On this Rock: An Analysis of Matthew 16:18 in the Greek

St. Peter

Peter Paul Rubens. St. Peter. c. 1611. Oil on canvas.

One of the Roman Catholic Church’s chief scriptural supports for the authority of St. Peter as the leading Apostle, who would become the bishop of Rome — whom we would eventually refer to as the first pope — is the verses of Matthew 16:17-19:

And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’

This is also a favorite passage of anti-Catholics to pick apart. But with even a basic understanding of the ancient languages, the wordplay that Jesus and the Evangelist were implementing here becomes clear: These verses cannot be interpreted any other way but as an explicit declaration of Peter’s authority. And they never were, until the time of Luther.

Let’s look at the Greek, especially of the critical verse 18 (Greek text from NA27; see also, in English, BibleGateway, Bible.CC, New Advent):

κἀγὼ δέ σοι λέγω ὅτι σὺ εἶ Πέτρος, καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν, καὶ πύλαι ἅδου οὐ κατισχύσουσιν αὐτῆς.

Now, I don’t expect my readers to have a lot of Greek. If you do, I am delighted — but I’m here to make this as simple as possible. Here it is transliterated into Roman characters:

kagō de soi legō hoti su ei Petros, kai epi tautē tē petra oikodomēsō mou tēn ekklēsian, kai pulai hadou ou katischusousin autēs.

And one more time, all together: this time cribbed so you can understand it.

κἀγὼ [I, emphatically, in response to Peter’s delaration] δέ [and, also, postpositive: together with first word, and I or I also] σοι [2nd person singular dative pronoun, to you] λέγω [(I) say] ὅτι [that] σὺ [2nd person singular nominative pronoun, you, emphatically] εἶ [2nd person singular present active, are] Πέτρος [Peter], καὶ [and] ἐπὶ [preposition on, upon] ταύτῃ [this] τῇ πέτρᾳ [rock] οἰκοδομήσω [first person singular future active I will build, as in building a house] μου [my (lit. of me)] τὴν ἐκκλησίαν [church (lit. a calling out, a meeting, an assembly — but concretely and universally in Christian lit. refers to the Church)], καὶ [and] πύλαι [(the) gates] ἅδου [of hades] οὐ [negative particle, not] κατισχύσουσιν [3rd person plural future active, will overpower] αὐτῆς [it].

Now, the first thing to note about this is that Jesus addresses Peter in the second person singular: that is, he says you and not y’all. The distinction between the second-person singular and plural personal pronouns has died out in modern English; technically, the singular personal pronouns (thou, thy, thee) have died out and been replaced by the plural (ye, your, you). This is why the Southern U.S. y’all will save the English language. But back to the point: Jesus addresses Peter in the singular you — the King James’ Thou art Peter actually preserves the important distinction. So there can be no question that Jesus is speaking to Peter and to Peter alone here; not to all the Apostles; not to all Christians.

Second, and more important: the wordplay. The name “Peter” — Petros in Greek, Petrus in Latin — translates as “Rock.” Jesus is giving Simon a new name, Peter or Rock, in reference to his firmness or steadfastness.

And on this Rock I will build my Church. “You are Rock, and on this Rock I will build my Church.” That’s the proper way to understand the statement, had it been spoken in English.

Now, the common anti-Catholic refutation of this is thus (first put forward by Luther himself): the Evangelist uses different words in the Greek for Peter and Rock. You are Peter (Πέτρος, Petros) and upon this Rock (πέτρα, petra) I will build my Church. Not only are the two words different, but they are different genders — Petros is masculine and petra is feminine — and they have supposedly, according to the Protestant argument, different meanings in Greek. A petros is a small rock or a piece of rock; a petra is the bedrock or a massive rock formation. Therefore clearly, Jesus wasn’t referring to the same rock in both cases, so the argument goes.

There are several reasons why this argument doesn’t work. First of all, the context. Jesus had asked the disciples who they said he was: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, some other prophet? And in one of the most dramatic moments of the Gospel, Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ. And Jesus in turn confesses Peter: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to you . . .” The episode would not make any sense if Jesus had said, “I rename you Peter, a steadfast Rock; and on this (other) rock I will build my Church.”

Not only does that not make sense — but Jesus doesn’t say “other” — he says ταύτῃ, this rock. And there doesn’t seem to be any other rock, any petra present. The common Protestant argument is that petra here refers to Peter’s confession or Peter’s faith. But if that were the case, why the wordplay on Peter’s name? Even more so, why the wordplay without any clarification of the ambiguous metaphor? It seems unlike Matthew to let such an ambiguous statement go without explanation, who in other places is careful to provide explanations for the fulfillment of prophecies (Matthew 3), difficult parables (Matthew 13), and foreign words (Matthew 27:46). The reason he doesn’t here is because to Matthew, and to his earliest readers, it wasn’t ambiguous.

In fact, the literary structure of Jesus’s proclamation mirrors Peter’s exactly: “You are the Christ”; “You are Peter.” And Jesus’s other pronouncements here are perhaps even more important, more indicative of Peter’s singular authority, than His pronouncement of Peter as “Rock”. Jesus gives three separate blessings directed to Peter and Peter alone that leave no doubt of His intention to invest Peter specifically with authority:

  1. You (Peter) are “Rock,” and on this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

  2. I will give you (Peter) the keys of the kingdom of heaven [mirroring “the gates of hell”].

  3. Whatever you (Peter) bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven [linked implicitly to the “keys”].

Further, there is no evidence, beyond the assertion itself, that the meanings of petros and petra are as distinct as Protestants argue. No scholarly lexicon I have consulted, in particular neither the LSJ for Classical Greek nor the BDAG for Koine, supports the definiton of petros as merely a small rock or piece of rock. The words seem, rather, to be nearly synonymous. If there is a distinction between them at all, it is between petra, a great mass of rock, and petros, stone as a monumental building material — for building, say, a Church.

But most important: there are perfectly good reasons why Matthew used two different words here, Petros and petra: this was the only way to compose the statement so that it would make sense in Greek.

  1. Peter’s name in Greek is Petros, not Petra. Why didn’t they call him Petra in Greek? Because Petra is a feminine noun, and Peter is a male. By the time the Gospels were written, Petros had been his Greek name for decades.
  2. Even supposing the Protestant argument about the different meanings of the words petros and petra were true (all evidence is that this is an anti-Catholic invention) — Jesus wouldn’t have said “on this petros I will build my Church,” to make the statement in Greek seem less ambiguous (to us), because that wasn’t what He meant. He meant “I will build my Church on this bedrock,” this unmovable foundation, not this piece of rock.
  3. Greek is an inflected language, meaning that the endings of words change depending on the grammatical function in which they are used. For example, πέτρος (petros), πέτρον (petron), and πετρῷ (petro[i]) are all the very same word. So variations in the endings of words with the same stem seem quite natural to the Greek mind, and the difference between petros and petra would have seemed much less significant than it does to an English-speaker. In fact, this type of wordplay between similar-sounding words, called paronomasia, was common in ancient Greek.
  4. Jesus wasn’t speaking Greek at all. Scholars are pretty certain that in His day-to-day life and teachings, Jesus spoke Aramaic. The Gospels quote Jesus in Aramaic for special dramatic emphasis: “Talitha cumi” (Mark 5:41), “Abba, Father” (Mark 14:36), “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (Mark 15.34).
  5. So if Jesus was speaking Aramaic, the words for Peter and RockPetros and petra — would have been the same word: Kepha (כיפא‎).
    “You are Kepha and on this Kepha I will build my Church,” is what Jesus would have said (pretending that the rest of the sentence is in Aramaic, which I don’t know, and you probably don’t either).
  6. The Aramaic Kepha (כיפא‎) was rendered into Greek as Kephas (Κηφᾶς). Why didn’t Matthew just use that in both cases? Because it would have been as awkward as my sentence above, saying most of the sentence in Greek and a couple of words in Aramaic, and then having to explain it. Matthew’s readers apparently didn’t know Aramaic — or at least, if the book was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic as some of the Church Fathers suggest, whoever translated it into Greek didn’t expect his readers would know Aramaic, and provided a crib for the Aramaic phrases.

To further confirm the Catholic interpretation — it’s not a Catholic interpretation; at least not an invention or reinterpretation of the modern Catholic Church as anti-Catholics charge. This is the way this Scripture has been interpreted since the very earliest biblical commentators:

“. . . I think it my duty to consult the chair of Peter, and to turn to a Church whose faith has been praised by Paul . . . The fruitful soil of Rome, when it receives the pure seed of the Lord, bears fruit an hundredfold . . . My words are spoken to the successor of the fisherman, to the disciple of the Cross. As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness, that is with the chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the Rock on which the Church is built! This is the house where alone the Paschal Lamb can be rightly eaten. This is the Ark of Noah, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood prevails.”

—St. Jerome, To Pope Damasus, Epistle 15:1-2 (A.D. 375)

“Number the bishops from the See of Peter itself. And in that order of Fathers see who has succeeded whom. That is the rock against which the gates of hell do not prevail.”

—St. Augustine, Psalm against the Party of Donatus, 18 (A.D. 393)

“Wherefore the most holy and blessed Leo, archbishop of the great and elder Rome, through us, and through this present most holy synod together with the thrice blessed and all-glorious Peter the Apostle, who is the rock and foundation of the Catholic Church, and the foundation of the orthodox faith, hath stripped him of the episcopate, and hath alienated from him all hieratic worthiness. Therefore let this most holy and great synod sentence the before mentioned Dioscorus to the canonical penalties.”

—Council of Chalcedon, Session III (A.D. 451)

To me, this makes a rock-solid (that’s petra-solid) case: In this verse, there is no doubt that Jesus is declaring Peter to be the Rock on which He would build his Church. Seeing these words in stone did more to move me to this truth, and toward the Catholic Church, than almost anything else: my banner above is a photograph I took of this same declaration, in Latin, around the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, over the high altar and St. Peter’s tomb.

See also: Early Testimonies to St. Peter’s Ministry in Rome

31 thoughts on “On this Rock: An Analysis of Matthew 16:18 in the Greek

  1. I can’t argue with the Greek. It does fairly clearly say what it fairly clearly says. What Roman Catholics and Protestants (and the Eastern Orthodox) disagree on is what it means for us today. The passage clearly calls Peter out as special, but it doesn’t say anything about what it means. To the Orthodox, it means that the Bishop of Rome is entitled to a certain honor and primacy among equals afforded to none of the others, but not the sweeping singular authority that the Western Church gave him.

    Those descended from the Reformers’ traditions don’t really know what to do. I bet you could get a good number of Protestants to agree with the Orthodox position. Others will find arguments (convincing or otherwise) to counter any notion of papal supremacy because we’ve all had unpleasant encounters in the past.

    • Right. I have an Orthodox-convert friend (he’s commented a few times here; in fact, he just commented below while I was typing this) and he acknowledges that Peter was the prime Apostle — but he pointed out that the Orthodox claim Peter as the first bishop (or patriarch) of Antioch, too (and the Liber Pontificalis acknowledges as much) — though the See of Antioch doesn’t really exist anymore and there are half a dozen churches that claim to be its rightful successor. In any case, up until the Eastern Schism, most in the East accepted Rome as the See of Peter. Peter was in Rome longer and ended his life there.

      I can’t cite sources, but I was taught in school that at least for the first few centuries, the bishop of Rome was said to be “first among equals” — that all bishops were of equal rank, but that Rome had the prime authority. I’m not sure what the official Church position is on that today, since the Church hierarchy is pretty well set up under the pope as a supreme head.

      I know a lot of really hard-core Reformed are still very anti-Catholic and have a lot of visceral bitterness and anger for the Church and the pope. It’s really pretty amazing to me that it could hang on unabated for so long. The Reformation was bitter and nasty on both sides, especially for the English, who kept changing sides, and every time they did there were persecutions and martyrs — but the American Civil War, World War I and World War II even, were nasty and bitter also, and yet the North and the South are getting along pretty well now; the English and French and Germans don’t really like each other but are living peaceably enough. The African American descendants of slaves here in the South for the most have moved on. I think part of it is that all of those people have to face each other every day. With churches, we tend to go into our little enclaves and not associate with others. All that is passed around is stereotypes and bitter tales. If people only sit down and talk to each other, I think a lot of the anger will abate.

    • I have no problem with this article’s defense of the original interpretation, but how you go from Peter being the rock upon which the Church is built to such things as the line of Popes (a longitudinal sanctioned Vicar of Christ status for elected individuals) kinda’ escapes me. I do not see Christ’s comments to Peter being a justification for the concept of the Pope at all. I’m open to arguments, but I just don’t see it. It seems very ad hoc at this point.

      • Thanks for the comment, David. It’s very easy, for both Catholics and Protestants, to reduce arguments for the papacy to a caricature (that term “Vicar of Christ” is especially misunderstood), since, it’s true, what is supported by Scripture is a much more modest claim than what we see in the modern papacy. But that modest claim, that Jesus did appoint Peter as chief pastor over His Church (cf. John 21:15-19), has consequences, and it is following from that modest claim that we can understand Peter’s actions in Scripture as the prime Apostle among his brother Apostles, and the actions of the bishops of Rome, beginning from the first century (cf. 1 Clement) and onward through church history, as first among their brother bishops. This is the foundation of our understanding of the papacy. If you accept the interpretation of Matthew 16:17-19 that I’ve supported here, what does that entail for you? What does it mean to you that Christ made of Peter a foundation stone for the Church? His peace be with you.

  2. Well, I’m sure you know where the Orthodox stand on this. First among equals, yes. Supremacy, no. This was St. Cyprian’s understanding: ‘Even Peter, whom the Lord first chose and upon whom He built His Church, when Paul later disputed with him over circumcision, did not claim insolently any prerogative for himself, nor make any arrogant assumptions nor say that he had the primacy and ought to be obeyed’ (Epist. 71, 3).” Christ speaks here not just of the person of Peter, but of all bishops in their individual communities, with Peter as the example. Peter does have authority, but a sacramental authority shared in common by all bishops, not a prerogative to overrule others or to set himself and his successors up as universal bishops. Saint Ignatius writes: “Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be,” not “wherever the Pope of Rome shall appear.”

    This is a fairly short article on the Orthodox position: http://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/articles/ecumenical/maxwell_peter.htm

    Forgive me.

    • Thanks for this. I was just thinking of you in my response to the comment above, and you replied while I was typing it. I’m glad to have this understanding. I’m not sure what the official Catholic position is on the bishop of Rome being “first among equals”: I know that was the way they treated it at least for the first few centuries. The burgeoning medieval bureaucracy kind of necessitated a monarchical hierarchy, I think. For a standpoint of personal preference, I kind of appreciate having a supreme head, and more-or-less unity throughout the worldwide Church, rather than so many autocephalous churches. I am still very curious about Orthodox — I have a book sitting on my desk right now, in fact, I’m meaning to read, The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware. How consistent throughout the various Orthodox churches is doctrine and practice?

      • I too am woefully ignorant when it comes to the Orthodox church, something I need to work on.

        From my recollection (off the top of my head here), the pope really started taking on more and more power by necessity when the Roman government collapsed. Was it Gregory I think who basically had to step in and run the city to keep it from being completely annihilated?

      • Metropolitan Kallistos (Timothy) Ware is an excellent writer, a convert, and just an incredibly erudite man (and very British). I had the privilege of hearing him speak here in Memphis last year. That particular book is a very good introduction.

        Well, forgive me, but from my limited understanding, when we speak of the Orthodox Church, we’re not including those who are monophysites – like the “Oriental Orthodox,” or those whose bishops cannot claim apostolic succession. “Orthodox churches” is therefore a misnomer. The Orthodox Church is composed of national jurisdictions that are different in terms of language used, but are the same in terms of theology and practice. For instance, even though I was baptized by a priest of the OCA (Orthodox Church in America, which is one of several jurisdictions in the U.S.) I could take communion at a church of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese or a Russian Orthodox Church, or a large number of other jurisdictions. I currently go to an Antiochian Church in Memphis. There is currently a movement to unify all of the American jurisdictions into a single American Church with a single metropolitan, which God willing may take place in my lifetime. All of these jurisdictions (including a host of other national Orthodox churches) are theologically unified. Differences in practice are slight, with the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom being the standard eucharistic service. So there is unity in terms of doctrine and practice. That said, I prefer how the Slavs do things, style wise.

        I can understand the preference for a supreme head – it’s certainly easier to understand, and in many other circumstances I would prefer it (I’m as monarchist as they come in my political beliefs). Ultimately for the Orthodox it comes down to whether a bishop is in communion with the other bishops. I prefer this because it makes things move at a glacial place and prevents novel ideas from entering into Church doctrine. Hence, Orthodoxy’s reputation for being conservative and its zealous attachment to Tradition. A Great Council is needed to bring about changes or to clarify matters, and there hasn’t been one of those in centuries.

        Regarding St. Gregory, I cannot comment too greatly on him, for I am ignorant of most of the history of that period, but the article I posted in the comment above provides a few quotations from him in which he asserted his equality with his fellow bishops, as well as arguing that anyone who made himself a “universal bishop” would be in grave error.

        You’ll have to excuse my ignorance, as well as my presumption to speak for the Church.

        Forgive me.

        • Thank you — no, don’t apologize. You’re being very helpful. 🙂 I should know more about St. Gregory but I’m not an expert, either. But I do remember that, as Ken said, he stepped in and assumed a good bit of temporal power in Rome as the civil authorities collapsed. There was also Pope St. Leo the Great, who turned back Attilla the Hun.

          See, that’s one of the things I wasn’t sure about, and don’t really understand. I know there is the Coptic Orthodox Church, and the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Greek Orthodox Church, etc. — and these are all in communion with each other? But they are each autocephalous, no? I guess I need to read the book. 🙂

          The Catholic Church moves pretty slowly, too, but not as slowly as y’all, I don’t guess. To do anything major we need a council, too; last one was Vatican II in 1962–1965; last one before that was Vatican I in 1868; last one before that was Trent in 1545–1563. The popes issue opinions, but most often they clarify things that have already been said in the past. I think the opinion still holds that the popes aren’t quite “universal bishops” — which is why they have to call councils to do anything significant.

          I don’t speak for my Church, either. I’m still a newb.

  3. Pingback: Saints Peter and Paul: Apostles to the Protestants? « The Lonely Pilgrim

  4. Suleyman – the Oriental Orthodox Churches are not monophysites http://www.coptic.net/articles/MonophysitismReconsidered.txt and the claim they are is not sustainable. They certainly claim Apostolic succession, and the last Coptic Pope was the 117th successor in direct line from St. Mark.

    You are right, of course, that the issue is exactly what authority the Bishop of Rome has, but no one in the ancient church wanted to be out of communion with Rome. Rome, of course, has someone with the authority to say that the Orthodox Churches have valid sacraments and orders, even if they are in schism. The OC has no one with such authority. Indeed, of course, no one speaks for Orthodoxy!

    In our relativistic modern world, as the OC comes more into contact with it, it will be interesting to see whether it will end up being any more effective than the Anglicans have been when the issue of same sex marriage starts to be pressed – as one day it will.

    • Thanks for this. I was ignorant of this whole controversy and the split at Chalcedon. The linked article was an enlightening read. I have so much I need to learn about the Church in the East. I pray that the Chalcedonian and the non-Chalcedonian Orthodox can achieve reunion. Every step toward reunion in the Body of Christ is a step toward us one again being One.

      • There is not a great deal which divides the Copts and the Catholics in terms of doctrine and dogma, it is mostly history. The Coptic Pope, although never pronounced as infallible, has never needed to be so as his bishops do not question him! I pray for unity, but after 1600 years, we really do need the intervention of the holy Spirit.

    • Thanks Jessica and Joseph,

      Like everyone else, I must say I can’t speak for my church. The church for which I am not speaking is the Coptic Orthodox Church. 🙂

      I also might take this discussion in a different direction, away from the various views of St. Peter, because I have some things on my mind and I want to see if they resonate with any of you who have converted into other Apostolic churches.

      I don’t think we Coptic Orthodox are the monophysites that people think we are, and I have heard that Nestorians do not believe what my church accuses them of (separating the divinity and humanity of Christ in such a way as to resemble Arianism). I personally can see the logical problem one nature presents in that this can imply God died when Christ was crucified, an impossibility if God is perfect and death is change. But I don’t know anyone who means to believe that God can change. Christ is rather understood to be 100% human and 100% man and that a line cannot be drawn between these two parts, in order to avoid conclusions such as “what we do with our flesh has no spiritual implications” or “Christ merely was a human sacrifice and therefore not an eternally effective one.” I think all orthodox (in the common meaning) believers agree that God does not change, that Christ’s work on the cross is eternal, and that what we do with our flesh has spiritual implications. It is certainly difficult to describe the nature of Christ. I am not the only member of the Coptic Orthodox Church I know of who thinks that other churches might have a slightly better description than our church does. As Joseph said, we don’t change.

      Although we don’t change, in the eight years since I converted I have learned that there is quite a diversity in practice and even some in theology in my church. This is not admitted or discussed, but I will break the taboo here and give you some examples.

      The late pope HH Shenouda III, when he was a lay leader, thought the Apostle’s Fast should be only 12 days long. It currently has a fixed solar calendar end and a variable start (the day after Pentecost). But when he became Pope he felt his duty was to keep things the same, not change them.

      Another prominent figure in the church, the late head of a monastery, Father Matthew the Poor, wrote many books, some of which contradicted books written by the Pope. Matthew the Poor continued to write and sell his books, but out of deference to the Pope he sold them only out of the monastery. It was hard to get his books in the rest of Egypt. But there are many people who collected his books and his sermons on tape and felt they identified closely with his theology.

      One (I think awful) holdover we have from an ancient time is that women are not supposed to take communion while menstruating. If you ask any priest who doesn’t know you, he will tell you that this is church doctrine and give you a theological explanation. Matthew the Poor wrote against this doctrine and I know of at least two priests who in their capacity as fathers of confession have advised women to ignore this rule.

      These days we are starting a lot of what we call “missionary churches” in “the lands of immigration.” These churches are founded to serve converts. The liturgies are in English only and sometimes are a bit shorter. I came into this church in part because I am biculturally Middle Eastern and Western, so these really don’t hold an attraction for me. I don’t mind going without the Arabic, but I like to have Coptic in the liturgy, especially since a lot of church Coptic is Greek. Anyhow, much is made of these churches and there is some discussion of what is essential. We also have church plants in many countries in Africa (and historically we have some authority over the Ethiopian church–or so my church thinks).

      I understand it is important to use the local language, but I have trouble with the attempts to make church less foreign when the traditions have such a long history. I personally think that things like re-establishing communion with the other Orthodox churches are more important endeavors. And if my church wants to do something for converts it should develop some of the theology it needs to address things other churches have already been addressing for a long time, like how to handle marriages with people outside the Coptic Orthodox Church. The current official position is that the spouse must convert, including being rebaptised, unless they are a member of an Oriental Orthodox church. If a Coptic Orthodox Church member marries in another church, the official position is that they can’t take communion anymore. No one says “excommunication,” but that is in effect what is threatened. I have never seen this enforced when people did what they wanted and then came back to the church, but I have noticed that when people ask and try to work things out, then the threats get serious. Forgiveness is easier to get than permission.

      Also the Coptic Orthodox Church, unlike some of the other Oriental Orthodox Churches, with which it shares communion, officially requires that all converts be rebaptised. I have been told by a Protestant theologian that the Armenian and Assyrian Orthodox Churches developed a theology that did not require this in a situation where they were reaccepting many people who had been under the influence of Protestant missionaries, but that it occurred at a time when the Coptic Church was isolated from these other churches. Thus a would-be Coptic convert, if she feels her baptism is valid but the Copts are insisting on rebaptism, can convert in one of the other Oriental Orthodox churches, get chrysmated, and then attend her local Coptic church and take communion there. This is another problem I think ought to be solved.

      If you are interested in replying, I’m curious how those of you who converted feel about such issues with your respective churches. Do you feel able to express dissent? Do you find that your churches have a variety of practices and viewpoints? What do you wish your churches would address theologically that they are not?

      For a long time I felt that as a convert I should not wish any change for my church, that I could disagree but since I chose her I should keep my thoughts to myself. Lately I feel that this has inhibited my relationship with my church. She might be correct in all she does and I might be wrong everywhere I disagree (I doubt this, but it is possible). Yet even if this is the case, we can’t have a good relationship if I can’t express my concerns. So I am trying to do so, thoughtfully but honestly.

      • Thanks so much for the comment. For the record, I’m an evangelical to Catholic convert, Suleyman (Tyson) is an evangelical to Antiochian Orthodox convert, and Jessica is Anglo-Catholic with affinities for both Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

        The doctrinal disputes within Orthodoxy sound so much to me like the disputes between Protestants and Catholics — in that one side accuses the other of some heresy that the other doesn’t actually hold, based on a misunderstanding or willful misstatement. Talking to anti-Catholic Protestants about Catholic beliefs is so frustrating — because often, no matter how I state it, they are completely unwilling to accept that Catholics (and Orthodox) don’t “worship” Mary, etc. The willingness to listen goes a very long way.

        I’ve learned more in this thread about Orthodoxy than I ever knew before the thread started, but based on what I’ve read here, it seems to me that, at least as far as our representative churches (Roman Catholic and both Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian Orthodox — is there a better way to describe that? I know the non-Chalcedonian are “Oriental” — but aren’t all Orthodox “Eastern”?) — we all have an orthodox Christology.

        As for differences of theology and practice within the Church — there seems to be a good bit, but it is more on the bottom than at the top. That is, the bishops and hierarchy of the Church seem to be mostly orthodox, but some parishes and priests and nuns on the ground want to run in another direction. The point of departure for most people is the Second Vatican Council (1965–1968), a.k.a. Vatican II. Traditionalists (with a capital T) dispute almost everything about it, and would prefer to roll it back entirely and return especially the liturgy to what it was prior (especially an all-Latin liturgy, ad orientem). The Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) is a Traditionalist faction that is formally in schism with the Church, after some unauthorized consecrations of bishops. The Vatican is now in negotiations with the SSPX to try to restore it to full communion.

        At the other end of the spectrum are liberals and modernists who want to follow “the spirit of Vatican II,” which they believe was one of modernization. I don’t have much contact with this, but I think this thought ranges from pushing for more contemporary worship, to pushing for open communion, women’s ordination, acceptance of homosexuality, etc. Whenever there is a spat going on within the Church in the media, it is usually these people behind it. The “spirit of Vatican II” is not actually Vatican II at all — as a reading of the documents confirms, the council was really all about continuity and affirming traditions rather than modernizing them.

        The Catholicism I know here in the South is conservative, traditional, and orthodox, but comfortable. It’s living and vibrant, full of passionate and committed people. As the article I retweeted yesterday says, “The unique challenge for Catholics seeking to live their Christian faith in the South leaves no room for spiritual mediocrity, doctrinal confusion, uncertain commitments or a lukewarm interior life.” I agree with this assessment entirely. As Father Joe says, here among so many evangelicals, we have to stand for a real and authentic Catholicism.

        Father Joe is a wonderful pastor who balances well the demands of tradition and the needs of pastoral care, especially here in such a relaxed place as a southern university town. Communion is closed, but he extends a pastoral blessing to all non-Catholics who want to come forward — something that’s welcoming and beneficial but not necessarily traditional. At the same time, he stresses that Catholics should only take Communion when they are well disposed, when they have been practicing the Sacraments, have been to Confession, are not in mortal sin, etc. I think this is a wonderful and vibrant parish and I’m so glad to be here.

        As for criticizing the Church — you’re right, as a new convert, I don’t really feel it’s my place. But right off I can’t think of anything I feel inclined to oppose or criticize. I stand behind the bishops and the Tradition of the Church completely. I feel that God has appointed our pope and bishops to lead us by the Holy Spirit, and I will trust in their guidance. It really bothers me a lot when some people speak out with voices of “reform” — especially when proposed reforms go entirely against Tradition (the major issues now, of course, are homosexuality, contraception, and women’s ordination, to name a few).

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  7. ‘Chalcedon451’ on my blog was a member of an Oriental Orthodox Church, and he agrees with you, A. He felt, in the end, that as a Westerner there was too much in the Church with which he was uncomfortable; as he had also come to the conclusion that Pope Leo was right, he followed the logic into the Catholic Church.

    As an Anglican it is quite difficult to dissent from the teaching of the Church, as it is such a broad church that it incorporates everything from people who are just about Calvinists to people like me who consider themselves Catholic. I would think that if I converted, it would be hard to dissent, as I would have made a choice. As an Anglo-Catholic I think obedience is important; my problem is knowing who to obey 🙂

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  12. Actually the word petrol can be used in the plural. There is no reason to think Jesus was singling Peter out. You can’t separate where the history of this catholic theology came from & where every other fraud & forgery came from. The Middle Ages saw pope after pope trying to rewrite history to make the Catholic Church into something it was not. This Peter declaration is no different.

    Peter himself explains in 1 Peter the 2nd chapter what Matthew 16:18 means.

    Jesus himself is the rock the church is founded on. He is the chief cornerstone. The house is made up of the living stones which was Israel & the modern church along with the apostles.

    Matthew 16:18 should read in English:

    “For you are small stones but upon this rock I will build my church”

    Peter breaks this down in 1 Peter

    5 And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests.Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. 6 As the Scriptures say,

    “I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem,
    chosen for great honor,
    and anyone who trusts in him
    will never be disgraced.”[c]
    7 Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him.[d] But for those who reject him,

    “The stone that the builders rejected
    has now become the cornerstone.”

    Who is the rock of the church here? Jesus. Who are the living stones that build the house up together? Us.

    The Catholic Church came up with this Peter nonsense to solidify its power in a troubling time when it’s own corruption was seeing revolts all over Europe that finally came to a head during the reformation. The reformation was not just about salvation by grace. The Catholic Church wants history to remember it as being that. It was about the Catholic Church being caught in lie after lie & being exposed as for conning & frauding people out of their life earnings & the public weariness of torture & executions by catholic inquisitors when pope after pope got away with incest & murder.

    Catholics need to wake up & research the history of the church & the history of Catholicism. Catholics seem to have an unhealthy devotion to institution instead of having faithfulness to God who is responsible for the sending of His Son Jesus.

    • Hi, John. Thanks for the comment. I do appreciate the input; however, I must take issue with some of your assertions.

      I wonder if you can explain to me how “petrol” has anything to do with this passage? Presumably we can blame your autocorrect for that one 😉 , but the fact is that the Greek words here are Πέτρος (Petros, nominative singular) and πέτρᾳ (petra, dative singular), both unmistakably singular nouns that, no, cannot be understood as plurals. Not only are those nouns singular, but Jesus twice, emphatically, refers to Peter with the second person singular pronoun σὺ (su), in both the nominative σὺ and the dative σοι (soi); and He states that Simon is Peter with the second person singular verb form of to be, εἶ (ei). To put it into archaic English (since modern English no longer has a singular form of you), He says, “I say unto thee, thou art Peter…” The entire statement, in its pronouns, nouns, and verbs, is explicitly singular. Jesus was singling Peter out.

      Yes, there is no doubt that Jesus is the cornerstone on which the Church is built, and the Church has never argued otherwise. But it is precisely because He is the cornerstone that He can build His Church “on the foundation of the Apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 2:20). Here, He calls Peter a rock suitable to be part of that foundation.

      This post quite intentionally has nothing to do with history nor even with theology; so the rest of your argument here is not even to the point. I have stuck only to the grammar of the Scripture, and I say again, it simply cannot be understood the way you want to understand it.

      The peace of the Lord be with you!

  13. Oh btw? The author saying “This scripture cannot be interpreted any other way..”
    is greatly disturbing & vastly inhibits his credibility.

    This Scripture could be interpreted in a few different ways. The 1 way I can’t see it being interpreted unless you have ulterior motives is yo say Jesus was calling Peter the rock he would build his church on. The language doesn’t say that.

    It would even be understandable for one to think Jesus was referring to peters revelation. But not Peter himself. Nowhere in literature of any kind will you find the word THIS referring to a person. It could refer to an idea but not a person.

    To say it can be interpreted only the catholic way is nothing short of blind loyalty.

    • Oh btw? The author saying “This scripture cannot be interpreted any other way..” is greatly disturbing & vastly inhibits his credibility.

      Btw, the author is me, and it’s okay to refer to me in the second person. 🙂

      This Scripture could be interpreted in a few different ways. The 1 way I can’t see it being interpreted unless you have ulterior motives is yo say Jesus was calling Peter the rock he would build his church on. The language doesn’t say that.

      In fact, the language does say just exactly, literally that. How you interpret that (the statement that Peter is the Rock) is up for debate.

      Nowhere in literature of any kind will you find the word THIS referring to a person. It could refer to an idea but not a person.

      Really? “This man” doesn’t refer to a person (Matthew 12:24, Mark 15:39, Luke 23:4, John 7:46)? Or “this king” (Psalm 24:10)? Or “This is my son” (Matthew 3:17)? This is what is called a demonstrative pronoun, and it’s used for pointing at things — and it can point at people just as well as anything else.

      To say it can be interpreted only the catholic way is nothing short of blind loyalty.

      I said nothing of “the Catholic way.” I said “this cannot be interpreted except as a (singular) declaration of Peter’s authority.” And it cannot.

      Concerning “blind loyalty”: I’ve given very good, academic and linguistic reasons to support my argument. Perhaps it is “blind loyalty” that would reject my argument without good reasons.

      His peace be with you!

  14. Due to the article in the Greek before petra the rock can only refer to simon who is rock, it tells you rock is a definitive and not a quality like Jesus rockness nor the rockness of Peter’s proclamation, and it is anaphoric meaning it refers to the prior use of at least a synonym for rock.
    Thus Simon is the rock upon which the Church will be built by Jesus. There is no other meaning and the church fathers built from this meaning spiritually.

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