Monday, June 21, 2010

What's in a word? Nothing less than the foundation of the Church

Some who seek to assert the authority of the Roman Catholic Church over the rest of Christendom appeal to Matthew 16:18-19, claiming that here Christ founds His Church on Peter, making any church that does not follow in succession from him illegitimate.

Here's the passage:
And I tell you, you are Peter, 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.
Some will argue that Peter means "rock," so they conclude (self-servingly) that Jesus will build His Church on Peter.  The only problem is, Peter is "petros" in the Greek, and "rock" is "petra."  So a better reading of that verse would be:
And I tell you, you are petros, and on this petra I will build my church . . . .
So, the Greek in Matthew makes a distinction between Peter and "this rock."  To what was Christ referring then?  Jesus was founding His Church on the Divinely-inspired confession Peter just made as to who the Christ is:
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people 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?"
Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven (Matthew 16:13-17).
The "rock" on which the Church is founded is Christ.  Who is Christ?  Jesus, "the Son of the living God."  Peter's confession is the foundation of the Church (a fact that would later be misused by the religious authorities to murder Jesus for "blasphemy").

Below is my reply to Kevin Bold, someone who took issue with my pointing out what the Biblical text actually says.
The oldest extant manuscript copies of Matthew's Gospel are in Greek. I've got the Robinson/Pierpont Byzantine Greek New Testament w/Strong's Numbers here; the words in Matthew 16:18 are "petros" (πετρος G4074) and "petra" (πετρα G4073). Jesus doesn't say "on you I will build my Church," but "on this petra . . . ."

"keys" (κλεις G2807) is in verse 19 of Chapter 16, as I indicated.

The church in Jerusalem "moved its headquarters" to Rome? The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem traces its line of succession to the Jewish Christian bishops of Jerusalem, of whom James was the first (martyred 62 AD). The Catholic Encyclopedia states that:
During the first Christian centuries the church at this place was the centre of Christianity in Jerusalem, "Holy and glorious Sion, mother of all churches" (Intercession in "St. James' Liturgy", ed. Brightman, p. 54). Certainly no spot in Christendom can be more venerable than the place of the Last Supper, which became the first Christian church.
"Catholic" means "universal;" it was a term used for the entire Christian Church; the three ecumenical creeds professed throughout Christendom use "catholic," but they aren't calling themselves "Roman Catholic" (imagine a Lutheran calling himself "Roman Catholic"!).

"Roman Catholic" didn't arise until the split between East and West in 1054, when the Patriarch of Jerusalem (and the other Eastern Patriarchs) formed the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Patriarch of Rome formed the Roman Catholic Church (called "Catholic" by Aquinas in the thirteenth century).