The Authority of the Pope

The authority of the pope comes directly from the Gospel of Matthew:

"Jesus said to him in reply, 'Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matt 16:17-19)

Lets take a closer look at this passage in the original Greek language of the New Testament:

"And so I say to you, you are [Petros] and upon this [petra] I will build my Church...." (Matt 16:18).

Without understanding the reason behind this difference in words (Petros = "little stone" versus petra = "big boulder"), many Protestant Christians claim that Jesus was referring to Himself as the rock, not the Apostle Peter.

However, there are problems with this argument. Petros is simply the masculine form of the feminine Greek noun petra. Like French or Spanish, Greek nouns have gender. When the feminine noun petra, large rock, was used as Simon's name, it was rendered in the masculine form as petros. Suppose that the Greek word for "rock" was "Georgette." If someone wanted to call a man a "rock" in Greek, he would not use the word "Georgette" but would masculine-ize the word to "George."

Even Protestant Greek scholars like D.A. Carson and Joseph Thayer admit that there is no distinction in meaning between petros and petra in the Koine Greek of the New Testament. The word "petra" means "rock," usually a "large rock." And that is exactly what petros means too -- "large rock." It does not mean "pebble" or "small stone" as many Protestants have been told. The Greek word for "pebble" or "small stone" is lithos, not petros.

Here are a few examples of lithos used in the New Testament:

  • In Matthew 4:3, the devil cajoles Jesus to perform a miracle and transform some stones, lithoi, the Greek plural for lithos, into bread.

  • In John 10:31, certain Jews pick up stones, lithoi, to stone Jesus with.

  • In 1 Peter 2:5, St. Peter describes Christians as "living stones," lithoi, which form a spiritual house.

If St. Matthew had wanted to draw a distinction between a big rock and a little rock in Matthew 16:17-19, he would have used lithos, but he didn't. Jesus addresses Peter directly seven times in this short passage. It doesn't make much sense that he would then say "By the way, I'm building the Church on Me." The context is very clear that Jesus gave authority to St. Peter, naming him the rock.

Notice that Matthew used the demonstrative pronoun taute, which means "this very," when he referred to the rock on which the Church would be built: "You are Peter, and on taute petra [this very rock], "I will build My Church." When a demonstrative pronoun is used with the Greek word for "and" (which is kai), the pronoun refers back to the preceding noun. In other words, when Jesus says "You are rock, and on this rock I will build My Church," the second rock He refers to has to be the same rock as the first one. Peter is the rock in both cases.

Jesus could have gotten around this if he wanted to. Instead of "And (kai) on this rock I will build My Church.", He could have said "But (alla) on this rock I will build My Church," meaning another rock. He would then have to explain who or what this other rock was. But he didn't do that.

Many places throughout the Bible refer to God and Christ as "Rock." However, God himself calls Abraham the rock from which Israel was hewn (Isiah 51:1-2). Is this a contradiction? No!

  • Jesus is the one foundation of the Church in 1 Cor 3:11, but in Rev 21:14 and Eph 2:20, we're told the Apostles are the foundation of the Church.

  • Jesus said that He is the light of the world in John 9:5, but the Bible also says in Matthew 5:14 that Christians are the light of the world.

Are these contradictions? Of course not. The Apostles can be the foundation of the Church because they are in Christ, the one Foundation. The Church can be the light of the world because she is in the true Light of the world (Jesus). In the same way, St. Peter is indeed the rock of Matthew 16, and that doesn't detract from Christ being the rock of 1 Cor 10:4. After all, Peter's "rockness" is derived from Christ.

Aside from all the talk about Greek, an even stronger case can me made for Christ meaning Peter as the rock in Matthew 16:17-19. When Jesus gave Simon the name "Rock," we know it was originally given in Aramaic. Jesus did not speak Greek. Jesus spoke Aramaic (and probably Hebrew), which is evident from his proclamation "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani" in his native language of Aramaic from the cross (Matt 27:46).

The Aramaic word for "rock" is kepha. This was transliterated ("to represent or spell in the characters of another alphabet") in Greek as Cephas or Kephas, and translated as Petros. In Aramaic, nouns do not have gender as they do in Greek, so Jesus actually said (and St. Matthew first recorded): "You are Kephas and on this kephas I will build My Church."

Just as Greek has the word lithos for "small stone," so does Aramaic. That word is evna. But Jesus did not change Simon's name to Evna, He named him Kephas which translates as Petros and means a large rock. Refer to John 1:42 where Jesus says "... 'So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas' (which means Peter)." St. John obviously knew that the original form of the name was Kephas, large rock, and he translated it into Greek as Petros, or Peter.

In his book Unabridged Christianity, Mario Romero tells us:

"...When the New Testament writers went to translate Jesus' Aramaic word "kepha" (meaning "rock") into Greek, they encountered a grammatical problem with masculine and feminine word forms. The Greek translators had no problem referring to an inanimate rock (kepha in Aramaic) with the Greek feminine noun petra. The problem arose when the Greek translators had to use the Greek feminine word "petra" to refer to a man named "Kepha."

(Suppose that the Greek word for "rock" was "Georgette." If one wanted to call a man a "rock" in Greek, he would not use the word "Georgette" but would masculine-ize the word to "George.")

To solve the problem the translators used the masculine name Petros, which is derived from the feminine Greek noun petra. As one can clearly see, the discrepancy in Greek words found in Matt 16:18 was the result of a grammatical difficulty encountered in translation. Once one understands the reason for the variation in Greek words found in Matt 16:18, it becomes clear that the Apostle 'Peter' and the 'rock' on which Jesus would build his Church are one and the same.

(St. Paul writes to the Ephesians: " are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone" (Eph 2:19-20). One can see here the scriptural truth that the Church is built upon the foundation of the apostles. Jesus designates St. Peter to be the "rock" foundation on which His Church was to be built while He Himself serves as the "capstone" of the structure. (See Eph 1:22-23 where St. Paul calls Jesus the "head" of the "body" of the Church.)

Now let's look at a few passages from the New Testament and see how St. Peter had a special relationship with Jesus that was not shared by any other follower:

  • In Matt 16:19, Peter is the only disciple in Scripture to receive the "keys to the kingdom of heaven" from Jesus. Keys are an ancient symbol of power and authority alluded to in Isiah 22:22, Rev 1:18, and Rev 20:1. Peter received the "keys" and his "binding" and "loosing" authority separately from and before the rest of the Apostles (Matt 16:18, Matt 18:18). If Peter was not the "rock," why did Jesus entrust him with the "keys to the kingdom of heaven" to him?

  • In Matt 16:18, Peter is the only disciple in Scripture to be referred to as "rock" by Jesus (Notice that the word "rock" is used many times to refer to God - Deut 32:31, Psalm 89:27). When his name was changed to Kepha (meaning "rock"), Peter did not become Divine, but was promised Divine assistance at every moment as he pastored the Christian community in Jesus' physical absence.

  • In John 1:42, Peter's name is changed by Jesus. A change of name in the Bible meant a change of vocation. God changed Abram's name to "Abraham" in Gen 17:5 and he became the father of the Jewish faith (God also changed Jacob's name to "Israel" in Gen 35:10). If Peter was not the "rock," why did Jesus change his name and thus signify a new calling for him?

  • St. Matthew lists the Apostles as follows: "The names of the twelve apostles are these: first [Greek: protos], Simon called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus; Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him" (Matt 10:2-4). The Greek word protos means "foremost," "best," or "chief." Note that "second", "third" etc.. are not assigned to the other Apostles. This shows that "first" is not intended as a mere numerical listing.

  • At many crucial moments, Peter served as the spokesman for the rest of the Apostles (Mark 8:29, John 6:68-69, Acts 2:14-41, etc)

  • Peter is mentioned by name in the New Testament more than any other Apostle or disciple (182 times). The Apostle with the next most mentions is John (34 times). In the Book of Acts (the Biblical account of the beginning accounts of the early Christian Church), Peter is mentioned 56 times.

  • In John 21:15-17, Peter is the only Apostle in Scripture that is told by Jesus to "Feed [His] lambs... Tend [His] lambs... Tend [His] sheep... Feed [His] sheep." Peter is personally told to nourish and care for His entire flock.

  • In Luke 22:31-32, Peter is the only Apostle to be personally prayed for by Christ so that his "own faith may not fail." After prayer for Peter by name, Jesus tells him that he "must strengthen [his] brothers" (to spiritually feed and guide them).

  • In Acts 2:14-41, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles at Pentecost. Peter immediately stands up and (without opposition from the other Apostles) delivers the first sermon to the Church -- which results in the Baptism of nearly three thousand new converts.

  • In Acts 3:1-10, Peter is the first Apostle to perform a miracle in Jesus' Name after Pentecost.

  • In Acts 4, Peter is the one who defends the Christian faith before the Jewish Sanhedrin.

  • In Acts 1:15-26, Peter personally supervised (without opposition from the other Apostles) the election of the Apostle Judas Iscariot's replacement after he committed suicide.

  • In Acts 10:9-49, Peter receives the revelation from God to open the Christian Church to non-Jews (Gentiles).

  • In Acts 15:1-12, Peter stands up and definitively declares to the assembled Church leaders at the Council of Jerusalem the teaching that Non-Jewish (Gentile) Christians need not follow the Old Testament Mosaic Law to be saved.

  • In John 20:1-10, we read that, even though the Apostle John got to the empty tomb first on Easter morning, he waits for Peter to arrive before going in to examine things. In Luke 24:12, Peter was the first Apostle to enter the empty tomb on Easter morning.

  • Peter was the first Apostle to whom the risen Jesus appears after His Easter resurrection (Luke 24:34, 1 Cor 15:5).

  • Peter gave the answer (on behalf of the rest of the disciples) to Jesus' crucial question: "Who do you say that I am?" (Matt 16:15-16, Mark 8:29, Luke 9:20)

  • St. Paul makes it his business to travel to Jerusalem to consult and confer with Peter after his conversion experience (Gal 1:18).

  • Peter refers to himself as "the chosen one at Babylon" in 1 Peter 5:13. Note that "Babylon" was a Biblical code name for the city of Rome because many of the city's inhabitants were non-believing pagans leading immoral lives.

Historically (in an unbroken line), the current Pope of the Roman Catholic Church is the direct successor to St. Peter, the first bishop of Rome. The Pope's authority is derived from the authority that Christ gave to St. Peter. Here is a list of Popes beginning with St. Peter in 32 A.D.

In the King James Bible we read in Acts 1:20 about Matthias taking the place of (succeeding) the Apostle Judas: "...and his bishopric [Greek: episkopen] let another take." You can clearly see here how the Apostles felt the need to maintain Apostolic presence among the Christian people.

Roman Catholics certainly do not worship the Pope because worship is due to God alone. Catholics look to the Pope for spiritual leadership and guidance, just as the early Christians looked to St. Peter.

Biblical Basis for the Papacy - from the Nazareth Resource Library

The Early Church Fathers on The Primacy of Peter, Peter the Rock, Peter in Rome, and Peter's Successors

Writings and Speeches of John Paul II