The anti-Catholics have been consistent in fully rejecting the Holy Catholic Church’s doctrine on the very authority of St. Peter as the Vicar of Christ. For them, St. Peter is just one of the apostles and neither the head of Christ’s Church nor the chief of the apostles. But does the holy Catholic Church really hold the true foundation of God’s Church?
Our Lord Jesus Christ told Simon bar-Jonah, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 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. 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” (Matthew 16:17-19).
Notice that on the biblical passage above, it is very clear that Christ talked someone else and not to Himself, then He appointed that someone who is Simon to be the Rock where His Church be founded. Still unconvinced?
Take a closer look at the key verse: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church” (Matthew 16:18). Disputes about this passage have always been related to the meaning of the term “rock.” To whom, or to what, does it refer? Since Simon’s new name of Peter itself means rock, the sentence could be rewritten as: “You are Rock and upon this rock I will build my Church.” The play on words seems obvious, but commentators wishing to avoid what follows from this — namely the establishment of the papacy — have suggested that the word rock could not refer to Peter but must refer to his profession of faith or to Christ.
From the grammatical point of view, the phrase “this rock” must relate back to the closest noun. Peter’s profession of faith (You are the Christ, the Son of the living God) is two verses earlier, while his name, a proper noun, is in the immediately preceding clause.
Opponents of the Catholic interpretation of Matthew 16:18 sometimes argue that in the Greek text the name of the apostle is Petros, while “rock” is rendered as petra. They claim that the former refers to a small stone, while the latter refers to a massive rock; so, if Peter was meant to be the massive rock, why isn’t his name Petra?
Note that Christ did not speak to the disciples in Greek. He spoke Aramaic, the common language of Palestine at that time. In that language the word for rock is kepha, which is what Jesus called him in everyday speech (note that in John 1:42 he was told, “You will be called Cephas”). What Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 was: “You are Kepha, and upon this kepha I will build my Church.”
But what’s with the change of name?
Peter’s preeminent position among the apostles was symbolized at the very beginning of his relationship with Christ. At their first meeting, Christ told Simon that his name would thereafter be Peter, which translates as “Rock” (John 1:42). The startling thing was that — aside from the single time that Abraham is called a “rock” (Hebrew: Tsur; Aramaic: Kepha) in Isaiah 51:1-2 — in the Old Testament only God was called a rock. The word rock was not used as a proper name in the ancient world. Indeed, why call Simon the fisherman “Rock”? Christ was not given to meaningless gestures, and neither were the Jews as a whole when it came to names. Giving a new name meant that the status of the person was changed, as when Abram’s name was changed to Abraham (Genesis 17:5), Jacob’s to Israel (Genesis 32:28), Eliakim’s to Joakim (2 Kgs. 23:34), or the names of the four Hebrew youths—Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah to Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 1:6-7). But no Jew had ever been called “Rock.” The Jews would give other names taken from nature, such as Deborah (“bee,” Genesis 35:8), and Rachel (“ewe,” Genesis 29:16), but never “Rock.” In the New Testament James and John were nicknamed Boanerges, meaning “Sons of Thunder,” by Christ, but that was never regularly used in place of their original names, and it certainly was not given as a new name. But in the case of Simon bar-Jonah, his new name Kephas (Greek: Petros) definitely replaced the old.
As a result, two important things were told the apostle Peter:
“Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19b). Here Peter was singled out for the authority that provides for the forgiveness of sins and the making of disciplinary rules. Later the apostles as a whole would be given similar power (Matthew 18:18), but here Peter received it in a special sense.
He alone also was promised something else:
“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19a). In ancient times, keys were the hallmark of authority. A walled city might have one great gate; and that gate had one great lock, worked by one great key. To be given the key to the city—an honor that exists even today, though its import is lost—meant to be given free access to and authority over the city. The city to which Peter was given the keys was the heavenly city itself. This symbolism for authority is used elsewhere in the Bible (see also Isaiah 22:22, Revelation 1:18).
Finally, after the resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples and asked Peter three times:
“Do you love me?” (John 21:15-17). In repentance for his threefold denial, Peter gave a threefold affirmation of love. Then Christ, the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14), gave Peter the authority he earlier had promised: “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17). This specifically included the other apostles, since Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15), the word “these” referring to the other apostles who were present (John 21:2). Thus was completed the prediction made just before Jesus and his followers went for the last time to the Mount of Olives.
Immediately before his denials were predicted, Peter was told, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again [after the denials], strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31-32). It was Peter whom Christ prayed for that his faith would not fail and that he would be a guide for the others; and his prayer, being perfectly efficacious, was sure to be fulfilled.
See? What else is needed to prove Peter’s authority as the Vicar of Jesus Christ?
There is ample evidence in the New Testament that Peter was first in authority among the apostles:
⚫ Whenever they were named, Peter headed the list (Matthew 10:1-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16, Acts 1:13); sometimes the apostles were referred to as “Peter and those who were with him” (Luke 9:32).
⚫ Peter was the one who generally spoke for the apostles (Matthew 18:21, Mark 8:29, Luke 12:41, John 6:68-69), and he figured in many of the most dramatic scenes (Matthew 14:28-32, 17:24-27; Mark 10:23-28).
⚫ On Pentecost, it was Peter who first preached to the crowds (Acts 2:14-40), and he worked the first healing in the Church age (Acts 3:6-7).
⚫ It is Peter’s faith that will strengthen his brethren (Luke 22:32) and he is given Christ’s flock to shepherd (John 21:17).
⚫ An angel was sent to announce the resurrection to Peter (Mark 16:7), and the risen Christ first appeared to him (Luke 24:34).
⚫ Peter headed the meeting that elected Matthias to replace Judas (Acts 1:13-26), and he received the first converts (Acts 2:41).
⚫ Peter inflicted the first punishment (Acts 5:1-11), and excommunicated the first heretic (Acts 8:18-23).
⚫ Peter led the first council in Jerusalem (Acts 15), and announced the first dogmatic decision and not James (Acts 15:7-11).
⚫ It was to Peter that the revelation came that Gentiles were to be baptized and accepted as Christians (Acts 10:46-48).