Apostolic
Having to do with the 12 apostles or their teachings. This term is also sometimes used in Catholic circles as a synonym for “papal,” as the Pope is seen as the successor to the Apostles.
Catechism
A Catholic manual of doctrine in the form of questions and answers.
Ecumenism
Unity and cooperation across faith or doctrinal boundaries based on shared spiritual experiences.
Hades
The name of the ancient Greek underworld and the god of that underworld. In modern Christianity, the term hades refers to the abode of the dead, also known as Sheol, or hell, where the dead await judgment.
Who is the Rock on which Jesus said He would build His Church? Many believe it is the Pope and his successors. Is this true?
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Summary: When Jesus said, "That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church," He was referring to Peter's confession about Christ - not Peter himself.
 
This article is part of a series. We recommend that you first read: Paganism and the Priesthood, The Pope Claims to be God on Earth.
 

Taking Matthew 16:13-19 as their supporting text, Catholics claim that Peter is the first pope of the Catholic Church because Jesus says to Peter,

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.

Catholics believe this passage establishes both Peter as the head of the Catholic Church and the Catholic Church as the one with final say on salvation issues.

Painting of Saint Peter by Peter Paul Rubens. Catholics mistakenly believe Peter was the first...

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states these beliefs:

The sole Church of Christ [is that] which our Saviour, after His resurrection, entrusted to Peter’s pastoral care, commissioning him and the other apostles to extend and rule it . . . This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him.

The Second Vatican Council’s Decree of Ecumenism explains: “For it is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the People of God.i

This interpretation, however, is not Biblical. There has been much scholarly debate regarding to whom Jesus refers to as the rock in Matthew 16:18. While Peter’s name in Greek is Petros which means "rock"--or actually, a small, movable stone--Jesus switches to petra when he says, “and upon this rock I will build my church” (emphasis added). Petros is a masculine noun, whereas petra is feminine and refers to bedrock or an immovable foundation.ii Jesus thus makes a play-on-words between Peter’s name and the rock that establishes His Church. Theologian Loraine Boettner writes that Jesus’ words translate as, “You are Petros, and upon this petra I will build my church.”iii A change of gender indicates a change of subject.

So if the rock isn't Peter, who is it?

Scriptures make it clear that the rock is Christ. There are approximately 34 instances of Christ being referred to as a rock in the New Testament, including the following:

Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone (Ephesians 2:19-20, emphasis added).

Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:1-4, emphasis added).

For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11).

The rock on which Jesus would build His Church was Peter’s earlier confession in verse 16 that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” No other foundation can withstand the gates of hell, which signify death, for Hades (hell) literally means “grave.”iv Mere people cannot overcome death and the devil who reigns in hell. Only God can, which He already did through His Son’s death on the cross and resurrection. Jesus says in Revelation 1:18, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” Because of His victory, Jesus encourages His disciples in John 16:33, “be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

In fact, we see Peter’s fallibility immediately following the rock passage. In the next few verses, Jesus explains that He will suffer, be killed, and be raised to life on the third day. Peter rebukes Him saying these things will not happen. Jesus responds to Peter, “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me” (verse 23). In one moment, Peter professes a spiritual insight about Jesus and the next moment, Jesus rebukes him for his spiritual blindness. Peter’s humanness shows he is not a solid foundation on which to build God’s Church and, moreover, does not make him a great candidate for Catholics to claim as their leader. A little later on, we see that the gates of hell did most certainly prevail against Peter for a time when he denied his Lord with cursing and swearing.

Even more ironic is that Peter never refers to himself as a pope. In his epistolary letter in 1 Peter, he introduces himself as an “apostle of Jesus Christ” (1:1). Hence, the authority of God’s Church does not rest on any human system, but on Christ alone. As Peter preaches in Acts 4:10-12,

Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved (emphasis added). Even Peter himself calls Christ the living stone.

Ellen White writes:

The church is built upon Christ as its foundation; it is to obey Christ as its head. "The head of every man is Christ.." 1 Cor 11:3. The church is not to depend upon man, or be controlled by man. Many claim that a position of trust in the church gives them authority to dictate what other men shall believe and what they shall do. This claim God does not sanction...All are exposed to temptation and are liable to error. Upon no finite being can we depend for guidance. The Rock of faith is the living presence of Christ in the church. Upon this the weakest may depend, and those who think themselves the strongest will prove to be the weakest, unless they make Christ their efficiency. "Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm." Jeremiah 17:5.v

If indeed Jesus had made Peter the primary disciple, the other disciples would not have been found contending as to who would be the greatest among them. (Matthew 18:1.) They would have submitted to the wish of their Master, and honored the one whom He had chosen. Instead of appointing one to be their head, Christ said "Be not ye called Rabbi; . . . neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ." Matthew 23: 8, 10

What do the keys symbolize and what does “binding and loosing on earth and in heaven” mean?

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,

"Delivery of the Keys" by Pietro Perugino Public Domain https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gesupietrochiave.jpg...

The ‘power of the keys’ designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, confirmed this mandate after his Resurrection: ‘Feed my sheep.’ The power to ‘bind and loose’ connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgments, and to make disciplinary decisions about the Church. Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles and in particular through the ministry of Peter, the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom’(emphasis added).vi

St. Alphonsus Liguori conveys the same idea in The Dignitaries and Duties of the Priest:

The priest has the power of the keys, or the power of delivering sinners from Hell, of making them worthy of Paradise, and of changing them from the slaves of Satan into the children of God. And God Himself is obliged to abide by the judgment of His priests, and either not to pardon or to pardon (emphasis added).vii

Is the Catholic Church correct in its interpretation of these symbols? In order to understand this passage, it is important to clarify what the “keys” mean and what “binding and loosing” means. While the giving of keys does signal the transfer of authority, it does not indicate the power to absolve sins or to allow or deny access to heaven. Only God has the authority to judge people’s hearts and grant sinners salvation, not the pope or priests. The Scriptures emphasize this point. Revelation 3:7 says, “He that hath the key of David, he that openeth, [referring to Jesus], and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth.” Jesus Himself declares in Matthew 28:18, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (emphasis added). Thus, Jesus alone has the authority to pass judgment on man’s heart since it is a confession and belief in Jesus that determines one’s eternal fate— “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9, emphasis added). John 3:16 promises that “whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Instead, as many scholars state, the authority granted to Peter and the apostles refers to the work in proclaiming the Gospel by which people come to know the Truth and through which the kingdom of heaven thus opens. As Doug Batchelor summarizes, the key is the knowledge of the Word, the life-giving Word that sets every person freeviii (Luke 11: 52, John 8:32).

Indeed, the "keys of the kingdom" are the words of Christ.

These words have power to open and to shut heaven. They declare the conditions upon which men are received or rejected. Thus the work of those who preach God's word is a savor of life unto life or of death unto death. Theirs is a mission weighted with eternal results.ix

Boettner writes that the power to bind and loose means “a declaratory power, the authority to announce the terms on which God would grant salvation, not an absolute power to admit or to exclude from the kingdom of heaven. Only God can do that; and He never delegates that authority to men.” x Jesse Stevens supports this view: “Now the privilege and commission to preach the gospel were given to all the apostles [see Matthew 18:18], and likewise to the whole church [see Matthew 28:19-20]. The church really exists for no other work than to preach the gospel in all the world; and if a man accepts it, the kingdom of heaven is unlocked to him."xi

How Christians fulfill or don’t fulfill this commission on Earth will affect the results in heaven, for if Christians slacken in their duty here and now, less people will hear the Gospel and enter the Kingdom of heaven at a future time.

Jesus teaches that salvation is through no one but Himself. He says in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” In other words, Jesus did not grant Peter, the disciples, Christians, or any religious system the power to do what only He could do. Christians are not called to pronounce judgment on peoples’ hearts but to point them to the One who can cleanse our sinful heart and offer us an eternal relationship with the living Saviour who has defeated the grave. The keys are firmly in Christ’s hands.

 


 

i. "The Church is One, Holy, Catholic, and apostolic," Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York: Doubleday, 1994): 234-235.

ii. Loraine Boettner, Roman Catholicism (New Jersey: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1962): 106.

iii. Ibid: 105-106.

iv. Doug Batchelor, The Keys of the Kingdom (A Mighty Rock).

v. Ellen G. White, Desire of Ages, 414.

vi. "The Keys of the Kingdom," Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York: Doubleday, 1994): 156.

vii. St. Alphonsus Liguori, The Dignities and Duties of the Priest (1927).

viii. Doug Batchelor, The Keys of the Kingdom (A Mighty Rock).

ix. Ellen G. White, Desire of Ages (Silver Spring: Better Living Publications, 1990), 413-414.

x. Loraine Boettner, Roman Catholicism (New Jersey: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1962): 110.

xi. Jesse C. Stevens, Was Peter the First Pope? (Washington: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1923): 9.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article and website are not intended to accuse individuals. There are many priests and faithful believers in Roman Catholicism who serve God to the best of their ability and are seen by God as His children. The information contained herein is directed only towards the Roman Catholic religio-political system that has reigned in varying degrees of power for nearly two millennia. Under the influence of its successive popes, bishops, and cardinals, this system has established an increasing number of doctrines and statements that clearly go against Scripture.
 
It is our sincere desire to lay the clear Word of God before you, the truth-seeking reader, so you may decide for yourself what is truth and what is error. If you find herein anything contrary to the Word of God, you need not accept it. But if you desire to seek for Truth as for hidden treasure, and find herein something of that quality, we encourage you to make all haste to accept that Truth which is revealed to you by the Holy Spirit.
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