The “Rock” of Matthew 16:18: Romanism and the “primacy of Peter”

April 27, 2017

 

Roman Catholicism is the largest “professing” Christian denomination worldwide with over a billion members. In spite of the numbers, as pointed out many times before, the Roman Catholic Church is a false church embracing many teachings that sharply oppose “essential” biblical doctrine. Some of Rome’s anti-biblical teachings include Purgatory (which is a flat out denial of the sufficiency and infallibly of the alone work of Christ); the worship of Mary (as well as other false Marian doctrines); and Rome’s denial of justification through “faith alone.”

 

It is unfortunate that many Christian leaders, who are either afraid and/or unaware of the basic teachings of Romanism, stay utterly silent when it comes to Catholicism. Or even worst, they endorse the Catholic Church as a true Christian church! What happen to the divine command of Jude 3: “Contend earnestly for the faith, which was once for all handed down to the saints.”


MATTHEW 16:18


“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”


This passage (along with John 21:15-17) is so-called the hallmark proof-text that the Rome uses to teach that Peter was the “rock” (and thus, the first “Pope”) upon which Christ built His church. This notion also spawned other false Catholic doctrines such as the “infallibility” of the Pope when speaking, ex cathedra—“from the throne”)1:


We declare, say, define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff” (Pope Boniface VIII, papal bull, Unam Sanctam, A.D 1302; emphasis added).


As with any text of Scripture, to arrive at a correct interpretation of the intended meaning, one must engage in a proper exegesis of that text. Hence, for any interpretation to be “biblically” accurate, it must be exegetically justified.


Before examining this text in detail, we must consider two important points in Jesus’ response to Peter:


1. Peter’s confession was of a divine origin, thus, not of himself (cf. Phil. 1:29).2


2. According to Jesus, Peter’s confession that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” is “the rock,” upon which Jesus will build His church.


Conversely, Rome asserts that the “rock” upon which Jesus will build His church is the Apostle Peter, not his confession. This erroneous interpretation can be shown false exegetically and problematic historically.


Exegetical. The phrase in question reads: kagō de soi legō hoti su ei Petros kai epi tautē tē petra oikodomēsō mou tēn ekklēsian (lit., “I also and to you say that you are Peter and upon this the rock I will build of Me the church”). Note the following:

 

  • The context, which surrounds Jesus statement to Peter in verse 18, starts in verse 13 with Jesus’ question to Peter regarding His identity: “But who do you say that I am?” It is Peter’s answer, that is, his confession of who Jesus is (“the Messiah, the Son of the living God”) that prompts Jesus’ response to Peter.
     

  • The personal pronoun su (“you are Peter”) is a second person singular pronoun. Note: Jesus here is directly addressing Peter: “I also say to you that you [su] are Peter. . . .” Thus, Jesus said to him, not about him.
     

  • Whereas the pronoun tautē (“upon this rock”) is a demonstrative pronoun, which has a third person significance,3 that is, it is in indirect address. “Indirect,” in that Jesus is not directly addressing or speaking to the rock, but rather He is speaking to Peter: “You [su] *direct address] are Peter4 and upon this [epi tautē, indirect address] rock I will build My church.” Hence, the text differentiates between Peter, to whom Jesus is directly addressing and the “rock,” to which is indirectly addressed (“upon this rock”). If Jesus had meant what modern-day Catholics assert, He simply would have stated: “Upon you [su], I will build My church” or “You Peter are the rock,” but He did not. Rather, the inspired text reads: epi tautē tē petra—“upon this the rock I will build My church.” The indirect reference, “this rock,” therefore, is other than the direct reference, Peter, who is being directly addressed in the preceding phrase—, which is also clear in the immediate context. Roman Catholics, however, cannot accept any doctrine contrary to the “infallible” position (ex cathedra) of their Ultimate Authority—Rome.

 

Historical. Most Roman Catholics are not aware and/or they do respond to the statement made by Roman Catholic Archbishop Peter Richard Kenrick regarding the Rome’s position and the early church’s view. Archbishop Kenrick prepared a paper on this subject, which was to be delivered to Vatican I (1870). However, it was never delivered, but it was published later, along with other insights.5 He points out that of the 5 interpretations, which “Fathers of antiquity held to, 1) Peter as the Rock, 17 Fathers, 2) all the apostles, 8 Fathers, 3) that the church was built on the faith that Peter confessed, 44 Fathers, including the most important Fathers, 4) Jesus as the Rock, 16 Fathers, and 5) all Christians were the living stones held by very few Fathers.”

Thus, only 20% of the Fathers held to Rome’s now canonized “infallible” “Petrine Rock” interpretation of Matthew 16:18. That is far from being the norm of the early church. As Roman Catholic apologist, H. Burn-Murdock acknowledges: “None of the writings of the first two centuries describe St. Peter as a bishop of Rome.”6 In fact, no one before Callistus (A.D. 223) used Matthew 16:18 to support the primacy of the Roman bishop (i.e., “Pope” as Rome call it)—no one.

The church historian, Eusebius of Caesarea (A.D. 263-339), sees the “rock” as Christ. He links this interpretation with the parallel rock and foundation statements of 1 Corinthians 3:11 and 10:4. Sharing this view (Christ as the Rock) was Augustine. In fact, he commented more on Matthew 16:18 more than any other church Father. It is true that at the beginning of his ministry, he saw Peter as the Rock. However, he changed his position throughout the balance of his ministry in which he adopted the view that the Rock was not Peter, but either Christ or Peter’s confession, which pointed to the person of Christ:

 

Christ, you see, built his Church not on a man but on Peter’s confession. What is Peter’s confession? ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ There’s the rock for you, there’s the foundation, there’s where the Church has been built, which the gates of the underworld cannot conquer (Sermons, XI, Sermon 229, 327; emphasis added).

 

What has been demonstrated over and over is that the Roman Catholic does not engage in exegesis when interpreting Scripture, nor does he or she objectively examine the patristic (church Fathers) record, not because the Catholic lacks the ability, but because he or she does not need to—for Rome has already provided the “infallible” interpretation. For the Catholic: Rome’s interpretations are correct, because Rome said they are. However, Rome’s position of the so-called Primacy of Peter and him being the first Pope of Rome is seriously challenged:

 

  1. There is no biblical evidence indicating that Peter had supremacy over all the other apostles.
     

  2. Peter never once considered that he was Pope, Pontiff; Vicar of Christ, Holy Father, or Head of the whole Christian Church, nor did any of the other apostles make such as claim.
     

  3. It was Peter who outwardly denied the Lord (out of fear) and it was Peter who was rebuked by the Apostle Paul for being prejudice against the Gentiles (cf. Gal. 2:11-12).
     

  4. At the first church council in Jerusalem (not Rome), it was James and not Peter who was the leading speaker and decision maker, for James authoritatively declared: “It is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles. . . .” (Acts 15:19). Moreover, the letter that was sent out regarding the judgment never mentions Peter (cf. v. 23).
     

  5. At the end of Romans, Paul sends his greetings to some 26 people—but Peter is not even mentioned! Why? Surely, if Peter had “recognized supremacy” over Rome and all the apostles, we would except for Paul to have greeted him first! In fact, not once did Paul even refer to him in the entire letter.
     

  6. Peter was a married man, unlike the Roman Popes (cf, Matt. 8:14; 1 Cor. 9:5).
     

These are only a few of the many valid objections to Rome’s position. Simply, there is no place in the NT where Peter acted as “Pope” or as the “supreme head” of the other apostles and the church. Quite the opposite is true Paul says that the Christian church has “been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone” (Eph. 2:20).


The Christian confession that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God is the very ROCK of faith upon which the Christian church was built, and not upon the Roman Pontiff. The teachings of Rome are a both-and religious system: the word of God is both Scripture and tradition; salvation is by both faith and works, Mary and Jesus, and submitting to the ultimate religious authority, the Roman Pontiff (the Pope). Whereas biblical Christianity teaches that Scripture alone is our final authority, and salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, by Christ alone, and thus, to the glory of God alone!


By His doing [alone] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption. . . . (1 Cor. 1:30)

 

 

1 In 1870 (at Vatican I) Pope Pius IX proclaimed: “I am tradition” and hence, the Roman Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope (ex cathedra) emerged.
 

2 In contrast to the teachings of Rome, salvation, faith, belief, repentance, etc. are grace-gifts granted by God alone. Hence, man does not cooperate or participate in God’s sole work of redemption, as Rome teaches. Salvation is God working alone—namely, monogestic (cf. John 1:13; 6:37-40; Acts 13:48; Rom. 8:29-30; 1 Cor. 30-31; Eph. 2:8-10; 2 Thess 2:13).

3 Although demonstrative pronouns (“this”/“that”) technically do not have “person,” they can express an indirect significance as with a third person pronoun, thus expressing a thing (“this”) other than the speaker (Jesus) or the one spoken to (Peter).

4 Petros, “piece of rock.”

 

5 Cf. An Inside View at Vatican I, ed. Leonard Woolsey Bacon (New York: American Tract Society, 1871).

6 H. Burn-Murdock, The Development of the Papacy (1954), 130f.

 

 

 

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Sonny Hernandez