Protestants who argue against the Church’s interpretation of Matthew 16, regarding Jesus’ designation of Peter as the rock His Church would rest on, exercise the most disingenuous means to hold on to their self-proclaimed Biblical teaching authority.
After I was baptized a Christian, I determined to set a standard of truth for my faith. If I have evidence that my beliefs are not true, I need to change my beliefs, not alter the truth to fit them. Jesus didn't alter the Truth about Himself to avoid crucifixion. The reason I determined to do this is because I need to feel as confident as I can in my salvation. On Judgment Day, God will judge the heart, and He will judge if we knew the Truth and avoided it to suit ourselves. So, if you’re a Protestant, read this and ask yourself very seriously if your interpretation of Matthew 16 makes sense compared to the Catholic one.
Here are the verses, Matthew 16:13-19, right from God’s own KJV (I speak as a fool):
When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Here is the anti-Catholic argument. The name Peter, in the Greek, is Petros, which refers to a small stone, a pebble. The word for rock in verse 18, however, is petra, which means big rock. So, Jesus is not building His church on Peter the Pebble, He is building His church on Peter’s “statement of faith” in verse 16.
Protestants love to say, “The Bible interprets the Bible.” Let’s ask the Bible. What name did Jesus change Simon Barjona’s name to?
And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone. [John 1:42]
Cephas? What kind of word is that? The word cephas is a Hellenised form of kepha, which means rock or stone in Aramaic.
What’s Aramaic? It was the language of ancient Judea, coincidentally the land that Jesus and Peter lived in. Remember in The Passion of the Christ, Jesus kept calling the big bearded guy, "Kepha"? St. Paul uses Cephas to refer to Peter 4 times in 1 Corinthians, and once in his letter to the Galatians.
Follow this progression:
Q1. Why is the Greek name Peter (actually I've read that Peter was not a common Greek name) used in the New Testament?
A1: Because the New Testament was compiled in Greek, for the Greek-speaking world. They wanted Jesus’ statements to make sense in Greek, and in Greek, the word for rock is petra. Petra, however, is feminine, and so the man could not be named Petra. He needed to be named the masculine, Petros. It's an awkward translation, but translators wanted to maintain the "pun", BECAUSE it was vital that people understand that Jesus was renaming Simon "Rock" in these verses. In the Aramaic there is not this problem. Kepha refers both to the rock and to the man.
Q2: Why are both Peter and Cephas used to refer to the man previously known as Simon in the New Testament?
A2: Because the connection needed to be made and understood. In The Hunt for Red October, Sean Connery and his crew speak Russian, accompanied by English subtitles, until the KGB agent is reading the Bible. As he gets to the word Armageddon, the camera zooms in on his lips, and as it zooms out, he is speaking English. We understand that they are still really speaking Russian. We are bright enough to figure that out. We don't need a note at the bottom "They are still speaking Russian but we did this because we know you prefer not to read subtitles." The use of Peter and Cephas represent the same concept.
A Greek-speaking reader of the early Gospel accounts would read Matthew 16 (not that there were chapter designations at that time) and understand that Jesus was referring to Peter as the rock. What neither he nor the writers could anticipate was that after 1500 years there would be a Protestant Reformation, and that after that there would be people who no longer accepted the authority of the Pope. Protestants can't handle that Jesus, in the New Testament, explicitly laid the Church on Peter the Rock, because that would mean they are disobedient to Jesus Himself. And so they have come up with this innovation, unheard of when Europe was Catholic, that Peter was a pebble, and the “rock” being referred to was his “statement of faith,” two verses prior. If we translate the verses and add this meaning, this metadata, they would go like this:
He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Pebble, and upon this Rock of the statement of faith which you made, I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Adding this interpretation makes Jesus' speech sound incoherent. He is speaking to the man, Simon, whom He has just that moment renamed, then we're supposed to believe He makes a digression, which incidentally renders His renaming of Simon irrelevant, and then He continues talking to Simon, now Peter, and telling him He will give to him the keys of the kingdom of heaven. This is a ridiculous concept. Does it make sense that Jesus played a Greek word game with poor Peter, which he and the other disciples would have been sure to misinterpret?
Or does it make more sense that Jesus spoke in Aramaic to His fellow countryman, Simon, calling him Kepha? That He told Simon he would be called Stone? Evidenced by the fact that the Bible Itself (which is supposed to "interpret itself") says “’…thou shalt be called Cephas,’ which is by interpretation, A stone.” That He praised him as Simon Barjona, then told him he was CHANGING HIS NAME to Cephas and that on him He would build His church? Followed by the statement that He would give him the keys of heaven? Can you imagine the impact on Simon when the Lord Himself gave him a new name? All his life he was called Simon. Our names are a key component of our very identities. Now Jesus Christ, God incarnate, changes Simon's name, and Protestants are telling us He could just as well NOT changed his name, because it makes no difference to their interpretation. These are the people who tell us they are competent to interpret Scripture themselves. But that is what moving away from Catholic interpretation does, it always obscures meaning, it never clarifies.
There’s only one way you could twist and torture the plain meaning of the text like this, and that is because you refuse to accept the authority given to Peter by Jesus. Any objective person reading these verses is going to conclude that Jesus was saying He was building His Church on a rock, which was Peter. You have to know this is a Catholic proof-text to even think to reinterpret it some other way. Why do Protestant teachers do this? Because it makes them the authority. They know if they admit the church is built on Peter, people will instantly recognize which church in the world claims to have the keys of Peter.
Did Jesus give Peter authority? Yes, He did.
In John 21:15-17, the risen Jesus is with His disciples.
So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
Jesus singles Peter out here. He doesn’t address ALL the disciples. Only Peter, only Cephas.