Saturday, May 14, 2005


The Rock of Matthew 16: Peter or his Confession? …Actually Both

One of the most common arguments put forth by Protestant apologists against
the primacy of Peter, and by extension the papacy, is that it is Peter’s confession
of faith, not Peter himself, that is the rock that Jesus refers to in Matthew 16:18. To support their case, they often refer to statements from Early Church Fathers
such as St. John Chyrsostom:

And I say unto thee, Thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church;” that is, on the faith of his confession (Homily on Matthew#54 Roberts, Alexander and Donaldson, James, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series: Volume X, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1997.)

The Catholic Church’s answer to this question is expressed in terms of “both
and” as opposed to “either or”. While insisting upon Peter being the rock, she
has no problem with the idea of Peter’s confession also being the rock upon
which the Church is built. Paragraph #424 of the Catechism of the Catholic
Church says as much:

Moved by the grace of the Holy Spirit and drawn by the Father, we believe in Jesus and confess: 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' On the rock of this faith confessed by St. Peter,
Christ built his Church.

What those who get their horns caught up in the thicket of this “Peter vs. his confession” dichotomy fail to grasp is the nature of Peter’s confession. Peter’s confession “thou art the Christ, Son of the living God, “ because it is prompted by a revelation from the Father (Matt. 16:17) is authoritative, not merely that of personal conviction.

St. John Chrysostom (in the very same Homily #54 cited above as the Protestant prooftext) , in contrasting Peter’s confession with that of Nathanael in

John 1:49, states:

And Nathanael too said, “Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God, Thou art the King of Israel;” and so far from being blessed, he is even reproved by Him, as having said what was far short of the truth. He replied at least, “Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.”Why then is this man [Peter] blessed? Because he acknowledged Him very Son. Wherefore you see, that while in those former instances He had said no such thing, in this case He also signifies who had revealed it. That is, lest his words might seem to the many (because he was an earnest lover of Christ) to be words of friendship and flattery, and of a disposition to show favor to Him, he brings forward the person who had made them ring in his soul; to inform thee that Peter indeed spake, but the Father suggested, and that thou mightest believe the saying to be no longer a human opinion, but a divine doctrine. (Homily on Matthew #54 Roberts, Alexander and Donaldson, James, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series: Volume X, Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.1997.Emphasis added)

It is only in the light of understanding the authoritative nature of Peter’s confession can we begin to understand Jesus’ response, which, within the
context of the Jewish religious culture of that day, has unmistakable overtones of
the conferral of authority.

The first is the name change that occurs in verse 18. Whenever God changes someone’s name in the Old Testament, his role becomes one of primal authority. In Gen. 17:5, Abram’s name is changed to Abraham and in Gen. 32:28, Jacob’s name is changed to Israel. Jesus brings this Old Testament conferral of authority, signified by a name change, to its fulfillment in the New Testament establishment of the Petrine office.

Then Peter is given the keys of the kingdom of Heaven. This is a direct
reference to Isaiah 22:20-25 where the key of the house of David is being passed
on from Shebna to Eliakim. The clear meaning of the text, as well as most
scholarly commentary on it, indicates that this key symbolizes the delegation of
authority, like that which a king would delegate to a prime minister. Jesus, who is
the Son of God, the son of David, and Eternal King, in the giving of these keys
delegates to Peter and his successors the primal authority to teach and rule the
Church in his name. (While the issue of succession is outside of the scope of
this article, suffice it to say that the handing on of Apostolic authority is clearly
affirmed in Scripture, i.e. Paul’s pastoral Epistles to Timothy. From this it would
stand to reason that the Supreme Apostolic office of Peter would be handed on
as well.)

Jesus further expresses this authority to teach and rule by stating “whatever you
bind on earth is bound in heaven whatever you loose on earth is loosed in
heaven.” These terms “bind” and “loose” are rabbinical terms used to describe
the manner in which authority was exercised. Scholar David Stern, a Messianic
Jew, explains:

“’In this sense Jesus, when appointing his disciples to be his successors, used the familiar formula (Matt.16:18, 18:18). By these words [bind and loose] he virtually invested them with the same authority as that which he found belonging to the Pharisees who “bind heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but will move them with their fingers”’; that is, “loose them” as they have the power to do (Matthew 23:2-4), David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, Clarksville, MD: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1992 56-57 Quoted on pg. 63 Jesus, Peter, & the Keys Butler, Dahlgren, & Hess Queenship Publishing 1996 )

There are even many Protestant scholars on who concede on this issue.
Although they do not acknowledge any connection with successors i.e. popes, they do concede Peter’s prominence among the Apostles. Some, such as 19th century evangelical Presbyterian theologian Albert Barnes, not only recognize Peter as the rock, but also show its intimate connection with his confession:

The meaning of this phrase may be expressed: “ Thou, in saying that I am the Son of God, hast called me by a name expressive of my true character, I, also, have given to thee a name expressive of your character. I have called you Peter, a rock, denoting firmness solidity, stability, and your confession has shown that the name is appropriate. I see that you are worthy of the name and will be a distinguished support my religion. (Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament, Robert Frew, ed, Grand Rapids, MI. Baker 1973 See Jesus, Peter & The Keys Butler, Dahlgren, & Hess Queenship Publishing 1996 pg. 33)

What colors this and many other objections to the papacy on the part of
Protestants is that they see it as an obstacle to a personal relationship with Christ
and a challenge to Jesus’ authority. Far from being an obstacle to a personal
relationship with Christ or an obfuscation of his sovereignty, papal authority is a
certain witness to it that ensures a sound personal relationship. Every
authoritative papal pronouncement on matters of faith and morals is simply an
echo of that first papal pronouncement “ thou art the Christ the Son of the living God,”—the rock upon which the Church and the faith of Christians are built.


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