Matt. 16:18 is sometimes used to show that Peter is the rock on which the church was built
“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church”.
The interpretation that Peter was the rock not only misses the point Jesus was trying to make – but it takes away from the true Rock who is God – and Jesus His Son – who was given authority from God.
The context of the passage is that Jesus had just asked Peter who He was. Peter had replied
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Matt. 16:16
GOD AS THE ROCK
Peter would have understood from the Old Testament that a Rock was a symbol for God –
Deut. 32:4 “The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just”
Psalm 18:31 “And who is a rock, except our God.”
Isaiah 44:8 “Is there any God besides Me, or is there any other Rock? I know of none.”
It had been revealed to Peter that Jesus was the Son of God, meaning that Jesus was also a rock.
Peter went on to write about Jesus as a rock, he was fully aware of Isaiah’s prophecy which speaks of Jesus as the foundation on which the church would be built –
I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; the one who believes will never be shaken. Isaiah 28:16
Peter himself quoted Isaiah, and referred to Jesus as the foundation or cornerstone and those who follow Him as being built into a temple of living stones –
As you come to Him, the living stone, rejected by men but chosen and precious in God’s sight, you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “See, I lay in Zion a stone, a chosen and precious cornerstone; and the one who believes in Him will never be put to shame.” To you who believe, then, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” 1 Peter 2:4-7
Thus from Peter’s own writing we can see that he understood that Jesus was the rock and foundation of the church. He also understood that he was not the only living stone but one of many.
The understanding of Matt. 16:18 from the context and wider reading of scripture is that Peter was a stone (a living stone) and a church would be built of living stones with Jesus as the foundation – the words in brackets give the sense of the passage
“And I tell you that you are Peter (Stone), and on this rock (Jesus – the Son of God) I will build my church”.
DIFFERENT WORDS FOR ROCK & STONE
Peter was called Petros, πέτρος, meaning – a stone
The Church was to be built on a rock – Petra , a different Greek word πέτρα
We are told in the 4th Gospel that Peter was called a stone, not a rock
“And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, you are Simon the son of Jona: you will be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, a stone.” John 1:42
MARY CALLED TOWER
Peter was not the only one to be given a name change.
Luke 8:2 tells us that Mary was ‘called’ Magdalene; we are not told that she was ‘from’ Magdala.
“And also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary CALLED Magdalene from whom seven demons had come out.”
In a similar way we are told that Simon was ‘called’ Peter, Jesus was ‘called’ Christ, and Thomas was ‘called’ Didymus.
The existence of first century town called Magdala where it is now, on the shores of Galilee is disputed. There are no first century references to it. It seemed to appear from the 4th century onwards first mentioned by Eusebious in his book of Holy sites. In the first century the area was called Magadan or Dalmanutha – although the KJV refers to the place as Magdala which is explained as a copyist error in Strongs. In other words, the copies the King James translators used for translating Matt. 15 were dated to around the 4th century when there was a place called Magdala probably substituted for Magadan.
It doesn’t really matter if there was or wasn’t a place called Magdala because the Bible says Mary was CALLED Magdala not FROM Magdala. It seems to be a church tradition dating from Eusebius and his mother Helena which began the rumour that Mary was FROM Magdala. Helena went to the Holy Land to identify Holy sites and find relics. She made sure her trip seemed justified.
Magdalene means TOWER. ‘Mary called Tower’ would indeed go on to be a tower of the flock. Perhaps the prophecy in Micah has an application to Mary called Tower –
“And you, O tower of the flock,
The stronghold of the daughter of Zion,
To you shall it come,
Even the former dominion shall come,
The kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem. Now why do you cry aloud?
Is there no king in your midst?
Has your counsellor perished?
For pangs have seized you like a woman in labour.
Be in pain, and labour to bring forth,
O daughter of Zion,
Like a woman in birth pangs.” Micah 4:8-10
What is the ‘former dominion’ that would come to the tower of the flock? The word for dominion is rule – The first thing in the bible to have rule over something is the sun and moon in Gen 1:16 – They had dominion over darkness.
The daughter of Zion was given that same dominion – The first dominion – light conquering darkness – 7 demons cast out.
This tower person of Micah had a counselor but he perished – Mary Magdalene had a companion – a counseller – He also perished. This tower woman was in labour – she was bringing forth children. The Beloved Disciple who left us the Fourth Gospel also brought forth children born of faith.
Jerome (translator of Bible into Latin) also referred to Mary Magdalene as ‘The Tower’.
“Mary Magdalene – called the tower from the earnestness and glow of her faith – was privileged to see the rising Christ first of all before the very apostles”. Jerome, Letter CXXVII
For further reading about Mary called Magdalene see “Under the Banner of Love”