Whom Do YOU Serve?
In the Gospel of Matthew, we find these verses:
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. (Matthew 16:18)
It is believed by some that with this declaration, Jesus Christ established the Roman Catholic church with Peter as the first Pope in the papal succession. The fundamental problem with this belief is a misunderstanding of the verse in terms of the original Greek. Here are explanations regarding the verse from various sources:
Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible | JFB
Jamieson, Robert; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David
That thou art Peter
—At his first calling, this new name was announced to him as an honor afterwards to be conferred on him (Jn 1:43). Now he gets it, with an explanation of what it was meant to convey.
and upon this rock
—As “Peter” and “Rock” are one word in the dialect familiarly spoken by our Lord—the Aramaic or Syro-Chaldaic, which was the mother tongue of the country—this exalted play upon the word can be fully seen only in languages which have one word for both. Even in the Greek it is imperfectly represented. In French, as Webster and Wilkinson remark, it is perfect, Pierre—pierre.
I will build my Church
—not on the man Simon-Barjona; but on him as the heavenly-taught confessor of a faith. “My Church,” says our Lord, calling the Church His OWN; a magnificent expression regarding Himself, remarks Bengel—nowhere else occurring in the Gospel.
Opening Up Matthew
Third, Jesus sets out his purpose and plan (vv. 18–19). There is a play here on the name ‘Peter’, which means ‘a stone’; Jesus says that there is a rock on which Jesus is going to build his church. These words have been interpreted and misinterpreted down through the years. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, has always insisted that Peter was the rock on which the church was to be built, although within a very short time Satan was to use Peter’s voice to rebuke Jesus (16:23).
It is more natural to understand Jesus’ purpose as being to build his church, not on the disciple, but on his confession: the basis of the church is that Jesus is confessed as Lord. It is through the church that Christ intends to make his word and will known; when she speaks in Christ’s name, the church binds and looses, and opens the gates of heaven to those who believe and closes them on those who do not.
Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume
Upon occasion of this great confession made of Christ, which is the church’s homage and allegiance, he signed and published this royal, this divine charter, by which that body politic is incorporated. Such is the communion between Christ and the church, the Bridegroom and the spouse. God had a church in the world from the beginning, and it was built upon the rock of the promised Seed, Gen. 3:15. But now, that promised Seed being come, it was requisite that the church should have a new charter, as Christian, and standing in relation to a Christ already come. Now here we have that charter; and a thousand pities it is, that this word, which is the great support of the kingdom of Christ, should be wrested and pressed into the service of antichrist. But the devil has employed his subtlety to pervert it, as he did that promise, Ps. 91:11, which he perverted to his own purpose, ch.4:6, and perhaps both that scripture and this he thus perverted because they stood in his way, and therefore he owed them a spite.
Now the purport of this charter is,
To establish the being of the church; I say also unto thee. It is Christ that makes the grant, he who is the church’s Head, and Ruler, to whom all judgment is committed, and from whom all power is derived; he who makes it pursuant to the authority received from the Father, and his undertaking for the salvation of the elect. The grant is put into Peter’s hand; “I say it to thee.’ ’ The Old Testament promises relating to the church were given immediately to particular persons, eminent for faith and holiness, as to Abraham and David; which yet gave no supremacy to them, much less to any of their successors; so the New-Testament charter is here delivered to Peter as an agent, but to the use and behoof of the church in all ages, according to the purposes therein specified and contained. Now it is here promised,
1. That Christ would build his church upon a rock. This body politic is incorporated by the style and title of Christ’s church. It is a number of the children of men called out of the world, and set apart from it, and dedicated to Christ. It is not thy church, but mine. Peter remembered this, when he cautioned ministers not to lord it over God’s heritage. The church is Christ’s peculiar, appropriated to him. The world is God’s, and they that dwell therein; but the church is a chosen remnant, that stands in relation to God through Christ as Mediator. It bears him image and superscription.
(1.) The Builder and Maker of the church is Christ himself; I will build it. The church is a temple which Christ is the Builder of, Zec. 6:11–13. Herein Solomon was a type of Christ, and Cyrus, Isa. 44:28. The materials and workmanship are his. By the working of his Spirit with the preaching of his word he adds souls to his church, and so builds it up with living stones, 1 Pt. 2:5. Ye are God’s building; and building is a progressive work; the church in this world is but in fieri—in the forming, like a house in the building. It is a comfort to all those who wish well to the church, that Christ, who has divine wisdom and power, undertakes to build it.
(2.) The foundation on which it is built is, this Rock. Let the architect do his part ever so well, if the foundation be rotten, the building will not stand; let us therefore see what the foundation is, and it must be meant of Christ, for other foundation can no man lay. See Isa. 28:16.
[1.] The church is built upon a rock; a firm, strong, and lasting foundation, which time will not waste, nor will it sink under the weight of the building. Christ would not build his house upon the sand, for he knew that storms would arise. A rock is high, Ps. 61:2. Christ’s church does not stand upon a level with this world; a rock is large, and extends far, so does the church’s foundation; and the more large, the more firm; those are not the church’s friends that narrow its foundation.
[2.] It is built upon this rock; thou art Peter, which signifies a stone or rock; Christ gave him that name when he first called him (Jn. 1:42), and here he confirms it; “Peter, thou dost answer thy name, thou art a solid, substantial disciple, fixed and stayed, and one that there is some hold of. Peter is thy name, and strength and stability are with thee. Thou art not shaken with the waves of men’s fluctuating opinions concerning me, but established in the present truth,’ ’ 2 Pt. 1:12. From the mention of this significant name, occasion is taken for this metaphor of building upon a rock.
First, some by this rock understand Peter himself as an apostle, the chief, though not the prince, of the twelve, senior among them, but not superior over them. The church is built upon the foundation of the apostles, Eph. 2:20. The first stones of that building were laid in and by their ministry; hence their names are said to be written in the foundations of the new Jerusalem, Rev. 21:14. Now Peter being that apostle by whose hand the first stones of the church were laid, both in Jewish converts (Acts 2), and in the Gentile converts (Acts 10), he might in some sense be said to be the rock on which it was built. Cephas was one that seemed to be a pillar, Gal. 2:9. But it sounds very harsh, to call a man that only lays the first stone of a building, which is a transient act, the foundation on which it is built, which is an abiding thing. Yet if it were so, this would not serve to support the pretensions of the Bishop of Rome; for Peter had no such headship as he claims, much less could he derive it to his successors, least of all to the Bishops of Rome, who, whether they are so in place or no, is a question, but that they are not so in the truth of Christianity, is past all question.
Others, by this rock, understand Christ; “Thou art Peter, thou hast the name of a stone, but upon this rock, pointing to himself, I will build my church.’ ’ Perhaps he laid his hand on his breast, as when he said, Destroy this temple (Jn. 2:19), when he spoke of the temple of his body. Then he took occasion from the temple, where he was, so to speak of himself, and gave occasion to some to misunderstand him of that; so here he took occasion from Peter, to speak of himself as the Rock, and gave occasion to some to misunderstand him of Peter. But this must be explained by those many scriptures which speak of Christ as the only Foundation of the church; see 1 Co. 3:11; 1 Pt. 2:6. Christ is both its Founder and its Foundation; he draws souls, and draws them to himself; to him they are united, and on him they rest and have a constant dependence.
Others by this rock understand this confession which Peter made of Christ, and this comes all to one with understanding it of Christ himself. It was a good confession which Peter witnessed, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God; the rest concurred with him in it. “Now,’ ’ saith Christ, “this is that great truth upon which I will build my church.’ ’ 1. Take away this truth itself, and the universal church falls to the ground. If Christ be not the Son of God, Christianity is a cheat, and the church is a mere chimera; our preaching is vain, your faith is vain, and you are yet in your sins, 1 Co. 15:14–17. If Jesus be not the Christ, those that own him are not of the church, but deceivers and deceived. 2. Take away the faith and confession of this truth from any particular church, and it ceases to be a part of Christ’s church, and relapses to the state and character of infidelity. This is articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesia—that article, with the admission or the denial of which the church either rises or falls; “the main hinge on which the door of salvation turns;’ ’ those who let go this, do not hold the foundation; and though they may call themselves Christians, they give themselves the lie; for the church is a sacred society, incorporated upon the certainty and assurance of this great truth; and great it is, and has prevailed.
The Bible Knowledge Commentary
Walvoord, John F.; Zuck, Roy B,; Dallas Theological Seminary
But his declaration about Messiah’s person led to a declaration of Messiah’s program. Peter (Petros, masc.) was strong like a rock, but Jesus added that on this rock (petra, fem.) He would build His church. Because of this change in Greek words, many conservative scholars believe that Jesus is now building His church on Himself. Others hold that the church is built on Peter and the other apostles as the building’s foundation stones (Eph. 2:20; Rev. 21:14). Still other scholars say that the church is built on Peter’s testimony. It seems best to understand that Jesus was praising Peter for his accurate statement about Him, and was introducing His work of building the church on Himself (1 Cor. 3:11).
The Teacher’s Commentary
Richards, Larry; Richards, Lawrence O.
The foundation (Matt. 16:17–18).
After Peter’s affirmation, Jesus called Peter blessed. God had revealed Christ’s identity to him. And Jesus went on to say, “On this rock I will build My church” (v. 18).
The ancient church fathers gave various interpretations of this statement. Some said that the rock on which the church was founded was Peter. Others insisted that the name Peter (petros, which means “little stone”) could hardly be identified as a foundation rock. Other fathers have argued that the church is founded on Peter’s confession: it is the faith in Christ which Peter professed which is the church’s foundation. Still others have seen this as a reference to Christ Himself. Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, is the foundation.
The Epistles seem to support this third conclusion. “No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). Christ Himself, the Messiah and Son of God, is the Foundation of the church and the kingdom.
The Bible Exposition Commentary
Weirsbe, Warren W.
These Jewish men, steeped in Old Testament Scripture, recognized the rock as a symbol of God. “He is the Rock, His work is perfect” (Deut. 32:4). “The Lord is my Rock, and my Fortress” (Ps. 18:2). “For who is God save the Lord? Or who is a rock save our God?” (Ps. 18:31)
But let’s investigate the Greek words that the Holy Spirit led Matthew to use. “Thou art petros [a stone], and upon this rock [petra—a large rock] I will build My church.” Jesus had given Simon the new name of Peter (John 1:42) which means “a stone.” The Aramaic form is Cephas, which also means “a stone.” Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ and confesses Him as the Son and God and Saviour, is a “living stone” (1 Peter 2:5, nasb).
Jesus Christ is the foundation rock on which the church is built. The Old Testament prophets said so (Ps. 118:22; Isa. 28:16). Jesus Himself said this (Matt. 21:42), and so did Peter and the other Apostles (Acts 4:10–12). Paul also stated that the foundation for the church is Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11). This foundation was laid by the Apostles and prophets as they preached Christ to the lost (1 Cor. 2:1–2; 3:11; Eph. 2:20).
In other words, when the evidence is examined, the total teaching of Scripture is that the church, God’s temple (Eph. 2:19–22), is built on Jesus Christ—not on Peter. How could God build His church on a fallible man like Peter? Later, the same Peter who confessed Christ became an adversary and entertained Satan’s thoughts (Matt. 16:22ff). “But that was before Peter was filled with the Spirit,” some argue. Then consider Peter’s doctrinal blunders recorded in Galatians 2, blunders that had to be dealt with by Paul. This event occurred after Peter was filled with the Spirit.
Holman Concise Bible Commentary | HCBC
Here, still in Gentile territory, His disciples, and Peter in particular, correctly identified Him as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:13–20 thus forms the famous “confession” on the road to Caesarea Philippi. In response, and only in Matthew’s version of the episode, Jesus praised Peter’s insight as heaven sent and called him the rock on which He would build His church, promising Peter the keys to the kingdom. Nothing of the Roman notions of the papacy or apostolic succession appears here. But Jesus did predict the preeminent role Peter would play as the leader of the infant church in integrating new ethnic groups into the Christian community (see Acts 1–12).
Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the New Testament
Wiersbe, Warren W.
How confused the multitudes were about Christ! They held Him in high esteem, ranking Him with the great prophets, but they lacked the perception to see Him as the Son of the living God. They even compared Him with John the Baptist, yet these two were dissimilar in their ministries (Matt. 11:18–19). But no man can confess Christ apart from the revelation of the Father (Matt. 11:27ff) and the witness of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3). A right confession about Christ is important to salvation (1 John 2:22–23; 5:10).
Verses 18–19 have been a battleground for centuries, the Romanists claiming from them the office of the Pope and the power of the church to dispense grace; and the Protestants seeing in them something entirely different. We will let the Bible speak for itself as we consider the symbols in these verses.
The rock is Jesus Christ.
Christ said so (Matt. 21:42) referring to Isa. 28:16. Peter himself said so (1 Peter 2:4–8; Acts 4:11–12 with Ps. 118:22). Paul names Christ as the Rock in 1 Cor. 10:4 and calls Christ the Head of the church (Eph. 1:20–23; 4:8–16; 5:23; Col. 1:18). Throughout the OT, the rock speaks of God and not man (Deut. 32:4, 15; Dan. 2:45; Ps. 18:2). Jesus said, “You are Peter (petros, a small rock), and on this rock (petra, a large rock foundation) I will build My church” (v. 18, NIV; see 1 Cor. 3:1).
The First Christian Primer: Matthew
This was the Greek word “petros,” a MASCULINE NOUN. It referred to a detached boulder.
This was the Greek work, “petra,” a FEMININE NOUN. It referred to bedrock (cf. 7:24). These two words (petros and petra) cannot grammatically link up to each other because of their GENDER. The disciples did not see this as a reference to Peter’s superiority because they continued to argue over who was greatest (cf. 18:1, 18; Jn. 20:21). These two terms are related but distinct in Greek. There is an obvious play between Peter’s faith and the faith of all the apostles. However, in Aramaic there is only one term, “kepha” for both of the Greek terms for rock. Jesus spoke Aramaic but His words are recorded by inspired writers in Greek. Therefore, we must deal with the Greek text, not a supposed Aramaic statement.
The Bible Reader’s Companion
Richards, Lawrence O.
“This rock” (16:18)
Three different interpretations have arisen in church history of Jesus’ statement, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church.” (1) Some take Peter as the rock and use the text to justify the belief that Peter was the “first pope.” But though “Peter” in Gk. means “little stone,” rock (petra) indicates a massive rock formation. (2) Some take Peter’s confession of Christ as the rock and see the church as built on those who likewise confess Christ as the Son of God. (3) It seems best to take the truth Peter recognized, that Jesus is God’s Son, as the reality which serves as the foundation for His church. Because Jesus is the Son of God, Satan can never prevail against those who are His own.
Holman Bible Handbook
Dockery, David S.; Butler, Trent C.; Church, Christopher L.; Scott, Linda L.; Ellis Smith, Marsha A; White, James Emery
The concluding portion of 13:53–16:20 contrasts with the introductory section (13:53–14:12). There inadequate understandings of Jesus led to His rejection. Here, still in Gentile territory, His disciples, and Peter in particular, correctly identified Him as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16). Matthew 16:13–20 thus forms the famous “confession” on the road to Caesarea Philippi. In response, and only in Matthew’s version of the episode, Jesus praised Peter’s insight as heaven sent and called him the rock on which He would build His church, promising Peter the keys to the kingdom. Nothing of the Roman notions of the papacy or apostolic succession appears here. But Jesus did predict the preeminent role Peter would play as the leader of the infant church in integrating new ethnic groups into the Christian community (see Acts 1–12).
The Teacher’s Bible Commentary
Paschall, H. Franklin; Hobbs, Herschel
Chapter 16 closes on the note of promise that the Son of man will come in his kingdom. If a man should gain the whole world and miss this, he has lost all that really matters.
—The important passage on the founding of the church has been a battleground in Christian history. Roman Catholics have insisted that the church was founded upon Peter and that he alone was given the “keys”—the power to accept or excommunicate members of the church.
A careful reading of the original passage (vv. 18–19) shows the impossibility of such an interpretation. Jesus says “You are Peter [Petros],” that is, “a stone.” Then Jesus adds, “And upon this rock [petra],” that is, a “ledge of rock,” he would build his church. He does not call Peter the rock foundation on which the church is built. In fact, as Peter himself says in his first epistle (1 Pet. 2:4), Christ is the foundation, on which the living stones of the apostles and believers are built into a spiritual house. Peter certainly knew that he was not the foundation of the church. The Christ whom Peter confessed was and is that foundation.
The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith
Cabal, Ted; Brand, Chad; Clendenen, E. Ray; Copan, Paul; Moreland, J. P.; Powell, Doug
Within the Roman Catholic tradition this passage has been used to support the infallibility of the pope as Peter’s successor. Peter and other NT writers don’t sustain this view. Peter was one among a number who were leaders in the first generation of the church (Ac 15:13–21; Gl 2:9, 14; 1 Co 3:11; 1 Pt 2:7). The context demands that the binding and loosing had especially to do with opening or closing access to the kingdom, most likely through the preaching of the gospel, that is, confessing Christ. Peter was uniquely used by God to build Christ’s church (e.g., Ac 2:14–42; 3:1–26; 10:27–48). Matthew 18:18 indicates that the church as an assembly has similar authority.
Summarized Bible: Complete Summary of the New Testament
Jesus’ rebuke of blind Pharisees. The symbol of leaven interpreted. Peter’s confession of the deity of Jesus. Jesus foretells His death and resurrection.
God, Jesus, Peter, Satan, disciples, John the Baptist, Elias, Jeremiah.
Jesus is the Son of God, the foundation stone of the church. He died for the sin of the world, arose for the justification of the believer and is coming back in glory to reward His own. The cross of Calvary was God’s program for Him, essential for the salvation of men and all attempts to turn Him from it were Satan-inspired (as are all denials of its necessity today).
Deity (v. 16); Death (v. 21); Resurrection (vv. 4, 21); Descent (v. 27).
15, 24, 26.
Note vv. 17, 18. Jesus does not here infer that the church was to be built upon Peter but upon Himself, as just confessed by Peter (v. 16) (Cf. 1 Peter 2:4–9). In the Greek, the word “Petra” is in feminine form, denoting that the reference was not to Peter, but to his confession. The deity of Christ is the foundation doctrine of Christianity.
The Life of Christ: A Study Guide to the Gospel Record
Mills, M. S.
A little Greek helps us understand Matt 16:18–19, for the original uses a play on words that gets lost in our English versions. The Greek nouns for ‘Peter’ and ‘rock’ represent this play on words; ‘Petros’ (Peter) is a masculine noun and means a loose stone or bolder (Vine, 984), while ‘petra’ (rock), a feminine noun, denotes bedrock or a quarry from which smaller stones are quarried. This bedrock is the statement of faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of the living God, and Peter is an example of the many stones yet to be hewn from that quarry. As Peter himself would later explain, these living stones are built together to form the Church (1 Pet 2:5). There is thus no support for the view that Peter was to be the foundation of the Church: the Church is founded on belief that Jesus is God the Son, and Jesus is unarguably its foundation.
The consensus of scholarly research and opinion indicates that Jesus Christ is ‘the rock’ spoken of in Matthew 16:18.
It is certainly my own opinion, but if indeed the Roman Catholic church maintains that Matthew 16:18 legitimizes Peter as the rock upon which the church of Jesus Christ is built, it is mistaken. It is said that the evil one quotes and perverts and twists Holy Scripture for his own nefarious purposes; certainly we see this in Matthew 4:1-11, with the temptation of Jesus Christ. In much the same way, men have perverted and twisted Holy Scripture to serve their own ends. If you doubt this, there is the testimony of Holy Scripture itself:
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
One of my family members took me to task on belief in and trust in God, saying with the utmost sincerity that belief in God, and disputes over all things religious, have been responsible for more deaths and general havoc throughout history than any other single causation. I agreed with him that incidents like the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition have turned many people against God, but I also asked if mankind, in its humanity and even with the best of intentions, had done any better… the reply was silence and, as any lawyer worth his salt will tell you, the maxim of the law is “silence gives consent”.
Holy Scripture (Old Testament and New Testament) has multiple references to Jesus Christ as a cornerstone, as a foundation, as a rock, as a stone… it is obvious to even the most casual of Bible students, and to all who are intellectually honest, that Jesus Christ is: 1) the only rock upon which all true faith is based, 2) the only rock upon which the true church is established, and 3) the author and perfector of not only life, but eternal life:
So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed. (Isaiah 28:16)
From Judah will come the cornerstone, from him the tent peg, from him the battle bow, from him every ruler. (Zechariah 10:4)
What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.” As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” (Romans 9:30-33)
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:11)
They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:3-4)
As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,” and, “A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” (1 Peter 2:4-8)
So what is one to make of the evidence presented in Holy Scripture? Simply this:
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)
The preponderance of Scriptural evidence and our intellectual honesty as to an admittance that Jesus Christ is exactly who He said He was… the eternal Son of God… infallibly leads us to the conclusion as to whom we should honor and serve:
And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. (Matthew 23:9)
Our allegiance to, faith in, belief in and love for is to be placed squarely where it belongs: on God the Father Almighty. It is impossible to list all of the names that God has, because our human limitations do not allow us to give Him complete honor in that manner, but I say this: my allegiance is to God, my faith is in God, my belief is in God, and my love is for God. I call NO ONE on this earth my Father but God the Father Almighty alone, and my work is to believe in the One that He has sent, His Son Jesus Christ. All glory be to the Righteous Judge, the Ancient of Days, El Shaddai, Elohim, Almighty God, from whom every good thing comes!