Petros/Petra vs. Rocky/Rockelle


Q. Isn’t the problem, with the Catholic argument that Peter is the Rock of Matthew 16, that the Greek word used by Jesus for the Rock foundation of His Church is petra but the name He uses for Peter is Petros? Doesn’t Petra, meaning a BIG rock refer to Peter’s confession whereas, petros, Jesus’ name for Simon, means small stone.

A. This is a valiant attempt by non-Catholics to explain away Biblical evidence that Jesus founded His Church on Peter. However, it simply is not convincing when one looks at the facts.

First, most scholars believe that Jesus spoke Aramaic. In Aramaic there is only ONE word for rock. Kepha. So what Jesus actually said would have been:

You are Kepha, and on this kepha I will build my Church.

Jesus was not making any distinctions, after all, between Peter and the petra that Christ would build His Church upon. But obviously Peter comes from the Greek word petros. So, of course, one would tend to wonder about the strength of this argument since we now call Simon–Peter and not Kepha. The explanation is simple. There actually are several places in the New Testament where the Aramaic IS used for Simon.

John 1:42
And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas, which, when translated, is Peter.”

1 Corinthians 1:12
What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas “; still another, “I follow Christ.”

1 Corinthians 3:22
whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours,

  • 1 Corinthians 9:5
    Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?
  • Simon’s new name has come down to us as Peter because the Greek translation of the New Testament is the stronger traditional translation used by the Church when translating into Latin and English, and other vernacular languages.
    Second-When the translation of the original Aramaic was made into Greek the word petra which denoted Peter was simply changed by the translator to petros because petra has a feminine ending and petros has the masculine ending. It would not be fitting to call the Prince of the Apostles by a girl’s name like Rockelle. In English we use the name Peter which is a Greek name but if we were to make a strict translation into English it would be Rock or Rocky. A man’s name.

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    6 Responses to Petros/Petra vs. Rocky/Rockelle

    1. Roger W. Waite says:

      “You are Kepha, and on this kepha I will build my Church”. If I had been the translator and used the Aramaic, I would have written “You are kepha, and on this Kepha I will build my Church.” I cannot conceive of Jesus building His church upon any other rock. It is Himself ALONE, in all the ages that will have EVER lived the sinless life before God His Father. I will never accept ANY other rock. JESUS ONLY is the ROCK. I feel very secure with HIM in charge. Peter was a man prone to error. JESUS, to this very day, has NEVER made an error, as HE cotinues to HEAR and DO His Father’s bidding. I rest in Jesus,…HE ALONE is my hope of salvation. Indeed, JESUS was the PERFECT SACRIFICE, and thus HE fufilled the LAW of GOD. GLORY, GLORY, to the LORD JESUS.
      The church of the Lord Jesus Christ, ALL who love and obey Him, Do THANK HIM !
      Here are the lyics of a simple, brief chorus that I love;
      “Thank you God for sending Jesus, Thank you Jesus that you came,
      Come and fill us Holy Spirit, Gloryify the Saviour’s Name!”
      If you do not know the tune, and you would like to, call me @ 508-222-0327 and ask for Roger.
      I’d be very glad to sing it for you. It is my experience in times of dispair, (when all is black and gloomy), that thanking God and His Son, Jesus, changes the very ground under my feet, and I feel His great love in my being. Halleluiah !

    2. Robert says:

      Roger,

      The whole point of revelation is that it’s not what we expect. If I had written Scripture I probably would not have chosen to have the Second Person of the Trinity take on a human nature and die. I might have said something like you said, e.g. I cannot conceive of the Second Person of the Trinity doing something so humbling, bereft of glory and lowly. It turns out, however, that revelation does not proceed as we expect it because we do not know Who God is.

      So it seems that an argument from the antecedent probability of Jesus not building His Church on the rock of Peter is not enough. It was not antecedently probable that God would assume a human nature either. And so I wouldn’t argue in the way you do.

      Rather, we must go to the data of revelation to find what God has done. And what has God done? Quite simply, He has built His Church on the rock of Peter and his inspired confession.

      That is your first assumption which I question. But I also question your second assumption, namely that in building His Church on the rock of Peter that He was not simultaneously building it on Himself and His own promise. False dichotomies like these infect much of Protestant thinking and lead people in error.

      Rather, it is the case that Jesus built the Church on the rock of Peter and his confession, and Peter with his confession of faith was *made* into a rock by God’s grace. Indeed, let us not forget that God’s word is ‘sharp and effective’ and that ‘it goes out swiftly and runs its command’ and ‘it will not return to Me empty.’ That is, God’s word accomplishes what it says. So when God said, “let there be light” His word was effective: there was light. And when God justifies us– when He declares us just– we are made just by the forgiveness of sins and the infusion of charity. Just so, in naming Peter “Rock” He made him a rock– not by Peter’s merits and not by Peter’s strength but by the gift of God. Just as it was a marvelous gift of the Father that Peter should confess Christ as Messiah (“flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, Simon bar-Jona, but my Father in heaven”), so too it is a marvelous gift of God that Peter is given the power to ‘strength the brethren’ and ‘feed my sheep’ and to be ‘the rock on which the Church is built.’

      Indeed, the only way in which Peter could be strong enough to do so is by God’s grace.

      “Jesus only is the ROCK.”

      If this is true then why do the Scriptures refer to Abraham as a rock? For instance, Isaiah 51.1-2.

      Your argument is like saying, “God is beautiful, therefore He only is beautiful.” Or, “God is good, therefore He only is good.” And this is true in a sense– for God alone is good and beautiful in Himself. But this does not mean that God does not or cannot *make* His creatures good and beautiful (as He does). God can create His creatures in His image. And thus He recreates Christians who are born of the spirit– by making them good, just, holy and precious in His sight. It does no good to say that Christians are not good and just because God is, rather we must acknowledge that inasmuch as we are good and just we are participating in the divine perfections by a gift of grace. The same thing with Peter. He becomes the rock, but only by a gift of participation in Jesus’ rockiness.

      It seems to frighten you that Jesus puts mankind in charge. But if you trusted in the promise of Jesus to Peter and the Church you would not worry. For by faith I know that Jesus will not let the gates of hell prevail against His Church, even though he gave weak men authority and power over His Church. I challenge you to consider whether your inability to be obedient to the imperfect human beings who Jesus chose to lead His Church is not a defect of faith in the constancy of God’s power and promise.

      God bless.

      -Rob

    3. Robert says:

      One additional example: Jesus the Good Shepherd. Surely God alone is the true shepherd of His sheep, as foretold in Ezekiel 34 and fulfilled in Jesus Christ (cf. John 10). But this divine prerogative is somehow given or entrusted to Peter. At the end of the gospel of John Jesus asks Peter to, ‘feed my lambs…’ and thus entrusts to Peter the role of shepherd. It would only miss the point to object, “but Jesus is the good Shepherd.”

      It is characteristic of the Christian God to share Himself in such a way with human beings.

    4. m00tpoint says:

      Robert,

      I think your article here misses a few things:

      1) God has not given us an Aramaic Gospel. We have Greek gospels. Your answer interprets a non-existent Aramaic Gospel instead of the (Greek) Gospel of St. Matthew. To this Lutheran, you sound just like a Baptist who says, “But Jesus said, ‘This is my body,’ in Aramaic, and Aramaic doesn’t use the word ‘is.'” The teaching of the Christian church is built on the Holy Scriptures God has given us, not writings God has not given us.

      2) As something of a Greek scholar, I cannot gramatically, completely, rule out the possibility that the play on words here makes little distinction between Peter and the truth Peter confessed.

      However, what is given to Peter individually in Matt. 16, is given to every Christian in Matt 18 and in John 20. The role given to Peter the Apostle in Matt 16, is given to all of God’s holy apostles and prophets equally in Eph. 2:20. Jesus spoke individually to Peter on one occasion in reply to Peter’s confession. Jesus gave the same authority of the keys to all his disciples (not limited to the 11) in John 20, and said that all who spoke the directly revealed Word of God are the foundation of the church in Eph 2:20. What is true of all is true of each. To infer primacy or superiority for one denies that everything given to Peter was also given, with the very same words and for the very same reasons, to others.

      m00tpoint

    5. Joel says:

      M00tpoint: Actually you are the one who is mistaken. Matthew was originally written in eiter Hebrew of Aramaic. That is the testimony of the Early Church.

    6. Robert says:

      m00tpoint,

      Thanks for commenting.

      For (1):

      I don’t think I made an argument that depends on Matthew’s gospel being in Aramaic. Perhaps that was bfhu’s point. But I don’t think I would make that point, because any argument which necessarily rests on that needs far too much to prove it. Rather, I would make a far weaker argument.

      1) Peter’s Aramaic name is undoubtedly Cephas (as testified by Holy Writ).
      2) Jesus was an Aramaic speaker (let’s consider this a historical fact, and also let’s consider that the gospel of Matthew preserves some important sayings of Jesus in Aramaic, which seems to be good enough evidence that Jesus spoke primarily in Aramaic).
      3) There is no evidence that Jesus was a Greek speaker. (Indeed, while we know that the gospels were written in Greek, this does not mean that the words of Jesus were originally in Greek).
      4) Therefore, it is most reasonable to conclude that the words of Jesus– as they actually happened, and not merely as they were reported by the gospel authors– were in Aramaic and not in Greek.
      5) But this means that the words of Jesus to Peter were also originally in Aramaic.
      6) We do not know what these words could have been in Aramaic from the gospel of Matthew, but it does seem certain from evidence from the gospel of John and the apostle Paul that Peter’s given name was definitely Cephas.
      7) So it is likewise reasonably certain that Jesus renamed Simon as “Cephas” in the historical event.
      8)But cephas is the word in aramaic for rock or stone, so it’s equally reasonable to think that Jesus used the word both times.

      As you can see, I’m hardly relying on an aramaic gospel theory in order to argue this. Rather, I argue from the evidence that Simon was definitely named Cephas by Jesus to the fact that the event which underlies the Greek report of Matthew on the renaming of Simon actually contained the name ‘Cephas’ in the original. I’m not sure any orthodox Christian can actually gainsay this, except by making some absurd theory that Jesus spoke in Greek (which would leave unexplained, anyway, Simon’s adoption of the name ‘Cephas’).

      As to individual and collective binding and loosing:

      But this is exactly what you overlook. What Peter was given individually (the power of binding and loosing), Peter and the rest of the apostles have collectively (the power of binding and loosing). This is straight up Catholic doctrine– the pope does have the power of binding and loosing by himself, but so do all the bishops in communion with the pope. It’s not as if Jesus gave the power of binding and loosing to the rest of the apostles individually, but rather to all of them collectively, including Peter.

      As to the keys: I’m afraid I can’t agree there. On what grounds do you think Jesus gave the power of the keys to the apostles? How do you interpret the keys in Matthew 16? Quite clearly Jesus does give the keys to Peter in Matthew 16, and not to the apostles and Peter in general in Matthew 18. And so your argument also seems to neglect the primacy which the gospel of Matthew portrays Peter having; not merely by his having individually what the apostles have only collectively, but also by his having the keys which Jesus does not delegate to the apostles in Matthew.

      But in John 20 Jesus gives the power to forgive sins to all of the apostles. I suppose you could try to mount an argument whereby you equate the keys and the power to forgive sins, but this it is far from apparent in Matthew’s presentation that these are equivalent. Indeed, I would love to hear your reasons for conflating the two. Or perhaps I have completely mis-characterized your position.

      In any case, I don’t find your arguments compelling for the reasons enumerated.

      God bless.

      -Rob

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