Q - How did we get the first pope? Is it from in the bible when he says "on this rock I will build my church"? I thought that referred to Peter's faith, does it not?
A – The Church’s authority is passed down through the apostles. The head of the apostles was Peter. So, you are correct in saying that his authority comes from Christ as Matthew 16 tells us. But, “the rock” does not refer to his faith. Let me discuss Peter in the rest of the Bible before we get to Matthew 16.
The first thing to notice is that Peter is always regarded as the leader of the 12 apostles, who were always regarded as the leaders of the Church - there really is no debate that Peter was the leader. This makes Peter the head of the Church on earth. He is to act as a defender and protector of what he has been given, the teachings of Christ. Therefore, he doesn’t get to “make it up” or “create” something new. So, we see the role of the Pope from the early Church which continues today.
So, for the Biblical evidence of Peter’s role, we can start with the way the Gospels talk of the apostles. In almost every instance the apostles are listed, Peter is first. This is a way of ranking the apostles for the authors of Scripture.
Also, Peter is given special roles that no other Apostles are given. First, he speaks for the rest of the apostles frequently (e.g., Matt. 18:21, Mark 8:29, Luke 12:41, John 6:68-69). Second, we see Peter take the definitive lead after Pentecost. He is the first to preach, heal, raise from the dead, etc.
Next is we look at the “Council of Jerusalem” where the Church leaders get together in Acts 15 to solve the problem of Gentiles becoming Christians we see Peter stand up, deliver his solution, and then the discussion is over. We also see God give Peter a special revelation in Acts 10 about this.
Then in Luke 22 Peter is told to “strengthen his brothers”. If I am another disciple and Jesus tells us that someone would strengthen me, then I would follow that person closely.
This authority given to Peter is confirmed by Christ at the end of the Gospel of John. In John 21 Peter is the only apostle given the threefold command to feed and tend Christ’s sheep. This is extraordinary commissioning, because no other apostle is given this role as shepherd in such a way.
Now, understanding all of this, let us examine Matt 16. This is what the verse you spoke about says –
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And 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. I 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." Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.
Let us go through this amazing verse slowly. First we see Peter proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah (Christ). Then Jesus does an amazing thing. He tells him he will have a new name - Peter, which means “rock” and that upon this rock the Church will be built. Giving a new name in the Bible is very significant. It shows a new role for the person.
- Abram was made Abraham in order to be the partner in the covenant with Yahweh.
- Jacob’s name is changed to
to show he is a new leader. Israel
With this in mind, understand that “rock” was not a name in ancient Judaism. It is practically unknown for someone to be named “rock”. So, Jesus is doing something new and important here. Peter would want to know why “rock” and not another name. Jesus explains why in the next sentence.
Now, some say the “rock” is Peter’s confession of Jesus as Christ and not Peter himself, as you ask. But, this doesn’t make grammatical sense. The reference would be to the closest noun in the context, not something said far previous to it.
Also, there is an argument that Peter is called a pebble. I quote Catholic Answers:
Opponents of the Catholic interpretation of Matthew 16:18 sometimes argue that in the Greek text the name of the apostle is Petros, while "rock" is rendered as
. They claim that the former refers to a small stone, while the latter refers to a massive rock; so, if Peter was meant to be the massive rock, why isn’t his name petra ? Petra
Note that Christ did not speak to the disciples in Greek. He spoke Aramaic, the common language of
at that time. In that language the word for rock is kepha, which is what Jesus called him in everyday speech (note that in John 1:42 he was told, "You will be called Cephas"). What Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 was: "You are Kepha, and upon this kepha I will build my Church." Palestine
When Matthew’s Gospel was translated from the original Aramaic to Greek, there arose a problem which did not confront the evangelist when he first composed his account of Christ’s life. In Aramaic the word kepha has the same ending whether it refers to a rock or is used as a man’s name. In Greek, though, the word for rock,
, is feminine in gender. The translator could use it for the second appearance of kepha in the sentence, but not for the first because it would be inappropriate to give a man a feminine name. So he put a masculine ending on it, and hence Peter became Petros. petra
Furthermore, the premise of the argument against Peter being the rock is simply false. In first century Greek the words petros and
were synonyms. They had previously possessed the meanings of "small stone" and "large rock" in some early Greek poetry, but by the first century this distinction was gone, as Protestant Bible scholars admit (see D. A. Carson’s remarks on this passage in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Books]). petra
Some of the effect of Christ’s play on words was lost when his statement was translated from the Aramaic into Greek, but that was the best that could be done in Greek. In English, like Aramaic, there is no problem with endings; so an English rendition could read: "You are Rock, and upon thisrock I will build my church."
Consider another point: If the rock really did refer to Christ (as some claim, based on 1 Cor. 10:4, "and the Rock was Christ" though the rock there was a literal, physical rock), why did Matthew leave the passage as it was? In the original Aramaic, and in the English which is a closer parallel to it than is the Greek, the passage is clear enough. Matthew must have realized that his readers would conclude the obvious from "Rock . . . rock."
If he meant Christ to be understood as the rock, why didn’t he say so? Why did he take a chance and leave it up to Paul to write a clarifying text? This presumes, of course, that 1 Corinthians was written after Matthew’s Gospel; if it came first, it could not have been written to clarify it.
The reason, of course, is that Matthew knew full well that what the sentence seemed to say was just what it really was saying. It was Simon, weak as he was, who was chosen to become the rock and thus the first link in the chain of the papacy.
In summary – I think it is quite clear that Peter was the first leader of the Church – the first Pope.