Where the world comes to study the Bible

Additional Considerations on the Exegesis of Matt 16:18

(Appendix A)

Even though Peter’s confession is generally taken to be authentic, the same cannot be said of Matt 16:17-19, and many scholars deem the verses to be questionable. Some commentators, such as Luz and Bultmann, view the phrase mou thVn ejkklhsivan (“my church”) to be too anachronistic to be genuine. Others, such as Cullman, maintain that the verses are authentic but not in chronological order. On a linguistic level, many commentators (such as Hagner and Cullman) argue that the pevtra-Pevtro" pun indicates that Jesus was speaking Aramaic to his disciples; however, other commentators (such as Gundry and Porter) maintain that Jesus could very well have spoken Greek on that occasion. This appendix will briefly examine issues regarding form, structure, source/redaction concerns, questions of authenticity, and linguistics.

Form/Structure

Peter’s confession is found in all three synoptic gospels (Matt 16:13-20; Mark 8:27-30; Luke 9:18-21) with a possible parallel in John 6:67-71.327 As is the case in Mark and Luke, the pericope in Matthew is clearly the climax of the first central part of the Gospel, namely the Galilean ministry (4:17-16:20).328 Matthew has generally followed Mark’s order of events since the beginning of chapter 14, with the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida as an obvious exception.329 The three synoptic gospels each have Jesus’ question to the disciples concerning his identity (Matt 16:13; Mark 8:27; Luke 9:18); the disciples’ response to Jesus’ question (Matt 16:14; Mark 8:28; Luke 9:19); Jesus’ question to Peter and Peter’s response (Matt 16:15-16; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20); and the charge to keep silent (Matt 16:20; Mark 8:30; Luke 9:21). Matt 16:17-19 are wholly unique to his gospel.330 With regard to form, Matt 16:17-19 can generally be classified as a brief discourse of Jesus.331 Structurally, Matthew has given the entire pericope a certain parallelism. The structure of the two questions (in v. 13, 15) is parallel, and the answer to the first question presents the various options in a parallel manner as well.332 Moreover, verses 17-19 also have an obvious parallelism – each of the three verses contains a leading statement followed by a couplet333:

(17b) Blessed are you, Simon Barjona,

(17c) because flesh and blood has not revealed this to you,

(17d) but my Father in heaven [has revealed this to you].

(18a) And I say to you that you are Peter,

(18b) and on this rock I will build my church,

(18c) and [the] gates of Hades will not overpower it.

(19a) I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven,

(19b) and whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven

(19c) and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in
heaven.334

The entire pericope calls to mind 14:2, 5 (v. 14), 14:33 (v. 16), and 13:16-17 (v. 17), but particularly the text on the Son’s revelation in 11:25-27.335 The passage serves as a prelude not only to 18:18 (v. 19b, c) but also to the critical revelatory scene in 26:61-64, when Jesus is before the Sanhedrin.336

Considerations on Source, Redaction, and Authenticity

For the purpose of this examination, Marcan priority will be assumed. Thus, Mark is assumed to be a source for both Luke 9:18-21 and Matthew 16:13-16, 20. Jesus’ question to the disciples is identical in all three synoptic gospels: uJmei'" deV tivna me levgete ei ai. Minor differences between Mark and Matthew include the following: Matthew includes the name Sivmwn with Pevtro" in verse 16; Matthew substitutes the levgei aujtw'/ found in Mark for eipen in verse 16; Matthew adds oJ uiJoV" tou' qeou' tou' zw'nto" to Peter’s response in verse 16 (cf. Luke’s toVn CristoVn tou' qeou', “the Christ of God” [Luke 9:20] and John’s oJ a)gio" tou' qeou, “the Holy One of God” [John 6:69]); and while the overall meaning of the “charge to silence” is the same in the two gospels (16:20 in Matt and 8:30 in Mark), Matthew does change the wording (from kaiV ejpetivmhsen aujtoi'" i{na mhdeniV levgwsin periV aujtou', which is found in Mark, to tovte diesteivlato toi" maqhtai'" i{na mhdeniV ei[pwsin o{ti aujtov" ejstin oJ Cristov") in order to add theological emphasis to the point that he is trying to make: Jesus is the Christ, the unique Son of God.337 Of course, the central question is this: Is the unique Matthean material authentic? In other words, are the verses really the original words that Jesus uttered in response to Peter’s confession, or did Matthew insert the material into the pericope? Is it possible that these words were a later addition by the church? Even if Jesus did speak these words to Peter, was it in response to Peter’s confession here in Caesarea Philippi or did Jesus speak these words at a different time?

If Mark’s sequence is followed, then Matthew’s unique material may seem intrusive, perhaps to the point that one may argue that the writer inserted the material into the narrative.338 It is possible, though, that Luke simply followed Mark in omitting it, and Mark’s emphasis on the theme of discipleship failure would be served by omitting these verses.339 It should also be noted that Matthew was one of the original Twelve340; therefore, he would have had intimate knowledge of this event. However, tradition holds that Mark received his information from the apostle Peter himself.341 Given the thrust of this passage, one would assume that certainly he of all people would have wanted to present this interchange with Jesus. Perhaps that’s not the case, though. Maybe Peter, out of humility, chose not to share this information with Mark.342 Perhaps he did not want others to view him as the “rock of the church” or the “prince of the apostles”; these titles would certainly be given to him if he is the so-called “rock” in question. Even if this explains the insertion of the verses into the narrative, other significant problems still remain.

  • The Problem of mou thvn ejkklhsivan

There are certainly elements in vv. 17-19 that make Matthean authorship look questionable. Luz, for example, maintains that the words mou thVn ejkklhsivan all but prove the inauthenticity of the passage.343 He asserts that the term ejkklhsiva occurs on only one other instance in the gospels (in 18:17), and there it is used in the sense of an individual community; so the use of the word is probably not a part of the language of Jesus.344 He also notes that the possessive pronoun mou is hardly Matthean.345 In Matthew, it appears 7 times before the noun and 66 times after the noun; in Mark, the ratio is 1:29, and in Luke 10:71.346 Moreover, Luz states that one should expect to find “assembly of God” rather than “church” since Jesus assembled God’s people and not a holy remnant.347 Rudolph Bultmann largely concurs with the assessment of Luz on this point. While he affirms the antiquity of the logion,348 Bultmann maintains that “it seems quite impossible for Matt 16:17-19 to be a genuine saying of Jesus” because the term ejkklhsiva is deprived of its eschatological character.349 Hagner counters by pointing out that the word ejkklhsivan should not be viewed as a problem since Jesus was probably speaking Aramaic rather than Greek350, so he probably would have used a word like lh*q* or hd*u@ ( = ejkklhsiva).351 Israel can be called the lh*q* hwhy, or the ejkklhsiva tou kurivou, “community of the Lord.”352

However, even if Jesus was not speaking Aramaic, the word ejkklhsiva was still known to a Jewish audience. In the LXX, the word is used about a hundred times, and in these cases it usually translates to the Hebrew word lh*q*, which, when connected to the genitive of YHWH, always designated the people of God with a reference to redemptive history.353 So, Jesus did not need to speak the word lh*q*, in order for it to be understood that way. Cullman asserts that this line of thinking was so common in Jewish circles that the verse could easily be seen as: “Upon this rock I will build my people of God” and all the Jewish listeners would have known exactly what was meant.354 While Luz argues that the mou is non-Matthean, he may be missing the greater theological point: it may very well be that the calling of God’s people demanded a decision for God as announced by and embodied in Jesus himself.355 In this perspective, to become a member of the community of God is to become a member of the community of Jesus.356Acknowledged as the Messiah, Jesus states that he will build his ejkklhsiva, his community, his church – this is classic messianism.357 According to Albright and Mann, “it is hard to know what kind of thinking, other than confessional presupposition justifies the tendency of some commentators to dismiss this verse as inauthentic. A Messiah without a community would have been unthinkable to any Jew.”358 Thus, it should not be regarded as wholly unthinkable that Jesus might have referred to “his community.”359

The Problem of Oijkodomhvsw

The use of oijkodomhvsw also seems problematic. It implies that Jesus was prepared to build a future community, and while many assume that Jesus had an imminent eschatological expectation, this may not necessarily be the case.360 However, there is a sense in which the kingdom of God can be understood to be present with the coming of the Jesus. It is true that the final kingdom of God will not be ushered in until the end of the age, but it can be said that if Jesus is the Christ, then the kingdom of God has already arrived. In his answer to John the Baptist, Jesus states that the time of redemption has already come: the blind see, the lame walk, and the dead are raised.361 Furthermore, Jesus’ interactions with his disciples strongly suggest that he was making plans for the future. The choice of twelve disciples, the trouble taken to teach them, and the commission given to them all point to the fact that Jesus was making preparations for the future.362 Moreover, it is clear to Jesus that the work of the disciples already indicates that the time of redemption has come because the same deeds that he himself does they are also to accomplish, and this serves as proof that the prophecy has been fulfilled.363 Of course, the apostolic fellowship points to the future, for only after Jesus’ death will the church develop in the full sense of the word.364 That Jesus would consider himself to be involved in the building up of this body is not impossible if he was able to anticipate and therefore speak of his resurrection (cf. v. 21) and promise to be with his disciples spiritually in the future (28:20; cf. 18:20).365 If understood in this manner, Jesus’ use of the future tense here does not automatically negate historicity of the verses.

The Problem of Chronology

For the sake of argument, if the verses are assumed to be authentic words of Jesus, do they make sense in this pericope? In other words, is it possible that the event of vv. 17-19 occurred at a different time and Matthew simply included it here?366 It is important to ascertain whether Matthew, who alone included the verses, has put them in their chronological setting or whether he connected them with Peter’s declaration at Caesarea Philippi because its content seemed to fit there.367 It must be said that nowhere does Matthew argue that he is presenting the events of Jesus’ life and ministry in chronological order; that would seem to be Luke’s assertion (Luke 1:1-4). That the events of Matthew’s gospel are not recorded in order does not do damage to the historicity of the work. In fact, Matthew most likely uses anthologies in many places. He likes to group many stories that seem to belong together in their theological significance: miracle stories, sayings concerning the Law (Sermon on the Mount), sayings concerning John the Baptist (Matt 11), parables (Matt 13), sayings against the Pharisees (Matt 23).368 Given the fact that the theological thrust of the section (16:13-20) concerns the role of Jesus as divine Son-Messiah, Matthew may very well have wanted to included the logion here and preserve some continuity with regard to this theological emphasis.

On the one hand, Jesus’ words would seem to fit nicely in a post-resurrection setting.369 By the time that Paul wrote his first epistle to the Corinthians, it was already established tradition that the risen Jesus had personally appeared to Peter (1 Cor 15:5)370; interestingly, none of the Synoptic writers appear to give a description of this appearance.371 However, some commentators, such as Oscar Seitz, argue that this “missing appearance narrative” is actually recorded in Matt 16:17-19. According to Seitz, when one considers that “Jesus was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom 1:4), then it is highly probable that the risen Jesus appeared to Peter, and the apostle proclaimed: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” exactly as in Matt 16:16.372 Then it would be particularly appropriate for the resurrected Jesus to respond that “flesh and blood” had not revealed this truth to Peter, but “his Father in heaven” (Matt 16:17), the same Father who had raised him from the dead (1 Cor 15:15).373 Seitz argues that it is in this post-resurrection context that Jesus tells Peter that he will build his church upon the “rock” of Peter’s confession.374 Seitz goes on to state that the “gates of hell” statement also works well in a post-resurrection setting. He states: “As God had raised [Jesus] up, having loosed the cords of death that he could not be held captive by it (cf. Acts 2:24), so the congregation of those who confess him as Messiah shall not be imprisoned within the gates of Sheol.”375 Donfried agrees that reference to the “gates of hell” also indicates the post-resurrectional setting of the logion. He maintains that while one should not exclude the possibility that Jesus might have thought about building a church in the sense of organizing a people for an imminent end, the reference to the “gates of hell” not prevailing over the church suggests a permanence that would probably go beyond the intentions of an earthly Jesus.376

Like Seitz and Donfried, Rudolph Bultmann also believes that vv. 17-19 fit nicely in a post-resurrection setting. According to Bultmann, this “missing narrative” may very fit very well into the exchange between Jesus and Peter in John 21:15. After the resurrection, Jesus and Peter have an interchange in which the apostle is given the commanded to feed and shepherd Jesus’ people. Bultmann argues that John 20:22ff. parallels Matt 16:19 so that “the whole story of the Confession has a clear parallel in the Easter story in John 21:15-19.377 If the pevtra is taken to be the apostle, then the logion works well in the setting of John 21, where Peter is given the responsibility to shepherd and to lead God’s people. Thus, vv. 17-19 are a part of a post-resurrection narrative that has been carried back into the earthly ministry of Jesus.378

Like Seitz and Bultmann, Oscar Cullman also believes that the setting of the logion has been changed. Given Peter’s rebuke of Jesus in 16:22, Cullman argues that it is highly unlikely that “such a diabolical conception of the Messiah” would have gained the apostle the title of “rock.”379 However, it is possible that another perception of Jesus, given to Peter by God on a very different occasion, may well have resulted in Jesus changing the apostle’s name to “Rock.”380 For Cullman, that occasion was the Last Supper.

According to Cullman, Matt 16:17-19 has an exact parallel in Luke 22:31-34.381 The Luke passage contains three things: 1) Peter’s vow that he will go with Jesus to prison and even to death; 2) the prediction of Peter’s denial; 3) Jesus’ command to Peter to strengthen his brothers after his conversion.382 Interestingly, Cullman argues that John 21:15-23 is also a direct parallel to Matt 16:17-19, and the John passage presupposes an incident in the earthly ministry of Jesus, such as Luke 22:31-34 depicts.383 Instead of a threefold denial (Luke 22:34), John presents a threefold affirmation: “Yes, Lord, You know that I love you” (21:15-17).384 Peter’s promise to follow Jesus to death (Luke 22:33) corresponds with Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s martyrdom (John 21:18).385 The command to strengthen the others (22:32) is replaced by the command to feed Christ’s sheep (John 21:17).386 According to Cullman, the link between the three passages lies in the fact that John 21:15-23 bears witness to acquaintance with a story from the passion.387 When Peter promises to follow Jesus even to death, both his denial and his conversion are predicted, and so is his founding upon the rock388; this combination is seen in Luke 22:31-34.389

However, Robert Gundry argues that Cullman’s hypothesis is deficient on a few key points. First, Gundry maintains that Luke 22:31-34 is probably not a direct parallel to Matt 16:17-19, as Cullman asserted. The Matthean passage pronounces a blessing upon Peter for having received spiritual truth from the Father; on the basis of that revelation, Peter rightly identifies Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”390 However, the Lucan passage contains no confession of Jesus’ messiahship391; in fact, Peter says nothing in Luke 22:31-34 that can be said to have come from the direct revelation of the Father.392 Furthermore, the Matthew passage presents a blessing to Peter for receiving this divine revelation while the Lucan narrative states that Peter will deny his Lord three times.393 Moreover, Jesus’ statement, “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church” and “I will give you the keys you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, etc.” do not seem to fit into a Lucan narrative in which Jesus foretells of Peter’s upcoming disloyalty.394 Finally, Gundry states the following regarding Peter’s confession and his subsequent rebuke:

The major objection by Cullman against Matthew’s narrative framework fails to recognize that Jesus’ congratulatory words refer to the bare confession of Jesus’ messiahship – apart from misconceptions, which were not erased until after the resurrection anyway – and that Jesus’ rebuke refers only to Peter’s subsequent protest against Jesus’ death. Furthermore, although he doubtlessly intended the apostles to make a connection between suffering and Messiahship, Jesus did not connect the two concepts here. … The congratulations and the rebuke, then, are not incompatible when the two parts of the narrative are properly distinguished and viewed in chronological sequence.395

For Gundry, then, the fact that Peter is blessed by Jesus in one verse and then rebuked by him in another does not necessarily indicate that the former event has been displaced by Matthew. Recognizing the fact that Jesus is the Messiah was a crucial first step (16:13-20), but it was not very helpful when the disciples’ concept of Jesus’ messiahship differed so greatly from his own.396 Jesus’ Messiahship entailed suffering and death397, but the disciples were probably unprepared to understand the cross until after the resurrection (17:9).398 The blessing and the rebuke, then, can make sense in Matthew’s chronology, and given the differences between Matt 16:17-19 and Luke 22:31-34, Cullman’s argument in favor of a Last Supper setting may not be as strong as it seems.

Furthermore, it can be argued that the verses fit nicely where they are. Keener argues that the verses naturally flow in the order in which Matthew has recorded them. He states: “But no other suitable place for commending a Petrine revelation exists in the tradition; certainly after the resurrection commendations on such a revelation would be beside the point.”399 In other words, the resurrection has already proven that Jesus is the Holy One of God. Thus, there is no need for Jesus to question his disciples about his identity. Furthermore, there is also the difficulty that Matt 16:17 states that the Father revealed (ajpekavluyevn) the truth of Jesus’ identity to Peter, yet this is not reminiscent of any of the NT appearance stories400; it should also be noted that ajpokaluvptw, a verb attested in Q (10.26 = Luke 12.2; 11:25-27 = Luke 10.21-22), plays no part in the resurrection traditions of the New Testament.401 In addition, none of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus show a confession followed by an investiture.402 Finally, when one considers the fact that so much that would be expected from a resurrection appearance is missing (no crisis situation, no unexpected appearances of Jesus, no failure to recognize Jesus), then there are grounds for rejecting vv. 17-19 as a post-resurrection occurrence.

The Use of Semitisms/Mattheanisms

There is evidence to suggest not only that that the verses come from an old tradition, but also that Matthew himself wrote vv. 17-19. While Semitisms do not prove authenticity, they are consistent with the claim that the material is early and probably not an invention of the later church.403 Peter is designated as makavrio", “blessed” or “happy” (dva{) and is referred to as bar-Jonah, “Son of Jonah.”404 The reference to humans as “flesh and blood” was a common expression for many Jews (1 Cor 15:50; Eph 6:12; 1 Enoch 15:4; Mek. Pisha 1.120).405 Pagans often used the phrase puvlai a)/dou to symbolize the realm of death (see Homer, Il., 5.646, 15.251, 20.336, 21.48; Orphic Hymn 18.15; Euripides, Electra, 142-143), but the words are characteristically Semitic in nature.406 Furthermore, that the logion is Palestinian in nature is supported by certain parallel texts at Qumran. For example, scroll 1QH 7.8-9 reads: “Thou hast made me like strong tower, a high wall, and hast established my edifice upon rock; eternal foundations serve for my ground, and all my ramparts are a tried wall which shall not sway.”407 Here, a new, eschatological community is established upon a rock foundation and remains safe from the ravages of evil.408 This does appear to be parallel to Jesus’ new community, the church, being firmly grounded upon a rock that remains safe from the “gates of hell.” While Semitisms and possible allusions to Qumran literature do not prove the logion’s authenticity, it does seem to reduce the likelihood of a redactional genesis.409

Moreover, it should be noted that diction and theological motifs that are typical of Matthew (also known as Mattheanisms) run throughout vv. 17-19.410 Matthew used “blessed” seven times in beatitudes (5:4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10; 16:17).411 Furthermore, outside of Matthew, the use of the phrase “my Father in heaven” appears nowhere else in the gospels or in the rest of the New Testament.412 Also, the only other occurrence of the word ejkklhsiva in the gospels is found in Matthew (18:17). Moreover, the image of building upon a rock is employed earlier in the gospel (7:24-25).413 It should also be noted that there are partial parallels in the content of vv. 17-19 in many NT texts, including Mark 3:16 (where Jesus is said to have given Peter his surname), John 1:42 (where Jesus says to Peter: “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas”), and John 20:23 (“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained”; cf. Matt 16:19).414 While this does not prove the case, the use of such Semitisms and Mattheanisms do lend weight to an argument for authenticity.

Pauline Testimony

The writings of Paul may also provide an additional piece of evidence in favor of the logion’s authenticity. Even though Paul refers to his dealings with the three “pillars” of the Jerusalem Church (Peter, James, and John) both he and they acknowledge that in a special way, Peter has been entrusted with the “gospel to the circumcision” and an “apostleship to the circumcision.”415 As he argues for his own apostleship, Paul takes Peter’s apostleship as his point of departure and claims that his position is comparable to that of Peter (2:7-9).416 In Gal 1:11-1:21, it appears that Paul relates his own commission as an apostle in terms reminiscent of Matt 16:13-20.417 In fact, there appears to be a deliberate parallelism between the two commissions. Compare418:

Matt 16:15 “You are the Christ Gal 1:12, 15-16 “A revelation of

the Son of the Jesus Christ … he

living God” (the was pleased to

content of the reveal his Son in me”

revelation)

16:17 “Blessed are you …” 1:15-16“He was pleased …

through His grace …”

“because flesh and 1:1, 12, 16“Not from men, nor

blood has not …” through man … I did

not consult with flesh

and blood …”

“revealed” 1:12, 16“But through

revelation … to

reveal His Son …”

“by my Father in 1:16 “to reveal his Son

heaven” in me” (cf. 1:1)

Matt 16:18“On this rock I 1:16 “that I might proclaim

will build …” him”

While exact verbal parallels are only the references to “flesh and blood” (which is not a frequent phrase in Paul, cf. 1 Cor 15:50 and Eph 6:12) and to “revelation,” considerable parallelism still exists between the two commissions.419 Davies-Allison states:

If one takes into consideration the additional facts that Paul shows knowledge of Peter’s special commissioning to the Jews (Gal 2:7-8), that Paul nowhere else speaks either speaks of ‘flesh and blood’ with the meaning ‘human’ or ‘man as such’ (cf. Gal 1:1, 12), that the designation of James and Cephas and John as ‘pillars’ is conceptually close to Peter being the community’s foundation rock, and that only in Gal 2:7-8 does Paul call Cephas ‘Peter’ (which would make plain to Greek readers the meaning of his name), one must entertain the possibility that Gal 1-2 evinces some knowledge of the tradition embedded in Matt 16:17-19. Proof, to be sure, is lacking. But one cannot overlook Gal 1-2 as a possible witness to the very early circulation of something very much like Matt 16:17-19.420

If Galatians was written as early as many commentators believe421, then this would indicate that the tradition behind the logion is quite old. Whether Paul knew of the tradition within the context of Caesarea Philippi is uncertain, although it appears possible that he did; however, whatever the truth may be on that issue, the possibility that Paul might have known about this unique Matthean commission suggests that it is very primitive and not a Matthean redactional creation.422

  • The Giving of the Name Cephas

According to Davies-Allison, the tradition that Jesus gave Simon the name Cephas is worthy of credence.423 The name-giving tradition corresponds to Jewish custom to choose as titles words that point to the promise of a specific situation (Gen 17:5, 32:28; Is 62:2).424 Indeed, rabbis sometimes praised their disciples by giving them epithets (cf., m. Abot 2:8; Abot R. Nat. 18.3).425 Since birthparents normally gave names to their children, only a person of much higher status had the authority to rename another person (cf., Sent. Sext. 28).426 The fact the Peter bore this Aramaic nickname not only has multiple attestation (Matt 16:17; Mark 3:16; John 1:42), but there is also a tradition that Jesus gave a new name to the sons of Zebedee, the “sons of thunder.”427 Clearly someone gave Simon this name428, and in light of the Gospel tradition, the name-giving cannot be traced back to Peter’s fellow disciples or to the later Church, but to Jesus himself.429

While none of the arguments/explanations above have proven the authenticity of Matt 17-19, they have hopefully shown that it is not unreasonable to hold to the verses as authentic words of Jesus. There’s no convincing and unassailable reason to doubt that Jesus the Messiah could have contemplated and founded a messianic community (“church”) and spoken of its security.430

Should the Pun be Understood in Aramaic or Greek?

The word-play between pevtra-Pevtro" lies at the heart of this exegesis. What is the relationship between the two words? Who/What is the pevtra/? Many scholars, such as Cullman and Hagner, appeal to the Aramaic for the word-play. They maintain that while the word-play is clear in the Greek (Pevtro" for Peter and pevtra for rock), it is even more evident in the Aramaic, where the name ap`yk{}, is exactly the same as the word “rock”.431 According to Cullman, the verse might as well read: “You are Kepha and upon this Kepha I will build my church.432 Thus, the name and the thing would be identical, leading one to believe that Peter is indeed the “rock” in question.433 This assumes, of course, that Jesus primarily spoke Aramaic to his disciples. But is this a safe assumption? Since an Aramaic interpretation affects the exegesis of the verse, a brief examination of the language in question is in order.

It has long been agreed by many scholars that Aramaic was the primary language of Jesus and the predominant language of the native Jewish population of Palestine.434 This belief rests on the fact that Greek, the lingua franca of the time, never fully replaced Aramaic in Palestine. 435 For example, H. Mudie Draper states the following in response to the claim that Greek may have been the primary language of Jesus: “As far back as the seventh century B.C. Aramaic was the language of communication for commerce and diplomacy between the nations of Mespotamia, Asia Minor, and Palestine. The phrase ‘Greek-speaking Gentiles’ does not mean that these people spoke only Greek, but that in the midst of a population where the everyday language was Aramaic, these Gentiles were bilingual … [Aramaic] was widespread and popular at least from the fourth century B.C. to the ninth century A.D.”436 Other scholars, however, argue that Hebrew could very well have been the primary language of Jesus. For instance, J. A. Emerton states the following:

Jesus was brought up in Galilee, and it is inherently likely that he normally spoke Aramaic, and that he used it when teaching crowds in Galilee or talking to his disciples, who were also Galileans. Aramaic would have also served his purpose when he visited Jerusalem, for it was understood there even by people whose vernacular was Hebrew… . However, if Hebrew was normally spoken by many people in Judea, then Jesus perhaps used it more frequently than was supposed by many New Testament scholars. It is also possible that Hebrew was Jesus’ primary language, nothwithstanding his Galilean upbringing and the probability that he taught in Aramaic in Galilee.437

While it is true that probably by the first century CE, Aramaic was the primary tongue of many Jewish regions, it is doubtful that it was the primary language for all Jews in Palestine, particularly those from the province of Galilee.438 There may be good evidence to support the fact that Greek was the predominant language of the area. Stanley Porter states the following:

Other scholars have argued strongly for the predominant role of Greek in 1st-century Palestine and, hence, in the ministry of Jesus. Their arguments rest firmly on, among other facts, the role of Greek as the lingua franca of the Roman Empire, the trilingual nature of the Judean Desert material, including Greek Bar Kokhba letters … inscriptional, ostraca, and ossuary evidence … literary evidence (e.g. Josephus’ writings), and most importantly, the linguistic fact that the NT has been transmitted in Greek from its earliest documents (Sevenster [Know Greek] discusses the evidence.) Abbott, Argyle, Smith, Sevenster, N. Turner, Lieberman, Mussies, Treu and Hengel, among others, have argues in various ways that Greek was in widespread use in the multilingual society of 1st-cent. Palestine. There seems to be nothing to have prevented any Palestinian resident from learning Greek, certainly as a second and often as a first language, though the ability of the average resident is still an unquantifiable factor.439

Grammarian Nigel Turner also agrees that it is possible that Jesus spoke Greek; he maintains that Greek was probably the language that Jesus spoke to the Syrophoenician woman, the Roman centurion, and Pontius Pilate.440 Robert Gundry argues that all three languages were in use in first century Palestine. In his article “The Language Milieu of First-Century Palestine”, he argues the following:

Proof now exists that all three languages in question – Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek – were commonly used by Jews in first century Palestine. We are not dealing with an either/or but a both/and… . Excavations by the Franciscans on Mt. Olivet have unearthed ossuaries predating the Jewish war (A.D. 66-73). On seven of these ossuaries the language is Hebrew, on eleven, it is Aramaic, and on eleven it is Greek… . It is striking to make such finds in Southern Palestine. Scholars have always recognized that Galilean Jews, farther removed from the center of Judaism, closer to Gentile areas like the Decapolis, and located on the Via Maris route, were more hellenized than Judean Jews. Yet the archeological discoveries show that even in the South, Greek was commonly used. How much more likely it is, then, that Jesus the Galilean and the apostles, who were predominantly, if not exclusively Galilean, commonly used Greek in addition to the Semitic tongues. If so, much of the gospel tradition may have been originally cast into Greek as well as Aramaic and Hebrew molds… . We cannot navely work on the assumption that everything was originally in Aramaic, that we should seek Aramaic equivalents when possible, and that wherever Aramaic equiavalents cannot be traced, we must reject authenticity.441

It is therefore likely that Greek was used more often than traditionally thought. Philip Edgcumbe Hughes states it this way: “The trilingual pattern [Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew] that is emerging means, of course, that the situation is linguistically more complicate, and no doubt more tantalizing than many have so long and so confidently imagined.”442 The archaeological, linguistic, and sociological evidence indicates that Palestine was largely multilingual, with Aramaic and Greek in widespread use, Hebrew as a written language (and possibly as a vernacular), and Latin as the language of politics and administrative affairs.443 Moreover, Moulton argues that in spite of Matthew’s use of Semitisms, it is unlikely that vv. 17-19 (or any other verses for that matter) were translated from Aramaic. He maintains that Matthew’s style is too smooth and too much interspersed with subordinate clauses and genitive absolutes for it to be a translation.444

However, even if Jesus was trilingual, does that necessarily mean that Jesus spoke Greek in Matt 16:17-19? According to Porter, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that Jesus did speak Greek on this occasion. First, Porter argues that while the plural form of oujranov" is common in Semitic usage, it should also be remembered that the plural form of the word is used by a number of extra-biblical Greek authors, including Aristotle, and that Matthew himself uses both the singular and the plural forms of the word (5:34-35; 6:10; 6:19-20; 18:18)445; this makes it difficult to establish clear patterns of usage that point to an Aramaic substratum.446 Second, Porter states that the use of a|/dh" may also suggest that Jesus spoke Greek here. Although there are numerous parallels to this phrase in the Old Testament (such as Job 17:16 and Isa 38:10) and noncanonical literature (Pss. Sol. 16:13), there are also plenty of parallels in secular Greek literature, since the image of Hades is traditionally a classical one (e.g., Homer, Il. 9.312; Od. 11.277; Euripides, Hec. 1).447 Third, if Peter’s confession did occur at Caesarea Philippi448, then it is altogether possible that Jesus spoke Greek here. Caesarea Philippi was a Gentile city long before Herod the Great refounded it or before Herod Philip renamed it.449 Thus, this city would have been as likely a location for the use of Greek as almost any other in Palestine.450

Again, these arguments do not prove that Jesus spoke the logion in Greek, but at the very least, they raise the possibility that Greek, not Aramaic, may have been spoken here and at other times during Jesus’ ministry.


327 Kurt Aland, ed., Synopsis of the Four Gospels: Greek-English Edition of the Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum, 11th ed. (Stuttgart: German Bible Society, 2000), 150.

328 Donald Hagner, Matthew 14-28, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. Bruce Metzger, David Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker, vol. 33B (Dallas: Word Publishers, 1995), 463

329 Ibid. According to Hagner, Matthew probably omitted this pericope for a couple of reasons. First, he was not impressed by the fact the Jesus used his saliva, rather than the spoken word to heal. Two, the healing took more than one attempt. Since this didn’t fit well with Matthew’s Christology, the author probably chose to omit this pericope, which occurs right before Peter’s confession (Matthew, 463-64).

330 Of course, this has led many to question the authenticity of the verses. For more information, see the following section entitled “Considerations on Source, Redaction, and Authenticity.”

331 Ulrich Luz, Matthew: 8-20, trans. by James E. Crouch (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishers, 1989), 354.

332 Hagner, Matthew, 464.

333 Robert Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church Under Persecution (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 331.

334 Ibid.

335 Luz, Matthew, 355.

336 Ibid.

337 Hagner, Matthew, 464.

338 Craig Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 425.

339 Ibid.

340 Of course, this assumes that the apostle Matthew is the author of the Gospel, and this is debated. In his Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius quotes Papias as saying the following: “ ‘So then Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language, and every one interpreted them as he was able’” (3.39.16. See NPNF 2, 1:173; SC 41:157). Eusebius also quotes Irenaeus as stating that Matthew was written prior to Mark (see Ecc. His., 5.8.2, 5.8.3; Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.1.1). However, the existing copy of Matthew’s Gospel is in Greek, not Hebrew (or Aramaic). Furthermore, it does not seem that the present Gospel of Matthew is a translation from Hebrew into Greek; in fact, is appears to be dependent upon the Greek version of Mark and Q, which would suggest that Mark wrote his Gospel first (see Robert Stein, Studying the Synoptic Gospels: Origin and Interpretation [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic Books, 2001], 220). There is no evidence to suggest that Papias ever saw the Aramaic (which he calls Hebrew) Gospel of Matthew, and there are no citations of an Aramaic version of the text in early church literature (J. L. McKenzie, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” in Jerome Biblical Commentary, ed. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmeyer, and Roland E. Murphy [Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1968], 65). Moreover, Matthew’s Greek is superior to that of Mark, and it seems highly unlikely that a Jewish tax collector wrote it (ibid.) Is Papias’ information mistaken? And if so, how does that affect the authorship of the existing Gospel of Matthew?

It should be noted that Papias’ tradition probably dates to within half a century of Matthew’s publication, and no one in the years surrounding Papias’ testimony challenged Matthean authorship (Keener, Matthew, 39). Superscripts that accompany manuscripts of the Gospel uniformly attribute authorship to Matthew, and the roots for these superscripts go back to the early-to-mid-second century (Darrell Bock, Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic Publishers, 2002], 29). For the most part, the Gospels were esteemed differently in different areas of the Church (e.g., John’s Gospel was more popular in Egypt than it was in Rome), but Matthew enjoyed a high reputation almost everywhere (Martin Hengel, Studies in the Gospel of Mark [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985], 82). It is likely, then, that its roots were well-known (Bock, Jesus according to Scripture, 29). Furthermore, traditions about the authorship of many Christian works are probably correct given the fact that travelers networked early Christian assemblies throughout the Empire and word traveled quickly among them (David Edward Aune, Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983], 215-16. See also Keener, Matthew, 38). Finally, it is possible that a tax collector in a highly Hellenistic region would very likely have been bilingual (Bock, Jesus according to Scripture, 29). Given the quick, widespread acceptance of the Gospel, an argument can be made that its roots go back to the apostle (Ibid.) In any case, it must be conceded that all four of the New Testament Gospels are anonymous, so Matthean authorship cannot be proven definitively. Even though the position has its weaknesses, Matthean authorship will be assumed for this thesis.

341 The Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Mark states: “Mark declared, who is called stump-fingered because he had short fingers in comparison to the rest of his body. He was Peter’s interpreter. After the death of Peter himself he wrote down this same gospel in the regions of Italy” (Hengel, Studies in the Gospel of Mark, 3). See also Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 2.15, 3.39; Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.1.1.

342 Ibid. ff. 75.

343 Luz, Matthew, 356.

344 Ibid., 357.

345 Ibid., 356. See ff. 19.

346 Ibid.

347 Ibid., 357-58.

348 Rudolph Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, trans. John Marsh (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1963), 138-39.

349 Ibid., 140.

350 Hagner, Matthew, 465. This assumption may be too hasty. See the section of Appendix A entitled “Should the Pun be Understood in Aramaic or Greek?”.

351 Hagner, Matthew, 471.

352 Ibid, 471.

353 Oscar Cullman, Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr: A Historical and Theological Study (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1958), 195.

354 Ibid.

355 Hagner, Matthew, 465.

356 Ibid.

357 D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, J. D. Douglas and Walter Kaiser, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 369.

358 W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann, Matthew, Anchor Bible, vol. 26 (Garden City: Doubleday, 1971), 195.

359 Hagner, Matthew, 465.

360 Carson, Matthew, 369.

361 Cullman, Peter, 202.

362 Hagner, Matthew, 465.

363 Cullman, Peter, 202.

364 Ibid., 204.

365 Hagner, Matthew, 465.

366 Cullman, Peter, 217.

367 Ibid., 181-182

368 Ibid., 181.

369 This is debated. Brown, Schweitzer, Bornkamm, Sietz, and Bultmann are among those who support such a view. Cullman, though, argues that the logion probably occurred during the events of the Last Supper (see above). Still others, such as Carson, Keener, and Gundry, affirm that the verses do make sense in the setting of Caesarea Philippi.

370 O. J. F. Seitz, “Upon This Rock: A Critical Re-examination of Matt 16:17-19,” JBL 69 (1950): 335.

371 Ibid.

372 Ibid., 336.

373 Ibid.

374 Ibid.

375 Ibid., 337.

376 Karl Donfried, “Peter in the Book of Acts,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman, vol. 5 (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 92.

377 Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, 259.

378 Ibid.

379 Ibid., 182.

380 Ibid.

381 Oscar Cullman, “Pevtro" Khfa'",” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. by Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, trans. by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, vol. 6 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), 105.

382 Cullman, Peter, 189.

383 Cullman, “Pevtro" Khfa'",” 105.

384 Ibid.

385 Ibid.

386 Ibid.

387 Ibid.

388 Ibid.

389 Ibid.

390 Robert Gundry, “The Narrative Framework of Matthew xvi.17-19: A Critique of Professor Cullman's Hypothesis,” NT 7 (1964): 3.

391 Ibid.

392 Ibid.

393 Ibid., 4.

394 Ibid.

395 Ibid., 4-5.

396 Keener, Commentary on Matthew, 431.

397 Ibid.

398 Ibid., 430.

399 Ibid., 425.

400 W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, Commentary on Matthew VIII-XVIII, New International Critical Commentary on the New Testament, ed. F. F. Bruce, vol. 2 (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1991), 609.

401 Ibid.

402 Bernard P. Robinson, “Peter and His Successors: Tradition and Redaction in Matthew 16.17-19,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 21 (1984): 87-88. He states: “I would wish to observe that I can give no credence to the oft-encountered view of Bultmann and others that Matt 16.17-19, or parts of it at least, derive from a lost account of the first appearance of the Risen Christ, namely to Peter (cf. 1 Cor 15.5). The evidence adduced suffices certainly to show that the passage contains post-resurrection perspectives (as in its ecclesiology and in the reference to the gates of Sheol; possibly too the divine revelation of Jesus’ sonship should be associated, as it is in Rom 1.4, with the resurrection), but there is no parallel in the accounts of the appearance of the Risen Christ for the pattern of confession followed by investiture. John 21 contains an investiture, but it is preceded only by a recognition (v. 7) and by an assertion about the speaker (Peter) (vv. 15-17), not by a confession about Jesus. John 20 contains a confession (v. 28) but no investiture. Matt 28 has an investiture (vv. 18-20) but it is preceded only by an act of homage (v. 17) not by a confession” (ibid.)

403 Hagner, Matthew, 466.

404 Ibid.

405 Keener, Commentary on Matthew, 426.

406 Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, 139.

407 Geza Vermes, ed., “The Thanksgiving Hymns,” in The Dead Sea Scrolls in English (London: Penguin Books, 1995), 211.

408 Davies-Alison, Commentary on Matthew, 611.

409 Ibid., 605.

410 Gundry, Matthew, 331.

411 Ibid.

412 Ibid.

413 Hagner, Matthew, 466.

414 Davies-Allison, Commentary on Matthew, 605.

415 R. T. France and David Wendam, eds., Gospel Perspectives, vol. 5 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1981), 24.

416 Ibid.

417 Davies-Allison, Commentary on Matthew, 609-610.

418 France and Wendam, Gospel Perspectives, 26-27

419 Ibid., 27.

420 Davies-Allison, Commentary on Matthew, 610.

421 Regarding the dating of Galatians, Longenecker writes: “It is impossible to discuss the date of Galatians without taking into account the question of the letter’s destination… . Yet destination does not necessarily determine date. Most North Galatianists posit that the letter was written on Paul’s third missionary journey (if the framework of Acts is accepted), sometime between A.D. 53… . Most South Galatianists view it as having been written either during the early part of Paul’s second missionary journey, sometime around A.D. 49-50, or after Paul’s first missionary journey, but before the Jerusalem Council in A.D. 49” (Richard N. Longenecker, Galatians, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. Bruce M. Metzger, David A. Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker, vol. 41 [Dallas: Word Publishers, 1990], lxxiii). Dating does vary among commentators. Betz dates Galatians between A.D. 53-54 (see Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians: A Commentary on Paul's Letter to the Churches in Galatia [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979], 12). Meeks dates it from A.D. 53-55 (see Wayne Meeks, ed., The Writings of St. Paul [New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1972], 10). Robinson dates it at A.D. 56 (John A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976], 57). At the very least it can be said that Paul may have known about the name-giving event as early as A.D. 49 (roughly sixteen years after the death of Jesus) or A.D. 58 (twenty-five years after the death of Jesus). Either date indicates an old tradition for the name of Cephas.

422 France and Wendam, Gospel Perspectives, 28. See also Dom John Chapman, “St. Paul and the Revelation to St. Peter,” Revue Benedictine 29 (1912): 133-147.

423 Davies-Allison, Commentary on Matthew, 611.

424 Cullman, Peter, 19.

425 Craig Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, vol. 2 (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2003), 478. For example, the text of Abot R. Nat. 18.3 reads: “Isi b. Judah would assign nicknames to sages. R. Meir he called ‘sage and scribe.’ R. Judah: ‘a sage when he wants to be.’ R. Eliezer b. Jacob: ‘little but unblemished.’ R. Yose: ‘his reasoning goes with him.’ R. Yohana b. Nuri: ‘a basket of laws.’ R. Yose the Galilean: ‘one who gathers well, without arogance.’ R. Simeon b. Gamaliel: ‘a store of good purple yarn.’ R. Simon: ‘learns much and forgets little’” (Jacob Neusner, The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan: An Analytical Translation and Explanation [Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986], 129).

426 Ibid., 479.

427 Cullman, Peter, 19.

428 Keener, Gospel of John, 479.

429 Ibid.

430 Hagner, Matthew, 466.

431 Ibid., 467.

432 Cullman, Peter, 193.

433 Ibid.

434 H. Mudie Draper, “Did Jesus Speak Greek?,” The Expository Times 67 (1995-1996): 317.

435 Ibid.

436 Ibid.

437 J. A. Emerton, “Problem of Vernacular Hebrew in the First Century A.D. and the Language of Jesus,” Journal of Theological Studies 24 (1973): 17.

438 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 24.

439 Stanley Porter, Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood (Bern and New York: Peter Lang, 1989), 113.

440 Nigel Turner, Grammatical Insights into the New Testament (Edinburgh: Clark Publishers, 1965), 176.

441 Robert Gundry, “The Language Milieu in First-Century Palestine,” JBL 83 (1964): 405-408.

442 Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, “The Languages Spoken by Jesus,” in New Dimensions in New Testament Study, ed. Richard N. Longenecker and Merrill C. Tenney (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1974), 142.

443 Porter, Verbal Aspect, 113.

444 James Moulton, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament , vol. 4, Style, ed. Nigel Turner (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1906), 37.

445 Stanley Porter, “Did Jesus Ever Teach in Greek?,” 234

446 Ibid.

447 Ibid.

448 This is debated. See the section entitled “The Problem of Chronology.”

449 Ibid.

450 Ibid

Related Topics: Grammar