Peter And The Rock

Q. I was raised Catholic, and came to faith in Jesus Christ about 2 years ago. Most of my friends and family are Catholic. I frequently am in situations where Catholic beliefs are discussed. None of my Catholic family or friends are bible literate, but have had exposure to some scripture through the Mass etc. One passage frequently quoted to support the belief that the Catholic Church is the one and only true church, and that salvation can not be achieved outside of it, is Matthew 16:15-20.

The Catholic interpretation of this passage is that Christ named Peter as the rock upon which he would build his church (verse 18). Christ also named Peter as the authority over this church (verse 19) and thereby created the first “pope”.

Christian interpretations of the passage that I have read indicate that if one refers to the original language, Greek I think, it is clear that Christ was referring to the “rock” of truth that Jesus is the Christ (Peter’s statement) and it is on the basis of that truth (that He is Christ) that Jesus would build His church. I have read a variation on this that the “rock” referenced is Christ himself, and it is therefore on Christ himself that Christ would build His church, not Peter.

Can you shed some light on this passage given your understanding of the original language? I understand of course that you come from the Protestant tradition, but I trust you to support your view with the facts of the text.

Thanks again. I know God has blessed you greatly, and in turn has blessed us all with continued insight into who it is we worship.

A. Technically the Greek words for Peter (petros) and rock (petra) are different, although derived from the same root. Petros is used 162 times in the New Testament and all but once is translated Peter. The other time it’s translated stone. This leads scholars to conclude that it’s being used in its metaphorical sense, to describe a hard and unyielding soul, when referring to Peter.

Petra is used 16 times and is always translated rock. Literally, it means a large rock or cliff.

Common sense tells us that if the Lord had intended to say that Peter was the rock upon which He was going to build His church, then He would have used the same word in both instances. Since He didn’t, He must have been referring to the unequivocal nature of Peter’s answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” in response to His question. This view is further supported by the fact that Jesus explained that Peter’s answer hadn’t come from his own deduction but had been supernaturally given to him by God.

Finally, the foundation rock on which Christianity stands, and without which it would topple, is the fact that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Peter was indeed instrumental in building the Church on earth, though probably not as much so as Paul. But if Jesus had turned out to be someone other than the Son of God, Christianity would have long ago been exposed as a lie.

As for giving Peter the keys to the Kingdom and telling him that whatever he bound on Earth would be bound in Heaven, etc. there are two instances when Peter is seen to have opened the Kingdom, one on Pentecost to the Jews, and one in Acts 10, to the Gentiles. To see this as giving the Catholic Church, through Peter, sole authority on Earth is an incorrect interpretation. And in Matt. 18:18-19 we read that the authority to bind and loose was meant to apply to anything that two or more of the disciples agreed upon. Some believe that the same authority is available to believers today meaning that anything that two or more of us agree upon will be done for us.

Given all this, it seems clear that the Catholic treatment of Matt. 16:15-20 is inconsistent with the Lord’s intent as revealed in related scriptures.

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