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I have been discussing Matthew 16:18 for years now with both Catholics and non-Catholics. This verse is obviously a very important verse concerning the doctrine of the Bishop of Rome being Supreme Pontiff.

The non-Catholic argument that I come up against time and time again is the "play on words" interpretation summed up pretty well here.

I understand that, according to this interpretation, Jesus calls himself "big rock," and calls Peter "small rock."

Looking up the original Greek I see that Jesus is referring to two types of rocks and one is related to the other, but they are not the same.

Peter = Πέτρος, Pétros (a masculine noun) – properly, a stone (pebble), such as a small rock found along a pathway.

Rock = pétra (a feminine noun) – "a mass of connected rock”

The accepted answer goes on to say...

This revelation, being from God, is infallible, and if the Church is built upon it, it can never fall. Simon was named petros because he was the archetype, the first (of his contemporaries at least) to have received this personal revelation from God.

I've also heard other interpretations that place the "Rock-ness," if you will, on Peter's faith.

The answer above labels Peter as an "archetype" for those individuals with faith, or those individuals who receive infallible revelations.

I think this reads to much into it when considering the context of scripture, and is perhaps a presupposition.

Obviously Catholics believe that Christ, by changing Simon's name to Peter, established a foundational office of headship upon which the "Keys to the Kingdom of God" rests until his return. Catholics believe that that change signified a newly established office, and is why Christ changed Simon the fisherman to Peter the fisher of men to begin with.

"The keys of the kingdom"

551 From the beginning of his public life Jesus chose certain men, twelve in number, to be with him and to participate in his mission.280 He gives the Twelve a share in his authority and 'sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal."They remain associated for ever with Christ's kingdom, for through them he directs the Church:

As my Father appointed a kingdom for me, so do I appoint for you that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

552 Simon Peter holds the first place in the college of the Twelve; Jesus entrusted a unique mission to him. Through a revelation from the Father, Peter had confessed: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Our Lord then declared to him: "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it."Christ, the "living Stone",thus assures his Church, built on Peter, of victory over the powers of death. Because of the faith he confessed Peter will remain the unshakable rock of the Church. His mission will be to keep this faith from every lapse and to strengthen his brothers in it.

553 Jesus entrusted a specific authority to Peter: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."The "power of the keys" designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, confirmed this mandate after his Resurrection: "Feed my sheep."The power to "bind and loose" connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgements, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church. Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles and in particular through the ministry of Peter, the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom. (CCC 551-553)

My question is, from a non-Catholic point of view, why did Jesus choose "Rock" as a name for Peter in the first place? Answering whether or not Peter is called big rock or little rock doesn't answer why Jesus called him a rock - of any size.

I'm wanting to know why exactly non-Catholics believe Christ changed Peter's name (rock...big or small), and what does it signify in comparison to what the Catholic Church teaches.

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As a correction to an otherwise very good question, there is no significance to the variant forms of the word for rock in the passage - it was dictated by grammar. See When Jesus gave Peter his name (rock) what is the significance that he then said upon a ‘different’ kind of rock he would build his church? – ThaddeusB Nov 23 '15 at 16:10
up vote 14 down vote accepted

When Jesus first met Peter, he was known as "Simon, son of John". Simon was a fisherman as likely his father was and his father's father and so on. In eastern and middle-eastern cultures, a person's identity is much more closely associated with who his father is. Simon's identity as a fisherman was closely tied to who his father was.

When Jesus calls Peter to Himself in John 1, Jesus says, "You are Simon, Son of John. You will be called Cephas [Peter] (John 1:42).

In the other gospels, we hear Jesus telling Peter after the miraculous catch of fish that Jesus would make him a fisher of men. Peter was a fisher of fish--Jesus would make him a fisher of men. (Matthew 4:19)

Thus, the name change seems to identify a change in identity and calling.

Interestingly enough, after the resurrection, Jesus finds Peter fishing again--for fish! Jesus repeats the miracle of the enormous catch of fish, then addresses Peter directly. Each time, Jesus calls him by the name of "Simon, son of John", which was associated with his previous live as a fishermen. It is as if Jesus is asking him what his identity is going to be. Will it be "Simon, the son of John--the fishermen" or will it be "Peter, the fisher of men". Incidentally, the distinguishing factor seems to be Peter's confession of love for Jesus.

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. John 21:15-17 ESV

Peter is, indeed, hardly ever referred to as "Simon, son of John" in any of the gospels. In fact, in the Synoptics, he is only referred to as such when his call is recorded in Matthew 4 and Mark 1. The only exception is upon Peter's confession as Jesus as the Christ in Matthew 16. However, in this case, Jesus affirms who he was in referring to him as Simon, but then affirming who has become in immediately calling him by the name of Peter.

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah [son of John]! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Matthew 16:17-18 ESV

John is the only book in which Peter is frequently referred to as "Simon" or "Simon Peter". The reason for this, however, is likely that John knew Peter for many years by the name of "Simon"--not "Peter", while the other writers knew him primarily as Peter. So, John seems to retain this familiar reference, much like childhood friends still call each other by nicknames or familiar names many years later.


So... all that to say that there is good reason to conclude that the reason for the name change in this case was to demonstrate the change from "Simon, son of John, the fisher of fish" to "Peter, apostle of Jesus Christ, fisher of men."

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+1 I like the concluding paragraph especially..from what I can tell this answer would fit nicely into a Catholic do you think this ties in with the non Catholic interpretation of the meaning of Peters name meaning foundational rock? – user5286 Sep 17 '13 at 16:56
@CharlesAlsobrook I think the distinction is that yes, Peter's identity and calling were changed, but so was that of Saul of Tarsus. The book of Acts is basically half Peter and half Paul, and the comparison between the two is quite similar, seeming to equate the new--not exalt Peter over Paul. – Narnian Sep 17 '13 at 16:59
@narian I agree with you about exaltation of Peter over Paul...I don't feel comfortable doing that. What does Paul's name mean? Did Jesus change it? – user5286 Sep 17 '13 at 17:05
@CharlesAlsobrook See this - How was Saul changed to Paul? – Mawia Sep 18 '13 at 4:11
@Mawia Got it! Seems to me that Paul's name change had little or no theological significance, and that Our Lord had little or nothing to do with directly changing his name as he clearly did Peter's. This confirms my belief that Peter's name change (not his worthiness, but his predestination of having a very important name change) was much more important than Paul's. Why was it so much more important according to non-Catholic theology? – user5286 Sep 18 '13 at 10:37

My answer may be simplistic, but sometimes even the most profound concepts can be laid out in terms that even a child can understand. (Does my assertion remind you of someone who spoke of the necessity of becoming as a child to enter the kingdom of heaven? Could it have been--oh, I don't know . . . Jesus?)

Jesus changed Simon Bar-Jonah's name to Peter (viz., a stone) because Jesus knew what would transpire in Matthew 16, where Peter would utter those famous words:

"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!"

According to traditional Protestant theology (to which I subscribe), Peter's confession was the rock upon which Christ would build His church. This rock was not the foundation, as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 3:11, where we read

"For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Christ Jesus,"

but it was certainly a foundational truth. Peter's confession and the testimony of the early apostles were all foundational, essential truths. Christ, however, IS the foundation upon which the whole superstructure of the temple of God rests.

As Peter reminds us, each believer is a living stone, just as Peter was, and we all are being

"built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5).

Peter would probably be the first to admit that he himself was but another stone among many other stones. Joined together, however, we are living stones in a spiritual house, with Jesus as THE living stone, whom Peter also described as

  • choice
  • precious
  • the cornerstone
  • of precious value to believers
  • rejected by unbelievers
  • a stone of stumbling
  • a rock of offense

As the saying goes, "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." There can be no superstructure, however, without a foundation, and that foundation is Jesus Christ.

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Lutherans have held that the special powers or duties given to Peter are not solely to persons who hold the office of the Bishop of Rome, just as they were not solely given to Peter, per se. They hold it to be signifying the Office of the Keys, which is a power or Office given to ordained pastors. The first scriptural citation in this LC-MS Lutheran explanation of Office of Keys is your Matthew 16 verse. The duties of the Office of the Keys include adminstering sacraments, and declaring forgiveness of sins to those who repent.

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Why did Jesus change Peter's name, according to non-Catholic theology?

If Jesus was speaking Greek at the time of this passage of scripture then Petra and Petros apply, however, the feminine version of the word addresses the rock linguistically, and the masculine word addresses the name of a male person. This cannot be used to say anything else with any kind of proof.

I discovered where Peter is a rock upon which the church is built, in a biblical passage. Do you know where?

Revelation 21

14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

17 And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel.

18 And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass. (like our current city skyscrapers)

19 And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper (this stone is thought to represent Peter); the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald;

20 The fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolyte; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst.

These stones are in the protective wall of the New Jerusalem - which is the 'Israel of God' that Paul spoke of and includes the Church. They are the foundation stones, so they definitely are the stones upon which the Church/Israel of God/New Jerusalem is built.

Peter's former name was Simon, meaning reed or grass-like, which is a picture of his character, impetuous, and changeable by wind going in any direction.

Jesus' changing his name to Rock was indicative of the character change Peter would have which would make him solid on the truths of Jesus and His teaching and solid to be a leader in the NT Church.

It is interesting to note that the name Rock or Peter was not in use as a name during Jesus' time, so its' choice was highly unusual as well.

Renaming someone 'Concrete' today, is comparable to the unusual and curious name Jesus gave Simon / 'Rock'.

Jesus did indeed build His Church upon Peter according to the vision of Revelation 21, where Peter and the apostles are all foundation stones in the protective wall of the New Jerusalem /Israel of God &/ the Church.

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@Charles Alsobrook, this is from a Prot. pov – Hello Nov 21 '14 at 16:07
  • Abram was changed to Abraham.

  • Saul was changed to Paul.

  • Simon was changed to Peter?

No. Jesus did not change Simon's name.

Simon's name is still 'Simon.'

Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat,but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Luke 22:31-32 (ESV)

The name 'Peter' was given to Simon as a title of his role/function as the one through whom the church will be built.

Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Matthew 16:16-19 (ESV)

The purpose of Simon was to be the "first" one to open the door (to preach the gospel) to the world. In this sense alone Simon is first. His Petrine role is only about the building if the church and the church is built upon faith alone in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9).

2 The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;[a] 4 Simon the Zealot,[b] and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Matthew 10:2 (ESV)

Simon himself who is called Peter knew of his nominal title:

1 Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

2 Peter 1:1 (ESV)


Simon's name is still 'Simon.' His name of 'Peter' is a title of his office. He alone has the role of being Peter (i.e. the first one to preach the good news to all). The power to preach the good news is given to all of the apostles, though (Matthew 16:19,18:18).

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