googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Matthew 16:17-18: Who is the Rock?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Matthew 16:17-18: Who is the Rock?

ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῷ· μακάριος εἶ, Σίμων Βαριωνᾶ, ὅτι σὰρξ καὶ αἷμα οὐκ ἀπεκάλυψέν σοι ἀλλ' πατήρ μου ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς. κἀγὼ δέ σοι λέγω ὅτι σὺ εἶ Πέτρος καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν καὶ πύλαι ᾅδου οὐ κατισχύσουσιν αὐτῆς.

“And Jesus answering said to him, `Happy art thou, Simon Bar-Jona, because flesh and blood did not reveal [it] to thee, but my Father who is in the heavens. And I also say to thee, that thou art a rock, and upon this rock I will build my assembly, and gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:17-18, Young’s Literal)

There are some people who interpret this passage to be a special commission that Jesus gave exclusively to Peter. That Christ, in this passage, is telling Peter that He will build his church on Peter (the rock). There are immediately 2 things I see in this passage that cause me to think otherwise.

First, Jesus refers to Simon-Peter as, Πέτρος (a rock) but says He will build His church upon ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ (this rock). Immediately we see that there are two different words used here: Πέτρος (Strong’s word # 4074) and πέτρα (Strong’s word # 4073). Why the difference? Admittedly the difference is subtle but the latter generally refers to a massive rock, like a cliff. πέτρα is used in Revelation 6:16, “and they say to the mountains and to the rocks (πέτραις), `Fall upon us, and hide us from the face of Him who is sitting upon the throne, and from the anger of the Lamb,'”

The usual explanation offered for the difference is that πέτρα is a feminine noun and Πέτρος is masculine; Jesus would not have given Peter a feminine name. To that argument I respond that Πέτρος is not even meant to be a name but a predicate adjective. Consider John 14:6, ἐγώ εἰμι ὁδὸς καὶ ἀλήθεια καὶ ζωή· (I am the way and the truth and the life). These are all feminine nouns, rather they are adjectives Jesus uses to describe Himself. So there is nothing in the Greek language that would have prevented Jesus from saying to Peter, σὺ εἶ πέτρα.

The second thing that jumps out at me is the emphatic use of the pronoun, σὺ. As I discussed in another blog, the use of a pronoun here is redundant since it’s already implied in the verb εἶ (you are). The emphatic use of the pronoun creates a contrast between the first clause and second clause: YOU are a rock – I will build my church on THIS rock.

I believe Jesus was referring to Himself as THIS Rock. He identified Peter as “a rock” because of Peter’s faith.

I believe we can all be like Peter. A rock laid on The Rock that was rejected by the builders but now is the cornerstone (Matthew 21:42).

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