Many Christians believe that we take the free gift of salvation and do nothing with it. This is lazy and takes salvation “by grace alone” to an extreme that neither Jesus nor the apostles would have taught. Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire (Matthew 3:10; 7:19). The kingdom of God will be given to those who produce its fruit (Matthew 21:43). A life worthy of the Lord bears fruit in every good work (Colossians 1:10). We are created to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). In a conundrum which confuses many, we are not justified by righteous deeds. That is a gift. But a saving faith produces good deeds (James 2:17-20) and we will be rewarded by what we have done (Matthew 16:27).
A Greek word often translated as soul or life can also be translated as psyche. It literally means breath, but is used metaphorically for our life, everything that makes us ourselves. The great paradox is that whoever wants to save themselves will lose, but whoever loses themselves for Christ will find themselves. What good is it if we gain the whole world, yet lose ourselves? What can anyone give in exchange for themselves (Matthew 16:25-26)? Or, what are we worth? God tells us what we are worth to him. To God we are worth the death of His Son. God’s challenge is not a call to self-hatred, but that true self-fulfillment is found in self-denial. Our true selves are found not in narcissistic solitude but as part of a sharing community, giving to God and to our community neighbors.
Grandma forced Dad into a job that he hated. He later changed to a career that he liked. We naturally want to protect others from possible suffering. Like Peter said to Jesus we also say, “No way!” Jesus’ reaction was blunt, “Get behind me Satan!” (Matthew 16:21-28) Perhaps we have tried to discourage children from what we imagined to be a poor career choice, when maybe it was their life’s calling, their purpose for being. It is an evil and diabolical thing to make a young person unhappy for life merely for the sake of a steady pay check, the idolatrous perpetuation of a family business or to fit other similar vain expectations. We don’t want others to suffer, and so we tend to want to coddle them. Yet, such good intentions may actually be more evil than good.
from the Church
|It's God's War|
|Studies of Peter|
|Poverty and Famine|
of the Soul
Let's study Matthew 16:18 and surrounding verses with a desire to allow the evidence to lead us rather than any preconceived bias. We may be surprised to reach a different conclusion than three of the four main theories surrounding this passage.
We may conclude that the Catholic theory that this proves Peter was the first pope is wrong. We may also find that so are two of the three main Protestant theories. Let’s examine each theory and why perhaps a fourth conclusion held by some mainstream Protestant churches has merit. It tells an unexpected story.
1. The Rock-was-Christ Theory
This theory states that Jesus said to Peter that he was a small stone, but on this large rock, meaning Jesus himself, he will build his church. However, the evidence does not support this theory at all for a number of reasons.
a. Petros and Petra
The words for Peter and rock are certainly two different words in Greek. A beginning Greek student may therefore conclude that they mean two different things. Sadly, that is precisely the conclusion to be found in some popular commentaries. For instance Matthew Henry boldly claims that “Nothing can be more wrong than to suppose that Christ meant the person of Peter was the rock. Without doubt Christ himself is the Rock, the tried foundation of the church; and woe to him that attempts to lay any other! Peter's confession is this rock as to doctrine. If Jesus be not the Christ, those that own him are not of the church, but deceivers and deceived.” (Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible is available in the Public Domain)
If you don’t have good evidence to support your theory, resort to threats and intimidation. Label those who disagree, “deceivers and deceived” so as to scare your audience into agreeing with your less than scholarly deduction. This a similar conclusion to that made by others whose understanding of biblical Greek is more clumsy. The word for Peter (petros) is masculine and the word for rock (petra) is feminine and some have erroneously concluded that petros only ever means a small stone and petra only ever means a huge crag, but that is wrong.
As Greek poetry from the time proves, the language is flexible enough to allow both petra and petros to mean the same thing, depending on the context, and “word play does not demand the usual meaning of words, especially in metaphorical applications such as the present one. The Aramaic word play on the same word remains the most convincing explanation.” (Hagner, D. A. (2002). Vol. 33B: Word Biblical Commentary : Matthew 14-28. Word Biblical Commentary (470). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.)
We don’t need to invent a hasty conclusion, perhaps based upon a fear that if we follow the evidence we may be forced to agree with the Catholic Church. Following the evidence, has led me to disagree with both Matthew Henry and the Catholic Church. This does not make them bad. Nobody gets it all right.
So, what then is the truth about the two Greek words? I do agree with my Catholic brothers on one point. Jesus spoke in Aramaic, not Greek, and there the same word (kephas) would have been used for rock as Peter. That is why we see in some Bibles that Peter is also called Cephas. The fact is that in the original Greek, the two words Petros (Πέτρος, Peter) and petra (πέτρα, rock) were interchangeable (Matthew, Volume 1, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, By Craig S. Keener).
Why then are there two different words? Some languages have feminine and masculine words. It’s just grammar. Jesus applied the feminine Greek word for rock (petra) to a man by using the masculine form of that word (petros). Up until that time, Peter was not a common man’s name, but Jesus used this masculine form of the word as Simon’s nickname. In the thorough and well researched New International Commentary we read, “The Greek reader would therefore see here a difference in form but not in meaning...” (The Gospel of Matthew, New International Commentary on the New Testament, by R. T. France)
b. Other Contexts
In 1 Corinthians 3:11 we are told that no other foundation exists except Jesus Christ. Yet, in Ephesians 2:20 Jesus clearly identifies all the apostles and prophets as the foundation of the Church, including himself as the cornerstone. Is this a contradiction, on the one hand to say that only Jesus is the foundation, yet on the other hand, to say that the apostles and prophets are also that foundation? No, it is a matter of understanding that these are two different contexts, with two different emphases.
The same is true of Isaiah 51:1-2, where Abraham is described as the rock from which ancient Israel was cut. That does not ignore the obvious, that God was their founder, but includes Abraham’s contribution.
2. The Rock-was-Peter’s-Faith Theory
This theory states that Jesus neither pointed to Peter, nor to himself as the rock, but to Peter’s faith, evidenced by Peter’s acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah. This theory further goes on to state that all who likewise believe are the true church and likewise have this authority spoken of in the rest of the context.
And not But
Another piece of evidence that Peter was the rock that Jesus intended, is the use of the word “and” rather than “but.” Jesus certainly did point to himself as the rock in other contexts, but that does not mean that he meant the same thing in this context. Some people conclude that Jesus either pointed to himself as the rock, or to Peter’s faith, but the evidence disagrees with that conclusion. We were not there to see Jesus’ gestures, so we must rely upon the language to help us out and the language is very clear.
If Jesus had indeed pointed to himself as the rock in this context, or even to Peter’s faith, it would have been written as, “but on this rock I will build my church.” However, it was not. The wording is, “and on this rock I will build my church.” This evidence clearly indicates that the theories of Jesus’ pointing to himself or to Peter’s faith are false. Peter was the one to make the confession that Jesus was the Christ, and it is natural to see the confessing Peter as the rock, not his faith divorced from him as a person.
Some people worry that this would eliminate Jesus as head of the church and place a man in charge, but that ought not to be a concern. Notice that Jesus said I will build my church. It will still be Jesus who does the building, and it will still be his church.
3. The Rock was Peter-as-Pope Theory
This is actually the easiest theory to eliminate from this passage, as there is absolutely nothing at all about any successors to Peter. In fact, there is no statement in the Bible at all regarding Peter and a subsequent papacy. That entire theory rests upon discussions of later church history. In fact the very formal and authority conscious structure of the Catholic and some Protestant churches is a later historic development and not the kind of structure lived out by the early Apostles.
The biblical evidence certainly points away from Peter being a pope. In Galatians 2:11 we find Paul strongly correcting Peter, without any indication of deference to him being higher in rank than Paul. There is no New Testament record of Peter having passed on any pope-like authority to anyone, nor any evidence that Christ commanded Peter to do so. Paul wrote to the churches of Rome with authority; Peter did not. Nowhere in the entire New Testament did Peter ever refer to himself having any higher authority than the other apostles.
4. The Rock was Peter-as-Forerunner Theory
Peter was the first of the apostles to clearly confess that Jesus was the Christ, and as such was the pace-setter. He was given teaching authority, to declare what is permissible and what is not, not authority to change things as many subsequent Christian leaders have presumptuously done. The tense in Greek does not imply that Peter would make decisions and heaven would follow, but that decisions will have already been made in heaven, and Peter would follow.
The New International Commentary states that Peter was the steward or chief administrative officer of the kingdom of heaven, not the owner. The keys that he was given were like those to a storehouse, to provide spiritual nourishment to the household of God. Peter’s leadership in the very earliest phases of the church is quite clear, as he declared the way of the gospel being open to the gentiles and so on. However, Peter is nowhere endorsed in the Bible as one of the popes at Rome.
We do not have to run away from allowing the Bible to have its natural meaning and potentially use dishonest research because of prejudice either for or against the idea of a papacy. Matthew 16:18 neither supports the idea of Peter being the first pope, nor some of the theories invented to run away from it. As so often is the case, the truth is really somewhere in the middle. Peter had the faith to declare that Jesus is the Christ. As such, we can clearly see how he was used early on in the book of Acts at the very first stages of the building of the Church. A forerunner is a far cry from being a pope.
Matthew 16:13-20 is controversial. Was Peter called the rock on which the Church was built? It is unclear. Jesus most likely spoke in Aramaic and used the word Kepha for rock. The choice of two Greek words Petra and Petros were grammatical and do not necessarily make it clearer. In the Old Testament God is called the Rock of Israel. The rock of Daniel’s prophecy which conquered Rome was Christ. We don’t establish doctrine on unclear passages. What did Peter say? He said that another rock, Christ was the cornerstone (1 Peter 2:7-8), a rock (Petra) that makes men stumble. Peter was the first to proclaim this faith, but in his letters Peter merely introduced himself as an Apostle, not chief Apostle. To claim that Peter was the first Pope reads more into the passage than it says.
reference: The Matthew 16 Controversy
Origen was head of the catechism school of Alexandria and the greatest scholar of Christian antiquity. His commentary on Matthew 16:13-20 is eye-opening, ‘if we too have said like Peter, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," not as if flesh and blood had revealed it unto us, but by light from the Father in heaven having shone in our heart, we become a Peter, and to us there might be said by the Word, "Thou art Peter," etc. For a rock is every disciple of Christ of whom those drank who drank of the spiritual rock which followed them, and upon every such rock is built every word of the church...’ Origen repudiated an exclusive church franchise mentality with words like, ‘all bear the surname of "rock" who are the imitators of Christ...’
reference: ANTE-NICENE FATHERS, VOLUME 9, BOOK XII, 10
References: (1) St. Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew
|Who is Jesus|
|Seeker and Servant|
The controversy over Matthew 16:13-20 is largely political, a controversy over franchise. Church is God’s business, but who on earth has the franchise? Is it Rome? Is it Constantinople? Is it Madras? Is it Alexandria? Is it Jerusalem? Such questions rely on interpreting the passage in ways that perpetuate human power structures even though no such promise was made to Peter. The problem is that people are pointed to the power of men, the exact opposite of Peter’s experience. There was no promise of territorial franchises as in national churches or exclusive franchises as in only Peter’s ordained successors being allowed to have the keys. Faith and salvation are not exclusive. There is one thing in this that is exclusive. Who is Jesus is not revealed by flesh and blood human politics but exclusively by our Father in heaven.
Caesarea Philippi was a city built on a rock to honor Caesar Augustus who called himself divi filius, the son of a god. Jesus took his disciples near this sin city where they could see its structure. It was an appropriate place for Jesus to be able to say to Peter, upon this rock I will build my Church (Matthew 16:13-20) because the imagery and the contrast with brutal Roman leadership were evident. Yet in contrast to Caesar, the leaders of the Church of God were not to elevate themselves above their fellows, but become servants of all. The authority of deciding church matters was given to Peter but not to him alone. Jesus later explained that the other Apostles also carried decision-making authority (Matthew 18:18). The rock we build Christian ministry on is Jesus Christ not ourselves.
|St Paul vs|
What makes us clean or unclean? Old Testament laws defined clean and unclean foods or practices. The Pharisees’ hand washing ritual was a man-made rule but showed serious devotion to those laws. Jesus' disciples were criticized for ignoring the ritual (Matthew 15:10-28). Jesus was blunt and provocative. He stated that these highly respected religious leaders were not of God and that the disciples should ignore them. Was Jesus concerned with spiritual cleanness? Was the real purpose of Old Testament cleanliness laws to teach us about being spiritually clean in our hearts? Fastidiously following the Old Testament food laws does not guarantee a clean heart. Can religious rituals distract us from important matters of the heart? Faith is not outward religious mumbo jumbo, a show. Cleaning up unclean hearts is God’s focus. Are we letting God wash our hearts clean?
Was Jesus a bigot? He rejected a Gentile woman asked for healing, saying that it was not right to give the children’s food to dogs (Matthew 15:10-28)? Rather than take offense, the woman boldly challenged Jesus. Her faith was bigger than racial sensitivities. Jesus was elated to see her great faith and healed her daughter. Could such a glowing compliment coming on the heels of such an awful insult be the core of this lesson? Was Jesus really a racial bigot or testing her faith? Dare we judge Christ by human political correctness? A good teacher will sometimes challenge students with an offensive view to bring out the best in them. How could Jesus, who created all of humanity, be racially bigoted? Does not the story really show that regardless of race, bold faith is what counts with Jesus?
|Faith that Transcends|
|The Power of|
|Purity and Monotheism|