Understanding The Bible
Clarence E. Mason's "MATTHEW"


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Return to "The Kingdom Postponed" III. C. "The Way to the Cross," Mat. 16:21-27:39

Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible

Philip Schaff on Matthew 16:18
There is a note by Philip Schaff in Lange on Matthew, against the Romish interpretation of this passage, containing sufficient material on ancient customs to give an excerpt of it here.

"The Romish interpretation is liable to the following objections:

  1. It obliterates the distinction between petros and petra;
  2. It is inconsistent with the true nature of the architectural figure: the foundation of a building is one and abiding, and not constantly renewed and changed;
  3. It confounds priority of time with permanent superiority of rank;
  4. It confounds the apostolate. . .which. . .is not transferable. .. with the post-apostolic episcopate;
  5. It involves an injustice to the other apostles who, as a body, are expressly called the.. .foundation stones of the church (Eph. 2:20);
  6. It contradicts the whole spirit of Peter's epistle, which is strongly anti-hierarchical, and disclaims any superiority over his "fellow-presbyters";
  7. Finally, it rests on gratuitous assumptions which can never be proven either exegetically, viz., the transferability of Peter's primacy. . .and its actual transfer upon the bishop of Rome exclusively."

Henry J. Heydt
"Not only have interpretations varied regarding this passage in Matthew 16, but individuals themselves have held to various interpretations at different times and, for that matter, at the same time. We shall list the most important of these.

  1. When Christ said "upon this rock, " He pointed to Himself;
  2. He referred to the confession Peter had just made;
  3. He referred to Peter himself (in the popish sense, which implied that Peter was invested with a permanent primacy);
  4. He referred to Peter's faith;
  5. He referred to the special call and work of Peter;
  6. He referred to Peter as inclusive of all believers;
  7. He referred to what may be called the Petrine characteristic of the Church, faithfulness of confession. "

It has been debated if the same distinction obtains in the Koine Greek of Jesus' time, but Heydt points out that in classical Greek "petros" means "a piece of a rock, a rock, a stone." Homer uses it of Ajax throwing a stone at Hector, and of Patroclus grasping and hiding a jagged stone in his hand.

Petra means a rock, and is used of a ledge of rocks, or a rocky peak. Homer uses this of the rock which Polyphemus placed at the door of his cavern. It was so large that twenty-two wagons could not move it. Peter was truly a stone, but THE rock is Christ, and here petra refers to what Peter just testified concerning Him, His Messiahship and His Deity. The word petra is feminine, while Petros is masculine. This is a further indication that Christ did not mean Peter.

It is well known by this time that Christ used a play on words, "thou art Petros, and upon this petra I will build my church." We have given the literal translation here. It seems to us quite obvious from this that He could not have meant Peter or He would have simply said, "Thou art Petros and upon thee I will build my church."

If Christ meant the confession of Peter, it would be applicable because the Greek for confession is homologia, a feminine word.


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