April 07, 2005

The Rock of Jesus, Not the Pope

Jesus, the Vatican and Peter

The headline I read was: Jesus 'would not enter Vatican' ... I don't see why Jesus wouldn't enter the Vatican ... he went into the Temple all the time ... however the ‘Father’ quoted in the article didn’t exactly say that.

“What would Jesus do today? I don't think he would take up residence in the Vatican. He would still be out on the dusty roads and down in the markets and on the radio and the TV, trying to get his message out.”

Well thanks Father --- thanks for clearing that up. I doubt Jesus would take up residence in the Vatican, but is that anything new or profound? It doesn't have much to do with the Vatican at all (but the Vatican is corrupt and full of wasteful use of tithes, just not by everyone there however) … that said it sure doesn’t represent Christ. Catholics "might" however, and Pope John Paul II, I think was a far more Godly man then many of his predecessors.

The Church of Christ
“Jesus never wanted a church. He never talked about a big institution.”

No, Jesus didn’t talk about the modern Catholic Church, but he sure talked about a church, His church. As for a big institution, perhaps a better description would be bureaucracy --- or for that case a Papacy at all. Where did Jesus ever talk about a Pope? Do they base this on Matthew 16?

“He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-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 hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

The Catholic View

So Jesus nicknames Simon ‘Peter’ which in Greek is “Petros” --- “stone.” This text is inscribed in letters of gold four feet high inside the massive dome of the Basilica of St. Peters. So basically Catholics say Jesus called Simon a rock, then says on this rock I will build my Church. Therefore Peter was the first leader, the first Pope --- and the Pope is the bedrock so to speak of the Church. Why they didn’t just pick the Latin word for Rock, and call the Pope that --- I have no idea. I suppose ‘Silex’ didn’t sound right --- and the Latin word “petrosus” is “rocky” in English not Rock --- of course this would bring a whole new meaning to the Rocky movies.

What was Jesus Saying?

However there are a number of problem here: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” --- notice how that verse doesn’t say “you are Rock, and on this Rock I will build my church” --- or “you are Peter, and on this Peter I will build my church.”

In the Greek two words are used, as in English.

Petros (male) --- Meaning “pebble or stone – a single rock.”

petra (female) --- Meaning “a rock, cliff or ledge --- a great mass, immovable bed-rock.”

Ahhh all of a sudden this metaphor seems to make even more sense! Peter just confesses Jesus is the Christ, and Jesus now nicknames him “pebble” and on the rock of that faith --- Jesus will build his church. It is the supreme fact of faith just confessed by Peter, namely, that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God.

The Catholic Apologetic

Now I’ve heard only one reasonable Catholic Apologetic as to their interpretation of this passage. They contend that in a so-called “Aramaic Original” Jesus could have used the word “kepa” which neuter. There would be no need to use the two Greek words, you could just use one --- and therefore it could read “rock” and “rock.” But why stop there? Let’s reinterpret the whole Bible using this “Aramaic Original” that doesn’t exist! I’m sure there are lots of things the Catholic Church would love to clear up using this theorized interpretation of a text that doesn’t actually exist.

Rock Solid Use of Metaphor

However the metaphor would argue against itself in this case as well. Jesus gives Peters the keys to the Kingdom, but also makes him the base and bedrock of the Kingdom? Which one is it? Further Peter himself writes in 1 Peter 2:4-8:

“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

“For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.”

Every Believer is a Stone

Therefore every believer as a stone: not just Peter but anyone that puts their foundation in Christ. This from the pen of Peter himself! I don’t even think it’s necessary to go into how Jesus called Peter … Satan! The Church built on this man? Peter knew he wasn’t perfect --- and no where does he claim to be, or claim any of the leadership and authority given to the Pope. Read through the New Testament and show me a Pope.

The “Vicar of Christ”?

Don’t get me wrong, John Paul was from what I can tell a good man --- and I blame far more of the problems in the Catholic Church on his underlings. However, this Pope business is nonsense to begin with --- and “the pope is the Vicar of Christ … he can’t steer away from the Truth” --- if that is so you’ll have a lot of explaining to do in regards to actions of past Popes throughout history.


At December 09, 2005 8:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Sir,

I am away from my books right now and cannot pursue this argument in detail, but I suggest that you consider that the name 'Cephas' (a Hellenized form of the Aramaic 'Kepha') is used to refer to Peter at various points in the Greek text of the Gospel, in *addition* to 'Petros.' I believe you will find it in the letters of St. Paul. Also, the term 'Petros' as a pebble is a term of later date than the composition of the Gospel. In this case, 'Petros' is merely a masculinazation of the feminine noun 'Petra.' Furthermore, even if Christ were to call Peter a small pebble, there is the rest of that passage to contend with, "And I will give unto thee [Peter] the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." In the passage before, he also calls Peter "blessed" for his faith. This is a lot for a pebble to be given, and there is also something peculiar about Christ first calling Peter blessed, then calling his faith small and unimportant, and then giving him the awesome power to bind and loose.

The reason why we did not choose to call the Pope 'rock' is because the Pope's titles were built up over a period of centuries and defined by which ones simply stuck over time. Anyway, his principal and most important title is Bishop of Rome (one is Pope because one is bishop of Rome, not the other way round), and bishop is, of course, a biblical title. It emphasizes the Pope's responsibility to shepherd his global flock like any other bishop.

Thank you, sir, for your time.


At December 09, 2005 8:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

With regards to Popes 'steering away from the truth,' you are correct to bring up the example of the Borgias. They were not good men. But you are confusing several different things here. But the Pope only exercises his authority to be infallible in very carefully defined situations. That authority has only been used a very select number of times in the history of the papacy. We make no claims on the moral perfection of the popes, bishops and clergy, and certainly both Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox know that their clergy are human and will fall from time to time. The papacy has produced many good men and a few bad men and a few in between. It's unfair to consider the Borgias without considering JP II, Leo XIII, and many others. The bad popes stand out precisely because, in comparison to their predecessors, that they are so bad. Most of the early popes, for that matter, were martyred. It's also unfair to judge the teaching authority of the office by the conduct of the men who sit in it. By way of a comparative example, even Christ said of the Pharisees, "Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, [that] observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not." (Matthew 23) And while this is somewhat different from the infallibility of the Pope, the high priest at Christ's trial, surely not a good man, prophesized accurately precisely because he was given the authority to do so as the high priest for that year.

Papal infallibility deals with doctrine and not actions. Popes can make mistakes, and even we admit Peter made quite a few of them! That's what makes it so inspiring, that a screw-up like him can be so transformed by God's grace and love to do so many marvelous things.


PS. I have checked my sources and I was slightly inaccurate on the last post. 'Petros' was a very antiquated term for pebble in early Greek poetry, but Greek scholars agree that the distinction between the words Petros and Petra had dropped out of common use at the time of the Apostles. The term 'lithos' would have been used instead to mean pebble. The term Cephas, of course, still appears in the New Testament in any case.

At December 09, 2005 11:56 AM, Blogger Justin Jenkins said...

Thanks for your comments, they are fair objections. Perhaps I will look into it a bit more soon. I haven't researched this lately.


At December 09, 2005 8:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your kind interest. I realize that this is a fairly old post on your site (I enjoyed your Narnia review, by the way), so I thank you for tolerating my comments!


At December 09, 2005 9:16 PM, Blogger Justin Jenkins said...


Yes, it is old! In fact I looked back at it and reworded two sentences because looking back they seemed a little anti-catholic --- which wasn't my goal. Hopefully I'll get some time to look into this more.


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