A series of articles born out of critically thinking on the works of several Catholic Apologists and comparing their work with Scripture.
Peter and The Rock
Petra vs. Petros
The above Matthew passage is cited to give the "seat of Peter" great power here on earth. The Catholic Church believes that the pope sits in this "seat of Peter". It is taught that the rock referred to in Matthew above is Peter. If it is Peter, then how can we reconcile this interpretation with Psalm18:31 shown above? We cannot, so either the Catholic interpretation of this passage is wrong, or the rest of Scriptures are wrong. Could Matthew 16:18 possibly have a meaning besides what has been set forth by the Catholic Church (that the rock = Peter).
Let us first look at the Greek for the word rock. The word "Peter" in the verse above is the Greek word "petros" it is in the masculine gender and its meaning is a pebble or a throwing size rock. Sometimes it is referred to a larger rock. But all agree that it is a rock of considerably smaller than what is referred to by another Greek word, "petra":
The word "rock" in the verse above is the Greek word "petra" it is in the feminine gender and it means huge size rock, the material of which a cliff side is made of. The two are two different words with two different meanings.
One possible interpretation:
This is how these verses could be understood.
V15-16: Simon Peter answers the question of who Jesus is by saying that He is the long awaited Messiah (the Anointed One - the Christ). The One who had been promised and waited for so long.
V17: Peter is called blessed for understanding this truth. Is Peter blessed because he is "smarter" than any of the others? No, Jesus tells Peter he is blessed because the Father in heaven had revealed it to Peter.
Then, a question that should be asked, but rarely is: Which Rock is Jesus talking about?
V18: Jesus surnames Simon and gives him the name of Peter. The word Peter is "petros". Jesus then makes the comment that upon this "rock" [petras] He will build His church (the word for church here is the Greek word "ekklesia" and it means "assembly"). Which Rock is Jesus talking about? [Before answering this, we should remember that sometimes we fall into the trap of being so familiar with hearing a verse taught one way that we instantly think that this was is being said. I am asking you to think about it. Pretend like you are hearing this verse for the first time. The legitimate question is this: Is it the Rock found in the Old Testament (which Peter would have instantly recognized as a synonym for Messiah), the Rock of our salvation (as Peter implied in v17, with O.T. refs shown below), or is the rock Peter (mentioned in v18a)? We will try and see which fits better below. Before we get to that though, I want to discuss the natural reading of this statement.
Was Jesus speaking in the third person here referring to Himself?
In other articles on this site, I discuss how the natural reading of a sentence is sometimes changed by those who want the sentence to say something other than what it says. The first inclination reading Mt6:18 is that the rock being referred to is Peter. However, I believe that it could also mean Christ. Jesus frequently speaks of Himself in the third person. He often called Himself "Son of Man", "the Gate", "the Door", "the Vine", "the Temple", etc. Is it possible that he was referring to Himself when He was talking to Peter about the rock? Could Jesus have been thumping His hands on His chest and telling Peter "upon this rock" as is a common gesture when someone speaks of themselves. I cannot dogmatically say that this is what Jesus was doing at the time because the Bible doesn't say that He was doing this, but it may have been possible. Is it possible that He was referring to Himself? I believe it is not only possible, but probable that He was referring to Himself based on the discussion below and the fact that He so often referred to Himself in the third person.
God's Spiritual Temple (His Church)
Petros means a smaller rock as seen above. Let's suppose that Jesus surnames Simon to signify that Peter is one of many rocks that are used in the building of God's church (His assembly, His saints, His Body, or His Temple). The first stone that must be laid for His Temple is the Foundation that has to support all the rest of the Temple. This foundation can be none other than Jesus, Himself:
Ephesians 2:20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
Corinthians I 3:11 For no man can lay a foundation other than that one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
The next layer consists of the apostles and prophets. Note that this layer is not the apostle Peter only, but rather all of the apostles. Peter was one of many:
Ephesians 2:19 Now therefore you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
Ephesians 2:20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
Revelation 21:14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb
And the saints are built on top of the apostles and prophets:
Ephesians 2:19-22 Now therefore you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitted together grows unto a holy temple in the Lord: In whom you also are built together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
The saints are seen as living stones that are figuratively built onto the apostles and prophets.
Corinthians I 3:9 For we are laborers together with God: you are God's field, you are God's building.
Peter I 2:5 You also, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house, a holy priesthood…
Corinthians II 6:16 And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? for you are the temple of the living God; as God has said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
The saints are precious stones built into the walls in Revelation 21:
Revelation 21:19 And the foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald;
Revelation 21:20 The fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolyte; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst.
The order of the building.
The saints are built upon the apostles and prophets because the apostles and prophets are the people that God used to reveal His Word to the world. In other words, the saints are built upon their writings (God's writing through them). The saints are built upon the apostles and prophets who are built upon Christ. Peter is only one of the apostles and prophets. He is not the Rock upon whom the whole church is built. That is why the Greek work for Rock [petra] in Mt16:18 is the word for a huge rock and the word for Peter [petros] is a small stone. Jesus is the Rock, Peter is one of the stones.
Petra vs. Petros
One can then legitimately argue that the word petros (Peter) is masculine and the word petra (Rock) is feminine. And how can a feminine word refer to Jesus? I don't know the answer to that question. If it cannot refer to Jesus as the Rock because it is feminine, then it cannot refer to Peter for the same reason. To help gain understanding it would be helpful to see how these words petros, and petra are translated throughout the rest of the Greek New Testament.
Petros is always translated as Peter. And all cases refer to the Apostle Simon Peter.
Petra is always translated as rock. In almost every case, the word petra is referring to Christ Himself:
Matthew 7:24-27 Therefore whoever hears these sayings of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, which built his house upon a rock [petra]: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it did not fall: for it was founded upon a rock [petra]. And every one that hears these sayings of mine, and does not do them, shall be likened to a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. This wording would be awkward if we were to substitute the word Peter for rock. It is obviously teaching that one should build his house on the Rock of Jesus (the Rock of the Messiah) which will never fail. Not even in the face of Hell on Judgment Day.
Matthew 16:18 And I say also unto you, That you are Peter [petros], and upon this rock [petra] I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Mark 15:46 And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a tomb which was hewn out of a rock [petra], and rolled a stone [lithos] against the entrance of the tomb. --- Here the rock does not refer to Jesus, but does show that the word petra refers to a very large rock.
Luke 6:48-49 He is like a man which built a house, and dug deep, and laid the foundation on a rock [petra]: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock [petra]. But he that hears, and does not do, is like a man that built a house upon the earth without a foundation ; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great.
Luke 8:6 And some fell upon a rock [petra]; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture.
Luke 8:13 They on the rock [petra] are these, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; but have no root, who for a while believe, and in time of temptation, fall away. ---- From the parable of the sower.
Romans 9:33 As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumbling stone and rock [petra] of offence: and whosoever believes on Him shall not be ashamed. - petra is directly referring to Christ Himself, not Peter.
Corinthians I 10:4 And all drank the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock [petra] that followed them: and that Rock [petra] was Christ.The Rock is clearly stated as being Christ. It cannot be Peter.
Peter I 2:6-8 Therefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believes on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which are disobedient, the stone which the builders rejected, the same has become the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock [petra] of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: where unto also they were appointed. --- the Stone that the builders rejected is the Rock [petra] of offence… Christ. Peter certainly isn't calling himself a rock here.
Revelation 6:15-16 And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every slave, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks [petra] of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks [petra], Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: The petra referred to here does not refer to Christ nor Peter, but to large rocks.
That is it for the Greek word petra. As it is used in God's Word to us, it refers to either a large rock or Jesus Himself.
Rocks and Stones in O.T. and N.T.
Let us look at a smattering of other verses from the Scriptures to see how God uses the term rock or stones:
Psalms 18:2 The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God,…
Psalms 18:31 For who is God except the LORD? or who is a rock except our God?
Psalms 28:1 A Psalm of David. Unto you will I cry, O LORD my rock;
Psalms 62:6 He only is my rock and my salvation: he is my defense; I shall not be moved.
Psalms 71:3 ... save me; for you are my rock and my fortress.
Luke 9:22 Saying, The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day. in conjunction with this verse
Luke 20:17 And he beheld them, and said, What is this then that is written, The stone which the builders rejected, the same has become the head of the corner?
Many more passages refer to Jesus and the Lord God as the Rock. Based upon the overwhelming evidence presented in Scripture, the only Rock that can be the foundation for the Church is Jesus Himself.
Does Rock = rock?
A few comments are needed to clarify the original language in which the Scriptures were written. It is nearly universally accepted that New Testament writers wrote the entire New Testament in Greek. The vast majority (if not all) of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew. Historians tell us that when Jesus was on earth, the Jewish people were speaking the Aramaic language. There are those that argue that in the Aramaic language, the word for Peter [Cepha] is the same word as the word for rock [Cepha]. They say that the Aramaic speaking people did not have a separate word for a large rock and a small stone. Based upon this assumption, the conclusion that is drawn is that Peter must equal this rock since they were the same word as Jesus would have verbally spoken these words. The problem with this conclusion is that when God recorded Word of God, He used two different words. The New Testament (God's Word) was not recorded in Aramaic. The recorder (through whom God worked) in this case was Matthew. Matthew knew Aramaic. Matthew (or God writing through him) must have had a reason to use two different words. As stated earlier, these words both refer to rock, but one is much larger than the other. The reason God uses two different words is that these two rocks are separate and have two different meanings. If the original Aramaic were to be translated exactly, then the two different Greek words should be one and the same Greek word. Obviously, Matthew (God writing through Matthew) understood that Jesus must have had two different rocks in mind when He was speaking. The real question is whether or not we want to believe what God has written down for us or whether we want to believe those to try and explain away what God has clearly written in favor of forcing it to fit their view.
Leadership and disciplinary authority within the church (as it stands on earth) has been left in the hands of the godly pastors, elders and deacons of individual churches. Yes, there are more experienced teachers than others (such as Paul with respect to Timothy), but Paul does not lord any authority over Timothy. He instructs the younger man, but does not say that he is the boss. They all appear to be subject to Jesus and His Word though.Satan vs. Peter
We all know how Paul was tormented by Satan (through those who were of the synagogue of Satan as well as physical beatings and the like) wherever he went. Satan comes after anyone who is not of his kingdom. Peter should not be considered special just because of Satan's interest in destroying Peter.John 1:42
I cannot explain why this verse has been used by many through the centuries to state that Peter was the Rock upon whom Christ would build His church. In my opinion, one could not possibly come to this conclusion if more of Scripture is carefully examined.One more word on Peter… just a man like you and I