In Matthew 16:18 it says “I also say that you are Peter, and upon this
rock I will build my church;” I’ve been taught that the rock in this
scripture is a reference to Jesus, but it seems to me that it refers to
Peter. After all Jesus did build the church through Peter (Acts 2:41
three thousand got baptized because of Peters words of Jesus death and
resurrection. Is there something I’m missing here?

No, there is nothing you are missing here. The question comes
down to context, but more importantly to Greek grammar on the
interpretation of Matthew 16:18. I hesitate to speak to such issues, as I
am very definitely not a Greek scholar. However, as I understand it
(having been taught, not being an expert in Greek), the Greek essentially
has Jesus saying, “I tell you that you are rock, and on this rock I will
build my church.” The second “rock”, is the Greek word petra, which is in
the feminine, while the first “rock” is petros. which is in the masculine
case. This word petra, in context, may be a reference to Peter himself,
but more likely it is a reference to the “rock” of the confession of Peter
that Jesus is the Christ. Peter (petros) is a masculine word meaning
small rock or pebble. Petra is a feminine word meaning foundation. If
Jesus was talking about Peter, it is hard to understand him switching
gender in the sentence. Besides, it is hard to imagine Jesus calling
Peter the foundation of the church, Catholic false doctrine
notwithstanding. The interpretation that the “rock” is Jesus does not fit
the context of the verse. For Jesus to say, “on this rock” in reference
to himself does not make sense contextually or gramatically. Having said
all that, it is worth remembering that Jesus himself spoke in Aramaic in
the original language, so one should hesitate to build a major doctrinal
plank on the foundation (pun intended) of this verse. Let me summarize
the three possible interpretations. The “rock” in Matthew 16 could be:

1. Jesus Christ

2. Peter

3. Peter’s (and our own) personal confession that Jesus is the Christ

As I understand it, the third choice is to be preferred, the
second interpretation is possible, but not likely, and the first in
incorrect. I suggest you refer to a couple of good commentaries on this
verse. I am using a new commentary by Steve Kinnard “The Gospel of
Matthew: A Practical Exposition” (click on the hyperlink if you are
interested in this book).

John Oakes, PhD

Comments are closed.