This is the first of a 3-part series responding to Nathan Barker’s article entitled “Was Peter the First Pope?”. In it Nathan makes the following statement:
The whole Roman Catholic structure is based on three false presuppositions:

1. That the text of Mathew 16:16-20 means that Peter was the foundation of the Church, that the Church was built on him;

2. That Peter went to Rome and was the first bishop in Rome;

3. That Peter s successors are the bishops of Rome under the primacy of the Pope.

If even one of these presuppositions is a lie, then the Church of Rome has no foundation. Biblically speaking all three presuppositions are fabrications, as we will show.
Therefore, we will deal with all three of these “presuppositions” in some detail, beginning in this article with the first one. Nate’s words will be in blue. The passage in question is Matthew 16:16-20:
“Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’”

[Nate] Whatever others perceived Him to be, plainly, the disciples had a distinct knowledge of Him as Peter responded spontaneously on their behalf. The Lord attributes his intuitive knowledge that He was The Christ (Anointed-Messiah) and The Son of the Living God (Co-eternal with the Father and therefore likewise God) to a revelation from His Father in heaven.

[Clay] Already there is an error in his logic. When one begins with a false premise, what usually results is that any subsequent statements built upon this false premise are also false. Specifically, the statement that “Whatever others perceived Him to be, plainly, the disciples had a distinct knowledge of Him” is starkly unbiblical. There is no biblical indication that the disciples knew that Jesus was the Messiah. In fact, they appear to have thought the Messiah was someone else entirely!
“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets’. (Mt 16:13-14)
On what basis does Nate claim that the disciples had “a distinct knowledge” of Jesus as the Messiah? There is no scriptural evidence of this; in fact, Peter was the first to be told that this revelation had not come from men (i.e., other disciples) but rather from the Father. Nate has made an unbiblical claim, and so his argument fails.

[Nate] So the Lord responded to Peter in particular and testified of the origin of the revelation and declared that this profession would become the rock, or foundation stone, upon which He would build His Church. Upon this rock can only refer to this revelation, which was clearly expressed in Peter s profession. This cannot be argued against, as it is the very concluding subject of the Lord s charge to the disciples,

[Clay] Wrong. First of all, while his revelation did indeed come from God, you cannot separate Peter’s confession from himself – it is an extension of Peter. Second of all, the only other incident in which Jesus is identified as the Messiah is quite different from Peter’s. In John 1:48-51, Nathanael gets a very different reaction from Jesus when he exclaims, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Note that Jesus does NOT bless Nathanael. Jesus does NOT change Nathanael’s name to mean “rock”. Jesus does NOT give Nathanael the key of the kingdom. Jesus does NOT give Nathanael the authority to bind and loose. Four very significant things Jesus did for Peter that He did NOT do for Nathanael. Protestant John Broadus disagrees with Nate's interpretation:
"As Peter means 'rock', the natural interpretation is that 'upon this rock' means upon thee. No other explanation would probably at present day be attempted...But there is a play upon words, understand as you may. It is an even more far-fetched and harsh play on words if we understand the rock to be Christ; and a very feeble and almost unmeaning play upon words if the rock is Peter's confession" (Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, p. 355)"
[Nate] To hold the view that Peter himself is the rock, is to deliberately pervert the plain sense of the Lord s own words.

[Clay] Indeed, let us revisit the passage again. After Peter speaks for all of the disciples, Jesus turns solely to him and says:
“Blessed are YOU, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to YOU, but my Father in heaven. And I tell YOU, YOU are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give YOU the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whatever YOU bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever YOU loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 16:17-19)
That’s right, 7 times Jesus speaks to Peter alone in the singular form of the word “you” in blessing him, changing his name, giving him the keys of the kingdom, and giving him the authority to bind and loose. Jesus most certainly did not mean to address Peter 7 times but then turn around and say, “but on this confession I will build my church.” It is actually Nate's interpretation which would serve to “pervert the plain sense of what Jesus said". The Greek phrase, “on this rock” is epi tautee tee petra. The word tautee means “this” – it is the demonstrative adjective which specifies someone most closely associated with “rock” in the sentence. Not only does tautee mean “this”, it actually is used in an even more forceful way, “this very” or “this same”. For example, “let every man abide in the same (tautee) calling in which he was called.” (1 Cor 7:20, see also Acts 13:33, 2 Cor 8:6, 9:5). The phrase “this very” is used in Luke 12:20, “This very (tautee) night your soul is required of you” (see also Acts 27:23). Therefore, Matthew 16:18 could be translated as “you are rock and on this very rock I will build my church.” As Robert Sungenis writes, “The Greek word tautee can also serve as a demonstrative pronoun if it does not have a noun following. In this instance the rendering would have been “you are Peter and upon this (tautee) I will build my church.” Here we see that the demonstrative pronoun would naturally refer back to the nearest referent, Peter (a rock), upon which Jesus would build his church. In light of this possible usage, the addition of “rock” may just reinforce that tautee, as a demonstrative adjective, is denoting a connection between “Peter” and “rock”. (Jesus, Peter, and the Keys, p 24). To quote Protestant scholar John Broadus again:
"Let it be observed that Jesus could not here mean himself by the rock, consistently with the image, because he is the builder. To say 'I will build' would be a very confused image. The suggestion of some expositors that in saying 'thou art Peter and on this rock' he pointed at himself, involves an artificiality which to some minds is repulsive." (Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, p. 356)

[Nate] To purport that the Church was built on a man, and not the revelation from God, is to insult the wisdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.

[Clay] It must be made clear that Peter’s position is in no way meant to take the place of Jesus, who is indeed the cornerstone of the faith. Never before had a person been named “Rock” before, but his primacy and "rockness" is through the power of Jesus Christ, NOT instead of Him, indeed, "for this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named" (Eph 3:15). There are two scriptural examples to consider:

1) No one would disagree that Jesus is the foundation of the faith; however, in Ephesians 2:20, the apostles and prophets are ALSO called the foundation. Is there a contradiction here?

2) No one would disagree that Jesus is the rock of our faith as well; however, in Isaiah 51:1, Abraham is ALSO described as a rock. Is there a contradiction here?

No, there is no contradiction, because any “rockness” or “foundation-hood” possessed by the apostles or Abraham or Peter is of a subordinate nature to Christ, the supreme foundation. Just as Abraham was the rock of Israel in the OT(Is 51), Peter was the rock of the new Israel, in the NT (Gal 6:16)


[Nate] In himself the Apostle Peter was the foundation for nothing, being called Satan, [iii] or adversary, by the Lord Himself

[Clay] Yes, Peter was a weak human, yet God chose him anyway. Don't forget that the rest of the Apostles had their share of human shortcomings - they, too, fled after the betrayal and arrest of Jesus (Mt 26:56), and they argued among themselves who would be "first" when Jesus foretold his betrayal (Lk 22:24). Yet, Jesus chose them anyway to spread the Gospel (Jn 15:16), speaking with Jesus' authority (Lk 10:16). Peter did not yet know what Jesus’ earthly mission was and brashly tried to convince Him not to go to Jerusalem. In doing so, Peter was behaving as an adversary (satan in Hebrew); however, Jesus was NOT calling Peter Satan, the “evil one” with a capital “S”. Even Protestant theologian F. F. Bruce recognized this dynamic:
“And now from the lips of Peter, Jesus heard what he recognized to be the same temptation again [as he had heard from Satan in the wilderness]. Peter, in effect, was trying to dissuade him from obeying his Father’s will. Peter had no idea that this was what he was doing; he was moved only by affectionate concern for his Master’s well-being and did not like to hear him utter such ominous words. ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected’ (Mk 8:31). But he was, for the moment, playing the part of an adversary, however inadvertently, for as Jesus told him, ‘you are not on the side of God, but of men’ (Mk 8:33) - The Hard Sayings of Jesus [Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1983] 148.
This has nothing to do with Peter’s ability to lead the new church, or even make infallible judgments. During this instance he was not making a statement on faith or morals; he was trying to protect his Master, since he did not know what Jesus was on earth to do.

[Nate] and the one whom the Apostle Paul rebuked to his face for compromising the Gospel message.

[Clay] What gospel message did Peter “compromise”, exactly? This issue is dealt with in detail here.


[Nate] The Holy Spirit confirmed the true meaning of the verse by having it written in Greek. The word for Peter in Greek is petros. It is masculine in gender and signifies a piece of rock, larger than a stone. In contrast the word for rock in Greek petra. It is feminine in gender and massive in size, indicating bedrock and immovable. What the Lord declared was to be founded on the massive rock. There is an utter contrast between a piece of rock and the bedrock.

[Clay] Wrong. The Greek words petros and petra are merely masculine and feminine forms of the same noun. Also, there is a different Greek word for small stone, which is lithos, as seen when Satan tempted Jesus by saying, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones (lithoi in Greek) to become loaves of bread.” (Mt 4:3). In the Greek language, a “rock” is put into its feminine form (petra) as part of its grammatical rules; however, since “rock” was now being associated with a man’s name, the masculine form is used (petros). The two terms are interchangeable, otherwise it would be the equivalent of calling Peter “Petrina” or some other feminine name which would not have made sense.

Using Scripture, it can be shown that petra is not always used to mean “massive bedrock”; for example, Romans 9:33 uses both lithos AND petra in such a way that petra cannot mean “massive bedrock”. Paul is quoting Isaiah 8:14 when he says:
“as it is written, ‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone (lithos) that will make people stumble, and a rock (petra) that will make them fall, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’”
The imagery here is of a man stumbling over a small stone or being made to fall over a rock; in contrast, the imagery is NOT that of a man being crushed under the weight of some massive bedrock.

Furthermore, Jesus spoke in Aramaic, and the Aramaic word for “rock” is kepha. This is significant for two reasons: 1) Elsewhere in Scripture Peter is referred to as Cephas, which is the Greek transliteration of the Aramaic word kepha (1 Cor 9:5, 15:5, Gal 2:9). In fact, John’s parallel passage of this incident with Jesus and Peter actually reads, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas (Jn 1:42). and 2) there is also a separate word in Aramaic for “small rock”, which is evna. This view is supported by a large number of Protestant scholars, by the way - Donald A. Carson III, a Baptist and Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Seminary writes:
"Although it is true that petros and petra can mean "stone" and "rock" respectively in earlier Greek, the distinction is largely confined to poetry. Moreover the 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 Aramaic) makes no distinction between the words in the two clauses. The Greek makes the distinction between petros and petra simply because it is trying to preserve the pun, and in Greek the feminine petra could not very well serve as a masculine name." (The Expositor's Bible Commentary: Volume 8 (Matthew, Mark, Luke)

"The word Peter petros, meaning "rock" (Gk 4377), is masculine, and in Jesus' follow-up statement he uses the feminine word petra (Gk 4376). On the basis of this change, many have attempted to avoid identifying Peter as the rock on which Jesus builds his church. Yet if it were not for Protestant reactions against extremes of Roman Catholic interpretations, it is doubtful whether many would have taken "rock" to be anything or anyone other than Peter." (Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary--New Testament, vol. 2)

[Nate] Fitting perfectly with this key factor of revelation, Jesus being the Christ and the very Son of God as the rock on which the Church is built, is the distinct commission given to Peter in verse 19. Unto thee , that is to Peter personally, was given the keys of the kingdom of heaven…. The power of the keys was concerning the same revelation, Jesus being the Christ and the Son of God, and the initial proclamation of this revelation to the Jews and to the Gentiles. It was fulfilled in the Apostle Peter and in him alone.

[Clay] Interesting admission about the keys being given to Peter alone, but Nate misunderstands what the keys are about. To understand correctly what this passage means, one must recall its related passage in the Old Testament:
“Thus says the Lord GOD: Now go to this steward , to Shebna, the master of the place, who is hewing a tomb for himself high up, carving out a room for himself in the rock, [and ask] ‘What right have you here, and what relatives have you here for you to hew yourself a tomb in this place?….I dismiss you from your office, I remove you from your post, and the same day I call on my servant Eliakim son of Hilkiah. I invest him with your robe, gird him with your sash, entrust him with your authority; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the House of Judah. I place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; should he open, no one shall close; should he close, no one shall open. I drive him like a peg into a firm place; he will become a throne of glory for his father’s house.” (Isaiah 22:15-16, 19-23)
The similarities are unmistakable:
Isaiah 22 Matthew 16
office = master of palace office = chief shepherd (Jn 21:17)
Key of the House of David Key of the kingdom of heaven
recipient = Eliakim recipient = Peter
power to open/close power to bind/loose

The “master of the palace” was a very important administrative position. It is described elsewhere in Scripture as a position of great authority; for example in 2 Kings 15:5, “And the Lord smote the king, so that he was a leper unto the day of his death, and dwelt in a several house. And Jotham the king’s son was over the house, judging the people of the land.” Another example is “Thou shalt be over my house, and accordingly unto thy word all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou.” (Gen 41:40). Note that the office of master of the palace is a continuous one – it was previously held by Shebna who was removed. In this particular case, Eliakim’s office is over the House of Judah which includes King David (Gen 49:10, Micah 5:2) and his successors to King Hezekiah to Jesus Christ. F. F. Bruce writes:
And what about the ‘keys of the kingdom’? The kyes of a royal or noble establishment were entrusted to the chief steward or majordomo; he carried them on his shoulder in earlier times, and there they served as a badge of the authority entrusted to him. About 700 B.C. an oracle from God announced that this authority in the royal palace in Jerusalem was to be conferred on a man called Eliakim…So in the new community which Jesus was about to build, Peter would be, so to speak, chief steward. (The Hard Sayings of Jesus, pp 143-144)
Note also that the authority is not his own, but rather is entrusted to him. Eliakim received authority from God, just as Peter received Jesus’ authority. What authority were they given? It is the authority to bind and loose, which has specific Rabbinical meaning of establishing rules and governing. R.T. France writes:
These terms [binding and loosing] thus refer to a teaching function, and more specifically one of making halakhic pronouncements [i.e., relative to laws not written down in the Jewish Scriptures but based on an oral interpretation of them] which are to be “binding” on the people of God. In that case Peter’s ‘power of the keys’ declared in Matthew 16:19 is not so much that of the doorkeeper, who decides who may or may not be admitted to the kingdom of heaven, but that of the steward (as in Is 22:22, generally regarded as the Old Testament background to the metaphor of keys here), whose keys of office enable him to regulate the affairs of the household. (Matthew: Evangelist and Teacher, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1989 p 247)
Jesus was speaking in the terms that the listening Jewish people would understand about how His church was to be set up. Of course, Jesus ultimately holds the Key to the house of David and has the power to open and shut (Rev 3:7), but this authority was delegated to the master of the palace, or chief steward in Peter through successive leadership positions.

[Nate] The Roman Catholic Church takes this passage, Matthew 16:16-20, to mean that Peter as first Pope had the Divine attribute of infallibility, and that he also is the Christ, as having the title of the true vicar of Christ. [v] This interpretation amounts to understanding the Lord s words to Peter to mean in that he, Peter, was also the Son of the living God and the Christ . While such an absurd claim is not said in these words (if it were it would be seen as a silly and preposterous doctrine) this is the whole import of what Rome decrees for Peter and his so called successors.

[Clay] There is no value in creating caricatures of Catholic belief and then attacking those misrepresentations – it is misleading and a waste of time and insults the intelligence of the reader. I challenge Nate or anyone else to find a Catholic document which states that the pope is “also the Son of the Living God and the Christ”. This objection is indeed absurd and has no bearing on the subject and obviously was made in order to further support its anti-Catholic bias.

[Nate] she goes further to decree that the Pope is rightly called Most Holy, [vi] and the Holy Father. [vii] Not content to have the divine attribute of infallibility, she wishes the Pope also to have the very title of the first person of the Trinity.

[Clay] The remainder of this section creates further straw men by suggesting that the Catholic Church tries to displace Jesus from His rightful place as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. On the contrary, the Catholic Church heartily agrees with this statement: “The fullness of grace and truth belong to Him alone. Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, the Apostle John proclaims and of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace. Believers receive grace for grace but the very fountain; the very fullness of grace and truth belongs to Christ Jesus alone. ” However, just as God delegated authority to fallible men to write infallible books of the Bible, God delegated authority to fallible men to teach infallibly in matters of faith and morals. This is what papal infallibility means – it does not mean that the pope is a “perfect man”, because this is simply impossible. The Catholic document Lumen Gentium defines exactly what infallibility means, “And this is the infallibility which the Roman pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys in virtue of his office, when, [1] as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith, [2] by a definitive act [3] he proclaims a doctrine of faith or morals” (25). This does not mean that the pope is perfect, and certainly anti-Catholic polemicists are quick to provide examples of papal shortcomings; however, this has nothing to do with pronouncements applicable to the whole church on matters of faith or morals. Jesus promised the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:13, 1 Jn 2:27, Acts 15:28) as well as Jesus’ presence always (Mt 28:20). Just as God enabled men to write the books that became the Bible, God enables the church to grow such that the gates of Hades will not prevail against it, and prevents the pope from teaching error. Infallibility is a negative protection, not a positive attribute. (Click here for a discussion on calling priests “father”)


A biblical Survey establishing Peter’s primacy in Scripture can be viewed here, but I will briefly discuss a few important issues which prove Peter’s unquestionable authoritative role.

Going back to Matthew 16, note that Jesus changed Peter’s name. His name used had been Simon; however, Jesus changed it to Peter (meaning ‘rock’). Name changes in Scripture are highly significant events, because they are always associated with a specific change in that person’s life and role in the world; for example, Abram (Hebrew for ‘father’) had his name changed to Abraham, meaning ‘father of all nations’. Abram had been a good man, but with his faith and subsequent name change he became one of the most important people in the history of man’s relationship with God. Indeed, even Paul wrote:
“For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith…. For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants , not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of us all).” (Romans 4:13,16)
I think that being known as the “father of us all” indicates an important role, and similarly, Simon underwent a transformation into Peter, the rock upon whom Jesus would build His church. It is still (and always will be) Jesus’ church, but Jesus set up Peter as the steward or master of the palace on earth. Accordingly, Peter's name is mentioned 195 times in the NT, far more than the next apostle. And, when mentioned, his name almost always comes first (Mt 10:2; Mk 3:16; Lk 6:14; Acts 1:13). Matthew even calls him the "first" (10:2), and to further demonstrate the significance of being named first, Judas Iscariot is invariably mentioned last. Note also in Mt 10:2, Peter was not chronologically first, but the Greek protos meaning "foremost", etc.

Peter was the led the apostles in preaching at Pentecost (Acts 2:14) and performed the first miracle after Pentecost (Acts 3:6-7). He initiated the process for a replacement of Judas and, after being the one to receive the revelation to receive the Gentiles into the church, he pronounced the first dogmatic decision at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15).

Many were close to Jesus - this does not detract from Peter's unique position as leader. In fact, he was given special recognition apart from the others; for example, Jesus instructed Peter alone to feed and tend his sheep (Jn 21:15-17)- it is particularly helpful to note in verse 16 that the word "tend" in Greek is poimainein, which means to lead, or govern (see also Mt 2:6 and Rev 2:27, 12:5, 19:15). Note also that Jesus prayed specifically for Peter:
"Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you (plural "you" in Greek) like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you (singular "you" in Greek) must strengthen your brothers" - Lk 22:32
Therefore, the importance of Peter is clear, and this fact is recognized by many intellectually honest Protestant scholars who recognize Peter’s importance in Scripture, including Gerhard Maier (leading Lutheran theologian), Donald A. Carson III (Baptist Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Seminary), J. Knox Chamblin (Presbyterian New Testament Professor Reformed Theological Seminary), William Hendriksen (Reformed Christian Church Professor of New Testament Literature at Calvin Seminary), John Peter Lange (German Protestant scholar), John A. Broadus (Baptist author), Craig L. Blomberg (Baptist Professor of New Testament Denver Seminary), David Hill (Presbyterian minister and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Biblical Studies University of Sheffield, England), Suzanne de Dietrich (Presbyterian theologian), and Donald A. Hagner (Fuller Theological Seminary) - Jesus, Peter & the Keys: a Scriptural Handbook on the Papacy, Scott Butler, Norman Dahlgren, and David Hess...

For those interested in the subject, a book invaluable to me in writing this piece is Butler, Dahlgren and Hess's Jesus, Peter & the Keys Queenship Publishing: San Diego, 1996.

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