Monday, February 16, 2009

Peter the "Rock?"

Matthew 16:18 says:

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my assembly, and the gates of hell will not overcome it.

A number of Christian denominations and scholars hold that Simon Peter was the most prominent of the apostles, favored by Jesus of Nazareth with the first place of honor and authority. This doctrine is known as the Primacy of Simon Peter or the Petrine Primacy. This highly debated point is often reduced to a discussion of the meaning and translation of the above verse.

Roman Catholic views differ from those of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Reformed Churches, which differ from each other. Many hold that the term epi taute to petra "upon this rock" refers to Peter. The Greek shifts bluntly from the masculine petros (rock) to the femenine toute to petra (this rock) too freely. There is really no need for the Greek writer to shift gender here. Greek has a perfectly good masculine phrase for "this rock" - touto petros. The gender shift must reflect another meaning. But, it would be superficial to base doctrine on a gender shift in the Greek alone.

In Matthew, 7:24, Yeshua is recorded as saying: "So, everyone who hears these words of mine, and does them, I will compare him to a wise man who built his house on the rock" "Rock" here is rendered petran - feminine accusative (a direct object). Of course, in this verse, Yeshua is not referring to building a real house upon a real rock, but rather the building of a lineage (see "Wisdom is Justified?") upon the sound foundation of the Rabbi's instructions. This was a common idea in early rabbinic times. It was the responsibility of the Rabbi to interpret Torah and the traditions to establish a relevant set of guidelines for (then) contemporary use. The goal of the Rabbi was to build a following or assembly of loyal adherents who would "hear and do" his words, thus building a lineage which would live on beyond himself and reproduce itself. But, the key to building a lineage was for the disciples to repeat the rabbi's teachings.

Yeshua is referring to this concept when mentions the "rock" with respect to Peter at Matthew 16:8:
"And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My assembly, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against her. "

In Rabbinic times, it was common for sages (chokmah) to train their followers to follow in their footsteps and Yeshua does so for his disciples too (first Simon, then all of his followers) when he says (at Matthew 16:19): "And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven. And whatever you bind on earth shall occur, having been bound in Heaven. And whatever you may loose on the earth shall be, having been loosed in Heaven." In other words, the "rock" that Yeshua was building upon was the secret, and unconventional wisdom that he taught.

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