Dr. Pappas, I'm hoping that you can provide some insight into the following passage, from The Book of Matthew: Matthew 16:18?
Following the formal semantics of Greek, if Jesus were addressing Simon, as Peter would He have then used a definite article
to refer to Peter as "this rock". Can it be determined definitively that Peter and "this rock" are the same? I'm looking for
an answer from the strictest transliteration possible of the language. Please help me understand if there is any possibility that
"this rock" is or is not referring to "Peter".
Thank you Jeremy for your question. And yes! You get it. The key to interpretation is observation, and good observation is just what you have done. You correctly identified that Peter is a masculine that identifies Peter the person, and “this rock” is feminine that is not referring to Peter (demonstratives must agree in gender). But who or what does the feminine point to? The feminine demonstrative pronoun “this” points to a previous noun, that is what a pronoun does, and this is the near demonstrative so the task is to identify what the feminine reference is to. As it turns out “flesh” is the feminine that this demonstrative points to, as in “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” In other words, the subject is not Peter, but it is not made of flesh and blood either.
As it turns out there are a couple of interpretations possible. One interpretation is the Church is built upon the “message” in question “Who do you [Peter] say that I am?” Peter’s response is “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” In other words, the Church is built upon the gospel message, the good news of the Son of God [who takes away the sin of the world].
Another interpretation is that the Church is built upon the one who revealed the answer to Peter, namely, the Father. In other words, “the one who is not of flesh and blood that revealed the message to Peter.” Theologically, this is also acceptable since all three within the godhead, the Father, Son, and Spirit have a common goal and that goal is building the Church. So if one wants to say it is God who will build the Church that is acceptable too. These verses have had a lot of debate associated with them and it cannot be settled unless one takes into account the Greek grammar, observation and context.
Good work, I Hope that helps.
John Pappas, ThD