Vol. 11 No. 10 October 2009
D. Gene West
From Matthew 16:18-19, we read these wonderful words from the lips of Jesus, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” This passage is often used to support the religious dogma that Peter was the first earthly head of the church. Our question today is: Does this passage support that dogma? It is insisted that because our Lord said to the apostle Peter, “upon this rock I will build my church,” and because the word “Peter” in the Greek means a rock or a stone, it must be the case that Peter is the rock upon which Christ built His church. This of course, creates a direct contradiction with Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 3:11. Here the apostle wrote, “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Here Paul plainly declared that the foundation upon which the church rests is our Lord Himself. If there is a contradiction in the Bible, one of two things must be true. Either the Bible is wrong, or someone’s interpretation of it is wrong. Both Peter and Christ cannot be the foundation upon which the church is built at the same time.
Another reason it cannot be substantiated that Peter is the foundation and earthly head of the church is that Jesus made the same statement to all the apostles that he made to Peter, when in Matthew 18:18 He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” All the apostles were equally empowered to bind and loose the will of God on earth that had already been bound and loosed in heaven. Whatever relationship the apostle Peter has to the church as both head and foundation, this relationship was enjoyed by the other apostles as well. Therefore, you cannot have one apostle enjoying more power or authority than any other one.
Let us now look at the matter grammatically. When Jesus said to Peter, “you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church,” the word “you” is in the second person, just as we use it in English. However, when He spoke the words “this rock,” He spoke in the third person, indicating that He was not speaking of the same person; consequently, “you” and “this rock” must refer to two different things, or persons. In addition to this, we should point out that Peter=s name, Petros, is Greek masculine, and the word “rock” is Petra feminine. When this is pointed out, those defending the dogma that Peter is head and foundation of the church reply telling us that Jesus spoke in this passage in Aramaic, and in that language there is no difference in the two words. A question must be raised regarding this: How do they know Jesus spoke in the Aramaic? They usually reply, How do you know he didn’t? One would reply because the text in which it is found is in Greek, not Aramaic. If Matthew was inspired to write this language in Greek, and he was, then it does not really make any difference what language the Lord originally used; the Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to record Peter’s name as masculine and the word “rock” as feminine.
Those who wish to give primacy to Peter as head and foundation of the church do not give him primacy in evil as a result of his being singled out by the Lord who said in to him in Matthew 16:23, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” No other apostle of our Lord ever received such a rebuke from the Savior, not even Judas Iscariot who betrayed him. We need to look at this matter in a balanced way as does the Bible.
Lastly, we point out that neither the apostle Peter, nor any other writer of the New Testament supported the idea that Peter is the earthly head of and foundation of the church. If Christ had appointed him to that exalted position, one would expect some New Testament writer to have mentioned it!