In Matthew 16:18, was Jesus referring to Peter or himself when he said "upon this rock, i will build my church"?

18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

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    This question is different from others. It asks who is in reference : Jesus or Peter (or both) ... (or neither).
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 8:44
  • +1. If the "rock" is Golgatha then Peter fits beautifully into the picture, with his upside down crucifixion. Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 9:46
  • Caesarea = Siron = Sirdan = Babel. "Rock" may be a reference to autism
    – R. Emery
    Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 12:16
  • @DerÜbermensch My question is pointing to the reference of the word "this". Yours is more of a general explanation of the whole statement. Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 18:10
  • If there had been neither Peter not any Hellish gates and JC said simply "(And) I say (also) unto thee, upon this rock I will build my church…" what might that mean? Even in English, is it not obvious that something like "Peter" is needed to link "thee" and "this rock"? Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 21:51

5 Answers 5


I want to offer an alternate perspective, mostly because I think several faulty lines of reasoning have been proposed for why it is "unlikely" that πέτρα refers to Πέτρος. My response will be divided into three parts:

  1. Against objections
  2. Reasons in favor
  3. Other testimonies

Let me start by acknowledging a strong parallel brought up by Dottard. I think this is the strongest evidence in favor of the reading that πέτρα refers to Christ himself (or Peter's declaration):

καὶ πάντες τὸ αὐτὸ πνευματικὸν βρῶμα ἔφαγον καὶ πάντες τὸ αὐτὸ πνευματικὸν ἔπιον πόμα, ἔπινον γὰρ ἐκ πνευματικῆς ἀκολουθούσης πέτρας, ἡ πέτρα δὲ ἦν ὁ χριστός. (1 Cor 10:3-4)

RSV Translation:

and all ate the same supernatural food 4 and all drank the same supernatural[b] drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

Despite this passage, though, I find it very difficult to interpret Mt 16:18 as not referring to Peter. I will start by responding to some weak arguments against this reading, and then I will defend what I think is the clear, straightforward reading.

1. Against objections

Two of the above answers rely heavily on the fact that πέτρα is feminine and Πέτρος is masculine. How could the former refer to the latter? To this objection, a few observations should suffice:

  • Despite the language used in these answers, talk of "antecedents" or "agreement of grammatical gender" is misguided. A pronoun agrees with its antecedent in gender and number. But πέτρα is not a pronoun. If we wished to maintain that a noun had to agree in gender with the person to whom it refers, we would be committed to absurdities. Consider, for instance, three famous examples from the Gospel of John:

    ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ἄρτος τῆς ζωῆς. (6:35)
    ἐγώ εἰμι τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου. (8:12)
    ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ἀνάστασις καὶ ἡ ζωή. (11:25)

    Any argument that the neuter or feminine terms couldn't apply to Christ Himself is just a basic misunderstanding of how grammatical gender works.

  • Another argument mentioned by Dottard in his translation is that πέτρος refers to a "stone" while πέτρα refers to a "large rock," and that a Greek ear would have drawn a sharp distinction between these two things. It is true that the two are not interchangeable as common nouns, as the LSJ entries for each attest.

    • My first observation is textual: πέτρος is never used in the New Testament to refer to a stone. In fact, even the Septuagint only uses the word in this way twice, in 2 Maccabees 1:16 and 4:41. The New Testament frequently (56x by my count) and exclusively uses λίθος for a "stone."
    • My second observation is commonsensical: Though feminine-gender nouns can be used to refer to men, they would never be used to name a man. If Christ wanted to give Simon a new name meaning "rock," he certainly couldn't have named him Πέτρα. Πέτρος is a natural way to express this as a male name. (I am not an expert in Aramaic, but I also recall reading that this grammatical shift would have been entirely unnecessary in the language that Christ actually spoke these words in. Both words would have been "Kepha." According to Wikipedia this is also true of the Syriac version.)
    • My final observation is that Greek ears never (as far as I can make out) noted this as a source of problems. For evidence, see my third section below with Patristic testimony.

2. Reasons in favor

Having addressed these arguments, what are some positive reasons to think that πέτρα refers to Πέτρος? To this, I can only say that we should consider the dramatic situation and ask ourselves what makes sense. Read the whole passage:

Ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ Σίμων Πέτρος εἶπεν· σὺ εἶ ὁ χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ζῶντος. Ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῷ· μακάριος εἶ, Σίμων Βαριωνᾶ, ὅτι σὰρξ καὶ αἷμα οὐκ ἀπεκάλυψέν σοι ἀλλ᾽ ὁ πατήρ μου ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς. κἀγὼ δέ σοι λέγω ὅτι σὺ εἶ Πέτρος καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν, καὶ πύλαι ἅδου οὐ κατισχύσουσιν αὐτῆς. (Mt 16:16-18)

Simon Peter answers Christ's question with remarkable faith. Christ first addresses him by his birth name, Simon, and then proceeds ("κἀγὼ δέ σοι λέγω...") to give him a new name, Πέτρος, and immediately say that he will build his church on this πέτρα. ταύτῃ is the dative feminine singular form of the "close" demonstrative adjective. Why would Christ address Simon by a new name, and then--in the very next phrase!--use that name exclusively to refer to himself?

It's also telling that Christ goes on in the following verse to give Peter extraordinary authority. Why seesaw ("You are Peter. I am the rock. You shall have the keys.") when the straightforward reading makes more sense?

Imagine a similar monologue: "Brian, your name shall be Hunter, and this hunter shall provide food from now on." Even if the speaker is a hunter, one has to do interpretative gymnastics not to connect the second "hunter" with the first.

Of course, it's another question entirely in what capacity this πέτρα refers to Peter. It could refer to him as a person or him as a representative of faith. But this reference only works because it is grounded on the reference to Peter himself.

3. Other testimonies

My final set of observations: Doesn't this make sense? We can appeal first to Scripture. Doesn't this fit, for instance, with the injunction to "Feed my sheep" at the end of John's gospel, as well as the clear leadership role that Peter assumes in the early church?

I will also include a quick smattering from Greek-speaking Church fathers. Here are the first three relevant examples I found (I promise I did not "skip" any patristic counterexamples-though perhaps there are some!)

  • BASILIUS Caesariensis, Homilia de paenitentia [Sp.] (sub auctore Eusebio Emeseno). {2040.060} - (N.B. I don't have the time to track this work down, but the "sp." means that it spurious--i.e. falsely attributed to Basil.):

    Ἀλλὰ Πέτρος εἰπὼν καὶ εὐλογηθεὶς, εἰπὼν, ὅτι «Υἱὸς εἶ τοῦ Θεοῦ» τοῦ ὑψίστου, καὶ ἀκούσας, ὅτι «Πέτρα εἶ,» ἐνεγκωμιάσθη. Εἰ γὰρ καὶ πέτρα, οὐχ ὡς Χριστὸς πέτρα, ὡς Πέτρος πέτρα· Χριστὸς γὰρ ὄντως πέτρα ἀσάλευτος· Πέτρος δὲ διὰ τὴν πέτραν.

    My quick translation:

    But Peter having spoken and having been blessed--having spoken, that "You are the Son of God" the highest, and having heard, that "You are Peter"--was lauded. For if he was also a πέτρα, Peter was a πέτρα not in the same way Christ was a πέτρα. For Christ was truly the unmoving πέτρα, but Peter was [so] through [Christ] the πέτρα.

    What I find significant about this passage is that it clearly takes the πέτρα to refer to Peter himself, while also tying it to the "problematic" 1 Cor 10 reading that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. The "contrary" evidence was interpreted as complementary here and in what follows:

  • ORIGENES, Fragmenta in evangelium Joannis (in catenis). {2042.006} Current Text

    Πέτρον δὲ αὐτὸν κληθήσεσθαι εἶπεν, παρονομασθέντα ἀπὸ τῆς πέτρας, ἥτις ἐστὶν ὁ χριστός· ἵν’ ὥσπερ ἐκ σοφίας σοφὸς καὶ ἅγιος ἐξ ἁγιότητος, οὕτως καὶ ἐκ τῆς πέτρας Πέτρος. ἀποδείκνυται δὲ τοῦτο ἐξ ὧν εἶπεν ὁ σωτὴρ πρὸς τὸν οὕτως ὠνομασμένον· «Σὺ εἶ, φησίν, Πέτρος, καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν».

    My translation:

    He [Christ] said he would be called Peter, "nicknamed" [παρονομασθέντα] from πέτρα, which is Christ, so that just as σοφία [wisdom: feminine] comes from σοφὸς and 'holiness' from 'holy,' so too Πέτρος comes from πέτρα. What our savior said to the one who was so called is proof of this: "You are," he said, "Peter, and upon this πέτρα I shall build my Church.

    As before, Origen expresses no doubt that "Peter" and "πέτρα" are supposed to be paired together. He is equally clear, as before, that Peter's status as a "rock" is grounded on Christ the original rock. (N.B. This is not the same thing as saying that Peter himself is not the rock referred to.)

  • Finally, JOANNES CHRYSOSTOMUS, De paenitentia (homiliae 1-9). {2062.027} Current Text:

    Κλαῦσον ἐπὶ τῇ ἁμαρτίᾳ σου, καὶ διδάχθητι ἐκ τῶν θείων Εὐαγγελίων τοῦτο Πέτρος ἐκεῖνος, ἡ κορυφὴ τῶν ἀποστόλων, ὁ πρῶτος ἐν τῇ Ἐκκλησίᾳ, ὁ φίλος Χριστοῦ, ὁ τὴν ἀποκάλυψιν παρὰ ἀνθρώπων μὴ δεξάμενος, ἀλλὰ παρὰ τοῦ Πατρὸς, καθὼς αὐτῷ μαρτυρεῖ ὁ Δεσπότης λέγων· Μακάριος εἶ, Σίμων Βαριωνᾶ, ὅτι σὰρξ καὶ αἷμα οὐκ ἀπεκάλυψέ σοί, ἀλλ’ ὁ Πατήρ μου ὁ οὐράνιος· οὗτος ὁ Πέτρος· Πέτρον δὲ ὅταν εἴπω, τὴν πέτραν λέγω τὴν ἀῤῥαγῆ, τὴν κρηπῖδα τὴν ἀσάλευτον, τὸν ἀπόστολον τὸν μέγαν, τὸν πρῶτον τῶν μαθητῶν, τὸν πρῶτον κληθέντα, καὶ πρῶτον ὑπακούσαντα.

    My translation:

    Griever for your sin, and let that Peter be your teacher from the Holy Gospels, the head of the apostles, the first in the Church, the friend of Christ, the one who did not receive revelation from men but from the Father, as the Lord witnesses to him when he says: "Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jona, for flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father." This is Peter. And when I say "Peter," I am talking about the unbroken πέτρα, the unmoving foundation, the great apostle, the first of the disciples, the first to be called, and the first to hearken.

These are the first three patristic testimonies I found when I did a proximity search for both terms together. I would be surprised (but grateful to learn!) if there was a Greek-speaking father who did not see the πέτρα as referring to Peter.

(N.B. My source for word counts is the TLG Greek Corpus.)

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    Hi brianpck, welcome and nice first contribution (+1). Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 17:34
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    @brianpck welcome! And yes indeed; phenomenal first post. (Upvoted +1). I believe the patristic evidence is the strongest argument in favor of the Peter interpretation. Irenaeus of Lyon, though less explicit, is another church father amenable to this view. Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 23:16
  • Nice answer. There is another objection to be considered: "On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised." (Galatians 2:7) If Peter was not entrusted with the Gospel to the Gentiles, as Paul states, how can be the rock on which a Church which includes and came to be dominated by Gentiles was built? IOW Paul not only plays a role, but has a larger role and Paul does not build on another man's foundation (Romans 15:20). Commented Mar 6, 2021 at 18:02

Let me quote my (overly) literal translation of 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.’”

Let us observe several features of this section of Matthew's Gospel.

The antecedent of "this rock" could be:

  • Petros (= Peter) - despite "this rock" being feminine and "petros" being masculine
  • The declaration that Jesus is "Messiah the Son of the loving God" which was revealed to Peter supernaturally
  • Jesus as Messiah

There is explicit support for the last option in 1 Cor 10:3, 4 -

They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.

Note that in this case, the same feminine word, "petra" is used to describe Jesus. Thus, this verse appears to allude to the many places in the OT where YHWH is referred to as "The Rock", eg, Isa 44:8; Deut 32:3,4,15; Ps 92:15. David's song of praise makes explicit use of the metaphor:

1 And David spoke to the Lord the words of this song, in the day in which the Lord rescued him out of the hand of all his enemies, and out of the hand of Saul. 2 And the song was thus: O Lord, my rock (πέτρα), and my fortress, and my deliverer (LXX-2 Samuel 22)

The LXX uses the feminine "petra" to refer to the masculine "Lord."

For a closely related metaphor, see Matt 21:42-44, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17, 1 Peter 2:4-8, Acts 4:11, Rom 9:33 about the "stone" the builders rejected portraying Jesus Christ.

There is also explicit support for the second option as well in 1 Cor 3:10, 11 -

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one must be careful how he builds. For no one can lay a foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

In fact, when one examine the second two options above, they theologically merge - Christ is the foundation of the Church only because He was Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

Therefore, the "rock" to which Jesus referred in Matt 16 was himself - Jesus was Messiah, the Son of the Living God - a supernatural revelation directly from the Father to Peter.

  • 1
    Good use of 1 Cor 10:4. Not sure who downvoted all of the answers here but I think all 3 are well-argued. I certainly don't disagree that Jesus is referred to using the metaphor of a rock or stone multiple times. Perhaps a point of variation in our interpretations is that in 1 Cor 10:4 Christ is not the antecedent of petra. Literally it says "the rock then was Christ". Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 15:53
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    You have a contradiction in your answer. You say it referring to Peter is quite unlikely as "this rock" is feminine and Petros is masculine, but then turn around and show the same feminine word, "petra" is used to describe Jesus. So the pronoun's m/f form doesn't seem to affect who it can refer to. Because of this, it cannot be used as an argument against it being used for Peter.
    – mbomb007
    Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 20:08
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    @brianpck - yes - that would tighten the logic here. Updated accordingly.
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 21:20
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    Then why did Jesus name him Peter?
    – mbomb007
    Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 21:32
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    @mbomb007 - very good question that deserves a new question by itself. Suffice to say here that "Petros" is a contrast with "Petra" and a Greek version of Peter's Aramaic name, "Kephas".
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 21:37

The antecedent of "this rock" has been debated for millennia. There appear to be 4 possible antecedents--let's look at the preceding verses:

16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.

17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Possible antecedents:

  1. Jesus Himself (v 16)
  2. My Father (v 17)
  3. Peter (v 17)
  4. Revelation/testimony from God (v 17)

Definition of an antecedent from Oxford languages: "a word, phrase, clause, or sentence to which another word (especially a following relative pronoun) refers".

Petros vs petra

Peter in Greek is "petros", a masculine noun. The rock upon which the church will be built is "petra", a feminine noun, and the meanings of these words differ. Petra is a larger rock mass (see here) whereas petros is generally a smaller rock or pebble (see here).

As Caragounis points out:

[I]f the reference were intended to [be] Peter there were only two alternatives available – which would have put the matter beyond reasonable doubt. The first alternative would be: Σὺ εἷ Πέτροςκαὶ ἐπὶ σὲ οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν. There would still be a word-play here, in as much as Πέτρος would have been understood to refer to the well-known disciple, while at the same time the thought of building would have reflected on the meaning of Peter’s name, i.e., the idea of a bedrock on which to erect the ἐκκλησία. The other alternative, which is still better, would be: Σὺ εἷ ὁ Πέτρος ἐφ= ᾧ οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν. Ηere, the word Πέτρος would have been understood doubly as the personal name of Jesus’ interlocutor and as the rock-foundation of the Church. In this case, there would have been no doubt that the rock was Peter. That Matthew chose to use Πέτρος and πέτρα, two different words, whose very collocation marks a conscious juxtaposition, indicates clearly his intention to contradistinguish the two terms

(see full discussion in Chrys C. Caragounis, Peter and the Rock (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1990), 89-107) (see also abbreviated discussion here)

To those who believe on other grounds (e.g. patristic writings) that this is a reference to Peter this grammatical oddity has not been a deal-breaker, but it has led many to conclude Peter is likely not the antecedent.


A common argument is that the statement was originally made in Aramaic, in which there would have been no difference in gender or meaning – it would probably (this is debated) just be one word: kepha. Aramaic was spoken in this time and place and so this is possible.

However, this does leave a different matter unresolved: why when translating the statement into Greek did the author not simply use “petros” both times? To not do so introduced additional meaning (and unnecessary ambiguity) not found in the original. While it’s possible for an author/translator to take liberties with a source, it doesn’t do the authenticity (or authority) of the text any good to go down this route. (see here esp. footnotes 3 & 4)


Another interesting hypothesis is that Hebrew was spoken. (for evidence that Hebrew was a spoken language at this time, my thoughts here). As David Bivin has pointed out, the word play works in Hebrew too:

אַתָּה פֶּטְרוֹס וְעַל הַפֶּטְרָא הַזּוֹ אֶבְנֶה אֶת עֲדָתִי (atah petros ve-al ha-petra ha-zo evneh et adati; You are Petros, and on this petra I will build my community)

So at the very least the Aramaic hypothesis has some competition and probably should not be selected arbitrarily. As discussed on this site here, Jesus would have been familiar with Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek.

(Quick aside for those who can't get enough of the linguistics discussion--see here yet another perspective--an argument from Porter that the conversation was originally in Greek)

Jesus is the rock

Jesus is certainly referred to as a rock in other places. He is the chief cornerstone in Ephesians 2:20, so Jesus is the preferred antecedent to many readers who do not accept Peter as the answer. This possibility is explored in greater depth in other responses.

In counter to this view, if He is indicating He is building His church upon Himself, what is the place/purpose of this passage in the story? (it is immediately followed by “I will give you the keys of the kingdom…”) Why does He need to tell them "my church is built on me" or “my church is my church?” And why not refer to Himself with “I” or “the Son of Man” as He usually does?

The word play would be unnecessary. Jesus would be telling Peter “blessed art thou”, “you’re just a little rock I can’t build on” and “I’m giving you the keys and the power to bind & loose” one after the other. The continuity and consistency appear to be lost.


None of these are knock-down arguments for or against a particular antecedent; if they were, I wouldn’t have had to start the post with the statement that this passage has been debated for millennia =).

Jesus, His Father, and Peter are all masculine—a feminine noun "petra" would be inappropriate as a name for any of them, so clearly a proper name is not intended (contra Petros which is being used as a proper name here). Each of these options is grammatically possible but the use of any as the antecedent is awkward, to say nothing of vague.

I will offer what I believe is the most grammatically simple solution. Since any of the singular masculine nouns could readily be referred to without ambiguity using a singular masculine pronoun, the antecedent probably is not a singular masculine noun. By process of elimination, revelation from God appears the most likely antecedent. It is the only one of the four options that can be referred to by “petra” but cannot be disambiguated by a pronoun.

This would mean that revelation, as Peter has received from the Father, is the process by which Jesus intends to guide His church.

  • are you saying the church is built on a 'revelation from God'?
    – Steve
    Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 5:58
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    “A feminine noun "petra" suggests none of the masculine nouns are the antecedent.” — Well, why would a noun be an antecedent of another noun? That’s now how it works. Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 6:51
  • @user48152 - what would you say the "church" is (in the NT and beyond)? Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 14:26
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    @Der Ubermensch forgive me if I misunderstand your comment - but that's not how what works? It's true that we are used to discussing antecedents in the context of pronouns, but pronouns certainly aren't the only elements in a language that can have an antecedent, nouns can too. Definition of an antecedent from Oxford languages: "a word, phrase, clause, or sentence to which another word (especially a following relative pronoun) refers". Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 15:34
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    @HoldToTheRod An "antecedent" generally requires a pro-form (which is usually a pronoun). Regardless, if you wish to adopt a broad notion of an antecedent, then you have to adopt a much broader notion of how agreement in gender works (see my answer).
    – brianpck
    Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 16:41

Peter said, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God', Matthew 16:16, a revelation of whom Jesus truly was, God manifest in flesh, 1 Timothy 3:16 [TR]. Peter is blessed for this was a revelation from the Father, Matthew 16:17.

Jesus returns to Peter, 'Thou art Peter'.

Why say Peter's name ? Was it in doubt in any way ? Why emphasise the name of Peter ?

This revelation from the Father and this relationship whereby Peter, known of the Father, having the Son revealed to him, is also known of Jesus Christ, is a sure foundation.

No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him [John 6:44 KJV]

It is of the Father to reveal the Son :

But when it pleased God ... to reveal his Son in me [Galatians 1:15, 16 KJV]

And it is of the Father to draw to the Son.

Then, the Son of the Living God, Jesus Christ, can say to the individual 'Thou art Peter'.

The revelation of the Son, by the Father, and the resulting relationship between the Son and the drawn individual, is the rock upon which Christ builds his Church :

I will build my church; and the gates of [hades] shall not prevail against it.

[Matthew 16:18 KJV]

So, to precisely answer the question, I believe Jesus is referring, equally to himself and to Peter.

The drawing of the Father (to the Son), the revelation of the Father (of the Son) and the individual's responding faith - are all in view, a relationship as solid as rock, and a foundation for a corporate, gathered, body of individuals.

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    "Why say Peter's name?" Perhaps because his name until then was Simon Bar-Jona
    – Henry
    Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 15:52
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    @Henry Point taken. That adds another dimension which I did not cover : the Lord knowing Peter in a different way to which other people knew Simon. Yes, point taken, indeed.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 23:41

In addition to Dottard's answer, I would offer a few more points in support of the "rock" being a reference to Christ:

For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. (Ephesians 5:23) [ESV]

The church is the body of Christ. It is built on Him. He is the head of the Church, despite the fact head is the feminine noun κεφαλή.

There is a specific Old Testament reference of πέτρα referencing the LORD:

1 And David spoke to the Lord the words of this song, in the day in which the Lord rescued him out of the hand of all his enemies, and out of the hand of Saul. 2 And the song was thus: O Lord, my rock (πέτρα), and my fortress, and my deliverer (LXX-2 Samuel 22)

The LXX uses πέτρα, which is feminine to refer to the Lord which is masculine. In the Hebrew, it refers to YHVH, also masculine. In addition, as I show in the answer to this question, a case can be made the LXX translation of 2 Samuel has this event in view:

Take thy rod, and call the assembly, thou and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye to the rock (πέτραν) before them, and it shall give forth its waters; and ye shall bring forth for them water out of the rock (πέτρας), and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.
(LXX-Numbers 20:8)

This agrees with Paul's use of this event:

and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock (πέτρας) that followed them, and the Rock (πέτρα) was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:4)

In addition, there is another use of a feminine noun which refers to the body of Christ:

And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:10)
ἐν ᾧ θελήματι ἡγιασμένοι ἐσμὲν διὰ τῆς προσφορᾶς τοῦ σώματος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐφάπαξ

The Church was built on the offering, προσφορᾶς, of the body of Jesus Christ. Offering is the feminine noun προσφορά. The "rock" is Jesus: the offering of His body, That gave birth to the Church of which He is the head.

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    "Thus it is impossible." I think your evidence is underdetermined. I'm confused by your citation of Barrett, who seems to be arguing that John's understanding is different from Matthew's. It's also unclear to me why Gal 2:7 is so conclusive: Peter and Paul have different ministries, but surely it's a question of emphasis, not "exclusion." In fact, shortly afterwards, Paul refers to Peter (and others) as "columns." Peter was almost certainly in Corinth and Rome (if we are to believe Church fathers). I also don't see how you square your final claim with "Feed my sheep" from Jn 21.
    – brianpck
    Commented Mar 7, 2021 at 6:12
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    Again, I offer a challenge: name a single Church father who has denied that the petra of Mt 16:18 refers to Peter.
    – brianpck
    Commented Mar 7, 2021 at 6:22
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    @brianpck is the challenge to name any church father or specifically any Greek church father? You mentioned Greek previously so I didn't want to misrepresent. But if Latin fathers are in scope, Augustine. In Sermons on the New Testament 26:1, Augustine states his belief that the rock was Christ. Commented Mar 8, 2021 at 4:12
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    @HoldToTheRod Are we reading different texts? This is what I see: "For before he was called Simon. Now this name of Peter was given him by the Lord, and that in a figure, that he should signify the Church. For seeing that Christ is the rock (Petra), Peter is the Christian people. For the rock (Petra) is the original name. Therefore Peter is so called from the rock; not the rock from Peter." As I mentioned in the other quotes, calling Peter the rock of course does not exclude the fact that Christ is the original, grounding rock.
    – brianpck
    Commented Mar 8, 2021 at 12:29
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    @HoldToTheRod Looked at the Augustinian testimonies a bit more, and I think I now see that I was too hasty in my response. Augustine speaks of this passage several times, and his overall message is clear: Peter is called a petra, but is only so because of Christ, the original petra. Peter is a petra through Christ--but that's not the same as denying that Peter is a petra derivatively. In fact, he explicitly asserts this, e.g. "...quia Petrus petra, et petra ecclesia" (In Ps 103, III)
    – brianpck
    Commented Mar 8, 2021 at 18:53

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