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.