Let’s Suppose Peter Is the Rock

The other day in Bible class, we briefly went through the story of Peter’s confession in Matthew 16, and as I often do when presented with Matthew 16:18, I started considering the debate about whether the rock in the text is Peter.  The Catholic Church has argued for centuries that it is, that Jesus is making a wordplay between Petros/petra in Greek or Kepha/kepha in Aramaic (the likely original language).  Those who feel like breaking lances with the Catholics over the issue generally claim in response that the rock is not Peter, that based on the change in gender between Petros and petra, Jesus is changing subjects.

I don’t have the training to evaluate those linguistic arguments, though it has always seemed strained to me to argue that Jesus is discussing Peter-not Peter-Peter in Matthew 16:18-19 rather than Peter-Peter-Peter.  However, I do think that all of the back-and-forthing about Greek and Aramaic is irrelevant.

Here’s the deal.  The Catholic Church likes Matthew 16:18 because it thinks it can use the passage to establish the authority of the Pope.  This authority rests on two key doctrines:  Petrine supremacy (Peter was the chief of the apostles and the head of the church) and apostolic succession (Peter and the other apostles handed down their authority in the church to other men who stepped into their place).  Those doctrines would be significant if true, but I don’t think their truth can be established from the text even if Peter is the rock. Continue reading