Summary: Matthew 16:13-20 What does this passage actually say and not say to us?
Prelude, Purpose, Plan
Protestants, Orthodox and Catholics largely agree on perhaps 95% of the most important teachings of Christianity. Why do we drift from the message that Jesus taught into partisanship and graceless rivalry? For instance, how do we deal with the claim by Rome of exclusive church authority descended from the Apostle Peter? A common proof-text is Matthew 16:13-20. What does this passage actually say and not say to us?
1. Matthew 16:13 Caesarea Philippi
In Matthew 16:13 we read, “When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’” Caesarea Philippi was a city built on a rock to honor Caesar Augustus who called himself the son of a god. The imagery and the contrast with brutal human leadership were evident. In contrast to Caesar, the leaders of the Church of God were not to elevate themselves above their fellows, but become servants of all. The authority of deciding church matters was given to Peter but not to him alone. Jesus later explained that the other Apostles also carried decision-making authority (Matthew 18:18). The rock we build Christian ministry on is Jesus Christ not people.
2. Matthew 16:15-17 Who do We Say He Is
In Matthew 16:15 Jesus asked his disciples, “But who do you say I am?” The answer to that question defines us. Peter answered it and he was named after the Rock of our Salvation. Are we like Peter, rock of the Rock? Some things about God are revealed to us by God alone. What a shame that this passage is overshadowed by those who wish to promote their own flesh and blood church leadership. Yet, when we understand who Jesus is, when that is revealed to us from our Father in heaven, then we too are Rock of the Rock and we receive the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
3. Matthew 16:16 Origen’s View of the Rock
Origen commented on Matthew 16:16 writing, ‘if we too have said like Peter, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," not as if flesh and blood had revealed it unto us, but by light from the Father in heaven having shone in our heart, we become a Peter, and to us there might be said by the Word, "Thou art Peter," etc. For a rock is every disciple of Christ of whom those drank who drank of the spiritual rock which followed them, and upon every such rock is built every word of the church… all bear the surname of "rock" who are the imitators of Christ...’
reference: ANTE-NICENE FATHERS, VOLUME 9, BOOK XII, 10
4. Matthew 16:18 Peter was Rocky not Pope
We are called Christians because we believe in Christ. We could also be called Rocks of the Rock of our salvation, Jesus. That’s how many early Church fathers saw Peter’s faith in Jesus who is the cornerstone in the Church’s foundation of prophets and apostles (Ephesians 2:20). Jesus nicknamed Cephas as Rock (Peter) just as followers of Christ are named Christian. There is nothing in Matthew 16:18 declaring Peter as first in succession of men carrying sole authority over the entire Church. Nothing in the Bible or in early church writings universally supports the dogma of a Roman papacy as the sole Christian authority throughout the rest of Church history.