The verses read 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
    Commented Mar 7, 2013 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?
    – Andrew
    Commented Mar 13, 2013 at 2:55
  • Jesus continued to say, "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it". But in the very next verse we find that Peter gave place to Satan and Jesus rebukes him,"get thre away from me Satan"
    – One Face
    Commented Jun 18, 2016 at 11:20
  • @OneFace There may be an interesting answer from that.
    – user3961
    Commented Jun 18, 2016 at 14:42

8 Answers 8


It is worth pointing out that even if you take the stance that the verse is saying that Peter had some kind of special status, 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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    Isn't this a bit of a straw man? Catholics don't claim a blood lineage for the Papacy, either.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Dec 29, 2015 at 7:57
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    @flimzy fair enough, I was confused a bit on that point, but even without that, I'd argue that only makes the answer stronger. The line could be either one of blood or one of blessing, but in either case, the passage is silent. It only speaks to Peter personally. Protestants would argue that passing on that blessing is not listed as something he could do, nor is there direct biblical evidence that he attempted to do so, especially in this passage. Commented Dec 29, 2015 at 13:59
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    "there is nothing that indicates that that authority is continued in his line" Since Peter made the rules, Peter could have decided that it did. Checkmate. Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 0:52
  • @EmeryLapinski - ok, but then where is the writing by Peter that supports that? And even if you find that, it is still not really clear that he has the authority to pass that on. Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 14:58
  • Even if there was some special authority given to Peter, we may find Peter assigning that special authority to the elders in Asia Minor. 1 Peter 5:1-2 The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;
    – SLM
    Commented Oct 2, 2022 at 18:25

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
    Commented Mar 7, 2013 at 19:40
  • This answer is far superior to the accepted answer. +1 Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 20:54

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".

  • It depends whom you ask. That's it. I think we should leave it there and that is the right track to choose. Commented Mar 8, 2013 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
    Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 19:23
  • David, was this question not closed as too broad? "Protestant" is a broad brush. Depends on who you ask is likely true). (PS, I like this answer as it is very informative/helpful in understanding a belief). Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 20:51

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 you trust and on 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.


How do Protestants interpret Matthew 16:13-20

The declaration that Peter would be called a stone or a rock was not so much an indication of Peter's strength or even hard-headedness.

John 1:42 And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.

We can see in Matthew that the "rock" is the faith of Peter;

Matthew 16:16-18 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.

I see Jesus declaring that it was the example of faith that was representative of what the church (assembly, those called out) would be built.

1 Peter 2:5 Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.


It is true that in Matthew 16:13-20, Simon is honored with a unique role coming from Jesus Christ himself and that this unique role was embedded to the new name Peter he received.

Roman Catholicism teaches that Simon's role as 'Peter' was an office with successors but it is totally impossible for Simon to have successors on his Peter-hood because his office as Peter is about the "building of the church" based explicitly on Matthew 16:18. If Simon has successors in his Peter-ship then it means that the church wasn't yet in existence. That's absurd.

Matthew 16:18 (HCSB)

15 “But you,” He asked them, “who do you say 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church,

Also, Roman Catholicism teaches that the bishop of Rome is a High Priest.

There is no High Priest in the New Testament with successors. Jesus alone is the High Priest in the N.T. who does not need successors according to Hebrews 7:23-25:

Hebrews 7:23-28The Message (MSG)

23-25 Earlier there were a lot of priests, for they died and had to be replaced. But Jesus’ priesthood is permanent. He’s there from now to eternity to save everyone who comes to God through him, always on the job to speak up for them. 26-28 So now we have a high priest who perfectly fits our needs: completely holy, uncompromised by sin, with authority extending as high as God’s presence in heaven itself. Unlike the other high priests, he doesn’t have to offer sacrifices for his own sins every day before he can get around to us and our sins. He’s done it, once and for all: offered up himself as the sacrifice. The law appoints as high priests men who are never able to get the job done right. But this intervening command of God, which came later, appoints the Son, who is absolutely, eternally perfect.

This is a very strong Biblical argument against papal succession.It nullifies Roman Catholic interpretation that the incident in Matthew 16:16-19 is a delegation of Supreme Papal Power to Simon.


No one today has actually seen Jesus in the flesh, Christian's do not believe in his sacrifice because they have physically seen him. We believe because God himself has opened our eyes to the truth, and we have recieved the Holy Spirit that allows us to see the great wonders of this world. Jesus does not say that Peter is the rock, he said on this rock, perhaps the rock is the founding belief that Christian's do not know the truth about Jesus because they have seen him but know because, as Jesus said, God has revealed it to them. It is true that Peter did build the church, as a disciple of Jesus he dedicated his life to evangalism, to speading the good news, the word itself. The church grew of believers, and was built through people who heard the truth from Peter and others.


Some parts of this are in other answers, repeated here for clarity:

Matthew 16:13-18 is about Jesus commending Peter for knowing that Jesus is the Messiah. But Jesus also says in the same passage that Peter knows this because it was revealed to him by God. Jesus concludes by saying that on "this" (either "rock", or "Peter" which means petros which means stone or pebble) He will build His Church ("petra", meaning boulder or rocky collection).

Some translations say that "this" means Peter, so Jesus is picking a person to lead the church after He has ascended, the first pope, (New Testament version of Moses?), the human spiritual guide with the power and authority from God to lead His chosen people. Other translations say "this" means that Peter, being a person with Spiritual understanding from God, is one of many "rocks" or saints, part of the Elect, in God's big "rocky collection", the Body of Christ, His Church, not the chosen leader.

Both interpretations cannot be correct, one leads to a Catholic (but not necessarily all Catholic or Orthodox types) understanding of Christianity and the "Church", the other to a Protestant one. The Catholic definition of "Church" focuses on the hierarchical nature of all the authority figures from the pope on down to the priest leading the congregation. The Protestant definition of "Church" is focused on members with an indwelling Holy Spirit that have given themselves to serving Christ and assume various roles of supporting each other (but "local" churches may include other members/guests as in The Parable of the Sower).

Attempting to be delicate here but the Catholic interpretation is partly the cause of early schisms in the Church (various geographical regions of the Church did not want to answer to a single pope in faraway Rome, they wanted their local leader to be a pope as well). Also, if Jesus picked Peter as the top leader of a hierarchy why did He not ever provide instruction similar to the hierarchical model that Moses' father in law suggested when he saw Moses struggling to meet the needs of God's people (Exodus 18:13-23)?

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