Who is the rock of which Jesus speaks in Matthew 16? Peter? The Pope of the Catholic Church? The Chief Apostle of the NAC? I would like to examine this question using the Bible.
The Catechism of two Churches
The Catholic Church and the New Apostolic Church each have a leader who calls himself a “rock”: The Pope and the Chief Apostle. Both churches refer to a Bible passage in Matthew 16. I will examine this claim on the basis of the Bible to see if it justified. Let us first look at what is written in the respective catechisms of these two Churches:
The Catechismus of the Roman Catholic Church
“881 The Lord has made only Simon, to whom he gave the name Peter, the rock of his Church. He gave Peter the keys of the Church and appointed him shepherd of the whole flock.”Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church 1997, translated out of the German version 2005
The Catechism of the New Apostolic Church
Similar to the Roman Catholic Church, the New Apostolic Church writes in its Catechism:
“Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the head of His church. In this Church, it is the task of the Chief Apostle to discharge the office of Peter in accordance with the words of Jesus… (here comes a reference to Matthew 16, 18-19). Jesus speaks of the foundation and the building of His church in connection with the special position of Apostle Peter. The latter is the “rock” upon which Jesus builds His church. Thereby the Son of God created an indissoluble relationship between the ministry of the rock and His church. The ministry of the rock and the church of Christ have been given to mankind for salvation in Jesus Christ. The office and tasks which the Lord entrusted to Apostle Peter are today discharged by the Chief Apostle.”Catechism of the New Apostolic Church, downloaded on June 25, 2020: http://www.nak.org/en/catechism/7-ministry/76-the-ministries-in-the-new-apostolic-church/766-the-chief-apostle-ministry/
The Evidence of the Churches: one bible passage
Let us take a look at this biblical passage. Then let us examine it in the light of the whole Bible. Finally I will come to the meaning of this passage, with the help of the basic Greek text:
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 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. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.Matthew 16, 15-19 (ESV)
This biblical passage gives the impression that Peter is the rock on which Jesus builds his church. Is this interpretation biblically tenable? I would like to approach the biblical text on two levels: First of all, I will use the Bible to examine who the rock is. Then we will take a closer look at the passage in Matthew 16.
The Rock in the Old Testament
With the help of a concordance I verified all the bible passages in which the “rock” appears. In doing so, I discovered that it is God himself who is called the rock. Here are a few examples:
“The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.”The words of Mose in Deuteronomy 32, 4 (ESV)
“There is none holy like the Lord: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.”The words of Hannah in 1. Samuel 2,2 (ESV)
“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence.”David in 2. Samuel 22, 2 (ESV)
It’s interesting that all three passages are from songs or thanksgiving prayers: The song of Moses, the praise of Hannah and David’s thanksgiving psalm give glory to God as a rock. Even more: God is portrayed as the only rock. In many Bible passages it is expressed as a characteristic of God – the rock – that HE brings salvation and redemption:
“The rock of his salvation” – “The rock of my salvation” – “O Lord, my rock and my redeemer”Deuteronomy 32, 15, 2. Samuel 22, 47; Psalms 19, 14 (ESV)
Furthermore, Isaiah describes God as an eternal rock that will never change:
“Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.”Isaiah 26, 4 (ESV)
The Rock in the New Testament
Jesus Christ was well aware about these passages. Is it realistic to believe that Jesus gave Peter the title “rock”? Let’s have a look into the New Testament. Then we will have a deeper look into the passage where Jesus talked with Peter. The first time Jesus spoke about a rock is here:
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”Jesus in Matthew 7, 24 (ESV)
Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah in Romans 9, 33 and relates these words to Jesus Christ:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”Romans 9, 33 (ESV)
Peter also quotes this passage and adds:
“A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense. They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.”1 Peter 2, 8 (ESV)
Jesus – the Spiritual Rock in the Old and New Testament
It is always good to see that the Old and New Testament speak of the same God. We will now see that the New Testament reveals this “rock” as Jesus Christ. By the way: This is also a proof about the unity of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 10:4 from the people of Israel, and his conclusion is:
“…and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.1 Corinthians 10, 4 (ESV)
Paul here refers to Exodus 17:6. The people of Israel are on the desert journey and are thirsty. God orders Moses to strike a rock so that water will run out. Moses does so, and the people have to drink. Just as God gave the people of Israel living water from the rock, so Jesus Christ gives living water to everyone who believes in Him today. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, did not just came to birth from the time of his incarnation, he was already with the people of Israel. By the way: God gave the people of Israel water from a rock that was beaten by Moses. This reminds us of Jesus Christ, who was crucified for us so that we can find redemption.
So the rock has a spiritual meaning that points to Jesus Christ: “The rock was Christ.” In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is thus portrayed as a rock on which we stand securely if we believe his word and accept him. God, the eternal rock, becomes man in Jesus Christ, and he who builds on him has built on solid ground. This was also experienced by the woman at Jacob’s well. Jesus said to her: “If you recognize the gift of God and who is the one who says to you: ‘Give me something to drink’, then you ask him and he gives you living water.
Now let’s look at the Bible passage in Matthew 16, which is the only evidence of these two churches to proof that their church leaders call themselves a “rock”. Let us see what is meant here:
The Rock in Matthew 16, 15-18
Who is the rock? Many clear biblical passages testify that God in Jesus Christ is the rock, and one should always judge doctrinal statements by the clear biblical passages and not the unclear ones. What did Jesus mean when he, in Matthew 16, at first glance, calls Peter as the rock of the church? If we look at the basic Greek text, we see that Jesus says exactly this:
“You are Peter (petros, i.e. rock or stone), and on this rock (petra, i.e. bedrock or rocky massif) I will build my church.”
So Jesus uses two different Greek words here. Peter is a PETROS which means a stone or a piece of rock. So today all believers are living stones of the “spiritual temple”, the church. This is what Peter says in 1 Peter 2:5. But we have heard that Jesus himself is the rock, testified by many bible passages in the Old and New Testament. Jesus says these words after the testimony of Peter: “You are Christ, the Son of the living God!” On this confession Jesus builds his church! With other words: The true church is built on Jesus himself!
Jesus is the rock, HE builds HIS church, HIS congregation, and He does this on the basis of Peter’s confession. Peter confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, the living Son of God. This fits seamlessly into the above mentioned Old Testament biblical passages. The Jewish disciples were certainly familiar with these passages, which clearly testify that only God himself is symbolically referred to as a rock. Nowhere in the Bible is Peter described as the head of the church or as its rock. Let us build our faith only on Jesus Christ and not on a fallible man!
- Stein in Wald – das Felsenamt der Kirche?: Hans Braxmeier auf Pixabay