Sunday, December 5, 2010

Your name is Peter now.

Alright, last note was a little dry, but that's just because the really cool stuff is right here. Let's get to it.

Jesus continues, "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." Before, he addressed him as "Simon Bar-Jonah," for the quite simple reason that that was his name. His name was not Peter. His name was Simon.

Let me remind you of how he is first introduced in Matthew: "Simon (who is called Peter)."(Mat. 4:18) The gospels were written some time after the resurrection of Christ, and Peter would be well known. The name of Simon, however, may well not have been, since he is only ever referred to as Peter (or Cephas, the Greek version of Peter: see Gal. 2:9-14) after the events of the gospels. Hence his introduction in Mat. 4:18 basically says "Simon (now known as Peter)".

Back to the verse at hand. "You are Peter." Effectively, "Your name is Peter now." He has just changed Peter's name here. How crazy is that? He does it right after Peter's confession of him as Christ, and not only the Christ, but the Son of the Living God. This is the first time in Matthew that Christ's status not only as Christ, as annointed by God, as messiah, is stated in conjunction with his divine status as the Son of God, and the revelation and acknowledgment prompts a literal name change. This could easily be seen as a precursor, a taste, a look ahead, at an event Jesus references in Revelations: "To the one who conquers... I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it."(Rev. 2:17). It's not a perfect parallel, but the parallel is definitely there-Peter has, in his confession, conquered, and as a result has received a new name.

Now, both the old name and the new name have incredible significance. Simon, in Hebrew, means "he has heard." And indeed, as Jesus points out, he has heard--he heard the Father reveal who Jesus was. Here's the crazy part--he fulfilled his old name. He heard what he was meant to hear, and now he gets a new name. Neither of the names are just sounds, meaningless noises that have nothing to do with him--both of them are important. The new name is not a name chosen out of thin air. Jesus has a specific purpose in mind. "You are Peter," and then you look at the footnote and see, "Peter sounds like the Greek word for rock." "you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

So, basically, it goes like this. "Blessed are you, Simon, because as your name suggests, you have heard the Father tell you who I am. Now that you have fulfilled your old name, you are Peter, a rock, and on this rock I will build my church." Now, this is where it can get tricky, because sometimes we good evangelicals get uncomfortable when it's suggested that we may not all be equal in the church, that there may be some people who are higher up and others who are lower. As I said in my previous note, I don't have the time to properly research the various arguments and the original Greek and all that, but from what I gather, the reading that makes the most sense is the intuitive one, the one where Jesus, having just specifically changed someone's name from Simon to Peter with the express purpose of having a name that "sounds like the Greek word for rock," is telling that person, "on this rock (you, the person whose name I just changed to "rock") will I build my church." And this, for the purpose of this note, is what I'm trying to say.

Let's remember who Peter is. Peter is the guy who tried to walk on water--and sank. The guy who rebukes Jesus and is then compared to Satan. The guy who denies Jesus three times after swearing to never leave his side. That's who Christ chose to build his church on. The guy without perfect faith, the guy who acts without thinking, the guy who lets his flesh get the better of him sometimes. The guy that all of us can relate to, because we are all that guy. The church was built on Peter, and it is guys just like Peter who make up its floors, its walls, its... other metaphorical components. In a way (and I'm not quite sure at this point how literal a way I want to make it), all Christians could be called Simon at one point. Once they hear, then they become Peter, the rocks on which and with which Christ builds the church.

This post was written in 2010. And in 2014, I published my very own book, Simon, Who Is Called Peter. It's a First-Person narration, meaning it gets you inside the head of Jesus' most notorious disciple. However, it's also extensively footnoted, referencing dozens of commentaries and scholarly works on the life of Peter. CLint Arnold, Dean of Talbot School of Theology, calls it "an account that is both faithful to the biblical text and engagingly expressed," and Darian Lockett, Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies, describes it as "a comprehensive portrait of Peter that is delightfully and skillfully woven together with the fabric of the New Testament." If that sounds like something you'd like to read, check it out!

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