The Rock: Did Jesus mean Peter’s confession of faith or Peter himself?

Is Peter the Rock in Matthew 16:18? [6:37]

Many Evangelicals believe that petros meant “small stone” and that petra meant “large rock.”  They interpret Matthew 16:18 as an antithetic statement:

“I tell you Peter, you are a very small stone, but on the great rock [of your confessional statement with regard to my identity as the Messiah], I will build my Church.”

However, Matthew 16:18 can just as easily be interpreted as a synthetic statement:

“I tell you Peter, you may look like a small stone now, but on the great rock you truly are, I will build my Church.”

But, in fact, neither of these sentences make much sense since, in first century Greek, petros and petra were synonyms

Moreover, the synthetic (and Catholic) interpretation becomes the obviously correct choice once you realize that Jesus’ actual words were not in Greek, but in Aramaic, where the two words — kepha and kepha — were identical.  Pron. keh-fa.

“You are Kepha and on this kepha I will build my church.”


The petros/petra difference arose when Jesus’ words were forced into Greek grammar, which dictated the masculine form, petros, in the first place, and the feminine form, petra, in the second.

“You are Petros and on this petra I will build my church.”

(In the NT, Peter is sometimes referred to as Cephas, which is a Greek variant of the Aramaic name — Kepha — that Jesus had given him.  It is sometimes pronounced see-fas, but should be pronounced keh-fas.)

By the time the Bible was translated into English, everyone knew the man as St. Peter, so the rendering in the English version is rather nonsensical.

“You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church.”

Rock? What rock? Who said anything about a rock?

The structure of Matthew 16:17-19 makes it even more clear that Jesus meant to build His church on the man, Peter,  and not just on his confessional statement that Jesus was the Messiah. Click on graphic to embiggen for easier reading.

Matt 16 17-19 Exegetical structure

The sources from which I excerpted the above are well worth reading in full:


1 Comment

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One response to “The Rock: Did Jesus mean Peter’s confession of faith or Peter himself?

  1. Actually not a bad series (playlist) of videos, there. I feel like the linguistic analysis is good, but I find the early apostolic accounts of what actually happened next to be more compelling. When they heard the words and saw the Acts, did the disciples then follow the Apostles and especially Peter in a Eucharistic community? Was even St. Paul, who was not originally with the 12, aware of and in general communion with Peter. They did, and he was.

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