Maria April 25, 2013 at 4:09 PM

GPecoraro April 24, 2013 at 2:01 PM
It is also interesting, and essential, to note that cephas (or kephas) means “head.” Example: cephalosporin or electro-encephalogram. Thus Jesus made Peter the HEAD of the Church.

THAT is very cool! I’ll be using that in my apologetical discussions frequently.

Sincerely,

De Maria

dmw April 26, 2013 at 1:36 PM

Your folk etymology is absolutely wrong. Peter’s Aramaic name, Kephas, is transliterated into Greek as ?????. The Greek word for ‘head’ is ??????. You are confused because in English transliterations of Greek we typically use ‘e’ to represent both the Greek letters eta and epsilon.

dmw April 26, 2013 at 1:39 PM

Well, it seems it didn’t render the Greek font…so… ‘Kephas’ is spelled kappa, eta, phi, alpha, sigma. The Greek for ‘head’ (Gk. kephale) is spelled kappa, epsilon, phi, alpha, lambda, eta.

De Maria April 26, 2013 at 4:04 PM

Hello dmw,

What do you think is the Greek etymology of the word, kephale (i.e. head)? Do you think it might possibly be related to kepha (stone)?

Does not the skull, the main part of the head, resemble a stone?

Here is what one expert thinks:
According to Jacob Michael the word Kepha “is etymologically connected to the Greek word kephale, which means “head” – as in Eph. 5:23, where Christ is the “head” (kephale) of the Church.” Similarly an encephalogram is a picture of the head/brain. And an autocephalous church is one that leads itself.
http://www.freewebs.com/orthodoxcatholic/supremacy.html

It seems rather obvious to the rest of us that kepha and keyhole are related. But perhaps you could shed more light upon what you see as our error?

Sincerely,

De Maria

De Maria April 26, 2013 at 4:06 PM

Lol! That should read:
It seems rather obvious to the rest of us that kepha and kephale are related. But perhaps you could shed more light upon what you see as our error?

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