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

What does Jesus mean by "on this rock, I will build My church"? One interpretation has that Peter is that rock (after all, Cephas or Petra means rock). Another has it that Jesus is that rock, and he is referring to himself. Could someone clear this up for me and, if necessary, provide an alternate interpretation if the two above are both wrong?

This is not a duplicate of "What does “petra" mean in Mathew 16:18?" as he is asking for clarification of pebble versus rock. I am simply asking what Jesus refers to what he says "on this rock"; possible explanations may include himself, Peter, enlightenment from heaven, or disciples in general. I want to see the different approaches to interpretations of the "rock".

  • Constable presents a fairly balanced overview of the several divergent views which Christians down through the centuries have favored. See the following website, and on the right side of the page click on the words "Constables' Notes" (the left side being the NET version of the Scriptures): netbible.org/bible/Matthew+16 – rhetorician Nov 14 '18 at 19:00
  • If there was something more linguistically definitive than the answer in the possible duplicate, there wouldn't be the controversy over this verse. – Perry Webb Nov 14 '18 at 21:20
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    @Der U. Exactly – Perry Webb Nov 15 '18 at 0:30
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There seems to have been a very clear understanding among the Church Fathers that Jesus was referring to Peter's confession of faith and not to the person of Peter himself here.

John Chrysostom (d. 407), in his 52d Homily on the Gospel according to Matthew, wrote:

What then saith Christ? “Thou art Simon, the son of Jonas; thou shalt be called Cephas. Thus since thou hast proclaimed my Father, I too name him that begat thee; all but saying, As thou art son of Jonas, even so am I of my Father. Else it were superfluous to say, Thou art Son of Jonas; but since he had said, Son of God, to point out that He is so Son of God, as the other son of Jonas, of the same substance with Him that begat Him, therefore He added this, And I say unto thee, Thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church; that is, on the faith of his confession.

The same interpretation can be found in the writings of Augustine:

And this he heard from the Lord: Blessed are you, Simon Barjona; for flesh and blood has not revealed it unto you, but my Father which is in heaven. See what praises follow this faith: You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church. What means, Upon this rock I will build my Church? Upon this faith; upon this that has been said, You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Upon this rock, says He, I will build my Church (Homily X on the First Epistle of John)

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Matt 16:16-19, “Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon bar Jona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter [Petros (masc), a stone], and upon this rock [Petra (fem), large rock, bed-rock] I will build My congregation; and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth will have been bound [simple future + perfect participle passive] in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed [simple future + perfect participle passive] in heaven.’” (My translation - NASB is very similar.) We observe several things about this passage.

J B Phillips, in a footnote to Matt 16:19 & 18:18 in his "The New Testament in Modern English", 2nd Ed, 1972, comments as follows:

There is a very curious Greek construction here:, viz. a simple future followed by the perfect participle passive. If Jesus had meant to say quite simply, Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in Heaven", can anyone explain why the simple future passive is not used? It seems to me that if the words of Jesus are accurately recorded here, and I have no reason to doubt it, then the force of these sayings is that Jesus' true disciples will be so led by the Spirit that they will be following the heavenly pattern. In other words what they "forbid" and "permit" on earth will be consonant with the Divine rules.

If a simple future passive had been used it would mean an automatic endorsement of the Church's actions which to me, at least, is a very different thing.

In the pertinent verses of John's Gospel (chapter 20, 22, 23), it is quite plain that "holy spirit", of which Christ is giving his disciples a first breath, so to speak, (for the Holy Spirit in person w2as not given until Pentecost), would be the factor by which alone human beings could perform the Divine function of forgiving and not forgiving sins. There is again no ground or supposing that celestial endorsement automatically follows human action however exalted.

Now to the construction "I also say to you that you are Peter [Petros (masc), a stone], and upon this rock [Petra (fem), large rock, bed-rock] I will build My congregation; and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." Matt 16:18.

While some try to use this to give Peter (close to) absolute authority in the early church, there is no subsequent evidence that this was the case. Specifically:

  • Peter had to be rebuked by Paul in Gal 2:11-16
  • When Paul says that disputes arise, they are to be decided not be the authority of any one person but by the authority of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 5:4)
  • A perfect example of this is given in Acts 15 when the first Jerusalem council met to settle the debate about the Law and circumcision - Peter spoke at the meeting but it was the evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit that carried the final decision. James (not Peter) provided the final summing up and decision.

So what does this passage mean? There are two possibilities, given the above background. Either:

  1. The Christian community is be based on the truth that Jesus is "Messiah, Son of the living God." (v 16), or,
  2. That Christ was the metaphorical "Rock" (1 Cor 10:3, 4 [Petra (fem), large rock, bed-rock], Isa 44:8, 26:4, Ps 118:22, Isa 28:16, Dan 2:34, 35, 45, Matt 21:42-44, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17, 1 Peter 2:4-8, Acts 4:11, Rom 9:33, Ps 28:1, 33;1-3, 42:9, 61:2, 62:7, 71:3, 78:35, 92:15, 144:1, Deut 32:4, 15, 31, 37, 1 Sam 2:2, 2 Sam 22:32, 23:3, Isa 30:29, Hab 1:12, etc). Jesus appears to making a deliberate pun by contrasting the masculine "petros" (stone/rock) with the feminine "petra" ("Bedrock or massive rock formations, rock" - BDAG)) as the basis of Himself being the foundation of Christian community. See also Rom. 9:33; 1 Cor. 3:11; 1 Pet. 2:5-8 where Jesus is specifically described as the foundation or chief cornerstone of the Christian community.

It seems obvious that both meanings are clearly intended.

Constable provides a similar view. https://netbible.org/bible/Matthew+16

Footnote:

The passage 1 Cor 10:4 includes the significant statement (literally), "the rock ("petra", feminine) was the Christ ("christos", masculine)". That the well educated Paul mixed his noun genders like this clearly means he is trying to make an important point that alludes to the OT "Rock" passages, and perhaps (??) even Jesus' own statement of Matt 16:18.

  • Nice answer +1. Re: binding and loosing; Matthew 18:18-20 where heaven will abide by the decisions of 2-3 witnesses of the church in the matters of a dispute, supports supports Dr. Peter's position on the role of the Holy Spirit within the church. – alb Nov 20 '18 at 23:32
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The Church is his congregation(s), in short. So the real question is who is the "rock"?

What is in scripture in connection with the "rock"?

It would seem plane to see that Jesus here is talking about the foundation the Christian Congregation(s) founded.

Texts NWT

Romans 9:32, 33 "They stumbled over the “stone of stumbling”; 33 as it is written: “Look! I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, but the one who rests his faith on it will not be disappointed.”

What is the above "rock"? What did Peter say:-

1 Peter 2:5-6 "...you yourselves as living stones are being built up into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, in order to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it says in Scripture: “Look! I am laying in Zion a chosen stone, a precious foundation cornerstone, and no one exercising faith in it will ever be disappointed.”

What did Paul say:-

Ephesians 2:19, 20 "you are fellow citizens of the holy ones and are members of the household of God, 20 and you have been built up on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, while Christ Jesus himself is the foundation cornerstone.

1 Corinthians 3:11 "For no one can lay any other foundation than what is laid, which is Jesus Christ."

1 Corinthians 10:4 "For they used to drink from the spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock meant the Christ."

As the scriptures call Jesus "rock," "foundation," "cornerstone," "chosen stone," it would seem logical to think that Jesus himself is The "rock" of Matt. 16:18.

To sum up:-

Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (Mt 16:18, ftn, p. 296) quotes Augustine as saying: “The rock is not so named from Peter, but Peter from the rock (non enim a Petro petra, sed Petrus a petra), even as Christ is not so called after the Christian, but the Christian after Christ. For the reason why the Lord says, ‘On this rock I will build my church,’ is that Peter had said: ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ On this rock, which thou hast confessed, says he, I will build my church. For Christ was the rock (petra enim erat Christus), upon which also Peter himself was built; for other foundation can no man lay, than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”—Translated and edited by P. Schaff, 1976.

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Context of the Passage

Matthew 16:13-19 (DRB)

And Jesus came into the quarters of Cesarea Philippi: and he asked his disciples, saying: Whom do men say that the Son of man is? 14 But they said: Some John the Baptist, and other some Elias, and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets. 15 Jesus saith to them: But whom do you say that I am? 16 Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. 17 And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.

Peter as the Rock

I believe this is the only defensible understanding of the passage linguistically and historically.

Linguistic Argument

  • καγω δε σοι λεγω — "And I for my part say to you"

    Jesus has just had Peter relate His fundamental identity and role to Him. Peter says, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God." Jesus replies, "And I say to thee." Literally, the Greek construction means something like, "Me too and am saying," or put into context, "And I for my part say." (One more hint at the "for my part [after you've just told me who I am]' nuance is the precedence of σοι (to you) over λεγω (I say). Not that this point is really in question anyway.)

  • You are Rock

    Not only is the πετρος vs πετρα distinction a lost one by the first century according to some, but it is wholly irrelevant anyway. This is for two reasons. The more important being that explicitly in the New Testament, Simon was given the name כיפא (Kepha) in Aramaic, which means "rock" (John 1:42—κηφας/כיפא/kepha). The other is that Peter is being given a name, necessitating that he be given a masculinized form of rock (πετρα—a feminine noun) in Greek—which is, naturally, πετρος (Peter). You didn't give people feminine names back then any more than you do today. You wouldn't call someone male 'Sophia' (a feminine noun meaning "wisdom"), but Sophus, the masculine form.

The reason this becomes relevant for us, and not an answer to a related question about the distinction between πετρα and πετρος is because πετρα is governed by ταυτη (the demonstrative pronoun "this"). This means that "this rock" refers to the one just mentioned, just as in English.

  • You are blessed, You are Peter, You have the keys of the kingdom of heaven

All the perogatives are directed to Peter. It would really not make much sense to say, "Blessed are you .... You are Rock, and upon something else I will build my Church, and I will give you authority... etc."

Historical Argument

It was argued elsewhere that 'the early Church clearly interpreted this as his faith, not Peter.' I don't know how anyone got that impression.

There are plenty who believed Peter was made Rock of the Church, e.g.,

Tertullian Modesty 21:9–10 [A.D. 220]

[T]he Lord said to Peter, ‘On this rock I will build my Church, I have given you the keys of the kingdom of heaven [and] whatever you shall have bound or loosed on earth will be bound or loosed in heaven’ [Matt. 16:18–19]. . . . Upon you, he says, I will build my Church; and I will give to you the keys, not to the Church.

Pseudo Clement to James [A.D. 221] Be it known to you, my lord, that Simon [Peter], who, for the sake of the true faith, and the most sure foundation of his doctrine, was set apart to be the foundation of the Church, and for this end was by Jesus himself, with his truthful mouth, named Peter, the first fruits of our Lord, the first of the apostles; to whom first the Father revealed the Son; whom the Christ (with good reason) blessed; the called, and elect...

Cyprian of Carthage The Unity of the Catholic Church [A.D. 251]

The Lord says to Peter: ‘I say to you,’ he says, ‘that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.’ . . . On him [Peter] he builds the Church, and to him he gives the command to feed the sheep [John 21:17], and although he assigns a like power to all the apostles, yet he founded a single chair [cathedra], and he established by his own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was [i.e., apostles], but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. So too, all [the apostles] are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all the apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he [should] desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?

And those who said, "It was the faith expressed" say elsewhere this passage is when Christ gave Peter authority and position over the other Apostles, and alone gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven. So I don't think they thought it was a disembodied faith, but rather that Peter typifies the faith: that is, Peter and his faith, and the name and role given him because of it, is inseparable.

In fact, those who said it was his faith also said it was Peter, or in any case said it something else even, like Christ Himself—and even switched between them all. Someone gave a few quotes above from John Chrysostom, for instance. Whereas he also said,

John Chrysostom, On Almsgiving, somewhere [A.D. 387]

Peter, that head of the Apostles, the first in the Church, the friend of Christ, who received the revelation not from man but from the Father....this Peter, and when I say Peter, I mean the unbroken Rock, the unshaken foundation, the great apostle, the first of the disciples, the first called, the first to obey ...

And of course Augustine as well believed in the Papacy etc.

Point being that Peter and his faith were mutually the occasion for Christ to name His foundation—chief steward—of His Church.

Appendix—"Who do men say that I am?" Typology of the Revealed Doctrine-Bearer and the King Demanding to Know (The Rock and Kingdom that will never be replaced)

Daniel 2 (DRB) 1 In the second year of the reign of Nabuchodonosor, Nabuchodonosor had a dream, and his spirit was terrified, and his dream went out of his mind. 2 Then the king commanded to call together the diviners and the wise men, and the magicians, and the Chaldeans: to declare to the king his dreams: so they came and stood before the king. ... 5 And the king answering said to the Chaldeans: The thing is gone out of my mind: unless you tell me the dream, and the meaning thereof, you shall be put to death, and your houses shall be confiscated. 6 But if you tell the dream, and the meaning of it, you shall receive of me rewards, and gifts, and great honour: therefore tell me the dream, and the interpretation thereof. ... 10 Then the Chaldeains answered before the king, and said: There is no man upon earth, that can accomplish thy word, O king, neither doth any king, though great and mighty, ask such a thing of any diviner, or wise man, or Chaldean. 11 For the thing that thou askest, O king, is difficult; nor can any one be found that can shew it before the king, except the gods, whose conversation is not with men. 12 Upon hearing this, the king in fury, and in great wrath, commanded that all the wise men of Babylon should be put to death. 13 And the decree being gone forth, the wise men were slain: and Daniel and his companions were sought for, to be put to death. 14 Then Daniel inquired concerning the law and the sentence, of Arioch the general of the king's army, who was gone forth to kill the wise men of Babylon. 15 And he asked him that had received the orders of the king, why so cruel a sentence was gone forth from the face of the king. And when Arioch had told the matter to Daniel, 16 Daniel went in and desired of the king, that he would give him time to resolve the question and declare it to the king. 17 And he went into his house, and told the matter to Ananias, and Misael, and Azarias his companions: 18 To the end that they should ask mercy at the face of the God of heaven concerning this secret, and that Daniel and his companions might not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.

19 Then was the mystery revealed to Daniel by a vision in the night: and Daniel blessed the God of heaven, 20 And speaking he said: Blessed be the name of the Lord from eternity and for evermore: for wisdom and fortitude are his. 21 And he changeth times and ages: taketh away kingdoms and establisheth them, giveth wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to them that have understanding. 22 He revealeth deep and hidden things, and knoweth what is in darkness: and light is with him. 23 To thee, O God of our fathers, I give thanks, and I praise thee: because thou hast given me wisdom and strength: and now thou hast shewn me what we desired of thee, for thou hast made known to us, the king's discourse. 24 After this Daniel went in to Arioch, to whom the king had given orders to destroy the wise men of Babylon, and he spoke thus to him: Destroy not the wise men of Babylon: bring me in before the king, and I will tell the solution to the king.

25 Then Arioch in haste brought in Daniel to the king, and said to him: I have found a man of the children of the captivity of Juda, that will resolve the question to the king. 26 The king answered, and said to Daniel, whose name was Baltassar: Thinkest thou indeed that thou canst tell me the dream that I saw, and the interpretation thereof? 27 And Daniel made answer before the king, and said: The secret that the king desireth to know, none of the wise men, or the philosophers, or the diviners, or the soothsayers can declare to the king. 28 But there is a God in heaven that revealeth mysteries, who hath shewn to thee, O king Nabuchodonosor, what is to come to pass in the latter times. Thy dream, and the visions of thy head upon thy bed, are these: 29 Thou, O king, didst begin to think in thy bed, what should come to pass hereafter: and he that revealeth mysteries shewed thee what shall come to pass. 30 To me also this secret is revealed, not by any wisdom that I have more than all men alive: but that the interpretation might be made manifest to the king, and thou mightest know the thoughts of thy mind. 31 Thou, O king, sawest, and behold there was as it were a great statue: this statue, which was great and high, tall of stature, stood before thee, and the look thereof was terrible. 32 The head of this statue was of fine gold, but the breast and the arms of silver, and the belly and the thighs of brass: 33 And the legs of iron, the feet part of iron and part of clay. 34 Thus thou sawest, till a stone was cut out of a mountain without hands: and it struck the statue upon the feet thereof that were of iron and of clay, and broke them in pieces. 35 Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of a summer's thrashingfloor, and they were carried away by the wind: and there was no place found for them: but the stone that struck the statue, became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth. 36 This is the dream: we will also tell the interpretation thereof before thee, O king.

37 Thou art a king of kings: and the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, and strength, and power, and glory: 38 And all places wherein the children of men, and the beasts of the field do dwell: he hath also given the birds of the air into thy hand, and hath put all things under thy power: thou therefore art the head of gold. 39 And after thee shall rise up another kingdom, inferior to thee, of silver: and another third kingdom of brass, which shall rule over all the world. 40 And the fourth kingdom shall be as iron. As iron breaketh into pieces, and subdueth all things, so shall that break and destroy all these. 41 Arid whereas thou sawest the feet, and the toes, part of potter's clay, and part of iron: the kingdom shall be divided, but yet it shall take its origin from the iron, according as thou sawest the iron mixed with the miry clay. 42 And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken. 43 And whereas thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay, they shall be mingled indeed together with the seed of man, but they shall not stick fast one to another, as iron cannot be mixed with clay. 44 But in the days of those kingdoms the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, and his kingdom shall not be delivered up to another people, and it shall break in pieces, and shall consume all these kingdoms, and itself shall stand for ever. 45 According as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and broke in pieces, the clay, and the iron, and the brass, and the silver, and the gold, the great God hath shewn the king what shall come to pass hereafter, and the dream is true, and the interpretation thereof is faithful.

46 Then king Nabuchodonosor fell on his face, and worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer in sacrifice to him victims and incense. 47 And the king spoke to Daniel, and said: Verily your God is the God of gods, and Lord of kings, and a revealer of hidden things: seeing thou couldst discover this secret. 48 Then the king advanced Daniel to a high station, and gave him many and great gifts: and he made him governor over all the provinces of Babylon, and chief of the magistrates over all the wise men of Babylon. 49 And Daniel requested of the king, and he appointed Sidrach, Misach, and Abdenago over the works of the province of Babylon: but Daniel himself was in the king's palace.

Matthew 16:13-19 (DRB)

And Jesus came into the quarters of Cesarea Philippi: and he asked his disciples, saying: Whom do men say that the Son of man is? 14 But they said: Some John the Baptist, and other some Elias, and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets. 15 Jesus saith to them: But whom do you say that I am? 16 Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. 17 And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.

The point here being that Jesus would be tying Peter and the Kingdom together the same way Daniel does with the respective Kings and their Kingdoms; the one having had the doctrine revealed from the God in heaven, and the prerogatives granted by the King.

Notice the typology, therefore in the words "he made him governor over all the provinces of Babylon and chief of the..."—St. Peter, of all people, mystically referring to Rome (according to most), as Babylon in his Epistle:

1 Peter 5:13-14 (DRB) The church that is in Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you: and so doth my son Mark. 14 Salute one another with a holy kiss. Grace be to all you, who are in Christ Jesus. Amen.


Footnotes

1 Cf. Greek Mt 10:2; 20:27

  • So are you suggesting that Peter was the rock on which the church was built? A very bold claim for a Christian? What did that status make him other than the title. What authority did it grant? – user25930 Nov 15 '18 at 11:18
  • "Peter was the rock on which the Church was built," at least as an attempt to severe him from his bold, inspired expression of the Faith of the Church, indeed sounds like you are investing too much in a man of questionable personal character—in Simon the son of John, instead of the Peter the Rock. But it misses the Biblical idea of investment with authority to begin with: all of it was and is given to fallible, not perfect, men. So yes, Peter is chosen as head bishop of the Church, given the keys to bind and loose whatever, and alone the keys of the K. symbolizing the prime-minister position. – Sola Gratia Nov 15 '18 at 12:21
  • When God gives a new name to Abraham, it is followed up by its fulfillment in Abraham as the "Father of Peoples." Interestingly, God calls Abraham "the rock out of which you were hewn." Abraham being a rock, Jesus being a rock, Peter being a rock are all intended to denote their respective position or function, not sacrifice any of the others. After all, we would be worried if Christ could not found an earthly Head of His Church without sacrificing that He is the ultimate Head with authority over even him. – Sola Gratia Nov 15 '18 at 12:23
  • I was just thinking last night, too: what an absolutely fantastic way to know you are in the true Church than whether you are in union with the successor of Peter, then; in his Church. I believe this is why Wisdom instituted the papacy. As early as the second century Irenaeus says 'all churches must agree with that Church [at Rome].' I never appreciated the usefulness for unity before I really thought about it. On top of that, all risk of 'renegade dogma pronouncements' is quieted by the words, "whatever you bind ... in heaven is bound" meaning to date only heaven's truth has been made dogma. – Sola Gratia Nov 15 '18 at 12:29
  • Interesting that you quote Tertullian and others who were so heterodox on many subjects such as even the Trinity. This make discussion difficult. – user25930 Nov 15 '18 at 20:41

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