From A Journal of Dispensational Theology JODT Volume 11, Number 34 (December 2007) (formerly The Conservative Theological Journal)

There are three main interpretations of the identity of the foundation of the church in verse 18.

First, the Roman Catholic position argues that the church’s foundation is Peter and therefore Peter is the first pope. This view has in its favor the fact that only one word for “rock” supposedly existed in Aramaic. Thus, petros (Peter) and petra are equivalent. However, as explained earlier, it is doubtful that Matthew’s Gospel was originally written in Aramaic. The Catholic position is also weakened when it is understood that the Greek text use two words for rock. Petros, a masculine noun, refers to a small rock. Petra, a feminine noun, refers to a large rock. Thus, in the Greek text, Christ is referring to another rock besides Peter. Moreover, if it had been Christ’s intention to convey the idea that Peter is the foundation of the church, the ambiguity could have easily been cleared up if Christ had said “ upon you.” Furthermore, the
demonstrative “this” cannot be referring to Peter since it is feminine. Also, why would
Christ use “this” if He were speaking directly to Peter?

Second, others contend that the foundation of the church is Christ. He is referred to as a large rock elsewhere in Scripture (Rom 9:33; 1 Cor 10:4; Eph 2:20; 1 Pet 2:4-8). However, the insertion of the phrase “upon me” would have removed the ambiguity. Also, the feminine demonstrative “this” could not refer to Christ. In addition, why would Christ use “this” if He were speaking of Himself? The third and best view is to see the veracity of Peter’s confession as the foundation of the church. This view best accommodates the third person feminine demonstrative “this.” Toussaint, Behold the King, 201-02; Laney, Answers to Tough Questions, 197-98.


It is no exaggeration to assert that Matthew 16 is the basis of the Roman Catholic system. Yet for the first four hundred years (which were the most important years of the Church for they were the formation years and closer to the apostles who the Church says are the only sources of true doctrine) the Church never used this chapter as its basis or to justify the episcopate of Rome or the alleged infallibility of the Roman Church (page 15, Roman Catholic Objections Answered).
Here is the part of Matthew 16 that Roman Catholicism is built on:
“Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you Simon Bar Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death [gates of hell in some versions] shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition. From this the Church concludes that Peter was the first pope, the head of the Church and started off the succession of infallible popes with supreme powers of jurisdiction over the Church.
God revealed the truth about Jesus to Peter which was why Jesus said what he said to Peter. Jesus is saying that Peter was chosen by God not man. The idea of Peter having successors chosen by men, often disastrously if the papal reigns of Benedict IX and Alexander VI and Paul VI is anything to go by, is alien to the passage.
Peter alone is able to tell Jesus that he was the Messiah the Son of God. It seems the other apostles were evasive. Or that they didn’t think he was. Perhaps they did and were afraid to say it. The first reason is the right one for Jesus speaks later as if Peter alone had realised that he was the Christ.
Had Jesus intended to set up the papacy with its teaching and jurisdictional authority he would have said, “You are Light and this Light will be the foundation of my Church.” The teaching authority of the pope is his most important mandate. If Peter was this unique light he would automatically have jurisdiction to spread this light. (Jesus called Christians light of the world.) That is why the word Rock isn’t the best word. A rock could just be the person who does most of the work, the person who founds the Church, the first member of the Church, the person who teaches the best, the person who is most open to God. Jesus is the head of the Church in Catholic doctrine and the pope is just the human head of the Church. What then if Jesus was the founder of the Church and Peter being the first to believe and receive the real gift of faith was then to be reckoned the human founder? That would not make Peter a pope.

Jesus told Peter that God showed him that Jesus was the Christ. Jesus then told him he was the rock and on this rock Jesus would build his indestructible Church. He said he would give him the keys of the kingdom of Heaven so that whatever Peter binds on earth will be bound in Heaven and whatever Peter looses on earth will be loosed in Heaven. It is important to remember that the foundation of the Church had already been laid in the ministry and person of Christ. So he could not have been creating a new foundation. Rock does not mean foundation and Jesus never said that he meant foundation here. What he could have meant was that because Peter was a true believer that Peter would be the first rock or stone put on the foundation and the rest of the Church would be built on that rock for that reason. Everybody in the Church then is a rock that the Church is built on but Peter was special for he was the first. Peter was the beginning of the Church founded by Jesus. Abraham was called the rock too because he was the forefather of God’s people and not because he claimed to be any kind of pope (Isaiah 26:4-5).
Also, if Peter had been made head of the Church he might only have been an administration head making the final decisions about what the Church will do but not claiming any special right to tell it what to believe. In this view, Protestants could regard the pope as lawful head of the Church but who is not entitled to obedience until he restores the true faith within the Catholic Church but they would need to show that Peter’s office was transmissible.
It is said that what Jesus told Peter was addressed to him as an individual and not as one of the apostles (page 5, The Petrine Claims of Rome). But Jesus could have meant you (Peter) are rock and on this rock (meaning the apostles) I will build my Church. Each of them is rock so they can be called rock individually or collectively. Evidence for this is in the fact that Jesus didn’t say, “You are Peter and on you I will build my Church.” The distinction between Peter and the rock indicates a denial that Peter alone is the rock.

The pope is the visible head of the Church which is why he is called the Vicar of Christ, the one who stands in the place of Christ. Peter was not head of the Church at that time or even a bishop for Jesus is the head of the Church as long as he is on earth and yet Jesus says you are Peter and on this rock etc. Peter was called Peter before the Church was built! So Peter does not mean rock though the Catholic Church says it does. Peter was not a pope from the time he was called Peter on for the Bible contradicts the view that he had any special authority from the time Jesus supposedly told him he was the rock he would later build on. The Catholic Church lies that Peter was to become the rock when Jesus returned to Heaven and that Matthew 16 means he will be the rock in future tense (page 51, Pope Fiction). Jesus was the visible head of the Church so Peter was not a pope. Jesus calling Peter rock did not mean Peter was a pope.
Peter wasn’t even a priest when Jesus called him the rock for the Church says that when Jesus told his apostles to celebrate the Eucharist in his memory he ordained them as the first priests. Curiously Jesus never laid hands to ordain and yet the Church today says nobody can ordain you a priest or bishop without laying on hands which is the essential part of the sacrament of ordination. The early Church laid hands afterwards but never said it was essential for ordination and the Bible never taught the need. So Peter was never a priest or a bishop and today Rome tells us that the pope must be the bishop of Rome or more correctly the bishop of Rome automatically becomes the pope and head of the Church.

However, the Catholic Church claims that Peter was a pope for he was the Rock the Church was built on and its boss and had the authority to bind and loose and to open and shut the gate of Heaven.

Suppose Catholicism is right about the pope being the head of the Church. It makes no sense to say that the person of the pope is head of the Church. Surely the office of the pope is head? The Church says that the pope must accept the irrevocable teaching given by previous popes and preserve Catholic faith and Catholic morals. Therefore the role of the pope matters and not the pope as a man. If Jesus said to Peter that he was Peter and on this rock he would build his Church he was speaking of Peter not as a man but as a believer. This is another way of proving that the text backs up the ancient argument that the rock was Peter's faith. To say you build the rock on Peter as believer is the same as saying that the faith is the real rock.
The first person who believes is the rock the Church is built on in the sense of being the first member and supporter. Without a first convert there is no Church to join. Being boss has nothing to do with it. Peter then had the keys to Heaven and the power to bind and loose for he became the Church without which Heaven cannot be reached.

Probability tells us to take the simplest meaning and this is the least Jesus could have meant. Reading the papacy into all that is exaggerating. Matthew 16 does not support the papacy.

If Peter was the rock of Catholic doctrine and the Church then to be a rock he had to sanction everything taught by other bishops before they could teach it for he is the rock chiefly for doctrinal reasons for the Church cannot exist without its doctrine being intact. So in reality and for simplicity, he should have written the sermons for them and instead of preaching the bishops merely read them out. The Catholics make the pope the rock but they do not really believe that he is the rock. For example, they say they have no problem with “caretaker popes” ones who do nothing but just fill the chair of Peter. How could such a pope be the rock in any sense? If the pope is the rock then he is the only real bishop in the Church and the other bishops are just assistants and puppets. Peter never did anything like this so he was not a pope. If he was the rock he was not the rock in the Catholic sense or anything close to it.

This tells us that it is most probable that the distinction between Peter as an individual and the Rock is there in Jesus’ words.

After Jesus said that Peter was Peter and on this rock I will build my Church, Jesus then told the apostles that he would be put to death and rise on the third day. Peter told him that this must not happen and Jesus called him Satan and told him he was into man’s thinking not God’s.

Jesus called Peter Satan. Now, suppose Jesus really told Peter he would be the infallible ruler of the Church or at least that the Church he would head would never be taken over by Satan. That would be a conditional promise. It would depend on Peter being true to God for Jesus would not appoint a tyrant. Jesus called Peter Satan and Paul said that Peter let the Church down and promoted error. It would not look like Peter really became the head for he consistently let Jesus down. He was not much of a rock. The Bible never praises Peter so we only know bad things about him and that is what we have to depend on. We have no evidence at all that Peter remained true and was able to become pope and Paul accused him of apostasy. When the fulfilment of the promise was never recorded or made clear in scripture or primitive tradition we must be expected to believe that Peter annulled the promise and proved unsuitable. But whatever, he was never a pope.
Jesus said that the gates of Hell will never win against the Church built on the rock. This is supposed to promise the Church that it will never lead people into errors that put them in Hell. What if the Church gets so much wrong that the people are left ignorant of truth and honesty that they can no longer sin seriously? It is Catholic doctrine that a person who murders and does not know it is wrong will not be held guilty of sin. Some say that Jesus was talking about the building of the Church and meant that Hell would never be able to prevent this construction. Some think that it was a prophecy about how the fate of Christianity depended on the outcome of the tremendous debate between Simon Magus and Peter that is "reported" in the Clementine Recognitions. Peter won the day and saved the Church from Simon Magus and his lies and heresies.
Some say that the promise meant that the real followers of Jesus comprise the Church and will never go to Hell. That is the Calvinist doctrine of once saved always saved. Or as parts of the Church do go to Hell it could be said to be a conditional promise. This interpretation fits the notion that right now nobody could be connected to Jesus but that could change say next year.
Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me. And I give them everlasting life; and they shall never perish, neither shall anyone snatch them out of my hand." (John 10:27-28). This text shows that perhaps the promise that the Church would never be overcome is hyperbolic? It is obvious that sheep do leave Jesus though he talks as if they do not. Is it poetic?

Jesus says he will build his Church and hell will never tear it down. It is better to see it as a promise that the establishment of the Church will take place and Hell cannot stop it. It is talking about the creation of the Church not the Church after it is created. So the Church could fail and cease to be Christian.

Peter seems to have functioned as the chief witness of the resurrection in the early Church. If that is so then he could have been that kind of rock. He was not the head of the Church and was not to have a successor as the rock. Peter would have been the best witness for Jesus being the Son of the Living God for he was the oldest witness.
Jesus making Peter the pope does not mean that we are bound to follow the pope now. If the pope is in charge of the Church and leads it astray then if a faction could prove that he was not doing his duty, it could elect another pope and why not? Jesus did make it clear as did the apostle Paul that even if the apostles taught evil that they were to be forsaken. Human authority even in the name of God does not come before God.

After his alleged resurrection Jesus is reported in the Gospel of Matthew to have said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Matthew 28:18). This is often read as saying that whatever role Peter was given it was not an authority one.
There is no evidence that the Bible considered Peter to be the earthly head of the Church or that the pope is Peter’s successor even if Jesus did. If Jesus made Peter a pope then how do we explain Jesus forbidding anybody to exercise religious authority and wanting an egalitarian religion? See Matthew 20. He rejected the pyramid system of authority.

Peter as Prophetic History of the Church

Is Peter a symbol of the Church?  The rock a building is on may be considered separate from the building.  Sometimes it and the building are the same. But typically we treat the building as the same as what is built on.

You are rock - the sign of the Church - and on this sign I will build my Church.  Christians say the Church is always being built.

Peter with his being the Church then being Satan and betraying Jesus could be a symbol of the Church with its turbulent future. 

Another metaphor

Why does Revelation call Perganum the seat of Satan?  The book says that Jerusalem is Sodom and speaks of the great whore in Rome.  It refutes the notion that Jerusalem or Rome is the centre of evil in the present tense.  Jerusalem is not the whore of Babylon that the book talks about for it would be named as the seat of Satan if it were.  It is hard to know why Perganum could be called seat of Satan and shows that statements such as Jesus calling Peter the rock are not to be taken too literally.  Peter being the seat of the Church is not literal.  Or you may say that rock does not mean he is the seat or throne or head of the Church.  If the whore is future Rome then it does not matter what "Thou art Peter" means for papal Rome is condemned.

Abraham was called rock in the book of Isaiah and he was not a pope or ruler but still an ordinary man. Anyway Jesus refuted any papal understanding of rock when he said call no man your father and pope means father.  Jesus meant you must look up to no man as having the word of God unless he can write scripture.  Otherwise read the word of God yourself.  Scripture is seen as what comes from God even though it comes from man too.

All the evidence is for the Catholic understanding of You are Peter and on this Rock I will build my Church as being a fraud. That the Church uses the verse to prove the papacy was created by Christ though it is unclear and despite the fact that its interpretation has been refuted time and time again speaks volumes.


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