Lost In Translation
February 8, 2011 by Paul
“Upon this Rock…”
Most Catholics, and most Protestants, are familiar with the passage from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, chapter 16, where Jesus addresses “Simon Bar-Jona” and says: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it; and to thee I will give the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven…” Most Catholics know that this passage teaches that Peter was thereby designated the head of the Apostles, and would ultimately — as the first Bishop of the church in Rome — become the first “pope”, (tho’ that title would not be used for centuries).
Most Protestants know it doesn’t teach that at all. Of course not. Peter isn’t the rock… that can’t be what Jesus means…
A brief review of the entire story may help.
The disciples have been with Jesus a long time, they’ve had to absorb a great dealing of teaching, an entire Sermon on the Mount, dozens of parables… and so — in order to assure that they’ve been paying attention — Jesus provides them a “mid-term exam.”
“Who do men say the Son of Man is?” Well, the disciples have been hearing the buzz on the streets, they’ve overheard the comments of the crowds, and so they eagerly put forward some of the “conventional wisdom.”
“Some say ‘John the Baptist!’ ”
“Others say Elijah!”
“Others say jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” … all the disciples, chiming in with what other people were saying. Then Jesus turns the tables, and asks the BIG question.
“But who do YOU say that I am?”
Suddenly the noisy disciples go strangely quiet… that awkward silence when no one in the class is really certain of the answer, and is praying that the teacher won’t call on them…
Then, a voice rings out: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” It is Simon, son of John… the fisherman from Cana, coarse and uneducated, but with a heart open to the Spirit of God.
Jesus answers him: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! 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…”
Immediately something is lost in the translation from Greek, (the language in which the New Testament was written), into English, because “Peter” and “rock” do not look or sound the same. Protestants will say “Peter” cannot be equated verbally to “rock” because even in the Greek, (where the words DO look and sound the same), the “Petros” translated “Peter”, and the “petra” translated ”rock” have two different genders. (In the Greek, the word for “rock” is feminine; “petra.” In order to make the word “rock” a masculine name, one would have to change the ending; “petra” => “petros”) The Protestant argument is that “petra” means “solid rock” — and Jesus is pointing to Himself, of course – and that “petros” means “a small stone.” Jesus is not equating them, but is instead contrasting them. But Greek scholars — even non-Catholic ones — admit that the words ”petros” and “petra” were synonymous in first century Greek. Karl Keating writes, in “The Essential Catholic Survival Guide”: The difference in meaning can be found only in Attic Greek, but the New Testament was written in Koine Greek — an entirely different dialect. In Koine Greek, both “petros” and “petra” simply mean rock. The distinction that some Protestants attempt to make between “petros” and “petra” simply doesn’t exist!
But beyond that, when one considers that Jesus and the disciples most likely spoke Aramaic, and not Greek, (at least, not among themselves), the Protestant argument becomes even less defensible – the word for ”rock” in Aramaic is “kepha” , and because there are no distinctions between masculine and feminine, what Jesus would have said to Peter is: “You are ‘Kepha’, and upon this kepha I will build My Church.” The early Church historian, Eusebius of Caesarea, records that the Gospel according to St. Matthew was originally written in Aramaic, and was translated into Koine Greek early on, (possibly by St. Matthew himself.) Therefore, the earliest inspired record of this conversation would have clearly shown the verbal connection between “Cephas”, (as St. Paul refers to him in several places), and the ROCK upon which Christ promised to build His Church.
Unfortunately, a lot often gets lost in translation. Fortunately, we don’t have to search far to find what has been lost.