Opinion Columns & Blogs

Peter the rock

“You are Petros (Peter) and upon this Petra (rock) I will build my Church.”

Matt. 16:18

Catholics say: “See, Jesus built his church on Peter, the first Catholic Pope in Rome.”

Protestants say: “No, Jesus said: ‘(in Aramaic) “You are KE’PHAS’ (a little pebble like Peter) and upon this SHU`A’ (a large massive rock, like Jesus) I will build my church.” So Jesus didn’t mean he was going to build it on Peter but rather on himself.

Now, it’s true that Jesus did speak in Aramaic not in the Greek of Matthew, but we can’t find too many people speaking Aramaic today to verify this translation. However, I say: “It doesn’t matter; you’re both wrong. I don’t think Jesus said any of this. Matthew made it up.”

Why do I say this? Two reasons:

1. We have no evidence that Jesus was interested in starting a new religion; he was a Jew and the synagogue was where he and his followers met to worship.

2. Historically, Peter never became the head of the followers of Jesus. James did (Galatians and Acts).

Then why did Matthew — and none of the other three evangelists — insert this? Mark was the first gospel written, 10 years before Matthew. This is a huge incident – whether we take the Catholic or the Protestant interpretation; why wouldn’t Mark record it? And Luke certainly would have documents to this effect if they existed; he didn’t write his gospel until 10 years after Matthew. But neither Mark nor Luke even hint at it. Why would Matthew invent this story?

Here’s why, in my humble opinion:

It’s around the year 80 CE, and Matthew is writing his gospel for the Jewish remnant who survived the Roman destruction of Jerusalem 10 years before. These people had been followers of the Jewish-Jesus cult headed up by James, the brother of Jesus. They kept Kosher, just like Jesus, attended the synagogue every Sabbath, and went up to the temple in Jerusalem on the High Holy Days.

Paul’s Christians, on the other hand, had grown in size and strength in most of the Greek islands and they threatened the faith of the Jesus-Jews. Paul’s followers renounced the synagogue and all of the Jewish rituals and holy days, and even the Torah itself. Paul writes in Galatians (2:16): “No one is justified by the works of the Torah (nomon).” Paul said that a follower of Jesus need not be a Jew at all. This sounded like a different religion (and it was).

Matthew was a Jew; he belonged to the Jerusalem group who retained their Jewish faith, and he did not want the Jesus-Jews to lose it. He knew that Jesus never intended his followers to leave the synagogue and start another religion. He also knew that James and not Peter had succeeded him in Jerusalem. However, James had not been an Apostle, and Matthew centered his gospel around the Apostles. So he created this story using Peter instead of James. Unlike Paul, both Peter and James were Kosher Jews. (Gal. 2.)

So the story is really a way for Matthew to say to his Jewish readers: “Pay no attention to those anti-Jewish “so-called Christians” who tell you to leave the synagogue; Jesus gave his church to us — not to Paul.”

I know this is a big leap of faith. It means I believe the evangelists could invent stories to tell the truth of Jesus. I think it’s obvious that both Matthew and Luke did this when telling the story of his birth; why not here? Theologians and scriptural exegetes have argued and twisted this text backwards and forwards to make it say what they wanted it to say. But why not ask the question: What did Matthew want to say?

There is no indication in any of the verses of Matthew’s gospel that he was presenting a non-Jewish Jesus. Just the opposite. He gives us a totally Jewish Jesus, a new Moses, one who has not come to destroy the Torah (nomon) or the prophets (Matt. 5:17), but one who travels to the temple for the High Holy Days. This is not the picture of someone who rejects his Jewish religion and wants to start another one. I think Matthew is making it very clear in chapter 16 that any follower of Jesus has to be Jewish.

Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His blog is www.progressiveheretic.com.