In Matthew 16:18, Jesus says, "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church." For centuries, this was read in a perfectly straightforward way, but since the Reformation many Protestants point out that there are two different Greek words for "rock" being used, and argue from this that the rock upon which Jesus would build his church was NOT Simon Peter (the usual interpretation being the church would be built on faith like Peter's). I would like to respond to this.
The New Testament was written in Greek, which has grammatical gender. In Greek, "rock" is a feminine noun: petra. However, as much as some Christians will take objection to what I am about to say, the majority of scholars believe that Jesus spoke in Aramaic. Aramaic does not have gender, so there is only one way Jesus could have said this: "You are Cepha, and on this Cepha I will build my church." Same word in both places.
So, in the early church, how was this man Simon refered to when people spoke or wrote in Greek? It would not be very natural to translate the Aramaic word Cepha into "petra", as that would sound like a woman's name.
In Paul's letters, we find two examples of how this problem was handled. In fact in Galatians, just a few verses apart from each other, we see "Cepha" with a Greek ending attached: Cephas, and we see "petra" turned into a masculine name: Petros. I suppose "Petros" would sound like "rock-man" to a speaker of Greek at the time. I imagine that the reason Petros caught on, rather than Cephas, is the latter would suggest absolutely no meaning at all to a Greek speaker. (but it does recall why Simon has the name: the name comes from the Aramaic for rock.)
So, eventually, Matthew sat down to write his gospel. He wants to explain to his readers how Simon got the nickname Petros, which is not a real Greek word.
If he translated Jesus' original (and unambiguous) Aramaic as "You are Petros and on this Petros I will build my church," he is offering no explanation at all about where the name Petros comes from. If he went with "You are petra and on this Petra I will build my church," he is also not explaining where "Petros" comes from, as nobody was calling the guy by the name "Petra." So I see Matthew as simply making a translators choice, "You are Petros [ oh, Simon is receiving his name here. why? read on] and on this petra I will build my church [ ah! the name comes from 'rock', the rock on which the church will be built]"
Now, in all honesty, I must say to my Protestant friends that to read this passage in a straightforward manner does NOT obligate one to accept the modern papacy. And in fact, the early arguments for the primacy of the bishop of Rome involved a lot more than this passage. Some Protestants are comfortable ascribing some sort of primacy to Peter (perhaps only in the sense that he was first to acknowledge the Messiah as the Son of God) without accepting anything close to papal infallibility!
It seems to me that the tortured arguments necessary to deny the straightforward interpreation of this passage are based on a kind of defensiveness, a fear that accepting such a reading necessarily lands you on the slippery slope toward viewing Peter as the first Pope. I do not think it is necessary to slide down that slope. One can read this passage in a direct manner without having to accept the papacy.
The critique of the Catholic reading of this passage is based on the appearance of two different Greek words. But I do not see how it would be possible for the two words to be the same, given the translation problem I just described. Again, it is simple in Aramaic:
"You are Cepha, and on this cepha I will build my church."
eddiecarbone eddiecarbone
61-65, M
Aug 19, 2014