This essay will consider whether the apostle Peter was appointed to be the rock the first Pope.
Let us begin by considering the primary text to which appeal is made in discussing the claim that Jesus appointed Peter as Pope:
When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on Earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on Earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:13-20).
Generally, and for some odd reason, when this text is referenced in this regard the rest of the context is not considered,
Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ. From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things form the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.
Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” But He Turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:21-23).
Note that Roman Catholic scholar Jean de Launoy (1603-1678) conducted a survey of the Church Fathers through the 12th century which found that:
8 thought that the apostles (plural) were the rock
16 thought that Christ himself was the rock
17 thought that Peter was the rock
44 thought that Peter’s confession was the rock
It would be elucidating if we could ask the at least one New Testament writer how he understood Jesus’ words to Peter as this would provide historical context. As it turns out we known how the Matthew text was understood at that time. Whom did they believe was the rock? Did they understand that they were under Peter’s Papacy?
Here are Paul’s answers:
I consider that I am not at all inferior to the most eminent apostles (2nd Corinthians 11:5).
How could Paul not be inferior to the Pope?
…by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the “stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.” Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:11-12).
Clearly, Jesus is the chief cornerstone.
For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.
So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you and inheritance among all those who are sanctified (Acts 20:29-32).
To whom does Paul commend the flock? To Peter? To Peter the rock? To Peter the rock, the Pope? To the Papacy? To the Vatican? To even the Bishopric? No, rather to God and to the word of His grace.
For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ (1st Corinthians 3:11).
The foundation is laid on Jesus Himself.
…they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4).
A clear identification of “the Rock.”
…you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord (Ephesians 2:19-20).
Now the fuller picture comes into focus: The ultimate foundation, the chief cornerstone, is Jesus Himself and upon this foundation are built the household of God is built upon apostles and prophets. In fact, Paul wrote that “Christ is head of the church” (Ephesians 5:23).
Note also that if Peter was the Pope and was known to be the Pope; why do the apostles argue about who is greater (Matthew 18:1, 20:20-26; Mark 10:35-43)?
Now, what if we could ask Peter himself how he understood what Jesus had told him?
We have his answer:
The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder (1st Peter 5:1).
Here Peter is affirming his equal standing; he did not see himself as Pope with supreme authority over any other elder.
Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame. Therefore, to you who believe He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, The stone which the builders reject has become the chief cornerstone, and a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense (1 Peter 2:4-8).
Peter clearly considered Jesus to be the rock, the stone, a chief cornerstone, upon which a spiritual house, a holy priesthood is based.
Now, let us take a closer look at Matthew 16:18 where Jesus says, “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church.”
In Greek there are two words to which we must pay special attention since the text thus reads, “you are Petros, and on this petra I will build My church.”
Petros is a masculine word and petra is feminine.
Petros is something like a piece of rock or stone and petra is a rock like a bolder.
Thus, there is a clear distinction in the Greek text between masculine and feminine as well as a distinction between a pebble and a bolder (or a little piece of a rock and a massive rock).
In Spanish this distinction is likewise clear since Peter/Petro is Pedro and rock/petra is piedra.
But, says the Roman Catholic apologist, Jesus was likely speaking in Aramaic and thus, would have said, “you are Kepha, and on this kepha I will build My church.” So, says the Roman Catholic apologist, there is no distinction and Jesus is clearly stating that Simon is to be known as Kepha and upon Kepha He will build His church.
However, context determines meaning. What if I were to write the following sentence?
“I love my wife, I love my dog and I love ice-cream.” Perhaps an archaeologist would find my sentence 2,000 years from now and think that I was quite disturbed since I love my wife, dog and ice-cream just the same, in the same way; after all I used the same English word for all three.
But maybe, just maybe, a fellow researcher, a linguist perhaps, would explain that while in twenty-first century North American English there was one word love, it actually was used to describe various emotions and intensities. She may explain that context determines meaning.
They may even find more of my writing in which I state, “I love ice-cream because of its sweet flavor and smooth texture,” “I love my dog because she is the mellowest and cutest Chihuahua,” and “I love my wife because she is one flesh with me, she is my best friend, my sweetheart and mother of our children.” Now there would be more context upon which to interpret just what I meant when I used the very same English word to describe my feelings towards ice-cream, my dog and my wife.
This is precisely the case with the New Testament.
As an aside: the inspired New Testament has come to us in the Greek language in which there is a clear distinction between the name that Simon is given and the object upon which the church will be built.
Context does what I term: expand.
If a verse is not clear enough; read the verse before and after it.
If it is still not clear enough; read the whole chapter.
If it is still not clear enough; read the chapter before and after it.
If it is still not clear enough; read the entire book.
If it is still not clear enough; read the book before and after it.
If it is still not clear enough; read the whole Bible.
If it is still not clear enough seek further assistance.
The fact that the New Testament offers a wealth of context for understanding what was meant by Peter and rock, from further words of Jesus, other apostles as well as Peter himself, ultimately means that a discussion of this issue will be hampered by discussing Matthew 16 alone as far as it would be to dislodge the verse from its greater context.
Peter is one of the bricks, as it were, upon which the priesthood of all believers is built yet, he is not the rock, nor the Pope, nor even a more exalted elder; he was a blessed apostle.
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