Origen Contra Rome’s Matthew 16:18 Exposition

Vatican Council 1869 Granger

Eminent Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott contended that Matthews 16:18-19’s blessing words, which are perceived by the Church in Rome to be the promised primacy of honour and jurisdiction, “are addressed solely and immediately to Peter.”(Ott 1954: 280)

The Vatican Council anathematized anyone who denies that “the blessed apostle Peter was not constituted, by Christ Our Lord, Prince of all the Apostles and visible head of all the Church Militant; or that he (Peter) directly and immediately received from Our Lord Jesus Christ a primacy of honour only and not one of true and proper jurisdiction”(ibid 279).

In the previous article, Contra Rome and Protestant: A Plausible Reading Of Matthew 16:18, I showed that both Rome’s and some of Protestant’s understanding of Matthew 16:18 are inadequate. I proposed the Peter of faith as one who is the foundation to which Christ built his Church. This position is what we find in the testimony of the Fathers when read in their proper context.

Contrary to William Jürgen and Karl Keating, I showed that the Fathers did indeed contended that Peter is the rock to which Christ built his Church, thus affirming his primacy of honour but quite the contrary to the doctrines of Rome, they neither view Peter as the only rock nor understood him to be the one of true and proper jurisdiction.

Thus reformers like John Calvin were correct in observing that, Peter truly possessed preeminence, but “still there is a great difference between the honour of rank and the possession of power.” (Calvin 1997: n.p) I began with Origen because he is among the early Fathers to give a robust exegesis of Matthew 16:13-23.

Origen’s Understanding of Matthew 16:13-23

Origen affirmed that Peter is the one “on whom the Church of Christ is built, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail”(Origen 1897: 346). “What sense it is said to Peter,[in Matt. 16:18-19]” wrote Origen in his exposition of Matthew 16:19, “ and to every Peter?”(Origen 1897b: 458 emp. added)

Origen believed that this passage applies to every one who joins in Peter’s confession.  He contented:

“And if we too have said like Peter, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” not as if flesh and blood had revealed it unto us, but by light from the Father in heaven having shone in our heart, we become a Peter, and to us there might be said by the Word, “Thou art Peter,” etc. For a rock is every disciple of Christ of whom those drank who drank of the spiritual rock which followed them, and upon every such rock is built every word of the church, and the polity in accordance with it; for in each of the perfect, who have the combination of words and deeds and thoughts which fill up the blessedness, is the church built by God.”(ibid 456)

Origen contended that it is not Peter alone who received these blessings. He paused a series of rhetorical questions:

But if you suppose that upon that one Peter only the whole church is built by God, what would you say about John the son of thunder or each one of the Apostles? Shall we otherwise dare to say, that against Peter in particular the gates of Hades shall not prevail, but that they shall prevail against the other Apostles and the perfect? Does not the saying previously made, “The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it,” hold in regard to all and in the case of each of them? And also the saying, “Upon this rock I will build My church”? Are the keys of the kingdom of heaven given by the Lord to Peter only, and will no other of the blessed receive them?(Ibid 456–457)

Origen noted that even though in the Gospel according to Matthew Peter is promised the keys of the kingdom, in the Gospel according to John Jesus promised the same to all disciples. Many then, not only Peter, who confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, through the Spirit of God, will become Peters.

All who join Peter in his confession, according to Origen, “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.” (Ibid)

In Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue James F. McCue thus correctly observed that “[w]hen Origen is commenting directly on Matthew 16:18f, he carefully puts aside any interpretation of the passage that would make Peter anything other than what every Christian should be”(McCue 1974: 60)

Question: Contrary to Roman Catholic, Origen recognized Peter’s primacy of honour only. Should we let Origen, on this view, be an anathema?

Next: Cyprian Contra Roman Catholic’s Mathew 16:18 Exposition


Calvin, John (1997). Institutes of the Christian religion. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

McCue, James F. (1974) “Papal Primacy in the Universal Church” in Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue V. Ed. Paul Empie & Austin Murphy, ed at. Minneapolis: Augsburg.

Ott, Ludwig (1954) Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. Ed. James Canon Bastible, Trans. from Germany: Patrick Lynch. Roman Catholic Books. Fort Collins.

Origen. (1897). Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of John (A. Menzies, Trans.) In A. Menzies (Ed.), (346). New York: Christian Literature Company.

Origen. (1897b). Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (J. Patrick, Trans.) New York: Christian Literature Company.


20 thoughts on “Origen Contra Rome’s Matthew 16:18 Exposition

  1. Per my comment on your previous post, Origen seems to make clear that christ builds his church upon “Christ is Lord” confessors.

  2. Hi Prayson and Roy and Joseph.
    This is Mama Lyn from Australia. Now I am not in your league with debate and eloquent in speech. But out of interest I went and read Matt:16.18-19 and being just a very simple person. I read it like this. You are Peter,(I agree with Roy here) Peter means a stone. and upon this Rock (Meaning Himself ) I will build my church. Christ is the Rock He was talking about Himself and the church is built upon HIM. We are all lively stones and Jesus is the Rock. I think it is simple. Somewhere there is a scripture that says something along the lines like this, Denying the Power of God and teaching the doctrines and traditions of man. Doctrines and traditions of man cause all the divisions in the church. Keep focused on Jesus. He is EVERYTHING.

  3. Interesting dialogue. This caught my attention….

    “If my readers begin reading critically and read the original thoughts of the Fathers, unfiltered and in their proper context, then my task has succeed nor matter which conclusion they reach.”

    I would add, that if they this is a great start. Read the texts. Then go a step further and eventually with enough steps the only conclusion that can be arrived at is they are all merely products of man’s imagination.

    Good one. Common sense will eventually rule.

  4. To Roy:

    Thanks for checking out my blog. A couple of things: Your argument regarding “petros” and “petra” is specious; nearly all competent scholars of Greek acknowledge that Jesus was making a wordplay on Peter’s name and meant to apply the epithet “Rock” to him. Check out this post of mine:

    I also have an old and very detailed article by a Protestant scholar explaining in great detail why that argument doesn’t work. Of course he still doesn’t agree with the Catholic interpretation, but he shows that the “petros”/”petra” argument is without merit. I will try to finish transcribing it and post it soon

    Also, to your statement about Catholic Tradition: there’s nothing “nebulous” about it; many Protestants just don’t understand what we mean by “Tradition.” It is Tradition is the sense that it is handed down — everything that is handed down: all the Scripture, all the writings of the Church Fathers, all the liturgy, all the hymns, all the pronouncements of the popes and councils. It is well documented and defined, up and down, and published and disseminated, and anyone can consult it who wishes, and see what is and isn’t in it. Many words can apply, but not “nebulous.” I have many posts about Tradition, but this one addresses this point in particular:

  5. Good stuff. I think the same thing: Peter was the first and a great founder, if not THE great founder. But in no way does that equate him with Jesus. If Peter is indeed the Rock, then Jesus is still the Cornerstone. Either way, Peter doesn’t compare, not by a long shot.

    • Jesus would still be the architect, not the cornerstone. He is the one edifying a church with Peter as the foundation.

      So simple. Prayson, just because tons of “erudites” thought that they have the authority to question such a simple meaning does not mean that they are right. No matter how old they were, or how long in the faith. The meaning is straight-forward.

    • Why would you question what your god decided to use as foundation human or otherwise for whatever purpose?

  6. I did read it, and I am not “accusing” you of anything. Origen says everyone who confesses Christ is a Peter, in a sense — and then he writes about all the ways in which everyone is a Peter. Peter was a bishop, and Origen is not saying that everyone is a bishop! — so it’s clear that Origen is not trying to say that everyone is exactly like Peter. The purpose and context of Origen’s commentary is to comment on the Scripture and in what ways Christ’s blessings can be applied to everyone. It is not, and can’t be taken to be, a rejection of Peter’s authority or primacy, or the authority of any other bishop, which as my quotation shows, Origen fully supported.

    • Thanks once again Joseph. I treasure your comments and enjoy this constructive exchange.

      I believe you misunderstood my case, and I am to blame for not presenting it more explicitly.

      According to Rome, this passage gives Scriptural proof that Peter alone was promised the primacy of honour and jurisdiction. This is true only if Jesus’ three blessings apply to Peter alone. According to Origen, this passage gives Scripture proof that Peter and all other Peters were promise these three blessings. Thus Origen understanding is contra Rome because he did not understand this passage as elevating Peter above the rest in sense of jurisdiction.

      I hope that made contradiction more explicit.


      • I understood you. My point was that even if the blessings apply to all believers in some sense, that does not exclude the truth that they also apply only to Peter, and especially only to bishops, in a particular and unique way. Origen is clear that his interpretation can “wholesomely” be read in light of “the function of the episcopate,” in particular Peter’s episcopate. Origen does not dispute the Catholic interpretation of the verse, which he certainly knew well. Scripture is full of typological meanings that can be applied in more than one way, but that doesn’t exclude all other readings, and can’t be construed to.

        • Joseph that position seems in contradiction. If I say all my students ought to read C.S.Lewis, then it seems unreasonable to suggest that this does not exclude me saying that John only ought to read Lewis.

          Maybe I misunderstand you. Could you expound more what you meant?

          • A better analogy would be to saying that we are all sons of God, as Paul does (Gal 3:26). We can read, with some validity, many of the Old Testament passages referring to “sons” or “children” of God as applying to us. But that in no way excludes or limits the truth that Jesus is the one and only begotten Son of God, and those passages apply to Him in a special and unique way. We are not “sons of God” in the same way that Jesus is the Son of God.

            Similarly, we can say that we’re “all Peters” in that we all are sinners, we all have denied Christ by our actions at times, we all have authority in the name of Jesus, and as Christians, the Body of Christ, we are all the rock on which the Church is built. But that in no way excludes the truth that Jesus’s proclamations to Peter have a specific and unique meaning to Peter alone. We all being part of the “rock” in no way means that Jesus didn’t found the Church on the Rock of Peter in a special way. Origen specifically did not exclude this reading; he did not argue against the claims of Rome or reject them in any way. He specifically says that the verse can validly be read as supporting the role of the episcopacy.

            Scripture is full of types and layers of symbolism. Certainly in Christ’s speaking to Peter, the most literal and natural interpretation is that he is speaking first and foremost to Peter — he specifically names him and emphasizes his name. Origen’s exegesis is no way rejects oe argues against this natural reading. He exposits instead a deeper, theological reading of the passage.

            To say that there can be only one interpretation of a passage — and that one not even be the most literal — would be to deny most of the prophecy in the the Bible.

          • Hej Joseph. Thank you for expounding. I think your example would not do because unlike a different use of son(s) of God Origen contended that it is not Peter alone who received these three blessing and made it clear by arguing against those who applied, as Rome, to Peter alone.

            Origen language in its context gives what he meant. If you have read Comm. Matt.16:16-20, you would notice that he applied these blessing to anyone who confesses. He wrote in beginning of Comm. Matt. 16:16,

            [I]f we say it as Peter, not by flesh and blood revealing it unto us, but by the light from the Father in heaven shining in our heart, we too become as Peter, being pronounced blessed as he was, because that the grounds on which he was pronounced blessed apply also to us, by reason of the fact that flesh and blood have not revealed to us with regard to Jesus that He is Christ, the Son of the living God, but the Father in heaven,

            If he did that alone, then your case would be probably true. But Origen did not stop by applying these verses to all, he argued against those who applied it to Peter alone. This makes your case improbable, since Origen would be arguing against himself.

            Moreover, son(s) of God is not a better analogy because, if you are familiar we contemporary scholarship on this title as used to Jesus, Kings of Israel, angels and ordinary people, the context gives us what they means (see D.A. Carson’s Jesus The Son of God(2012)).

            As Origen put it: “But if you suppose that upon that one Peter only the whole church is built by God”, as Rome, “what would you say about John the son of thunder or each one of the Apostles?” If you are familier with ancient rhetorics, you will know that Origen is reducing the case that Peter alone to be the rock which the whole church is built by God to absurdity.

            Given the context before and after I do not see how Origen would mean that Peter alone is the rock yet all who confesses with Peter, are also rocks to which the whole church is built. The context does not permit that reading Joseph.

  7. It’s nice that you found somebody to agree with you. But Origen, for all the merit he has in some of his theology, is not considered a Father of either the Western or Eastern Church. He writings were actually anathematized by the Second Council of Constantinople. Origen is only one person, and individual people can be wrong.

    (Also, please give a full citation to these texts you are citing. I don’t have the same editions of the texts or page numbers that you have. Cite the letter, or sermon, or whatever, not the page number of the physical book. Or at the very least the full citation to the book. Please. This is the correct way to cite a patristic text. In this case, now that I’ve finally found it, the correct citation would be, “Origen, Comm. Matt. 12.10.)

    In any case, I think you’re taking this somewhat out of context. Origen is writing to apply the theological gifts Christ gave to Peter to all believers, not to reject the claims of the episcopacy or papacy. He says a little later (Comm. Matt. 12.14):

    But when those who maintain the function of the episcopate make use of this word as Peter, and, having received the keys of the kingdom of heaven from the Saviour, teach that things bound by them, that is to say, condemned, are also bound in heaven, and that those which have obtained remission by them are also loosed in heaven, we must say that they speak wholesomely if they have the way of life on account of which it was said to that Peter, “Thou art Peter;” and if they are such that upon them the church is built by Christ, and to them with good reason this could be referred; and the gates of Hades ought not to prevail against him when he wishes to bind and loose.

    • Thank you Joseph for your input. I will take your suggesting on citation as I post through all the Church Fathers view on Matthew 16:18-19. You are correct that Origen is only one person, and individual people can be wrong, that is why I went through all the Church Fathers who dealt with this passage or Peter as a Rock, including those who Roman apologetics often quotes as supporting Rome’s view, to show that the viewed Peter possessing primacy of honor only.

      You are also correct that some of Origen’s teaching were anathematized. Augustine wrote, “Origen was even more indulgent; for he believed that even the devil himself and his angels, after suffering those more severe and prolonged pains which their sins deserved, should be delivered from their torments, and associated with the holy angels. But the Church, not without reason, condemned him for this and other errors”(The City of God Book XXI, Chapter 17)

      You accused me of taking Origen’s work out of context but I do not see how since I reach the same conclusion as James F. McCue. Joseph, it is sadly you who took Origen out of context. According to Origen everyone who confesses that Jesus is Christ, the Son of the living God is a Peter. He be episcopate or not. Read Origen’s Comm. Matt 16:18-19 for yourself.

      Thanks once again Joseph. Be blessed.

      • Hello Prayson,

        I meant to convey my concern in your last post and got busy and distracted.

        Please check Josephs web site, especially his Statement of Faith page. Although we may both agree there are doctrinal interpretation errors associated with the Catholic religion he is still a Christian.

        Many true believers are caught in doctrinal errors and Jesus warned in Mark 9:42 “and whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.” Apologetics are walking a very fine line and would not be wanting to risk being deprived of the grace of Jesus Christ, their Lord and Savior. They have nothing to gain by wanting to offend a believer. I feel you know all this already since you are very respectful and loving in your expressed thoughts and reply’s.

        My exhortation is meant in all sincerity only for one purpose and that is to present the truth so a Roman Catholic or a prospective member can make a knowledgeable choice.

        John 1:1 tells us that the “Word” was God, and the “Word” was made flesh, and dwelt among us (John 1:14), and the Bible can then be safely used as a foundation of truth for a believer in Christ Jesus. God promised in Matthew 7:7 that all who seek the truth shall find it.

        Because Roman Catholicism places its teaching authority and its tradition on an equal footing with the Bible, it claims Christianity and also the possibility of eternal life in heaven with God. Because of this claim, it should stand the test of scrutiny of the Word. (cautiously)

        Roman Catholicism draws much attention to tradition which has a nebulous effect on Catholic doctrine. It also has a tendency to draw the attention of the believer into tradition. If a Catholic believer becomes aware of inconsistencies which make him or her uncomfortable and does not attempt to get to the bottom of it, the apologetic enters the picture to bring the truth to this individual’s attention. With this knowledge comes the responsibility of gaining further understanding of the true Gospel on a personal level. It is not a personal attack on the Catholic out of hate, but one in love, for we are all bought by the same price.

        The plea of the Pope for ecumenical unity is not understood by Christians who are unaware that unity with Rome must be on Rome’s terms. In other words they would have to be submitted to papal authority. One of the difficulties is the word “Catholic”. It comes from the Latin word “catholicus”, universal, general and from the Greek word: “Katholikus”: kata-, down, completely plus “holos”, whole. The Latin meaning “universal” implies that Catholicism is the historical Christian Church since it teaches the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the sacrifice of the cross, the resurrection, and the belief in an eternal hell. What is missing is the most basic principle that the New Testament of Jesus Christ rests on and that is salvation by grace alone.

        A short history of the Apostle Peter will demand a true conclusion which will not agree with the Catholic Church. In Mark 8:29, Jesus asked the disciples, “But whom say ye that I Am?” Peter answereth and saith unto Him, “Thou art the Christ.”

        And Jesus began to share that He would be rejected of the elders, priests and scribes of the church, and be killed and after three days rise again. Peter took Jesus and began to rebuke Him and Jesus rebuked Peter saying: “get behind me, Satan!” “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Mark 8:33)

        The fact that Simon Peter had identified Jesus as the Christ establishes that God had revealed Christ’s identity to Peter, according to Jesus in Matthew 16:17. It confirmed what John the Baptist said when he laid eyes on Jesus for the first time in John 1:29, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”

        Two of the Lord’s disciples were already present at the baptism of Jesus and one of them ran and fetched his brother Simon Peter and Jesus looked at Simon, when they brought him to Jesus, and said: “Thou art Simon the son of Jonah, thou shalt be called Cephas, which by interpretation is “a stone,” already identifying Peter’s position in Christ.

        The Apostle Peter himself described what Jesus meant with that name change. He reminded his listeners that “.. the Lord is gracious” and identified even the Lord Jesus “as a living stone, disallowed of men, but chosen of God and precious.” He included all believers as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

        “Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, precious and he that believeth on Him shall not be confounded.” (cf. 1 Peter 2:4-6) So far we have lively stones (believers) of which Peter was one and these stones make up a spiritual house. Since a house is usually set on a foundation, Roman Catholics claim that Peter is it. and the whole universal, historical Christian Church rests on Peter the Apostle, supposedly the first Pope. They use Matthew 16:10-19: “.. Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it..” to give Peter the primacy position over all the Apostles and subsequently, over the entire church. They claim he was the first Pope. “The Pope is the Roman Pontiff who, by divine Law, has supreme jurisdiction over the universal church. He is the supreme of all religions.. ” (The Catholic Encyclopedia, Robert Broderick, Thomas Nelson Inc., N.Y. 1976, p.479)
        The Bible states the following: “Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on Him shall not be confounded. “.. And a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, even to them which stumble at the Word, being disobedient.. ” (1 Peter 2:6,8)

        If the Catholic Church is correct, then Jesus is still disallowed of men, which means that the Catholic Church cannot be the Body of Christ, but is the body of the Popes. The word “rock” (stone) is the contention. Jesus said: ” ..upon this rock I will build my church.” Peter’s name is `Petros,’ translated `rock’. Jesus meant that upon this rock

        `Petra’ he would build His church. Petro and Petra have different meanings. Petros in Greek, # 4074 in the Concordance, means a piece of a larger rock and Petra in Greek, # 4073: a mass of a rock. Jesus was referring to Himself: Petra, the rock (a mass of rock).

        1 Corinthians 3:11, “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid which is Jesus Christ.” Proof that Peter was not the first Pope is in Ephesians 2:20 and Revelation 21:14. In John 21:18 Christ foretold of Peter’s martyrdom confirmed by the Apostle Peter himself in 2 Peter 1:14,15: “Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath showed me. Moreover I will endeavor that ye may be able after my decease to have these things (the Gospel) in remembrance.”

        The book “The Search for the Twelve Apostles,” by W.S. McBirnie, Ph.D., Tyndale Publishers, page 283, states an excerpt from St. Jerome “The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers page 363 “.. Paul was dismissed by Nero, that the Gospel of Christ might be preached also in the West .. “At my first defense no one took my part, but all forsook me.. I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion” – clearly indicating Nero as a lion on account of his cruelty.. He then, in the fourteenth year of Nero on the same day with Peter, was beheaded at Rome for Christ’s sake and was buried in the Ostian Way, the twenty – seventh year after our Lord’s passion.”

        May God’s love be with you always, through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,


        • Thanks Roy for your insight. Far be it from me to think of Joseph not as a brother in Christ. I love and respect my Roman Catholic sisters and brothers.

          My aim Roy is to make both Roman Catholics and those holding different views on Matthew 16:13-23 to reexamine the Scripture and Fathers testimonies to seek truth for themselves. If my readers begin reading critically and read the original thoughts of the Fathers, unfiltered and in their proper context, then my task has succeed nor matter which conclusion they reach.


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