I was pondering the translation in Matthew 16 where Jesus says to Peter - you are “petros” and upon this “petra” I will build my church…
I know that he chose the male gender form for petros for Simon, but why did he use the feminine form to describe the rock that He would build His church upon? Why not simply say, “you are petros and upon this petros I will build my church…”? In the Koine Greek dialect which was spoken in Jesus’ day, both petros and petra were synonymous (meaning “rock”) unlike the earlier Attic Greek dialect where the two meant “little pebble” and “large rock” respectively. I’ve been wondering about the choice of words and I would like to be able to refute it when the question arises.
By the way, I understand that the original language spoken was most likely Aramaic and Jesus would have used Kepha for rock so there’s no need for the Aramaic vs Greek discussion. I am personally already convinced that Peter is the Rock - it’s just that my friends are not and I would like to have a competent answer.
“The Greek makes the distinction between petros and petra simply because it is trying to preserve the pun, and in Greek the feminine petra could not very well serve as a masculine name.” (D.A. Carson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary)
“…the change in Greek is due to the fact that petra, the normal word for rock, is feminine in gender, and therefore not suitable as a name for Simon! The echo of Peter’s name remains obvious, even in Greek; he is the rock, in the sense outlined above.” (R.T. France, New Bible Commentary)
“The obvious pun which has made its way into the Gk. text as well suggests a material identity between petra and petros, the more so as it is impossible to differentiate strictly between the meanings of the two words.” (Oscar Cullmann, article on “Rock” [petros, petra], Theological Dictionary of the New Testament)
“The most likely explanation for the change from petros (‘Peter’) to petra is that petra was the normal word for ‘rock.’ Because the feminine ending of this noun made it unsuitable as a man’s name, however, Simon was not called petra but petros. The word petros was not an exact synonym of petra; it literally meant ‘stone.’ Jesus therefore had to switch to the word petra when He turned from Peter’s name to what it meant for the Church. There is no good reason to think that Jesus switched from petros to petra to show that He was not speaking of the man Peter but of his confession as the foundation of the Church. The words ‘on this rock [petra]’ indeed refer to Peter.” (Herman Ridderbos, Bible Student’s Commentary: Matthew)
“The play on words in the Greek between Peter’s name (Petros) and the word ‘rock’ (petra) makes sense only if Peter is the rock and if Jesus is about to explain the significance of this identification.” (Craig Blomberg, The New American Commentary: Matthew)
(1) The slight distinction in meaning for the Greek words for Rock (petros, petra) was largely confined to poetry before the time of Jesus and therefore has no special importance;
(2) The Greek words for Rock (petros, petra) by Jesus’ day were interchangeable in meaning;
(3) The Greek word petra, being a feminine noun, could not be used for a man’s name, so Petros was used;
(4) The pun or play on words makes sense only if Peter is the Rock;
When I took Spanish I learned that certain things were masculine (Zapato, [Shoe]) and certain things were feminine (Ventana [Window]).
The Gospel Writer…well the word for “Kepha” in Greek is a feminine noun. The only reason I can see for why it is different is purely for the reason of not putting a pink dress on Simon…what Jesus did there by giving Simon a new name, giving him keys and all that…well it sort of cements the Catholic teaching together now. But putting the masculine noun in Greek in place of the the second “kepha”…that would not be correct grammar in Greek now would it.
This is the biggest reason. I think the author was just writing in the best Greek he could. After all, the actual conversation would have been in Aramaic and contained none of the nuances that Protestant try to read into this. How do I know it was Aramaic instead of Greek besides the obvious fact it was the normal language? Simple. Simon was called. Cephas. (kepha)
CSJ> I apologize in advance if it seems like I’m going off-topic, but I’ve spent a great deal of time studying this issue (papal authority is a big stumbling-block for me as far as Roman Catholicism is concerned). I’ve come to a few conclusions, which I believe you should consider…
As many people have said, petros and petra may well have been nearly synonymous by the time the gospel of Matthew was written. It’s also reasonable to accept that petros had to be used for Peter’s name because of the masculine gender that would be appropriate for a male name. However, this brings to mind the following – if petros and petra had the same meaning, and the gospel author really did mean to show that they were the same, why didn’t he just use petros twice? This isn’t a bullet-proof argument, but it is cause for some thought.
Second, though you said you didn’t want to get into it, I’d like to comment on the Aramaic issue, because I think there are some important aspects of it that you are missing. I agree that Jesus very likely spoke in Aramaic to the twelve. In fact, we know that Simon (Peter) was nicknamed with the Aramaic Kepha (hellenized as Cephas in scripture), and so Petros is just a translation of this.
However, this brings to light a very interesting question. Why use kepha? To explain, let’s cover what words are used for “rock” in the various languages…
Greek (excluding definitions which apply to precious stones like jasper, etc; also excluding other non-relevant terms)
(G4073) petra - a projecting rock, crag, rocky ground (something absolutely firm and solid)
(G4074) petros - a word only used as a nickname for Simon (Peter); not found elsewhere in scripture; in older Greek, petros has the meaning of being a slightly smaller stone than petra; claimed to have been synonymous with petra in Matthew
(G3037) lithos - simply “a stone”; used in almost every passage to refer to either a small stone (of size to be passed about from one person to another) or a collection of small stones
***Aramaic (as I don’t have a good resource available to me, this bit needs some work)
***kepha - probably derived from Hebrew keph
shu’a - probably derived from Hebrew sela
***(H3710) keph - rock, hollow of a rock (used only twice in scripture – each time translated as “rocks” [plural – many small stones])
(H4581) maoz - rock, fortress, stronghold, place or means of safety
(H5553) sela - craggy rock, fortress
Now to tie it all together. First, we have the Greek…
“You are petros and on this petra I will build my church.”
Now, we know that petros is actually referring to Simon (Peter), who was clearly called kepha in Aramaic, so let’s swap that in.
“You are kepha and on this petra I will build my church.”
Now, let’s provide more info. It should be noted that Petra is also used as the name of the huge rock city (which I hope you’re at least passingly familiar with). Now, this huge rock mass, a large, unmovable foundation, was called, in Hebrew, by the name Sela (which you’ll see I’ve listed above).
If we trace the word kepha back to Hebrew (and if we assume the Aramaic had similar meaning), we’ll see that every time God was described, either “maoz” or “sela” was used. The only reference material I have on kepha/keph (Old Testament scriptures) indicates to me that it represents smaller stones – nothing remotely the size of sela or maoz.
So, sela and maoz are big rocks (huge in fact). Keph/kepha is not. Now, what about petra? We know it can be used to describe the rock city, but what about other uses?
Jesus uses it to describe those who follow his teachings – we are like the wise man who built his house on the rock. Clearly, this is an indication of something huge – a foundational stone. There are a few other uses as well.
Thus, petra is a huge stone, cliff, or crag – a rocky foundation suitable to build on. Kepha simply is not. It is a movable stone.
So, why not use the Greek “lithos” in Matthew? Simple – it referred to a much smaller stone – the kind you might throw at a window to break it. So, the author of Matthew needed to describe Peter as a keph, but not as a sela/shu’a. Thus, the original Aramaic, which might have had something like this…
“You are kepha, and on this shu’a I will build my church.”
“You are petros, and on this petra I will build my church.”
Conclusive proof? Again, no. But it’s enough to give me reason to think beyond the standard explanations.
Edit: Think of it this way – why would Jesus say that the man who follows his teachings is effectively building his house on a rock (huge foundation), and then build his very own church on a mere kepha in comparison?
Because that rock… the pillar and foundation of the Truth… is the Church.
A man should follow the teachings of that house (only the Catholic Church) which has Jesus as the head, and is exclaimed in the Catholic Bible. That Bible that is the book of The Church, as opposed to the “churches” which want to be “of the Bible”.
Except that if Jesus was speaking Aramaic it would be.
“You are kepha and on this kepha I will build my church.” The logic error is to assume that Jesus used kepha to give Peter the name of Cepha instead of Peter receiving the name of Kepha because it was Aramaic Jesus was speaking.
The name change was very significant. Peter was not the only one whose name was changed. There are other name changes as well. Saul of Tarsus became Paul the Apostle, Abram became Abraham, Sariai became Sarah, etc.
May I ask what you base this on? Of all the other times petra is used in scripture, my understanding is that they’re almost always rendered as shu’a in Aramaic, and not kepha. Thus, it’s fair to assume that translating both as kepha is a mistake on the part of those who want to find support for the papacy. It assumes both petros and petra to be speaking of the same thing, and translates based on that assumption. If the assumption is false, then the translation is also false.
I’m not sure I understand where you’re going, or what you’re trying to say. All I’m saying is that if the original Aramaic used kepha and shu’a respectively (as I outlined), it could be reasonably translated as petros and petra.
He wasn’t the only one. And it wasn’t so much of a new name as it was a nickname.
Agreed, though I wouldn’t call it a renaming, so much as a nicknaming in Peter’s case. Yet we don’t necessarily believe that
the “sons of thunder” were the top leaders of the church, just because they were renamed, now do we?
Renaming can have other degrees of meaning than just “you shall henceforth be in charge”.
Aramaic translations of scripture always use “kepha” and “kepha.” They do not use “shu’a.” Moreover, these Aramaic texts are very old and pre-date some of our Greek texts. There are even those that argue that the Greek texts are based on the Aramaic and not the reverse.
Kepha and Kepha gives a play on words as does petros and petra. Kepha and shu’a does not give the play on words. It is extremely unlikely that the words were altered in the Aramaic texts. In order for any competing theory to have any credibility against the Catholic view it seems to me that the proponents of the theory must demonstrate that the text in Aramaic has been corrupted and changed from kepha vis-a-vis shu’a to kepha and kepha.
I can guarantee one thing…no one will ever prove such a thing especially since it never happened.
Look, I'm no linguistics major, but it seems to me that if Peter was to be separated from the Rock upon which Jesus built His church, whoever wrote the Greek would have used another word for rock so as to avoid confusion. I'm sure there were other words available. Isn't it just as fair to assume that people who translate petros and petra as kepha and shu'a are doing so to deny Peters' papacy. As you say, if the assumption is false, so is the translation.
Moreover, these Aramaic texts are very old and pre-date some of our Greek texts.
Please support that claim. I am not aware of the earliest Aramaic manuscripts being older than the earliest Greek ones. This sounds false, especially since the oldest Aramaic writing we have dates to the third century, whereas much Greek material dates to the first and second centuries.
There are even those that argue that the Greek texts are based on the Aramaic and not the reverse.
Claims that are likewise unsubstantiated.
Kepha and Kepha gives a play on words as does petros and petra. Kepha and shu’a does not give the play on words.
You’re assuming that a play on words was intended, and specifically, that the play was to use a synonymous word to liken Simon (Peter) to the rock on which the church would be founded. Why is that any more reasonable than assuming that the author was actually trying to contrast one to another?
It is extremely unlikely that the words were altered in the Aramaic texts. In order for any competing theory to have any credibility against the Catholic view it seems to me that the proponents of the theory must demonstrate that the text in Aramaic has been corrupted and changed from kepha vis-a-vis shu’a to kepha and kepha.
Only if you can demonstrate that the original was actually kepha and kepha. If not, then both theories would seem to be valid, and we must appeal to logic to solve this.
I can guarantee one thing…no one will ever prove such a thing especially since it never happened.
See, you’ve assumed the conclusion to be a certain way, and thus aren’t interested in other possibilities. Closing your mind means that you’re not to be trusted in terms of objectivity.
pete, you have demonstrated my point very well! You say that surely there are other words that could have been used. This is not the case, however, and so the author (or translator) of the text was forced into a difficult situation. He knows that shu’a or sela would translate as petra, but how can he translate kepha? If he uses lithos, then the implication is that it’s a very small stone, but this isn’t what the Hebrew (and presumably Aramaic) means. On the other hand, if he uses petra, he’s not only got the gender problem, but also the problem of mistaking kepha (a large, but not gigantic rock) for a petra (a firm foundation, such as what you’d build a house on).
The author might have some knowledge of previous Greek trends, and might have some knowledge of the use of petros. This solves the gender problem, and at least provides some distinction from petra. It’s the best option in an imperfect situation.
Isn’t it just as fair to assume that people who translate petros and petra as kepha and shu’a are doing so to deny Peters’ papacy. As you say, if the assumption is false, so is the translation.
Yes, it’s fair. Honestly, neither conclusion is completely unreasonable. I know that I’m not totally without bias. However, I just don’t see a way that kepha can be translated fairly in Greek, based on the uses of petra elsewhere.
Oh, and one other point – if it is appropriate to translate kepha as petra (or petros, in this case), then how would you translate shu’a? If it too is validly translated as petra, then we have an ambiguity which allows either interpretation to be valid. As such, the only thing we can appeal to further are the oldest Aramaic manuscripts, which we know are not the originals.
I did not claim that the earliest Aramaic texts that we have are older than the earliest Greek ones. Please read my post over again. My point is that they are earlier than some of the Greek manuscripts and that they are very ancient.
Claims for the the Aramaic being the originals are not proven and I did not say that they were. Likewise, it has not been proven that they were not. There are contending theories all of which have merit. The antiquity of the Aramaic, however, says a lot and there has never been any ancient claims that the words were corrupted.
One reason is the antiquity of the understanding of Peter as the rock versus the rather modern theory to the contrary. Likewise, it would seem more reasonable to use different words and language to make the contrast you suggest as opposed to the play on words that exist in the Aramaic texts themselves as well as the other translations that exist. The English says “rock/rock”, the French says “pierre/pierre” etc. I see no evidence to support any other conclusion over the traditional one. It appears to me that the evidence leans in this direction and not the other.
I believe the ancient Aramaic translations go far in doing just that. Unless, you can provide evidence that they were corrupted, then there is absolutely no reason to entertain another theory as if it has an equal footing. The texts themselves are rather serious empirical data.
I have not simply assumed a conclusion. It is extremely unlikely that the texts have been tampered with. The empirical data concerning scripture and the many available manuscripts make it extremely unlikely that the text in Matthew 16:18 has been corrupted. There is no historical evidence for this. There are no historical claims to support such an idea, and it is ridiculous to even suggest it unless there is some credible evidence that it happened.
Your position requires that you provide evidence to show that the text is corrupted. I would contend that my position is considerably less tenuous than the one which you propose.