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The gates of Hades will not prevail against it

17 And answering Jesus said to him, ‘You are blessed, Simon Bar-Jona, because flesh and blood did not reveal (this) to you but my father in the heavens. 18 And I say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my congregation, and (the) gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.

This verse has often been used to support a theology of spiritual warfare. In fact, Jesus is saying something quite straightforward but crucial for the continuation of the community of believers and the success of the message that they proclaimed.

1. ‘Gates of hades’ (pulai hadou) is a semitic idiom for death or proximity to death: cf. Job 38:17; Ps. 9:13; 107:18; Is. 38:10; Wisd. 16:13; Odes 11:10; and 3 Macc. 5:51: ‘(The Jews) cried out in a very loud voice, imploring the Ruler over every power to manifest himself and be merciful to them, as they stood now at the gates of death (pros pulais hadou).’

2. Hades is not associated with the demonic or understood as the dwelling place of Satan. Heb. 2:14 speaks of Satan as the one who has the ‘power of death’, but this is not enough to show that the ‘gates of Hades’ can be a metonymy for the hosts of hell.

3. The verb katiskuō with the genitive is dynamic: it means ‘overpower’, rather than ‘withstand’ (cf. Jer. 15:18 LXX). Therefore, ‘the gates of Hades/death will not overpower the church’. There is no suggestion that the church will or should launch an assault on the powers of death or demonic forces.

Jesus is saying, therefore, that the ‘gates of hades will not overcome the church’. But his point is not that the church must be always on the defensive. What he is saying is that as the disciples undertake a mission that will bring them into conflict with hostile political and spiritual forces, that will put their lives at risk, they can be reassured that nothing, not even death, will ultimately overcome the community that is based on the confession of Jesus as the Christ. The statement is important, therefore, precisely because the church must put itself at risk by going out into the world. This is what Jesus goes on to talk about: he himself would suffer, be killed, and be raised from the dead; but anyone who chose to follow him would also have to take up his cross, lose his life, and be glorified with the Son of man (16:21-28).

Comments

Death is the gates of hell/hades or afterlife.
Death does not prevail if you have children because life continue through your children.

Jesus is telling Peter that the Church he will build upon Peter will continue through Peter’s DESCENDANTS as with Jacob and ISRAEL. A Church is a nation/family chosen as an example to all other nations, as ISRAEL.

BARJONA is the CHURCH Jesus built on Simon Peter Barjona and Peter’s descendents. All who are saved enters the Kingdom, not the Church.

Having read Michael Heiser’s books, Unseen Realm and Reversing Hermon, and studying (a never ending task due to the volume of texts) huge amounts of the pseudepigrapha, dead sea scrolls and various ANE texts, I have to disagree with your assessment. I do, however, have to agree with Heiser completely on this text, and instead of me trying to articulate his position in a short succinct manner (which I’ll surely fail to do) I’ll just quote his short succinct summary from his book, I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible.

Burying Hell

“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah!… 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” (Matt 16:17–18). The “gates of hell”? Why did Jesus respond to Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” in this way? (16:16)

The Gates of Hell in Cosmic Geography

When we read “hell,” we naturally think of the realm of the unbelieving dead. But the Greek word translated “hell” (ᾅδης, hadēs) is also the name for the Underworld—Hades, the realm of all the dead, not just unbelievers. The Hebrew equivalent to Hades is Sheol—the place “under the earth” where all went after this life ended.

Sheol had “bars” (Job 17:16) and “cords” to tie down its inhabitants (2 Sam 22:5–6), preventing any escape (Job 7:9). Both the righteous and the unrighteous went to Sheol. The righteous believer, however, could hope for deliverance and eternity with God (Psa 49:15).

While the imagery associated with the Underworld would have unnerved the disciples, Jesus’ reference to the gates of Hades would have jolted them for another reason. If they knew their Old Testament well, they understood that they were standing before those very gates as Jesus spoke.

The Gates of Hell in Terrestrial Geography

Matthew 16 takes place in Caesarea Philippi, situated near a mountainous region containing Mount Hermon. In the Old Testament, this region was known as Bashan—a place with a sinister reputation.

According to the Old Testament, Bashan was controlled by two kings—Sihon and Og—who were associated with the ancient giant clans: the Rephaim and the Anakim (Deut 2:10–12; Josh 12:1–5). The two main cities of their kingdom were Ashtaroth and Edrei, home to the Rephaim (Deut 3:1, 10–11; Josh 12:4–5).

These cities and their Rephaim inhabitants are mentioned by name in Canaanite (Ugaritic) cuneiform tablets. The people of Ugarit believed the Rephaim were the spirits of dead warrior-kings. They also believed that the cities of Ashtaroth and Edrei were the entryway to the Underworld—the gates of Sheol. Also, during Israel’s divided kingdom period, Jereboam built a pagan religious center at Dan—just south of Mount Hermon—where the Israelites worshiped Baal instead of Yahweh.

For the disciples, Bashan was an evil, otherworldly domain. But they had two other reasons to feel queasy about where they were standing. According to Jewish tradition, Mount Hermon was the location where the divine sons of God had descended from heaven—ultimately corrupting humankind via their offspring with human women (see Gen 6:1–4). These offspring were known as Nephilim, ancestors of the Anakim and the Rephaim (Num 13:30–33). In Jewish theology, the spirits of these giants were demons (1 Enoch 15:1–12).

To make the region even spookier, Caesarea Philippi had been built and dedicated to Zeus. This pagan god was worshiped at a religious center built a short distance from the more ancient one in Dan—at the foot of Mount Hermon. Aside from the brief interlude during the time of Joshua through Solomon, the gates of hell were continually open for business.

Jesus Declares War

The rock which Jesus referred to in this passage was neither Peter nor Himself; it was the rock on which they were standing—the foot of Mount Hermon, the demonic headquarters of the Old Testament and the Greek world.

We often presume that the phrase “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” describes a Church taking on the onslaught of evil. But the word “against” is not present in the Greek. Translating the phrase without it gives it a completely different connotation: “the gates of hell will not withstand it.”

It is the Church that Jesus sees as the aggressor. He was declaring war on evil and death. Jesus would build His Church atop the gates of hell—He would bury them.

Heiser, M. S. (2014). I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible. (J. D. Barry & R. Van Noord, Eds.) (pp. 117–119). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press; Bible Study Magazine.

Hmm. Interesting, but I’m not convinced.

There’s no explicit evidence—is there?—that Jesus was influenced by Canaanite mythology.

If there are mythological overtones, I’m not sure they would be at odds with the basic point which I make, which is that Jesus assures the disciples, who will have to take up their crosses to follow him, that death will not overcome the community entrusted with the gospel of the coming reign of God.

No reference is provided for the claim that the people of Ugarit “believed that the cities of Ashtaroth and Edrei were the entryway to the Underworld—the gates of Sheol”. It would help to know the context and language.

The summary ignores the frequent use of the expression in Hellenistic Jewish texts—ie., in texts directly relevant to the period—to mean “death” without the mythological connotations. There are no explicit texts that evoke the Canaanite mythology.

I don’t see how “rock” refers to mount Hermon. There is no reference to a mountain, and Peter’s name is surely significant. Why would he say, “You are Peter…”?

I gave reasons for thinking that katiskuō means “overpower” rather than “withstand”. Actually, “against” (kata) is part of the verb. The word effectively means “be strong against”. Jesus is saying that the gates of Hades will not be strong against the church. This could perhaps be taken either way: either death will not overcome the church or death will not be able to resist the church. The latter seems very unlikely. There is no basis for saying that the church is the aggressor.

Andrew,

Well, why would you be convinced (of anything) by a mere small little summary such as that? Believe me though, Heiser is quite thorough in his book Unseen Realm. The level of scholarship that this guy possesses is more than anybody I’ve ever come across in my lifetime. The likes of NT Wright would do well to strive to be where this guy is. The amount of data from other scholarship he presents throughout his book is equally impressive. And I’m not referring so much to the subject matter of my post here as that conclusion was a mere side note worth about a page and half in his book. But once you have read his book, his conclusion concerning it is a no-brainer. You should (need) get his book Unseen Realm. I promise you it will give you food to blog about for years to come.

There’s no explicit evidence—is there?—that Jesus was influenced by Canaanite mythology.

Depends on what you mean by that. Do you mean is there a text that states that Jesus read their literature? Obviously no. But, Jesus knew his OT, and it’s very context and setting existed within a Canaanite world(view). All Jews were familiar with it. It was part of second temple theology. Heiser demonstrates over and over the parallels and intersections all throughout the OT. Just consider Israel’s interaction with Baal - a Canaanite god who eventually displaced El as the chief deity of the Canaanite pantheon. That’s interesting on two fronts. 1) El is the same name used of YHWH throughout the OT (as well as other gods), 2) just as the Canaanite religion had a divine council, YHWH had a divine council (OT sons of God) and their parallels are striking (see Heiser’s book Unseen Realm)!

I’m not sure they would be at odds with the basic point which I make, which is that Jesus assures the disciples, who will have to take up their crosses to follow him, that death will not overcome the community entrusted with the gospel of the coming reign of God.

We’ll maybe I jumped the gun a bit. You are correct about that.

No reference is provided for the claim that the people of Ugarit “believed that the cities of Ashtaroth and Edrei were the entryway to the Underworld—the gates of Sheol”. It would help to know the context and language.

Of course. It was just a little summary statement. See Heiser’s book (Unseen Realm) and you’ll be provided with all the scholarly data you can state to absorb. Heiser is an expert on the Ugarit text (among others) and he provides all the references, quotes and connections in his book. In fact, he has so much data he created a website called moreunseenrealm.com to provide additional discussion for each chapter of his book. The resources there alone is worth reading! His book is what motived me to buy all these text in my Logos Bible Software (and it turned out as a surprise to me that Heiser is a scholar-in-residence at Faithlife - the company that make Logos) and start readying and studying them.

There is no basis for saying that the church is the aggressor.

Gates are a defensive structure not an offensive weapon. Thus, by defintion since Hades was using gates to keep somthing out the Church must be the agressor. Jesus was declaring the gates would not “be strong against the Church” as you put it.

There is much more going on in this text, and in the entire Bible, for that matter, that has gone completely unseen, not by scholarship, but by the Church. Heiser, is very clear at the outset of his book, that he hasn’t come up with anything new, he has merely taken what scholarship has already known and is out there, and put it together in a book(s). I can’t recommend this book enough to you Andrew. This book has set me on a path of study like no other. I promise you Andrew, while it will change much of your perspective it also, at the same time, aligns and supports, to your benefit, your kingdom/political narriative. In the end, now that I think about it, that is the main theme of the book. YHWH reclaiming the nations that he himself assigned over to other elohim/sons of God (Deut 32:6-9), for himself! To sum it up in two words, and the title of his followup book to Unseen Realm, which focuses on the NT vs the OT that Unseen Realm did, YHWH was “Reversing Hermon”.