Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Quick Bible Answers: Rockin' with St. Peter

As Catholics we know that St. Peter is the "rock" on which the Catholic Church is built (Matthew 16:18), but often anti-Catholics will argue that Catholics mis-translate the original text of the Gospel of Matthew to come to the "St. Peter the rock" conclusion.

The most common anti-Catholic argument looks at the Greek translation of the Gospel of Matthew (the oldest known manuscript of the Gospel of Matthew is written in Greek but is believed to have been translated from Hebrew). The argument suggests that while Jesus did refer to St. Peter as "rock", it was akin to a type of rock that could be used as a foundation and that Jesus was in fact referring to himself as the foundation of the Church. Anti-Catholics believe that the Greek word used to describe St. Peter as "rock" was the feminite form (languages that are Latin or Greek based have "male" and "female" workds; a word ending in an 'o' is a masculine word and a word ending in an 'a' is feminine) "petra" which would translate to "small rock" "stone" or "pebble", so the anti-Catholic would argue that St. Peter couldn't possibly be the foundation of the Church because how could a "small rock" (et al) be the foundation of such an important institution like the Church?

Let's read Matthew 16:18 and full and examine the problem with this argument. Note the specific use of the pronouns in the verse (bolded for emphasis):

"And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it." - Matthew 16:18

Jesus is talking to and referring to St. Peter rather acutely here, don't you think? What's further of note is that since Jesus was talking to St. Peter who was obviously a man, the Greek word used for rock would have been "petros", i.e. the Greek masculine derivative of "rock" not the feminine.

What also needs to be taken into consideration - and this is the kicker - is the fact that Jesus would have been speaking to St. Peter in Aramaic. All credit for this tidbit of information goes straight to Karl Keating, by the way; I didn't know about this part until I read it in his books. We'll do this bit in steps:

1. The Greek word for "stone", "pebble" or "little rock" is "lithos" not "petra" or "petros";
2. The Aramaic word for "stone", "pebble" or "little rock" is "evna";
3. The Aramaic word for "rock" is "kepha" ("cephas" in Hebrew).

"What's your proof?" the anti-Catholic might then ask.

Well don't forget that St. Peter's name wasn't always "Peter"; he was a "Simon" before that and was sometimes referred to as Simon-Peter. the Gospel of John emphasises this name change and notes the translation from Hebrew to Greek (bolded for emphasis):

"One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, 'We have found the Messiah' (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, 'So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas' (which means Peter)." - John 1:40-42

Want more (these are just a handful)?

"As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen." - Matthew 4:18

"The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zeb'edee, and John his brother" - Matthew 10:2 

"Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's slave and cut off his right ear. The slave's name was Malchus." - John 18:10

... And on this rock our Church is built.


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