What Rock did Jesus build His church upon?

What makes the Roman Pope more likely to have primacy rather than the bishop of Jerusalem or any other area? What makes the Pope position (the leader of the church, if there is one single leader on earth) move from Peter to a church leader in Rome, instead of to the Apostle John, who lived much longer than Peter, and was the disciple whom Jesus loved? This especially becomes an important question since all the Apostles led the church as equals.

I have heard it said that Peter is the rock upon which Christ would build His church. But in fact, this goes against scripture.

The scripture verse used to support this is:

Matthew 16:18

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

Catholics believe the church was founded upon Peter (and so making Peter the first ‘pope’) because Peter means rock. But Christ was not speaking of Peter as a person upon which the church would be built, but that the faith Peter had made him a stone, which would be used to build the church, with Christ Himself as the foundation stone. This is the only reading of this scripture which aligns with the other scriptures saying CHRIST is the rock upon which the church is built.

Let us look at the context of this verse, following the normal  hermeneutic process  of looking at the greater text and then looking at other Scripture passages that relate to the subject in question.

Matthew 16:15-19

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are THE CHRIST, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD.”  Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and ON THIS ROCK I WILL BUILD BY CHURCH, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 

We do not have the original Hebrew version of Matthew, but we DO have Matthew in Greek. Certainly if Jesus had used different words for rock in what ever language He spoke this in, the writer would have used those words, and the translator to Greek would have chosen corresponding words. The word translated as Peter is petros, and means stone or rock. However, the word translated as rock is petra, like the rocks of a cliff, or a strong rock upon which a foundation is laid.  This is easily seen in another place Jesus used the term rock. We see the term petra is used by Jesus in Matthew 7:24-27,

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Here Jesus was speaking of rock (petra) as a foundation, solid rock. This is not the same word He used when He decided to call Simon bar Jona Peter (petros), but IS the same word He used when speaking of that upon which He would build His church. So obviously, Christ was not speaking of Peter as what He would build His church upon. If He HAD been speaking of Peter, He would simply have said ‘you’.

The name change indicates something important, but what? Some believe it indicates a change in mission. A name change by God DOES indicate a change, but not necessarily in mission. For instance, Hosea 1:6–8, where Hosea’s daughter was named “Not-pitied” and his son was named “Not-my-people,” which indicated Israel’s status with God because of their unfaithfulness. But in Hosea 2:1, 23 the names were changed to “My-people” and “She-was-pitied,” not to indicate a change in mission, but a change in heart – in this case God’s, and a promise of God’s forgiveness and mercy. In the same way, the change of Simon’s name to Peter was also a promise to God’s people. Peter would be a rock of God’s temple, built upon the Rock who is Christ. 

Some want to say that no one had ever been called ‘rock’ before. But this is not the case. Zur means rock, and is the name of the father of Cozbi and one of the 5 Midianite princes who were slain when Balaam fell, as well as the son of Jehiel, the father or leader of Gibeon (Nu 25:15Nu 31:8Jos 13:211Ch 8:301Ch 9:36). 

As a sidebar, let us look at how else the term ‘rock’ is used in the Old Testament. One word used for rock is from the Hebrew tsuwr, and indicates a large rock, boulder, rocky cliff, or block of stone, and has been used to speak of God (2 Samuel 22:32;Psalm 18:31Psalm 18:46Ps 18:2Ps 62:2Ps 62:6Ps 92:15Ps 94:22Ps 95:1Ps 144:1Isa 26:4Isa 30:29Isa 44:8Hab 1:12). Another word in Hebrew for rock, or stone, is ‘eben. This is often used for stone, precious stone, and occasionally large stone (Ge 2:12Ge 11:3Ge 28:18Ge 29:2).  Another work for rock is keph and is used in Jer 4:29 and Job 30:6 . This word in Aramaic is the word Kephas, which is what Jesus called Simon bar Jona (otherwise known as Peter, or Cephas) in John 1:42. 

Indeed, read what David wrote of God.

Psalm 18:2

The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Psalm 18:31

For who is God besides the LORD ? And who is the Rock except our God?

God is the Rock, and Christ is God. To believe Jesus Christ was saying that Peter would be the foundational stone upon which He would build His church is to contradict other scripture that clearly states otherwise.

Christ warned the Jews of what would happen, that they would reject Him, and He would become the capstone.

Psalm 118:21-23

 21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me;  you have become my salvation. 22 The stone the builders rejected  has become the capstone; 23 the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

Mt 21:42:43 (cp Mk 12:10-12)

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes”? 43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”

Peter was not the one rejected here, it was Jesus.

If Peter was the foundation upon which the church was built, why would Peter saying exactly CHRIST is the foundation stone in Acts 4:8-12?

Acts 4:8-12 

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of JESUS CHRIST of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. HE IS THE STONE YOU BUILDERS REJECTED, WHICH HAS BECOME THE CAPSTONE. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.

Note, PETER said that JESUS CHRIST is the CAPSTONE, the cornerstone, the foundational stone used to construct a building. Salvation is found in no one else.

1 Corinthians 10:1-4 

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the SPIRITUAL ROCK that accompanied them, and THAT ROCK WAS CHRIST.

Even the people of Israel who left Egypt ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; the SPIRITUAL ROCK WAS CHRIST.

Paul wrote of having laid a foundation, which is Jesus Christ:

1 Corinthians 3:10-11

10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Paul DID write that the church was being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets.

Ephesians 2:19-22

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Note, that He did not say upon Peter, but the apostles and prophets – plural.

This can be seen in Revelation 21:10-14 even more clearly:

10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. 12 It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. 13 There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

The Rock upon which the church was, and is, built is Christ Jesus, with the apostles and prophets being part of the foundation (the first believers and teachers of Christ). Additionally, no where did God say that the condition of being a foundational stone could, or would, be passed on to anyone else. In fact, once the foundation is laid and the building has begun to be built, no other stone can be part of the foundation, as Paul said in 1 Cor 3:11, “11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” So even if Peter were THE foundational stone (which, as shown, he is not), it does not follow that this position could not be passed on to someone else, such a bishop in Rome.

It is CHRIST who is the chief CORNERSTONE of the WHOLE BUILDING, a HOLY TEMPLE (the church), not Peter.

In fact, people who believe Christ is the Son of God are living stones – speaking of the faith believers have. Peter showed he was a stone (a believer) because He said Christ was the Son of God.

Even Peter Himself said believers are living stones and CHRIST was the foundational stone used to build God’s spiritual house.

1 Peter 2:5-8

YOU, also, LIKE LIVING STONES, ARE BEIING BUILT INTO A SPIRITUAL HOUSE to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through JESUS CHRIST. For in Scripture it says: “See, I LAY A STONE IN ZION, A CHOSEN AND PRECIOUS CORNERSTONE, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Now to you who believe, THIS STONE IS PRECIOUS. But to those who do not believe, “THE STONE THE BUILDERS REJECTED HAS BECOME THE CAPSTONE, AND A STONE THAT CAUSE MEN TO STUMBLE AND A ROCK THAT MAKES THEM FALL.” They stumble because they disobey the message – which is also what they were destined for.

GOD laid the cornerstone in ZION. For those who believe, the STONE is precious, and is the CORNERSTONE for the SPIRITUAL HOUSE being built of LIVING STONES (people who BELIEVE) – the church! For those who do not believe, the STONE causes men to stumble, the ROCK makes them fall.

It was believers, prophets, AND apostles who spoke of Christ being the Son of God that were used as stones to build the church. All the apostles and prophets were foundation stones  – not Peter alone. Christ is the bedrock, the 12 apostles (followed by the prophets) were foundation stones, and all believers are living stones that make up the spiritual house. But only CHRIST was THE ROCK upon which the church is build. So no, Peter is not THE rock upon which the church was built,  Christ is. 

More on this issue can be read at a follow up post: https://wbmoore.wordpress.com/2008/10/02/peter-and-the-rock-2/

Other posts for reference:


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