Peter the Rock – Matthew 16:18 Demystified
Matthew 16:18 So now I say to you: You are Peter (1) and on this rock I will build my Church (2).
(1) Neither the Greek word ‘petros’ nor even, as it seems, its Aramaic equivalent ‘kepha’ (rock) was used as a person’s name before Jesus conferred it on the apostles’ leader.
(2) The Hebrew ‘qahal’ which the Greek renders as ‘ekklesia’ means ‘an assembly called together’; it is used frequently in O.T. to indicate community of the Chosen People, especially the community of the desert period [Ac 7:38]. Certain Jewish groups (among them the Essenes of Qumran) regarded themselves as the chosen remnant of Israel [Is 4:3] which was to survive in ‘the latter days’. These had also used the term that Jesus now adopts to indicate the messianic community, the community of the ‘new alliance’ sealed with His blood [Mt 26:28; Ep 5:25]. By using the term ‘assembly’ side by side with that of ‘kingdom of heaven’ [Mt 4:17], Jesus shows that this eschatological community (community of the ‘end-times’) is to have its beginnings here on earth in the form of an organized society whose leader he now appoints [Ac 5:11; 1 Co 1:2].
I have posted here a copy of a very interesting article by one David Stark which obviously did not completely explain the true meaning of this verse. We were left here hanging on the true identity of the “rock” which the Lord Jesus mentioned whom He will build his assembly of chosen ones. With all due respect, I copied the article without permission from the author for the sake of my continuation, and to archive his noteworthy article in case it gets deleted. His unedited text follows:
SOME THOUGHTS ON MATTHEW 16:18
by David Th. Stark
The Church of Rome says that because the Aramaic/Syriac original of Matthew 16:18, underlying the existing Greek text, uses the word KE’PHA’ both as the proper name given to Simon bar Jonas and as the word for the Rock upon which Christ promised to build His Church, that therefore Peter (Aramaic, Ke’pha’) is the rock and the foundation of the Church. Rome bases many of its claims of papal supremacy on this identification of the Apostle Peter with the Rock mentioned by Christ in this passage of Matthew’s Gospel. If the defenders of Rome are wrong at this point then their argument that Peter is the Rock fails.
1. The Greek text is the inspired original of the New Testament. No Aramaic underlying text is extant. Though there are Syriac/Aramaic translations of these original Greek texts they cannot be relied upon to accurately represent any supposed original Aramaic usage. They are merely uninspired translations of the original Greek text and may or may not represent any Aramaic/Syriac original.
2. The Greek text of Matthew 16:18 uses two separate (different) Greek words in the passage.
Petros, the name given to the Apostle
Petra, the word used for rock
Rome says that “Peter” (PETROS) is merely the masculine form of the feminine noun PETRA, and therefore means the same thing. But…
3. Classic Greek authors (before the New Testament was written) treat the words PETROS and PETRA as two different words.
According to Liddell and Scott: Petros, …(distinct from Petra)…
Hom. IL. 16.734; 7:270; 20.288
E. Heracl.1002, “panta kinesai petron” …”Leave no stone unturned”
cf. Pl. Lg. 843a
X. HG 3.5.20 “Petrous epekulindoun” “They rolled down stones.”
S. Ph 296 to produce fire “en petroisi petron ektribon”
Id. OC 1595 of a boulder forming a landmark
[the usual prose word is lithos]”
from: A Greek – English Lexicon, complied by Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, pg. 1397- 8, Pub. by Oxford, at the Clarendon Press.)
NOTE: Petros, a stone, a smaller movable stone (Heracletes uses it in the phrase “leave no stone unturned”). So, a “Petros” is a stone which can by turned over, hence, a movable stone. Petra, a large massive rock, a large boulder, a foundation stone.
The word “Petros” is only used in the Greek New Testament as a proper name for Simon bar Jona. Petros is not merely a masculine form of the word Petra, but is a different word with a different meaning, though both words are derived from a common root.
4. The wording of Matt. 16:18 uses two different Greek words. If Jesus was referring the second word to Simon Peter he could have said “epi tauto to petro” (using the masculine gender in the dative case) the same word as Petros. But what he said was “Epi taute te petra” using Petra, a different Greek word.
5. The usage of two different words in the inspired Greek original, if representing an Aramaic original (which is in no case certain) would seem to point to the usage of two separate Aramaic words in this passage.
6. The Peshitta Syriac translation of the New Testament in Matthew 16:18 uses kepha’ for both Greek words petros and petra. Is this accurate, or could it be a mistranslation of the original Greek Text?
7. The proper translation of Petros is Ke’pha’. On this we have the authority of the Word of God itself in the Greek original of the New Testament, where the name “Ke’pha” (in the English Bible “Cephas”) is six times given as the Aramaic equivalent to Petros for the name of Simon bar Jonas (John 1:42; 1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; 15:5; Galatians 2:9). So, we can say, based upon the authority of the original Greek of the New Testament that Petros, the name given to Simon bar Jona by the Lord Jesus (John 1:42) is the correct translation of the Aramaic/Syriac word Ke’pha’. Greek: Petros = Aramaic: Ke’pha’ (“Cephas”)
But what of the Greek word Petra? Is it correctly translated as Ke’pha’?
There is nowhere in the Greek New Testament where the word Ke’pha’ is given as the correct translation of the Greek word Petra. In order to determine the Syriac/Aramaic word which best translates the Greek word Petra we will have to look at the translations of the Greek New Testament which were made in the first five centuries of the Christian Church to determine how the Greek word Petra was understood.
Greek: Petra = Aramaic: ?
8. In the Peshitta Syriac New Testament the Greek word “PETRA” is translated by the Aramaic word SHU`A’ as in Matthew 7:24-25 meaning a massive rock or a boulder.
PETRA is used 16 times in the Greek New Testament:
Of those times it is translated in the Peshitta Syriac
9 times by the word SHU`A’ ,
6 times by the word KE’PHA’ and
1 time by the Hebrew root word ‘ABENA’
Of the ten times PETRA is used in the Gospels it is translated:
7 times by the word SHU`A’
(Mt.7:24, 25; Mk.15:46; Lk 6:48[2x];8:6, 13)
3 times by the word KE’PHA’
(Mt.16:18; 27:51; 27:60)
Of the three times KE’PHA’ is used to translate PETRA in the Gospels:
 in Mt. 27:60 the parallel passage in Mark’s gospel (Mark 15:46) more correctly uses SHU`A’ to translate PETRA.
 in Mt. 27:51 the word KE’PHA’ is used to describe the rocks (plural) which were broken at the earthquake when Christ died (and hence, these rocks became movable)
 the other passage is Mt. 16:18 where KE’PHA’ is used to translate both PETROS and PETRA.
In all other places in the Gospels the Greek word PETRA is translated by the Syriac word SHU`A’, meaning “a massive rock.”
KE’PHA’ is used in the Syriac N.T. as the translation of both the Greek words LITHOS and PETROS.
The Greek word LITHOS, which means “a stone” (generally of a size which could be picked up or moved) is ALWAYS translated by the Syriac word KE’PHA’.
As LITHOS in classical Greek is the common prose word for “a stone” (see the quote from Liddle and Scott’s Lexicon, above) and PETROS is more common in poetry, this shows that the definition of KE’PHA’ as “a stone” is correct. The Syriac KE’PHA’ is equivalent to the Greek LITHOS, a movable stone.
KE’PHA’ IS ALWAYS USED TO TRANSLATE THE GREEK WORD LITHOS.
SHU’A IS THE MORE USUAL AND CORRECT SYRIAC WORD TO TRANSLATE THE GREEK WORD PETRA.
KE’PHA IS A MOVABLE STONE = LITHOS / PETROS.
SHU’A IS A MASSIVE ROCK = PETRA.
The Syriac word SHU`A’ is NEVER used to translate the Greek word LITHOS. Because a LITHOS is NOT a large massive rock, but a SHU`A’ is. The Syriac KE’PHA’ is correctly used to translate the Greek words LITHOS and PETROS because these are movable stones.
9. The fact that the Greek text of the New Testament uses two separate Greek words in the passage [Matthew 16:18] indicates that any underlying Aramaic/Syriac original (if there was one, AND THIS IS FAR FROM PROVEN) also must have used two separate words.
a. A reconstructed Aramaic/Syriac of the passage would properly be:
“You are KE’PHA’ (a movable stone) and upon this SHU`A’ (a large massive rock) I will build my church.”
This is in exact correspondence to the original inspired Greek text:
“You are PETROS (a movable stone) and upon this PETRA (a large massive rock) I will build my church.”
b. The Peshitta Syriac New Testament text, at least in its extant MSS, mistranslated the passage in Matthew 16:18, incorrectly using the Syriac word KE’PHA’ for both Greek words PETROS and PETRA.
c. The Church of Rome bases its doctrine of Peter being the Rock upon which the Church is built on this mistranslation and/or a falsely reconstructed Aramaic/Syriac original, ignoring the distinctions in the Aramaic language.
d. The Greek text does not teach that Peter is the rock. The rock is either Peter’s confession of Christ, or Christ Himself, in Peter’s answer to Jesus’ earlier question “Who do men say that I the Son of man am?”
Article of David Stark ends here. My continuation of his explanation follows.
I sincerely agree with Mr. Stark about his conclusion that the original inspired Greek text of Matthew 16:18 should mean:
“You are PETROS (a movable stone) and upon this PETRA (a large massive rock) I will build my church.”
If all the English texts which gave an impression that Peter is the rock the Lord Jesus will build His Church upon, He could have simply said: “You are Peter the Rock and upon you I will build my Church.” But in the original Greek text, although the “movable stone” is indeed Simon Peter, the “massive rock” definitely is not Peter. So who is this massive rock whom the Lord Jesus mentioned that is not Simon Peter?
The bible will solve this riddle with just a couple of verses by Paul and John.
If you look at item no. 7 above of David’s article, he mentioned a verse of Paul which used the word “Cephas”, and which he mentioned to be written in the Greek equivalent Petros (or Aramaic Ke’pha).
1 Corinthians 15:4-5 …that he was buried; and that he was raised to life on the third day, in accordance to with the scriptures; that he appeared first to Cephas and secondly to the Twelve.
I sincerely believe Paul did not mean Peter or the Greek word Petros to be the “Cephas” here, because he specifically mentioned Jesus appeared next to the Twelve apostles which includes Peter (Petros) “AFTER” he appeared to “Cephas”. Because if it was Peter first, and he is not part of the next Twelve, then that makes the number of apostles equal to Thirteen. And definitely Paul is not part of the Twelve apostles during the resurrection as Judas was replaced by Matthias in Acts 1:26, which makes them still a solid Twelve (one apostle/pastor for each of the 12 tribes of Israel who are Jews), while Paul eventually became the pastor for the Gentiles, which makes them a total of Thirteen apostles. But we all know it was not to Paul whom Jesus appeared first, and more so Paul cannot be “Cephas”.
Therefore, we can confidently assume “Cephas” here mean Petra (?) and not Petros (Peter) which leads us back to the riddle, who is this Petra in 1 Cor. 15:5 and Mat. 16:18?
This riddle is solved by John’s account of the resurrection in John 20:11-18.
John 20:18 So Mary of Magdala went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that he had said these things to her.
If John said it was Mary Magdalene who saw the Lord Jesus first, then Paul could be lying in 1 Cor. 15:5 if he meant Peter (Cephas) saw the Lord first? On the other hand, if Paul is right and it was Cephas who saw the Lord first, then John could be lying about Mary? In either scenario, then the Holy Spirit could be the one lying to us, which can never be the case because the Holy Spirit is the GOD of Truth Himself.
In short, both Paul and John’s accounts are correct, only on one side Paul meant by “Cephas” to be Petra in its Greek equivalent, which is the same on the other side as Petra in Matthew 16:18, bridged by the account of John 20:18 to be Mary Magdalene and NOT Simon Peter.
As closing remarks, Matthew 16:18 could plainly have been spoken by the Lord Jesus as follows:
“You are PETROS (Peter, a small rock) and upon PETRA (Mary Magdalene, a massive rock) I will build my Church.”
Which the Romans, by their failure to stop the spread of Christianity, rode along with the trend and established the Roman Catholic Church. And from this one statement of the Lord, for having hated so much the Lord Jesus, they chose the angel Mary Magdalene instead to be their goddess, which came to be popularized as the Queen of Heaven, the Virgin Mary of the Catholic.