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Peter, the Pope, and Preachers

“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” (Matt. 16:18).

Who or what is the “rock” in this verse? There are about two and a half billion people who consider themselves to be Christians. Over half of those—1.3 billion—believe this rock is the Pope. The other half say it is not. Bible readers have disagreed about this question for hundreds of years, and the line of separation just keeps getting deeper.

Jesus said these words to Peter in Matthew 16 after He asked His disciples, “Who do men say that I, the Son of man, am?” (v. 13). The focus is on who Jesus is, not who Peter is. The Lord then asked, “But who do you say that I am?” (v.15). Peter gave the right answer in verse 16: “You are the Christ, The Son of the living God.” That is the main point in this passage.

After Peter confessed Him as the Christ, the Lord said, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (v. 17). God, not men, “revealed” something to Peter. What was it? It was what Peter had just acknowledged: Jesus is the Christ. God didn’t reveal this truth to Peter any differently than He revealed it to others. Any honest person could know He was the Son of God by the miracles He did (John 3:1-2; 10:37-38).

The word “And” in verse 18 connects it to the verses before it, especially verse 17. Notice the flow of the context:

  • Jesus: Who am I?—verse 13

  • Peter: You are the Christ—verse 16

  • Jesus: God revealed this to you—verse 17

  • Jesus—And, I will build My church on this rock—verse 18

Many people only read verse 18. When they see the words, "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church,” they immediately think Peter is that rock. The topic of the conversation, however, is Jesus.

But doesn’t the word Peter mean a rock? Yes, the Greek word petros, Peter, means a rock. Jesus also gave him the name Cephas which means a stone (John 1:42). Does this mean that Peter is the rock in Matthew 16:18? Even if it did, that still wouldn’t prove that Peter was the a Pope. It would only mean that Jesus built His church on the preaching of Peter as well as the other apostles. The church was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets’’—that is, on the foundation they laid in their preaching (Eph. 2:20).

Preachers make faulty arguments from the Greek on the word for Peter. One of these is that the word for Peter, petros, means a small stone whereas the word for “rock,” petra, means a ledge, cliff, or large slab of rock. Thus, the argument contends, the Lord could not have built His church on Peter because that word means a small stone. But this argument won’t work. The word for “rock,” petra, can mean a large slab of stone or ledge, but it can also refer to a smaller stone. Jesus was a “stone of stumbling and a rock (petra) of offense”—a rock small enough for a man to trip over (I Pet. 2:8). Another unsound argument is this: “The word for Peter, petros, is masculine but the word for rock, petra, is feminine. Therefore Peter and the rock cannot be the same.But a feminine noun can be used to illustrate a masculine noun. Paul said in I Corinthians 10:4, “That rock” (feminine petra) “was Christ” (masculine christos). These arguments are well-intended, but they are not valid. It is better to stay with the context of Matthew 16:18 and not stray into these unsound points about grammar.

Paul said, “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 3:11). Jesus is the foundation of the church. He built His church on that truth, not on Peter or any other man.

Peter didn’t qualify as a Pope anyway. He had a wife (Matt. 8:14; I Cor. 9:5). The Pope cannot be married. Peter certainly didn’t act like a Pope in Acts 10 at the house of Cornelius. When Cornelius fell down at his feet and worshipped, Peter “lifted him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I myself also am a man’” (Acts 10:25-26). Can you imagine the Pope saying this to an admirer today? Also, the Pope and bishops claim to be successors of the apostles. But the Bible says that a true apostle was able to work the “signs of an apostle” (II Cor. 12:12). No man today can meet this qualification of an apostle.

Neither the word Pope nor the concept of a Pope is taught in Matthew 16:18 or anywhere else in the Bible. That means it came from some source outside of the Bible. It came from men.


West End church of Christ bulletin for September 3, 2023


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