By Steve Kearney
“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church. “
To every informed Catholic, this verse is the answer to all questions about the teaching and authority of the Roman Catholic Church. This is so because of what Matthew 16:18 means to them. It means that Peter was made the first Pope, Vicar of Christ, foundation and head of the Catholic Church. It means that Peter has all of Christ’s authority on earth. It means that Peter passed this authority to his successors, the Bishops of Rome even to the present day Pope. It means that every tradition sanctioned by the Popes is equal in authority to the Sacred Scriptures.
Little wonder that the cumulative effect is faith in the Catholic Church as the one true church, infallibly right in all of its teaching. In the light of such claims, it will be the purpose of this article to find out if the Bible supports these unique privileges.
The Argument In The Biblical Context
Would you not agree that the teaching which makes Peter the foundation of the church and Christ’s Vicar on earth is of such consequence that one would naturally expect to see it mentioned-directly or indirectly-in almost every book of the New Testament? You may be surprised to learn that it is not mentioned in any of these epistles. That means that the supremacy of Peter is not corroborated by the 27 books of the New Testament. On the contrary, the weight of evidence is against Peter being the foundation and head of the church.
To illustrate, in Luke 22:24-26 Jesus teaches that no Apostle would ever dominate or be officially recognized as head. He said, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But not so among you.” Surely Jesus knew that Peter was the head of the church since He appointed him such sometime earlier at Caesarea Philippi. As head, Peter of necessity must lord it over all and be seen as a benefactor in bestowing God’s gifts and favors.
In truth Popes are the ecclesiastical replica of the Gentile kings. Why did Jesus say, “But not so among you”? The only legitimate answer is that in the church of Christ no Apostle would ever dominate or be officially recognized as head. The Peter-Pope belief contradicts this teaching of Jesus.
No, Peter is not the head of the church and neither is he the foundation. In 1 Corinthians 3:11 we read, “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” This affirmation is too clear to misunderstand. Since it is so simple it becomes useful in the application of this fail-safe principle of biblical interpretation: that difficult Scriptures be understood in the light of simple ones. By this we mean we will let 1 Corinthians 3:11 explain Matthew 16:18. Undoubtedly then, the rock foundation refers to none other than Jesus Christ, in Matthew 16:18.
Moving along we will now consider the position of Chief Shepherd in the context of the New Testament. Interestingly, the title Chief Shepherd is used only once and that by Peter himself. In 1 Peter 5:4 he says, “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” The Holy Spirit through Peter makes it known who the Chief Shepherd is; it is Jesus Christ. In His own lifetime Jesus prophesied, “And they shall become one flock with one Shepherd” (Jn. 10:16). Therefore, it is unscriptural to speak of Peter as another Chief Shepherd.
The whole theory of the supremacy of Peter crumbles under the weight of such revelations. Even the Apostle Paul could assert his equality with the Twelve, “For in no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles” (2 Cor. 12:11). Peter was content to call himself, “an apostle of Jesus Christ,” nothing more. All of the apostles were equal in rank and authority with each other, as the following two points will also show.
(1) Peter shared in common the power of “binding and loosing” given to him by Jesus in Matthew 16:19 with the rest of the apostles who were given the same promise in Matthew 18:18.
(2) When the apostles heard that Samaria had received the word of God they sent them Peter and John (Acts 8:14). Jesus tells us, “neither is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him” (Jn. 13:16). For this reason, Peter, who was sent, could not be greater than the others who sent him.
The Peter-Pope idea is unsupported in the greater context of the New Testament revelation. Moreover it is positively refuted by the Scriptures we have just considered.
The Bible: Assumptions And Fact
The primary assumption made by those of the above persuasion is that Jesus made Peter a Pope. The verse does not mention Pope, nor could it without creating a contradiction with another passage of Scripture. The reason being “Pope” means “Father” and, as a religious title, father was forbidden to be worn by Jesus. “And do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in Heaven” (Matt. 23:9). Here Jesus is teaching, that no one on earth is your father (spiritually). That no one on earth is to be called your father (spiritually). Obviously then, Peter was not made our Holy Father by Jesus in Matthew 16:18; otherwise there would be two Holy Fathers, one in heaven and one on earth. Jesus cannot contradict Himself; He said, “For One is your Father, He who is in heaven.”
Another thing that is taken for granted is that the church mentioned is the Roman Catholic Church. Jesus did not say “I will build the Roman Catholic Church.” He said, “I will build My church.” In 1 Corinthians 1:1, the Holy Spirit refers to what Jesus built as “the church of God.” In Colossians 1:18, He calls it simply “the church.” In Hebrews 12:23, the writer described the church as “the general assembly and church of the first-born.” Not one verse in the Bible mentions the Roman Catholic Church; it is conspicuous by its absence. Not only is the name not there, but neither is its organization, worship or doctrine. Those who claim it is must first prove it is before they take it for granted that the church in Matthew 16:18 is synonymous with the Roman Catholic Church.
There are so many assumptions made about the Peterrock passages that it would be impossible to review them all. What follows is a short list of assumptions on Matthew 16:18-19:
a. That Peter was made a Catholic Priest.
b. That Peter was appointed Bishop of Rome.
c. That he was given infallibility.
d. That he would have successors.
All of these “facts” need to be proven before it can be established that Peter was made Pope. For too long people have been allowed to assume what cannot be proved by these verses.
The Immediate Context And Related Matter
Please read carefully the immediate context of the Peter-rock comparison which is in Matthew 16:13-20. Here the Holy Spirit is disclosing the most marvellous news about the man Jesus, which was expressed so accurately in the words of Peter, “Thou art the Christ the son of the living God. ” That this is the focal point of the Caesarea Philippi story is easy to see by checking the accounts in Mark and Luke. Both climax with Peter’s confession, which goes to prove that Jesus is the central figure, not Peter.
Undoubtedly then, Jesus being the Christ the Son of the living God is the main structure of these verses. What is said to Peter is only an extension of that superstructure. Jesus said, “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build My church.” “This rock” is not a new building enshrining Peter. It is, as was stated, an extension of the main building which is Christ the Son of the living God. This will be better understood when you see a comparison between the words Peter and rock as used in Matthew 16:18. The name Peter is translated from the Greek word petros. Petros is masculine gender, and is defined in W.E. Vine’s Dictionary of New Testament Words, as “a detached stone or boulder.” On the other hand, the word rock is translated from the Greek word petra. Petra is feminine gender, and is defined in W.E. Vine as “a mass of rock.”
The difference should be plain as we read this information back into Matthew 16:18 as follows, “You are petros and upon this petra I will build My church.” Evidently Peter is not the rock foundation, and the only other thing that could be is that “mass of rock” in the confession of Peter, “Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God.”
It is interesting to note that most of the early Fathers agree with this interpretation. Here is Dr. Kendrick’s breakdown of what the early Fathers believed about the rock in Matthew 16:18,
(a) 17 Fathers designated Peter as the rock.
(b) 8 Fathers taught that the whole apostolic college is the rock.
(c) 44 Fathers designated Peter’s confession of Christ’s divine Sonship as the rock.
(d) 16 Fathers taught that Christ Himself was the rock.
All the evidence in the immediate context, in the Greek and from the early Fathers points to Peter’s confession, “Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God” as the rock foundation on which the church of Christ was built.
That conclusion harmonizes with the rest of the New Testament which categorically states, “Other foundations can no man lay than that which is laid which is Jesus Christ.” Peter is not the foundation of the Church; therefore, he is not the Pope.
You can work out all the other implications for yourself!
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 13, pp. 398-399
July 4, 1985