1. The Primacy of Peter, the "Rock"


Essentially Protestant apologists who argue against the papacy and the primacy of Peter put most of "their eggs in one basket" that of Matthew Chapter 16, verse 18:

"And I say to thee: Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it."

They argue that this Gospel, as translated in the Greek is rightfully rendered as such: the word rock for Simon's new name of Peter is petros, or pebble, and not rock as in a mighty foundation, petra. They fail to take note that Matthew's original Gospel was written in Aramaic and that translations in other languages from that of the original must follow the sense of the original, even if translations are not as precise as we would prefer. This is an elementary law of translation, whether the Bible or a sociology textbook.

Aramaic was the language Jesus and the Apostles and all the Jews there at the time of Christ spoke. It was the common language of the place.

Now, they of course were familiar with Greek as it had become the commercial and cultural language of the Mediterranean world.

Furthermore, we are certain that Jesus spoke Aramaic because some of His words are preserved for us in the Gospels. For instance in Matthew 27:46, our Savior says from the Cross, "Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani." [My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?] Both in St. Paul's Epistles to the Galatians [4 times] and the First Corinthians [again 4 times] the Aramaic of Simon's new name is preserved for us. In English it is rendered Cephas which is Greek for the Aramaic word Kepha, which means a very large stone or rock, massive enough for a foundation, thus the same as petra, not petros. Furthermore in Greek the root word for references to the head is cepha. In fact if Christ had meant a little stone or pebble, the original Aramaic would have been evna.
Thus Christ is saying "Thou art the massive rock upon which I will build my Church." He equates them as one and the same, Peter's new name means massive rock large and strong enough for the Church's foundation.

So the Protestant might counter why then did not the Greek have petra, large rock, instead of petros, little rock? The answer is so simple it is easily overlooked. Petra is feminine and petros is masculine. Because Simon's new name is a proper, masculine noun, petros was used, with the understanding of the Aramaic, not the literal Greek word. In other sections of Matthew's Gospel petros is more accurate because the reference is not to the proper noun or masculine name of Peter.

Now, let us pretend, for the sake of argument that Matthew wrote his Gospel with Greek in mind: if he had intended to say that Simon was a small stone, he would have used the Aramaic for the common Greek word designating a small stone, lithos. But he didn't because the Aramaic sense would have been lost altogether.

The Bestowing of New Names

Christ was not given to meaningless gestures, and neither were the Jews when it came to name changes. Bestowing a new name meant that the status of the person was changed, as when Abram was changed to Abraham [Gen. 17:5], Jacob to Israel [Gen. 32:28], Eliacim to Joakim [4 Kings 23:34], and Daniel, Ananias, Misael, and Azarias to Baltassar, Sidrach, Misach, and Abdenago (Dan. 1:6-8). But no Jew had ever been called Rock because that was reserved to God, except for Abraham but only in reference and not as a proper noun. Abram's new name remained Abraham and not Sur [rock]. The Jews would give other names taken from nature, such as Barach [which means lightning, Jos. 19:45], Deborah [bee, Gen. 35:8], and Rachel [ewe, Gen. 29:16], but no Rock. In the New Testament James and John were surnamed Boanerges, Sons of Thunder, by Christ, but that was never regularly used in place of their original names. Simon's new name supplanted the old.

Not only was there significance in Simon being given a name that had only been used to describe God, but the place where the renaming occurred was also important. "Then Jesus came into the neighborhood of Caesarea Philippi" [Matt. 16:13], a city that Philip the Tetrarch built and named in honor of Caesar Augustus, who had died in A.D. 14. The city lay near cascades in the Jordan River and a gigantic wall of rock about 200 feet high and 500 feet long, part of the southern foothills of Mount Hermon. The city is no more. Near its ruins is the small Arab town of Banias, and at the base of the rock wall may be found what is left of one of the springs that fed the Jordan. It was here that Jesus pointed to Simon and said, "Thou art Peter" [Matt. 16:18]. The significance of the event must have been clear to the other Apostles. As devout Jews they knew at once that the location was meant to emphasize the importance of what was being done. None complained of Simon being singled out for this honor, and in the rest of the New Testament he is called by his new name, while James and John remain just James and John, not Boanerges.

Christ's Promises to Peter
When He first saw Simon, "Jesus looked at him closely and said, Thou art Simon the son of Jonah; thou shalt be called Cephas [which means the same as Peter]" [John 1:42]. The word Cephas is merely the transliteration of the Aramaic Kepha into Greek as we have already discussed. Later, after Peter and the other disciples had been with Christ for some time, they went to Caesarea Philippi, where Peter made his profession of faith: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" [Matt. 16: 17]. Jesus told him that this truth was specially revealed to him, and then He said again: "Thou art Peter" [Matt. 16:18]. Christ added the promise that the Church that would be established would be founded on Peter. Then two important things were told the Apostle. "Whatever thou shalt bind on earth shalt be bound in Heaven; whatever thou shalt loose on earth shalt be loosed in Heaven" [Matt. 16:19]. Here Peter was singled out for the authority that provides for the forgiveness of sins and the making of disciplinary rules. Later the other Apostles would share in these powers but Peter was the official holder of them. Then Peter alone was promised something else. "I will give to thee [ singular] the keys to the kingdom of Heaven" [Matt. 16:19]. In ancient times keys were the hallmark of authority. A walled city might have one great gate and that gate one great lock worked by one great key. To be given the key to the city [an honor which exists even today, though its import is largely lost] meant to be given free access to and authority over the city. The city to which Peter was given the keys was the heavenly city itself. This symbolism for authority is used elsewhere in the Bible [Isa. 22:22, Apoc. 1:18].
After the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples and asked Peter three times [designating special significance], "Dost thou love Me?" [John 21:15-17]. In expiation for his threefold denial, Peter gave a threefold affirmation of love. Then Christ, Who is the Good Shepherd [John 10:11,14], gave Peter all the authority He earlier promised: "Feed My sheep" [John 21:17]. Thus was completed the prediction made just before Jesus and his followers went for the last time to Oliveto. Immediately before his denials were predicted, Peter was told, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has claimed power over you all, so that he can sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for thee [singular], that thy faith may not fail; when, after a while, thou hast come back to Me [after the denials], it is for thee to be the support of thy brethren" [Luke 22:3 1-32]. It was Peter that Christ prayed would have faith that would not fail and that would be a guide for the others, and His prayer, being perfectly efficacious, was sure to be fulfilled.

Another objection that some Protestants have concerns this:
Let us take a closer look at the key verse: "Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build My Church" [Matt. 16:18]. Disputes about this passage have always concerned the meaning of the term rock. To whom, or to what, does it refer? Since Simon's fresh name of Peter itself means rock, the sentence could be rewritten as: "Thou art Rock and upon this rock I will build My Church." The play on words seems obvious, but commentators who do not want to accept what naturally, logically follows from this----namely the establishment of the papacy----argue that the word rock could not refer to Peter but must refer to his profession of faith or to Christ.

Grammatically speaking, the phrase "this rock" must relate back to the closest noun. Peter's profession of faith ["Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God"] is two verses earlier, while his name, a proper noun, is in the immediately preceding clause. As an analogy, consider this simple sentence: "I have a dog and a cat, and it is gray." Which is gray? The cat, because that is the noun closest to the pronoun----it. "This is all the more clear if the reference to the dog is two sentences earlier, as the reference to Peter's profession is two sentences earlier than the term rock. The same kind of argument goes for whether the word refers to Christ Himself, since He is mentioned within the profession of faith. The fact that He is elsewhere, by a different metaphor, called the cornerstone [Eph. 2:20, 1 Pet. 2:4-8] does not disprove that here Peter is the foundation. Christ is naturally the principal and, since He will be returning to Heaven, the invisible foundation of the Church that will be established, but Peter is named by Him as the secondary and, because he and his successors will remain on earth, the visible foundation. Peter can be a foundation only because first Christ is one.

We know that there must be a visible foundation or Church with authority, or else how does one who is seeking the truth find it with certainty?

Further Vatican Council I declared explicitly what had always been believed implicitly about the authority and headship of Peter [and his successors]:

SESSION IV July 18, 1870

"The Eternal Pastor and Bishop of our souls, in order to continue for all time the life-giving work of His Redemption, determined to build up the Holy Church, wherein, as in the house of the living God, all who believe might be united in the bond of one faith and one charity. Wherefore, before He entered into His glory, He prayed unto the Father, not for the Apostles only, but for those also who through their preaching should come to believe in Him, that all might be one, even as He the Son and the Father are one. [John xvii. 20 f.]  As then He sent the Apostles whom He had chosen to Himself from the world, as He Himself had been sent by the Father; [Ibid., xx. 21] so He willed that there should ever be pastors and teachers in His Church to the end of the world. And in order that the episcopate also might be one and undivided, and that by means of a closely united priesthood the multitude of the faithful might be kept secure in the oneness of faith and communion, He set Blessed Peter over the rest of the Apostles, and fixed in him the abiding principle of this twofold unity and its visible foundation, in the strength of which the everlasting temple should arise, and the Church in the firmness of that faith should lift her majestic front to Heaven. [From Sermon iv, chap. ii, of St. Leo the Great, A.D. 440, vol. 1, p. 17, of edition of Ballerini, Venice, 1753; read in the eighth lection on the feast of St. Peter's Chair at Antioch, February 22] And seeing that the gates of Hell with daily increase of hatred are gathering their strength on every side to upheave the foundation laid by God's Own hand, and so, if that might be, to overthrow the Church: We, therefore, for the preservation, safe-keeping, and increase of the Catholic flock, with the approval of the Sacred Council, do judge it to be necessary to propose to the belief and acceptance of all the faithful, in accordance with the ancient and constant faith of the universal Church, the doctrine touching the institution, perpetuity and nature of the sacred Apostolic Primacy, in which is found the strength and solidity of the entire Church; and at the same time to proscribe and condemn the contrary errors so hurtful to the flock of Christ.

On the Institution of the Apostolic Primacy in Blessed Peter

"We therefore teach and declare that, according to the testimony of the Gospel, the primacy of jurisdiction over the universal Church of God was immediately and directly promised and given to Blessed Peter the Apostle by Christ the Lord. For it was to Simon alone, to whom He had already said: "Thou shalt be called Cephas," [John i. 42] that the Lord, after the confession made by him, saying, "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God," addressed these solemn words, "Blessed art thou, Simon, Bar-Jona, because flesh and blood have not revealed it to thee, but My Father, Who is in Heaven. And I say to thee that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of Heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in Heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in Heaven." [Matt. xvi. 16 ff.] And it was upon Simon alone that Jesus, after His resurrection, bestowed the jurisdiction of Chief Pastor and Ruler over all His fold in the words, "Feed My lambs, feed My sheep." [John xxi. 15, 17]  At open variance with this clear doctrine of Holy Scripture, as it has ever been understood by the Catholic Church, are the perverse opinions of those who, while they distort the form of government established by Christ the Lord in His Church, deny that Peter in his simple person preferably to all the other Apostles, whether taken separately or together, was endowed by Christ with a true and proper primacy of jurisdiction; or of those who assert that the same primacy was not bestowed immediately and directly upon Blessed Peter himself, but upon the Church, and through the Church on Peter as her minister.

(Canon) If anyone, therefore, shall say that Blessed Peter the Apostle was not appointed the Prince of the Apostles and the visible head of the whole Church Militant, or that the same directly and immediately received from the same our Lord Jesus Christ a primacy of honour only, and not of true and proper jurisdiction; let him be anathema.

On the Perpetuity of the Primacy of Blessed Peter in the Roman Pontiffs

"That which the Prince of Shepherds and great shepherd of the sheep, Jesus Christ our Lord, established in the person of the Blessed Apostle Peter to secure the perpetual welfare and lasting good of the Church, must, by the same institution, necessarily remain unceasingly in the Church, which, being founded upon the Rock, will stand firm to the end of the world. For none can doubt, and it is known to all ages, that the holy and Blessed Peter, the Prince and chief of the Apostles, the pillar of the faith and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of mankind, and lives, presides and judges to this day, always in his successors the Bishops of the Holy See of Rome, which was founded by Him and consecrated by His Blood. [From the Acts (session third) of the Third General Council, namely, that of Ephesus, A.D. 431, Labbe's Councils, vol. viii, p. 1154, Venice edition of 1728. See also letter of St. Peter Chrysologus to Eutyches, in life prefixed to his works, p. 13, Venice, 1750.] Whence, whosoever succeeds to Peter in this see does by the institution of Christ Himself obtain the primacy of Peter over the whole Church. The disposition made by Incarnate Truth (dispositio veritatis) therefore remains, and Blessed Peter, abiding in the rock's strength which he received (in accepta fortitudine petra: perseverans), has not abandoned the direction of the Church. [From Sermon III, chap. iii, of St. Leo the Great, vol. 1, p. 12.] Wherefore it has at all times been necessary that every particular Church----that is to say, the faithful throughout the world----should come to the Church of Rome on account of the greater princedom which it has received; that all being associated in the unity of that see whence the rights of venerable communion spread to all, might grow together as members of one head in the compact unity of the body. [From St. Irenreus against Heresies, book III, cap. iii, p. 175, Benedictine edition, Venice, 1784; and Acts of Synod of aquileia, A.D. 381. Labbe's Councils, vol. ii, p. 1185, Venice, 1721.] (Canon) If, then, anyone shall say that it is not by the institution of Christ the Lord, or by Divine right, that Blessed Peter has a perpetual line of successors in the primacy over the universal Church; or that the Roman Pontiff is not the successor of Blessed Peter in this primacy; let him be anathema."

Let us look at another easily understood analogy. At times we ask our friends to pray for us, and we pray for them. Our prayers ask God for special help for one another. When we pray in this way, what are we doing? We are acting as mediators, as go-betweens. We are approaching God on someone else's behalf. Does this contradict Paul's statement that Christ is the one mediator [1 Tim. 2:5]? No,  simply because we understand our mediatorship is entirely secondary to His and depends on His. He could establish His mediatorship in any way He chose, and He chose to have us participate when He commanded us to pray for one another [Matt. 5:44, 1 Tim. 2:1-4, Rom. 15:30, Acts 12:5], and for the dead [2 Tim. 1:16-18]. So, just as there can be secondary mediators and a primary one, there can be a secondary foundation and a primary one.

One final point here: If the rock really refers to Christ [based on 1 Cor. 10:4, "and the rock was Christ"], 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 seems 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?

The reason, of course, is that Matthew knew full well that what the sentence was meant to convey, to say just what it actually meant. And he was being inspired by the Holy Ghost Who cannot , would not misconvey or err.

Forward for the longer explanation for those so enclined.