Friday, October 31, 2008

Peter The First Pope?

Today, October 31, 2008 marks the 491st anniversary of Martin Luther’s bold approach to the authority of the Papacy. The challenge sited 95 theological errors of the Roman Catholic Church.

One teaching of the Roman Catholic Church is that Peter is the first pope. This claim is made on the basis of the Roman Catholic Churchs early understanding of Matthew 16:17-18. Rather than go into many opinions of how the Catholic church may be right or may be wrong, I will simply exegete Matthew 16:18.

18And I tell you that you are Peter,[a] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[b] will not overcome it. (Mt. 16:18 NIV)

What I am about to unpack for you is not a new discovery. In fact, when I first had the idea of attempting to make sense out of who Jesus was referring to in building the church on, I went to my interlinear and there it was. Jesus plainly stated that He, Jesus was discussing with Peter that Jesus would build His Church on Himself. Let’s look at it, now.

κἀγὼ δέ σοι λέγω ὅτι σὺ εἶ Πέτρος καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ
I also and to you I say you are Peter and on this rock
οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν
I will build my Church.

Notice that ὅτι (first line) is not translated. ὅτι means, ‘since or because’. Also, note the order of appearance the two words here for stone or rock. Πέτρος and then πέτρᾳ . In English, we sight the object of a subject. So, the subject would be given precedence over the object. The subject would have a masculine, nominative place in the English sentence. And, the object would be given a subordinate, feminine, accusative place in our English sentence.

When we read the above sentence in Greek, translating it without regard to the case endings, which give the Greek words their status and place in the sentence, and we would also be tempted to believe since Πέτρος is capitalized that we are looking at a proper noun or name of a person that we are seeing this sentence just as it should be read. And it would say,

“And, I also say to you, you are Peter (Πέτρος), and on this rock (πέτρᾳ) I will build my Church”.

However, let’s apply the rules of Koine Greek grammar, and not think in terms of English grammar. Now, what we will do is understand, that Greek capitalizes in the beginning of a paragraph. Sometimes Koine Greek capitalized in the beginning of a sentence, but always in the use of importance. Because, case endings identify the place of the object and subject, and to whom verbs and to what adjectives are applied, there is not necessary order for which a word will appear in a Koine Greek sentence. As long as the reader understands the importance of the character and the rules for identifying the object and subject, the reader can now properly assign a Greek word to a character (person) being spoken of.

Ask yourself, who is more important? Is Jesus more important than Peter?

Jesus would be referred to by Πέτρος (the nominative, masculine subject) and Peter referred to in Greek by πέτρᾳ (the accusative, feminine object).

What we would have here is a sentence where metaphors are used. Why? Well, Jesus was telling Peter, I say to you Simon Barjona (vs. 17) that you are Peter (πέτρᾳ - a stone, as in his character). He did not see Simon which means sand. Jesus saw the man who was named Simon to have the character of a stone. Being that the conversation in these verses alone is about whom people say Jesus is, tells us that the emphasis is on Jesus. The metaphorical part of this sentence that rightfully should be applied to Jesus is the word Rock (Πέτρος). We build our faith on what is solid; Jesus the rock (Πέτρος) not Peter the stone or pebble (πέτρᾳ). The capitalized, nominative subject would be Πέτρος, a metaphor used to reference Jesus, whom this passage in Matthew is discussing when Jesus asks, “who do people say I am?”. And, Jesus calls attention to Simon’s character when he calls him πέτρᾳ. He said to Peter, you have the character of a stone.

Now, here is where this is so much more meaningful. To have Jesus look at Simon and say to him, “In you Simon, I see the character of a stone” must have made Peter’s chest inflate a little. Out of all of the disciples, Jesus saw Peter as the tough as nails type of guy we hope we never run into and find him angry at us.

You may say, ‘But did not Peter deny Christ three times?’ Yep. And that is the beauty of Jesus having called attention to Simon’s character. Jesus demonstrated that when things got really tough, even the tough will need a savior’s forgiveness.


Tamela's Place said...

Hi jim,

Peter, you gotta love him. One minute Jesus is commending him the next Jesus is rebuking him.

But don't we all have a little bit of Peter in us? Jesus knew exactly what He was doing when He chose the 12. Each one we can relate to in some way or another.

Scott Packett said...

Peter may mean rock, but I am so glad that the hope of my salvation is built upon the foundation of the Solid Rock. Namely, Jesus Christ.

Nice explanation, and I really appreciate your attention to detail here. Great Post!

Soli Deo Gloria!

jeleasure said...

Soli Deo Gloria!
My wife (a music major) tells me that Bach wrote these words on all of his music.
Yes, Scott, this is the point. The Catholic Church claims that Peter is the Rock, here in the Greek text. But, what Jesus was doing was telling Peter that Peter had the character of a stone.
The Nominative tense is Jesus, "Rock", verses "stone" for Peter. How solid would it be if Peter were the rock Jesus was speaking of ?

Vicki said...

Jesus was indicating that He is the true foundation of the church At the same time, I believe Jesus was encouraging Peter in that Peter was to be a refection or little Christ - Pebble.

I appreciate your detailed study of the Greek grammar in order to understand the true meaning, and I appreciate the thought at the end that Peter and the rest of us need a savior. Jesus is the true foundation and the One who rescues us.

Anonymous said...

Another consideration might be to add verse 16 of this same chapter to develop the full context. "And Simon Peter answered and said, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.'"

I believe the rock (v18) that Jesus would build His church on is in reference to this statement of foundational faith made by Peter proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God.

I agree, These verses certainly don't refer to Peter as being the first Pope.

Just my 2 cents worth...


Greg said...

Good study, Jim. I'm not familiar with Greek (though I would like to be), but that was a good explanation. Taking the reast of the NT in context, I strongly agree that the concept of a pope in non-Biblical. Paul said that Jesus is the One Mediator between God and men; there's no place for another man in our relationship with Christ.

Greg said...

Oh, Bach was mentioned. One of my all-time favorite quotes is by him. He essentially said that the purpose of all music should be to glorify God; anything that does not do that is only "a diabolical twanging and bawling." I LOVE IT!!! Just perfectly describes most secular music today.

thekingpin68 said...


A useful review of a complex subject, Jim. I have just finished two new articles myself.

The article above seems a good review.

Question: "What is the rock in Matthew 16:18?"

Answer: The debate rages over whether “the rock” on which Christ will build His church is Peter, or Peter’s confession that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16). In all honesty, there is no way for us to be 100% sure which view is correct. The grammatical construction allows for either view. The first view is that Jesus was declaring that Peter would be the “rock” on which He would build His church. Jesus appears to be using a play on words. “You are Peter (petros) and on this rock (petra) I will build my church.” Since Peter’s name means rock, and Jesus is going to build His church on a rock – it appears that Christ is linking the two together. God used Peter greatly in the foundation of the church. It was Peter who first proclaimed the Gospel on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-47). Peter was also the first to take the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10:1-48). In a sense, Peter was the rock “foundation” of the church.

The other popular interpretation of the rock is that Jesus was referring not to Peter, but to Peter’s confession of faith in verse 16: “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Jesus had never explicitly taught Peter and the other disciples the fullness of His identity, and He recognized that God had sovereignly opened Peter’s eyes and revealed to him who Jesus really was. His confession of Christ as Messiah poured forth from him, a heart-felt declaration of Peter’s personal faith in Jesus. It is this personal faith in Christ which is the hallmark of the true Christian. Those who have placed their faith in Christ, as Peter did, are the church. Peter expresses this in 1 Peter 2:4 when he addressed the believers who had been dispersed around the ancient world: “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

At this point, Jesus declares that God had revealed this truth to Peter. The word for “Peter,” Petros, means a small stone (John 1:42). Jesus used a play on words here with petra (“on this rock”) which means a foundation boulder, as in Matthew 7:24, 25 when He described the rock upon which the wise man builds his house. Peter himself uses the same imagery in his first epistle: the church is built of numerous small petros “living stones” (1 Peter 2:5) who, like Peter, confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and those confessions of faith are the bedrock of the church.

In addition, the New Testament makes it abundantly clear that Christ is both the foundation (Acts 4:11, 12; 1 Corinthians 3:11) and the head (Ephesians 5:23) of the church. It is a mistake to think that here He is giving either of those roles to Peter. There is a sense in which the apostles played a foundational role in the building of the church (Ephesians 2:20), but the role of primacy is reserved for Christ alone, not assigned to Peter. So, Jesus’ words here are best interpreted as a simple play on words in that a boulder-like truth came from the mouth of one who was called a small stone. And Christ Himself is called the “chief cornerstone” (1 Peter 2:6, 7). The chief cornerstone of any building was that upon which the building was anchored. If Christ declared Himself to be the cornerstone, how could Peter be the rock upon which the church was built? It is more likely that the believers, of which Peter is one, are the stones which make up the church, anchored upon the Cornerstone, “and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame” (1 Peter 2:6).

The Roman Catholic Church uses the argument that Peter is the rock to which Jesus referred as evidence that it is the one true church. As we have seen, Peter's being the rock is not the only valid interpretation of this verse. Even if Peter is the rock in Matthew 16:18, this is meaningless in giving the Roman Catholic Church any authority. Scripture nowhere records Peter being in Rome. Scripture nowhere describes Peter as being supreme over the other apostles. The New Testament does not describe Peter as being the “all authoritative leader” of the early Christian church. Peter was not the first pope, and Peter did not start the Roman Catholic Church. The origin of the Catholic Church is not in the teachings of Peter or any other apostle. If Peter truly was the founder of the Roman Catholic Church, it would be in full agreement with what Peter taught (Acts chapter 2, 1 Peter, 2 Peter).

Recommended Resource: Reasoning from the Scriptures with Catholics by Ron Rhodes.

jeleasure said...

Thanks to everyone for your comments. I have been very busy working today. I feel as if I want to address each of you individually. But, I am exhausted. I will say to Russ; Yes, I did consider the idea that from what ever perspective you are looking at the Gramatic structure of the Koine Greek, we can not be certain. But, then, I considered that the case ending of one of the petra's, namely the the one with lower case Pi, is accusitive, subordinate. So, my thinking is, that this 'petra' would have to be Simon Peter. Because Jesus would not refer to himself as subordinate to Peter. In considering a rock verses a pebble or stone, the rock must be the capitalized pi. Petros. Petros would be nominative, masculine. So, I say this is Jesus as a metephor.

jeleasure said...

Thanks for stopping by. Yes, this is a good verse to include. I did not include it because I did not translate it.
But, it does add in helping to set up the presidence Christ is placing on Himself as the "Rock".
Thanks for the suggestion.
I will work it out tomorrow. I'm exausted.
By the way, I will be sure to let everyone know you are joining our network.

thekingpin68 said...

Thanks, Jim.

Your interpretation is reasonable and at this point I have no dogmatic opinion.

I came across this opinion on related:

Greek NT

All of the Greek New Testament originals were written in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS with no spaces and probably no punctuation, and all of the earlier manuscripts are in this style, whether on parchment or papyrus. This is because the Greek alphabet did not have punctuation until at least the II century, and there were no minuscule (lower case) letters until much later. The surviving manuscripts on papyrus are classed by themselves: papyri. The parchment manuscripts written in all capitals are called uncials, and those written later (IX century on) using upper and lower case letters are called Minuscules. Various commonly written words were often abbreviated. This are mistakenly called nomina sacra, "sacred names," but it is not only special names and titled which were abbreviated this way.

jeleasure said...

This is good information. I was not aware of the change from all caps. to miniscules in the second century.
So, our Greek text adopt a post second century grammar rule that gets grandfathered into first generation a.d. era.
With that being said, I can only conclude that our English grammar rules have still been applied to capitalizing Petra (for Simon Peter). The only remaining clue is to rely on the case endings and not the capitalization, since, everything was in caps. Meaning, that Petra would have been spelled (can't duplicate the Greek here) PETRA and petros would have been PETROS. So, we can truly only assume that Jesus has announced Himself in the use of Nominative case ending.
We may be able to glean a little speculation from the previous verses, as lmouser suggested.
Btw... have you contacted him yet? I think I sent his link to you.

Jody said...

Thanks for reading my blog and your invitation. My husband and I, he's a pastor, just returned from Princeton Theological Seminary where we heard D.A. Carson and Albert Mohler speak at a conference, God's Word IS Truth. I'm in. Thanks again, Jody

jeleasure said...

O.k., Jody,
Get ready. We have some seriously friendly bloggers in this network. Thanks for your comments.

Gigi said...

As a lifelong Roman Catholic up until a few years ago, this is doctrine I grew up believing as, well - Gospel. Peter, the first Pope - ordained by Christ Himself. Roman Catholicism, the one "true" religion...

I no longer believe that. I agree, Jim, that Jesus was referring to Himself, and not Peter, as the Rock upon which He would build His Church.

jeleasure said...

Thanks for siding with me on this issue. I realize it can be offensive. But, I honor Martin Luther and Christ in this blog topic. Luther brought about a solid change in the Vatican. It took 430 years to do it. But, Vatican II shows the results of Luther's convictions to challenge the Papacy.
So, I brought this to light. As, it has always bothered me that Peter is seen as the Rock Jesus referred to.

Nitewrit said...


It must be nice knowing Greek. I was always terrible in learning languages. Although I had Latin, French and Spanish in my youth, I can barely get by hello in any these days. And Greek truly is Greek to me. However, just looking up the definition of the two Greek words used in this verse shows a definite difference in the scope of the 'rocks' referred to. I also see the discussion in Matthew is directed at the group as a reveling moment, not to one individual. And despite the praise heaped on Simon Peter here, a couple verses later Jesus is scolding him sharply.

Thekingpin68 gives a good overview of Jesus over and over again being referred to in terms of The Rock in the New Testament. You can also find allusions to Christ as the Rock in the Old Testament.


jeleasure said...

Thank you for your contribution, here. I appreciate it and I am so glad that Blogger will save this info for me.
I need to begin to back up some of this stuff. I realize now, I will have to go blog-by-blog if I am to save comments, too.

preacherman said...

Wonderful topic.
I know many have believed that Peter was the first pope. I do believe that Peter was defiantly a pastor as Jesus tell Peter to love his sheep and take care of his flock. Thanks for your continued prayers and adding to the discussion on my blog. I have been so busy lately. I really liked Jody's blog. It was great! Thanks for letting us know about it. I hope you have a GREAT WEEK! :-)

laymond said...

I believe we should go ahead and look at verse 19, and see the power over the church Peter was given.

jeleasure said...

Hi Preacherman, and Lamond.
I thank the two of you for your visit. Preacherman, I am always praying for your health. My wife and I discuss your blog topics from time-to-time.
Thank you for visiting. I agree that power was given to Peter over the church. However, I can never put Peter before Christ. Without Christ's Holy Spirit, there can be no church. With out Jesus' sacrifice of life, there would be no church. God did not build His church on Peter. Peter was part of the origional building team. Not the builder.

PH said...

This is an interesting reduction of language about Peter. Thanks for the invitation to comment.

laymond said...

Oh, I seem to be confused, I thought we were talking about why the Catholic church referrers to Peter as the "first Pope" not who founded "The Church" (sorry.)

jeleasure said...

Now, I am confused. I guess the point you drew is valid. I really wanted the emphasis to be on who Christ built His church on. Or, who is the metephorical rock, spoken of?
I did say Peter The First Pope? because the Catholic Church uses this scripture to say that Christ chose to build his church on Peter.
Your comments are excepted and valid. Thanks.

jeleasure said...

Thank you for stopping by.