A Prayer
of Jesus

I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise
and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will

The Builder
Part 1, "My Ekklesia"



Please be prepared for one of our more radical submissions.  I know, you are accustomed to find radical views on this site, but this one is so radical that it jarred even me when it was first revealed to me.  Read on and you will understand what I mean. 

Yes, it jarred me, but it also blessed me greatly because I have finally seen the Truth in the Word concerning what men call The Church and what our Lord never mentioned. May you likewise be blessed in Light and Truth by the teaching of the Lord and the Holy Spirit as you read my testimony.

The Subject Text From the Gospel

Mt.16:13 FNT When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea of Phillip he asked his disciples saying: Who do men say the son of man to be? 14 So they said: Some on the one hand John the baptist, others Elijah, others Jeremiah or [one] of the prophets. 15 He says to them: But who do you say I am? 16 And Simon Peter answering said: You are the Christ the son of the zoe-living God. 17 Jesus answering said to him: Blessed are you, Simon Barjonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal [this] to you but my father in heaven. 18 And I say to you that: You are Peter, and upon this rock will I build my assembly, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
19 I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of the heavens, and whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in the heavens, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in the heavens. 20 Then he censured the disciples that no one may say that he is the Christ.


"This rock" is neither Simon nor his confession.  "Peter" is not a name. The "assembly" is not the church.  This insightful utterance pertains to the afterlife, and Christians have so bungled their relevant doctrines that we become very confused as we hear them teach that this text applies to the church.  The translators of the popular English version of the New Testament contribute to hiding the Truth by putting church  for assembly in Matthew 16:18.  All we can know about it comes from the Lord Jesus, and that is simple.  It will be good if you can wipe your mental slate clean when it comes to this subject, and start afresh as you read this, the first of a short series..

Catholics appeal to this text to support their teaching that Simon (Peter) is, by this utterance of the Lord, elevated to the office of first pope (Holy Father) and given primary authority in the Church.  That is not true.  Contrariwise, Protestants usually see in this language the identification of the Good Confession made by Simon as the rock on which the Lord builds his Church.  The flaw in both positions springs from the mistaken belief, based on faulty translations and definitions, that the "assembly" (ekklesia) of verse 18 is the Church.  So, one of the first things we must do is to identify the "assembly."  Only then can we begin to discern the Lord's meaning.

Some interpreters deny that this entire text is a genuine utterance of the Lord.  They point out that Matthew alone among the evangelists records it.  It's position in the text is such that it could easily have been inserted by a scribe during the early decades of the history of the new movement.  They point to the fact that Matthew is also the only evangelists that records the New Testament Greek word for assembly, which is ekklesia (ekklesia), from which springs such English words as ecclesiastical and ecclesiastic. It is true that Matthew is the only one, and there the Lord utilizes the word three times, once here and twice in another instance, Matthew 18:15-20 that we plan to discuss in Part 2 of this series.
In what follows, we will hold to the transliterated form of the New Testament Greek word, ekklesia, as our means of representing this word in this paper.

This is a genuine utterances of the Lord, pregnant with Truth.  Further, from one that has listened to the Lord for quite a while, once we understand it this sounds like him -- like something he would say.  Recall that he has clearly stated that his sheep know his voice?  Well, this sheep hears his voice when pondering this utterance.  We proceed therefore under the conviction that we are hearing a genuine utterance of the Lord.

Ekklesia -- It's Meaning

Having already stated that ekklesia in this context does not mean "church," we need next to explain how I know this.  A first rule of interpreting the Word is to determine what it meant to those that immediately heard it from the mouth of the Lord -- in this case, Simon, son of John, and the other disciples that were standing nearby.  The Truth is universal and absolute, unchanging with time or place or culture. Therefore it must mean the same to us as to Simon.

What did ekklesia, in this time and place, mean to Simon?

The Lord left no explanation.  He delivered no teaching specific to it and at this point in time the Church did not exist. We have no record of either teaching or existence relative to the church prior to Jesus.  We do have the record in the New Testament showing this to be the first time the Lord uttered the word ekklesia.  Therefore Simon knew nothing of the Church. It is not possible, then, that he could have understood the Lord to be speaking of the Church in this instance. In that the Teacher provided no explanation, we rightly conclude that he expected Simon to understand based on what he already knew from his prior exposure to the word, ekklesia.

What did he expect Simon to understand?

Ekklesia was in common use in the Greco-Roman world of the First Century, including Galilee and all Palestine. Simon's exposure to it was from two sources -- the Old Testament in it's Greek translation (the Septuagint) and the Greek culture that permeated his world and nation. 
Ekklesia has the same basic meaning in both sources.   The Lord distinguished between them only by designating it as my Ekklesia in Matthew 16, and the ekklesia in Matthew 18.  This is a significant distinction.

Here is a statement from Kittle's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament that gives the significance of the word to the Greek world of that time:

From the time of Thuc., Plat. and Xenoph., and especially in inscriptions, ἐκκλησία is the assembly of the dῆμος in Athens and in most Greek πόλεις. The etymology is both simple and significant. The citizens are the ἔκκλητοι, i.e., those who are summoned and called together by the herald.

(Note: poleis in the above = cities;
dῆμος = the people, the mass of the people assembled in a public place)

The New Testament so utilizes ekklesia in Acts 19:32,39 & 41.  The Jews in general, including Simon, would have understood this from their exposure to the Greek environment in which they lived.

We have this additional definitions in BDAG1:

③ people with shared belief, community, congregation (for common identity, cp. the community of Pythagoras [Hermippus in Diog. L. 8, 41].
Arndt, William ; Danker, Frederick W.; Bauer, Walter: A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 2000, S. 303

This would apply to the assembly of disciples gathered about Jesus to hear him teach.  I do not think it applies here because it does not occur in the gospels with this application, although there are places where it might have been utilized by the Lord.  Also, it is not likely that the unlearned Galilean disciples that gathered about the Lord, including Simon, would have known of this application from Greek literature.

The Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) that many of Jesus' disciples used and from which they quoted puts ekklesia for the Hebrew, qahal, in many instances.  We find this common expression where the assembly of the Lord is indicated, including here at Deuteronomy 23:2:

ouk eiseleusetai
shall not enter
one born of
a harlot
of the lord
the tenth

This assembly of the Lord in Deuteronomy 23;2 was the assembly of Israel that the Lord had called out of Egypt to assemble before HIm at Sinai.  We find the First Century Christians understanding ekklesia and applying it thusly to that same assembly.  We have this from the speech of Stephen in Acts 7 where the English for ekklesia reads "assembly.":

38 This is the [one] having come to be in the assembly in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him in the mount Sinai and of our fathers, who showed [him] zoe-living oracles to give you, 39 to whom our fathers did not wish to become obedient, but they rejected [him] and turned in their hearts to Egypt, 40 saying to Aaron: Make for us gods which will go before us. For this Moses, who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has come to pass to him.

From this reference and others we understand that ekklesia applied to both religious and secular assemblies.  This should not surprise us because the ancient Greek world did not make the religious/secular distinction that is common to us.  A single instance could be either or both to Greeks and the people of Israel.  I selected Deut.23:2 above because it puts ekklesia, the one in the wilderness, in the possession of the Lord.  It is the ekklesia of the Lord God. We see therefore that the ekklesia that the Lord God called out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses was understood as belonging to the Lord.  When the Lord spoke to Simon and said, in the first person possessive:

 . . . will I build my ekklesia,

Simon knew he spoke of an assembly (ekklesia) of the Lord that he would call out (of something) to assemble before himself, as the God had called the people of Israel out of Egypt to assemble in the wilderness at Sinai, or as a herald called the citizens of a city to assemble in a specified place for the conduct of public business, either secular or religious.  As stated above, the same basic idea applies in both cases such that it was not necessary for the Lord to be more specific.  Therefore, when the Lord said this to Simon,

. . . upon this rock will I build my ekklesia,,

Simon knew what he meant. We know also that he did not mean "church." He understood that his Lord would build his ekklesia, an assembly of the Lord that he would summon from some place or location to assemble before him somewhere else.  The churchmen affirm this but say that this is the church -- he is building his church -- therefore he is building his ekklesia.  They are mistaken.

We will add to this preliminary definition and provide confirmation and a final definition as we continue to explain other portions of Matthew 16:13-20. 

Explaining the Error

So gross an error, identifying ekklesia as church, that has stood for twenty centuries and continues to deceive all Christendom requires an explanation.  There is an immediate explanation that reveals how we, you and I and our predecessors through the centuries, came to accept it.  Then there is the explanation for the origin of this error in the remote past, or the origin explanation. Be assured, it did not originate with Jesus.

I know how I came to subscribe to it for many confused years, and I suspect it is the same for you, so that I can speak with some certainty about the immediate explanation.  The remote explanation, lying as it does in the distant gloom of early centuries, is more difficult to bring into focus.  Nevertheless, I will suggest what, to me at least, is a plausible origin explanation from what we do know of the past.

The immediate explanation is this: I accepted the error from an early age, and it was for these reasons:

1. I was taught from earliest childhood that the King James Bible was the literal, inspired Word of God -- and it plainly has the Lord Jesus telling Simon, in Matthew 16:18, "Upon this rock I will build my church." 
2, As I grew toward maturity, every authority figure I encountered including pastors, Sunday School teachers and parents all affirmed this, so that I never so much as thought of doubting it. 
3. At Southern Baptist Seminary, the learned professors (and "pastors" and fellow students and associates) never questioned but that this is what was meant, nor did I.  Such a question at that time was beyond my comprehension.
4, Then, for many years as I established two "churches" and preached regularly, I never questioned it; I taught and preached it with conviction.

It is not that I thought to question and then decided against it after counting the cost.  No, being thus brainwashed by Christians, such a question was, at that time, beyond my ken.  You will find, if you now believe that the Lord spoke of the church in Matthew 16:18, that you do so for similar reasons.  Yours may be a different denomination, different Bible translation, different clergy, and different teachers, but you, like me, are what Christendom has made you, and your dedication to the church is supported by reading "church" in Matthew 16:18.  Are you a Catholic?  The Douay English New Testament has "church."

We can sum this immediate explanation in one simple sentence. Christendom took away our freedom to think for ourselves and fed us error.

But how did this error arise? It arose at or near the beginning of the Christian Era.  I can only suggest an origin explanation, which is that it is the fruit of the false apostle Paul and his disciples. In support of this I list the following:

1. The New Testament letters of Paul are the oldest extant Christian documents.
2. Of his letters, the first is ! Thessalonians, written perhaps as early as 50 AD, only twenty years after the Crucifixion and Ascension of the Lord.
3. Here is how it begins (from the RSV):

Paul, Silva'nus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalo'nians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.

Church is from the NT Greek, ekklesia.  Paul took ekklesia and, for whatever reason, applied it to local congregations, and so did everyone that contributed thereafter to the New Testament.  He likewise applied it to what Christians today would term the Church Universal.  Here, for example (again, from the RSV):

Eph.5:23: For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.

Throughout the New Testament, exclusive of the gospels, ekklesia appears about 112 times, being rendered as church in most English translations, beginning with the KJV and continuing with the RSV and others.  I think you will find that, with rare exceptions such as are mentioned above, the context applies it to either a local assembly or a more generalized assembly of disciples on earth. Naturally, English churchmen from early times have read church without questioning, and Christians of all stripes have identified the ekklesia with the assemblies of Christians on earth or, in the universal sense, with the worldwide assembly of Christians, the Christian Church..

You ask me to explain how it is that The Acts of the Apostles applies ekklesia to the local or generalized assembly on earth some 19 times, beginning with this from 5:11?

And great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things.

If you agree that Luke composed Acts, and reckon that he had been a disciple of Paul, you have your answer.  Of these 19 incidents in Acts, every one, with one exception, is a part of the writers commentary. 

What is the one exception?

It is a quotation from Paul in Acts 20:28, from his farewell speech to the elders of the church at Ephesus:

Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son.

Here the ekklesia is "the church."

Acts quotes other disciples many times, especially Simon.  It should at least be noted that, although there were many cases in which ekklesia could have been applied to assemblies of disciples in Jerusalem and elsewhere (as Paul did), not one of them designates an assembly of disciples by the term ekklesia. In support of my statement above that the Lord did not need to explain the meaning of ekklesia to Simon because he knew its meaning, we would not expect to find Simon misapplying ekklesia in Acts or anywhere else in the New Testament. This is but one more item of evidence to support the statement that the documents that bear his supposed name, I and II Peter, do not contain ekklesia, although there are numerous statements where Paul would have found it appropriate if he were the author.  The Petrine epistles put "brotherhood" (I Peter 2:17) or some other designation. 

All of this supports the origin explanation that attributes this terminology -- the application of ekklesia to a local gathering of Christians or to the church worldwide -- to Paul as the first to use it -- to Paul, a man that did not know the Lord.  It early became the common terminology of disciples, and so
it comes to us and we follow suit without question.  Whenever Christian churchmen, devoted to Paul and his gospel, set out to translate the New Testament from Greek into English, they only know to put church for Ekklesia unless the context absolutely demands otherwise. When they come to the Gospel According to Matthew, the only gospel where ekklesia appears, they put churchEven though Matthew's may be the first document they set out to translate, their prior exposure to Paul and his letters blinds them so that they cannot but put church for ekklesia there also.  It was the case in 1611 when they put forth the King James Version.  It was the case in 2002 and 2003, when NavPress copyrighted The Message. This does not prove beyond doubt that Paul is responsible for the original planting of this error in the scriptures of the New Testament -- and so down to us -- but it would make good evidence in a court of law. 

Translations into languages other than English perpetuate the same error by using some other term than church, or by keeping ekklesia or a form of it in their languages.  By affirming Paul in utilizing it in his Epistles and Acts where it refers to the local congregation of believers, they cannot but think it the same in Matthew 16:18.  This was uttered about twenty years prior to Paul's applying the church terminology; however, the gospel of Matthew was not written for as much as twenty years after Paul wrote his epistles. 

The error of understanding a local assembly of the Lord to be an ekklesia, and subsequently referring to Christians worldwide as being the ekklesia, began very early and so down to us. This origin explanation ultimately produces the immediate explanation for the practice among Christians worldwide today.  Believing the KJV to be inspired compels translators to put church in Matthew 16:18 and further compels Christians throughout the world today -- Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox -- to believe that ekklesia specifies a gathering of Christians on the earth, either locally or in a more general sense.  They speak, for example, of The Catholic Church or of The Presbyterian Church in the USA and say such things as  "I belong to Saint Stephen's Methodist Church." 

Summarizing, we have shown how the application of the New Testament Greek word, ekklesia, may first have been applied to local assemblies of Christians and to the general or worldwide collection of Christians.  Consequently, when Christians translate the Greek to English, it becomes church, which is the local assembly of Christians in any place, or to the general collection of Christians in a larger area.  We have also indicated how it has come to pass that we took up the same practice and came naturally to speak of local assemblies and the generalized assemblies as churches.  It likely began with Paul, for his is the earliest use on record of ekklesia to apply to assemblies of Christians on the earth. It then follows that everyone puts church in the mouth of the Lord in Matthew 16:18.

This footnote from the Faithful New Testament gives a brief summary of these things and supports the above discussion.

EKKLESIA (εκκλησια) from "called out". Appears 114 times in the N.T., but only thrice in the Gospels (Matt.16:18 (twice) and Matt.18:17). It's worth noting that when Jesus uses the term EKKLESIA, Christian community as we know it didn't yet exist - there were only the disciples. EKKLESIA is apparently different from 'synagogue' (SYNAGOGUE (συναγωγη) which occurs 56 times in the N.T.) EKKLESIA is used in secular Greek literature of a popular assembly 'called to assemble', and also of those 'called' to a cult. EKKLESIA is used frequently in the N.T. outside of the Gospels to refer to Christian communities, but in Acts.7:38 it is used of the people of Israel led through the desert by Moses, and in Acts.19:32 ff. of a secular assembly. Thus, all told, the common translation of EKKLESIA as 'church' doesn't really reflect 1st century usage - it seems to mean more like 'a group of people assembled for some specific purpose'.

Identifying The Rocks of Matthew 16:18

Now we must examine other terms in this verse before we can further define ekklesia in the Teaching of the Lord. Let's look at the text again:

Mt.16:13 FNT When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea of Phillip he asked his disciples saying: Who do men say the son of man to be? 14 So they said: Some on the one hand John the baptist, others Elijah, others Jeremiah or [one] of the prophets. 15 He says to them: But who do you say I am? 16 And Simon Peter answering said: You are the Christ the son of the zoe-living God. 17 Jesus answering said to him: Blessed are you, Simon Barjonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal [this] to you but my father in heaven. 18 And I say to you that: You are Peter, and upon this rock will I build my assembly, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
19 I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of the heavens, and whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in the heavens, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in the heavens. 20 Then he censured the disciples that no one may say that he is the Christ.

First consider these facts:

1. The Word of verses 17,18 and 19 are unique to Matthew.  Mark and Luke jump from vs. 16 to vs. 20. All three Synoptic Gospels continue with a prediction of his passion and resurrection.

2. This entire segment concerns one thing: the identification of Jesus, the Son of Man, as the Christ.  Who do you say I am?  It opens with the Lord asking,

Who do men say the son of man to be?

Then it continues with the second question,

But who do you say I am?

Then it concludes with this:

Then he censured the disciples that no one may say that he is the Christ.

3. The word, Peter, in vs.18 is from the NT Greek, petros, a masculine nounBy definition, it is a movable stone or rock -- such as a building stone.  It's only use in the New Testament translations is as a name for Simon.  See more below.

4. The word, rock, in vs. 18 is from the NT Greek, petra, a feminine noun. By definition, it is immovable stone or rock --  such as bedrock.  See more below.

So much has been written concerning the distinction between petros (Peter) and petra (this rock) that we need not confuse you with another polemic on the subject.  We only need to reckon first with this simple rule, already stated: The Lord's words must mean, to us, what they meant to those that immediately heard them, in this case, Simon and other disciples.  The Lord did not explain, so he expected Simon and the other disciples to understand based on their exposure to the words then in general use.  Simon understood petros to be a movable rock or stone; he understood petra to be immovable rock or stone, including bedrock.  They are two different words with distinctly different meanings, even different gender!

We can define petra more specifically in this context by reference to another utterance of the Lord where it appears:

Mt.7:24 Therefore everyone who hears these my words and does them, he will be like a shrewd man, who built his house upon the rock (petra). 25 And the rain came down and the rivers came and the winds blew and they fell against that house, and it did not fall, for it had been built on the rock (petra).

Lk.6:47 Everyone coming to me and hearing my words and doing, I will show you what he is like. 48 He is like [a] man building [a] house, who dug and deepened and placed [the] foundation upon the rock (petra).

Petra is immovable foundation stone, or in this case bedrock, such as indicated by the Lord in Matthew 6:25 and Luke 6:48.  We have this primary definition:

πέτρα, ας, ἡ (Hom. [πέτρη as ‘massive stone’ Il. 15, 273; Od. 10, 87f]+; loanw. in rabb.).
① bedrock or massive rock formations, rock as distinguished from stones

is a movable stone and is, in this context, a building stone such as one sees in pictures of the Western Wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which is the surviving remnant of the Second Temple structures that stood there in the early First Century.
Petros does not occur in the New Testament except as a misapplied name for Simon, as already stated.  Therefore we cannot define it by other scriptural uses and must go again to a lexicon2:

Petros, ...(distinct from petra)...Hom. IL. 16.734; 7:270; 20.288
E. Heracl.1002, "panta kinesai petron" ..."Leave no stone unturned"
cf. Pl. Lg. 843a  X. HG 3.5.20 "Petrous epekulindoun" "They rolled down stones."
S. Ph 296 to produce fire "en petroisi petron ektribon"
Id. OC 1595 of a boulder forming a landmark [the usual prose word is lithos]"

It is a movable stone in classical references, and only a movable stone, which fits perfectly our understanding of this word as building stoneRecall that the Lord in this utterance speaks of building the ekklesia.   We therefore understand that he speaks here of building material from which he will build it.

The name Peter has become so general throughout Christendom as to cause us to make an inaccurate and unwarranted assumption.  Recalling that this utterance of the Lord must mean the same to us as to Simon, would he have understood petros to be a name? 

In response to this question, we have this definite statement from the lexicon1:

Πέτρος, ου, ὁ (ὁ πέτρος=‘stone’ Hom.+; Jos., Bell. 3, 240, Ant. 7, 142.—Π. as a name can scarcely be pre-Christian, as AMerx, D. vier kanon. Ev. II/1, 1902, 160ff, referring to Jos., Ant. 18, 156, would have it.

You see the relevant phrase, as a name can scarcely be pre Christian?

My view is that the first use of this word as a name in the Greek world of the First Century began with the Lord's utterance here as the early Christians soon came to understand it.  Simon did not hear a name applied to him, but only a masculine noun that defined a building stone.  It could have meant some other movable stone, but the Lord ruled the others out by stating immediately that he is going to build his ekklesia.  Christians ever since, misunderstanding this to be a name, have been naming their sons Peter from a very early time -- but not before Paul made it a name.

Yes, it's Paul again!  His is the first written record of the application of this word as a name for Simon, except that he applied the Aramaic form, Cephus, instead of Peter.  But Simon had no reason to understand that the Lord was naming him at this point -- either Cephus or Peter.  As Simon heard him, the Lord was describing him as a building stone.

The Lord's Trade

The Lord states (vs. 16:18) that he will build his ekklesiaThis puts the focus on the activity of the Lord as a builder, which is basic to this utterance.
It is obvious that we have a statement based on this activity, for it not only has the Lord saying that he will build something, but we have the two primary materials for building substantial structures in the First Century -- building stones (petros) and foundation stone (petra), i.e., foundation bedrock.  So, he is first of all specifying the raw material to be used -- much as an architect does, then proceeds to assert that he is going to do the building.  His  specification for the building stones is nothing less than Simon's confession. Simon was the first one.  Other stones have appeared in the world as other disciples repeat Simon's faith and confession.  In addition, precisely as was the case with Simon, flesh and blood has not revealed this to us, but our Father that is in heaven.

That the Lord is such a builder is not surprising in view of the fact that the gospels, in most English translations, specify the Lord's trade:

Mk.6:3 Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?

Carpenter is from the NT Greek, tekton, and could mean that he was a carpenter.  But this word more broadly refers to a craftsman and can also mean a worker with stone.  Whether carpenter or layer of stone, it is a person with a manual skill.  In this case, the evidence suggests
that Jesus was a worker with stone.  The quaint illustrations from children's Sunday School books showing Joseph and Jesus at work in the carpentry shop has misled all of us, so that the English translations have carpenter here, where it ought to have stonemason.

in support of this assertion I have several things to offer, enumerated as follows:

1. Architectural digs disclose that durable structures built in the ancient Middle East were of stone, consisting of building stones (petros) laid on bedrock (petra).

2. The Greco-Roman city of Sepphoris, located only four miles from Nazareth, was built under the authority of Herod Antipas (4BC - 39AD), one of Herod the Great's sons and successors.  It was being built while Jesus lived there as a youth and young man and was a marvel of limestone and marble construction.  One archeologist describes it:
This beautiful Greco-Roman metropolis, adorned with colonnaded streets, forum, imposing theater, palace, and villas resplendent in white limestone and colored marble, flourished amid the forested hills and fertile valleys of northern Israel.  In the decades following the birth of Jesus, it was the chief city and capital of Galilee.3 

The population estimates range as high as 40,000, and it included a theater that could seat 4500.  In great contrast, Nazareth numbered less than 150 inhabitants by some estimates.  It was a satellite village of Sepphoris, the beautiful "Ornament of Galilee."

3. Construction of Sepphoris required decades and many craftsmen gathered from a wide area that surely included Nazareth.  Joseph and Jesus may, as stonemasons, have labored in its building.  Jesus of Nazareth was a builder.  Even if he did not participate in the building of Sepphoris, he would have observed the construction of this huge limestone city, which was so located on a hill that it could not be hidden

4. The Lord drew on his knowledge of cultural elements in Galilee in delivering his Teaching.  He taught about fish and fishing (The Parable of the Net), about agricultural activities (The Parables of the Sower and of the Tares), about tending sheep (the Parable of the Lost Sheep) and about building (The Parable of the Builders, the teaching on the cost of discipleship, here where he speaks of building his ekklesia) and other references.  He never spoke of carpentry and / or building with wood.

In the light of these considerations, the only reasonable conclusion is that the Lord, in Matthew 16:18 speaks of rock (or stone) construction according to which building stones (petros) are laid on a bedrock foundation (petra).  Jesus is himself the tekton that is doing the building. Simon, due to his premier confession of Jesus as "The Christ, and son of the Living God" is the first, in time, of the building stones that will be laid on the bedrock foundation. 

Therefore, when the Lord said to him, You are petros, he was not giving him a new name, for petros was not a name.  He was specifying Simon's function as a building stone in the new building.  What Simon heard was, "You are a building stone." Everyone that comes after Simon, making that same confession and living by it, is another building stone similar to Simon. Had the Lord intended to be naming him, he would have been very specific and would have said something similar to this:

Gen.35:10: And God said to him, "Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name." So his name was called Israel.

We can confidently state that Simon did not hear, "Your name is Peter."  He heard what the text says, exactly, you are [a] building stone.

Using the word stone requires further explanation.  It is my impression that both modern English speakers and New Testament Greek speakers tended to use the terms stone and rock interchangeably. The two words have different definitions, however, and we see that they are similarly distinguished in both New Testament Greek and modern English.  Stone primarily defines the material, as in this definition from Webster's online Collegiate:

1 : a concretion of earthy or mineral matter: a (1) : such a concretion of indeterminate size or shape.

So, a building rock is also a building stone, for it is composed of stone.  Also, bedrock is stone by this definition, being also composed of stone.  Being of indeterminate size and shape, stone can properly indicate anything whatsoever that is composed of this or similar material.  The Lord utilized the word, lithos that is Greek for stone, many times, sometimes indicating building stones:

Mk.12:10 Have you not read this Scripture:
A stone (lithos) that the builders rejected
This became the chief cornerstone.
11 By the Lord this came to pass
And is wondrous in our eyes.
So he is the chief cornerstone! 

When we consider that there are two persons involved in this transaction -- Simon and Jesus -- and that Simon is the petros -- then the other person is the petra.  Remember that the entire context is identifying Jesus.  Here in Matthew 16:18, he further identifies himself as the bedrock foundation (petra) of the ekklesia that he will build.  He is builder, cornerstone and foundation.  Simon's confession cannot be either the bedrock or the building stone but is what qualifies Simon (and all disciples) to be a building stone.

We are able to confirm that petros is not a name for Simon by simply asking how the Lord addressed him thereafter.  He never addressed him as "Peter" but  continued to address him as Simon or as Simon, son of Jonah, which in modern English parlance translates to Simon Johnson. Check it our for yourself.  This link to the Faithful New Testament will point you to the relevant texts.  Here is the one apparent exception:

Lk.22:31 Simon, Simon, behold Satan has requested to sift you [all] as wheat, 32 but I have asked concerning you in order that your faith not give out; and you when you have recovered, strengthen your brothers. 33 But he said to him: Lord, with you am I prepared even to prison and to death to be going. 34 But he said: I say to you, Peter (petre -- vocative of petros), The cock will not cry today until thrice you will deny knowing me.

This transaction, beginning with the doubled, emphatic address,
Simon, Simon, is almost surely mistranslated in the English as Peter in verse 34.  Simon is instead being reminded of his shared function (shared with his brethren and other disciples) as a strong "building stone." Confirmation is in the preceding phrase, strengthen your brothers. A form of petros is here for the same reason that it is in Matthew 16:18 - to define the function of Simon and all of his brothers.  Here is what Simon heard:

I say to you, building stone, (building stone; -- petre is the vocative of petros). . ..

It is also possible that the presence of petre in Luke 22:34 is a later addition by someone that just had to have the Lord address Simon as Peter at least once in the canonical gospels.  The parallel text in both Matthew (26:34) and Mark (14:30) omit the name.  Seeing that Luke was at first Paul's disciple, and that this appears exclusively in his gospel, Luke himself may have pasted it in!  We should note that, in writing Acts, Luke refers to Simon as Peter about 56 times! 

Is it reasonable to believe that, in this utterance, the Lord began by addressing him doubly as Simon, Simon and then switched to Peter?

Now, just for a further confirmation, let's look, for the final and the last time, in each of the canonical gospels, where Jesus addressed Simon. Surely, if the Lord had meant to give him a new name, he would have used it as such at some point?  If not prior to this, surely here?

From Matthew: Mt.17:25 And when they came to the house Jesus came before him saying: How does it seem to you Simon? From which do the kings of the earth collect taxes or tolls? From his sons or from the strangers? 26 So when he said: From the stranger, Jesus said to him: Therefore the sons are exempt.

This came after Matthew 16:18, our subject text.  Had his intention been to name him, surely he would have used it when addressing him?

From Mark: Mk.14:37 And he comes and finds them sleeping, and he says to Peter, Simon, do you sleep?

This last address occurred in Gethsemane. Isn't it interesting how the evangelist designates Simon as "Peter" but immediately records the Lord addressing him as Simon?

From Luke: Lk.22:31 Simon, Simon, behold Satan has requested to sift you [all] as wheat, 32 but I have asked concerning you in order that your faith not give out; and you when you have recovered, strengthen your brothers.

This utterance is explained above.

Finally, we have this last address of the Lord to Peter in the Fourth Gospel:

From John: Jn.21:17 He says to him the third time: Simon, [son] of John, do you philia-love me?

This is the last of three such addresses in this chapter.

But the Gospels Name Him Peter!

Yes they do and that requires an explanation in view of the above.  We need to explain the general use of the name, Peter, throughout the gospels  We also need to explain the statement in all four of the canonical gospels that indicate the Lord named him thus.  Let's first look at the latter statements side by side:


Matthew 16

17 Jesus answering said to him: Blessed are you, Simon Barjonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal [this] to you but my father in heaven.
18 And I say to you that: You are Peter, and upon this rock will I build my assembly , and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
Mark 3

14 And he produced twelve in order that they be with him, and in order that he send them to be preaching, 15 and to be having authority to be casting out demons, and he produced the twelve.
16 And he set aside to Simon [a] name: Peter,
Luke 6

13 And when it became day, he called his disciples to himself, and having chosen from them twelve, which also he names apostles, Simon, which also he named Peter,
John 1

41 This [one] finds first his own brother Simon and says to him: We have found the Messiah, which is being translated: Christ. 42 He brought him to Jesus. Having looked upon him, Jesus said: You are Simon the son of Jonas, you shall be called Cephas, which is translated: Peter.

Matthew's segment is the one we have been explaining, and will continue to do so.  Passing now on to Mark, and also to Luke, we see that these are not utterances of the Lord.  They are comments by the evangelist.  These statements will be explained when we come to explain the general use of the name in the gospels and by the evangelists.  So we pass on to John 1:42, in the last column, which does consist of words of the Lord. 

First, the final phrase from the Fourth Gospel is not part of the utterance, but is the evangelists' explanation of the meaning of the Aramaic word cephas.  This Aramaic word, cephas, means much the same as the Greek, petros, and the text indicates that it was used interchangeably with petros among the Aramaic/Greek bilingual disciples. I should indicate here also that the words petros and cephas are not capitalized in the New Testament Greek text.  This capitalization, as though they were proper names, is the consequence of the translators having understood, as did the evangelists, that the Lord intended to give Simon a new surname.  This explains the statement in each of the synoptic gospels that seem to present the Lord as giving a name to Simon.  The evangelists, following Paul's influence, understood that the Lord gave him a new surname at this point, which he did not do!

It remains to explain how it is that the Lord did, indeed, state You are Simon the son of Jonas, you shall be called Cephas in John 1:42.  How are we to explain this if not a name for him?

It is one of the most accurate prophecies ever uttered!  Throughout Christendom and all the centuries, everyone -- every Christian -- calls and has called him Cephas or its Greek (and English) equivalent, Peter.  They have done so since near the beginning.  But the Lord did not name him or designate him by the name Cephas (Peter).  He was foretelling that he would nevertheless be called such.  And so he has been and is!

Paul Again!

We need next to explain the general use of petros as a name, Peter (or Cephas in Aramaic) in the four canonical gospels.  The evidence points once again to Paul.  The practice, beginning among the early disciples, springs from him in the same way that he is responsible for identifying a local congregation
by the word ekklesia.  He refers to Simon as Cephas in I Corinthians and as both Peter and Cephas, in Galatians. Both of these documents were written very early, only about twenty years after the crucifixion of the Lord, as was I Thessalonians.  Paul addressed the letter to the Galatians, not to a single congregation, but to the churches of Galatia (1:2).  Perhaps it was carried by courier from one church to another so that all could hear, or it was copied by a scribe and dispatched for reading in each congregation. In this way Christians throughout the world, following Paul's example, may have accepted Peter (Cephas) as a name for Simon.  Simon himself may have understood the Lord to have named him Peter after this exposure.  Mark is The first of the gospels to be written, probably about the year 75, from twenty to twenty-five years after the writing and publication of the relevant epistles of Paul.  This was sufficient time for the practice, following Paul, to have permeated the Gentile churches throughout the Roman Empire and to become common usage among early Christians. The other gospels, Matthew, Luke and the Fourth Gospel, were written later yet, and their authors would have similarly been exposed to and consequently would have picked up the practice of naming him Peter (or Cephas in the one instance in the Fourth Gospel).

There is speculation here.  It is simply not possible at this late date to go back and interview the appropriate persons so as to get at the truth.  What I suggest seems to be the most likely, but I am open to other suggestions. There must be some such explanation because I have demonstrated from analysis of the gospels that the Lord did not give to Simon the name, Peter.  This is essential to understand Matthew 16:18 and its context, where the translators from Greek to English seem uniformly to believe petros was a name, which it was not.  Only by getting past this obstacle is it possible to understand the Lord in the entire text of Matthew 16:13-20.

No Exaltation for Simon

The Lord's teaching of humility and servitude in the world, that produces exaltation in heaven, is stressed by him and repeated many times in many ways.  The "foot washing" at the Passover meal with his disciples is an object lesson for all.  I call this aspect of the gospel the Inversion Maxim.  Instead, the Lord puts every disciple on the same level in this world.  Here is the specific utterance:

Mt.23:8 But do not be called Rabbi, for one is your teacher, and all [of] you are brothers.

Is the Lord then going to initiate a hierarchy by naming Simon "Peter" and then exalting him above other disciples by making him the foundation of his ekklesia with authority over the others? 

Surely you do not need me to answer this?

So, Simon Son of Jonas (or son of John, Simon Johnson) was and remained the name of this erratic but loyal disciple. 

Finally, have you considered that the Lord referred to Simon as Satan immediately after supposedly naming him Peter?

Mt.16:21 From then on Jesus began to explain to the disciples that he must depart into Jerusalem and suffer many [things] from the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed and rise on the third day. 22 And Peter taking him aside began to be rebuking him saying: Mercy to you, Lord! This will not be for you!
23 But Jesus turning said to Peter: Withdraw behind me, Satan. You tempt me because you do not think on the [things] of God but of men.

What a quick promotion/demotion -- from Peter, the Prince of disciples, to Satan the Prince of darkness?

No, I don't think so! 

The Gates of Hades

We have presented the basic interpretation of ekklesia in Matthew 16:18.  Then, we have continued to identify the rocks in this verse, and have even presented a definition of the ekklesia, or assembly as it reads in translation.  Here, once more, is the subject utterance from the Faithful New Testament except with petros and petra untranslated so that they appear as Simon heard them from the mouth of the Lord:

And I say to you that: You are petros, and upon this petra will I build my assembly, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.

Or, leaving ekklesia untranslated and translating petros and petra into English so that it means to us exactly what it meant to Simon:

And I say to you that: You are a building stone, and upon this bedrock will I build my ekklesia, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.

What is Hades?

How is it that the gates of Hades will not prevail against the Lord's assembly (ekklesia)?

The Merriam-Webster On Line gives this definition for Hades:

the underground abode of the dead in Greek mythology.

We aren't interested in Greek mythology.  We want to know what it meant to Jesus, the Son of man.  To this end, we examine his every utterance that includes this NT Greek word.  There are only three.

Mt.11:20 Then he began to be reproaching the cities in which had come to pass the most of his miracles, because they had not repented: 21 Woe to you Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! Because if the miracles that came to pass in you had come to pass in Tyre and Sidon, long ago they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes. 22 Moreover I say to you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you Capernaum, aren't you exalted to the heavens? You will go down to Hades; because if the miracles that came to pass in you had come to pass in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
24 Moreover I say to you that it will be more bearable for [the] land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.  (see the parallel at Lk.10:15)

Mt.16:18 And I say to you that: You are petros, and upon this petra will I build my assembly, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.

Lk.16:1  But a certain man was rich, and he had put on purple garments and fine linen enjoying himself each day splendidly. 20 But a certain poor [man] by name Lazarus had been cast to his gate being covered with ulcerous sores. 21 And he was lusting to be filled from that falling from the table of the rich [one]; but even the dogs coming were licking his ulcerous sores. 22 Now it came to pass the poor [man] died and was gathered by the angels to Abraham's lap; but the rich [man] also died and was buried. 23 And in Hades lifting up his eyes, being in torment, he sees Abraham from afar and Lazarus in his lap, 24 and having called out he said: Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus in order that he dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I suffer torment in this flame. 25  But Abraham said: Child, remember that you received your good [things] in your zoe-life, and likewise Lazarus the evil. But now he is encouraged, and you suffer torment. 26 And in all those [things] between you [people] and us [a] great chasm is fixed, so that those wishing to go down from here to you be not able, nor from there to us may not cross over.

In these three utterances, and no more, we hear Hades coming from the mouth of the Lord.  He says nothing about it being either an abode or located underground.  It is simply the state of the dead. In the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, both died.  The rich man, on dying, went to Hades.  We are not told, but we assume that Lazarus also went to Hades where he was comforted by Abraham.  Had he not done so, the Lord would have resolved the question.  Then, even in Hades, there are two states.  One, the one that received and punished the rich man, the other that received and comforted Lazarus across a great and impassable chasm from the rich man that was in torment.  After going down to Hades, the wicked have yet to rise for judgment, and so the Lord says:

Moreover I say to you that it will be more bearable for [the] land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.

When the Lord announced judgment on Capernaum (Matthew 11:23) he informs us that all its citizen were to die, to go down to Hades, and leave the city vacant.  It's a true prophecy, for you can see the dead remains of Capernaum to this day just north of the Sea of Galilee. It has no inhabitants.  All went down to Hades.  Every person goes to Hades on dying -- to one of the two states, separated by the "great gulf fixed."  I will go there and you will go there, just as Lazarus went there when he died (to find rest in "the bosom of Abraham"), the rich man went there to suffer torment while awaiting the judgment and the Lord went there during the time from the Crucifixion to the Resurrection.  It is where the dead, including Abraham, are kept until the Resurrection.  But if a city continues and remains populated, the city itself does not go down to Hades, though at some point the citizens of each generation find themselves there. This was a prophecy of the final destruction of Capernaum, leaving it without habitation.

The bosom of Abraham is the description the Lord gave to that part of Hades that harbors the righteous dead such as Lazarus and all those that are children of the Father. The Lord gives the other department a description, being where the rich man is "in torment in this flame."

We find a name for this place of torment elsewhere in the New Testament:

II Peter 2:3 And in greediness they will exploit you with made-up words, to whom the judgment will not long be idle, and their destruction does not slumber. 4 For if God did not spare the angels that sinned, but holding them captive in Tartarus in the chains of gloom, he delivered them up, keeping them for judgment, . . . .. 9 [then the] Lord knows [how] to be rescuing [the] pious from [the] test, and [how] to be keeping the unjust for the day of judgment to be punished,

Here is what we find from the lexicon 3:

Tartarus, thought of by the Greeks as a subterranean place lower than Hades where divine punishment was meted out, and so regarded in Israelite apocalyptic as well: Job 41:24; En 20:2; Philo, Exs. 152; Jos., C. Ap. 2, 240; SibOr 2, 302; 4, 186) hold captive in Tartarus 2 Pt 2:4.

Please understand that this terminology is not directly from the Lord, but from II Peter 2:

This corresponds perfectly with the pattern of the life hereafter in Hades as explained by the Lord, and so we accept Tartarus as the state in Hades where the unjust are kept until the Judgment.  In the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, he presented two separate places to which men go on dying.  One he designated The Bosom of Abraham, and the other a place of torment.  This corresponds well with Tartarus in II Peter 2:4.
Hades, Tartarus, is not hell.  It is not the final punishment of the wicked.  When the Lord wanted to speak of that, he utilized gehenna, after the name of a gorge south of Jerusalem (the Valley of Hinnom) that was once a place for the sacrifice of children to Molech (2 Kings 23:10) and yet remains
(1987, as I saw it then) a place for burning waste. The actual site of the Altar of Molech in the Valley of Hinnom was designated Topheth (Jer.7:31, 19:5).

English translations, including the King James Version, have again confused all of English speaking Christendom by sometimes rendering Hades as hell.  In the vocabulary of Jesus, Hades is the state (or place if you insist) into which every person goes on dying -- to one of the two states that are separated by a great gulf.

We go elsewhere in the Word of Jesus to get a name for that part of Hades where the Parable puts Lazarus, in repose, in the bosom of Abraham. 

Lk.23:39 And one of the hanging evil-doers was slandering him: Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us. 40 But answering, the other rebuking him said: Do you not fear God, because you are in this judgment? 41 And we [are here] justly, for we receive [things] worthy of what we have done; but this [one] did nothing improper. 42 And he was saying: Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom. 43 And he said to him: Truly I say to you, Today will you be with me in paradise.

We see, then, these two different places, or perhaps states is a better term, in the ream of the dead, spoken of by the Lord as Hades -- Tartarus and Paradise.

Now, how is it that the gates of Hades will not prevail against the Lord's ekklesia?

I once understood this to mean that the doors of the church would prevail over the gates of Hades, or of death, so that the children of the Father will be drawn into the church and not be drawn into the gates of Hades.  But I was reading hell instead of Hades, church instead of assembly, and it seemed to say that the church would, by saving souls and bringing them into the church, prevent their entering into hell through it's gates.  There is probably no better example, than this, of how poor translations have been deceiving English speakers for hundreds of years.  Compare the KJV with the FNT and you will see:

From the KJV:
. . .I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
From the FNT

. . . will I build my assembly , and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.

I have learned now, under the tutelage of the Lord Jesus, that everyone, whether good or evil, goes to Hades on dying as did both righteous Lazarus and the wicked rich man in the Parable.  So, it is not at the point of entry into Hades that the ekklesia prevails against the gates of Hades, but at the point of exit.  The gates of Hades will not be able to hold the spirits of the psyche-dead and the gates of Hades will be unable to hold the zoe-living when the Son of Man returns to open them at the Resurrection and call forth the spirits of those that have died.

This includes both the children of the Father and the children of Satan.

Lazarus, the Beloved Disciple of the Fourth Gospel, died and went to Hades (Paradise).  When the Lord appeared outside his tomb and called out, "Lazarus!, come out! (John 11:43) the gates of Hades could not prevail to hold him.

Jesus, the Son of Man, also died.  He also went to Hades.  Knowing that he had power over the gates of Hades, he raised himself up and appeared to his disciples.  He had said this sometime beforehand:

Jn.10:17 Because of this the father agape-loves me, because I lay-down my psyche-life, in order that I again receive it. 18 No one takes it from me, but I dedicate it myself. I have authority to dedicate it, and I have authority to again receive it; this commandment I received from my father.

This speaks of his own resurrection.

He indicated his authority over those gates when foretelling the general resurrection of the dead.  That is when the gates of Hades will open to release all:

Jn.5:28 Be not marveling at this, that [the] hour comes in which all those in the graves will hear his voice, 29 and those having done good will come out to [the] resurrection of zoe-life, [but] those having done [as a practice] worthless [things] will come out to [the] resurrection of judgment.

If one insists on a location for Hades, the grave (or the tomb) is it.  Just as Lazarus heard his voice and came forth, so all will come forth on that day.  The gates of Hades cannot prevail against them. 

Here, then is the final definition of ekklesia:

ekklesia that the Son of Man is building is not the church and is not on the earth; it is in Hades where every child of God goes on dying to this world, there to rest and to become another building stone laid into the ekklesia.  It is there that the Lord is building his ekklesia and it is from there that he will raise it up, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.  It is at the Resurrection that the gates of Hades will not prevail.  Read it again:

Jn.5:28 Be not marveling at this, that [the] hour comes in which all those in the graves will hear his voice, 29 and those having done good will come out to [the] resurrection of zoe-life, [but] those having done [as a practice] worthless [things] will come out to [the] resurrection of judgment.

It is then that he will have finished building his ekklesia, when he summons it to come forth and assemble before him in the kingdom of God.  The gates of Hades cannot hold it and will not prevail against it.

It seemed at first uncertain that Paradise and Tartarus are different states in Hades.  Tartarus is there, for sure, for it is in Hades that the Lord places the suffering rich man.  About Paradise I was uncertain until I considered that is the gates of Hades that will not prevail against the ekklesia and that all those in the graves will come forth at the Resurrection.

Concluding Summary

Now that we have a final definition of ekklesia, everything fits readily into place.  Simon's name remained Simon, although all Christendom calls him Peter as the Lord prophesied.  He is a building stone, one among many.  It is the profession first uttered by Simon, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" that made him a building stone.  All that commit everything to this profession are likewise building stones.  Every durable building of stone was laid on bedrock, which in this case is Jesus the Son of man, who is the builder, cornerstone and foundation bedrock of the ekklesia that he is building -- in Hades.  The hour is coming when all that are in Hades will hear the cry of the Son of man and will come forth.  The gates of Hades will not prevail against the ekklesia of the Lord.  It will come forth and assemble before him. Simon has no primacy on earth.  All are brothers with but one Lord. His name is not Peter!

We have yet to investigate the significance of ekklesia in Matthew 18:17, and to establish the significance of the keys of the kingdom in the concluding verses of the present text, Matthew 16:19.  Look for subsequent parts of this series in future editions of the Voice of Jesus site.

1. Arndt, William ; Danker, Frederick W. ; Bauer, Walter: A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 2000, S. 809

2. A Greek - English Lexicon, complied by Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, pg. 1397- 8, Pub. by Oxford, at the Clarendon Press.)

3. Batey, Richard A: Jesus and the Forgotten City, pg. 11, Pub. by Baker Book House Company, 1991