I realize that what I am about to say is not the position of most Protestants and Baptists. But please bear with me. I am not about to become a papist.
Matthew 16:18 is one of the most debated verses in the Bible. To begin to understand it, let’s look at the verses that lead up to it:
When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
You Tell Me, and I’ll Tell You
In verses 17 and 18, Jesus is saying to Simon, My Father has told you that I am the Christ, the Son of the living God. This is revelation from heaven. Now I will give you more revelation. I am also telling you (in verse 18, the emphasis of the Greek is on these words at the beginning of the verse) that you are Peter. That is, you have told me by special revelation who I am. Now I am giving you more revelation by telling you who you are.
A Spiritual Son of Jonah
Jesus here explains why He has given Simon the name Cephas (see John 1:42), which in Greek is Petros and in English, Peter. Why? He had just called him in verse 17 “Simon Barjona.” This means, Simon son of Jonah. It is assumed by most people that this means that Simon was the son of someone named Jonah. But there is no additional evidence that Simon’s father’s name was Jonah. Simon’s brother, Andrew, is never called son of Jonah or “Barjona.” While James and John are called the “sons of Zebedee” (Mark 10:35 and elsewhere), Simon and Andrew are never called the sons of Jonah. I think this is significant.
I believe that this was another of Jesus’ nicknames for Simon. Jesus means that Simon is a spiritual son of Jonah. That is, he has the characteristics of Jonah. Thus, Jesus is referring to Peter’s running away from his responsibility when Jesus was arrested—from his denial to his going fishing and ending with his casting himself into the sea (see John 21). Jesus also has in mind Simon’s being the first to take the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10), just as Jonah brought the message of repentance to the Gentiles at Nineveh.
A Small Stone to Be Used in a Big Way
Then Jesus, continuing the idea of identifying someone’s characteristics with names, calls Simon Petros, a small stone. Much is made by some Protestant commentators of Petros (Peter) being masculine and petra (rock) being feminine, and of Petros referring to a stone and petra referring to a massive rock shelf. But the masculine-feminine argument is proved of no consequence by simply examining 1 Corinthians 10:4, where petra (feminine) refers to Christ as the Rock. And the difference in meanings between Petros and petra is explained when we understand that the words are not intended to be exact equivalents, as explained below.
These verses have been used by Roman Catholics to try to prove Scriptural authority for a pope and by Protestants to try to disprove Scriptural authority for a pope. Both groups have been so intent on trying to prove something that is completely outside of the biblical context that they have basically massacred the original meaning of the text. In doing so, they have so promoted their biased interpretations that most of us cannot see these verses without one of these biases. Since we all seem to approach these verses with preconceived ideas of what they mean, it can help to see what these verses are really saying by first looking at a hypothetical example such as the following: Suppose Jesus, instead of giving Simon the name Peter, had given Simon the nickname Candlelight. Suppose Jesus then said, “You are Candlelight, and with this beacon I will light up the world.” In other words, in and of himself, Simon is merely Candlelight, but once Jesus starts to use him, he will become a beacon to the world.
Now let’s look again at verse 18. Jesus is saying, You are Peter, a little rock, and upon this massive rock I will build my church.* In other words, of himself, Simon is just a little rock, but in Jesus’ hands, he becomes a massive rock that Jesus will use on the Pentecost after His resurrection to start calling the church (notice that verse 20 of Matthew 16 explains that Peter and the other disciples were not to do this any earlier). The idea is not that the church rests on Peter, but that it begins upon an act of Peter—his preaching the Gospel.
Does this mean that Peter was the first pope? No. Jesus is merely alluding to the fact that He would use Peter to preach the first sermon that called in the church on Pentecost and that He would also use Peter to first bring the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10). In this way, Peter would be foundational to the beginnings of the church. But this is a far cry from saying that Peter was the first pope. The Catholic position is absurd, and I won’t bother to address it any further in this article.
Let’s Get Our Analogies Straight
But what about one of the Protestant interpretations of this verse that the rock upon which Jesus builds the church is Himself? Certainly, Jesus is, in other contexts, called the Rock. In Romans 9:33 and 1 Peter 2:8, Jesus is the Rock that causes those who were appointed to disobedience to stumble. First Corinthians 10:4 refers to the Rock in Exodus 17 and Numbers 20 that poured out water that the Israelites drank and that typified Jesus Christ. But these Scriptures do not refer to Christ as a rock upon which the church is built.
In 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, Paul writes, “According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” If you read the context, you will see that Paul is speaking of Jesus Christ as being the only acceptable doctrinal foundation upon which the spiritual temple of the saints can be built. The foundation of doctrine, and, thus, of the saints built on that doctrine, is Jesus Christ Himself.
In Ephesians 2:20-22, Paul writes to the Ephesian Christians that they are “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” Jesus Christ is the chief corner stone of the foundation. However, the foundation includes the apostles and prophets.
But in Matthew 16:18, Jesus is giving a different picture. It is not a picture of a “fitly framed” temple resting and growing upon an established foundation of the doctrine of the apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ as the chief corner stone. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus is showing the beginnings of the church, and He pictures Himself not as the foundation but as the One doing the building. He says, “Upon this rock I will build.” The Greek word here for “build” is oikodomēsō, which literally means house-build. In Greek, the word for house is the same as the word for family. I think it is quite possible that Jesus is playing upon this double meaning. Jesus is a wise man, and He is going to build His house upon a rock, but the house He is building is His family (see Matthew 12:48-50), the people whom Peter would begin calling from the Jews on Pentecost and from the Gentiles in Acts 10.
Other Protestants say that Peter’s confession is the rock upon which Jesus builds His church. A problem with this explanation is that Jesus’ statement about the rock is too far removed grammatically from Peter’s confession. In other words, why would Jesus insert “and I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter” between Peter’s confession and “upon this rock” if the rock is Peter’s confession? “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter” is out of place in this explanation. It’s only purpose would be to add a play on words, but if the rock were the confession and not Peter, the play on words is unnecessary and confusing.
In summary, when we let the Bible interpret itself, we see that, in the verses in question, Peter states something about Jesus’ identity; and then, Jesus states something about Peter’s identity. Peter tells Jesus that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus tells Peter that Peter got this from the Father—that it was a revelation. And, Jesus then gives him more revelation by telling Peter something about Peter’s identity. He is Peter, a small stone, who, through the power of God, Jesus will be able to use as a massive stone to begin house-building His people whom He is calling out of this world to His assembly, the church or, more properly, the ekklēsia.
* As I have stated many times before, “church” is more than a poor translation of the Greek word ekklēsia; it is a wrong translation. It does not in any way convey the idea Jesus intended of the ekklēsia being the people God is spiritually calling out of this world to His spiritual assembly. Return
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Copyright © 2010 Peter Ditzel
Why did Jesus say Peter was the rock? ›
The rock upon which Jesus would build his church could refer to Peter, since Jesus changed Peter's name to "petros" meaning "rock." This would make Peter the foundation of the church.Why is Peter referred to as the rock of the church? ›
Peter was the first to identify Jesus, as the Messiah, before others later followed. That CONFESSION alone was the very Rock the true Church of Christ is built. Jesus called Peter “a rock,” and Peter came to trust in Jesus as “The Rock.”What does Jesus mean when he says on this rock I will build my church? ›
In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said to Simon, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” Roman Catholics interpret Matt. 16:18 to mean that Peter is the rock upon which the church is built.What does a rock symbolize in the Bible? ›
As stated in our earlier series, a rock is a symbol of stability, permanence, strength, dependability, and steadfastness. A rock stresses the unchanging nature of God, in contrast to the fickle and unstable nature of Israel.What is the meaning of I will build my church? ›
So when Messiah says on this rock I will build my church means that when Messiah was crucified dead and buried for 3 days and 3 nights, He was for telling his death burial and resurrection and that He would make the believers the body! Which is the church.Why is Peter so important to the church? ›
Peter was one of the 12 Apostles of Jesus. Roman Catholic tradition holds that Jesus established St. Peter as the first pope (Matthew 16:18). Jesus also gave him “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19), which is why he is often depicted at the gates of heaven in art and popular culture.Who is Peter the Rock? ›
Saint Peter (died between AD 64 and 68), also known as Peter the Apostle, Peter the Rock, Simon Peter, Simeon, Simon, or Cephas, was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ and one of the first leaders of the early Christian Church.Why did Jesus make Peter the head of the church? ›
“His statement then admits of but one explanation, namely, that he wishes to make Peter the head of the whole community of those who believed in him as the true Messiah … that the spiritual guidance of the faithful was placed in the hands of Peter, as the special representative of Christ.”What did Jesus mean in Matthew 16 18? ›
Jesus Christ taught His disciples principles that would help them guide the Church. All of the Twelve received keys of the kingdom. Through the parable of the unmerciful servant, the Savior taught why we must forgive others.What does it mean to build your life on the rock? ›
This means grounding ourselves in Christ every day and making wise choices through the guidance of his Spirit before the storms of life come. Only in him can we be assured that our foundation is rock-solid. Lord Jesus, we rely on you completely to survive the storms of life.
What does the name of God as the rock imply? ›
The obvious metaphor of the rock points to God being strong, steadfast, and consistent, not easily moved or shaken and a refuge for those in need. Moses wrote, “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just, a faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4).Who is a rock but our God? ›
And who is the Rock except our God? It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze.Where is on this rock I will build my church? ›
Matthew 16:18-19 King James Version (KJV)
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
God envisions a church united in the knowledge of the Son and grown into maturity. Literally, Paul's says that God envisions the church as a “perfect man.” The focus of this vision is not on the individual, but on the body of believers. The church—collective—is to attain perfect manhood (cf. Col 1:28).What is the biblical meaning of church growth? ›
If church growth means changing people's lives so that they can foster a closer walk with God, then you will succeed. The seeds that you sow will be returned to you in the harvest (Galatians 6:8-10).What is the main message of Peter? ›
1 Peter is a powerful letter written to persecuted Gentile Christians, reminding them that they are chosen by God and have a future hope in Jesus. 1 Peter is a powerful letter written to persecuted Gentile Christians, reminding them that they are chosen by God and have a future hope in Jesus.What was Peter's purpose in the Bible? ›
Although Jesus' Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) was a challenge to the apostles to preach the Gospel to all nations, Peter carried the message of Christ only to Jews, Samaritans, and Jewish proselytes.Did Peter make the church? ›
It is widely held that Saint Peter was the first Pope of Rome. He is believed to have founded the first Church in Rome and laid the foundation for all future Popes to come. All Popes are generally considered as the successors of the Saint.What type of rock is Peter? ›
Peter's Rock, like much of the Metacomet Ridge, is composed of basalt, also called traprock, a volcanic rock.Why did Peter denied Jesus? ›
Jesus' capture and trials were the culmination of this antipathy. Peter was one of the twelve disciples most closely associated with Jesus. His denials are made in the face of accusation that he was "with Jesus", the term indicating the bond of discipleship.
What can we learn from Peter the Apostle? ›
- Humility is a natural response to Jesus. Luke gives us an in-depth glimpse into Peter's calling. ...
- Jesus is always at work redeeming and restoring us. ...
- Boldness is a sign you're close to Jesus. ...
- Learning to follow Jesus.
Jesus thus does not declare the primacy of Peter, but rather declares that his church will be built upon the foundation of the revelation of and confession of faith of Jesus as the Christ. Many Protestant scholars, however, reject this position, such as Craig L.What does it mean that Jesus is the head of the church? ›
Christ has power over heaven and earth, and complete authority over all believers and the church (Matt 7:21-23; 28:18). Christ is the Savior who freely gave himself for the church and is the unquestionable Head of the church (Eph 5:23, 25).What Scriptures say about Jesus being the rock? ›
Jesus said in the gospel of John, chapter 7, verse 37, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” Jesus Christ is the Rock!What does Mark 16 16 18 mean? ›
Advocates of baptismal regeneration and the continuation of sign gifts for the post-apostolic church often turn to Mark 16:16–18 as a proof text. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does. not believe will be condemned.What church does Jesus refer to in Matthew 18? ›
The Context of Matthew 18
In His statement in Matthew 16:18, it's clear that He is referring to the universal church. For we certainly know that the gates of hell have prevailed against some local churches throughout redemptive history. In Matthew 18:17, Jesus uses the word church in reference to the local church.
Matthew 16:18, ESV: And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Matthew 16:18, KJV: And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.Why is St. Peter a pillar of the church? ›
Leader of the Early Church
Peter was considered as one of the pillars of the early Church along with James and John. After Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, Peter began to preach his own version of Christ's teachings to everyone he could find.
The LDS Church teaches that Peter was the chief apostle and head of the church after Christ's ascension. The LDS Church further teaches that all Melchizedek Priesthood authority in the church must come through a line of authority traceable directly from Christ through Peter.Why is St. Peter the gatekeeper of heaven? ›
In Roman Catholicism he is regarded as the first in the unbroken succession of popes. Jesus' promise to give him the “keys of the kingdom” led to the popular perception of Peter as the gatekeeper of heaven.
What are the 4 pillars of the church? ›
The pillars of an authentic Catholic life are summarized in the traditional four pillars of Catholic catechisms: faith, liturgy/sacraments, life in Christ, and prayer, which Peter distills in Acts 2:42.What is a pillar in the Bible? ›
Pillar [N] [S] used to support a building ( Judges 16:26 Judges 16:29 ); as a trophy or memorial ( Genesis 28:18 ; 35:20 ; Exodus 24:4 ; 1 Samuel 15:12 , A.V., "place," more correctly "monument," or "trophy of victory," as in 2 Samuel 18:18 ); of fire, by which the Divine Presence was manifested ( Exodus 13:2 ).What did Jesus give to Peter in Matthew 16 18 19? ›
Matthew 16 records that the Savior promised to give Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven (see Matthew 16:18–19). Six days later the Lord took Peter, James, and John onto a mountain, where He was transfigured before them in the presence of Moses and Elias, who was Elijah (see Matthew 17:1–13).Who was Peter before he met Jesus? ›
Peter in the Bible
Little is known about Peter before he meets Jesus, other than that he was the son of Jona, was born in Bethsaida, and was living and working as a fisherman in Capernaum with his brother Andrew. Jesus called the brothers to be two of his first Apostles.
In Mark's Gospel when Peter realized his betrayal, "he broke down and wept." Peter was not present when Jesus died. Filled with sorrow and shame, he was elsewhere but surely he heard about all that had happened, may have been hiding in the crowd, hoping for a different outcome while they were shouting, "Crucify him!"