One of the answers to the question Are there any examples of sarcasm in the bible? on Christianity.SE states:

Mathew 16:18 Jesus tells Peter (Greek--Petros--rock) that he's the "rock" (Gr: Petra---pebble) upon which he will build his church....

The interlinear bible says that petra means rock.

So which one is right?

Does petra means rock or pebbles?

  • I don't understand what you mean by your question, "So which one is right?" What is which one referring to? Please clarify.
    – sbunny
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 21:47
  • Strong's defines "petros" as "a (piece of) rock", and "petra" as "a (mass of) rock". The "piece of" versus "mass of" indicate a subtle but significant difference in meaning. This difference is consistent with the "that rock was Christ" idea, while Simon is by comparison only a small stone nicknamed Rocky. Commented Mar 31, 2019 at 13:50

1 Answer 1


According to the very comprehensive A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG) the normal meaning of πέτρα (petra) is "bedrock or massive rock formations". So, most often the writer/speaking will have something like an exposed rock formation in mind, not an individual stone. Matthew 16:18 is classified under this meaning.

A less common meaning is "a piece of rock". That is, what an English speaker typically thinks of when they hear "rock". I suppose this could include tiny rocks (i.e. pebbles), but that certainly is not the normal meaning. And there is no reason to think that πέτρα means pebble it our passage - it would be completely natural to say you are building a church on bedrock, but very strange to say you are building it on a rock/pebble.

So, the answer is πέτρα means rock or bedrock, not pebble.

The poster in the post you link to seems to have been confused, as his claim is not one that is actually made by anyone about that passage, as far as I know. Some people claim Πέτρος (petros), not πέτρα, meant pebble, so he probably mis-remembered what he heard. This claim is pretty sketchy too, though. It is true that in Attic Greek πέτρος usually meant a small rock, but it could also refer to bigger rocks. More importantly, the New Testament was not written in Attic Greek, but rather Koine Greek. In Koine Greek, this specialized use of πέτρος is unattested, and regardless πέτρα, a grammatically feminine word, could not be given as a male name. (πέτρος is the masculine form of πέτρα.) Thus, there is no reason to believe Matthew 16:18 is intended to be sarcastic.

  • Indeed there is no use of the word "πέτρος" in the NT other than to refer to Rocky. When people handle real rocks the word is "λίθος".
    – fumanchu
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 1:23

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