One of the great points of division between Catholic and Protestant Christians is interpreting something Jesus said to Peter. In Matthew 16:16-19, Jesus spoke of a “rock” that He would build His church upon. Catholic theologians argue that Peter is the rock. Protestant theologians argue that Jesus is the rock and Peter’s confession of that fact is the foundation of true Christianity.
The conclusion that Jesus Christ is the Rock upon which the church is founded is common in Scripture. In the book of Psalms alone, God is referred to as our rock at least 16 times, including Psalm 18:2, “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock…” Psalm 18:31 adds, “who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God?” Isaiah also repeatedly refers to God as our rock, including Isaiah 30:29 which speaks of, “the Lord” as “the Rock of Israel.” The theme of God as our rock continues in the New Testament as 1 Corinthians 10:4 speaks of the rock that provided for God’s people in the Old Testament saying “the Rock was Christ.” Peter himself says that Jesus Christ is the rock in 1 Peter 2:8 calling Him “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”
Jesus also told a parable that to build anything you want to last (like a global movement called Christianity), it is best to found it on the strong foundation of a “rock” (Luke 6:48). Ephesians 2:20 says the first rock, or cornerstone of Christianity, is Jesus Christ, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…”
The conclusion that the rock of the church is the confession that Jesus Christ is the rock also finds support in the early church. The New Bible Dictionary says, “either Peter’s faith or the confession of Peter’s faith that Jesus is the Christ is in fact the ‘rock’ is a very early Christian interpretation. For example, the early church father Origen says, “Rock means every disciple of Christ.”
It deserves noting that even if someone believes that the rock on which the church is founded is somehow Peter instead of Jesus, that view does not endorse or even infer the subsequent teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. To move on from Jesus’ statement to an entire hierarchy and tradition that the Roman bishops are the successors of Peter, and that in every generation the Catholic Church through the succession of popes who have Peter’s same basic spiritual authority, essentially hold the keys to the kingdom of God with uniquely divine authority on earth, is a bit like trying to jump a skateboard over the Grand Canyon. It’s an incredible leap.
(1) A. F. Walls, “Peter,” ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 907.
To download the free e-book ODD LIFE: Good God which is a study in 1 Peter for individuals, groups, and families from Pastor Mark click HERE. To listen to Pastor Mark’s 9 sermons on 1 Peter preached in the summer of 2020, click HERE. These and other resources are made possible by our ministry partners who support Real Faith as a Bible teaching ministry of Mark Driscoll Ministries to whom we say THANK YOU!