Theme: Our Foundation
In this week’s lesson we reveal the Rock of the Church.
Matthew 16: 17-20
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. ‘“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.
In today’s lesson we conclude our look at three main interpretations of Jesus’ statement to Peter: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”
3. Christ is the rock. This is a minority view among evangelicals, usually explained by saying that Jesus was making a pun on Peter’s name. Peter’s name is petros, a masculine noun meaning “rock” or “stone.” (Peter’s Hebrew name, Cephas, also means “rock.”) But when Jesus referred to “this rock” he used the feminine form of the same word, petra, which this view says means “bed rock” or “foundation rock.” The idea would be that Peter was only a little stone, perhaps only a pebble, but that Jesus is the foundation upon which the church is built.
This view has some weaknesses. One is that Jesus spoke in Aramaic, not Greek, and that even the Greek words do not necessarily have these different connotations. On the other hand, Jesus and his teaching have already been described as a foundation rock in Matthew at the end of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus called wise the man who builds his house on the rock (Matt. 7:25). Jesus will also speak of Himself later as “the stone the builders rejected” but which “has become the capstone,” quoting Psalm 118:22 (Matt. 21 :42). Nowhere does Matthew even hint that Peter is the rock.
There is a theological argument too. Throughout the Old Testament God is frequently described as the Rock of Israel, which is appropriate since He alone is the strength and fortress of His people. It is appropriate too that Jesus, who is also God, should be the rock and that we should think of the church being built upon Him. But Peter? Vacillating Peter? A mere man? It must have been considerations like these that impressed Saint Augustine, the greatest theologian of the early Catholic Church, for in his “Retractions,” written late in life, Augustine acknowledged that in an early work against the Donatists he referred to Peter as the rock but that he had since come to believe that the rock could only be Christ.1
As for myself, I could believe that Jesus called Peter the rock in the careful and limited sense that so many evangelical scholars argue is the meaning. But what persuades me that this third interpretation is right—that Jesus is the rock—is Peter’s own testimony in his first letter.
How did Peter understand Jesus’ words? First Peter 2:4-8 provide a definitive answer to that question, because in them, as in his great sermon before the Jewish Sanhedrin (Acts 4:8-12), Peter does not suggest even for a moment that he is the rock upon which the church is built but insists instead that the foundation stone is actually Jesus Christ. Peter refers to Jesus as “the living Stone” upon which those who believe are, “like living stones,” being built into a spiritual house or temple. Therefore, if others, like Peter himself, are to be called stones in any sense, it is only because they have been built upon Jesus who is the actual foundation.
Peter proves his point by three Old Testament quotations. Let’s look at the first one.
1. Isaiah 28:16. This verse is probably placed first because it is the clearest of the three in identifying Jesus as the “precious cornerstone” of God’s temple. In verse 4, Peter introduced the subject by referring to Jesus as one who had been “rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him.” Isaiah 28:16 shows us where he got two of those three ideas: 1) that Jesus was “chosen by God” and 2) that he was “precious” to God. In addition, it tells how human beings are to be related to Jesus. It is by faith, for they are to “trust in him.” It is by believing on Jesus that we are built into the church God is constructing,
1 See John A. Broadus, Commentary on Matthew (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1990), p.356.
Explain the minority view held of Jesus” statement to Peter in v. 18. What arguments are against this view? In favor of it?
What point does Peter make in Isaiah 28:16?
Read 1 Peter 2:4-8 and Acts 4:8–12. What were Peter’s words? How do these words reflect his understanding of the church’s foundation?