Summary: A very punny, scholarly-inclined exploration into the contextual implications of Simon’s new name: Peter.
“Jesus went into Galilee. There he proclaimed the Good News from God. ‘The time has come’ he said ‘and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.’ As he was walking along by the Sea of Galilee he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net in the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you into fishers of men.’ And at once they left their nets and followed him.” (Mark 1:14-18 JB)
Jesus said: “Follow me and I will make you into fishers of men.” (Mark 1:18 JB) Simon heard: “Hey boys, how would you like to be my disciples?” Simon thought: “What kind of a rabbi recruits students on the fishing docks!” It was a baited invitation, and it worked: Jesus hooked the sons of Jonah. They were a whale of a catch, indeed: uniquely equipped to man the decks of the S.S. Disciple Ship.
Seriously, there is a profound play on words: the word parable is formed by joining the preposition para (beside) and the verb ballo (cast). Jesus observed Simon and Andrew “casting” (ballo) a net and thought to himself, “Perfect!” Jesus knew that these fishermen would quickly appreciate the similarities between casting a net and crafting a parable.
Simon was a loyal disciple; he followed his rabbi closely, observing and learning. One day, Simon realized that his rabbi was actually the Messiah. He didn’t figure that out by himself. Jesus said: “Simon, son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church…” (Matthew 16:17-18 JB) Simon thought: “Hey—I get it!”
The problem is: Gentiles don’t! Lacking an intuitive grasp of its historic context, this conversation is often interpreted as one in which Jesus promotes Simon the fisherman to Peter the codfather.
Let it be agreed that this conversation took place in Aramaic: a language in which there is no distinction between petros and petra (the contrived interpretations of the Greek are forced and lead away from a correct understanding of this text).
Let it be understood that the word Church, used here, is ecclesia (i.e. a congregation) not kuriakon (i.e. a cathedral). Let it be observed that Matthew—the evangel to the Jews—is the only writer to record Jesus’ use of ecclesia. Let it be noted that the Septuagint uses ecclesia to refer to the “congregation” of Israel (i.e. Psalms 22:22; see also Hebrews 2:12).
Let it be concluded that Matthew 16:18 makes Jewish sense: its meaning is probably derived from an ancient rabbinic story in which God beheld Abram and exclaimed, “Behold, I have found a rock to build upon.”
Let the Scriptures speak for themselves, declaring the symbolic similarities between a patriarchal founder and a “petrosine” foundation: “Consider the rock you were hewn from…consider Abraham your father.” (Isaiah 51:1 JB)
Peter and the other apostles knew their own history; and they also understand that Jesus was not promoting Peter into a role as the patriarchal “rock” (i.e. the new Abraham); it would have been clear to them that Peter was being appointed—along with the other eleven—into the role of (second generation) patriarchs (i.e., the new “sons” of Jacob – see Acts 7:8).
They understood themselves to be living at the beginning of a “new” history that would be parallel to their old story. History was about to repeat itself on a much deeper level: there would be new Patriarchs, a new Exodus (ecclesia means “calling out”), a new Israel (ecclesia also means “community”), a new Temple (the body of a believer / the body of all believers), a new priesthood, etc. All of these changes were initiated by and integrated in Jesus the Messiah. All of these changes added up to the arrival of a new reality: the Kingdom of God! Incidentally, Paul knew this too; he refers to the Old Testament adventure and then explains that “our positions in the story are parallel” (1 Corinthians 10:11 The Message.)
A simple reading of Peter’s New Testament letters indicates that he understood all of this and more; he writes as one who has discovered what the prophets were straining to detect, using the old temple as a “concrete” metaphor for the new ecclesia. Peter’s understanding of the Kingdom of God was profound; as was his sense of place within it. His first sermons (Acts 2:1-41; 3:11-26; 4:8-12) contain ample evidence that Peter’sunderstanding of Kingdom reality was fully formed from the very beginning of his preaching ministry. His first sermons contain the same themes of his later writing: he preaches Jesus from the prophets, making illuminating use of the “foundation stone” metaphor (placing Jesus in the role of the new Abraham: the pioneer of the route to the Promised Life). More importantly, his first sermons contain the same theme as the message he heard on the seashore: the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the Good News!