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The verses reads like this:

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. NIV

I am familiar with how Catholics interpret this passage and often quote it as the reason the Papacy exists and is ordained by Jesus himself.

However, the verse is perplexing to me because it does seem to imply some sort or emphasis on Peter being special to the Church, but Protestants reject the Papal authority, so how would they interpret this passage? I am looking for the answer that speaks from most Protestants, since I think most Protestants agree that the Papacy does not have the authority it claims. Perhaps if Martin Luther or another famous reformer had anything to say on it would be good.

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Apostle Paul once rebuked Peter in front of the whole member. Peter was not treated as the Pope or something like that. –  Mawia Mar 7 '13 at 5:30
@Mawia What do you mean "treated as the Pope"? The Pope is the leader of the Roman Catholic Church on earth. Why would he be treated as the Pope when there would be no Papal position at the time? –  Drew Mar 13 '13 at 2:55
@drew above,...becuz Catholics consider Peter the first pope,...however the very things Jesus gave to Peter, He also gave to the others in other places in the NT, plus many of the Fathers do not interpret Math 16 as confirming Peter to the papacy,...etc,..most Prot. do not see this as saying Peter was the rock, however, some bible scholars do, who are Protestants and it seems reasonable since it is in the same sentence,..etc...Rev 21 says Jasper is the first stone in the wall of the New Jerusalem and some Protestants say this stone represents Peter. –  Hello Oct 31 '14 at 3:02

4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

It is worth pointing out that even if you take the stance that the verse is saying that Peter had some kind of special stance. There is nothing that indicates that that authority is continued in his line. Every other place I can think of where a lineage related authority is granted, it is pretty clearly laid out by God in scripture. (For example the establishment of the Levitical priests.) In this passage, there is no such establishment of authority through lineage.

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There is debate on the actual meaning of verse 18, particularly what "his rock" is. Is it Peter? Or is it the Truth that Peter told in verse 16?

Many Protestants believe that it is referring to the thing Peter said - that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Jesus will build His Church based on who He is.

Barnes' Notes on the Bible

And upon this rock ... - This passage has given rise to many different interpretations. Some have supposed that the word "rock" refers to Peter's confession, and that Jesus meant to say, upon this rock, this truth that thou hast confessed, that I am the Messiah and upon confessions of this from all believers, I will build my church. Confessions like this shall be the test of piety, and in such confessions shall my church stand amid the flames of persecution, the fury of the gates of hell. Others have thought that Jesus referred to himself. Christ is called a rock, Isaiah 28:16; 1 Peter 2:8. And it has been thought that he turned from Peter to himself, and said, "Upon this rock, this truth that I am the Messiah - upon myself as the Messiah, I will build my church." Both these interpretations, though plausible, seem forced upon the passage to avoid the main difficulty in it. Another interpretation is, that the word "rock" refers to Peter himself.

And another perspective:

Clarke's Commentary on the Bible

Upon this very rock, επι ταυτη τη πετρα - this true confession of thine - that I am The Messiah, that am come to reveal and communicate The Living God, that the dead, lost world may be saved - upon this very rock, myself, thus confessed (alluding probably to Psalm 118:22, The Stone which the builders rejected is become the Head-Stone of the Corner: and to Isaiah 28:16, Behold I lay a Stone in Zion for a Foundation) - will I build my Church, μου την εκκλησιαν, my assembly, or congregation, i.e. of persons who are made partakers of this precious faith. That Peter is not designed in our Lord's words must be evident to all who are not blinded by prejudice. Peter was only one of the builders in this sacred edifice, Ephesians 2:20 who himself tells us, (with the rest of the believers), was built on this living foundation stone: 1 Peter 2:4, 1 Peter 2:5, therefore Jesus Christ did not say, on thee, Peter, will I build my Church, but changes immediately the expression, and says, upon that very rock, επι ταυτη τη πετρα, to show that he neither addressed Peter, nor any other of the apostles. So, the supremacy of Peter, and the infallibility of the Church of Rome, must be sought in some other scripture, for they certainly are not to be found in this. On the meaning of the word Church, see at the conclusion of this chapter.

As a Baptist, this view that the Church has been built upon Christ, not Peter, is the common teaching that I'm familiar with. But that's not necessarily true in all Protestant denominations.

Unfortunately, the answer seems to be "it depends on who you ask".

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It depends whom you ask. That's it. I think we should leave it there and that is the right track to choose. –  Seek forgiveness Mar 8 '13 at 15:40
From what I've read (but I need to find reliable sources) we should read "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church" as "And I tell you that you are a pebble, and on this boulder I will build my church." –  Squirtle Jan 29 '14 at 19:23

One claim is that it's a translation issue. "Peter" means "rock", so when Jesus says, "you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church" there's a bit of a play of words going on. Pretty much everyone agrees on at least that much.

However, depending on which manuscript set you trust and your interpretation, it's a different word for rock for Peter's name than it is for the later use, and the passage can read more, "I tell you that you are Peter <small pebble>, and on this rock <great boulder> I will build my church." Those who take this interpretation will then go on to say that Jesus is referring to the confession of faith as the foundation of the Church, and the purpose of the passage is to intentionally minimize Peter's personal role. I can't find a reference, but if my recollection is correct, this was complicated further because the early Latin translation used by early Romans either supposedly used the same word in both places, or the difference was merely a gender distinction that would have been appropriate without the word play.

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Protestants typically interpret this verse to be referring to Christ, the Chief Cornerstone, when he speaks of the rock upon which the church will be built.

Greek Grammar One reason for this is that Peter as a proper name for Simon is masculine in form -- petros (Strong's G4074). When Jesus says "on this rock", the word for "rock" is feminine -- petra (Strong's G4073).

The distinction according to Strong's is as follows:

G4073 — Strong

πέτρα - petra - pet'-ra

Feminine of the same as G4074; a (mass of) rock (literally or figuratively): - rock.

G4074 — Strong

Πέτρος - Petros - pet'-ros

Apparently a primary word; a (piece of) rock (larger than G3037); as a name, Petrus, an apostle: - Peter, rock. Compare G2786.

So, there does seem to be a difference used in the words for rock:

You are **Peter**, **a piece of rock**, and upon this **mass of rock** I will build my church.

Peter's Own Reference to Christ as the Rock

In 1 Peter 2, Peter himself refers to Christ as the Rock:

And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For this is contained in Scripture:

“Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” [Isaiah 28:16]

7 This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve,

The stone which the builders rejected, This became the very corner stone,” [Psalm 118:22]

8 and,

“A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense”; [Isaiah 8:14]

for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. 1 Peter 2:4-8 NASB

So, here Peter refers to Isaiah and the Psalms that point to a particular Rock or Stone, which is Jesus--not Peter. It is Jesus who is the Chief Cornerstone for the foundation of the church. It is Jesus on whom we must believe. It was Jesus who was rejected. And it was Jesus who was a stone of stumbling.

Daniel's Rock

Finally, in Nebuchadnezzar's dream recorded in Daniel chapter 2, there is a "a stone was cut out without hands" which struck the statue, which represented the four world empires and then itself became a kingdom that filled the earth.

You continued looking until a stone was cut out without hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and crushed them. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth... Daniel 2:34-35 NASB

In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. 45 Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.” Daniel 2:44-45 NASB

So, in Nebuchadnezzar's dream, Jesus is the Stone/Rock.

The Rock of Moses

Moses also struck a rock on two different occasions to provide water for the people in the desert. This rock is symbolic of Jesus as well. Moses was commanded to strike the rock the first time, but to merely speak to it the second time. This symbolized Christ being struck once for all, but never again. (Exodus 17 and Numbers 20)

Many other references

The Old Testament has quite a few other references to the Rock, which appears to be a title for the Messiah. Here are just a few:

The God of Israel said, The Rock of Israel spoke to me, ‘He who rules over men righteously, Who rules in the fear of God, 2 Samuel 23:3 NASB

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Psalm 18:2 NASB

He only is my rock and my salvation, My stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken. Psalm 62:2 NASB


In summary...

  1. Peter is distinguished as a separate kind of rock than Christ in Matthew 16.
  2. Peter himself refers to Christ as the Rock/Chief Cornerstone in fulfillment of writing in Isaiah and the Psalms.
  3. Daniel refers to a rock that is fulfilled by Jesus.
  4. The rock that Moses struck symbolizes Jesus.
  5. Many other places in the Old Testament refer to God as the Rock.

For all these reasons, the Matthew 16 passage is understood, to exalt Jesus, then, as the Rock/Chief Cornerstone, rather than Peter as the head of the church (pope).

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Matthew apparently understood that this distinction had been made in whatever language it had been spoken and thus identified that distinction in Greek. –  Narnian Mar 7 '13 at 19:40

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