The Keys to the Stone – Bible Misunderstandings

OK.  I was going to go on to my next verse to take a deeper look at, but Will asked for an explanation of my offhand comment that Matthew 16:18 doesn’t establish Peter as the first Pope, so I will oblige him and anyone else who was curious.  This necessitates a look at the larger context of this passage and the illumination of a couple of extra passages.  The larger context for the immediate verse under concern is Matthew 16:13-20:

13When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

14They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

17Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18And 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. 19I 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.” 20Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.

Now, we know that Jesus gave Peter that name, but we have no indication that it was given to him at this moment.  Jesus is indeed making a play on the words for Peter and for rock in Greek, but He isn’t doing it to infer or imply that Peter is the rock He is speaking of.  Much is made of the mention of the keys and binding and loosing authority here, but this same phrase reappears in Matthew 18 and it is clear there that Jesus isn’t giving some special authority to Peter alone or even just to the disciples.  Look at Matthew 18:15-20:

15“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

18“I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

19“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

This is how the church was to handle disputes in the body.  This passage is pretty well known also, but most people separate verses 18-20 from 15-17 and they belong together.  Jesus is telling the disciples that the authority that belonged to the religious leaders of the Jews would belong to them, but not only to them.  Every believer would be a priest, and the agreement of two or three believers would create binding judgment and authority in a “legal sense.”  His parable of the vineyard in Matthew 21:33-46 confirms this understanding.  In Matthew 21:43, Jesus tells the religious leaders that their authority will be removed from them and given to those who “will produce fruit” or in other words will do what God requires of them.  (This is another verse that gets some abuse as it is used to suggest that God replaced Israel with the Church by some)  The binding and loosing that Jesus is referring to is the authority that God gave to his priests among His people.  But now, everyone is a priest.  Which brings us full circle to why this passage doesn’t set up Peter as the Pope.

The parable of the tenants of the vineyard in Matthew 21 makes reference to the passage from Psalm 118:22-23 that the stone the builders rejected became the cornerstone or “chief stone.”  Peter certainly understood who that Stone was and he knew that it wasn’t him.  Peter wrote a letter that we have in our Bibles where he explained this far better.  1 Peter 2:4-10 says this:

4As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— 5you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6For in Scripture it says:
“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.” 7Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,
“The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone,” 8and,
“A stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.

9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Verse 8 confirms that the rock and the cornerstone are one and the same, and every passage in the New Testament that quotes these verses,(and there are a bunch) acknowledges it as Jesus Christ without fail.  Peter doesn’t see himself as the “rock” of the church.  He sees himself as just another elder.  He says as much in 1 Peter 5:1-4:

1To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.(emphasis mine)

Peter calls himself a “fellow elder” on the same level with other leaders in the church.  It is wrong to make a claim for him to be anything else.  Peter certainly didn’t see himself this way, based on the testimony of Scripture that is left to us.  Hope that is a satisfactory answer for you guys.  Now you can see why I didn’t go there before.

I want to point out also, that I don’t intend this feature to come across as if I am a know-it-all or something.  I am certainly not perfect.  The passages that I cover in this way are passages that I have studied intently or had opened to me by the benefit of someone elses wisdom.  If someone has a different take on this, I would certainly be open to hear it and discuss it.  Like Paul, I know I have not already attained or already been perfected.  I am just a disciple like you, seeking God’s truth.

P.S.  Next time I am going to discuss the correct meaning of Romans 10:4.

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Categories: Apologetics, Bible Thoughts, Christianity, church, Questions, Roman Catholicism, Truth | Tags: | 8 Comments

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8 thoughts on “The Keys to the Stone – Bible Misunderstandings

  1. OUTSTANDING! I am going to , with your permission, print this out and leave it in the lobby of the church building for our Catholic friends. I could never be so sustinct. Thanks.

  2. Jeff,

    I agree with Willis 100%. What I will never understand (and this is coming from a former Catholic) is how the RCC can somehow get from the Bible that Peter is the rock that the church was built upon. It’s a huge stretch and I’ve tried explaining it to my old Catholic friends.

    I have a post scheduled for tomorrow that talks about the aforementioned keys that Peter was given to the keys Jesus holds in Revelation. It sort of piggybacks off of your last two posts. I’d like your thoughts if you get some time over the weekend.

    Wonderful post, Jeff.

  3. Will,
    You have my permission certainly. What you see above is the product of a few years of studying and searching this question thoroughly in discussion with some Catholic brothers and sisters. Peter’s own words are the hardest to reconcile with the idea that he was “the guy” in the early church. There is no doubt that he was special to Christ, but I think it had a lot to do with the fact that he was a lot like a lot of us.

  4. Joe,
    I will stop by and check it out for sure. The best I can figure, the only way to connect Peter with a rock at all is the fact that his name is a pun for a rock, but it could have just as likely meant he was a big ol’ boy (it fits his personality). Other than that one statement in the gospels, the Rock is used as a reference to Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone. (and I would argue that it is used that way in this statement as well)

  5. It wasn’t Peter that Christ was building the Church upon…but rather Peter’s confession of faith. Which Jesus tells him (Peter) that he couldn’t know that He (Jesus) was the Messiah…without God revealing it to him. Faith is a gift of God.

  6. Steve,
    You are totally right about Peter’s confession coming from faith given by God, but the church isn’t built on that confession either. It is totally built on Jesus Christ, the cornerstone that the builders rejected.

  7. Jeff,

    Yes , He is the cornerstone.

    He IS the confession. In His Word…He is there.

  8. jeff, it’s also worth mentioning the Greek words used in Peter and rock in Mt 16:18. Peter is translated from “petros” meaning “a piece of rock” but the latter is “petra” meaning “a mass of rock” which obviously referring to Jesus Himself.

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