By: Duane Cartujano
Ron Grimmes: I am not Catholic, but looking to become one, which is why I’m in RCIA classes. I came to the conclusion that the Catholic church was indeed the authorized church of Christ. Oddly enough, I don’t come to that because of Matt 16:18, but the first two Greek words following it: δώσω σοι. Were Jesus giving the keys to all the disciples present, it would be δώσω ὑμῖν. And yet, I disagree with the Church that Peter is the rock referred to in 16:18 because Peter is Πέτρος (a stone) and Christ said he would build upon this πέτρᾳ (a massive stone or bedrock) . I believe Jesus was referring to personal revelation that He is the Christ, the Son of God – if one considers the context leading of verses 15-17 leading up to the verse (18) in question.
So, not to get into a doctrinal debate, but clearly my view would not be in line with a basic teaching of the church, and yet I believe it is the correct church because it comes through Peter, to whom the keys were given. It might be splitting hairs to say I believe Peter was chosen to establish the church, but he is not the “rock” spoken of in verse 18. It’s that kind of disagreement I am wondering if is permitted and still be a member in good standing.
Me: This is what is written in the Greek text of Matthew 16:18.
“κἀγὼ δέ σοι λέγω ὅτι σὺ εἶ Πέτρος, καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν, καὶ πύλαι ἅ|δου οὐ κατισχύσουσιν αὐτῆς. “(Matthew 16:18, Greek New Testament)
In the Greek text, καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃͅ τῇ πέτρᾳ we will see, καί is a connective conjunction. Many of those who studied Greek know It must be translated as “and.” Of course, if used with the dative, ἐπί it can be taken in a spatial, temporal, or causal sense. For our understanding, A spatial understanding is more appropriate and the word may be defined as “on, upon”. It is very clear that the object of ἐπί should be described as πέτρα.
We will also realize ταύτη (“this”) refers to πέτρα. In our studies, we will see use of the article τῇ with the demonstrative pronoun ταύτη, which is in the predicate form, shows attributive function.
The Greek word Petros was not an exact synonym of petra since it was translated literally as “a stone.” If we will meditate on this verse, Jesus in a play on words switched petra when He turned from Peter’s name to what it signified for the church. If we will use our logic,there is no logical reason to think that Jesus changed from petros to petra to show that he did not refer to Peter but of his acknowledgment as the foundation of the church. We cannot deny the truth. The words “on this rock [petra]” refer to Peter due to the revelation he received and the confession (for which he would use ekeinος) that it motivated in him. Peter was appointed by Jesus to establish the foundation of the future church.
If we review the New Testament Greek especially those who studied it: The word πέτρα is feminine in the Greek and has a feminine ending (-α). The New Testament opted for a Greek word with masculine ending (-ος) for the apostle: Πέτρος.There is no basic difference between πέτρα and Πέτρος, even though πέτρα meant “live rock” and Πέτρος, a “detached stone.” The distinction was not observed precisely.
Matthew 16 talks about the theme of Jesus’ identity, but vv. 17-19 focuses mainly on Peter and his statements about the identity of. It will appear that the πέτρα of v. 18 either refers to the man.
Likewise, in v. 17, Jesus refers to the apostle as “Simon”. In v. 18, Jesus expressly refers to Simon as Peter which is the nickname he gave this apostle. If Peter is not being referred to, why would Jesus intentionally use a word that almost copied the apostle’s name? If this is the only place in the New Testament wherein πέτρα and Πέτρος are used in the same verse, it is hard to think that Jesus was not somehow referring to Peter.
Ron Grimmes:Thanks for the thoughtful reply. And yes, I understand the Greek parsing you have given, but it really comes down to what one believes is the antecedent of the demonstrative pronoun. It then becomes a matter of interpretation whether πέτρα is a single man, Peter, or a guiding principle that would endure for millennia as long as the church endures. πέτρα then is personal revelation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Every person who becomes a member must have received this personal testimony that He is the Messiah. It is the lifeblood of the church.
Christ would never build His entire church on one mortal man who would soon die:
18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.
19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household,
20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone,
21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord,
22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.
Clearly, the foundation is Christ as the “corner stone” and then all the “apostles and prophets”, with Peter being just one of those listed. Therefore, Jesus had to be referring to something different when he used the petros/petra paronomasia. Word plays, as you know, occur a multitude of times in the Bible. But, it does not necessarily tie them to the same antecedent. In fact, I would paraphrase Jesus as saying, “You are a small stone, but it is upon this massive bedrock that I will build my church.” By referring to Simon as a “small stone”, Jesus is in essence eliminating Peter as qualifying to be the bedrock of Christ’s church. He is drawing a contrast – not a similarity. No, this living stone had to be something that outlived Peter and nurtured the church through the eons, and that is a personal witness of who Jesus truly is.
I respect your scholarship, but I must also say that this is one of the problems I see with Catholics who engage in scholarship. There is a very strong predilection to arrive at the authorized catechismal conclusions. It is next to impossible to come to any other conclusion out of fear of being considered a heretic. I understand the need for unity in the church and not breeding dissensions.
I would think an acceptable approach might be for a member to hold divergent views, but refraining from trying to convince others of one’s view, out of deference to the magisterium in deciding doctrinal matters for the church as a whole. But, I don’t believe that submission should prevent scholarship that might lead to other conclusions. True scholarship requires reaching the conclusion after an examination of the facts, not before. To bring in a conclusion that must be reached is to obviate the need for scholarship. In fact, a foregone conclusion and scholarly research are mutually exclusive – an anathema to one another.
I appreciate your insights and enjoy the debate. But, these are clearly waters I will have to learn to navigate should I decide to go forward in pursuit of membership in the Catholic church. Unfortunately, it is not possible to set aside my own brain entirely in deference to others. I may defer to them in what is taught in the church, but cannot do so in terms of what I think.
The peace of our Lord be with you.
Me: May God always guide you Ron.
“Rock” is often a designation for God as on the only foundation for one’s life (Isaiah 17:10) but Isaiah 51:1-2 where “rock” refers to Abraham. As the conveyor of divine revelation Apostle Peter himself, insofar as he is the one who bears witness to Jesus’ true identity is the rock on which Jesus will now build the community of the faithful. The image of Apostle Peter as the “rock” is best understood in the light of the parable of the wise who “built his house on rock” (Matthew 7:24).
The translation of Kephas by Petros in John 1:42 and the wordplay in Matthew 16:18 between Petros and petra have been explained from time immemorial by an appeal to the Aramaic background of the name Cephas. Kephas is regarded as a grecized form of the Aramaic word “kepha”, assimilating it to masculine nouns of the first declension. The Hebrew noun “keph” is found in Jeremiah 4:29 and Job 30:6. To illustrate the Aramaic use, one has often appealed to later rabbinic writings, Syriac, and Christian Palestinian Aramaic.
The common noun “kepha” appears twice in the targum of Job from Qumran Cave 11.
Part of the problem comes from the nature of the languages involved. Both petros and petra are at home in the Greek language from its earliest periods and though the words were at times used with slightly different nuances, it is clear that “they are often used interchangeably.”
So perhaps we are dealing with an Aramaic term which was used with different nuances. When translated into Greek, the masculine form petros would lend itself as a more likely designation of a person (Simon), and a literary variant, the feminine petra, for an aspect of him that was to be played upon.
In St. John 1:42, the Aramaic translation of Simon’s new name, Kephas means “rock.” Let us say that Anti-Catholics are correct and Peter was only a “little stone” (petros). In that case, the Aramaic word should have been “evna” and not “kephas.”
“Kephas” (John 1:42 and Matthew 16:18) comes from the Aramaic word כיפה “kefa” (Classic Galilean spelling is כיפא or in Syriac ܟܐܦܐ).
The word for Peter, kefa’, is the same word for rock. If the words are compared, Peter is the rock.
In said verse, the same word is used for his name ܟܐܦܐ “Kefa” and what our Lord said he would build His Church upon ܟܐܦܐ .