Feast upon the Word Blog

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NT Lesson 13: “Thou art Peter” (Matt 16:18)

Posted by Robert C. on April 10, 2007

In Matt 16:18, Jesus famously says to Simon Peter, “thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” Whereas the most common interpretation of this verse is simply that Peter himself is the rock, Joseph Smith taught that rock here refers to revelation. This teaching has been quoted and expounded on by several LDS commentators, mostly in pointing to the importance of having a church that is guided by revelation.

I was actually a bit surprised that in my (ableit rather superficial, GospeLink) search, I couldn’t find anyone discussing what I think is the most striking connection for Mormons in this verse. Remember, Peter’s name was originally Simon, the son of Jonah, and he wasn’t called Peter until Jesus gave him that new name (John 1:42). So we have here a new name being used with an allusion to a stone/rock, very much like in D&C 130:11.

Here are a few further thoughts to consider:

1. In the JST of John 1:42, Cephas/Peter (Hebrew/Greek) is said to mean not only stone, but seer also.

2. Underscoring Peter’s new name, note the emphasis on this world vs. the next world in the JST later in this chapter (vv. 27-29).

3. Faith and revelation are linked in a rather curious way in D&C 8 (verse 3 in particular). Faith also seems to play a very important role in the surrounding verses/chapters here in Matthew.

4. The injunction not to tell anyone else Christ’s identity (v. 20; cf. Mark 8:29-30) seems to relate to some of the discussion we had regarding the role faith plays in the secrecy motif in Mark—seeing that which can’t be seen with the natural eyes.

5. Note that Jesus is repeating to Peter that which Peter said to him. From the Reading Abraham Seminar, I’ve been wondering quite a bit about the nature of faith, esp. how Abraham is praised for “simply” affirming God’s promise in Gen 15:6 (the link is to the NExT site since there are interesting footnotes; on the wiki talk page I tried to sketch a few of these ideas out some time ago…). Yesterday, Adam posted something quite interesting which got me thinking about all of this some more, how faith might be thought as a gracious reponse to a gracious act of an other (cf. “grace for grace” in D&C 93:20).

So, trying to take these thoughts all together, I’m inclined to read this “thou art Peter” phrase as Christ affirming that which Peter has declared Jesus to be, “grace for grace” so to speak. Just as Peter sees Jesus as the Christ before this is fully revealed before the eyes of the world, so Jesus sees Simon Barjona as Peter, the great apostle who leads the Church and begins the mission to the Gentiles. This, then, is the essence of both revelation and faith: seeing, not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit—seeing things as they appear, or will appear, in the heavenly world, not as they appear in the earthly word. Or perhaps bringing about the heavenly world in this earthly world. Or seeing (binding?) God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven?

These thoughts are all a bit rough-hewn, but if blogs aren’t for testing rough-hewn thoughts, what good are they, eh? What do you think? Are my thoughts wresting the passage, on to something, or too vague and incoherent to tell? What else should be considered here? How do you understand this phrase?

28 Responses to “NT Lesson 13: “Thou art Peter” (Matt 16:18)”

  1. I think you are on to something here, Robert. It is certainly significant that petros means specifically a small rock, a pebble. I actually wrote a paper during my last year at BYU about this whole scene, connecting it with the Day of Atonement (Matt 17 reports Succoth kind of things happening six days later, which seems to locate these events on the Day of Atonement). This would link the experience up with Isaiah 6 as well, where Isaiah is likewise privileged to a full blown revelation of God, not by flesh and blood, but by the imposition of the Divine. (I submitted the paper to the annual student religion symposium, but it apparently contradicted something the reviewing professor had published–so a friend in the religion department told me–and so it just became a file on my computer.)

  2. robf said

    Whew! I feel like you’ve just taken a 1968 VW bus for a 185 mph lap at Daytona. It’s going to take me a little bit to recover from this one, let alone comment coherently!

  3. Robert C. said

    Joe, if it’s not too inconvenient to track down your paper and emailing it to me, I’d be very interested in reading it. Our wiki discussion of the coal/stone in Isaiah 6:6 is likely what made me think of D&C 130:11 here also.

  4. I’ll have to dig around in some CD’s burned from older computers (been through a few since then) and see if I still have it.

  5. m&m said

    I found these on my Infobase…not sure if they are quite what you were looking for, but they sort of seem to touch on the concepts, maybe?

    Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, Vol.1, p.441
    And so Andrew brought Simon—Simon Peter!—unto Jesus. Jesus said: “Thou art Simon, the son of Jona, thou shalt be called Cephas.” This new name—”which is, by interpretation, a seer, or a stone”—forecast what was to be in the life of Andrew’s brother, who was destined to be, under the Lord, the chief officer of the perfected church and kingdom, the foundations of which were then being laid. Peter, the Rock and the Seer, who would yet hold the keys of he kingdom of heaven; Peter, to whom the Lord would one day say that the gates of hell should never prevail against the rock of revelation and the seership of eternal vision—Peter has now come into the fold.
    Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.3, PETER
    Peter was among the first of Jesus’ disciples. To him, then called Simon, was extended a special call, marked by the reception of a new name, which in Jewish tradition “denoted the conferring of a special divine mission” (Winter, p. 5). John describes Christ’s bestowal upon Simon bar-Jona of the title “Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone” (John 1:42). The Aramaic kepha and its Greek equivalent, petros, are common nouns and prior to that time were unused as proper names. A dispute of long duration continues among Catholic and Protestant scholars (Winter, pp. 6-25; Horsley, pp. 29-41) concerning the definition of petros, “a rock or stone,” and petra, “a large mass of rock,” as these words pertain to Peter’s name and its connection to Christ’s wordplay “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). LDS doctrine holds that revelation was the rock denoted by Jesus and that Peter’s call to become the prophet to lead the early Church is here foretold. Relevant to this passage, Joseph Smith applied the term “seer” to define cephas (JST John 1:42), and Bruce R. McConkie (pp. 133, 380-83) relates this to the seership, or power of continuing revelation, which he further connects to the keys of the kingdom (Matt. 16:19) bestowed on Peter, the chief apostle, upon the Mount of Transfiguration, an account of which immediately follows in Matt. 17:1-13.

  6. m&m said

    Maybe this one, too?
    James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, Ch.4, p.40
    1. Names Given of God. — The significance of names when given of God finds illustration in many scriptural instances. The following are examples: “Jesus,” meaning Savior (Matt. 1:21; Luke 1:31); “John,” signifying Jehovah’s gift, specifically applied to the Baptist, who was sent to earth to prepare the way for Jehovah’s coming in the flesh (Luke 1:13); “Ishmael,” signifying God shall hear him (Gen. 16:11); “Isaac,” meaning laughter (Gen. 17:19, compare 18:10-15). As instances of names changed by divine authority to express added blessings, or special callings, consider the following: “Abram,” which connoted nobility or exaltation and as usually rendered, father of elevation, was changed to “Abraham,” father of a multitude which expressed the reason for the change as given at the time thereof, “for a father of many nations have I made thee” (Gen. 17:5). “Sarai,” the name of Abraham’s wife, and of uncertain distinctive meaning, was substituted by “Sarah” which signified the princess (Gen. 17:15). “Jacob,” a name given to the son of Isaac with reference to a circumstance attending his birth, and signifying a supplanter, was superseded by “Israel” meaning a soldier of God, a prince of God, as expressed in the words effecting the change, “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel, for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” (Gen. 32:28; compare 35:9-10.) “Simon,” meaning a hearer, the name of the man who became the chief apostle of Jesus Christ, was changed by the Lord to “Cephas” (Aramaic) or “Peter” (Greek) meaning a rock John 1:42; Matt. 16:18; Luke 6:14). On James and John the sons of Zebedee, the Lord conferred the name or title “Boanerges” meaning sons of thunder (Mark 3:17).
    James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, Ch.4, p.40 – p.41
    The following is an instructive excerpt: “Name in the scriptures not only that by which a person is designated, but frequently all that is known to belong to the person having this designation, and the person himself. Thus `the name of God’ or `of Jehovah,’ etc., indicates His authority (Deut. 18:20; Matt. 21:9, etc.), His dignity and glory (Isa. 48:9, etc.), His protection and favor (Prov. 18:10, etc.), His character (Ex. 34:5, 14, compare 6-7, etc.), His divine attributes in general (Matt. 6:9, etc.), etc. The Lord is said to set or put His name where the revelation or manifestation of His perfections is made (Deut. 12:5, 14:24, etc.). To believe in or on the name of Christ is to receive and treat Him in accordance with the revelation which the scriptures make of Him John 1:12; 2:23), etc.” — Smith’s Comprehensive Dictionary of the Bible, “Name.”

  7. Michele Mitchell said

    Thank you. Your “grace for grace” connection between Peter and the Savior cast them both in a new light for me.

    Elder Holland explores D&C 8:2-3 here:
    http://speeches.byu.edu/freefiles/provider1/type1/HollandW99.pdf

  8. joe m said

    michele #7 i happened by pure luck to be at BYU for just a couple days in 1999 and see Elder Holland give that talk. it remains one of my favorite 2 or 3 talks ever.

  9. Cherylem said

    This is an exceptional talk. Thanks for this link.

  10. Robert C. said

    Michele #7, thank you very much for this link to the Holland devotional, a very interesting talk. I plan to discuss this more when I have more time, esp. his very interesting discussion of the relationship between revelation and faith (essentially that faith, in the sense of being ready to follow the instructions we might be given, is a prerequisite to revelation).

    (Joe, this is probably a good talk to take up for our continuing discussion about application and typology; Holland talks in terms of “our own promised land” in a way that I think that fits under the ‘personal application’ heading, and yet I think he stays fairly focused on the scriptural text while doing so….)

  11. Hmm… That is worth looking at closely. More soon.

  12. brianj said

    Robert C: thanks for this post. Michele touched on a point in #6 that I wanted to highlight. With the name change, Simon Peter goes from a “hearer” (Simon) to a “seer” (Peter). Interesting progression in the Gospel….

  13. […] NT Lesson 13: “Thou art Peter” (Matt 16:18) […]

  14. Brian… amazing insight. Robert, any thoughts on that, especially in light of our readings of Alma 32?

  15. nhilton said

    In Greek “Peter” is “petros” or “detached stone.” “Rock” is petra or “bedrock”. The word-play going on here is very educational. The “detached stone” idea is interesting to me. The place of this teaching is at the headwater of the Jordan River which comes out from under an outcropping of very large rock. Visualize this lesson location and experience these disciples are getting. Powerful!

    I’ve studied this concept of names for many years. I love how as Peter bears testimony of Jesus & confirms his name in answer to the question,”Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” Jesus returns by bearing testimony of Peter and his name. I am considering how this happens in our lives as we bear testimony of Jesus as the Christ. Brianj, great comment #12! This thought brings new meaning to NOT taking the Lord’s name in vain, taking upon ourselves Christ’s name, maiden names vs. married names.

    Jesus said a similar thing to Joseph Smith in D&C 3:9: “Behold, thou art Joseph, and thou wast chosen to do the work of the Lord…” Then the warning followed. Similarly, after Jesus affirmed Peter’s identity/destiny he was given a warning in v. 23. It seems that our identity is intricately tied with fulfilling our destiny, or our mission. Often we see our mission as a product of our identity, in other words, we are called because of who we are. But these instances teach that we are who we are because of our fulfillment of our callings.

  16. brianj said

    nhilton: I’m intrigued by your thoughts on naming/identity. Specifically, I’m interested in how the Lord uses the “thou art ____(name)____” phrasing. I’m not really sure what he means by that. In the case with Peter, there is the name change thing going on (so, as you say, Jesus is bearing testimony of Peter), but that’s not happening with Joseph. With Joseph, it’s seems like the Lord is saying, “Hey you! Yes, you: Joseph. I’m talking to you specifically and personally. I know who you are (you are Joseph) and I have a work specifically for you.” I’m sure that there are other places where the Lord uses this phrasing, but a simple search on lds.org yielded too many false hits.

    Those are rough and preliminary thoughts—any help?

  17. nhilton said

    Well, with regard to Joseph specifically, his naming was part of prophecy per BofM, same with his brother Hyrum. I don’t think Peter had this kind of thing, or maybe he did with ROCK being it as a foreshadowing of Peter AND Jesus, etc. all along or maybe we just don’t have that part of scripture. Anywho, Joseph didn’t have a re-naming as part of our text, tho he had a temple experience. I think Peter’s renaming is perhaps part of this temple experience or at least it’s emphasized right on the doorstep of this temple experience. Since it’s part of the “object lesson” Christ’s teaching, we’re all privy to it while JS’s re-naming is private.

    Also, Peter had an “about change” in his identity as he embraced Jesus & the Gospel & stepped into another relm apart from his Jewish background, i.e. “old covenant” & “new covenant.” As this process occurred he got his “new name.” This is similar to when others get their “new name.” W/o the temple around at the time of the change he was given the name preliminary to his temple experience. We get a “new name” when we enter the waters of baptism, typified in the maiden/married name change as we “join the family of God.”

  18. Robert C. said

    So many great thoughts here. Memo to self: When I get time, study these thoughts more, esp. (1) the revelation and faith link, per Elder Holland’s talk esp., (2) the hearing-seeing progression BrianJ mentioned above, here, in Alma 32, in the Abraham cycle, in Isaiah, etc., and (3) more about name changes (I esp. like this part of the rock of Christ bit Nannette mentioned, and the many possible significant meanings and types of Joseph’s name).

  19. brianj said

    Nanette: thanks for the thoughts. I’m remembering some lengthy (too lengthy to recount) discussions I had last year as we studied Abraham’s and Jacob’s names changes (but not Isaac’s)….

    And just to prove that I don’t totally make up everything I write, here are two more uses of the “thou art _____” phrase:

    “Behold, thou art Nephi, and I am God. Behold, I declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels, that ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine, and with pestilence, and destruction, according to the wickedness of this people.” (Hel 10:6)

    “Behold, thou art Oliver, and I have spoken unto thee because of thy desires; therefore treasure up these words in thy heart. Be faithful and diligent in keeping the commandments of God, and I will encircle thee in the arms of my love.” (D&C 6:20)

  20. nhilton said

    I am interested in the “power of the word” demonstrated by God’s affirmation of these men’s names. Nephi’s affirmation includes “I declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels” & Oliver’s affirmation includes “I have spoken” & “treasure up these words.” Aside: Ah…Oliver’s affirmation is SO beautiful. I wonder so strongly HOW he let himself be diverted from this amazing invitation, at least for a season. Anywho…John 5 has so much about the power of speaking, saying, praying, bearing witness and the consequential hearing/believing with the effect of salvation in the end. It seems that this speaking is reciprocal: we speak a prayer or a testimony and in return the Lord speaks to us; we hear the Lord and He hears us. The power of THE WORD is mighty as evidenced simply in the name of something being used…makes me think of Eragon…ugh. Clearly not a novel idea, but rather steeped in religion, myth, folklore, etc.

  21. Robert C. said

    (nhilton, I saw the movie Eragon somewhat recently, I’m somewhat sorry to say—are you referring to the way magic worked by saying a certain word, or was there some name significance that I missed?)

  22. nhilton said

    Robert C. Read the book, forget or avoid the movie. FYI, naming something in the “Elfin” toungue gave the speaker power over it, thus keeping the name private/secret/sacred was implied. The “name” was the essense of the the thing, not merely a name.

  23. Jim F. said

    nhilton: The view you describe is commonly supposed to be the view of many early societies. For example, it is often used to explain Genesis 1, where God speaks and things come into being.

  24. nhilton said

    As I’ve considered this concept of the actual speaking empowering the speaker and motivating the hearer I’ve further considered Adam’s efforts to address his Maker post Garden of Eden. This order of prayer is marvelous to me and it has left me convinced that audible prayer is far superior to the silent prayer of the heart, tho this, too, is valuable in its place. Giving voice to our thoughts is essential, I’ve determined, in calling down the powers of Heaven. This was the focus of our family home evening discussion last night during which I encouraged my children to offer at least one vocal prayer a week. It’s hard to speak a prayer when you share a room or don’t have privacy. I believe this is why the effort to “go to your closet” is required. Prayer then becomes premeditated instead of a routine before falling in bed.

  25. brianj said

    Nanette: I grew up in a crowded house, so I never would have vocalized a prayer. But now my town house is very crowded—with kids. In the past, when I went to my room so I could vocalize a prayer, I would drop to a whisper when one of my kids (inevitably, eventually) came into the room. Lately, I stopped doing that. Now I just keep talking, and I am pleased with the effects: first, they “get” that daddy is praying, not just sleeping on the side of the bed, and they wait quietly for me to finish; second, they get to listen in on my personal prayer. Obviously, the second point is the most important to me.

    But it makes me wonder: How would my teenage life have been different if my siblings heard the prayers of my heart?

  26. m&m said

    A little late, but another thought on the interchange between the Lord and Peter that my friend pointed out is that first the Savior calls him by his given name, the son of Jonah. That underscores a father-son relationship. The Savior could have been reinforcing His Father-Son relationship, to reinforce the power and the Source of that power that He was about to give Peter. I don’t know if I’m explaining it very well, as I’m still mulling over what she said, but I thought it was interesting.

  27. nhilton said

    Brianj #25, maybe your siblings would have called you a Pharasee?! :) I worry about any public praying for this reason. But how realistic is it for us to find a “sacred grove” for those long, vocal prayers? How often can we realistically expect to have these kind of prayers? I usually don’t want anyone else to hear my prayer–it’s too personal/private. Does God want us to be heard by others, ever, except when we’re praying for a group? Maybe we are suposed to put more effort into find a closet in which to pray & then go there to pray.

  28. […] Your Confidence” (see previous blog discussion of, and alternate link for, this article here, comment #7 esp.) poses a great question: Why would the Lord use example of crossing the Red Sea as […]

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