At this time all of my students should be fully aware of three of God's characteristics: He doesn't change, He is no respecter of persons, and He seeks men to worship Him. You know of several examples of vain worship recorded for us within the scriptures. You understand the role the old law plays in our religious lives today. We have studied scriptures that reveal to us the identity of the seed of Abraham that would break down the dividing wall between the Jews and the Gentiles. We know this dividing wall was the old law, and the seed of Abraham is Jesus Christ. We've seen how Jesus is the mediator of the New Testament, and upon His death the old law ceased as a valid source of religious authority. We now live under the New Testament and must look to its pages in order to learn how to worship God in spirit and in truth.
We're now ready to consider the church herself. The background we've completed was necessary to make sure we look to the proper source when considering the church and her role in our lives today. Let's begin by considering Matthew 16:13-18.
Jesus opens this discourse with His apostles by asking them, "Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?" The disciples responded, "Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets." In this response we see the disciples telling Jesus who the general population of people thought He was. But next He asks, "But whom say ye that I am?" Now Jesus is asking those disciples present with Him who they thought He was. We have recorded the words of Peter, who said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." The next several words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 16 are, I believe, a source of much religious confusion today. Jesus tells Peter, "Blessed are 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." Jesus acknowledges Peter's wisdom in believing that Jesus was truly the Son of God, rather than listening to the crowd who believed Jesus was John the Baptist, Elias, or another prophet. But who is this rock upon which Jesus will build His church? The Catholic Church would argue that Peter is the rock upon which Jesus would build His church. Is he? Let's spend some time determining the answer to this important question.
Who (or what) is the rock?
Petros and Petra: In John 1:42 we see Jesus telling Simon Barjona (the son of Jona) that he would be called Cephas (by interpretation, "a stone"). Jesus used the Greek word Petros to refer to "Cephas" in this verse. However, in Matthew 16:18, when He refers to the rock upon which His church would be built, He uses the word Petra. There is a tremendous difference in the meaning of these two words. The word Petra is used 16 times in the NT. I'd like for us to consider each usage of this word:
In addition to Petra, the Greek word petrodes is used to refer to rocky ground. Matthew 13:5,20 and Mark 4:5,16 both use this word when referring to the rocky soil upon which some seed fell in the parable of the sower (see Luke 8:6,13 above).
Vine's Expository dictionary summarizes the difference between Petros and Petra. Petros refers to, "a detached stone or boulder, or a stone that might be thrown or easily moved." However, Petra refers to "a type of sure foundation."
Let's consider now the other usages of Petra as we search for the answer to our question, "Who or what is the rock upon which Jesus will build His church?" In the references noted above we see Petra used to refer either to an object or a person. References 1, 3, 4, 5, and 9 refer to objects (i.e. geologic objects we refer to as rocks). However 6, 7, and 8 refer to a person. The account in 1 Corinthians refers to this person by name: Jesus Christ. We can determine who the person is in the other two accounts by looking at a couple more scriptures. In Ephesians 2:20, Paul tells us who the chief cornerstone is: Jesus Christ. In 1 Peter 2:7,8 we read that the head of the corner is the one who is the stone of stumbling and the rock of offense. Since the stone of stumbling and rock of offense is also the head of the corner, and the head of the corner is Jesus Christ, then the rock of offense mentioned in Romans 9:33 and 1 Peter 2:8 is Jesus Christ.
That leaves reference 2, Matthew 16:18. Is Petra in this verse referring to a thing or a person? I believe all would agree that no evidence exists to support this verse referring to an inanimate object. Therefore, since it's not a thing, then the rock must be a person or something related to a person. But who is that person? Let's use some logic to determine the answer:
Now let's use these three statements and determine whom (or what) this rock is. First, who else had been mentioned by Jesus during this discourse? Jesus, His disciples, John the Baptist, Elias, Jeremias, one of the prophets, Simon Peter, and God. It stands to reason that if Jesus was referring to a person, He was referring to one of these (As we noted in statement number 2, those with Jesus understood what he was saying). Now let's consider those mentioned in this discourse and determine which the disciples would agree with. We can exclude John the Baptist, Elias, Jeremias, and one of the prophets from the beginning, since the disciples recognized that these men weren't Jesus Christ. Remember how this discussion started: Jesus asked the disciples who the general population of people thought He was. The disciples didn't believe John the Baptist, Elias, Jeremias, or one of the prophets was the Son of God, so they wouldn't have agreed with Jesus' plan to build His church upon them. That leaves Jesus, His disciples, Simon Peter, and God. We can safely exclude His body of disciples as being the rock. There's nothing indicating the rock as being a plurality of persons. So, if a person were referenced, then Jesus, Peter, or God would be the target. While God would certainly make a solid foundation, He transferred all authority in heaven and on earth to Jesus (Matthew 28:18). Jesus wouldn't transfer the authority upon which He would build His church back to God. So that leaves Jesus Christ or Peter, if the rock references a person. Let's use statement 3 above and see if Peter is the rock upon which Jesus would build His church. Would the other disciples have agreed with this decision?
Let's look at Peter as recorded in the gospels, prior to Matthew 16:18. In Matthew 14:22-33 we have recorded the account of Jesus walking on the water. The disciples were in a ship and saw Him, and thought they'd seen a spirit. But Jesus immediately (straightway) reassured them, telling them that it was He and to not be afraid. But Peter wanted proof it was Jesus. To prove it was Jesus he asked that Jesus bid him to come to Him on the water. He was told to come. Peter stepped out of the ship and walked on the water for a short time. But when he looked around and saw the wind and waves he was afraid and began to sink. He asked the Lord to save him. When Jesus caught him He asked, "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" Now imagine you're one of Jesus' disciples with Him in Matthew 16:18. Jesus states that, "Upon this rock I will build my church." If this rock is Peter, what are you likely to say to Jesus? I know I'd have some questions for Him. Why would Jesus establish something against which the gates of hell would not prevail on someone with such little faith as Peter? Yes, I believe Peter's faith strengthened after Jesus rose from the dead. However, none of His disciples in Matthew 16:18 had any idea Peter's faith would mature to the level it did. Still, they show no evidence of disagreement with Jesus' plans to establish His church upon this rock. Their lack of disagreement makes the rock mentioned by Jesus certainly not Peter.
If the disciples recognized the rock as being Peter, and didn't disagree with Jesus' plans to build His church upon Peter as the foundation, they evidently accepted Peter's pre-eminent position in the kingdom of God. But did they? In Mark 8:27-30 and Luke 9:18-21 we read additional accounts of the events recorded in Matthew 16:18. But what happens in Matthew 20:20-24 and Mark 10:35-45? We see James and John asking Jesus to give them the positions of pre-eminence when He comes in His glory! Now, if Jesus had already determined that Peter would occupy the pre-eminent position in the establishment of His church, why would Peter be displeased with the other apostles at the request of James and John? In Matthew 20:24 we see that Peter was included among those who were displeased. In addition, why would the two brothers think they had any hope of occupying these positions, since Jesus had just told all of them how He was going to place Peter in such a prominent position? And do you not think some strife would have arisen among these apparently somewhat ego-driven individuals when Jesus gave Peter such an important role? "But why not me?" almost certainly someone would have asked in Matthew 16. But they didn't. This wasn't the last time the apostles strove among themselves about who would be the greatest. We see another account of the same thing taking place during the Passover supper prior to Jesus' death. Luke 22:24 records this event. So, it appears the self-serving goals of the apostles continued to come to the surface repeatedly during their time with Jesus. But we don't see that happening in Matthew 16! The absence of their consternation when Jesus magnified Peter as the rock upon which He would build His church means Peter wasn't the rock.
Below I've pasted an excerpt from a catholic apologist's website dealing with Matthew 16:18. You may read the entire essay at the "Catholic Insight" website. The Catholic Church firmly bases its foundation upon Peter, and claims the papal line extends from him. Please consider the following words:
that in mind, namely, that Simon is the Greek Petros and the Aramaic
Cephas, we can now proceed to further clarify who is the Rock of Matthew
16:18 upon whom or which the Church is built. Now, the Aramaic Cephas
means "rock," and "rock" ONLY; it does NOT mean,
"stone." Therefore, we conclude that when Jesus said that
Simon was now Peter, he meant to apply the title "Rock," petra
in Greek, to him, since the other translation of "Peter" is
Cephas--"rock." So Christ built his Church "upon this
Rock"--Peter. The reason Jesus did not call Simon Petra is very
simple: the word petra has a feminine ending because it is a feminine
noun. It is not appropriate to give a male person a female name. So
Jesus makes this female noun "male" by switching the female -a
ending into the male -os ending, so that the Greek word "Rock"
can be applied to Peter. Again, we know that Jesus means to call Peter
ROCK and not STONE because in Aramaic he calls him Cephas, which can
only mean "rock" and not Evna, which is the Aramaic name for
"stone," and because he could have called him Lithos instead,
the Greek word for "stone," which even possesses a male ending
Here we read that "The reason Jesus did not call Simon Petra is very simple: the word petra has a feminine ending because it is a feminine noun. It is not appropriate to give a male person a female name. So Jesus makes this female noun "male" by switching the female -a ending into the male -os ending, so that the Greek word "Rock" can be applied to Peter." One of the reasons I went through each account of the use of Petra in the NT was to address the erroneous logic used to justify this position, and presumably that of the Catholic Church, with regards to Peter being the rock mentioned in Matthew 16:18. Notice how he states, "it is not appropriate to give a male person a female name." Now turn to 1 Corinthians 10:4. Paul records, "And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ." Both times the word "Rock" is used in this verse, the Greek is Petra. But Paul states plainly that this Petra was Christ! Every instance I know of in the NT Jesus is addressed using masculine pronouns (He, Him, etc.). Jesus was a man (that is, of the masculine gender), but Paul refers to Him as the "Rock", and uses Petra to make this claim! Therefore, to justify one's position by saying Jesus didn't call Simon Petra because he was a man is a fallacy! Why didn't Jesus call Simon Petra? Because he wasn't a Petra! He was a Petros! Why didn't Jesus say He was going to build His church "upon this Petros?" Because He wasn't! He was going to build His church "upon this Petra", and this rock was not Peter!
I believe a brief introduction to Greek grammar is appropriate here. The grammar points are taken from Bill Mounce's Basics of Biblical Greek, page 24 (Zondervan Publishing House). The Catholic Church has misinterpreted these verses because of their insistence that the gender of the noun used to describe Peter match his gender. This is called natural gender. Natural gender means that a word takes on the gender of the object it represents. In Greek, pronouns follow natural gender but nouns for the most part do not. Both Petros and Petra are nouns! In Greek, these words generally do not follow natural gender. For example, the Greek noun for sin is hamartia. This is a feminine noun. However, we all understand that this word may be used to describe the state of either a man or a woman. Hamartia does not follow natural gender when it describes the sinful state of a man (rather than a woman). In a similar fashion, the nouns Petros and Petra are used to describe characteristics of a person regardless of their gender. Petros was used to describe Peter because he manifested the characteristics of a small pebble. We saw some of these characteristics earlier in this study. However, Petra was used to describe Jesus because he manifested the characteristics of a massive boulder. The insistence of the Catholic Church to errantly force natural gender upon the word to describe Peter has led to the organization we see today.
Other scriptures and points which indicate Peter was not the rock:
The scriptures show how Peter could not possibly have been the rock upon which Jesus would build His church. So, that leaves only Jesus, if the rock mentioned in Matthew 16:18 was a person. But if it wasn't a person, what else could it have been? Please turn again to Mark 8:27-29. Recall how Mark records the same event, but closes his writing with Peter's confession of Jesus' divinity, "Thou art the Christ." Mark and Luke give a more succinct record of this discourse between Jesus and His disciples. In all three accounts, Jesus opens the dialogue with the question, "Whom do men say that I am." Mark and Luke record only the response of the disciples, telling Him who the general population thought He might be, and the confession of Peter stating that He was the Son of God. Would Mark and Luke leave out such an important fact as the very rock upon which Jesus would build His church? No! So what would that rock be? The confession of faith that Peter expressed when he acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. Do we have other accounts of people making the same confession before becoming members of the Lord's church? Yes, we do. In Acts 8:26-39 we have recorded the account of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch. The eunuch was studying Isaiah 53, but didn't understand the words he was reading. Philip started at that point and preached unto him Jesus. When they came to a body of water the eunuch asked Philip, "See, here is water. What doth hinder me to be baptized?" Philip said, "If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest." The eunuch replied, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." After making this confession, the eunuch was baptized and became a member of the church established by Jesus Christ. Jesus said He was going to build His church, right? Do we have scriptures showing Him doing this? Yes! Acts 2:47 reads, "And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." Are the members of the church ever referred to as building material? Yes! We've already studied 1 Peter 2:5-8 where the members of the spiritual house are called "lively stones." So in these verses we see Jesus actively involved in the construction of His church. But He is selective when it comes to the materials He uses to build His church. Not just any stone will be added to this building: Only those stones that have complete faith in the builder will become part of the spiritual house built by Jesus. Any stone unwilling to acknowledge his faith in Jesus as the Son of God is unfit to be included in this spiritual structure and is not added by the builder.
The rock certainly could also be Jesus Christ. We've seen in 1 Corinthians 10 how He was called the "Rock", with the same Greek word, Petra, being used. In 1 Peter we've seen how the lively stones are built upon Jesus as the foundation. Without a doubt He serves as the chief cornerstone upon which the entire church is supported. The lively stones are anchored to the cornerstone by faith, and express their faith in Jesus as the Son of God prior to being included as a part of His church.
What else can we learn about His church in Matthew 16:18
There is only one church built by Jesus Christ. Recall our study of Jesus' word, as recorded in John 8:31? Remember how Jesus' use of the singular pronoun "my" indicates the presence of other words that people could hear, but only one of them is His word? We see the same singular personal pronoun used in Matthew 16:18 when Jesus speaks of His church. The fact that He said He would build His church indicates the fact that other churches would come. If no other churches would ever arise, He would have said, "Upon this rock I will build the church." But He didn't. He said, "I will build My church." Since He didn't use the definite article ("the") we know other churches will come. In addition, He tells us that only one of those churches is His church. If the church He was going to establish was one of many, each of which was valid in God's sight, He would have said, "Upon this rock I will build a church." Jesus also tells us of the power of the one church He would build. It is the only one against which the gates of hell would not prevail! Every other man-made church is destined to fall to the power of Satan. Since we know many churches were destined to be built, but only one is valid in the sight of God, how does one tell which is the church built by Jesus Christ and which are the ones built by men? Before you finish this study you'll know the answer. I'm as sure as I can possibly be that every honest person studying with me has a sincere desire to be a part of the one church which will stand up against Satan. In the end, to be a part of any other is no different than being a part of none. Please continue our study of the one church built by Jesus as we consider the church and the body.