13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Mt 16:13–19). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.
Let the arguments begin! I remember, as an Anglican, every three years this scripture would come around on our three year lectionary. I’m not proud of it, and I have confessed it, but in my early days as an Anglican priest I tried to debunk the fact that this is Christ setting Peter as the head of the disciples, as our first pope. My line of very thin reasoning went like this. Jesus is speaking in the plural. “ou” in Greek, can be taken either plural of singular. Was Jesus speaking with the apostles, plural, or Peter singular? Was our Lord saying, in plural, ya’ll are the “cephas’ the name of rock in Aramaic; was Jesus calling the whole band of the disciples the foundation of the faith, therefore giving conciliarism as the model for Church leadership?
I have to say, I always had a gut feeling when I preached on this, like no other subject I preached on, a gut feeling that told me not to preach what I had written. Through the years this got bad enough where I would preach the other scripture passages, new or old, to avoid preaching on this subject.
But my feelings are non sequitur, we need fact. We have it. Lets first look at scripture. Yes the greek pronoun “ou” can be plural and singlular, second person singular and second person plural. So we have a potential conflict. What do we (almost every denomination) do about conflicts within scripture? We look elsewhere in the Bible for clarification. Has God ever appointed a council? Jesus took disciples, a word given carefully as disciples translates “student”. He did not take board members. God appointed Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, every Judge (singular), Saul, David, Solomon, and every prophet to lead His people. Did God ever convene a council without a single clearly appointed servant, or vicar, to lead? I saw many synods in the Episcopal church claiming to be true councils of equals only to see them fail to proclaim Jesus as the way and the truth. God has never convened a council without a clearly appointed leader. So biblically, we cannot say with any precedent that Jesus was creating a council, as God has never acted in that fashion. So we have two possible translations, I say we take the one that is within the prevailing theology of Holy Scripture. If you choose otherwise you put yourself above every ecumenical council and place yourself as pope, but we will get to that option later.
The second and main argument is the word Peter. Petros. We have all been told that this is a common greek word play. Petros and Petra. “You are Petros and on this petra I will build my church.” Here is where the real downfall of Catholicism is! Or not. Jesus did not speak Greek. Now lets not get into an argument on whether or not Jesus “could” have spoken greek…whether or not God in the person of the Son “could” have spoken greek is non sequitur, very few of His disciples would have understood Him if He did. Secondly, the word play comes from ancient greek, Koine dialect, spoken at the time of Alexander the Great. The word play does not cooperate with the greek that was in use in Jesus’ time. But lets not forget, Jesus spoke Aramaic. “Cephas” or in the form referring to rock, “cephas”, or in the plural, :cephas”. You get where I am going here, there is no word play with a word that is the same referring to Peter or the actual substance, a rock. Jesus was not being clever here, He was specifically renaming Peter for very precise reasons. God has done this before, changing names. Lets look into the bible. God, when appointing a leader, often changed their name. Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, Sarai to Sarah, He did this often to denote a new person has been created to replace the old. Peter was Simon, Simon Barjona, a loud mouth coward. He would be a new man in Christ, one who would proclaim the faith boldly, even to his death upside down on a cross.
…and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Peter was chosen to lead the Church by Christ, because God has always chosen one to lead. Peter was chosen for His reception of the faith gifted to him. Peter was chosen because God knows best who should lead and who should follow. And here is where so many turn into protestors; (protestants) “why is this man in charge?” “Why not this woman over here, or this man over there?” So many have issues with this “man” leading us. Subjection is difficult, especially when it is done by choice. (we all accept the Catholic Church by an act of will, even though we are called)
But if not the pope, who? Who answers the hard questions in scripture; your pastor? As a former pastor, let me warn you; we are nothing if we answer of our own intelligence. I always stood on the ecumenical councils, and to be honest, the last 7 years on my ministry, on papal teachings. God gave me all form of charisms to raise me to be able to tend to His flock, but the ability to know more than 8000 years of biblical scholars, not a chance. But so many pastors do just this. They decide they have found something that all those thousands of years of theologians missed. Not only missed, but had blatantly wrong.
Example: Chose something that was sinful 25 years ago but now is considered acceptable; just one, I know your mind just flooded with examples! So here is the sin we have chosen, one that was agreed upon by every denomination to be against God, until the last 25 years, and then we suddenly discovered that scripture, tradition, teaching, and 6000 years of theology was blatantly wrong. Hate the sin, love the sinner is our task here, but we would rather recreate God in our own image, changing Him as we progress through life. When we ”find” these supposed truths, and proclaim them to be of God, are we not acting as a pope ourselves? Are we not saying that we are now infallible? All the taunts we use to tear down papal authority we now use to build up our own absolute sovereignty.
When I look at myself, I see many talents in the realm of ministry, I can speak, I can teach, I can be a shepherd; but never would I presume to read the Bible and act against it thinking I knew better. We must submit. Fighting can be so tiresome, especially the fights we have with ourselves. Lets leave the arguments behind and simply submit to the rightful authority Christ has left for us. There is such peace in the Catholic Church, I said this when I first laid down my Anglican orders and I will say it again some 5 months later. This is a peaceful place, and it is because this is how Christ meant us to worship, within His Catholic Church.