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What is the significance behind Jesus giving the apostle Simon the new name Peter and him being referred to in scripture as either "Peter" / "Simon Peter" from then on ? I have read that the name Peter meant "Rock" in Greek which Jesus also refers to him as in the verse where he gives him this name. Is this simply because he is to serve as the "foundation" of the church or is there a deeper understood meaning in scripture behind the symbology of him as a rock ?

Matthew 16:17

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by My Father in heaven. 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

John 1:42

Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

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  • +1. Great Question for which the standard commentaries are highly divided and quite equivocal.
    – Dottard
    Oct 21 at 21:08
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This is an important question with many implications. Thank you for asking!

First of all, you are correct to note that the renaming of Peter occurred not when Peter confessed Christ in Matthew 16, but when they first met in John 1. We might note that several of the disciples had nicknames: Thomas = Didymus; James & John = Boarnages. Peter/Simon's nickname is not unique in being present; the substance of the question then is whether the nickname itself is important.

Does the name "Peter" imply that Peter is the Rock on which the church is built? We can actually find the answer to that elsewhere in the Scriptures.

1 Corinthians 3:11

For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 10:4

and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.

We see that Jesus is described as the exclusive, singular foundation of the church. That makes sense since we are told that it is His blood that purchased the church (Acts 20:28) and that He is the chief cornerstone of the church (Matthew 21:42, Ephesians 2:20).

Is there evidence that Peter played a unique part in the establishment of the church, distinct from the other Apostles? First of all, when Peter is given what Jesus referred to as the "Keys of the Kingdom", this was not something uniquely given to Peter. All of the Apostles are given that same authority in Matthew 18:18 and John 20:23. Second, as far as the work of establishing and founding the church, we are told several times that the church is founded by all of the apostles, not one (Ephesians 2:20, Revelation 21:14).

So if it is not possible that Jesus was telling Peter he would have a unique work in the establishment of the church, what could Jesus have meant? Consider that the pronoun used by Jesus in Matthew 16:18 is gender-neutral ("this"), referring not to a person but something else. What else is present in the conversation? The confession of the identity of Jesus made in verse 16: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

It is the identity of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, upon which the church is built. This can be seen in the significance placed on this confession throughout the Gospel accounts as well as the book of Acts and the Epistles. There is no importance placed on Peter, but we are told repeatedly that this confession is part of the process of being saved (Romans 10:9)

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In the OT, the rock is often used to refer to God, Psalm 18:

2 The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

This metaphor is repeated in the NT, 1 Corinthians 10:

4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.

Jesus was being most gracious when he spoke in Matthew 16:

18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

Peter,
Πέτρος (Petros)
Noun - Nominative Masculine Singular
Strong's 4074: Peter, a Greek name meaning rock. Apparently a primary word; a rock; as a name, Petrus, an apostle.

rock
πέτρᾳ (petra)
Noun - Dative Feminine Singular
Strong's 4073: A rock, ledge, cliff, cave, stony ground. Feminine of the same as Petros; a rock.

HELPS Word-studies

4073 pétra (a feminine noun) – "a mass of connected rock," which is distinct from 4074 (Pétros) which is "a detached stone or boulder" (A-S). 4073 (pétra) is a "solid or native rock, rising up through the earth" (Souter) – a huge mass of rock (a boulder), such as a projecting cliff.

4073 (petra) is "a projecting rock, cliff (feminine noun) . . . 4074 (petros, the masculine form) however is a stone . . . such as a man might throw" (S. Zodhiates, Dict).

What is the meaning behind Jesus giving Simon the name Peter?

Peter, the little rock, was compared to the big rock of foundation.

What is the significance behind Jesus giving Simon the name Peter?

It showed how gracious Jesus was to Peter.

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And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter (πέτρος), and upon this rock (πέτρᾳ) I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18, KJV)

The word Peter signifies a stone--a rolling stone.

Peter was not the Rock upon which the church was founded. The gates of hell did prevail against him when he denied his Lord with cursing and swearing, as well as when the Tempter induced him to speak words of temptation toward Christ, prompting Jesus' words "get thee behind me, Satan" (see Matthew 16:23).

But Peter would witness for Christ. In the words of the great protestant reformer, Ulrich Zwingle: "Let not this accusation move you. The foundation of the church is the same Rock, the same Christ, that gave Peter his name because he confessed him faithfully. In every nation whoever believes with all his heart in the Lord Jesus is accepted of God. Here, truly, is the church, out of which no one can be saved." – D’Aubigne, London ed., b. 8, ch. 11.

Following his conversion (after his denial of Christ), Peter did confess Christ faithfully. And Zwingle saw this as the reason that Christ had named Peter a stone.

Remember these words?

And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out. (Luke 19:40, KJV)

The word "stones" (λίθος) in this text is yet another synonym in Greek for the words petros and petra. Those who witness for Christ are as stones crying out.

The Greek shows that the word Jesus used to reference Peter was a different word than the one used for the rock upon which God was to build His church. Jesus was, therefore, making a clear distinction between the two words, placing them in contrast with each other. In effect, Jesus was saying that Peter was not the rock upon which the church was to be built.

The church was built upon One against whom the gates of hell could not prevail.

Ironically, despite Jesus' clear words and their implications, many have gotten it the other way around.

If Jesus had delegated any special authority to one of the disciples above the others, we should not find them so often contending as to who should be the greatest. They would have submitted to the wish of their Master, and honored the one whom He had chosen.

Instead of appointing one to be their head, Christ said to the disciples, "Be not ye called Rabbi;" "neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ" (Matthew 23:8, 10, KJV).

Conclusion

Jesus' use of two different Greek words shows that Peter was called a stone, in contrast to the boulder of a rock upon which the church was to be built, which is Christ, the chief cornerstone (see Ephesians 2:20).

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Superficially there is the obvious and direct reference you mention to Peter as a rock of the Church Jesus was to build. But the significance of the name becomes a little clearer when read in the original Languages. The reason being Peter isn't the only name with significance. Both of his names - Simon and Peter - have significance and meaning. It is the combination of the two names together that really gives the full significance.

The original name Simon in Hebrew means "Listen" or "Hearing"

The Aramaic / Hebrew name Cephas - and greek translation Petros/Peter means "Rock"

So when you read the name Simon Peter (or Simon Cephas) used it literally means "Listening Rock" or "Hearing Rock".

As the Gospel of John in particular centers around Jesus being "The word" the symbology of Simons original name "Listen" is hugely important. It firstly points to the primary role of a disciple - which is to listen to the word of God.

For man does not live on bread alone - but on every word that comes from the mouth of God

I believe the name change from "listen" to "rock" is kind of a parable in itself. With his name change kind of being a pointer to the effect of "listening" to the "word".

The Rock is a common symbol in the bible. Jesus uses it to describe himself. It is used to describe God. Following the Exodus from Egypt Israel is wandering in the desert and the people cry out for water. Moses (the annointed one) is instructed to "speak to the rock" to bring forth water to sustain the people and livestock.

Numbers 20:8

"Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink."

In effect Jesus (The large Rock) is passing this mantle on to Peter who will now be the primary building block and also source for the word of God (Water) when he ascends back to heaven. This also ties in neatly with Jesus instructing Peter three times to "feed his sheep". Peter is the "primary water source" - "The Rock" - Jesus has left behind to spread the word of God and sustain his "flock"

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Jesus made Simon ''rock'' (Πέτρος -Peter). Based on the context, this rock (Πέτρος) refers to a ''foundation'' (e.g. ''upon which the church is built'').

Matthew 16:18

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.

Simon as 'Cephas/'Peter' refers to Simon being the first rock/stone upon the church is built. He's the first living stone i.e. first one to confess the faith Matthew 16:16 and the first one to preach it Acts 1:14-39).

Simon as ''Peter'' (rock) means he was the first living stone. Together with other living stones, forms the holy priesthood.

Peter spoke of other stones. Peter was one of the living stones:

1 Peter 2:4-5 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the only cornerstone:

Ephesians 2:19-20 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.

notes:

scripture citation came from the New Revised Standard Version

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  • Andrew and (most probably) John were the first disciples. Peter came later. Being mentioned first does not mean he was first in rank. Did the disciples have rank? If so, upon which text(s) would this be supported?
    – Polyhat
    Oct 22 at 9:33
  • @Polyhat, Simon was the first one to preach the gospel in Acts and we will do the same. Simon Peter was just the first living stone then the rest are living stones stones too (all Christians have equal high rank/high status (priesthood)--- the greatest of all is the servant of all). Christ alone being the cornerstone and foundation. Peter himself said: "you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5).
    – Radz Brown
    Oct 22 at 11:45
  • @Polyhat i edited my answer to be clear on what i meant :)
    – Radz Brown
    Oct 22 at 14:55

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