Saturday, May 31, 2014

Revisiting Scripture 3

I have long been uneasy as to the correct interpretation of this passage of scripture which follows and since it bears on so much of what the Church is all about I thought I would finally try to extract it’s meaning as accurately as possible.  All comments and contributions are welcome.

Matthew 16:18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

“… You are Peter”

Christ responds to Peter's emphatic ‘thou’ with another, equally emphatic. Peter says, “Thou art the Christ.” Christ replies, “Thou art Peter.” Πέτρος (Peter) is used as a proper name, but without losing its meaning as a common noun. The name was bestowed on Simon at his first interview with Jesus (John 1:42) under the form of its Aramaic equivalent, Cephas. In this passage attention is called, not to the giving of the name, but to its meaning.

“…you are Peter (Petros) -  In classical Greek the word means ‘a piece of rock’, as in Homer, of Ajax throwing a stone at Hector (“Iliad,” vii., 270), or of Patroclus grasping and hiding in his hand a jagged stone (“Iliad,” xvi., 784).

[You I have named Peter (for you will be … a smaller version of Me)

“… And on this rock”

The word is ‘Petra’ feminine, and means a rock, as distinguished from a stone or a fragment of rock (Petros - πέτρος, above). Used of a mass of rock.

Therefore we have; ‘Petra’, a mass of rock, not a fragment as in ‘Petros’ but rather the whole a much larger rock a foundation if you like.

[Jesus declares that Peter (prophetically named such by Christ) represents a smaller version of that which will become foundational to what He (Jesus) will build]

“… I will build My Church”

Greek: oikodomēsō mou tēn ekklēsian. Can be understood to mean build up, edify or embolden. 

‘Ekklesia’ (Greek - ἐκ out, καλέω), to call or summon. i.e. ‘called out ones’ or ‘Assembly’. This is the first occurrence of this word in the New Testament usually rendered ‘Church’.  Originally this word was used to describe an assembly of ordinary citizens regularly summoned for some agreed purpose.  For an example of this see - Acts 19:39.

If now we combine the thoughts of that immediately above:

[I will build up, edify and embolden (for service) those whom I call out of this world.] 
The gates of Hades (pulai hāidou) shall not prevail against it (ou katischusousin autēs). Each word here creates difficulty. Hades is technically the unseen world, the Hebrew Sheol, the land of the departed, that is death. However, our concern here has more to do with the possible opposition to the Church rather than the nature of death, Hell and Hades which is beyond the scope of our present enquiry.

Suffice to say, for our purposes, the above is not the picture of Hades/Hell attacking Christ’s church, but of death’s possible victory over the church. “The ekklēsia is built upon the Messiahship of her master, and death, the gates of Hades/Hell, will not prevail against her by keeping Him (Christ) imprisoned.

OK let’s now try to pull all this together…

Jesus begins by declaring that Peter (prophetically named by Christ in light of the destiny that awaited him) would (eventually) represent a smaller version of that which will become foundational (i.e. Christ Himself) to what He (Jesus) would build i.e. ‘the Church’.  This of course would come to pass on the day of Pentecost and would find expression in both Peter’s ongoing Christ-like character and the boldness of his ‘foundational’ profession of Christ as Lord!

By the ‘Church’, we now understand the Lord to mean, ‘those He would call out of the world to assemble together in His name.’  And so we now have a picture of Christ calling His own to Himself to be built up, emboldened etc, and such building up was to be based on His foundational work in them.

Jesus goes on to declare, that even though He (the foundation of the Church) would face and be temporarily struck down by death and ‘captured’ by Hell that such devilish devices would NOT be able to overcome Him.  The ‘foundation’ would remain sure, and the building (up) process would be sustained on the basis of this sure foundation!

From the above, it seems to me that our confession of Christ is foundational to our ongoing walk with the Lord, as we work out our salvation in fear and trembling.  It seems also that this involves us being ‘built up’ to fulfil our mission in Christ.

This passage, in my mind is not talking about building of the Church where the church is seen as an entity (organised religion etc) but rather comprises the priesthood of all believers as ‘living stones’ being built up in Him, the chief cornerstone.     

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