Skip to comments.The Petrine Fact, Part 6: And Upon This Rock (ground zero in the Petrine controversy)
Posted on 09/25/2009 1:42:15 PM PDT by NYer
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6
"You are Petros, and on this rock I will build my church." (Matt 16:18)
NOTE: This series is a work in progress. See Part 1 updates including bibliography in progress. As I add sources and update past posts I will continue to expand the bibliography.
We have arrived at ground zero in the Petrine controversy, one of the most bitterly disputed texts in all of sacred scripture. Here the Petrine fact looms most intractably and prominently, resisting all attempts to smooth it over or roll it aside. It is a sad irony that the rock to which Jesus attached such importance has become a stone of stumbling for so many, just as the primacy of Rome, for some an icon, almost a sacrament, of unity, has become a source of division.
At the same time, there have been encouraging developments. There is now near unanimity in Bible scholarship generally, Protestant as well as Catholic, that the rock on which Jesus builds his church is neither Peter's confession, nor the faith of Peter's confession, nor the truth that Peter confesses about Christ, nor Christ himself, but Peter himself.
Among the chorus of Evangelical and Protestant voices in this regard, as I will document eventually, are F. F. Bruce, D. A. Carson, Walter Elwell, R. T. France, Herman Ridderbos and Craig Blomberg. Thus Chrys C. Caragounis writes: "After centuries of disagreement it would appear that Protestant and Catholic are at last united in referring the rock upon which the Church according to Mt 16:18 is to be built, to the Apostle Peter" (Caragounis 1).
Ironically, Caragounis, an Eastern Orthodox scholar, makes a contrarian case for identifying the rock as Peter's confession. In Orthodox scholarship, too, there has been movement toward recognizing Peter himself as the rock. Orthodox theologian Theodore Stylianopoulos, after surveying recent developments in Orthodox scholarship, writes:
That Orthodox scholars have gradually moved in the direction of affirming the personal application of Matt 16:17-19 to the Apostle Peter must be applauded. From the standpoint of critical scholarship it can no longer be disputed that Jesus' words to Peter as reported in Matt 16:17-19 confer a special distinction on Peter as "rock" the foundation on which Christ promised to build his Church. These points are now conceded by conservative Protestant scholars as well. (Kasper 48-49)
The pericope begins in Matthew 16:13, in which Jesus asks the Twelve what people are saying about him, and receives a number of different answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.
Then comes the crucial question: "But who do you say I am?" As often elsewhere, Peter speaks up for the Twelve: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."
The next three verses are a remarkable composition, well capable of bearing all the critical scrutiny they have received. Here is Jesus' reply in full:
1. Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona!
1a. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you,
1b. but my Father who is in heaven.
2. And I tell you, you are Petros,
2a. and on this rock I will build my church,
2b. and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it.
3. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven,
3a. and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
3b. and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
The above blocking highlights a point made by Jimmy Akin (I haven't seen it developed in this form by anyone else) regarding the three-part structure of each of the three verses. Each verse starts with a major or leading clause, followed by a supporting couplet, the two clauses of which jointly illuminate and expound upon the major clause.
What is more, in each of the three leading clauses, Jesus both addresses Peter and makes a pronouncement regarding Peter: "1. Blessed are you, Simon bar-Jona! 2. And I tell you, you are Petros 3. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven." As we will see, each of these pronouncements is in some way unparalleled; each is extraordinary in itself, and all three together are an astonishing manifesto on Peter's behalf.
It is not surprising, then, that each of the three major Petrine pronouncements is followed by a couplet illuminating or commenting upon what Jesus has just said to Peter and about Peter. This is so clear that no one denies this in the first or third verses; everyone recognizes that "Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you / but my Father who is in heaven" is a commentary on "Blessed are you, Simon bar-Jona", and that "whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven / and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" is a commentary on "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven."
Yet sandwiched between those two verses is a verse that follows precisely the same pattern, yet here the pattern has historically been contested by some. It has been argued that "On this rock I will build my church / and the powers of death shall not prevail against it" is not a commentary on "I tell you, you are Petros"; that after saying "You are Petros," Jesus in effect changes the subject from the previous thought, merely punning on Petros in order to talk about some quite distinct petra only to return to Peter in the following verse.
Start at the beginning. Jesus opens with an unparalleled benediction: "Blessed are you, Simon bar-Jona!" Nowhere else in the Gospels does Jesus pronounce such a blessing on any individual; Peter aside, people are pronounced blessed by Jesus only in groups or classes, in the abstract, or both. To find this singular beatitude at the outset of this crucial Petrine text is itself a notable token of the Petrine fact.
Jesus then goes on to expound upon the benediction of this first remarkable clause in a supporting couplet clarifying Peter's beatitude: "For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you / but my Father who is in heaven." Peter's beatitude is not something he achieved himself; it is the gift of the Father.
It must be remembered, too, that the blessing is counter-balanced six verses by the equally singular rebuke, "Get behind me, Satan!" (or "Get behind me, you satan!"). Most of Jesus' maledictions, like his blessings, are aimed at groups ("Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites," Matt 23:13ff), and even Herod was only called a fox (Luke 13:32). Peter alone is called by that harsh word, adversary, that denotes the enemy of mankind.
Once again, then, the point is not that Peter was personally uniquely holy or favored only in positive ways; he wasn't. Rather, the point is simply Peter's unique prominence, partly rooted perhaps in his own qualities for good and for ill, but also bound up in Jesus' own choice, resulting in unique privileges but also unique chastenings. "Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required" (Luke 12:48): Peter is singularly blessed and singularly chastised; in either case his position is unique.
Then comes the second leading clause: "And I say to you, you are Petros." The first word, kagõ (a contraction of "And I"), is emphatic (the Greek doesn't require the explicit first-personal pronoun); Jesus underscores that it is he, the Messiah confessed by Peter, who speaks. Jesus may also be counterpointing his own words to the Father's gift to Peter; the Father has revealed Jesus' identity to Peter, and now it is the Son's turn to reveal something to Peter.
"You are Petros." Peter has told Jesus who he is ("You are the Messiah"); now Jesus tells Peter who he is. Is this merely declarative, or performative? Is Jesus making an observation, or giving Peter his new name here and now?
John 1:42 relates Jesus telling Peter at their first meeting, "You will be called Kephas," a saying that could be read as either as an enactment or as a proleptic or prophetic utterance (the future tense could mean either "from this point forward" or "at some point in the future"). In Mark 3 the list of the Twelve begins "Simon whom he surnamed Peter," but ends with "Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him" (Mark 3:15-19). Obviously Judas has not already betrayed Jesus in chapter 3; by the same token, we cannot conclude that Jesus has already surnamed Simon Peter at that point in the narrative.
The Evangelists all use the name Peter early on. In fact, John 1 refers to "Simon Peter" in verse 40, before Jesus and Peter have even met, and Matthew likewise identifies the apostle as "Simon who is called Peter" (Matt 4:18) the moment Jesus sees him, before they have spoken. It is reasonable to conclude that the Gospels use the name Peter from the start because that is the name readers know him by; it doesn't tell us when he first began to go by that name.
Other than John 1:42, then, there is no clear evidence of Jesus or anyone else calling Peter Kephas or Petros prior to Matthew 16:18. On the contrary, what evidence we have suggests that Jesus continued to use the name Simon (e.g., Matt 17:25, Mark 14:37, Luke 22:31, John 21:15, the late exception being Luke 22:34). The question, then, is whether Jesus' words to Peter at their meeting "You will be called Kephas" are grounds for concluding that henceforth the apostle began to be known by that surname.
It seems an open question. It's possible that Jesus and others began to call Simon Kephas right away, or that the surname caught on at some other point prior to Matthew 16. The Gospels offer scant evidence either way.
On the one hand, there is no indication in John 1 that anyone but Andrew heard the saying; if Jesus himself continued to use Simon's given name, it seems plausible that Peter's brother (and business partners James and John), who had always called him Simon, would similarly continue to call him the name they had always used. On the other hand, it's also plausible that Andrew might at least have told James and John about the strange saying, so that eventually all the Twelve would know the story, and Simon might start to be known as Kephas or Petros without another word from Jesus after John 1:42.
What seems certain is that Matthew 16 describes an event that would certainly have caused the surname to stick if it hadn't already. Not only is it an emphatic, present-tense pronouncement before all the Twelve, the occasion of Peter's confession is the sort of circumstance that elicits surnames from rabbis and other authorities. (For example, Barnabas, Son of Encouragement, was the surname given to Joseph of Cyprus by the apostles in Acts 4:36, possibly in connection with the act described in the next verse, i.e., laying at the apostles' feet the money from the sale of his field. Certainly he was not surnamed Barnabas out of the blue.)
It is also worth noting that the structure of verse 18 is notably similar to the texts in Genesis in which Abram, Sarai and Jacob receive their new names, followed by an exposition of the significance of the new name:
No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham;
for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.
I will make you exceedingly fruitful;
and I will make nations of you,
and kings shall come forth from you." (Genesis 17:5-6)
As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.
I will bless her,
and moreover I will give you a son by her;
I will bless her,
and she shall be a mother of nations;
kings of peoples shall come from her. (Gen 17:15-16)
Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel,
for you have striven with God and with men,
and have prevailed. (Gen 32:28)
The parallels are most striking in the case of Abraham and Sarah, where the commentary takes the form of an account of the inaugural role they will have in the new stage of God's plan of salvation. Jacob's name change also seems generally indicative of his election for the new stage in God's plan (though this point isn't explicitly drawn out in the commentary on the name).
If Jesus is not effectively renaming Peter in Matthew 16, he seems to be doing something remarkably similar. At the very least, even if Peter already went by his surname, the renewed pronouncement of the surname, in the solemn and emphatic context of the passage, seems to invest it with further significance significance that almost goes beyond a mere surname, that is more like a new identity and a new mission. (It may even be worth noting here that Jacob's new name Israel is also given twice, in Gen 32:28 and again in Gen 35:10 and that even after both renamings Israel also continues to be called Jacob both by the sacred writer and even by God, e.g., Gen 46:2-5, etc.)
All of this suggests that the pronouncement of Peter's new name reflects a new role in Jesus' messianic plan, one that seems to call for further explication. As previously noted, efforts have been made, especially in the past, to deny that "upon this rock" constitutes such commentary, to argue that it must refer to some distinct petra. Not until verse 19, on this reading, does Jesus say more about Peter's new role. The effect seems not unlike revising Genesis 17:5-6 to read, "No longer shall your name be Abram [exalted father], but your name shall be Abraham [father of a multitude], and I the Lord shall be exalted among the nations, and a father to my people. And I will make you exceedingly fruitful "
If "this rock" is not Peter, what is it? There's the rub. Literarily, the demonstrative pronoun "this" implies an antecedent. Some older Protestant writers tried to float the notion that Jesus might have gestured toward himself as he said "this rock" — an exegetical conceit that would reduce Matthew's purpose to merely relating dialogue without conveying meaning (not to mention being difficult to reconcile with sola scriptura, for what that's worth). In the absence of other indication, the Gospel text clearly indicates a continuation of thought, not a change of subject.
The conjunction "and" (kai) links the second clause ("upon this rock") to the main clause ("I say to you, you are Petros"). Peter is the topic of the preceding and following verses. The connection between Petros and petra is unmistakable; even on the theory that Jesus was merely punning on Petros but talking about something else, the pun itself presupposes that Petros is the first thing we think of when we hear petra.
Petros, then, is the obvious antecedent, petra the obvious continuation of thought between "You are Petros" and "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven." Only if there were some insurmountable obstacle to identifying Petros as petra would it be feasible to set aside that connection and cast about for more remote, less obvious possible referents: Peter's confession, Peter's faith, the truth about Christ, Christ himself.
The next post will examine proposed obstacles to identifying Peter as the rock, as well as difficulties with alternate proposals. More to come.
NOTE: This series is a work in progress. See Part 1 updates including bibliography in progress. As I add sources and update past posts I will continue to expand the bibliography.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6
Hope you are enjoying this series.
Thank you, fascinating.
Since you have expressed an interest in this topic on previous threads, I am pinging you to the sequel.
Not Sir! You read this wrong. The reference to “Satan” was the Satanic temptation (that all humans even the Christ was faced with) that prompted Peter to steer the Christ away from the Crucifixtion.
Reminder, dear friend in Christ, the Catholic Church gave you the Bible. That said, let's take a closer look at Peter's reaction. No sooner is he named "prime minister", than Peter pulls the king aside and advises him to take a different road. As he had been praised by the Master, now he is rebuked. Jesus goes so far as to call him Satan. This illustrates well what the Catholic Church teaches about the subject. For Catholic doctrine does not proclaim that the pope can never make a mistake in personal judgment. It is only when he fully engages his authority as successor of Peter speaking from Peters seat of authority (ex cathedra) that the Church guarantees him to be acting under the charism of truth given by the Father through the Spirit.
When Peter publicly proclaimed you are the Christ, Jesus pointed out that this was not from him, but from the Father. When Peter privately said, God forbid that you should suffer, Jesus notes that the source of this was himself. And whats worse, this human opinion was being used by a diabolic manipulator to tempt the Lord to choose comfort and honor over suffering and sacrifice.
Jesus will have none of it, of course. After all, He is the truth incarnate. And the truth is that glory comes only after sacrifice. And His own incomparable sacrifice will not make things easy for his disciples, but will blaze the trail of sacrifice that they too must walk. The sacrifice that he will offer will be Himself. The sacrifice they will be called to offer will be similar: offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1-2).
Peter couldnt quite get it. None of them could. This is entirely understandable. During the ministry of Jesus the apostles here and there experienced a passing inspiration from the Holy Spirit, but that Creator Spirit had not yet taken up residence within them. That only came when the fire descended on them in the upper room. Before Pentecost, they ran from suffering. After Pentecost they run towards it. Peter, who denied Jesus, ultimately gave his life for him. A successor of Peter, John Paul II, preached his most eloquent sermon by continuing to serve in the twilight years of his life, a living witness of loving self-giving which is a fruit of Pentecost. cf
Paul publicly rebukes Peter for binding the consciences of the Jerusalem converts concerning dietary laws.
Well ..... I guess all those pesky arguments from the Protestants are finally over, eh?
Sounds like the Protestants on FR will be turning in their keyboards and getting themselves on over to a Roman Catholic church asap.
Gonna be real quiet here on the Religion segment of FR. Like really Zzzzzzzz time.
Listen carefully and you can hear the sound of virtual hammers nailing something onto the virtual doors of virtual Roman Catholic churches!
Hmmmmmm ..... those Protestants are like the Terminator aren't they!
That's what they do! That's all they do! They'll never stop!
Oh well, so much for "near unanimity".
No. This is the man Scripture says Jesus chose. That is all that matters.
God doesn't choose the man we think is the "best guy". He chooses the little and the insignificant, so everyone can see that the He is the one who is really at work.
I fear the Catholic church really needs to read Scripture
We've been reading it for 2000 years. Have you ever considered the possibility that maybe we have some deeper insights that look like nonsense to those whose acquaintance with Scripture is more superficial?
Its a shame that this article presents such a half truth as this to make people think Orthodox theologians somehow or other accept the Vatican I heresy about the Pope:
” In Orthodox scholarship, too, there has been movement toward recognizing Peter himself as the rock. Orthodox theologian Theodore Stylianopoulos, after surveying recent developments in Orthodox scholarship, writes:
That Orthodox scholars have gradually moved in the direction of affirming the personal application of Matt 16:17-19 to the Apostle Peter must be applauded. From the standpoint of critical scholarship it can no longer be disputed that Jesus’ words to Peter as reported in Matt 16:17-19 confer a special distinction on Peter as “rock” the foundation on which Christ promised to build his Church. These points are now conceded by conservative Protestant scholars as well. (Kasper 48-49)”
Fr. Stykianopoulos, whom I know well, said this at a Vatican symposium in the fall of 2004:
“Peter is a pre-eminent figure in the New Testament, but not the only one.”
“No single apostolic figure enjoys universal dominance or exclusive authority in the New Testament,” he said. “In other words, the ‘primacy’ of Peter is not power over other apostolic figures, but an authorized leadership in the context of shared apostolic authority in the common life of the church.”
He's the "to to" guy.
Isn’t it extraordinary, K?...
...that Rome disregards the words of the church Father they revere above all, +Augustine of Hippo...
...when it suits their ends?
Are you surprised?
LOL...Not even a little.
I am loving this. There is so much to love about Peter. He’s so human and one of the most well developed characters in the New Testament. This commentary made me think about him in new ways.
I love knowing that he is the only person Jesus ever called “Blessed” individually.
I love hearing the voice say: and YOU are Peter...
And I love the reference to Gen 32:28 which hints that Peter has striven with men and God and thus can be renamed.
Thank you for posting this.
***Hmmmmmm ..... those Protestants are like the Terminator aren’t they!***
Do you mean that Protestants are evil machines that kill human beings indiscriminately simply because they are humans? Do you mind if I get the popcorn before you peel your skin off to reveal your metal skeleton and glowing eyes?
On the other hand, I have posted scriptural proof who Jesus, Peter and the Holy Spirit agree Is the Rock that Christ's Church is built on. NYer, you have yet to comment on what I have posted.
I will post the scripture once again. Maybe you or someone else can explain why this isn't as plain to any of you, as it is to me.
This was Peter filled with the Spirit Jesus promised to send to lead us in all truth.
There is no doubt by the Holy Spirit or Peter that Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of the New Testament Church. I have no doubt Peter would tell the 'church' leaders of today the same thing much to yours and their dismay.
There is no need for any one to be eminent on earth. We are all members of His heavenly body with His Spirit leading us like It lead Peter in acts.
Where is Peter and I wrong? BVB
***Where is Peter and I wrong? BVB***
Peter isn’t. And neither are you, in this context. Jesus is the petros and Peter is the petra. Jesus is the head of the Church, and Peter is the steward, given the keys to the kingdom while the King is away.
The steward rules the kingdom in the Name of the King. Some rule well - Peter. Some rule ill - Denethor in Gondor comes to mind.
But whom say ye that I am? Peter answered, Thou art the Christ, The Son of the living God. One for many gave the answer, Unity in many. Then said the Lord to him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjonas: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven. Then He added, and I say unto thee. As if He had said, Because thou hast said unto Me, Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God; I also say unto thee, Thou art Peter. For before he was called Simon. Now this name of Peter was given him by the Lord, and 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 Christ is not called Christ from the Christian, but the Christian from Christ. Therefore, he saith, Thou art Peter; and upon this Rock which Thou hast confessed, upon this rock which Thou hast acknowledged, saying, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God, will I build My Church; that is upon Myself, the Son of the living God, will I build My Church. I will build thee upon Myself, not Myself upon Thee.
For men who wished to be built upon men, said, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas, who is Peter. But others who did not wish to built upon Peter, but upon the Rock, said, But I am of Christ. And when the Apostle Paul ascertained that he was chosen, and Christ despised, he said, Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? And, as not in the name of Paul, so neither in the name of Peter; but in the name of Christ: that Peter might be built upon the Rock, not the Rock upon Peter. This same Peter therefore who had been by the Rock pronounced blessed, bearing the figure of the Church (Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), Volume VI, St. Augustin, Sermon XXVI.1-4, pp. 340-341).
Or, if you prefer, the great church father...J. Vernon McGee:
“Who is the Rock? The Rock is Christ. The church is built upon Christ. We have Simon Peter’s own explanation of this. In 1 Peter 2:4, referring to Christ, he writes, [4As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house]. And he remembers Isaiah 28:16, [”Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”] - 1 Peter 2:6. The church is built upon Christ; he is the foundation. [11For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.] 1 Cor 3:11”