This week’s Lectionary Gospel text is Matthew 16:13-21. In it we find Peter’s Messianic declaration, “You are the Christ (Messiah), Son of the living God” in the Greek, “σὺ εἶ ὁ χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ζῶντος” to which Jesus responds, “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” in the Greek, “σὺ εἶ Πέτρος, καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν”.
I am puzzled; upon which rock will Jesus build his church? Is it upon Peter, the rock who is anointed as the one to lead the early Christian community or, is it the confession of Jesus as Messiah and Son of the Living God?
R.T. France in his commentary on Matthew argues for the later and subsequently sees the reference to binding and loosening as references to the administration of the early church. However, I was reading Tom Wright’s devotional commentary and I noticed he states (without explaination) that it is upon the confession of Jesus as Messiah that the church is built.
Davies and Allison argue that Matthew 16:18 is, “among the most controversial in all of Scripture” (2:623) therefore, I am under no illusion that we will solve this today. However, I wondered what others thought…
I have heard it said that the binding and loosing was in regards to the issue of making right judgements. Personally I think the question about who was the rock is one of those Jewish idioms that we come across. I think that Jesus is saying that both he and Peter were the rock of the church…and is making a bit of fun of Peters instability of character.
Craig, not sure I can see any of those things within the text (I stand to be corrected). I have heard them said also but they don’t really reflect what I think might be a good exegesis of the text itself. I think if anything perhaps Matthew is exalting Peter to his audience because of his role within the church.
i’ve heard the rock is the revelation. “for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”
Peter you did not figure this out yourself and this is something we can build on
I’ve always thought that it was pretty clear that the rock in this passage is Peter. If it were anything other than Peter then it ruins the pun. Peter’s also the closest antecedent so it seems most natural to see him as the referent. I agree with Carson when he says that a lot of the interpretations that deny that the rock here is Peter are because of overreactions to the Roman Catholic papacy. One can affirm Peter as the rock without accepting the pope. You might be interested in the brief 5-part series that Michael Barber did on this passage last year.
Similarly to Nick, I read somewhere about the pun and the play on his nickname – this scholar arguing that there is no evidence prior to the Gospels for someone being called ‘Rocky.’ And that is it also a political/sociological comment being made against the temple – which was built upon a literal rock (hence the now “Dome of the Rock”) – and yet now the church was being a built upon a human rock – with all its foils and fumbles, and on the people who would follow. Wish I could recall my sources…. Grace and Peace.
I agree with Nick Norelli. It’s possible to see the “rock” as Peter, especially when you consider it was his Spirit-inspired sermon at Pentecost that drew 3,000 people to Christ and into the new church. After Pentecost, Peter continued to play a major role in the development of the church. You don’t have to be Catholic to see Peter as a rock that Christ used to build his church.
Nick, Sae and Justin, thanks for the thoughts. I have no problem with Peter being the object here (and I am fairly confident of Wright’s opinion not reflecting anti-catholic thought). If the sitz im leben of Matthew’s community were to have an influence in our exegesis then I think the reference could most definitely refer to Peter (especially if Matthew felt the need to establish Peter’s authority in the church – hence the binding and loosening reference). However, if the gospel is more widely distributed I wonder if the focus is on Peter’s faith (which is then rebuked in the next pericope).
Actually, the more I read the text the more I am wondering if it is indeed the confession upon which the church is built and not peter. I think the word play works even in this situation. It is the same confession required today! Also, Jesus’ command for them not to tell anyone he is messiah would fit with this reading.
Much to ponder!
It’s not important to determine whether it is Peter or what Peter says, they are together. Peter is a character in the Gospel of Matthew who believes what he says, they are all part of the character. What is important, and what points towards Peter and his confession, is the absence of this statement from Jesus in Mark. In fact, Jesus’s proclamation is almost certainly a Matthean redaction, turning Peter into a much better character than in Mark. The statement also acts as an affirmation of the confession, which is left unanswered in Mark.
Christ is the chief cornerstone not Peter.
I just can’t believe that Jesus would be placing any mere human as the foundation of His church. The “rock” would have to be that which cannot be moved. A church with a moveable foundation…hmmm. The church is built on the immovable/unchangeable revelation of Jesus Christ given by the Holy Spirit. This is what the gates of Hell can’t withstand…not Peter. Once he returns to Jesus after the resurrection, he is indeed a strong foundational stone in the
church, but just as CarolJean said Jesus, Himself is the cornerstone. All others are set in relation to Him. But, could Peter have been the “first Christian”…? John might have out run him in the race to the tomb…but he didn’t go in…*; )
I believe The Lord Jesus Christ is God, The Son of God, and The Messiah; as clearly taught in The Bible. The stakes are too high to be wrong about this.
PETER was the first human being who confessed that Christ (The Anointed) as the Messiah, and also confessed HIM as the Son of the living God because God Himself had revealed as such to him. As Christ Himself as the chief cornerstone, then Peter (as rock) was to be placed next to the cornerstone to build up God’s church. Peter was also being given the authority (keys) to carry out church legislation in bringing people to salvation. Jesus warned that Peter’s confession not to be publicized as they (disciples) did not yet fully understand what He came to do next.
Those who believe that peter was the Rock on which the Church was build-are clearly dispensationalists-after all, was there no rock before Peter. Also the Bible in numerous places writes that God is The Rock!. Psalm 18:2
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