Matthew 16 – Everywhere a Sign (of Jonah)

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Today’s PassageMatthew 16

If there’s one thing reading the Bible has taught me, it’s the limits of the human mind. I often read a passage and ask myself, “Now where have I heard that before?” Sometimes I’m able to come up with an answer. Sometimes I’m not. And sometimes my mind makes up a wrong answer out of whole cloth. But today we’ve got just such a rabbit hole of recollection, all incited by Jesus’ mention of the sign of Jonah.

Matthew 16 contains the second time Jesus mentions the sign of Jonah, which he introduced back in Matthew 12:38-41. The first time around, Jesus explains to the Pharisees asking for a sign: “Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (12:40). But when they ask again in chapter 16, Jesus simply reiterates that he’ll give them the sign of Jonah, with no elaboration. I could swear that there was a recent instance in Matthew of the general populace asking Jesus for a sign, not just the Pharisees, but heck if I can find it. I may have gotten my wires crossed and been thinking of John 6:30 from a sermon I recently heard. Truly, in my old age I am losing my mind.

So, the sign of Jonah finds its prophetic fulfillment in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. But with the sign of Jonah in my head, I read on, and the name “Jonah” appeared again. When Jesus asks the disciples who he is, and Peter declares that he’s the Messiah and God’s son, Jesus applauds him: “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona…” (16:17). “Barjona” is a Greek transliteration of the Aramaic for “son of Jonah.” And I would have figured Simon Peter’s dad was named Jonah and left it at that, had the sign of Jonah not been mentioned in such proximity.

So I did a few quick searches. And it turns out that while Matthew identifies Peter’s father as Jonah, John identifies Peter’s father as yet another John, for behold, the New Testament is rife with guys named John. According to John, upon meeting Peter, Jesus tells him, “You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas” (John 1:42). “John” and “Jonah” are two quite different Hebrew names; the former means “the Lord has been gracious” and the latter is derived from the word for “dove.” So what gives? Did Peter’s father have two names? Is the Greek “Ionas,” as this entry from Bible Study Tools suggests, not actually a transliteration of “Jonah,” but a contraction of the Greek “Ioanes,” corresponding to the name “John?”

Maybe. But I wonder: was Jesus suggesting that in some metaphorical sense Peter was a son of Jonah the prophet? It wouldn’t exactly be a huge compliment to be called a son of the very worst prophet. But on the other hand, if Jonah’s three days in the belly of the Miracle Fish serve as a metaphor for Jesus’ three days buried in the earth before his resurrection, by way of the sign of Jonah, then could Peter, as one of the first Christians, be a son of the Jonah who is Jesus? Jesus’ death and resurrection gave birth to a new Simon, one who actually lived up to his new name of “Peter,” the rock.

I speculate. But one thing I can say for certain: Peter had a dad.

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