The pericope under consideration reads,
"καγω δε σοι λεγω οτι συ ει πετρος και επι ταυτη τη πετρα οικοδομησω μου την εκκλησιαν και πυλαι αδου ου κατισχυσουσιν αυτης." 1.
Which is translated,
"And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build of me the church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." 2.
Or also translated among the popular translations,
"And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" 3.
The purpose of this brief article is to help put to rest the persitent argument that is still being put forward by less informed Protestant evangelicals concerning the words that are recorded by St. Matthew in Chapter 16 verse 18. Starting with the Protestant Reformation it was claimed that the words of Jesus concerning St. Peter as being the "rock" was not to be understood as the person of St. Peter but rather, strictly Peter's Messianic confession, and thus, whomever repeats this divinely given profession of faith - on such people it can be said, are the "rock" on whom the church is built 4.
However, such straining of the text is not allowed by the Greek grammar and the natural reading of the passage in context makes clear, namely that Jesus is giving a word play on St. Peter's name πετρος with the appellation that is given to him by Jesus, πετρα. St. Matthew goes to great lengths to bring out this juxtapositioning of the Aramaic original out in the Greek. That St. Matthew is manifestly claiming that the rock is the person of St. Peter is the overwhelming consensus of New Testament scholarship today 5. Virtually all the non-evangelical critical commentaries and monographs agree. Of the better in depth Protestant commentaries the majority agree, that the person of St. Peter is clearly "the rock" in the Matthean pericope. Let me cite a few examples;
· (Protestant) W. Hendriksen, (Matthew. 645-49).
· (Protestant) R.T France in the Tyndale Commentary Series, (Matthew. 254).
· (Protestant) D.A Carson in the Expositor Bible Commentary Series, (Matthew. 368).
· (Protestant) Craig Blomberg in the New American Commentary Series, (Matthew. 251-53).
· (Protestant) Leon Morris, (Matthew. 422-24).
· (Protestant) D.A Hagner in the acclaimed Word Biblical Commentary Series, (Matthew V2. 469-71).
· (Protestant) C.S Keener in his mammoth commentary on Matthew, (Matthew. 426-27).
· (Protestant) D.L Turner in the recent and massive entry in the acclaimed Baker Exegetical Commentary Series, (Matthew. 406-07).
The issue for scholarship is no longer who the words "this rock" refers to but in what sense do they refer to St. Peter? 6.
1. (Matt 16:18).
2. My own ultra literal translation for the purpose of cutting away any theological bending of the text in translation.
3. As seen in the ESV, a very good modern Evangelical translation. The RSVCE (Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition) is practically the same rendering as found in the ESV, with the differences in that "church" is capitalized "Church" to give εκκλησιαν an institutional rendering. Also αδου is correctly translated the more literal "Hades" rather than "hell". The first difference in the translation of the RSVCE is unfortunate since it can be seen as imposing a theological distinctive (C)hurch into the Greek. The second rendering of "Hades" is the better rendering since it adheres to the literal sense leaving the theological understandings of the text transparent. This is a classical instance of the irregularity of the RSVCE translation. Catholics desperately need an up to date translation of the New Testament that is essentially literal but that side steps theological impositions into the renderings.
4. See for example Calvin (Inst. 4, 6, 4) or the recent defense of this understanding by C. Caragounis, (Peter and the Rock). Other attempts at dodging the clear understanding of the text have been to argue that Jesus is here speaking of Himself soley as "the rock", (i.e, R.C.H Lenski (St. Matthew. 626). But such readings of the text are the minority reports that have been exposed as been controlled primarily by theological bias rather than clear exegesis.
5. Not to mention the unanimous interpretation of the patristic fathers, (Tertullian (Dem. C. her. 22), St. Cyprian (De unit. eccl. 4), et. al). Not to say that this was the only interpretation of the Matthean texts in the fathers but it was the majority position. Moreover, the fathers that held "the rock" as being the profession of St. Peter also held that it was the person of Peter as well. The views overlapped (in a minority of the fathers) and were not mutually exclusive.
6. Most if not all of the Protestant scholars I listed would argue that with the appellation given to St. Peter by Christ, is given with the intention for Peter to be understood in a representative fashion, "Jesus is not speaking of himself as the foundation of the church, since he describes himself as the builder. Neither is Peter's apostolic confession the foundation of the church - he, as the confessing apostle, is the foundation. And it is not Peter alone but as first among equals, since the context makes it clear that Peter is speaking for the apostles as a whole in Matt 16:16." D.L Turner (Matthew. BECNT. 407).
R.E. Aguirre, Anno Domini MMVIII.