Rock or Rock?

April 14, 2021

I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it (Matthew 16:18).

This text and the next (v.19) have caused “volumes of controversy and endless theological strife” (A.T. Robertson) down through Christian history. Our English text has not helped matters at all. The original Greek and Aramaic languages make the meaning clear.

First, Peter is not Jesus’ focus, “I also say to your that you are Peter.” Jesus didn’t need to tell Peter who he was. Kago de soi lego means, “And I also to you say.” That’s Jesus’ emphasis. In other words, Jesus said, “The Father has revealed to you the truth (that I am the Christ; vv.16-17), and I also say to you another (truth; v.18). What is that ‘other’ truth? “Upon this rock I will build My church.”

Second, Jesus called Peter “Simon Barjona” (Simon son of Jonah, v.17). That was his Aramaic name. In v.18 Jesus called him Peter. The name ‘Peter’ is Greek and is the same as the Aramaic name ‘Cephas’. Jesus used the name ‘Peter’ here for a reason. Note carefully: Jesus said, “you are Peter (petros: stone, fragment of rock), and upon this rock (petra: bedrock, massive rock; cliff; the same kind of rock used as a foundation in Matthew 7:24) I will build my church.” 

Third, the word ‘church’ is ekklesia - ‘called out ones’ or ‘assembly’. It was the name given to Israel who was called out of the nations to be a peculiar people unto God (Acts 7:38). It is translated an ‘assembly’ of citizens (Acts 19:39) and the name given to the Christian community (Acts 5:11; 8:1; 12:1; 14:23).

There are 3 ways this text has been interpreted. (1) The church of Jesus Christ is built upon Peter who became the first pope and bishop of Rome, and from whom the Catholic papacy has developed. (2) Peter is a ‘small stone’ which is part of the ‘huge rock’ of his confession upon which Jesus Christ builds His church. (3) Peter is one of the 12 Apostles in his/their confession of faith in Jesus Christ upon which He builds His church. 

Interpretation 1 is incorrect. Jesus does not build His church on a person, but on the truth that He is the Christ, the Son of God, the Lord and Savior of God’s people. Interpretations 2 & 3 are more correct. The foundation of Christ’s Kingdom is the revelation of God given through His Apostles (that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Lord and Savior), of which Christ is the Chief Cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20).

“Thank You, Lord, that our faith has found a resting place upon the solid rock of Jesus Christ our Lord. I thank You that I can build my life upon His sure foundation that will never be destroyed. To You be all praise and glory forever, Amen.”


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