Simon the Zealot
Simon was born c. AD 10 (3770–3771 in the Hebrew calendar) in the Roman district of Galilee. The synoptic gospel writers Matthew, Mark, and Luke variously called him "Simon the Zealot" (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13) or "Simon the Cananaean" (Matt. 10:4; Mark 3:18). In the first century, both of the terms "Zealot" and "Cananaean" synonymously referred to the Zealots, a violent group of Jewish revolutionaries who tried to overthrow the imperial rule of Judea and Galilee in the First Jewish-Roman War between AD 66–73. The Hebrew word for "Zealot" is Kanai (H7067), which Matthew and Mark transliterated into Greek as Kananaios (G2581). They simply kept the original Hebrew noun but wrote it out with Greek letters. Likewise, many of our doctrinal and theological terms in Christianity are transliterations of Greek words instead of translations of meaning (e.g., baptize).
Some translations such as the King James Version (KJV) mistakenly render Kananaios as "Canaanite," a demonym that refers to the ancient pagan nation of Canaan before the Israelite conquest of the Promised Land (cf. Josh. 14:1). The Anglican translators of the KJV used the Vulgate, the "Common Bible" (Latin: Biblia Vulgata) singlehandedly written by Jerome of Stridon (c. 347–420), who misread Kananaios to imply someone from the Galilean village of Cana. The KJV scholars, in turn, mistook Jerome's error to mean "Canaanite" because they prioritized Latin manuscripts over the earlier Greek ones; they still sided with the Roman Catholics in their traditional rivalry with the Greek Orthodox after the English Reformation (1532-1559). However, the mistake was easy for someone to make, considering how the demonym Chananaios (G5478, "Canaanite," Χαναναῖος) resembles Kananaios (Καναναῖος) in the handwritten manuscripts of the New Testament. That said, we know that Jesus chose twelve apostles to match typologically with the twelve tribes of Israel, meaning they were all Jews (cf. Matt. 19:28). Simon was certainly a Jewish man, and a zealously nationalistic one at that!
Zealous for Jesus
Simon and Matthew of Capernaum were polar opposites, one a Zealot who planned insurgencies against the Romans and the other a government contractor who collected their taxes for them. Although they were both Jewish, their political differences were much wider than the liberals and conservatives of today. Perhaps, Jesus chose Simon and Matthew as apostles to both counterbalance each other and to show that his own teaching was apolitical. The Zealots were Jewish insurgents who sought to liberate Judea and Galilee from the Roman Empire. They were a type of armed militia, augmented by a more radical wing called "Daggermen" (Latin: Sicarii) who assassinated their enemies in broad daylight with short daggers hidden in their clothes. Simon was probably not one of these terrorists, but a moderate who believed in the Zealot motto: "No king but Messiah, no tax but the temple, no friend but the Zealot."
Perhaps, this was the reason Simon first found Jesus' ministry in Galilee appealing, hoping he would overthrow the Romans and reign as the Messiah. However, Simon stayed on even when Jesus taught lessons that contradicted Zealot ideology: "Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's" (Mark 12:17)—as opposed to, "No king but Messiah, no tax but the temple . . ." Surprisingly, Simon remained with Jesus even after he warned about the temple's imminent destruction (Matt 24:1-2; Luke 21:5-6), which happened in AD 70 when the Romans seized Jerusalem from the Zealots and routed them. Eusebius of Caesarea (260/65–339/40) noted that the Jewish Christians fled to Pella, a desert village to the east of the Jordan River, in AD 66 because they refused to fight in the war (Hist. eccl. 3.5.3). By this time, Simon had found a different cause to be zealous about: the good news of Jesus. Instead of fuming about paying taxes to Caesar with a coin bearing his graven image, Simon realized he was made in God's image that no human authority could own. He accepted, "No king but Christ (Phil. 2:9-11), no temple but the body (John 2:21; 1 Cor. 6:19), no friend but the believer" (2 Cor. 6:14).
Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the universe, grant that as your apostle Simon was faithful and zealous in his mission, so we may with ardent devotion make known the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
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