Thursday, September 09, 2010

Is Peter the Rock (Part 5: Conclusion)

Read Part 1Part 2Part 3 and Part 4

So is Peter the rock?

Finally, and most important, we should point out that it simply strains credibility to imagine that the identification of Simon here specifically as Petros is not meant to link him with the petra upon which the Church is built.

If there’s no connection, why does Jesus name Simon “Peter” here? In fact, if Simon was not meant to be identified as the “rock” Matthew could have easily used a word that would have completely avoided any chance of confusion: lithos, i.e., “stone”.

Carson sums it up well: “Had Matthew wanted to say no more than that Peter was a stone in contrast with Jesus the Rock, the more common word would have been lithos (“stone” of almost any size). Then there would have been no pun—and that is just the point!”

Here I might mention the Semitic substratum. Throughout the New Testament Simon is identified not simply as Petros but also, by the equivalent, Kephas (John 1:42; 1 Cor 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; 15:5; Gal 1:18; 2:9, 11, 14). It is odd that the name is not transliterated but translated. Obviously, this would seem to underscore the idea that he was given a significant name by Jesus—the “rock”. Now, it is true, Jesus may very well have spoken Greek. But given the Kephas traditions and the fact that the saying begins with Jesus calling him, “Bar-Jonah” (Matt 16:17)—an Aramaic expression if there ever was one!—one has to admit the likelihood that in fact the original conversation was not in Greek but in Aramaic. In that language, of course, there is no petra / petros distinction.

But let me be clear: I am not trying to avoid reading the Greek by positing an Aramaic alternative. Rather, I’ve already made the case that there is a good reason for the petra / petros dichotomy (see the third post in this series, "You are Petrina"?). Rather, I’m saying that this observation reinforces the reading and confirms that in fact it is likely that Peter is to be identified with the rock the Church is built upon.

In sum, I agree with Fuller professor (Protestant scholar) Donald Hagner:
“. . . attempts that have been made, largely in the past, to deny this in favor of the view that the confession itself is the rock. . . seem to be largely motivated by Protestant prejudice against a passage that is used by the Roman Catholics to justify the papacy” (Donald Hagner, Matthew, 2:470).


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Richard Fellows said...

Yes, and, as I mentioned on my web page, the translation name (Peter) signified his role in the church, because Paul uses it when talking about Cephas's role (Gal:7-8) and only there (contrast 1:18, 2:9,11,14).

You mention that some do not see Peter as he rock on which the church was to be built. What explanation to they give for Simon's bi-name (Cephas/Petros)?

While I agree that Peter was said rock, I am not so sure that this name was so unique. James, brother of Jesus, was called "Oblias", which Hegesippus interprets, "Bulwark of the people". We also have Mary Magdalene (Fortress/tower), and people such as Sosthenes (saving strength). All these people were recipients of new names with rather similar significance to that of Peter, no?

But Peter's importance is demonstrated by the fact that he always appears first in list of names.

By the way, I have never understood by people say that Jesus was employing a "pun" here. Do they mean that it was just by chance that Simon, who was the rock, happened also to be called "rock"? That is not the case, surely? He was called "rock" (whenever the name was first given) precisely because his role was to be a rock.

Anonymous said...

Protestantism is strange. The more it becomes Catholic, the more it twists the truth. Like in admitting Peter is the rock, some Protestants say the pun is a reference to Jesus.

Felix the Cassowary said...

Richard, I think there's a difference between "rock" on the one hand and "bulwark, "fortress", "saving strength" on the other: The latter are about defence; the former is the foundation. A state has only one commander-in-chief but many soldiers and officers. So Simon appearing first, sure, it indicates his importance: But his name shows he is categorically different and not just Primus Inter Pares.

(Okay, so rocks can have other uses than as a foundation, but from the context we know it's a foundation.)

However, I don't know why today's Pope has inherited the same status. Why does it pass to the current Bishop of Rome, and not (say) the Bishop of Alexandria or the Archbishop of Washington?

Fr. Larry Gearhart said...

I don't understand why there must be a dichotomy here. The Church teaches that it was born at Pentecost. At that time it consisted of the twelve Apostles plus the Blessed Virgin Mary, and anyone else who received the Spirit in the gift of proclamation. It makes sense to me to see that Simon, in some sense, is seen to be the first member of the Church, apart from Jesus, since his confession of faith is the kernel of the symbol of faith: the humanity and divinity of Christ, with his humanity being anointed by God with power, honor and authority. Jesus, it seems to me, declares Simon to be Peter because he embodies the faith, not that he is the faith. Until Pentecost, the disciples do not fully grasp the meaning of the faith. Yet, as knowledge, they possess it before then.

I'm assuming, of course, that Simon Peter's declaration "the Son of the living God" is not merely figurative, and was not understood in any such trivial way by him, but that he somehow intuited Jesus' divinity.