Thursday, July 24, 2008

Peter, a rock and a stone

In the Catholic-Protestant apologetics world somewhere early in every apologist's career they're faced with the issue of how to interpret Matthew 16:18 where we find Jesus telling Simon, "[a]nd so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it." For Catholics it is one of the proofs Jesus intended Peter to be the visible head of the Church. For Protestants it is either ignored or, quite often, worked around by an appeal to the Greek.

In the Greek the words translated above as "Peter" and "rock" are transliterated as "Petros" and "petra" respectively. The masculine "Petros" means effectively "small stone" or "pebble" while the feminine "petra" means "large stone". Protestant apologists will say this shows that Jesus was not suggesting Peter would be the Rock upon which the Church would be built but rather Jesus Himself. That argument has been answered a plethora of times (a quick search finds at least this, I'm sure you can find more if you want - suffice it to say it's a rather weak argument at best) and is not what I'm aiming to talk about here.

What I want to do instead is to briefly take advantage of the whole "pebble" thing and look at it from a different perspective. The Protestant perspective would suggest the "small stone" interpretation means Peter was too insubstantial to be the "Rock" upon which the Church was built. But let us think for just a minute about what other time a small stone has played a major role in salvation history:

Then, staff in hand, David selected five smooth stones from the wadi and put them in the pocket of his shepherd's bag. With his sling also ready to hand, he approached the Philistine.
David put his hand into the bag and took out a stone, hurled it with the sling, and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone embedded itself in his brow, and he fell prostrate on the ground. (Thus David overcame the Philistine with sling and stone; he struck the Philistine mortally, and did it without a sword.) (1 Sam 17:40,49-50)

David, the great king and patriarch of the line ordained from the beginning of time to lead to the Christ, used a small stone to slay the great enemy of Israel. A small stone, the weapon of a child and a shepherd - not a sword, the weapon of a warrior.

The parallels continue. David hurled the stone and struck the Philistine in the brow - if you will, struck him in his intellectual center, the "nerve center". If you'll allow a slight poetic license, Peter was similarly picked up from Israel and "hurled" to the very nerve center of the Roman Empire, Rome itself. God planted him in the very brow of the great Babylon as he hung upon his own inverted cross, as mortal a wound to Rome as the stone with which David struck Goliath.

So yes, maybe the whole "rock"/"small stone" issue is due to a misunderstanding about order of translations. But maybe it's also providential that this very issue has come to us. If nothing else, it serves to remind us that we too are "hurled" into the center of our modern Babylon and only by doing what we are called to do can God use us as He used Peter. "The blood of Christians is seed." Be planted, that the Church may grow.