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Peter, The Rock, and The Confession (part 4)

Here is the last of my research notes. In the next post I will discuss the remarks of these scholars and commentators.

R.T. France (New Bible Commentary) —
“The name Peter means ‘Rock’, and Jesus played on this meaning to designate Peter as the foundation of the new people of God. His leadership would involve the authority of the steward, whose keys symbolized his responsibility to regulate the affairs of the household. Peter would exercise his leadership by his authority to declare what is and is not permissible in the kingdom of heaven (to bind and to loose have this meaning in rabbinic writings)….It is sometimes suggested that because the word for ‘rock’ (petra) differs from the name Petros, the ‘rock’ referred to is not Peter himself but the confession he has just made of Jesus as Messiah. In Aramaic, however, the same term kefa would appear in both places; the change in Greek is due to the fact that petra, the normal word for rock, is feminine in gender, and therefore not suitable as a name for Simon! The echo of Peter’s name remains obvious, even in Greek; he is the rock, in the sense outlined above.”

Craig S. Keener (A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew) —
“‘You are Peter,’ Jesus says (16:18), paralleling Peter’s ‘You are the Christ’ (16:16). He then plays on Simon’s nickname, ‘Peter,’ which is roughly the English ‘Rocky’: Peter is ‘rocky,’ and on this rock Jesus would build his church (16:18)….Protestants…have sometimes argued that Peter’s name in Greek (petros) differs from the Greek term for rock used here (petra)….But by Jesus’ day the terms were usually interchangeable, and the original Aramaic form of Peter’s nickname that Jesus probably used (kephas) means simply ‘rock.’ Further, Jesus does not say, ‘You are Peter, but on this rock I will build my church’….the copulative kai almost always means ‘and’…. Jesus’ teaching is the ultimate foundation for disciples (7:24-27; cf. 1 Cor 3:11), but here Peter functions as the foundation rock as the apostles and prophets do in Ephesians 2:20-21….Jesus does not simply assign this role arbitrarily to Peter, however; Peter is the ‘rock’ because he is the one who confessed Jesus as the Christ in this context (16:15-16)….”


William Hendriksen (New Testament Commentary: Matthew)-

On the basis of what is known about Aramaic it must be regarded as very probable that the same word was used in both cases. The question will be asked, “Then why not the same word in Greek?” Answer: for the simple reason that petra, the common word for “stone” or “rock,” being feminine, had to be changed to a masculine – hence to petros – to indicate the name of a male person, Peter. As to petros and petra differing in meaning, this is not always true. A very frequent meaning of petra is “rock” or “stone.” It does not always mean “rocky ground,” “rocky ledge,” or “rocky cliff.”

Even in Greek, regardless of whether one translates petra as “rock” or as “rocky ledge” Jesus is saying, “You are Rock and on THIS rock – or rocky ledge – I will build my church.” The word THIS makes reference to anything else than the immediately preceding petros very unnatural. In the sentence, “You are Margaret [meaning pearl] and on this pearl I am about to bestow a favor,” it would be very difficult to interpret “this pearl” in any other sense than as referring to Margaret, even though the word “pearl” has more meanings than one. It indicates a gem but can also refer to a kind of printer’s type. It would be rather unnatural to conclude that “this pearl” had reference to something that someone had said to Margaret or had shown her, or to something she had just said.

The meaning is, You are Peter, that is, Rock, and upon this rock, that is, on you, Peter, I will build my church. Our Lord, speaking Aramaic, probably said, “And I say to you, you are kepha, and on this kepha I will build my church. Jesus, then, is promising Peter that he is going to build his church on him! I accept this view. … Not on Cephas considered all by himself, but on Cephas as “first among equals” (Matt. 10:2), that is, on “Peter taking his stand with the eleven” (Acts 2:14). The authority which in 16:19 is entrusted to Peter is in 18:18 given to the Twelve (see also John 20:23).