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Matthew 16:18 - The Pope
Victor M. Eskew
One of the focal points of Catholicism is the popery. The pope occupies the position of God’s representative on earth to Catholics. This single, human head makes laws and rules to be obeyed by all Roman Catholics. The pope’s decrees supposedly come from God Himself.
The Catholic Church claims that the position of pope has always existed. They assert that Peter was the very first pope of the Church. One verse they use to “substantiate” this claim is Matthew 16:18. In the passage, Jesus is speaking to Peter, and says: “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Jesus said He was going to build His church upon a rock. Since the name “Peter” means “rock,” the Catholics claim that the church was built upon Peter. He, therefore, becomes its foundational stone. As such, surely he was the head of the church in the first century.
In order to answer this teaching, we need to stay in the context. Jesus had asked His disciples: “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” (Matt. 16:13). The response was varied and wrong. Jesus, then, posed the same question to the disciples: “But whom say ye that I am?” (Matt. 16:15). In his usual, impetuous manner, Peter answered: “Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). Jesus commended Peter’s words. He acknowledged that they had been given to him from the Father in heaven. It was at this point that Jesus said He would build His church upon a rock.
In the Greek language, we find Jesus making a play upon words in His declaration. Peter was the one who made the good confession. His name does mean “rock,” but he was not the rock upon which the church was to be built. The word “Peter” is “petros” in the Greek language. It means “a piece of a rock.” The word “rock,” on the other hand, is “petra,” and means “a mass of a rock, a ledge rock.” Jesus did not build His church upon a piece of a rock. He built it upon a massive foundation stone. The church is not built upon Peter, but it is built upon what Peter confessed, the fact that Jesus is the Son of God. “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 3:11).
Peter was a great apostle, but he was only a man. He was not a rock large enough upon which the church could rest. Jesus, on the other hand, is a firm foundation. He is a worthy foundation because He is the Son of God. Those who have the church resting upon Peter have the church mounted upon a weak and unreliable foundation. Peter never occupied that position. He was just one apostle among twelve.