Monday, August 30, 2010

Is Peter the Rock? (Part 2: Gundry's Take)

Read Part 1.

In his detailed commentary on Matthew, Robert Gundry makes the argument that Jesus was purposeful in using different words in his declaration to Peter—“you are petros, and on this petra I will build my church” (Matt 16:18).

Gundry is representative of many Protestant commentators. His view: the rock the Church is built upon is decidedly not Peter, but something else. In Gundry's view, the petra, the "rock", is the very words of Jesus. This, he argues, flows from a more careful reading of Matthew’s Gospel. For earlier, in Matthew 7:24–25, Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount:
“Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock [Greek: petra]; 25 and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock [Greek: petra]” (Matt 7:24–25).

Here's Gundry in his own words. I'll offer my own thoughts soon, but I do think he offers an opinion worthy of consideration:
. . . we can see that Πέτρος [petros] is not the πέτρα [petra] on which Jesus will build his church. For Matthew, Peter represents all disciples, including those who are weak and even those who apostatize, and thus the superstructure of the church, not its foundation . . . In accord with 7:24, which Matthew quotes here, the πέτρα [petra], consists of Jesus’ teaching, i.e., the law of Christ. “This rock” no longer poses the problem that ‘this’ ill suits an address to Peter in which he is the rock. For that meaning the text would have read more naturally “on you”. Instead, the demonstrative echoes 7:24; i.e., “this rock” echoes “these my words.” Only Matthew put the demonstrative with Jesus’ words, which the rock stood for in the following parable (7:24–27). His reusing it in 16:18 points away from Peter to those same words as the foundation of the church. Consequently, we are free from the necessity of appealing to Aramaic in order to explain away the usual distinction between Πέτρος [petros], “detached stone” (hardly a firm foundation), and πέτρα [petra],“bedrock.” The two words retain their peculiar Greek connotations, for Matthew’s Jesus will build only on the firm bedrock of his law (cf. 5:19–20; 28:19), not on the loose stone Peter. Also, we no longer need to explain away the association of the church’s foundation with Christ rather than with Peter in Matthew 21:42 (cf. Mark 12:1; Luke 20:17; 1 Cor 3:10–17; 1 Pet 2:6–7; Eph 2:20).[1]
(Continue reading: Part 3)

[1] Robert Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church under Persecution (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982/1994), 334.


Anonymous said...

It's pretty clear that Jesus is referring to Peter's faith, and hence, to Peter himself.

Matt G said...

This does bring up a good point regarding Aramaic. Although it is good for exegetical research, it is important that our arguments not rely on an assumption of the original language. Although Jesus almost certainly used the Aramaic "cephas", that was not the word that Matthew was inspired to write. Matthew cooperated with the Holy Spirit to write his gospel in Greek, and our arguments need to stand on their own with regards to the written word.

Michael Barber said...

Matt G:

I agree--we can't simply jettison the Greek.

Cale Clarke said...


I'm sure you're planning on pointing this out, but where Gundry (who is a great scholar) falls down here - and correct me if I'm wrong - "petra" is a feminine word in Koine Greek. Matthew has Jesus refer to Peter as "Petros" because it is the masculine form of the same word, and, obviously, Peter is male, necessitating the change. The "Rock" Jesus builds the Church upon is thus Peter himself.

This seemingly obvious fact is strangely ignored by many commentators, who, like Gundry in this case, hermeneutically over-reach, perhaps trying to avoid the ecclesiastical implications of the text, although his interpretation is an interesting take.

Thankfully, this is far from the only text dealing with Petrine primacy in the NT. Plus, we have the testimony of the Fathers, of history...

BTW, Michael, did you get my emails? Pls. let me know, and keep up the great blogging!

Nick Norelli said...

It's interesting to note that this is an example where Stan Porter argues Jesus might have been actually speaking in Greek (see “Greek of the New Testament” in Dictionary of New Testament Background [eds., Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter; Downers Grove, IL: InterVaristy, 2000], 433-34). I don't think it much matters one way or the other. I think meanings have been read into the petros/petra distinction that Matthew would have probably never thought of. A rock is a rock is a rock is a rock.

Eric said...

It all boils down to this for me...

To go against the Catholic understanding of this passage, you have to say that, in the end, the Apostle whom Jesus changed his name from 'Simon' to 'Rock', is actually not the rock. This sounds pretty ridiculous to me.

Kephas= Petros = Rock. Additionally, after 16:18 Jesus says directly to Peter : to YOU I will give the KEYS to the kingdom...etc He's giving it to the very person of Peter.

- Daily reflections on life from those who lived closest to Christ

Bruce Killian said...

No one has mentioned the context; Caesarea Philippi has a great rock cliff and what was believed to be a bottomless pit at its base. Jesus was at this location on Purpose.
This also happens about one year before His crucifixion, with the prediction of His death there is logic in appointing a successor for the sake of continuity. Kings like David appointed their sons as co-regents for a similar purpose.
Grace and peace,

Unknown said...

Matt G.,
There is actually a strong tradition amongst the Fathers of the Church that Matthew originally wrote his Gospel in Hebrew, not Greek.