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Peter The Rock

Apostolic Apologetics: Peter the Rock

Note: This document is pending revision and actually contains errors (specifically relating to the Greek of Matthew 16:18-- that is the image shown). I will be correcting and expanding this document in the near future.


The Catholic Church teaches the Biblical account of the foundation of the Church, by Christ, on Peter. Peter is given a specific authority, as are the other Apostles. This document will discuss the nature of this authority, which is the basis for not only the Papacy, but for Apostolic Succession itself.

This Document will:
  • Cover Scripture relating to these concepts in depth.
  • Examine the Koine Greek of the passages in question.
  • Answer common objections.


St. Matthew 16:18
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.

St. Matthew 16:19
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.

St. Matthew 18:18
Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.

Is Peter the Rock?

The adjective "this" grammatically must refer to the nearest preceding noun, which was Peter, not only his declaration (or confession of faith) which occurs two verses earlier.

The question was settled two thousand years ago. However, those led astray by false teachers often question the foundation of the Church and the nature of this authority, given to Peter and the apostles respectively.

When Jesus says  "whatever you bind" to Peter in St. Matthew 16:18, the Greek text used for "you" is singular. [ G4771 ]
This gives Peter his specific authority.

In St. Matthew 18:18 the Greek text, the word for "you" in "whatever you bind" is plural. [ G5213 ]
This gives the apostles their specific authority.

These two juxtaposed but similar phrases lay out the early structure of the Church:
  • Peter as the Pope (Bishop, Head Bishop)
  • The other apostles as priests (Bishops).


Jesus had a very specific purpose in saying that Peter was the Rock upon which he would build his Church. He was evoking Isaiah 22:22

Isaiah 22:15 

Thus saith the Lord God of hosts: Go, get thee in to him that dwelleth in the tabernacle, to Sobna who is over the temple: and thou shalt say to him:

Isaiah 22:16 
What dost thou here, or as if thou wert somebody here? for thou hast hewed thee out a sepulchre here, thou hast hewed out a monument carefully in a high place, a dwelling for thyself in a rock.

Isaiah 22:17 
Behold the Lord will cause thee to be carried away, as a cock is carried away, and he will lift thee up as a garment.

Isaiah 22:18 
He will crown thee with a crown of tribulation, he will toss thee like a ball into a large and spacious country: there shalt thou die, and there shall the chariot of thy glory be, the shame of the house of thy Lord.

Isaiah 22:19 
And I will drive thee out from thy station, and depose thee from thy ministry.

Isaiah 22:20 
And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call my servant Eliacim the son of Helcias,

Isaiah 22:21 
And I will clothe him with thy robe, and will strengthen him with thy girdle, and will give thy power into his hand: and he shall be as a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Juda.

Isaiah 22:22 
And I will lay the key of the house of David upon his shoulder: and he shall open, and none shall shut: and he shall shut, and none shall open.

Isaiah 22:23
 And I will fasten him as a peg in a sure place, and he shall be for a throne of glory to the house of his father.

Isaiah 22:24 
And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father's house, divers kinds of vessels, every little vessel, from the vessels of cups even to every instrument of music.

In the Isaiah passage, Shebna was the Chancellor (like a Prime Minister) under King Hezekiah. This Prime Minister had a special role above the cabinet. He got the keys to the kingdom. Shabna messed up and was unfaithful so God appointed Eliakim to Prime Minister and gave him the keys. In St. Matthew 16:18, Peter got the keys just the way Eliakim got them in Isaiah 22:15-24.

Protestant Testimony:

Protestant theologian W. F. Albright says, in his Anchor Bible Commentary on Matthew:

"Isaiah 22, verse 15, undoubtedly lies behind this [Matthew 16:18] saying of Jesus. The keys are the symbol of authority and Father Roland DeVoe rightly sees here the same authority vested in the vicar, the master of the house, the chamberlain of the royal household in ancient Israel. In Isaiah 22 Eliakim is described as having the same authority."

David Palm wrote the following:

"Long before I had any inkling of becoming Catholic I came to embrace the current majority report among Protestant scholars, namely, that "this rock" of St. Mattew 16:18 refers to the person of Peter and that he is the foundation on which Christ would build His Church. It was challenged later, by those same scholars and by Catholic apologists, to see from the use of Isaiah 22:22 in St. Matthew 16:19, that our Lord, as the son of David and new King of Israel, reestablished the office of "steward" or "one who is over the house" (in modern parlance, the prime minister). He [Jesus] gives that office to Peter, as symbolized by the "keys of the kingdom." This establishes that in principle there is nothing antithetical between the supreme Lordship of Jesus Christ and a mortal man serving as His "vicar" on earth."



G4771 [ St. Matthew 16:18 ]
The personal pronoun of the second person singular; thou: - thou. See also G4571, G4671, G4675; and for the plur. G5209, G5210, G5213, G5216.

[ St. Matthew 18:18 ]
Irregular dative case of G5210; to (with or by) you: - ye, you, your (-selves).

Common Objections

1. The Gender Argument

Often recently, I have been seeing the following faulty argument which goes as follows:

"In Greek nouns have gender, it is similar to "actor and actress".

St. Matthew 16:18 
And I say to thee: That thou art Peter [ petros, masculine ]; and upon this rock [ petra, feminine ] I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Additionally, the following "analogy" was made:

"You are the actor and with this actress I will make my movie."

  • The difference in meaning can be found only in Attic Greek.
  • The New Testament was written in Koine Greek.
  • In Koine, both petros and petra simply meant "rock."
  • The argument shows a faulty knowledge of Greek.
  • Jesus native language was Aramaic, not Greek, and in the Aramaic underlying this passage, the same word—kepha—would have been used in both instances.
This is an increasingly common attack on the Catholic Church levied by those who prey on people that lack the faculties to understand the different dialects of Greek, in addition to Aramaic (the native language of Jesus). If you find someone making this argument, confront them with the facts.

Additional Notes:
Aramaic was a fairly typical Semitic language--like Hebrew and Arabic; and as with as Spanish and French, it has two grammatical genders: masculine and feminine. These "genders" have no necessary correlation with the referent's sex--a noun that's grammatically feminine might be used to describe a man, and a grammatically masculine noun a woman.

As Mark Twain famously pointed out of German, "in that language, a young lady has no gender, but a turnip does."

Mutual Exclusivity

Some may argue, "Christ is the Rock", or "Faith is the Rock", or "all believers are the Rock". Indeed, all of these views are represented by the Catholic Church as a whole, and are not mutually exclusive.

Peter is the Rock
Matthew 16:18 
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.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

Peter is the unshakable rock because of his faith in Christ.
552 Simon Peter holds the first place in the college of the Twelve; Jesus entrusted a unique mission to him. Through a revelation from the Father, Peter had confessed: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Our Lord then declared to him: "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it." Christ, the "living Stone", thus assures his Church, built on Peter, of victory over the powers of death. Because of the faith he confessed Peter will remain the unshakable rock of the Church. His mission will be to keep this faith from every lapse and to strengthen his brothers in it.

Far from having been hostile to the Temple, where he gave the essential part of his teaching, Jesus was willing to pay the Temple-tax, associating with him Peter, whom he had just made the foundation of his future Church. He even identified himself with the Temple by presenting himself as God's definitive dwelling-place among men. Therefore his being put to bodily death presaged the destruction of the Temple, which would manifest the dawning of a new age in the history of salvation: "The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father."

881 The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the "rock" of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock. "The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles united to its head." This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church's very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope.

The acknowledgment of Christ's son-ship is the Church's foundation.
442 Such is not the case for Simon Peter when he confesses Jesus as "the Christ, the Son of the living God", for Jesus responds solemnly: "Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven." Similarly Paul will write, regarding his conversion on the road to Damascus, "When he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles..." "And in the synagogues immediately [Paul] proclaimed Jesus, saying, 'He is the Son of God.'" From the beginning this acknowledgment of Christ's divine sonship will be the center of the apostolic faith, first professed by Peter as the Church's foundation.

On the rock of Peter's faith, Christ built his Church.
424 Moved by the grace of the Holy Spirit and drawn by the Father, we believe in Jesus and confess: 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. On the rock of this faith confessed by St. Peter, Christ built his Church.

Christ himself is the rock, "chief cornerstone" and foundation.
1 Peter 2:4 
Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God's sight chosen and precious;

1 Corinthians 10:4
and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

756 "Often, too, the Church is called the building of God. The Lord compared himself to the stone which the builders rejected, but which was made into the corner-stone. On this foundation the Church is built by the apostles and from it the Church receives solidity and unity. This edifice has many names to describe it: the house of God in which his family dwells; the household of God in the Spirit; the dwelling-place of God among men; and, especially, the holy temple. This temple, symbolized in places of worship built out of stone, is praised by the Fathers and, not without reason, is compared in the liturgy to the Holy City, the New Jerusalem. As living stones we here on earth are built into it. It is this holy city that is seen by John as it comes down out of heaven from God when the world is made anew, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.

External Links

Peshitta (Aramaic) Matthew 16:18: