Peter is not the Rock according to the Orthodox Study Bible

We got an email that said:

Orthodox Study Bible pg. 1299 says that Jesus' statement "You are peter and upon this Rock I will build my Church (Mat 16:18) was not of  Peter himself, but of the faith of his confession. So isn't Jesus is the Rock of the Church, and the Church "is built on the faithful confession of Christ?"

The "little rock, big rock" theory

We got an email that said:

However Jesus stated "upon this rock I will build my church" in reference to Peter's declaration that He (Jesus) was the Christ (Matthew 16:16).

Let's call this the "little rock, big rock" theory. It claims that Peter is a little rock and his declaration (Jesus is the Christ) is the foundation of the Church. The Greek text of the passage says "You are Peter (Petros) and upon this rock (petra) I will build my Church."(Mat 16:18-20). In modern Greek, the name Peter Petros means "small stone" and Petra means "stone." The theory proposes that Peter was only a little pebble and unimportant, while the big rock was the "declaration" of several verses earlier, that Jesus was the Christ.

OK, I'm going to get a little "heady" here by talking about Aramaic, and ancient Greek. The Greek text is a translation of Jesus' words, which were actually spoken in Aramaic. Aramaic only had one word for rock, kephas (which is why Peter is often called Cephas in the Bible). The word Kephas in Aramaic means "huge rock." The Aramaic word for "little stone" is "evna," and Peter was not called "Evna" or "Envas" or anything like that.  In Aramaic, Jesus said "You are Peter (Kephas) and upon this rock (kephas) I will build my Church." The metaphor worked well in Aramaic where nouns are neither feminine or masculine, but in Greek, the noun "rock" was feminine, and therefore unsuitable as a name for Peter. So the Aramaic word Kephas was translated to the masculine name Petros when it referred to Peter, and to the feminine noun petra when it referred to the rock. In ancient Koine Greek, petra and petros were total synonyms, unlike modern Attic Greek and unlike Ionic Greek which was about 400 year before Christ.

I (Hugh) am a Canadian who speaks both English and French. In English, nouns are not masculine or feminine. However, in French all nouns have a "gender." In French, the name Pierre (Peter) is masculine and the noun pierre (rock) is feminine. The metaphor works wonderfully in French as it did in Aramaic. "Tu es Pierre et sur cette pierre je bâtirai mon Eglise..."

In Evangelical circles, the "little rock, big rock" theory is fairly recent. Nearly every Protestant commentary written in the last 50 years interprets Peter as the rock upon which the Church was built. (However, they didn't believe that Peter had a successor, more about that here ). The scholarly Evangelical work, Carson's "Expositors Bible Commentary" explains this well. It is in the section on Matthew 16. These Evangelical scholars looked closely at the Greek word for rock "Petra" and determined that it refers to Peter. The early Christians also referred to Peter as the Rock. Some Quotes are here.

I recently spoke with a grammar specialist who is not Catholic. She explainedthat the adjective "this" grammatically must refer to the nearest preceding noun, which was Peter, not his declaration which occurs two verses earlier.

upon this rock

When Jesus says  "whatever you bind" to Peter in Mat 16:18, the Greek text used for "you" is singular. In Mat 18:18 the Greek text, the word for "you" in "whatever you bind" is plural. Catholics think these two juxtaposed but similar phrases lay out the early structure of the Church with Peter as the Pope and the other apostles as priests.

Didn't some of the Church Fathers identify Peter's confession as the Rock?

Some of the Church fathers do speak of Christ or of Peter's confession as "the Rock" of Matt 16:18, ALL of these SAME Church fathers ALSO speak of Peter himself as the Rock. In other words, the confession of Peter is in relation to Peter. It says something about him, and his faith. In this respect, it was not an either-or proposition for our ancient Christian forefathers, but a "both-and" proposition.  Here are what the fathers (and some other scholars of the ancient Church) have to say.

The fathers –including ALL the Greek fathers –say that Peter himself is the Rock of Matt 16. They make no distinction between Peter himself and Peter’s confession; for any father who speaks of it as Peter’s confession is ALSO on record calling Peter himself the Rock.   Our Orthodox friend continues: 

What the Church has always believed is that Christ Himself is the only TRUE Rock of the Church. But, in Matt 16:18, Peter (because of his Divinely inspired confession) was made the VICARIOUS Rock of the Church --the focal point of Church unity and sound, orthodox doctrine in Christ's own physical absence. A parallel dynamic can be seen in John 21:15-19,. where Christ makes Peter the primary shepherd of His flock, telling Him to "feed my lambs" and "tend ("rule" in the original Greek) my sheep."   Jesus could "feed" and "tend/ rule" His own sheep. Clearly, He can, since He is God and since He is always the Church's TRUE Good Shepherd. But, Jesus commands Peter to do it IN A VICARIOUS SENSE --that is, to lead the Church and govern it with sound teaching and unity in Christ's PHYSICAL absence. Thus, there is only one TRUE Shepherd (Jesus Christ), and one primary VICARIOUS Shepherd to unify the entire flock (St. Peter). Likewise, there is only one TRUE Rock (the Lord Himself) and one Christ-appointed VICARIOUS Rock --that is, St. Peter, who was commissioned with this ministry in Matt 16:18-19 and then reaffirmed in this same ministry in Luke 22:31-32 and John 21:15-19.   

The Keys

If we compare Matt 16:18-19 with Isaiah 22:20-24, which describes the appointment of the Prime Minister of the old Hughic Kingdom of Israel --the minister who could act with the King's own authority in the King's physical absence --we can see quite clearly that Peter himself is being made the Rock in Matt 16:18. And, again, this is what all of the Church fathers consistently say (even when they also speak of other things as the Rock). Catholics believe that Jesus had a very specific purpose in saying that Peter was the Rock upon which he would build his Church. He was evoking Isaiah 22:22.

Isaiah 22:15-24 Mat 16:18-19
22:15 (Shebna) you have cut out a tomb here for yourself ... in the rock? ...I will thrust you from your office....22:20 On that day I will call my servant Eliakim son of Hilkiah, 21 and will clothe him with your robe and bind your sash on him. I will commit your authority to his hand, and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. 22 I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open. 23 I will fasten him like a peg in a secure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his ancestral house. 24 And they will hang on him the whole weight of his ancestral house, the offspring and issue, every small vessel, from the cups to all the flagons. are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

In the Isaiah passage, Shebna was the Chancellor (like a Prime Minister) under King Hezekiah. This Prime Minister had a special role above the cabinet. He got the keys to the kingdom. Shabna messed up and was unfaithful so God appointed Eliakim to Prime Minister and gave him the keys. In Mat 16:18, Peter got the keys just the way Eliakim got them in Isaiah 22:15-24.

When Jesus says  "whatever you bind" to Peter in Mat 16:18, the Greek text used for "you" is singular. In Mat 18:18 the Greek text, the word for "you" in "whatever you bind" is plural. Catholics think these two juxtaposed but similar phrases lay out the early structure of the Church with Peter as the Pope and the other apostles as priests.

Jesus is the head of the Church and Peter was his Vicar on Earth.

I heard a great Evangelical Christian song by the band Audio Adrenaline that says "I want to be your hands, I want to be your feet." Most Evangelicals understand that Jesus needs people to do his work on earth. Catholics are saying that Jesus wants someone to lead his people on earth. This person is not taking Jesus' place, he is simply guiding the Church the same way Peter did when he stood up in the upper room, and told the apostles that they must replace Judas, and do so with someone who had traveled with them from the time of John the Baptist (Acts 1:15). As the head of the apostles his duty was to guide the apostles and oversee a successful unanimous outcome. Catholics think Jesus is still doing that through Peter's successor today.

Jesus said "Upon this rock 'I' will build my Church." Jesus is the head of the Church. Catholics believe the Pope is simply his "vicar" on earth, the one who He has appointed. The Pope could sing the song "I want to be your hands, I want to be your feet." Jesus is the King which in Isaiah 22:22 is represented by King Hezekiah. Peter is the Vicar on Earth which in the Isaiah 22:22 passage is represented by Eliakim. The Pope's role is kind of like that of a chairman of a board, or captain of a football team, with the other team players being the bishops. It has been like this since the dawn of Christianity. The owner and leader of the team is Jesus.

Catholics don't think the Church is "man-made." They think it is God made. Jesus said "Upon this rock 'I' will build my Church." (Mat 16:19) He did not say "you" will build my Church. Catholics think the Church was conceived at the Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles. (Acts 2:3) Catholics believe the Holy Spirit has been resting on the Catholic Church ever since. An historical timeline of the early Church is here 

If Jesus said he will build his Church on the man Peter wouldn't that be like worshipping a man?

It does not imply worship at all.  Rather, it merely means that Peter would be the Prime Minister of Jesus’ Kingdom, the Church. Again, compare Matt 16:18-19 with Isaiah 22:20-24, which speaks of the Prime Minister of the old Hughic kingdom of Israel in the same exact terms. See also Isaiah 51:1-2, which speaks of Abraham as the Rock of the Israelite people. Is Isaiah saying that the Jews should “worship” Abraham?  Of course not.  

> He will send out His Holy Spirit upon him, and Peter will be one of the main constructors of the Church of Christ (working the will of the Lord).

Not  “one of the main,” but THE main –the PRIME minister of the Church. It is Peter alone who possesses the ultimate authority to bind and loosen.

< Do you know that “Petros” in Greek means “rock”, and the Gospel of Saint Matthew was originally written in Greek? 

Yes, “Petros” means rock in Greek. However, according to all the early fathers, the Gospel of Matthew was not originally written in Greek, but in “the language of the Hebrews” –that is, Aramaic. For example, St. Ireneaus of Lyon (a Greek father), writing in A.D. 180, says …

“Matthew also issued among the Hebrews a written Gospel in their own language, while Peter and Paul were evangelizing in Rome and laying the foundation of the Church.”  (Against the Heresies 3, 1:1 --180 A.D.) 

St. Ireneaus was of course the disciple of St. Polycarp, who was the disciple of the Apostle John.  And, still earlier (c. A.D. 130), we have yet another disciple of St. John, St. Papias, who says …

“Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could.” (Papias in Eusebius, H.E.). 

Our Orthodox friend continues:

The Orthodox Study Bible says about Matthew 16:18 (in fuller detail): “Peter/rock is a play on the word for “rock” in both Aramaic and Greek (petros/petra). This rock refers not to Peter per se, but to “the faith of his confession“ (Saint John Chrysostom).

We need to pay attention to what St. John Chrysostom teaches us IN FULL?    For, along with the other Greek fathers, he also speaks of  Peter himself as the rock and foundation of the Church.     See quotes from Chysostom presented in the box to the right. The Orthodox Study Bible is inconsistent with the faith of the fathers, and I will put my money on the Greek fathers rather than an 1984 Amercian publication. 

>The true  Rock is Christ Himself (1 Cor 10:4), and the Church is built on the faithful confession of Christ.”

Christ is the true Rock of the Church, but that is not what is being referred to in Matt 16:18. Rather, the reference is to Peter himself, who is the vicarious Rock of the Church. All the fathers clearly teach this.  

> [the Orthodox Study Bible says] “Sometimes the voice of the past is the clearest and most vivid guide for the minds and hearts of men of today, taking them out of the confused values of this life.

I find it odd your source would say something like that while ignoring the consistent and universal teaching of the ancient Church fathers. Peter is the Rock of Matt 16:18, where he is made Christ’s vicar / vicarious Rock. 

On your comparison of Matthew 16:18-19 to Isaiah 22:20-24, the Orthodox Study Bible says: “Eliakim replaced Shebna before the attack on Jerusalem. Yet, by the end of his administration, Eliakim too would fall (v.25)” 

As did the kings of Israel who preceded Jesus Christ. Does this stop Christ from being the true King and Messiah, or does it stop His Church from being the true Israel of God (Gal 6:16; 1 Peter 2:9-10)?     What Isaiah 22 shows is that an office existed –that is, the office of Prime Minister to the King of Israel; and Jesus, Who is the promised King and Messiah of Israel, makes Simon Peter His own Prime Minister in Matt 16:18-19.

Even St. John Cassian, a BYZANTINE GREEK and a disciple of St. John Chrysostom, noticed this connection. For, he writes …

"O Peter, Prince of Apostles, it is just that you should teach us, since you were yourself taught by the Lord; and also that you should open to us the gate of which you have received the Key (singular).  Keep out all those who are undermining the heavenly House; turn away those who are trying to enter through false caverns and unlawful gates since it is certain that no one can enter in at the gate of the Kingdom except the one unto whom the Key (singular), placed by you in the churches, shall open it."  (John Cassian, Book III, Chap 12, Against the Nestorians on the Incarnation)

As all scholars admit, St. John Cassian is taking his language directly from Isaiah 22, which speaks about the power to “open and shut” and which confers the authority of a “Key” (singular) over the “House” of Hugh (i.e., the Church).  

 And two of your quotes I especially like: "Peter, with his whole soul, associates himself with the Lamb; and, by means of the change of his name, he is changed by the Lord into something more divine. Instead of Simon, being both called and having become a Rock, the great Peter did not by advancing little by little attain unto this grace, but at once he listened to his brother (Andrew), believed in the Lamb, and was through faith perfected, and, having cleaved to the Rock, became himself Peter." (Gregory of Nyssa, T. i. Hom. xv. in C. Cantic). 

If you “like” this quote so much, then we need to see that St. Gregory of Nyssa (along with his brother St. Basil and his colleague St. Gregory Nazianzus –indeed, all the Greek fathers) taught and believed that Peter himself is the Rock of Matt 16:18?     

>"Christ is the Rock, 'For they drank from that spiritual Rock that followed them and that Rock was Christ, ' and He did not refuse to bestow the favor of this title even upon His disciple, so that he too might be 'Peter,' in that he has from the Rock a solid consistancy of firm faith." (Ambrose, Expos. in Luc.). 

Christ Himself is the true Rock of the Church, BUT …as St. Ambrose goes on to say …Christ ‘bestow[ed] the favor of this title upon His disciple, so that HE TOO might be Peter” –that is, the Rock of the Church in a VICARIOUS sense.     And, this SAME St. Ambrose ALSO says …

 "Peter is called the Rock because, like an immovable rock, he sustains and joins the mass of the entire Christian edifice."  (Ambrose, Sermon 4). "[Christ] made answer: 'You are Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church . . . ' Could he not, then, strengthen the faith of the man to whom, acting on His own authority, he gave the Kingdom, whom he called the Rock, thereby declaring him to be the foundation of the Church [Matt. 16:18]?" (The Faith 4:5 [A.D. 379]).

"It is to Peter that he says: 'You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church' [Matt. 16:18]. Where Peter is, there is the Church. And where the Church, no death is there, but life eternal" (Commentary on Twelve Psalms of Hugh 40:30 [A.D. 389]).

Again, the Tradition is clear. The Rock of Matt 16:18 is Peter. One cannot ignore this and also claim to be of the same Faith with the eastern fathers.

The Eastern Church fathers call Peter the Rock

  • Tatian the Syrian (170 A.D.): "Simon Kephas answered and said, 'You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.' Jesus answered and said unto him, 'Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah: flesh and blood has not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say unto thee also, that you are Rock, and on this Rock will I build my Church; and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it" (The Diatesseron 23 [A.D. 170]).
  • Tertullian (220 A.D.):"Was anything hid from Peter, who was called the Rock, whereon the Church was built; who obtained the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and the power of loosing and of binding  in heaven and on earth?"  (Tertullian, De Praescript Haeret). 
  • Tertullian thereafter writes to criticize Pope Callistus I by saying ...."I now inquire into your opinions, to see whence you usurp the right for the Church.  Do you presume, because the Lord said to Peter, 'On this rock I will build my Church ...[Matt 16-19]' that the power of binding and loosing has thereby been handed over to you, that is, to every church akin to Peter? What kind of man are you, subverting and changing what was the manifest intent of the Lord when He conferred this personally on Peter?  'On you,' He says, 'I will build my Church; and I give to you the keys'...." (Tertullian, On Modesty 21:9-10) 
  • The Apocryphal Letter of St. Clement of Rome to St. James (C. 221 A.D.) "Be it known to you, my lord, that Simon [Peter], who, for the sake of the true faith, and the most sure foundation of his doctrine, was set apart to be the foundation of the Church, and for this end was by Jesus Himself, with His truthful mouth, named Peter" (Letter of Clement to James 2 [A.D. 221])
  • St. Gregory Nazianzus write ….  "See thou that of the disciples of Christ, all of whom were great and deserving of the choice, one is called a Rock and entrusted with the foundations of the Church." (Gregory Naz., T. i or xxxii). ... and "Peter, the Chief of the disciples, but he was a Rock (Gregory Naz., T. ii.) …and … "[Peter], that unbroken Rock who held the keys." (Gregory Naz., Sect. ii Poem Moral. tom. ii.)
  • St. Gregory of Nyssa: "Peter, with his whole soul, associates himself with the Lamb; and, by means of the change of his name, he is changed by the Lord into something more divine.  Instead of Simon, being both called and having become a Rock, the great Peter did not by advancing little by little attain unto this grace, but at once he listened to his brother (Andrew), believed in the Lamb, and was through faith perfected, and, having cleaved to the Rock, became himself Peter."  (Gregory of Nyssa, T. i. Hom. xv. in C. Cantic). …and ….  "Peter ...that most firm Rock, upon which the Lord build His Church." (Gregory of Nyssa, Alt. Or. De. S. Steph.) 
  • St. Basil the Great:…. "The house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the foundations of which are on the holy mountains, for it is built upon the Apostles and prophets.  One also of these mountains was Peter, upon which Rock the Lord promised to build His Church."  (Basil, T. i. Comment. in Esai.  c. ii.). …and …. "The soul of blessed Peter was called a lofty Rock ..."  (Basil, Sermon 1 De Fide I.13).
  • St. John Chrysostom: "...and when I name Peter, I name that unbroken Rock, that firm foundation, the Great Apostle, the First of the disciples ..."  (Chrysostom, T. ii. Hom. iii. de Paednit). …and …. "Peter, the leader of the choir, that Mouth of the rest of the Apostles, that Head of the brotherhood, that one set over the entire universe, that Foundation of the Church."  (Chrysostom, In illud. hoc Scitote). and …. "Peter, ...  that Pillar of the Church, the Buttress of the Faith, the Foundation of the Confession."  (Chrysostom, T. iii. Hom. de Dec. Mill. Talent)

More here
More on the Pope here

Thanks to Mark Bonocore for the basis of this article.