Thou art Peter

In Blog, Theology by Bruce LogueLeave a Comment

Texts give visual clues about their meanings. Comma’s, for example, help prevent confusion like in this sentence. “Let’s eat Grandpa.” Sounds like a group of cannibals. But a comma clears it all up. “Let’s eat, Grandpa.”

In many languages, gender is an important clarifier. You know, in Spanish, that if the guest conductor for the local orchestra is a maestrO, then a man will be showing up for the concert. On the other hand, if the conductor is a maestrA, then a woman will be the conductor for the evening.

In English, gender is handled by the pronouns that are used such as she and he.

Biblical Greek also relies on gender. In fact, everything has gender. Generally, roughly thinking, if a thing is nurturing and motherly then it is female, such as a church.

A text where gender is particularly important is Matthew 16:18 in which Jesus says to Peter, Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means rock), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The most common interpretations of this text have Christ founding his church on Peter, from which come all the doctrines about Peter as the first Pope. In point of fact, the Greek text says, you are petros (masculine) and on this petra (feminine) I will build my church. Jesus is clearly, based on gender, pointing to something other (feminine) than Peter (masculine). Gender is very useful in helping to understand this text.

One more text to look at is John 21:15-17. In this text we get to see the importance of nuance in interpretation. After a breakfast of fresh-caught fish, Jesus asks Peter three times if Peter loves him. Interpreters have for centuries discussed what was going on in the text, but a hint seems to be found in the words that Jesus uses. In the first two instances of love, Jesus uses the word agape, a reference to the idea of decided, committed love. In the third use of the word translated “love” changes to phileo, referring to the love of friends. Peter seems satisfied. Yes Lord, you know I phileo you.

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