Friday, April 2, 2010

Upon this rock

In today's Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan analyzes the sexual abuse scandal that plagues the Roman Catholic Church. In my opinion, any institution that places men in authority over the vulnerable will incubate abuse. Whether it's a church, the Boy Scouts, Yearning for Zion, a school, or some other surrogate family, predators are drawn to opportunity. That is why Christ denied his apostles human authority over men in Matthew 23:8-12. They could serve, but they could not rule. The church is to be different than the world; it should not appeal to predators.

Within her commentary, Noonan quotes or rather misquotes Matthew 16:18, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." There are two common misinterpretations of this verse and Noonan falls for both of them. The first false assumption is that Jesus promised to build his church upon Peter. In the Greek, Peter is petros, or stone. It is masculine case. The rock upon which Jesus promised to build his church is petra, feminine case. The difference is the difference between a pebble and Ayres Rock. The immovable stone upon which Christ would build his church was not Peter; it was something else in the context. This is a case of a mistaken antecedent exacerbated by the inadequacies of translation. Let's digress . . .

For what was Jesus praising Peter in this passage? "Blessed are you Simon Bar Jonah; for flesh and blood did not reveal it to you, but my father, the one in heaven." Matthew 16:17 (AB) What was it that the Father in heaven revealed to Peter? Peter's confession, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God." Matthew 16:15 (AB) Herein we find our immovable stone, the Father's revelation of the son! and the confession of life-changing faith! Peter's confesses that which all believers must consent, "[Jesus is] the Christ, the son of the living God." Likewise, 1 Corinthians 3:11 tells us there is no other foundation than Christ.

Noonan further misunderstands Jesus' next statement, ". . . and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." There is no semantic justification to presume this means the inevitable success of a human institution. Hades, often translated hell in English, was distinctly different than Gehenna, the place of final judgment. Hades was the place of the dead. To say that the gates of Hades would not prevail against the church was an allusion to Greek mythology in which the gates of Hades were guarded by Cerberus, a three-headed dog. Cerberus prevented the dead from exiting the gates of Hades.

When Jesus said that "the gates of Hades shall not prevail against [his church]," he was not promising the survival of an institution, but rather the resurrection of the dead to those who believe. This promise is not institutional, it is personal. It is the hope of eternal life for all who believe.

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