"On this rock": petra, petros and problems


#1

“Kago de soi lego hoti su ei petros, kai epi taute te petrai oikodomeso mou ten ekklesian” (“And I also say to you that you are Rock, and upon this rock I will build of me the church”) - Matthew 16:18

This short passage generates a considerable degree of contention, particularly regarding the difference between “petros” and “petra”. The problem is that they are different words. The first is a masculine noun most commonly used for small, separate pieces of stone. The second is a feminine noun most commonly used for large areas of stone.

Concerning this difference, the argument made by some Protestant apologists is that it clearly shows that Peter was not the one upon whom Jesus was planning to build his Church, which undercuts the Catholic claim about the primacy of the leader of the Roman Church as the descendant of Peter. The response made by some Catholic apologists is that the difference is nothing more than a linguistic necessity: Peter was male, and so Matthew could not use a feminine name for him (Jesus was speaking, but in Aramaic; the Greek is Matthew’s). Other Catholic apologists say that the two different words were used merely to avoid repetition. They also say that “petros” and “petra” are really the same noun, just masculine and feminine forms of one thing.

I unashamedly admit to finding this all rather interesting, and so I shall now proceed to bore you with a couple of thoughts on the matter. Firstly, the comment that the two nouns are the same is dubious at best. Any who uses a language with genderised nouns can tell you that the distinction between a masculine noun and a feminine one is a significant, even vital conceptual difference, but it is not a biological one: feminine nouns do not necessarily indicate female things. When was the last time that you saw a female rock? Further, the claim that Matthew was shy about using a feminine noun for Peter makes one wonder why this alleged shyness did not spread to Paul, who had no qualms about using a feminine noun for Jesus (in 1 Co 10:4, later), or why no one had any problem using the neuter noun “probaton” (sheep) for Jesus or his believers. Very shortly after commending Peter in Mt 16:18, Jesus calls him “Satanas” (Satan; v.23), which is far worse than using a noun of the feminine class.

This distinction between “petros” and “petra” is then carried over into the fact that they are used differently within the New Testament texts. “petra” is used 16 times: the rock upon which the wise man builds his house; the rock which is rent when Jesus dies; the rock from which the tomb was hewn; the rock upon which the sower threw the seed which then withered; the rock of offense (from Isaiah 8:14); the rocks among which the kings of the earth hide when the Lamb opens the sixth seal; the spiritual drink-giving rock which was Christ. “petros”, on the other hand, is only ever used for Peter. If the two words were interchangeable, it would be reasonable to assume that they would be used interchangeably; this would, after all, concur with the view that the difference in Mt 16:18 is merely for the sake of variety. Far from being interchanged, “petra” is privileged, so much so that, in four locations, we find it used twice in quick succession: in Matthew 7:24-5 and Luke 6:48, in Revelation 6:15-6, and in 1 Corinthians 10:4. The usage in Matthew and Luke tells of where the sower scattered the seed. That in Revelation is where the kings hide. The double occurrence in 1 Corinthians is the spiritual drink-giving rock, Christ, now represented by a feminine noun. The writers of the New Testament did not use the words “petros” and “petra” interchangeably.

In fact, there is another word that is interchanged with “petra”: “lithos”. This one shows up some 60 times in the NT, in a variety of situations, but most noticeably as the ‘other’ stone in references to Christ as “lithos proskommatos kai petra skandalou” (a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence), in Romans 9:33 and 1 Peter 2:8. Not only is a feminine noun used to describe Christ (again), but both a masculine one and a feminine one are used, as if there is no significance to the gender-class of the noun. Again using “lithos”, both Christ and believers are described as ‘living stones’ in 1 Pe 2:4-5. This is a masculine noun for stone, which is used for people, and has a meaning which is interchangeable with “petra”: it has all of the qualifications which would meet the Catholic apologists’ justifications for using “petros” rather than “petra”. Why not use “lithos” instead of “petros”? For that matter, why not use the masculine noun “pagos” (as in Areopagos) instead of “petra”, since it would then more closely echo the idea of the Temple Mount, upon which the original church was built?


#2

(originally part of the opening post)
We can reasonably discount the claims that “petros” was used simply because it is masculine, or because it is interchangeable with “petra”. That leaves us with the usage of two different nouns. Unfortunately for the Protestant apologists, this does not, in any way, disprove the Catholic claim about the primacy of the leader of the Roman Church as the descendant of Peter. All it serves to do in that respect is render highly suspect any such claim which is based upon this verse alone.

All of this has been a discussion of the text. Jesus, as mentioned earlier, did not speak Greek and said neither “petros” nor “petra”; he spoke Aramaic and said, “cephas”. The writer of Matthew used two words which are similar, yet different, creating a verbal relationship which would have been immediately and vividly apparent to a contemporary reader in a way that the use of either “lithos” or “pagos” would not have been. As for the motivation behind it, I will leave that up to you.


#3

Hi, Mystophilus,

I sped read my way through a book, last night, by a
Kairite Jew, Nehemia Gordon, who states that the
Gospel of Matthew was originally written in Hebrew:
I think the title is: The Hebrew Yeshua and the Greek
Jesus.

Gordon claims that some of the Fathers of the Church
took it for granted that the original was written in Hebrew,
and he provides references on statements by said Church Fathers.

As I recall, from the book - in Hebrew, [in terms of on this" rock"] it reads:
“You are a stone, and on this stone I will build my
house of prayer…” which I assume would read
"beit" something.

I thought it of interest, and will persue research on
what is termed the Shem Tov manuscript.

[Not to be confused with the Hasiddic Baal Shem Tov,
1698-1760 AD]

Best wishes,
reen12


#4

[quote=reen12]Hi, Mystophilus,

I sped read my way through a book, last night, by a
Kairite Jew, Nehemia Gordon, who states that the
Gospel of Matthew was originally written in Hebrew:
I think the title is: The Hebrew Yeshua and the Greek
Jesus.

Gordon claims that some of the Fathers of the Church
took it for granted that the original was written in Hebrew,
and he provides references on statements by said Church Fathers.

As I recall, from the book - in Hebrew, [in terms of on this" rock"] it reads:
“You are a stone, and on this stone I will build my
house of prayer…” which I assume would read
"beit" something.

I thought it of interest, and will persue research on
what is termed the Shem Tov manuscript.

[Not to be confused with the Hasiddic Baal Shem Tov,
1698-1760 AD]

Best wishes,
reen12
[/quote]

reen,

You beat me to it! And when Jesus spoke the words, he was speaking Aramaic and would have used the one word “kepha”, hence St. Paul referring to St. Peter as Cephas in his letters. So the masculine and feminine argument is a moot point when looked at in this light.

Brian


#5

[quote=Mystophilus]“Kago de soi lego hoti su ei petros, kai epi taute te petrai oikodomeso mou ten ekklesian” (“And I also say to you that you are Rock, and upon this rock I will build of me the church”) - Matthew 16:18

This short passage generates a considerable degree of contention, particularly regarding the difference between “petros” and “petra”. The problem is that they are different words. The first is a masculine noun most commonly used for small, separate pieces of stone. The second is a feminine noun most commonly used for large areas of stone.

[/quote]

actually, i believe you start of wrong from the start (no offence intended). there is no such word as “petros” in the greek language. it does not mean “small, separate pieces of stone” as there is no such word. it is simply the masculine form (made up by the writer of matthew) of petra (a feminine word as you point out) meaning rock (usually large rock, rock formation, or boulder). so there really is no problem. especially (as others have pointed out) when you go back to the aramaic. Jesus is calling peter “the rock”.


#6

The point of “Petros” is that it becomes a name not just a qualitative attribution, as it is when “rock” refers to Christ. When people have a name, it generally follows the gender. If my daughter were named after Peter, she would be “Petra.” And nowhere before is Petros used as a name.


#7

[quote=bengal_fan]actually, i believe you start of wrong from the start (no offence intended). **there is no such word as “petros” in the greek language. it does not mean “small, separate pieces of stone” as there is no such word. it is simply the masculine form (made up by the writer of matthew) of petra **(a feminine word as you point out) meaning rock (usually large rock, rock formation, or boulder). so there really is no problem. especially (as others have pointed out) when you go back to the aramaic. Jesus is calling peter “the rock”.
[/quote]

Interesting - but is it true? I don’t know. Can anyone substantiate the claim:
[list=1]
*]There is no such word as petros in the greek language
*]It is an invention of the author of Matthew
[/list]Or could bengal_fan give us a reason to hold his/her opinion in high regard? It sounds like you know what you are talking about -
I most certainly do not, so don’t think Im attempting to contradict you. Do you speak Greek?

Phil


#8

The word petros certainly did exist in Greek, dating at least back to Homer’s Iliad. Check Book VII, line 270, where it is used in the dative case. It was also used by other Greek authors.


#9

[quote=Mystophilus]“Kago de soi lego hoti su ei petros, kai epi taute te petrai oikodomeso mou ten ekklesian” (“And I also say to you that you are Rock, and upon this rock I will build of me the church”) - Matthew 16:18
[/quote]

This is a specious argument. Of course you realize that Jesus spoke Aramaic, not Greek. The Greek is a translation of what was said. Also, as Simon bar Johah was a male, thus the translation to Greek would match his gender, since it is not saying that he was a petros, which would have been ok, but it was giving him a new proper name and it would have been an insult for the translator to call him Petra.
There is only one word for rock, kephas, in Aramaic, there is no gender difference. The literal Remember that the man being addressed was named Simon bar Johah, so Jesus was changing his name (a significant event in the bible). So you see that the correct reading of this is “thou art Rock, and upon this rock I will build my Church.” For even further evidence to refute this sophistic claim, see John 1:41, it says Simon Bar-Jonah’s new name would be Kephas (a massive rock) “which is translated Peter” (Petros).


#10

[quote=severinus]The word petros certainly did exist in Greek, dating at least back to Homer’s Iliad. Check Book VII, line 270, where it is used in the dative case. It was also used by other Greek authors.
[/quote]

I think bangel_fan misspoke. I believe he was referring to the fact that there was not proper name Petros. Of course it would also have been wrong to change the name of a man like Simon bar Johah to Petra, now woldn’t it?


#11

[quote=Ignatius]I think bangel_fan misspoke. I believe he was referring to the fact that there was not proper name Petros. Of course it would also have been wrong to change the name of a man like Simon bar Johah to Petra, now woldn’t it?
[/quote]

I will wait for a clarification, but that is not what his post says:
**there is no such word as “petros” in the greek language. it does not mean “small, separate pieces of stone” as there is no such word. it is simply the masculine form (made up by the writer of matthew) of petra **

I have twice before heard the odd claim that* petros* does not exist in Greek, always from people who never studied Ionic or Attic Greek.


#12

From what I read last night, it doesn’t matter what
the Greek says, because the original was written in
Hebrew.

That’s why I thought the book, referenced in post #3, was
of interest. Check out Gordon’s credentials, in terms of
his ability to read ancient Hebrew, and the work he is
currently engaged in.

Note how plays on words figure in the Hebrew, and why
the Greek is, in some cases, *useless *for figuring out
what was actually said, in Matthew.

There are things in Matthew [English translations] that
I could never understand. Having read a short work
by Gordon, they make a whole lot more sense, now.

From this point forward, my plan is to pass by any
discussion on “what the Greek says.”

Further, I will do a lot more research on the use of
the term ecclesia, to find out if this was the "translation"
of “house of prayer.”

I will support Gordon’s material, until I find a solid
reason not to do so.

Best,
reen12


#13

[quote=Ignatius]This is a specious argument. Of course you realize that Jesus spoke Aramaic, not Greek. The Greek is a translation of what was said.
[/quote]

Should you actually choose to read the post, you will see that the issue of the language difference is noted within the analysis. The discussion is not of what Jesus said, but of what Matthew wrote.

Also, as Simon bar Johah was a male, thus the translation to Greek would match his gender, since it is not saying that he was a petros, which would have been ok, but it was giving him a new proper name and it would have been an insult for the translator to call him Petra.

Also dealt with in the original post.


#14

It would be good also to visit this thread as well as it pertains to the same verse:

forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=70145


#15

Regardless how you want to translate Simon’s name change to Peter (kepha/Petros/rock), it still doesn’t deny Peter’s primacy among the apostles, and the same goes for his successors.

In fact the Church teaches both: (from the CCC)

**424 **Moved by the grace of the Holy Spirit and drawn by the Father, we believe in Jesus and confess: 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.'8 **On the rock of this faith confessed by St. Peter, Christ built his Church.9
**“To preach. . . the unsearchable riches of Christ”

and

**552 **Simon Peter holds the first place in the college of the Twelve; Jesus entrusted a unique mission to him. Through a revelation from the Father, Peter had confessed: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Our Lord then declared to him: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Christ, the “living Stone”, thus assures his Church, built on Peter, of victory over the powers of death. Because of the faith he confessed Peter will remain the unshakable rock of the Church. His mission will be to keep this faith from every lapse and to strengthen his brothers in it


#16

However, I think this paragraph tells of it’s significance perfectly:

553 Jesus entrusted a specific authority to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.The “power of the keys” designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, confirmed this mandate after his Resurrection: “Feed my sheep.” The power to “bind and loose” connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgements, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church. Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles and in particular through the ministry of Peter, the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom.


#17

[quote=reen12]From what I read last night, it doesn’t matter what the Greek says, because the original was written in Hebrew.
[/quote]

The argument for or against the papacy will not rest on this word petros. But I’d like to add a comment about the languages.

Presumably the Lord spoke in Aramaic. He didn’t have to. It is an assumption, albeit a well-founded one. But he could have interjected Greek words to make a point. Don’t confuse an assumption with a fact.

Some Fathers said Matthew wrote in Hebrew (meaning “Aramaic,” the colloquial form of Hebrew at the time). They may have been correct, or maybe not. We can’t confuse a Father’s word with God’s word.

Matthew’s gospel came to us from God in the Greek language. Why the Holy Spirit used two different words is a matter of debate, but the fact is that he did. We can’t just dismiss the words of the Greek New Testament as if they weren’t there. If we could, then we might as well discard our Bibles and let the Magisterium tell us what to believe.


#18

[quote=reen12]Hi, Mystophilus,

I sped read my way through a book, last night, by a
Kairite Jew, Nehemia Gordon, who states that the
Gospel of Matthew was originally written in Hebrew:
I think the title is: The Hebrew Yeshua and the Greek
Jesus.

[/quote]

A Gospel of Matthew originally in Hebrew would have significant implications for Biblical studies and for C1st social and literary history. The problem would lie in proving that the Hebrew text predates the Greek.

However, I keep turning up references to the authorship as being that of one Shem-Tob ben-Isaac, a physician living in Castile in the C14th.


#19

[quote=severinus]The word petros certainly did exist in Greek, dating at least back to Homer’s Iliad. Check Book VII, line 270, where it is used in the dative case. It was also used by other Greek authors.
[/quote]

…including Pindar (fl. C5th), Sophocles (C5th), Hippocrates (C5th-4th),and Xenophon (C5th-4th) - not quite Homer, but famous nonetheless. In other words, it was used in such a number of works of such cultural weight as to have made it a basic part of the Greek vocabulary.


#20

I forgot something. I always do.

The usages of “petros” and “petra” do overlap inasmuch as both can be used to refer to a boulder; separate (like the root meaning of “petros”) but large (like the root meaning of “petra”). While this is a very rare usage of either term, it does further establish the relationship between the two terms which were used in Matthew.


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