I will admit for the first time on this blog that I am currently a member of a Protestant Church (but I won’t tell you which one 🙂 ). Of course the Protestant church had their origin in the 16th century when Luther challenged the existing church authorities. Lutherans like to think of this encounter the same as when Jesus remanded the existing Jewish church authority. For me I’m not sure that is a valid comparison. After studying this period I have come to the conclusion that things got totally out of hand during this encounter. Both sides were screaming at each other and doing little or no listening. But, coming to Luther’s defense the Catholic church at the time was pretty far astray. Luther had not originally intended to cause the giant schism that he eventually did but things just got out of hand. It ended up with Luther almost calling the Pope an anti-Christ. Unfortunately some of that strong anti-Catholic feeling is still prevalent today in some Protestant sects.
Protestants generally believe in Sola Scriptura. That is that the Bible is totally inerrant and is all that is needed for Christian faith. So, when they come across some verses in the Bible seem to contradict one of their contentions with Rome they have to show where the verses don’t say what they “appear” to say. One of those instances which I have always had trouble reconciling is Matthew 16:15-20.
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
We Protestants have been taught that the words on this rock I will build my church mean that on the belief that Jesus is Lord is what he was talking about. In other words he changed the subject from the verses previous to this and even after this. If I took that one sentence out from the rest I might be able to absolutely agree with that premise. But Putting it in the context of the surrounding words makes that very difficult for me. In Aramaic Peter means rock. Why did Jesus rename Simon to Peter here if he was actually talking about himself? The verse following the “rock” verse about the keys is very clear to me that Jesus is talking about a person to take charge when he is gone and not a concept. Keys in today’s world means something very different than in Jesus’ time. Each one of us probably carries around several keys at any time. But in Jesus’ time keys were usually given to only a very trusted person to keep. That is because they only locked up the most valuable things in those days. Getting back to the verses at hand, the words whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven are very powerful words indeed. Catholics argue that this is the power that Jesus gave to the first Pope Peter and the succeeding Popes. That is, what they say is valid on both earth and in heaven.
I hope that this doubt does not get me in any trouble with my local church. Some of the members browse this blog from time to time 🙂 . Looking back at what Christian churches have done in the past with the inquisitions and burning of heretics, (how is that for showing God’s love) I wonder if I had made this belief known then I may have been invited to a barbeque! I think we are more civil now or at least I hope so.
But, like I said in the previous post maybe even thinking of this stuff is just a distraction from the “real” Christian message of God’s love for us. Maybe we shouldn’t be hung up on this peripheral stuff. So I will say it one final time. maybe ignorance is bliss.
6 thoughts on “Upon This Rock? ……..”
Interesting, and Catholics would appreciate this, but I suggest two things:
1) While Peter was certainly a leader in the first-century church, nothing of what I see in the N.T. suggests he held any sort of primacy. At times the Acts passages suggest James was in more of a leadership role than Peter, and Paul openly stood up to both (and to Peter by name). It looks far more like the Apostles as a group or council exercised leadership, as I read it.
2) Even if Jesus were commissioning Peter to lead (which I do not believe–I too believe it was the confession that is the real “rock” in question and Jesus is playing on Peter’s nickname). . .anyway even IF this were so, nothing at all in either this statement or the rest of the New Testament gives any credence to the notion of apostolic succession that puts the current papacy in any sort of lineal relationship to Peter.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I categorically reject the notion that Catholics are any less Christian than Protestants. Jesus has his true followers (and his masquerading hangers-on) in both sides of that divide. But I reject also the notion that the Roman Catholic Church–or any other denomination–stands unique as the “true church.”
I agree that Peter being the “head guy” is not mentioned in Acts. The Catholics say that this would not be unusual if it were widely known that Peter was the head apostle; ie. then didn’t need to state the fact in Acts that everyone already knew. But there are other writings that do mention it I guess. But, I am only looking at these words for my opinion. All of the text before and after the “rock” word are talking about people, not a concept. Being the contrarian that I am I don’t mind being on the Catholic side of this issue 🙂 but I don’t necessarily agree that the “head guy” status got automatically transferred to succeeding popes.
Epilog: Dan, since I originally made this comment I did a little investigation and found in Acts 1 that Peter was the spokesman/leader on their very first act as apostles after Christ’s resurrection. That is naming Matthias to replace Judas. Of course, the Catholics say this is the same process that is still used to name the bishops and popes.
Does anyone know how Roman Catholicism justifies applying Matthew 16 specifically to Rome? Even if Peter was given here some unique office of pastoral supervision, how does Rome inherit it? Peter was a pastor first in Jerusalem, later in Caesarea. How does Rome ace out the descendants of those offices? Why is the patriarch of Jerusalem not the universal prelate of the church?
I am a Roman Catholic, and read your post with some interest, as you can imagine. We Catholics would agree with you in your analysis of Mathew 16. As you indicate, in Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke, the word for “rock” is Kepha. You can see in Acts that Peter is sometimes referred to as “Cephas” (See Galations 1:18 for example). This is a transliteration of the Aramaic “Kepha” into “Cephas”.
We can also see in John 21:15-17, that Jesus commands Peter to “Feed His sheep”. Not once, but three times. Who feeds the sheep? The shepherd feeds the sheep. Based on these two passages alone, we can see that Jesus gave Peter on office, one upon which He would “build my church”, one in which Peter would have the “keys to the kingdom of heaven” and one in which “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
What does it mean to have keys, to bind and loose, to be the rock upon which the church is built? These are questions that the early church understood in the context of the old testament.
For example, look at Isaiah 22:22: “And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.” (King James Bible).
Read the passage in context. The church understood that an office of leadership and authority was being conveyed upon Peter. “Open and shut/bind and loose” are rabbinic terms which the first Christians (themselves once Jews) understood very well.
Notice also Matthew 18:15-18:
“But if your brother shall offend against you, go, and rebuke him between you and him alone. If he shall hear you, you shall gain your brother. 16 And if he will not hear you, take with you one or two more: that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand. 17 And if he will not hear them: tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to you as the heathen and publican. 18 Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.”
Jesus is speaking to the disciples. He is not speaking to the crowds. Thus, He is conveying a similar authority to the disciples, one of binding and loosing, that He has conveyed to Peter. Notice, however, that Jesus tells Peter, not the disciples, that upon Peter, the rock, He will build His church and give Peter alone the Keys to the Kingdom.
Can Christians today “tell the church” and appeal to an authority to decide moral and doctrinal issues? Which church? If there is no Christian authority, no Christian leadership, no Christian agreement on morals and doctrine, then “tell the church” is a meaningless command. Could Jesus give us a command that He did not intend for us to obey?
All of this is an argument in favor of a church that has a teaching authority. Catholics argue now, and have since the first century, that there is such a church. It continues to this day. (If you haven’t spent time researching the ante-Nicene church fathers, I urge you to do so. As John Henry Newman said, “To be deep in history, is to cease to be Protestant”
David, Thanks for your expanded views on this topic. I feel that the Evangelicals go out of their way to misinterpret this one. Oh, and by the way I did subsequently get kicked out out the Protestant church I was member of when this post was written. They take their “Solas” very seriously.
Best of luck in your journey. At the end of your post you asked if we shouldn’t get hung up on this “peripheral stuff”. Please consider which of Jesus’ commands are peripheral and which are not. If Jesus commanded that Peter have authority, then surely that is important information. If we understand that Peter was given this authority, then we have an obligation to Jesus to follow that authority, don’t we?