Roman Catholicism is the largest “professing” Christian denomination worldwide with over a billion members. In spite of the numbers, as pointed out many times before, the Roman Catholic Church is a false church embracing many teachings that sharply oppose “essential” biblical doctrine. Some of Rome’s anti-biblical teachings include Purgatory (which is a flat out denial of the sufficiency and infallible work of Christ alone); the worship of Mary (as well as other false Marian doctrines); and Rome’s denial of justification through “faith alone.”
It is unfortunate that many Christian leaders, who are either afraid and/or unaware of the basic teachings of Catholicism, stay utterly silent on the issue; or, even worst, they endorse the Catholic Church as a true Christian church! What happened to the divine command of Jude 3: “Contend earnestly for the faith, which was once for all handed down to the saints”?
The “Rock” of Matthew 16:18
“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”
This passage is the so-called hallmark proof-text that Rome uses to teach that Peter was the “rock” (and thus, the first “Pope”) upon which Christ built His church. This notion also spawned other false Catholic doctrines such as the “infallibility” of the Pope when speaking, ex cathedra—“from the throne”): We declare, say, define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff” (Pope Boniface VIII, papal bull, Unam Sanctam, A.D. 1302). However, as with any text of Scripture, to arrive at a correct interpretation of the intended meaning, one must engage in a proper exegesis of that text. Hence, for any interpretation to be “biblically” accurate, it must be exegetically justified.
Further, it is the ultimate proof-text that Rome uses to teach that Peter was the “Rock” (and thus, the first “Pope”) upon which Christ has built His church. This notion also spawned other false Catholic doctrines such as the “infallibility” of the Pope when speaking, Ex Cathedra—“from the chair”) . As with any text of Scripture, to arrive at a correct interpretation of the intended meaning, – PROPER and un-pre-determined EXEGESIS. Hence, for any interpretation to be “biblically” accurate, it must be exegetically justified.
Before examining this text in detail, we must consider three important points in Jesus’ response to Peter.
- The context is NOT Peter, rather, as we will see, the Identification of Christ (“Who do You say that I am”).
- Peter’s confession was of a Divine Origin, thus, not of himself (cf. Phil. 1:29), and, as we will argue,
- According to Jesus, Peter’s confession that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” is “the rock,” upon which Jesus will build His church.
Conversely, Rome asserts that the “rock” upon which Jesus will build His church is the Apostle Peter, not his confession. This erroneous interpretation can be shown as (a) exegetically false and (b) historically problematic.
The phrase in question reads: lit., “I also and to you say that you are Peter and upon this the rock I will build My [the] church.” (κἀγὼ δέ σοι λέγω ὅτι σὺ εἶ Πέτρος, καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν). Note the following exegetical points:
CONTEXT. The context, which surrounds Jesus’ statement to Peter in verse 18, Starts In Verses 13-15 with Jesus’ question to His disciples regarding His identity: “But who do you say that I am?” It is Peter’s response (v. 16), that is, his confession of who Jesus is (“the Messiah, the Son of the living God”) that prompts Jesus’ statement to Peter. The two personal pronouns, σοι (soi, “to you”) and σὺ (su, “you”), as in, “I say to you, you are Peter,” are singular second person personal pronouns.
Note: Jesus is directly addressing Peter. Thus, Jesus said to him, not about him. Whereas the pronoun ταύτῃ (tautē, “this” as in, “upon THIS the Rock”) is a demonstrative pronoun. Although demonstratives do not have “person,” a demonstrative pronoun can indicate an indirect reference, that is, a third person significance , as in this passage. Thus, Peter is direct reference to whom Jesus is addressing  and “THIS [ταύτῃ] the Rock” is the indirect reference, upon which Christ will build His church. Hence, the text differentiates between Peter, to whom Jesus is directly addressing and the “Rock,” to which is indirectly addressed (“upon this rock”).
If Jesus had meant what modern-day Catholics assert, why even use the demonstrative pronoun? Jesus could have clearly affirmed that Peter was the Rock by simply saying, “And upon you the Rock” (ἐπὶ σὲ, or ἐπὶ σοι, the Rock). But Jesus did not. Rather, He directly addressed Peter using two second person singular personal pronouns, and indirectly addressed the Rock as something other that Peter.
HISTORICALLY. Many Catholics selectively quote (snippet) Patristics as agreeing with Rom’s view. (esp., Origen, Cyprian, and Eusebius, Augustine – citing only his early teachings; none of these held to Rome’s view). Further, most Roman Catholics are not aware of the historical research done by Roman Catholic Archbishop Peter Richard Kenrick regarding the early church’s view of Matthew 16:18. Archbishop Peter Kenrick prepared a paper on this subject, which was to be delivered to Vatican I (1870). However, it was never delivered, but it was published later, along with other insights.
He points out the 5 interpretations of Matt. 16:18, to which Fathers of antiquity held:
- All Christians were the living stones, held by very few Fathers-. Origen who is a common source of patristic exegetical tradition: states “‘If we also say “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” then we also become Peter . . . for whoever assimilates to Christ, becomes rock. Does Christ give the keys of the kingdom to Peter alone, whereas other blessed people cannot receive them?’” (Origen, Commentary on Matthew).
- All the apostles, 8 Fathers (Cyprian et al).
- Christ as the Rock, 16 Fathers (Eusebius, early Augustine). Eusebius of Caesarea (D. 263-339), in his view (“rock” as Christ), He links this interpretation with the parallel rock and foundation statements of 1 Corinthians 3:11 and 10:4.
- Peter as the Rock, 17 Fathers.
- The Rock upon which the Church was built was the Faith that Peter confessed, 44 Fathers, including the most important Fathers (e.g., Basil of Seleucia ; Cyril of Alexandria; Chrysostom, Ambrose, Hilary, Jerome, and Augustine again. Note, that Augustine (later in life) Augustine stated:
Christ, you see, built his Church not on a man but on Peter’s confession. What is Peter’s confession? ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ There’s the rock for you, there’s the foundation, there’s where the Church has been built, which the gates of the underworld cannot conquer (Retractations).
Thus, only 20% of the Fathers held to Rome’s now canonized “infallible” “Petrine Rock” interpretation of Matthew 16:18. That is far from being the norm of the early church. Kendrick concluded: “If we are bound to follow the majority of the fathers in this thing, then we are bound to hold for certain that the “rock” should be understood the faith professed by Peter, not Peter professing the faith.”
As Roman Catholic apologist, H. Burn-Murdock actually admitted: “None of the writings of the first two centuries describe St. Peter as a bishop of Rome.” In fact, no one before Callistus (A.D. 223) used Matthew 16:18 to support the primacy of the Roman bishop (i.e., “Pope” as Rome call it)—no one.
What has been demonstrated over and over is that Roman Catholics do not engage in critical exegesis when interpreting Scripture, nor do they objectively examine the patristic (church Fathers) record, not because Catholics lack the ability, but because they do not need to—for Rome has already provided the “infallible” interpretation for them. Thus, for the Catholic: Rome’s interpretations are correct, because Rome says they are. However, the following points seriously challenge Rome’s position of the so-called Primacy of Peter and him being the first Pope of Rome:
1) There is no biblical evidence indicating that Peter had supremacy over all the other apostles.
2) Peter never once considered that he was Pope, Pontiff; Vicar of Christ, Holy Father, or Head of the whole Christian Church, nor did any of the other apostles make such as claim.
3) Peter outwardly denied the Lord (out of fear) and Peter was rebuked by the Apostle Paul for being prejudice against the Gentiles (cf. Gal. 2:11-12).
4) At the first church council in Jerusalem (not Rome), it was James and not Peter who was the leading speaker and decision maker, for James authoritatively declared Acts 15:19- – “It is MY judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles.” Moreover, the letter that was sent out regarding the judgment never mentions Peter (cf. v. 23).
5) At the end of Romans, Paul sends his greetings to at least 26 people—but Peter is not even mentioned! Why? Surely, if Peter had “recognized supremacy” over Rome and all the apostles, we would expect Paul to have greeted him first!
6) Peter was a married man, unlike the Roman Popes (cf, Matt. 8:14; 1 Cor. 9:5).
These are but a few of the many valid objections to Rome’s position. Simply, there is no place in the NT where Peter acted as “Pope,” or as the “supreme head” of the apostles and the church. Quite the opposite is true. Paul says that the Christian church “Having been built [aorist participle] on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20). The Christian confession that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God is the very ROCK of faith upon which the Christian church has been built—and not upon the man Peter.
The Catholic Church categorically rejects essential biblical doctrines such as justification through faith alone, the cross work of Christ as the alone means and ground of justification (salvation), the perfect incarnational humanity of God the Son (due to Rome’s teaching of Transubstantiation), etc. And, of course, they reject the sufficiency of Scripture alone. Rome’s golden doctrine of Purgatory is nothing more than a flat out denial of the sufficiency and infallible work of Christ alone.
Any Christian who has done even a cursory and objective examination of the “official teachings” of the Roman Catholic Church, will see plainly and in fact that he or she must see Catholics as the object of evangelism.
“But it is due to Him that you are in (AL)Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and Redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written: “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:30-31; cf. Jer. 9:23).
 In 1870 (at Vatican I) Pope Pius IX proclaimed: “I am tradition” and hence, the Roman Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope (Ex Cathedra) emerged.
 In contrast to the teachings of Rome, salvation, faith, belief, repentance, etc. are grace-gifts granted by God alone. Hence, man does not cooperate or participate in God’s sole work of redemption, as Rome teaches. Salvation is God working alone—namely, monergistic, that is, an auto-soteric (self-salvation) system (contra John 1:13; 6:37-40; Acts 13:48; Rom. 8:29-30; 1 Cor. 30-31; Eph. 2:8-10; 2 Thess. 2:13).
 Demonstrative pronouns (“this”/“that”) can express an indirect significance as with a third person pronoun, thus expressing a thing (“this”) other than a direct reference.
 Πέτρος, piece of rock; πέτρᾳ, large stone, rock, mass.
 Cf. An Inside View at Vatican I, ed. Leonard Woolsey Bacon (New York: American Tract Society, 1871).
 Hilary of Potier, On the Trinity (Book II): “Thus our one immovable foundation, our one blissful rock of faith, is the confession from Peter’s mouth, Thou art the Son of the living God” (On the Trinity).
 Augustine wrote The Retractations late in his life to correct points expressed in his own writings. Here, Augustine corrects his earlier opinion that Peter was the rock of Matthew 16:18. According to Augustine the rock is Christ or Peter’s confession which pointed to the person of Christ
 Speech of Archbishop Kenrick, 109, An inside view of the vatican council, edited by Leonard Woolsey Bacon.
 H. Burn-Murdock, The Development of the Papacy (1954), 130f.