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And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18 ESV)

Taking this verse at face value - it appears to me that the English pronoun "this" has the contextual potential to be quite controversial in nature .

According to the original Greek, which "rock" is the word "this" actually being assigned to?

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Here is the text of Matthew 16:18 set out in Greek of Nestle-Aland 27 and English of ESV (as above):

κἀγὼ δέ σοι λέγω ὅτι σὺ εἶ Πέτρος,
kagō de soi legō hoti su ei Petros
And I tell you, you are Peter,

καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν
kai epi tautē tē(i) petra(i) oikodomēsō mou tēn ekklēsian
and on this rock I will build my church,

καὶ πύλαι ᾅδου οὐ κατισχύσουσιν αὐτῆς.
kai pulai ha(i)dou ou katischusousin autēs
and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The answer to the presenting question ("According to the original Greek, which "rock" is the word "this" actually being assigned to?") is simple, in grammatical terms: ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ (epi tautē tē(i) petra(i)) "upon this rock" refers to Peter.

The Greek word πέτρα (petra) is one of the standard Greek words for "rock, stone", more "rock" than "stone", the other being λίθος (lithos) (more "stone" than "rock").

As Max Wilcox writes, in an important article for this question:

The plain meaning of v. 18 as it stands is quite simply that the Church (of Jesus) is to be built upon Peter.1

So the grammatical question is simple, and the immediate referent clear.2 But, as Wilcox immediately goes on to notice,

But elsewhere in the NT and in early patristic literature it is not upon Peter but upon Christ that the Church is built. Moreover, apart from this one passage, the 'stone' and 'rock' motifs from the OT are clearly applied to Jesus or to God. Why should it have been otherwise here?

And this is the deeper question to which the word "actually" in OP's forumlation points. Here things can get intricate and involved. In the history of the interpretation of this passage, two factors in particular come into play:

  1. the Aramaic, kēphaʾ (but perhaps also the Hebrew), lying behind the Peter/petra wordplay, which comes into a related text, John 1:42 ('Jesus looked at him and said, "So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas" (which means Peter).');
  2. the editorial unity of these few verses, as some commentators argue that the basic scene has been elaborated by later tradition.

To unpack these would take this answer far beyond the time and space I have available; perhaps others will take up the story. To investigate further, do consult the material cited here (available in any decent seminary library). Also:

I hope this helps at least at a basic level.


  1. Max Wilcox, "Peter and the Rock: A Fresh Look at Matthew xvi. 17–19", New Testament Studies 22/1 (October 1975): 73-88 (quote on p. 84).
  2. So too A.B. Bruce, in W. Robertson Nicoll (ed.), The Expositor's Greek Testament (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1897), vol. 1, pp. 224-225.
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  • I'm hesitant to ask a question for this since it is so closely related to this one. But could the prior two verses, specifically the revelation of who Jesus is be "this rock" grammatically? "Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven." – Joshua Aug 11 '15 at 17:35
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What is the Greek meaning of “this” in Matthew 16:18?

At Matthew 16:17-18 (NASB) we read a conversation between Peter and Jesus.

17 "And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon [a]Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.

18 "I also say to you that you are [b]Peter, and upon this [c]rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it."

Some say that Jesus was going to build His church on Peter, is this so? Before doing so we have to ask ourselves, how Peter , Paul and the other apostles understood it?. And what do the scriptures say?

HOW DID THE APOSTLES UNDERSTOOD IT.

In the Gospels we read on several occasions that the Apostles were arguing, who was going to be the greatest among them, we read.

Mark 9:33-35 (NASB)

33 "They came to Capernaum; and when He [a]was in the house, He began to question them, “What were you discussing on the way?”

34 "But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest."

35 "Sitting down, He called the twelve and *said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, [b]he shall be last of all and servant of all.”

The other occasions the Apostles argued is when the mother of the son's of Zebedee asked Jesus to give preference to her sons over the others Apostles Matthew 20:20-27 . Also read Luke 22:24-26

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+20%3A20-27

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+22%3A24-26&version=NASB

Is is obvious that if Jesus said that Peter was to be the "Greatest" among them , there would not have been any arguments between them.

HOW DID PETER UNDERSTOOD IT.

Peter as a Jew knew the prophesy about Jesus in Isaiah 28:16 (NASB) which says:

16" Therefore thus says the Lord [a]God,“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone,A costly cornerstone for the foundation, [b]firmly placed.He who believes in it will not be [c]disturbed."

IN VIEW OF THIS PETER QUOTED IN HIS WRITINGS THAT JESUS WAS THE CORNERSTONE.

1 Peter 2:4-8 (NASB)

4 "And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is [a]choice and precious in the sight of God,"

5" You also, as living stones, [b]are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. "

6 "For this is contained in [c]Scripture:“Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone,And he who believes in [d]Him will not be [e]disappointed.”

7 "This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve,“The stone which the builders rejected,This became the very corner stone,

8 and,“A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense”;for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed."

HAS THE APOSTLE PAUL PROCLAIMED THAT JESUS WAS THE ROCK?.

No where in his writings did he mention that Peter was the Head of the Church,instead he wrote something very interesting.

1 Corinthians 10:1-4 (NASB)

1 "For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; "

2 "And all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea;

3 "And all ate the same spiritual food;"

4 "And all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.wrote."

Paul in Galatians 2:9 wrote about the" pillars" of the church,and it is interesting to note, that he did not make any distinction between, James, Cephas (Peter) and John.

Galatians 2:9 (NASB)

9 "And recognizing the grace that had been given to me, [a]James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right [b]hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised."

CONCLUSION.

None of the apostles mentioned Peter as head of the church, instead Peter himself as well as Paul pointed to Jesus as the ROCK on which the church was to be build. The prophesies in the OT also point to Jesus as the ROCK .(Read Isiaih 8:13-14) In view of the above how are we to understand the conversation between Peter and Jesus?

15 He *said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Without hesitation Peter answered.

16 "Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah. You are the Son of the living God.”

Jesus commented Peter.

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah! No mere human showed this to you. My Father in heaven showed it to you."

Jesus replied "You are Peter" AND POINTING TO HIMSELF REPLIED. "On this ROCK I will build my church. Is important to note here that Jesus said "my church" not Peter's or Paul's.

18 "Here is what I tell you. You are Peter. On this rock I will build my church. The gates of hell will not be strong enough to destroy it."

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