Peter the “rock” in Matthew 16:18 Explained


(Boldface type below are quotations from Roman Catholic literature. See footnotes for references.
All scripture references are from the Confraternity-Douay Version of the Bible.
Scripture locations in parenthesis indicate the KJV location.)

This is the Roman Catholic Statement:

 “…to refute the Catholic understanding that “rock” in Matthew 16:18 (‘You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church’) refers to Peter, Fundamentalists list as many verses as they can in which “rock” refers to God. They don’t bother to look at Matthew 16:18 in itself, and they forget that the whole point of the verse is precisely that Peter was being given a title usually reserved for God and that the name signified something important about his new status.”7


Contrary to the above accusation let us look at Matthew 16. The subject of the context is found in verse 13:


Matthew 16:13 Now, Jesus, having come into the district of Caesarea Philippi, began to ask his disciples, saying, “Who do men say the Son of Man (Jesus Christ) is?” (NOT “Who is Peter?”)


When Peter correctly answered the subject of the context (i.e.. Who is Jesus?), the Lord spoke these words to Peter:


Matthew 16:18 And I say to thee, thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.


What would Peter have understood by the Lord’s words to him? The following verses were part of Peter’s heritage:


Deuteronomy 32:4 The Rock- how faultless are his deeds, how right all his ways! A faithful God, without deceit, how just and upright he is!


Deuteronomy 32:15 So Jacob ate his fill, the darling grew fat and frisky; you became fat and gross and gorged. They spurned the God Who made them and scorned their saving Rock.

Deuteronomy 32:18 You were unmindful of the Rock that begot you, you forgot the God who gave you birth.


2Kings 22:2 (2Samuel 22:2) And he said: The Lord is my rock, and my strength, and my saviour.


Psalms 17 (18):2-3 I love you, O Lord, my strength, O Lord, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer. My God, my rock of refuge, my shield, the horn of my salvation, my strong hold.


Psalms 17 (18):32 For who is God except the Lord? Who is a rock, save our God?


Psalms 17 (18):47 The Lord alive! And blessed be my Rock! Extolled be God my saviour.


Psalms 27 (28):1 To you, O Lord, I call: O my Rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you heed me not, I become one of those going down into the pit.


Psalms 30 (31):3 Incline your ear to me, make haste to deliver me! Be my rock of refuge, a stronghold to give me safety.


Psalms 41(42):10 I sing to God, my Rock:…


Psalms 61 (62):2-3 Only in God is my soul at rest; from him comes my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be disturbed at all.


Psalms 61 (62):6-7 Only in God be at rest, my soul, for from him comes my hope. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be disturbed at all.


Psalms 70 (71):3 Be my rock of refuge, a stronghold to give me safety, for you are my rockand my fortress.


Psalms 77 (78):35 Remembering that God was their Rock and the most high God, their redeemer.


Psalms 88 (89):27 He shall say of me, “You are my father, my God, the Rock, my saviour.”


Psalms 91 (92):16 declaring how just is the Lord, my Rock, in whom there is no wrong.

Psalms 93 (94):22 yet the Lord is my stronghold, and my God the Rock of my refuge.


When we allow the word of God rather than men to define “Rock” for us, we find consistently that it is God, Himself. There is no reason from the scriptures to assume that Peter or anyone else thought that Peter was attaining a title “usually reserved for God.” The Lord certainly did not hold Peter in such high regard when a few verses later He addressed the disobedient Peter as “Satan.”


Matthew 16:23 He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, satan, thou art a scandal to

            me; for thou dost not mind the things of God, but those of men.”


Paul did not hold Peter in such high regard when he rebuked him publicly:


Galatians 2:11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was deserving of blame.


Peter, to whom the Lord spoke in Matthew 16:18, did not hold himself in such high regard when he came to the Gentile Cornelius’ home:


Acts 10:25-26 And as Peter entered, Cornelius met him and, falling at his feet, made obeisance to him. But Peter raised him up, saying, “Get up, I myself also am a man.”


When the Jews of Christ’s time rejected His claim as the Messiah, He said to them:


Matthew 21:42 Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, has become the corner stone; by the Lord this has been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes?


After Matthew 16, Peter, Luke and Paul all refer to the Lord Jesus Christ thus:


Acts 4:10-12 Be it known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God has raised from the dead, even in this name does he stand here before you, sound. This is The Stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the corner stone. Neither is there salvation in any other. For there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.


1Peter 2:6-8 Hence Scripture says, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief cornerstone, chosen, precious: and he who believes in it shall not be put to shame. For you, therefore, who believe, is this honor; but to those who do not believe, A stone which the builders rejected, the same has become the head of the corner, and A stumbling-stone, and a rock of scandal,  to those who stumble at the word, and do not believe. For this also they are destined.


Romans 9:33 as it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumbling-stone and rock of scandal: and whoever believes in him shall not be disappointed.


1Corinthians 10:4 and all drank the same spiritual drink (for they drank from the spiritual rock which followed them, and the rock was Christ.


Ephesians 2:14-22 For he himself is our peace, he it is who has made both one, and hath broken down the intervening wall of the enclosure, the enmity, in his flesh. The Law of the commandments expressed in decrees he has made void, that of the two he might create in himself one new man, and make peace and reconcile both in one body to God by the cross, having slain the enmity in himself. And coming, he announced the good tidings of peace to you who were afar off, and of peace to those who were near; because through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. Therefore, you are now no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household:  you are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the chief corner stone. In him the whole structure is closely fitted together and grows into a temple holy in the Lord: In him you too are being built into together into a dwelling place for God in the Spirit.


I Corinthians 3:11 For other foundation no one can lay, but that which has been laid, which is Christ Jesus.


It is clear when we allow the scriptures to define themselves that not Peter, but the Lord Jesus Christ, was and is the one and only “Rock”! Peter was never called nor defined by this expression anywhere in the scriptures.


Even if Peter were the foundation for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, we would still need to come to the scriptures to find any link between present day Romanism and the true church. The “unbroken succession” of the popes of Rome has been revised, deleting some and adding another and placing some in doubt. One pope of the list before 1947 did not even exist. (See Secrets of Romanism by Joseph Zacchello, pub. Loizeaux Brothers, N.Y., 1952, p. 48-50).


Roman Catholics are bound to believe the interpretation of the Scriptures “according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers” (Creed of Pope Pius IV).8 On the subject of the supremacy of Peter, the Fathers do not unanimously agree.


Speech of Roman Catholic Archbishop Kenrick; cited in An Inside View of the Vatican Council,edited by Leonard Woolsey Bacon, pp. 107-109.9


     “The rule of Biblical interpretation imposed upon us is this: that the Scriptures are not to be interpreted contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers. It is doubtful whether any instance of that unanimous consent is to be found. But this failing, the rule seems to lay down for us the law following, in their interpretation of the scripture, the major number of Fathers, that might seem to approach unanimity. Accepting this rule, we are compelled to abandon the usual modern exposition of the words, ‘On this rock will I build my church.’”

     “In a remarkable pamphlet ‘printed in facsimile of manuscript,’ and presented to the Fathers almost two months ago, we find five different interpretations of the word ‘rock,’ in the place cited, ‘the first of which declares’ (I transcribe the words) ‘that the church was built on Peter’; and this interpretation is followed by seventeen Fathers – among them, Origen, Cyprian, Jerome, Hilary, Cyril of Alexander, Leo the Great, Augustine.”

     “The second interpretation understands from these words, ‘On this rock I will build my church,’ that the church was built on all the apostles, whom Peter represented by virtue of the primacy. And this opinion is followed by eight Fathers – (etc)

     “The third interpretation asserts that the words, ‘On this rock,’ etc., are to be understood of the faith which Peter had professed – that this faith, this profession of faith, by which we believe Christ to be the Son of the living God, is the ever lasting, immov-able foundation of the church. This interpretation is the weightiest of all, since it is followed by forty Fathers and doctors; among them, from the East, are Gregory of Nyssa, Cyril of Alexandria, Chrysostom, Theophylact; from the West, Hilary, Ambrose, Leo the Great, from Africa, Augustine.”

     “The fourth interpretation, declares that the words, ‘On this rock,’ are to be understood of that rock which Peter had confessed, that is, Christ – that the church was built upon Christ. This interpretation is followed by sixteen Fathers and doctors.”

     “The fifth interpretation of the Fathers understands by the name of the rock, the faithful themselves, who, believing Christ to be the Son of God, are constituted living stones out of which the church is built.”

“From this follows, either that no argument at all, or one of the slenderest probability is to be derived from the words, ‘on this rock will I build my church,’ in support of the primacy. Unless it is certain that by the rock is to be understood the Apostle Peter in his own person, and not in his capacity as the chief apostle speaking for them all, the word supplies no argument whatever, I do not say in proof of papal infallibility, but even in support of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. If we are bound to follow the majority of the Fathers in this thing, then we are bound to hold for certain that by the rock should be understood the faith professed by Peter, not Peter professing the faith.”

Only 17 out of the eighty-four early church fathers believed that the Lord referred to Peter when He said, “this rock,” the others holding variously that it applied to Christ or to Peter’s testimony to Christ, or to all the apostles. So if appeal is made to the early church fathers of the first four centuries, Rome’s claim must be disallowed.”10


The apostle Peter is only mentioned 65 times after the church begins in Acts 2. The apostle Paul is mentioned 182 times. Peter does have a prominent place until his failure mentioned in Galatians 2. In the council of Acts 15 Peter only recounts his calling to preach to Cornelius in Acts 10, then asks the council a question. James was evidently in charge and passed judgment on the issue before the brethren and it was agreed to by the apostles, elders and the church there present.


Note that Peter was called by Almighty God to be the apostle to the circumcision (Jews) while it was Paul who was called as the apostle to the Gentiles. Paul wrote 13 epistles in which he was chosen by God to reveal truths for the present church age. Peter only wrote 2 epistles to the “…scattered…” (Strongs #1290, the ‘diaspora,’ the Jews living outside Palestine).


Peter’s mission:

Galatians 2:7 On the contrary, when they saw that to me was committed the gospel for the uncircumcised as to Peter that for the circumcised.


Paul’s mission:

Romans 11:13 For I say to you Gentiles, As long, indeed, as I am an apostle of the Gentiles, I will honor my ministry:


I Timothy 2:7 To this I have been appointed a preacher, and an apostle, (I tell the truth and do not lie) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.


II Timothy 1:11 Of which I have been appointed a preacher and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles.


7Keating, Catholics, Fundamentalists, and the Bible, (Los Angeles, Franciscan Communications), p.9

8Joseph Zacchello, Secrets of Romanism, (New York, Loizeaux Brothers, Edition 1952), p. 18

9Zacchello, p.p. 40-42

10F.C.H. Dreyer and E. Weller, Roman Catholicism In the Light of Scripture, (Chicago, Illinois, Moody Press), p.42

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