Primacy of Simon Peter - Protestant Views

Protestant Views

A major debate between Catholics and Protestants centers on Matthew 16:19 where Jesus tells Peter: "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church...." Catholics interpret the verse as saying that Jesus would build his church on Peter, the apostle: Jesus told Peter (Rock) that he would build his Church on this Rock (Peter), and that Peter was made the shepherd of the apostolic flock—hence their assertion of the Primacy of the Catholic Pontiff.

One Protestant view on the Matthew verse agrees with the Catholic view and again the disagreements about primacy stem from doctrinal sources, and disagreements such as those over the identification of Simon Peter with the Pope. Other Protestants assert the following, based specifically on the verse in Matthew:

Jesus gives Simon the new name petros. However he refers to the "rock" as petra. The inspired New Testament Scriptures were written in Greek, not Aramaic. What Jesus might have said in Aramaic is conjecture. In Greek, there is a distinction between the two words, πέτρα being a "rock" but πέτρος being a "small stone" or "pebble". (James G. McCarthy translates the two as "mass of rock" and "boulder or detached stone", respectively.) Jesus is not referring to Peter when talking about "this rock", but is in fact referring to Peter's confession of faith in the preceding verses. Jesus thus does not declare the primacy of Peter, but rather declares that his church will be built upon the foundation of the revelation of and confession of faith of Jesus as the Christ.

Many Protestant scholars, however, reject this position, such as Craig L. Blomberg who states, "The expression ‘this rock’ almost certainly refers to Peter, following immediately after his name, just as the words following ‘the Christ’ in verse 16 applied to Jesus. The play on words in the Greek between Peter’s name (Petros) and the word ‘rock’ (petra) makes sense only if Peter is the Rock and if Jesus is about to explain the significance of this identification."

Donald A. Carson III (Baptist and Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Seminary) states, "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 dubious at best; 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."

An alternate Protestant argument is that when Jesus said "upon this rock" in the aforementioned Matthew verse, he referred to himself, in reference to Deuteronomy 32:3-4, which states that " the Rock, his work is perfect". This idea also appears in Cor 10:4; 1co., which says "...that Rock is Christ." In Ephesians 2:20, Jesus is called "the chief cornerstone".

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