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Friday, August 12, 2005

Taute Petra (On This Rock)

Due to a mental lapse last night, I visited a rather spirited anti-Catholic blogsite. Now I'm in for it. I decided to respond to a specific attack on the papacy as pertains to Peter. The contention is that when Matthew 16:17 says "kai (epi?) taute petra" (and on this rock), Christ was referring to himself. Why do they say this? Because earlier he tells Peter "ou ei Petros" -- which can be transliterated as "you are pebble," while he says "taute petra" where 'petra' transliterates to large rock. However there are many reasons to doubt that this supports a conclusion that Christ was not building the Church on Simon Peter himself. This was my response: Thanks for letting me post again, Rand, but please tone down the insults. I'm not picking a fight, but since you blogged against the papacy of Peter, I am compelled to respond. The gospel of (or the notes written by) Matthew were written in Aramaic. This is according to ancient records, e.g., Papias. It is also true that Matthew is Jewish and would write in Aramaic. Last, the Lord would converse with his disciples in Aramaic, not Greek, for they were all Jewish. Protestant Greek scholars like D.A. Carson and Joseph Thayer admit there is no distinction in meaning between petros and petra in the Koine Greek of the New Testament. We do not have 100% certainty about the translations from Koine Greek because it is a dead language. Take a quick look at the footnotes of your Bible, or the preface. There's usually a disclaimer of sorts about the translation difficulties in the dead languages used in the oldest manuscripts that exist. BTW my mistake with "lithoi" -- that's the Greek for pebbles (singular is lithos), which was used elsewhere in Matthew 4:3, when the devil cajoles Jesus to transform some stones, lithoi, into bread. The correct Aramaic for pebble is 'evna.' Nowhere is Peter known as Evna. On the other hand, he is known as Kepha (or Cephas, transliterated into Greek) in some texts of the NT. In fact, this is clarified in John 1:42: 'Jesus looked at [Simon] and said, "So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas" (which means Peter).' The context of the passage doesn't provide any reason whatsoever for Christ to say "You are a pebble." It would have read more smoothly if He had simply said "And I also say unto thee, upon this rock I will build my church." But in that case, the next statement would not have made any sense: "And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom.." Note that we Catholics do not deny that Christ is our Rock. Of course he is. But just as Christ is our king as David was, so was Peter the grand vizier or the king's representative as Eliakim in Isaiah 22, who received the key of the house of David, and was given the authority to shut and to open. Yet note that Eliakim is not the king, only his representative, just as the pope is not Christ, only his representative. The text also shows a bit of parallelism: Peter just said, "You are the Christos," so Jesus says, "You are the Petros." "You are the Son of the Living God" and "You are the son of Jonah, Simon Bar-Jonah." Also, on the Greek, the text says "and on this rock" or 'taute petra' in Greek. Taute here means "this very," as in 'on this very rock' which refers to the earlier reference to petra. He also starts that with 'kai' or 'and' -- "and on this rock", when he could have said 'alla' or 'but.' 'Alla' would have been more suitable if he was contrasting Peter's being the pebble and his (Christ's) being the proper rock upon which the Church should be built. Finally, the statement following that makes for a very strange train of thought. According to your understanding, Christ lauds Peter for having been moved by the Spirit to utter his confession of faith. Then he demotes him by saying that he was a mere pebble. Then he promotes him (Peter) again by giving him the keys to the kingdom, and the authority to open what no one may then shut, or to shut what no one may afterwards open. BTW we are not replacing Christ with Peter or the pope. We are not baptized in the name of the pope, but in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In Catholic worship, we harken back to the one sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, not Peter or any pope. Saying that Peter is the rock here in Matthew 16, or that he is the first among the apostles, does not diminish the glory of our Lord. In Isaiah 51:1-2, God Himself calls Abraham the rock from which Israel was hewn. Nonetheless, Christ is The Rock. Jesus is the one foundation of the Church in 1 Corinthians 3:11, but in Revelation 21:14 and Ephesians 2:20, we're told that the Apostles are the foundation of the Church. St. Peter's 'rock-ness' is derived from Christ. The foundation-ness of the Apostles is derived from Christ. Peter's authority derives from Christ, and it will always be Christ's Church, not Peter's, and it was established on Peter, not by Peter. Also, this has nothing to do with Peter's merits. Obviously, he makes the most mistakes and says the wrong things more than any other apostle in the NT. But this is an appointment of an office. The function of Peter as rock is about delegation, not any merit on his part. There are also lots of Protestant scholars who accept Peter's appointment. Including Martin Luther, Herman Liderboss, Donald Carson, Gerhardt Meier, W. F. Albright and others. From the text and from their biblical scholarship, they accept that Peter was referred to as the rock, and was thereby given a special office. What they probably don't agree to is the succession of such an appointment to Peter's successors, i.e., bishops ordained by his hand or holding his bishopric in Rome. That's a separate issue. In case you're visiting from that blog in order to pick my arguments and my brain, I invite you to visit my references since that blogsite does not allow links in the comments boxes:
  1. S. Hahn, Dr. Scott Hahn on the Papacy. In Catholic-pages.com.
  2. T. Staples, Bam! Bam! The "Pebbles" Argument Goes Down. Catholic Exchange, originally published in Envoy Magazine.


Joel said...

Links, nothing! He doesn't even allow intelligence in the comment boxes!

I've been walkinng a razor's edge with this guy, trying to question his omniscience without getting deleted, and it's a bit wearing. Thanks for coming into the discussion.

Jeff Tan said...

" Links, nothing! He doesn't even allow intelligence in the comment boxes!"

Thanks, Joel. First time I've smiled about the whole thing since falling victim to Rand's charming debates. :-)

Actually you're doing great to have managed to stay on his good side somehow. It's a thankless task and you're still at it. I'll join you as often as I can. It's frustrating, and I wanted to ask how you did it.

I dunno if you know Eric Svendsen (Real Clear Theology Blog), but if you did, you might find it amusing (I'm sure Dave Armstrong would) that, after getting to know Rand, I've come to realize that Eric has a lot of redeeming qualities, despite his anti-Catholic position in so many things. :-)

God bless you and thanks for dropping by! :-)