Part Two: WHICH "Rock"?
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Why would Jesus choose this place, the filthiest (morally) place within walking distance of his earthly region of ministry? Might it be possible that he took his [apostles] to the most degenerate place possible to say to them “THIS is where I want you to build my church. I want you to go out into the repugnantly degenerate places, where God is not even known. I want you to go out to places that make Caesarea Philippi look tame, and THAT is where I want you to build my church.” Because that is exactly what they did. They went to places in Asia Minor and the ends of the earth, where “gods” were worshipped in unspeakably awful manners and where Christians would be persecuted in horrific manner, and they gave their lives doing EXACTLY what they were told to do by their Rabbi. Fishing The Abyss.
Exactly which “rock” Jesus was going to build this on – Peter’s confession or Peter’s hereditary authority – has divided Christians for centuries, at times occasioning as much cruel, unreasoning terror as proceeds from the Gates of Hell themselves. But what if Jesus meant both alternatives plus a third: this Rock of the “gods”?
Seldom explored clues are in the meaning of “gates”, and of “upon”. Even the word “church”, the common translation today of εκκλεσιαν, translated “congress” above, was the booty of enough of a translation war that King James made that the one single word where his translators were ordered not to follow the Greek text but the king’s command.
Well, Jesus didn’t use the word “Congress”. But neither did He quite use the word “church”. He used the word “ekklesian”, which was very much like a “congress” and very little like a “church” today. What does that Greek word mean, if not “church”, which virtually every translation since the King James version renders it?
What Jesus said He would build is veiled by the translation “church”. It is instructive to consider what the Greek word meant when Matthew wrote it, how Tyndale translated that Greek word a century before the King James Version, why King James made such a royal fuss over that poor innocent word, and why “congress” is closer to its original meaning.
KJV translates “ekklesia” as “assembly” only 3 times, where it is so obviously NOT a church worship service that translating “church” would raise red flags: Acts 19:32, 39, 41, the assembly that, much like in Greece elections, gathered to discuss and rule on Paul’s guilt.
Two other times “assembly” translates a different Greek word: πανηγθρις - panhguris (“general assembly”, celebration, national holiday, described Olympic games) in Hebrews 12:31 (“general assembly and church”) and sunagwgh σθναγωγη (literally, “synagogue”) in James 2:2.
Vincent’s Word Studies: “not only of assemblies for worship, but of gatherings for other public purposes. From the meeting itself the transition is easy to the place of meeting, the synagogue; and in this sense the term is used throughout the New Testament, with the following exceptions: In Acts 13:43, it is rendered congregation by the A. V., though Rev. gives synagogue; and in Revelation 2:9; 3:9, the unbelieving Jews, as a body, are called synagogue of Satan.”
The King James translation reads:
Matthew 16:13 When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? 14 And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. 15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? 16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. 17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. 18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
“Upon”, “rock”, “church”, “Gates”. What did their Greek words mean to Greeks?
The Three “Rocks”
Jesus pointed to “this rock”, but the Bible doesn’t tell us where He was pointing, if He was. Protestants say it was Peter’s rock-solid confession. Catholics say it was Peter himself. Recent Bible commentators have noticed He was standing near the “Rock of the Gods”. Could Jesus have meant all three?
Peter. Peter was certainly an important part of the founding of Jesus’ Church. (Uh, Congress. Oh well.) He was a leader of the Church At Jerusalem, he wrote part of the Bible, and the Bible tells us more about his faith walk than about that of any of the other 11 Apostles.
Whether he ever presumed to have the final word on all theological questions, much less whether he ever imagined that his authority would be institutionalized into a succession of humans holding the final word on all theological questions, is vigorously disputed; but surely there is no disagreement that his was a critical role in the foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ. Which makes Peter a reasonable theory about what “rock” Jesus meant.
The “confession” of Peter is trivialized in much current theology as a mere intellectual statement of fact made in the safety of one’s home, or one’s church in which everyone smiles at you for saying it.
No, that falls short of Peter’s confession. Peter wasn’t just smart. He may not have been the smartest apostle, to know that. Others likely knew that. But who else dared say it?
Peter’s statement was not in a safe place. Jesus had taken Peter and the others into the spiritually darkest place on earth, the most dangerous place on earth for a believer, very likely a crowded place, and had very likely drawn the attention of very evil people, who were watching and listening.
Peter knew not only the evil of that cursed Rock of the Gods with that pathetic Gates of Hell, but he knew that the mountain, at whose base this city laid, was the very spot where fallen angels had descended from Heaven to violate human women to create the race of wicked giants. He knew that this mountain was called the mountain of Baal both by the Phoenicians on the other side of it, but in Scripture.
Caesarea Philippi/Banias is located at the foot of Mount Hermon (see center and bottom of photo). Mount Hermon is part of a range that divided the land of Israel from ancient Syria and Phoenicia (modern Lebanon). The Phoenicians, worshippers of Baal (think Jezebel–e.g.,1 Kgs. 18:19), actually considered Mount Hermon to be the mountain of Baal. Long before Alexander the Great instituted the worship of Pan in the area, Baal was the main attraction. In fact, Mount Hermon was also known as Mount Baal-Hermon in biblical times (Judg. 3:3; 1 Chron. 5:23). [www.biblestudywithrandy.com/2016/03/caesarea-philippi-nephilim Caesarea-Philippi & Nephilim]
But Peter believed what he said, beyond mere intellectually grasping the facts.
When you really know the Son of the Living God is with you, not just intellectually but you think about how that impacts all the reality around you, it hits you that for all the danger there may be in saying what you know, that is a lot safer than denying what you know; it hits you that no danger can touch you without the consent of God, and that God will not burden you with more than will help you grow because God loves you a lot more than you love yourself.
Peter was bold. He said what he saw, where the blind were listening.
There were whole centuries after Peter’s time when not only would everyone smile at you for saying what Peter said, but people would torture you to death if you didn’t say that, along with several more statements not particularly in the Bible but required by men who called themselves God’s representatives.
But where Peter spoke, people were destroyed for saying a lot less than Peter did.
This was not just another place of pagan idolatry. This was the spot where fallen angels had come down to mate with the daughters of men, resulting in the giants who had necessitated the Great Flood, and which later had triggered such evil in the land and even its polluted animals that their near-genocide by Israel was justified.
Peter was not ignorant of this history! He had read it in the Book of Enoch, which he later cited in one of his letters to Congress. Uh, Church. (1 Peter 2:4-5)
Book of Enoch: 6:1 And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied that in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters. 2 And the angels, the children of the heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to one another: ‘Come, let us choose us wives from among the children of men and beget us children.’ 3 And Semjâzâ, who was their leader, said unto them: ‘I fear ye will not indeed agree to do this deed, and I alone shall have to pay the penalty of a great sin.’ 4 And they all answered him and said: ‘Let us all swear an oath, and all bind ourselves by mutual imprecations not to abandon this plan but to do this thing.’ 5 Then sware they all together and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it. 6 And they were in all two hundred; who descended ‹in the days› of Jared on the summit of Mount Hermon, and they called it Mount Hermon, because they had sworn and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it (Charles, R. H. (Ed.). (1913). Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (Vol. 2, p. 191). Oxford: Clarendon Press.). Bible Study with Randy
Peter, along with every other Jew, would not have needed to read Enoch to understand how evil this place was. The very name of this mountain means “devoted to God for destruction”, the same name given the evil inhabitants of Canaan whom the Israelites destroyed with God’s miraculous help.
“Just the name ‘Hermon’ would have caught the attention of Israelite and Jewish readers” (The Unseen Realm, by Michael Heiser, p. 201). The name Hermon is derived from the Hebrew words ḥerem (a thing devoted to God for destruction) or ḥaram (the verb form which means to devote to destruction because it is set apart to God alone). These are the words used in the Conquest narrative (Deut.-Joshua) to describe the utter destruction of the people of Canaan. Heiser believes that this word is particularly connected with the descendants of the Nephilim (e.g., Num. 13:33). Bible Study with Randy
Plus, Peter knew about this place from Sunday School. The city, called Baal Gad (literally “Master Luck”), was the name of a god of fortune who may later have been identified with Pan. Joshua 11:17 says Baal Gad was “in the valley of Lebanon under mount Hermon”. It was also listed in Joshua 12:7 and 13:5.
Not only was this “Gates of Hell” in the “Rock of the ‘gods’” at the foot of the Mountain Devoted to Destruction where demons descended to mate with humans, but the whole mountain, cliff, and city were in the Northwest corner of the Land of Bashan, which means “the Place of the Serpent”.
Not exactly the kind of place a respectable Son of God should want to be seen!
Although one meaning of Bashan is “fertile, stoneless piece of ground,” another meaning of this root is “Serpent” (Lete, del O. G. (1999). Bashan. In K. van der Toorn, B. Becking, & P. W. van der Horst [Eds.], Dictionary of deities and demons in the Bible [2nd extensively rev. ed., p. 161]). Bashan has associations with the Rephaim, descendants of the Nephilim going way back in antiquity. Bible students should recall that Israel, under the leadership of Moses conquered this territory which belonged to Og king of Bashan. In fact, Joshua 12:4-5 says it this way: “The other king was Og king of Bashan and his territory, who was of the remnant of the giants [Hebrew = Rephaim], who dwelt at Ashtaroth and at Edrei, and reigned over Mount Hermon, over Salcah, over all Bashan, as far as the border of the Geshurites and the Maachathites, and over half of Gilead to the border of Sihon king of Heshbon.”
Note the references to Mount Hermon and the Nephilim in this passage. Not only does the Bible state that King Og of Bashan is a descendant of the Nephilim, according to Heiser the designation of Og as an “Amorite” associates him with Babylon. Furthermore, the dimensions of his bed (see Deut. 3:8-11) “are precisely those of the cultic bed in the ziggurat called Entemenanki–which is the ziggurat most archaeologists identify as the Tower of Babel referred to in the Bible” (Heiser, The Unseen Realm, p. 198).
....Bashan, the territory in which Caesarea Philippi resides, has ancient associations with the Nephilim, as well as carrying the meaning of “the place of the Serpent” The association of Bashan with “The place of the serpent,” as well as being a dwelling place of the Rephaim ( a word used in the Bible for the descendants of the Nephilim) also finds confirmation in the Canaanite literature discovered at Ugarit. Bible Study with Randy
Not that God needs man to feel good, but how must God feel! Rejected everywhere! His very birth made the occasion of the mass slaughter of innocent, beautiful babies and toddlers!
Rejected by everyone important, a curiosity to the masses. Finally one human acknowledges Him, and not just in the comfort of home but where saying it is so costly! How Jesus must have appreciated Peter’s kindness!
Expositor’s Bible Commentary: THIS conversation at Caesarea Philippi is universally regarded as marking a new era in the life of Christ.
His rejection by “His own” is now complete. Jerusalem, troubled at His birth, had been troubled once again when He suddenly came to His Temple, and began to cleanse it in His Father’s name; and though many at the feast were attracted by His deeds of mercy, He could not commit Himself to any of them: (Joh_2:24) there was no rock there on which to build His Church.
He had passed through Samaria, and found there fields white unto the harvest, but the time of reaping was not yet.
Galilee had given better promise: again and again it had appeared as if the foundation of the new kingdom would be firmly laid in the land of "Zebulun and Naphtali"; but there had been bitter and crushing disappointment, - even the cities where most of His mighty works were done repented not.
The people had eagerly welcomed His earthly things; but when He began to speak to them of heavenly things they “went back, and walked no more with Him.”
And though opportunity after opportunity was given them while He hovered on the outskirts, ever and anon returning to the familiar scenes, they would not repent; they would not welcome or even receive the kingdom of God which Christ came to found.
The country has been traversed from the wilderness of Judea, in the far south, even unto Dan; and as there had been no room for the Infant King in the inn, so there was none in all the land for the infant kingdom.
So was Peter, the man, indeed the “rock” upon which Jesus would build his.....what He was about to build?
The Confession. What would “church” be, without the manner of “confession” that Peter made? Romans 10:9 “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” What would “church” be, without “saved” people? Clearly, Peter’s confession, which Paul said was the confession of every Christian, is a central pillar of the Church/Congress.
Romans 10:9 is trivialized in comfortable safe American theology as saying the words once in your life before friends who will reward you for saying them. But if we remember where Peter made that confession, could the “rock” Jesus meant be our readiness to “confess Jesus” even where confession is very costly?
Well, of course, persecuted churches indeed thrive and strengthen as their people do that.
So Jesus may very well have meant, by “this rock”, both Peter, the man, and Peter’s bridge-burning “confession” which is an example for all of us. Then what about the Rock of the “gods”?
The Rock of the “gods”. Something would have to be very weird for Jesus to build His Church/Congress “upon” that pagan cliff – meaning, that paganism would become the foundation for Christianity! But the Greek preposition epi – επι – just as easily translates “against”. It is an all-purpose preposition. It is surely true that Jesus built His church/Congress “against” all the powers of Hell, and that the more viciously Hell attacks, the more His Church/Congress grows.
….[There is an interpretation] that the “this rock” Jesus spoke of was neither Peter himself nor his confession, but the place where they were standing at the time. This interpretation is also set forth in the Lexham Geographic Commentary [which] is currently only available in some Logos Bible Software base packages.... https://elliotritzema.com/2016/11/12/caesarea-philippi-and-the-gates-of-hell "Caesarea Philippi and the Gates of Hell"]
Story Continues at Part Three: The Rock Congress (Return to Part One: