Peter: First Pope or Stumbling Block?

What is Peter’s Role in the Church?

Many of us are familiar with Peter’s confession of Christ from the book of Matthew, but I rarely ever hear the next section recited along with the Catholic view that Peter is the first Pope, the one whom Jesus Himself said would be the bedrock of the church.

First, here’s Matthew 16:13-20 for a refresher…

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others,Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” 20 Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ.

I’ll draw your attention to the use of “this” in verse 17 referring to Peter’s confession, and then verse 18 where “this” is to what Jesus refers to upon what He’ll build His church: the “petra” (large rock; bed-rock). A claim like Jesus being “the Son of the Living God” is quite a large bedrock to place a church, don’t you think? I’m sure this will catch some flack because “everyone who truly studies the Scriptures knows” that Jesus was referring to Peter. However, to me, the text doesn’t read that way. 

For example, I’ve never heard a good explanation of why Jesus refers to Peter as “petros” (a stone) and then “this” [what the church will be founded upon] as “petra” (a large rock.) The “large rock” that “this” is seems to refer to the large truth Peter just laid out for everybody.

Now, consider the very next set of verses from Matthew 16:21-23

21 From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. 22 Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” 23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”

If Peter didn’t have his mind on God, but on the world, why on earth would Jesus make him the bedrock of the Christian church? To call Peter “Satan” doesn’t mean Peter was Satan, but that in this moment, he was acting on behalf of Satan, the adversary, trying to convince Jesus He didn’t have to die. That’s pretty intense. That also makes it fairly evident that Peter was not ready to be the head of the church.

Here are some various translations of Matthew 16:23

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” – NIV

Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” – NLT

But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” – ESV

But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. – KJV

But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get out of my way, Satan! You are tempting me to sin. You aren’t thinking the way God thinks but the way humans think.” – God’s Word

That last one, “tempting me to sin” speaks volumes. Maybe it’s not a literal translation, but it gets the point across. I’m definitely not calling Peter a bad guy, but I don’t think God – Who shows favoritism to no one (Acts 10:34) – would single out one Disciple, especially one who was clearly misguided at times.

It would require all the disciples, and later on Paul, Luke and others to build Jesus’ church It still requires all believers today to keep it going.

Bottom line: It’s like Jesus said, “Peter, you’re gonna be the head of my church even though you’re thinking worldly, not Godly.”  What kind of church would that be?

The article isn’t about disputing whether or not Catholics are Christians. This post is simply attempting to illustrate that Peter may not have been the original head of the church (by his lonesome) nor the first Pope. How did they even get the whole papal thing started from this verse anyway? I get the keys, but…that’s a lot of exegesis!

If you disagree, great. Let’s dialogue. There’s a comment form below. Use it.

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