Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Matthew 16:18 in light of the Greek Petra/Petros

We Catholics are so quick to point to Matthew 16:18 when we explain the papacy. This is the verse where Jesus says “you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church”. But hold on, have we Catholics considered the Greek words behind this exchange? Matthew was originally written in Greek; and Jesus says: “You are Petros and upon this Petra I will build my church”.

I’ve heard two interpretations of this. First, that Petros is a small pebble, a tiny rock. Petra is a large stone. The argument is that Jesus says “You are a tiny pebble but I will build the Church on the large stone (himself)”.

The second is that Greek has masculine and feminine words. Petros is masculine and Petra is feminine. In other words, the above exchange could be rendered “You are an actor and I will build my church upon this actress”. Since the gender of the words is different, Jesus didn’t mean Peter to be both of them.

All of the above definitions of Petra and Petros are correct, but their application is incorrect. In fact, the second argument is the answer to the first. Jesus didn’t speak Greek, he spoke Aramaic, which only has one word for “rock”. Jesus would have actually said “you are Kepha, and upon this kepha I will build my Church”. There’s no gender or big/small here.

When the Gospel was written in Greek it had to conform to Greek grammar. The first kepha was the proper name of a male (you are Kepha) so the masculine Petros had to be used, even though it meant small rock. Grammatically, the writer had no choice. The second kepha certainly refers to a foundation so the appropriate word would be Petra, a large rock.

This issue is merely a matter of Greek grammar. Besides, if Jesus meant he’d build the Church upon himself, which is the argument, then why would he refer to himself as feminine? Jesus was a man. The second argument makes no sense, and it actually answers the first.


Brian said...

Interesting Theology -

From New Advent: "By the word "rock" the Saviour cannot have meant Himself, but only Peter, as is so much more apparent in Aramaic in which the same word (Kipha) is used for "Peter" and "rock". His statement then admits of but one explanation, namely, that He wishes to make Peter the head of the whole community of those who believed in Him as the true Messiah."

I thank the Holy Spirit bringing us to the correct interpretation
of Holy Scripture - for without this guidance, we never would have been blessed with our dearest John Paul II.

God bless....

Anonymous said...

so then the greek bible written by the apostles was in error for it did differentiate the two rocks,aramaic was not cannonized. If you are going to get up close and personal (with the actual words in aramaic), then maybe Jesus pointed to himself when He said 'On this rock I will build" It is not recorded ,but certainly the apostles actions show Jesus to be the rock and not Peter. Remembered they quarreled several times LATER,as to who would be the greatest or sit at his right hand. Yes, Peter was first among EQUALS, but certainly no more of a foundation than the rest(Rev.-the twelve foundations of the apostles). Such a carnal thing to have schism over. One bishop of Rome said it is the spirit of anti- Christ that declares oneself to be universal head bishop (not the Holy Spirit).That Pope did not think himself to be the supreme moral and spiritual authority on this earth (Gregory -500's),but a bishop in Constantinople did(and as do modern popes,and popes after Gregory.

Anonymous said...

your last paragraph does not follow your own logic .First you say they spoke in aramaic where there is only one word and the argument could go either way .Then you say the greek has to put in the way it did ,with a masculine for Peter (makes sense),yet they are forced to use the feminine for foundation ,making no sense if it were for Jesus. If they were forced to use the feminine ,it does not mean it could not have been a symbolic reference to Christ. I do not know why the greek word for a large rock is feminine. What, was Jesus to think ahead and say ,"Gee, I can't say or infer a large rock to myself because in greek it is in the feminine ? I could see if greeks had two words for a large rock or foundation,one feminine and one masculine,,then that would mean something depending on which one they chose. But you are telling me they had no choice, so how can you rule out a symbolic Jesus if the greek could only put it one way ?

Dan said...

I rule out a symbolic reference to Jesus because the clear reading of the text points to Peter. By showing the Petra/Petros argument to be baseless we have to revert back to the plain reading.

If you insist the plain reading is ambiguous; check out this post on the subject.

Anonymous said...

It is only Catholic OPINION as to what the "plain" reading means. Jesus was not ambiguous, as much scripture and early fathers say Jesus is the Rock. He foresaw this "argument", and it is to His will that things be understood "in truth and in spirit". We are right back to Genesis, "Hath God really said......".