“Who do men say that the Son of man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” -Matthew 16:13-15
When it comes to reading Scripture there is danger in self interpretation, as we touched upon in The Authority and Unity Problem. Holy Scripture requires guidance in how to read it so that we do not lead ourselves astray by its contents. Scripture is dense, serious, crucial, and God-breathed. It should not be taken lightly. And the disunity among Christians should not be taken lightly either.
Christ, with His dialogue with His Apostles in Matthew 16, shows us the importance of interpreting Scripture correctly. He asks them who men say that He is, and they give Him varying answers on behalf of the Jews. The answers are all understandable, but as we know they are not correct.
"Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah"
The Jews who came to these conclusions were not doing so ill-willed, and it could be assumed that the Jews who did come up with these answers that the Apostles are sharing were already following Christ and listening to the teachings of His ministry. But even if not, the Jews came to these conclusions using Scripture to make their connections using evidence to draw comparison between Jesus and figures of the Old Testament. But among the Apostles and all the Jews referred, only one gives the correct answer: Simon. And it was Simon's name alone that was changed, and he alone that was handed the keys to Christ's kingdom. Christ established a vicarial office in His Church with Peter.
Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 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. And I tell you, you are Peter (rock), and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 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.”
The Apostles would have heard all of this and known the reference to Isaiah 22 and the supremacy of the office of Eliakim, who was given the key to the kingdom of David, and who was the representative (vicar) of the king himself. Jesus is the King of kings, the Rabbi and the Messiah, and He has chosen His representative and steward, and the one who is to lead in the continuance of His work after His death: Peter. And upon Peter He was to build His Church, and to Peter the Keys to the Kingdom were bestowed and to no other Apostle.
In Scripture, the king is the ultimate holder and keeper of the keys of the kingdom of David and all of the authority along with it, but he delegates and bestows his power, functions, and authority to a steward. The keys of the kingdom therefore are the image of this proxied authority. They not only opened all of the doors, but they provided access to the store-houses and financial resources under the king. In addition, the keys of the kingdom were worn on a sash that was a ceremonial badge of office. The passage from Isaiah and the customs all reveal that the role of the royal steward was an office given by the king, and that it was a office that was successive in nature—the keys would be passed down to the succeeding steward as a sign of the continuation of this delegated authority of the king.
Peter is declared the steward of the Church, to care for it in Christ's "absence". Jesus establishes His vicar in the same chapter that He begins to share with His Apostles the truth of His coming death (Matt 16:21).
Within Scripture, when a name is changed, it is not lacking significance. For instance, when Abram’s name is changed to Abraham, and Sarai's to Sarah, a covenant was established with them, for they were to be the father and mother of nations. A new name means a new journey, vocation, position, or change in heart or direction. As with Jacob being renamed Israel. It is this New and Final Covenant to whom Peter was bestowed the prime responsibility to lead the Apostles in carrying on the Gospel and spreading it to the nations after the Passion of Christ. He is the leader of the Great Commission.
However, there are arguments submitted by Protestants on the meaning or translation of "rock" in the passage from St. Matthew's Gospel. The claim is that the passage actually says, “you are petros (which they translate as “small rock or stone”) and upon this petra (which they translate as “massive boulder”) I will build my Church.” With this perspective, Peter is the “small rock” and Jesus is the “massive boulder.” But there are some problems with this understanding of this passage from St. Matthews account of the Gospel.
If Christ is not referring to Peter with “upon this rock” then to whom does He refer? Did Christ change Simon's name for no reason? That does not seem like a thing that God nonchalantly does within Scripture. Why would our Lord change His manner of name changing only for this instance while simultaneously speaking of establishing His Church? Why call Peter the Rock and then immediately refer to a completely different rock afterwards, as some arguments would try to claim? This has the elements of a personal blessing and there isn’t clear reference to anything else except Peter. Peter’s faith isn’t referred to in this verse, as some speculate. Christ does not refer to Himself by any explicit manner, though some interpret this passage by inserting that Christ motions to Himself, though this is not in Scripture whatsoever and so is a grand disservice. Even if it is Peter's faith being referred to, if we were to entertain that thought, one’s faith is not apart from one’s person. To refer to an attribute of a person, you are still connecting it to said person. If you say that a politician's charisma won him an election, you wouldn't say that the charisma itself now holds office and that the politician is not involved. What is referred to is “rock”, and Simon's name was just changed to “rock”.
First and foremost, in addressing the Protestant argument on the translation, we have valid and strong reasoning to believe that the Lord Jesus certainly would have been communicating to His apostles in Aramaic in this instance, though St Matthew recored his gospel account in Greek. This is a crucial point. The Baptist biblical scholar, D.A. Carson, writes in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary:
[T]he underlying Aramaic is in this case unquestionable; and most probably kepha was used in both clauses (“you are kepha” and “on this kepha”), since the word was used both for a name and for a “rock.” The Peshitta (written in Syriac, a language cognate with a dialect of Aramaic) makes no distinction between the words in the two clauses.
Secondly, petra, the Greek word for rock which happened to have a feminine ending, was quite a common term used in Koine Greek (the dialect of Greek that the authors of the New Testament would have used when using Greek), and was utilized around fifteen times throughout the New Testament to indicate “rock,” “rocks,” or “rocky”. Petros, however, is an ancient Greek term that was not commonly used. In fact, the only time we see it used in the Greek versions of the New Testament is when writers are referring to Peter alone after Jesus changed his name from Simon to Peter.
So St. Matthew, writing in Greek, could have used petra for “rock,” but in doing so he would have to confront an issue. Since petra is a feminine noun it would have been improper to use it for a man’s name. Therefore by replacing the feminine ending with a masculine one he uses petros, which replaced the common petra in order to refer to Peter. However, both petros and petra have the exact same root and the same definition—rock. So, there is no difference between the two except for the gendered ending of the word.
Finally, Oscar Cullman, an editor for Gerhard Kittel’s Greek Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, which is one of the most well respected and referenced Greek dictionaries used by Evangelical Protestants, in a comment about Matthew 16:18 states:
The obvious pun which has made its way into the Greek text . . . suggests a material identity between petra and Petros . . . as it is impossible to differentiate strictly between the two words. . . . Petros himself is this petra, not just his faith or his confession. . . . The idea of the Reformers that he is referring to the faith of Peter is quite inconceivable. . . . For there is no reference here to the faith of Peter. Rather, the parallelism of “thou art Rock” and “on this rock I will build” shows that the second rock can only be the same as the first. It is thus evident that Jesus is referring to Peter, to whom he has given the name Rock. . . . To this extent Roman Catholic exegesis is right and all Protestant attempts to evade this interpretation are to be rejected.
So, Peter is the Rock on which Christ is to build His Church. And he is established as the steward of this Church.
Let us now look to Luke 22. After the Lord and the Apostles had eaten of the Passover meal, there was a dispute among the Twelve as to which of them was the "greatest". Christ observed this dispute among them and He used this opportunity to lead them to deeper and better understanding of their roles by saying:
“The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have continued with me in my trials; and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” - Luke 22:25-30
We see here that Christ did not correct them and declare that there was not a greatest, nor that there was not a leader among them, even though he draws a comparison to their bickering on “the greatest” to that of the Gentile kings. He makes a contrast to what the leadership of “the greatest among them” is to look like within the Church, saying that it is one of service and humility. They would recognize and confess that the absolute greatest in the room was Christ, and acknowledge that Christ was here to serve and that He placed Himself in a humbling position, even though He is Lord of all. Therefore, the greatest among the apostles would be in a position of service to the others, modeled after Christ (not to be Christ).
Jesus refers to their thrones in His Kingdom that He Himself "assigns" to them. So He is not refuting the position of leadership in His Church here. From this we know that the Apostles are set apart from other Believers by their office, their position, and that there is a leader among the Apostles, and it is one of service to the Church.
Directly following the above mentioned passage where Christ speaks of leadership among them, starting right in Luke 22:31-32 Christ immediately addresses Peter:
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you all, that he might sift you all like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.”
Christ tells Peter that He has prayed for him specifically in light of Satan's wanting to have them all. The "you" in "I have prayed for you" is the singular "you". Peter is being set apart yet again in the presence of the Twelve and established as the leader, and the one who Christ prays for will strengthen the rest by his leadership.
This setting apart of Peter is acknowledged among the Twelve, for even when the Gospel writers list the Apostles, Peter is listed first each time (Matt 10:1-4, Mark 3:13-19, Luke 6:12-16, Acts 1:18). In the account recorded by St. Matthew, he makes the point to say “First” before beginning with Simon Peter in the list. We can see and know that there is significance in the order of listing of the apostles because Judas is always placed at the bottom of each list.
Now with this all in mind, let us finally look to John 21, but in doing so keep in mind Luke 5, when Christ and Peter meet. In Luke's account, if you couple it with Matthew 4, Peter is with 3 other future disciples: Andrew (his brother), James, and John. But it is Peter who is spoken to directly:
He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
This was the first of many times chronologically that Peter is addressed while in the presence of other disciples explicitly and directly. His actions and words represent those with him. He is written about in such a way that he speaks on their behalf. Jesus addresses no other man here, except Simon. No other man responds verbally to Christ, except Simon. Christ is going to make them fisher of men, but more specifically Peter. This meeting of Peter and the Lord couples with John 21 in which Jesus continues this living parable in order to lead Peter, and also His other Apostles that are present, into deeper understanding of His Will for them.
In John 21, Simon Peter says to those with him: “I am going fishing”. The Apostles present respond: “We will go with you” (John 21:3). They caught nothing until the Risen Christ appears on the shore and tells them where to cast their net; the net being a symbol for the Kingdom and the Church throughout the Gospels. Such as in Matthew 13:47 which says:
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind; when it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into vessels but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age.
Upon following the guidance of the Man on the shore, they receive in their net a multitude of fish which made it impossible to haul all the way back to shore, even with all those present pulling at the net (John 21:6). Once St. John recognizes it is the Risen Lord upon the beach, Peter swims to Him.
Jesus then asks for the fish that were caught to be brought in, and Peter alone answers this request. What Peter could not do with a group of Apostles before, he was able to do now at the command and request of Christ, and “the net was not torn” (John 21:11). Unlike their first meeting when the net in fact did break under Peter's care. Peter then in particular is asked if he loves the Lord, and subsequently told “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep” after each declaration of Love. (John 21:15-17). The Good Shepherd is simultaneously loving Peter and reconciling with him despite Peter's three denials, and He is asking Peter alone to be the shepherd to His flock. All of the Apostles except John ran and abandoned Christ during His Passion not wishing to be caught with Him, but it is Peter specifically who is taken aside in a special manner while in their presence and reunited with the Lord in this way. Peter is being reminded of his office given him in Matthew 16 and told what He is to be for the Faithful in the days and years to come.
Peter is thus established as the Rock of the ministry for the High Priest who is also the Cornerstone, steward (vicar) for the King of all kings, and shepherd of the sheep belonging to the Good Shepherd of this infant Church by Christ. So what does this mean for the Church? We have a shepherd here on earth who, by his office, keeps the Faithful within the nets that will not tear. And by being under the care of this fisherman shepherd, who is a Rock alongside the Cornerstone, we will be led and gathered to the shores of eternity upon stable ground.
Continuation can be found in Sola Scriptura IV: The Universal Interpreter, apart of a four part series on Sola Scriptura