MATTHEW 16:18 “Upon This Rock I Will Build My Church”?

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EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored 170+ books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

At the 1870 Vatican Council, the decreed that Peter was the supreme and full primacy and authority over the universal Catholic Church based on their interpretation of Matthew 16:16-19 and John 21:15-17 and the conversations between Jesus and Peter. What the plain text says is that Peter would eventually possess rock-like qualities in his life. (John 1:42) From the text and the history of early Christianity, Christ did not give Peter primacy.

Matt. 16:18, Jerusalem Bible (JB from here): “I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it.”

We should take note that in this context, see vss. 13 and 20 of chapter 16, the discussion is based on who Jesus is.

Who did the apostles Peter and Paul view as the “rock” or the “cornerstone”?

Acts 4:8-11, JB: “Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, addressed them, ‘Rulers of the people, and elders! . . . it was by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the one you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by this name and by no other that this man is able to stand up perfectly healthy, here in your presence, today. This is the stone rejected by you the builders, but which has proved to be the keystone [“cornerstone,” NAB].’”

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1 Pet. 2:4-8, JB: “Set yourselves close to him [the Lord Jesus Christ] so that you too . . . may be living stones making a spiritual house. As scripture says: See how I lay in Zion a precious cornerstone that I have chosen and the man who rests his trust on it will not be disappointed. That means that for you who are believers, it is precious; but for unbelievers, the stone rejected by the builders has proved to be the keystone, a stone to stumble over, a rock to bring men down.”

Eph. 2:20, JB: “You are part of a building that has the apostles and prophets for its foundations, and Christ Jesus himself for its main cornerstone.”

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What was the belief of one of the most influential  “Saints” of the Catholic Church, Augustine of Hippo?

“In this same period of my priesthood, I also wrote a book against a letter of Donatus . . . In a passage in this book, I said about the Apostle Peter: ‘On him as on a rock the Church was built.’ . . . But I know that very frequently at a later time, I so explained what the Lord said: ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church,’ that it be understood as built upon Him whom Peter confessed saying: ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,’ and so Peter, called after this rock, represented the person of the Church which is built upon this rock, and has received ‘the keys of the kingdom of heaven.’ For, ‘Thou art Peter’ and not ‘Thou art the rock’ was said to him. But ‘the rock was Christ,’ in confessing whom as also the whole Church confesses, Simon was called Peter.”—The Fathers of the Church—Saint Augustine, the Retractations (Washington, D.C.; 1968), translated by Mary I. Bogan, Book I, p. 90.

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How was Peter viewed by the other apostle, did they think Peter was given primacy by Jesus?

Luke 22:24-26, JB: “A dispute arose also between them [the apostles] about which should be reckoned the greatest, but he said to them, ‘Among pagans it is the kings who lord it over them, and those who have authority over them are given the title Benefactor. This must not happen with you.’”

If the apostle Peter had been given primacy (or superiority) if he was the “rock” upon which the church would be built, who would there be any reason for a dispute among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest?

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Jesus Christ is alive, so why would he need a successor?

Heb. 7:23-25, JB: “Then there used to be a great number of those other priests [in Israel], because death put an end to each one of them; but this one [Jesus Christ], because he remains for ever, can never lose his priesthood. It follows, then, that his power to save is utterly certain, since he is living for ever to intercede for all who come to God through him.”

Rom. 6:9, JB: “Christ, as we know, having been raised from the dead will never die again.”

Eph. 5:23, JB: “Christ is head of the Church.”

Peter grew up in the first century as a Jew, so he would have heard different prophecies from the Hebrew Scriptures concerning a “stone” or a “cornerstone.” (Isaiah 8:13-14; 28:16; Zechariah 3:9) So, it is no surprise that he would quote one of them in his first epistle to the believers. “And coming to him, a living stone rejected by men but chosen, precious to God, you yourselves as living stones are being built up into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, in order to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: ‘Look, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in it will not be put to shame.’ It is to you, therefore, that he is precious, because you are believers; but to those not believing, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,’ and ‘A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;’ for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this very end they were also appointed.” (1 Peter 2:4-8) Peter used the Greek word petra as found in Jesus’ statement at Matthew 16:18, for Christ. 

REASONING WITH OTHER RELIGIONS APOLOGETICS

Then, we turn to the apostle who authored fourteen books of the New Testament, the apostle Paul. What did he believe concerning the supposed primacy (supremacy) of Peter? When speaking about Peter’s role in the early Christian church, Paul stated that “James and Cephas (Peter) and John, who seemed to be pillars.” Paul being moved along by the Holy Spirit told us that there were at least three pillars, that is persons or regarded as reliably providing essential support and guidance for the church. (Galatians 2:9) If Peter had been appointed by Jesus as some primacy (supremacy), that is, the head of the church, he could not simply be viewed as one of several other “pillars.”

Moreover, who would have dared to rebuke the primacy (supremacy) of the church that Jesus himself had appointed? The apostle Paul did just this when he told Peter that he was being inconsistent in his treatment of the Gentiles versus the Jews. “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men from James arrived, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they arrived, he stopped doing this and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was carried away with them in their hypocrisy. But when I saw they were not walking straight according to the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, ‘If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?’” (Galatians 2:11-14) Paul never concluded that Jesus had built the church on Peter or any other imperfect human. Instead, the Holy Spirit moved him to tell us that the foundation of the church, “the rock was the Christ.”—1 Corinthians 3:9-11; 10:4.

Mosaic Authorship HOW RELIABLE ARE THE GOSPELS

“YOU ARE PETER . . .”

So what did Jesus mean by the words that he used: “You are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church”? If we at get at what he meant, we need to look at the context. What was it that Jesus and Peter were discussing? Jesus said to the disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona …” So the rock that the church would be built on was the person that Peter had just expressed faith in, Jesus Christ. – Matthew 16:15-18.

THE CREATION DAYS OF GENESIS gift of prophecy

So, many of the coming church fathers recognized that the rock of Matthew 16:18 is Christ. Again, we revisit the words of Augustine in the fifth century wrote: “The Lord said: ‘On this rock-mass I will build my Church,’ because Peter had told him: ‘You are the Christ the Son of the living God.’ It is therefore on this rock-mass, that you confessed, that I will build my Church.” Augustine frequently said that “the Rock (Petra) was Christ.” If this was not true, all who had made such claims, even Augustine, would have been viewed as heretics, as the Catholic Church was very quick to do.

1 PETER 5:13: Was the Apostle Peter In Rome?

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