Was Peter “the rock” On Which Jesus Built His Church?

On its way to my house (with free two-day shipping thanks to Amazon Prime) is the recently published book by Martin Hengel entitled “Saint Peter:  The Underestimated Apostle.”  The book attempts to make a solid case for the importance and necessity of Peter in the early church in contrast to the common minimalist approach taken by many scholars and churches.


Below is a small excerpt from an article I wrote in 2007.  I figured it was on-topic to reprint it here.

“One classic example of the knee-jerk effect is the varied interpretations of Matthew 16:18.  The text reads, “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.”  This text is, of course, crucial to the Roman Catholic Church.  Primarily on the basis of this verse and historic tradition concerning the life and death of Peter, the Roman Catholic Church understands Peter to be the first bishop of Rome and thereby lays the foundation for the papacy and the Catholic understanding of apostolic succession.  The knee-jerk effect comes into play when conservative protestant Christians ignore all potential interpretations of this verse because of a innate fear of seeming to be “too Catholic.”  Because of this fear, most Southern Baptists sitting in the pews of our good churches would argue that when Christ says that the church will be built on this “rock,” the “rock” he refers to is the confession that Peter had just made concerning Jesus being the Christ.  I am not suggesting that such an interpretation is wrong.  But surely a more natural reading is that Jesus is, in fact, referring to Peter, one that is confirmed by the rest of Scripture.  This is the knee-jerk effect in full form.  It is possible to hold to this interpretation (as I do) without necessarily holding that this reflects the foundation of the papacy or apostolic succession as the Catholic Church holds.  But we are reticent to do so.”

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One Reply to “Was Peter “the rock” On Which Jesus Built His Church?”

  1. Maybe it’s not an either/or. Like you said, it seems more natural that Jesus is referring to Peter, but it is specifically Peter as confessor of Christ. Not just Peter, the man. But Peter, the man who confesses Christ so clearly. So the Church is built not just on an abstract confession, nor upon a human being. But upon a living office of the ministry, the office which proclaims Christ, and to which the keys of Heaven have been given. … Just reflectin’

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