Expositions of Matthew 16:13-20 has led to a sorely unresolved division within the church of Christ. Rome’s Catholicism holds that it was apostle Peter, as a person alone, whom Jesus promised to build his church (16:18). He was the rock which Jesus built his church. Reformers disagreed with Romanisic view and protested that it is the person and works of Jesus, which Peter confessed, is what Jesus built his church.
Who is correct? I think both Romanisic view that Peter, as a person alone, and Protestanic view of Peter’s confession alone are equally unsatisfactory. In series of articles I attempted to show that it is the Peter of faith who is the foundation to which Christ built his Church. This, I believe, is also the unanimous consent position of the Fathers, which I defended in the next article.
I would be unfaithful to say I withheld my own biases along the way. I am persuaded that reformed tradition is more correct but I hope if you find my case unpersuasive, you would at minimum find it understandable. Our love for one another should at very least draw us to understand each other’s position even though we disagree.
Before showing that unanimous consent of the Fathers exposition on this passage favors “Peter of faith” as the foundation to which Christ built his church, I attempted to exegete Matthews 16:13-23 in its’ proper context.
The author of Matthew records Jesus asking his disciples who people think the Son of Man is (16:13). Simon Peter answered that the Son of Man is Christ, the Son of the living God (16:16). Jesus responded that Simon son of Jonah’s answer was revealed not from man but the Father. He went on: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (16:18 ESV)
Following Peter’s confession, Matthew recorded Peter rebuking Jesus, after Jesus had explained to them that He must suffer, die and rise again on the third day. Jesus turned and said to the same Peter who had earlier made a confession; “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”(16:23)
To understand Matthew 16:18, we cannot separate Peter as a person, from what he has just confessed. Jesus address Peter after his confession. Leo the Great would agree. He contended,
For Peter received this answer from the Lord for his confession. [Matthew 16:18-19] But he who both rejects the blessed Peter’s confession, and gainsays Christ’s Gospel, is far removed from union with this building; for he shows himself never to have had any zeal for understanding the Truth, and to have only the empty appearance of high esteem, who did not adorn the hoary hairs of old age with any ripe judgment of the heart. (Leo 1895: 47)
Given the word play of the term rock, most likely in Aramaic “kepha”, and the mirror structure of both Peter’s answer (v. 16) and Jesus’ response (v. 18), viz., “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” and “You are Kepha, and on this kepha I will build my church”, claiming Peter’s confession alone to be that which Jesus said to build his church makes no sense. We, here also, cannot separate Peter’s confession, with Peter who has confessed.
Craig Blomberg rightly contended: “The play on words in the Greek between Peter’s name (Petros) and the word “rock” (petra) makes sense only if Peter is the rock and if Jesus is about to explain the significance of this identification.”(Blomberg 1992: 252) As what followed of Peter’s confession about Jesus is true of Jesus, then it logically follows that what follows of Jesus’ response about Peter is true of Peter.
From these two observation, I concluded that the correct view is thus, “it is not Peter simply as Peter but Peter who has confessed Jesus as the Messiah who is the church’s foundation on whom the church is to be built”(Morris 1992: 423). The foundation of the Church began with Peter of faith. The Peter who has confessed the person and the works of Jesus.
From this, I would affirm with Leo the Great, that: “Since, therefore, the universal Church has become a rock (petra) through the building up of that original Rock, and the first of the Apostles, the most blessed Peter, heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock (petra) I will build My Church,”(ibid 100) since it is the Peter of faith.
As Origen, if any one joins the chief of Apostles in his confession, saying to Jesus: “You are Christ, the Son of the living God”, then “he will obtain the things that were spoken according to the letter of the Gospel to that Peter, but, as the spirit of the Gospel teaches, to every one who becomes such as that Peter was.”(Origen 1897: 456)
I closed with John Cassian question: “Do you see how the saying of Peter is the faith of the Church? He then must of course be outside the Church, who does not hold the faith of the Church.”(Cassian 1894: 570)
Next: Unanimous consent of the Fathers’ And Matthew 16:18
Question: Do you agree with my exposition of Matthew 16:18? Concisely share your reasons dealing solely with the case I presented.
Blomberg, C. (1992). Vol. 22: Matthew. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Cassian, John (1894). The Seven Books of John Cassian on the Incarnation of the Lord, against Nestorius (E. C. S. Gibson, Trans.). New York: Christian Literature Company.
Leo the Great. (1895). Letters (C. L. Feltoe, Trans.). New York: Christian Literature Company.
Morris, L. (1992). The Gospel according to Matthew. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press.
Origen. (1897). Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (J. Patrick, Trans.). In A. Menzies (Ed.) New York: Christian Literature Company.