In Matthew 16:18, is Peter the rock that Christ will build His Church? By Jack Kettler
In this study, in Matthew 16:18, was Jesus saying that Peter was the rock that He would build His Church?
“And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
From Strong’s Lexicon:
Noun – Nominative Masculine Singular
Strong’s Greek 4074: Peter, a Greek name meaning rock. Apparently, a primary word; a rock; as a name, Petrus, an apostle.”
Noun – Dative Feminine Singular
Strong’s Greek 4073: A rock, ledge, cliff, cave, stony ground. Feminine of the same as Petros; a rock.”
Starting with the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges:
“18. Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church] Cp. Isaiah 28:16, from which passage probably the expression is drawn. There is a play on the words “Peter” and “rock” which is lost in the E. V. It may be seen in a French rendering, “Tu es Pierre et sur cette pierre je bâtirai mon Eglise.” (underlining emphasis mine)”
“On these words mainly rest the enormous pretensions of the Roman pontiff. It is therefore important (1) To remember that it is to Peter with the great confession on his lips that the words are spoken. The Godhead of Christ is the keystone of the Church, and Peter is for the moment the representative of the belief in that truth among men. (2) To take the words in reference: (a) to other passages of Scripture. The Church is built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Ephesians 2:20, on Christ Himself, 2 Corinthians 3:11. (b) To history; Peter is not an infallible repository of truth. He is rebuked by Paul for Judaizing. Nor does he hold a chief place among the Apostles afterwards. It is James, not Peter, who presides at the Council at Jerusalem. (c) To reason: for even if Peter had precedence over the other Apostles, and if he was Bishop of Rome, which is not historically certain, there is no proof that he had a right of conferring such precedence on his successors.”
“my Church] The word ecclesia (Church) occurs twice in Matthew and not elsewhere in the Gospels. See note ch. Matthew 18:17 where the Jewish ecclesia is meant. From the analogy of the corresponding Hebrew word, ecclesia in a Christian sense may be defined as the congregation of the faithful throughout the world, united under Christ as their Head. The use of the word by Christ implied at least two things: (1) that He was founding an organized society, not merely preaching a doctrine: (2) That the Jewish ecclesia was the point of departure for the Christian ecclesia and in part its prototype. It is one among many links in this gospel between Jewish and Christian thought. The Greek word (ἐκκλησία) has passed into the language of the Latin nations; église (French), chiesa (Italian), iglesia (Spanish). The derivation of the Teutonic Church is very doubtful. That usually given—Kuriakon (the Lord’s house)—is abandoned by many scholars. The word is probably from a Teutonic root and may have been connected with heathen usages. See Bib. Dict. Art. Church.”
“the gates of hell] Lit. “the gates of Hades.” The Greek Hades is the same as the Hebrew Sheol, the abode of departed spirits, in which were two divisions Gehenna and Paradise. “The gates of Hades” are generally interpreted to mean the power of the unseen world, especially the power of death: cp. Revelation 1:18, “the keys of hell (Hades) and of death.”
“shall not prevail against it] The gates of Hades prevail over all things human, but the Church shall never die.” (1)
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary says:
“18. And I say also unto thee—that is, “As thou hast borne such testimony to Me, even so in return do I to thee.”
“That thou art Peter—At his first calling, this new name was announced to him as an honor afterwards to be conferred on him (Joh 1:43). Now he gets it, with an explanation of what it was meant to convey.”
“and upon this rock—As “Peter” and “Rock” are one word in the dialect familiarly spoken by our Lord—the Aramaic or Syro-Chaldaic, which was the mother tongue of the country—this exalted play upon the word can be fully seen only in languages which have one word for both. Even in the Greek it is imperfectly represented. In French, as Webster and Wilkinson remark, it is perfect, Pierre—pierre.”
“I will build my Church—not on the man Simon Bar-jona; but on him as the heavenly-taught confessor of a faith. “My Church,” says our Lord, calling the Church His Own; a magnificent expression regarding Himself, remarks Bengel—nowhere else occurring in the Gospels.”
“and the gates of hell — “of Hades,” or, the unseen world; meaning, the gates of Death: in other words, “It shall never perish.” Some explain it of “the assaults of the powers of darkness”; but though that expresses a glorious truth, probably the former is the sense here.” (2)
Matthew Poole’s Commentary adds:
“And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter: Christ gave him this name, John 1:42, when his brother Andrew first brought him to Christ. I did not give thee the name of Cephas, or Peter, for nothing, (for what Cephas signifieth in the Syriac Peter signifieth in the Greek), I called thee Cephas and thou art Peter, a rock. Thou shalt be a rock. This our Lord made good afterward, when he told him, that Satan had desired to winnow him like wheat, but he had prayed that his faith might not fail, Luke 22:32. Thou hast made a confession of faith which is a rock, even such a rock as was mentioned Matthew 7:25. And thou thyself art a rock, a steady, firm believer.”
“And upon this rock I will build my church. Here is a question amongst interpreters, what, or whom, our Saviour here meaneth by this rock.”
“1. Some think that he meaneth himself, as he saith, John 2:19, Destroy this temple (meaning his own body). God is often called a Rock, Deu 32:18 Psalm 18:2 Psalm 31:3, and it is certain Christ is the foundation of the church, Isaiah 28:16 1 Corinthians 3:11 1 Peter 2:6. But this sense seemeth a little hard, that our Saviour, speaking to Peter, and telling him he was a stone, or a rock, should with the same breath pass to himself, and not say, Upon myself, but upon this rock I will build my church.”
“2. The generality of protestant writers, not without the suffrage of divers of the ancients, say Peter’s confession, which he had made, is the rock here spoken of. And indeed, the doctrine contained in his confession is the foundation of the gospel; the whole Christian church is built upon it.”
“3. Others think, in regard that our Saviour directeth his speech not to all the apostles, but to Peter, and doth not say, Blessed are you, but, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona, that here is something promised to Peter in special; but they do not think this is any priority, much less any jurisdiction, more than the rest had, but that Christ would make a more eminent and special use of him, in the building of his church, than of the rest; and they observe, that God did make a more eminent use of Peter in raising his gospel church, both amongst the Jews, Acts 2:1-47, and the Gentiles, Acts 10:1-48. But yet this soundeth a little harshly, to interpret upon this rock, by this rock. I do therefore rather incline to interpret it in the second sense:”
“Upon this rock, upon this solid and unmovable foundation of truth, which thou hast publicly made, I will build my church. It is true, Christ is the foundation of the church, and other foundation can no man lay. But though Christ be the foundation in one sense, the apostles are so called in another sense, Ephesians 2:20 Revelation 21:14 not the apostles’ persons, but the doctrine which they preached. They, by their doctrine which they preached, (the sum or great point of which was what Peter here professed), laid the foundation of the Christian church, as they were the first preachers of it to the Gentiles. In which sense soever it be taken, it makes nothing for the papists’ superiority or jurisdiction of St. Peter, or his successors. It follows, I will build my church. By church is here plainly meant the whole body of believers, who all agree in this one faith. It is observable, that Christ calls it his church, not Peter’s, and saith, I will build, not, thou shalt build. The working of faith in souls is God’s work. Men are but ministers, by whom others believe. They have but a ministry towards, not a lordship over the church of God.” (3)
Matthew 16:18: The Petros-petra Wordplay—Greek, Aramaic, or Hebrew? By David N. Bivin:
“The pinnacle of the gospel drama may be Jesus’ dramatic statement, “You are Petros and on this petra I will build my church.” The saying seems to contain an obvious Greek wordplay, perhaps indicating that Jesus spoke in Greek. However, it is possible that “Petros…petra” is a Hebrew wordplay.” (4)
John Piper’s comments are helpful:
“Jesus does not say, “You are Petros, and on this petros I will build my church.” He says, “You are Petros, and on this petra I will build my church.” Petra has a different connotation than petros — it’s not a loose stone; it’s bedrock stone. Here’s what I mean: In Matthew 27:60, where it says that Jesus’s tomb was cut out of the petra, the bedrock, that doesn’t mean it was cut out of a loose stone — like, here’s a stone, it maybe weighs ten pounds, it’s found on the side of the road, and he cut a grave in that stone. Well, that doesn’t work.”
“What he means is the side of this mountain is stone. This is a massive bedrock where you’d build something, and so you carve into this bedrock. That’s the connotation of petra. It’s not a loose stone like petros. Petra is bedrock. The same word is used in Matthew 7:24: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock [petra]” — not a pile of stones, not gravel, but the bedrock ground in the side of the mountain that you dig down into till you’ve got a good foundation. The bedrock is solid and permanent; it’s the teachings of Jesus, which he says can never pass away.” (5)
Why did Jesus respond to Peter the way that He did?
It is Biblical and logical to conclude that Jesus responded to Peter’s confession of faith.
So, when Jesus said, “I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build My Church,” He distinguished between Peter and the “rock” using two different Greek words. The name Peter is petros, but the word for “rock” is petra. It is significant to note who is going to build the Church. Jesus said, “I will build My Church. Why would Jesus build His Church on a mortal man?
To rephrase Jesus’ words, Peter was told, “I say to you that you are a stone, and upon this rock I will build My church.” Jesus used a word play with petra, “on this rock,” to make a point. Jesus does not say, “you are petra, and on this petra I will build.” Instead, Jesus says, “you are petros (a stone), and on this petra (bedrock) that Jesus will build His Church.”
According to Walter Bauer’s A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature:
“πέτρα (petra) is “bedrock or massive rock formations.” (6)
The rock spoken of is the foundation or bedrock that Christ will build His Church, not a moral man.
“Therefore, thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” (Isaiah 28:16)
“Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded.” (1 Peter 2:6)
Noun – Accusative Masculine Singular
Strong’s Greek 3037: A stone; met: of Jesus as the chief stone in a building. Apparently, a primary word; a stone.”
Peter is petros,not λίθον.
Therefore, as Isaiah says and Peter quotes, the rock is not Peter; but is none other than Jesus Christ the Lord.
“And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” (Ephesians 2:20)
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
1. Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, by A. & J. J. S. Perowne Carr, Matthew, (Cambridge University Press, 1898), e-Sword version.
2. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 931.
3. Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, Matthew, Vol. 3, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985) p. 75-76.
4. David N. Bivin, “Hebraisms in the New Testament,” Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics (4 vols.; ed. Geoffrey Khan; Leiden: Brill, 2013), 198-201, and the JP version, “Hebraisms in the New Testament.”
5. Interview with John Piper, on Matthew16:15–19 https://www. desiringgod.org/interviews/what-are-the-keys-of-the-kingdom-of-heaven.
6. Walter Bauer, William Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, The University of Chicago Press), p. 654.Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of books defending the Reformed Faith. Books can be ordered online at www. Jack Kettler .com