Basically most translations say: "gates of Hades will not overpower [the church]", one translation (Aramaic Bible in Plain English) says "gates of Sheol will not withstand it".

My understanding of gates, is that they protect property, they do not attack. If true, this means the church is on the attack, as opposed to the other translations where the gates are on the attack and the church is on the defense. As my greek is non-existent, can someone please say whether "withstand" could be an acceptable translation?

Does the greek say clearly whether "the church is attacking" or whether "the church is being attacked", or is this open to the viewpoint of the translator?

Basically, could this passage be translated to something to effect that the church is on the attack and that no principalities, not even the very gates of hell can resist the attack?


5 Answers 5


RE: (Aramaic Bible in Plain English) "gates of Sheol will not withstand it".

There isn’t much support for the rendering you found in the greek text. It may be a viable rendering of a syriac version. Not sure which syriac version is being translated.

NRSV Matt. 16:18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.

Matt. 16:18 κἀγὼ δέ σοι λέγω ὅτι σὺ εἶ Πέτρος, καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν καὶ πύλαι ᾅδου οὐ κατισχύσουσιν αὐτῆς.

Interesting sidelight that syntax of the clause in question is same in both Syriac and Greek. Word order is identical. Particularly interesting that οὐ κατισχύσουσιν αὐτῆς looks like it could be a literal translation of ܠܐ ܢܚܣܢܘܢܗ (negative particle -> verb -> third per. fem. genitive pronoun/suffix). Don’t get me wrong I am not arguing for an aramaic original of Matthew, just observing that the syntax looks the same.

The question asked pertains to the meaning of κατισχύσουσιν for which I will cite the three semantic domains given in Louw & Nida (1989). See 79.64 ἵνα κατισχύσητε ἐκφυγεῖν ταῦτα πάντα ‘in order that you may be strong enough to escape all these things’ Lk 21:36. This is semantically somewhat similar to “withstand” but not identical.

39.56 κατισχύω: to prevail over something or some person so as to be able to defeat, with the implication that the successful participant has greater strength — ‘to defeat, to prevail over.’ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν, καὶ πύλαι ᾅδου οὐ κατισχύσουσιν αὐτῆς ‘on this rock I will build my church and not even death will be able to defeat it’ Mt 16:18. In some languages it may be impossible to personify ‘death’ and thus make it an agent of ‘defeating.’ However, it is possible to retain some of the figurative meaning involved, at least in some languages, by translating ‘and my church will never die out’ or ‘and my church will never die.’

74.10 ἐξισχύω; κατισχύωa: to be completely capable of doing or experiencing something — ‘to be completely able, to be fully able.’ ἐξισχύω: ἵνα ἐξισχύσητε καταλαβέσθαι σὺν πᾶσιν τοῖς ἁγίοις ‘that you, together with all God’s people, may be fully able to understand …’ Eph 3:18. κατισχύωa: ἵνα κατισχύσητε ἐκφυγεῖν ταῦτα πάντα τὰ μέλλοντα γίνεσθαι ‘that you may be completely able to escape all that is about to happen’ Lk 21:36. For another interpretation of κατισχύω in Lk 21:36, see 79.64.

79.64 ἰσχύωb; κατισχύω: to be physically strong enough for some purpose — ‘to be strong enough to, to be able to, to have the strength to.’ ἰσχύωb: σκάπτειν οὐκ ἰσχύω ‘I am not strong enough to dig’ Lk 16:3. κατισχύωb: ἵνα κατισχύσητε ἐκφυγεῖν ταῦτα πάντα τὰ μέλλοντα γίνεσθαι ‘in order that you may be strong enough to escape all these things that are going to take place’ Lk 21:36. For another interpretation of κατισχύω in Lk 21:36, see 74.10.

I don’t pretend to read Syriac script but I understand the basic syntax. There are a number of dialects covering several historical periods. So you really need to be an expert on this to make a judgment about a valid reading of a Syriac version of the Gospels. Just because you find a gloss in CAL (comprehensive aramaic lexicon) doesn’t mean you can apply that meaning to the text under consideration. That would be comparable to using LSJ to translate the Church Fathers. People I know who know Syriac: Ken Penner, Phd (St. Francis Xavier U). Peter J. Williams (Warden, Tyndale House Cambridge) PhD thesis: Early Syriac Translation Technique and the Textual Criticism of the Greek Gospels.

The following was extracted from web resources found here: http://dukhrana.com/peshitta/ and here The Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon [http://cal1.cn.huc.edu/getlex.php?coord=620401618&word=16]

Matt 16:18 Peshitta English translations

(Etheridge) Also I say unto thee, that thou art Kipha, and upon this rock will I build my church, and the gates of Sheul shall not prevail against her.

(Murdock) Also I say to thee, that thou art Cephas: and upon this rock, I will build my church: and the gates of death shall not triumph over it.

(Lamsa) I tell you also that you are a stone, and upon this stone I will build my church; and the doors of Sheol shall not shut in on it.

Matthew 16:18 - Peshitta ܐܦ ܐܢܐ ܐܡܪ ܐܢܐ ܠܟ ܕܐܢܬ ܗܘ ܟܐܦܐ ܘܥܠ ܗܕܐ ܟܐܦܐ ܐܒܢܝܗ ܠܥܕܬܝ ܘܬܪܥܐ ܕܫܝܘܠ ܠܐ ܢܚܣܢܘܢܗ ܀

ܠܐ ܢܚܣܢܘܢܗ

particle: ܠܐ not

verb ܢܚܣܢܘܢܗ root ܚܣܢ Third Masculine Plural - Imperfect PEAL (suffix) Third Feminine Singular

Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon (This lexicon entry doesn't look good here so you would be better of to follow the link.) [http://cal1.cn.huc.edu/getlex.php?coord=620401618&word=16]

 1 to be strong Syr. --(a) to be vehement Syr. --(b) to urge Syr. --(c) (pain) to be severe Syr. (c.1) to be in labor Syr. (c.2) to be sick Syr. --(d) to be too strong for, overcome Syr. --(e) to resist Syr. (e.1) ܠܡܚܣܢ as adv.: with resistance Syr. 
  2 to possess LJLA. D
  1 to fortify JLAtg, CPA, Syr. C
  1 see below, quad אחסן . 
  2 to confirm Syr. Gt
  1 to be overcome Syr. --(a) to be seriously ill Syr. 
  2 to be in a firm position LJLA. Dt
  1 to be fortified Syr. --(a) to make fortified camp Syr. 
  2 to show oneself strong Syr. --(a) to dominate Syr. Ct
  1 to hold oneself back (?) OfA-Iran. quad
  1 החסן , אחסן : to take possession of a landed inheritance OfA-Egypt, JLAtg, PTA, JBAg. --(a) to take possession of an office LJLA. 
  2 החסן , אחסן : to bequeath a landed inheritance OfA-Egypt, PTA, JBAg, LJLA. 
  3 to deprive of possession JLAtg. quad T
  1 to have or be given possession PTA, LJLA. --(a) to achieve the status of adult LJLA.

tentative conclusion: I don't find any compelling support for the translation you found of Matt 16:18c. There certainly isn't any Greek support. I am not qualified to pass judgement on the rendering of the Syriac but that isn't what you asked for is it.

  • Thank you, you have answered comprehensively, and answered my question. God bless, Grantley
    – Grantley
    May 7, 2015 at 5:51

Archibald Thomas Robertson in his Word Pictures of the New Testament has a nice explanation, that the gates of Hades will not be able to overcome or imprison the church i.e. "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" (1 Corinthians 15:55, KJV) because Christ led captivity captive (Ephesians 4:8) when he descended into Hades then rose triumphant from the grave with all the believers who had been confined there.


In ancient times the Town Council would meet in the gates of the town which could be a large area because walls were very thick. So if that is the case then the "Gates of Hell" would be the council of hell and so would by plotting strategy be capable of prevailing over believers.


The equivalent word "against" does not exist in the orginal manuscript but is added by the translators. That makes a big difference in the reading of the text. It would lend support that the church is on the offensive and hell is the one defending its kingdom.

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How do other translators render the verse?

Matthew 16:18 Tree of Life Version

18 And I also tell you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My community[a]; and the gates of Sheol will not overpower it.

Matthew 16:18 Revised Standard Version

18 And I tell you, you are Peter,[a] and on this rock[b] I will build my church, and the powers of death[c] shall not prevail against it.

Matthew 16:18 Amplified Bible

18 And I say to you that you are [a]Peter, and on this [b]rock I will build My church; and the [c]gates of Hades (death) will not overpower it [by preventing the resurrection of the Christ].

Matthew 16:18 Tree of Life Version

18 And I also tell you that you are Peter, and upon this rock {Jesus} I will build My community {congregation }[a], and the gates of Sheol {grave} will not overpower it.

I have inserted three words in the verse above which I have highlighted for clarity. The rock is "Jesus", sheol is the common "grave" of mankind and not hell and church or community refers to the" congregation."

Some say that the rock is Peter, this is not so, other scriptures clarify this verse. Ephesians 2:20. also 1 Peter 2:4-8, Romans 9:33.

Ephesians 2:20 New American Standard Bible

20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone,


Here Jesus tells his faithful apostles that he will build a congregation/church and that the gates of the grave will not overpower it, meaning that even death will not be able to prevent its members from being resurrected.

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