In the first part, I explained that Marcus Grodi, a convert to the Roman church (RC) and host on The Journey Home, has a list of ten verses that influenced him to consider conversion to the RC. The fifth verse is Matthew 16:13-19
Matthew 16:13 When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? 14 And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. 15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? 16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. 17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. 18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 20 Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.
First, let me say that there have been whole books written on these passages, from all sides of the issue. Marcus focused in on verse 18; the infamous “rock” passage. There are several views on this as it relates to exactly who or what is the foundation of the Church?
There are many theories as to the answer, including:
- 1) Peter is the foundation upon which the Church is built
- 2) Christ is the foundation upon which the Church is built
- 3) Peter’s confession of faith is the foundation upon which the church is built
- 4) Something else is the metaphorical foundation upon which the church is built; this includes all miscellaneous theories…such as Christ referring to the literal land, the rocks He and the disciples were standing on, as a metaphor for a Jewish/Gentile Church.
I am going to put #3 and #2 together, as I see no real distinction; Peter’s confession of Christ, and Christ Himself are intimately connected. As such, I’m going to narrow this discussion down to #1 and #2. In part 5b (in another blog post) I’m going to address if this passage supports Peter in a Pope-like primacy position or not.
So, of course now Marcus sees Peter as the foundation of the church and believes that when Christ says “this rock,” He meant Peter. One of the first things to do is go to the Greek and attempt an answer that way: does the Greek support Peter as being the rock?.
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter (Petros), and upon this rock (petra) I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
The obvious point is that Matthew chose not to use the same words here. Ah…but wait! Yes, the common response is that Jesus spoke Aramaic or Hebrew, not Greek, so it would have been the same word if the Aramaic or Hebrew was recorded. First, that is pure speculation, we literally cannot know that. Secondly, that is saying we don’t trust Matthew when he recorded, in Greek, a blatant difference in word use. He could have made the point very very clear in the Greek; Thou art Petros and upon Petros I will build my church is simply not what Matthew recorded.
Another point. We cannot know if Jesus used any clarifying gestures. For instance laying His hand on His own chest when saying “this rock” or pointing to the rock underneath His feet, or nodding or pointing to Peter when saying it…it is impossible to tell from this passage. Regardless, the use of petra makes it plain that it is referring to the metaphorical foundational rock on which the church would be built. So, from immediate context it is impossible to know precisely whom or what Christ was referring to; though I believe Matthew’s change in word does not favor the Peter hypothesis.
How else can we tell? Is there anything else in the entirety of scripture that can tell us what or who the church is built upon? Yes, there is. In the Old Testament, there is a common theme; that of calling God the Rock. Just as one tiny example; 1 Samuel 2:2 There is none holy as the LORD: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God.
How about the NT? Any talk of who the foundation is? 1 Corinthians 3:11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Jesus is even underscored in the NT as the Rock in the OT; 1Corinthians 10:4 And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.
Are the Apostles and prophets a part of the metaphorical church “building” made out of stones? Absolutely, and Peter was privileged to play a role in that, but even in the “building” of the church metaphor, who is labeled as the chief cornerstone? Jesus. We also have Peter’s own words, who points this out readily and calls all believers who are a part of the church; stones;
1 Peter 2:4 To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, 5 Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. 6 Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. 7 Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, 8 And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed
Note that in verse 8, the word “rock” Peter uses is petra, the same as in the Matthew verse, and it is referencing Christ. And a stone of stumbling, and a rock (petra) of offence…
Others rightly point out that it is Peter’s faith reactions that determine Christ’s reaction to him, not Peter as a person…meaning that here, when Peter hearkens to God, his faith is praised; however, a few verses later, what do we find? Matthew 16:21 From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. 22 Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. 23 But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.
To me, this supports the idea of Christ and the confession of Christ to be what the church shall be built upon. Taken all together, one thing is definitely clear; Jesus Christ is the foundation of the church, and the chief cornerstone, there can be no other when taking all of scripture into account, and Peter himself agrees.