Matthew Chapter 16, Verse 18

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Book of Matthew
Chapter 16


18: καγω δε σοι λεγω οτι συ ει πετρος και επι ταυτη τη πετρα οικοδομησω μου την εκκλησιαν και πυλαι αδου ου κατισχυσουσιν αυτης— edit Textus Receptus
18: And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.— edit KJV text
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.— edit Douay text

In this verse Jesus declares Peter to be the foundation of his Church on earth. The Catholic Church, which to this day makes up the bulk of Christianity, traces its roots to this very moment. Peter is succeeded by Linus, then Anacletus, and so on through the present day Pope Benedict XVI. The term Pope, Latin for father, was for many years used by Bishops. However, modern usage is reserved for the Successor of Peter.

This verse is particularly important, as it shows Jesus giving Simon a new name, Peter. Throughout the bible, those given new names by God are set apart as important figures with long lasting impact on the future of Gods people.

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter. The word Peter, in Greek, means a rock. It was given to Simon by Jesus when he called him to be a disciple, Jn 1:42. Cephas is a Syriac word, meaning the same as Peter - a rock, or stone. The meaning of this phrase may be thus expressed: "Thou, in saying that I am the Son of God, hast called me by a name expressive of my true character. I, also, have given to thee a name expressive of your character. I have called you Peter, a rock, denoting firmness, solidity; and your confession has shown that the name is appropriate. I see that you are worthy of the name, and will be a distinguished support of my religion.

And upon this rock, etc. This passage has given rise to many different interpretations. Some have supposed that the word ROCK refers to Peter's confession; and that he meant to say, upon this rock - this truth that thou hast confessed, that I am the Messiah - and upon confessions of this from all believers, I will build my church. Confessions like this shall be the test of piety; and in such confessions shall my church stand amidst the flames of persecution - the fury of the gates of hell. Others have thought that he referred to himself. Jesus is called a rock, Isa 28:16, 1 Pet 2:8. And it has been thought that he turned from Peter to himself, and said: "Upon this rock, this truth that I am the Messiah - upon myself as the Messiah - I will build my church." Both these interpretations, though at first glance plausible, seem forced upon the passage to avoid the more obvious interpretation. This interpretation is, that the word rock refers to Peter himself. "Thou art a rock. Thou hast shown thyself firm in and fit for the work of laying the foundation of the church. Upon thee will I build it. Thou shalt be highly honoured; thou shalt be first in making known the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles." This was accomplished. See Acts 2:14ff, where he first preached to the Jews, and Acts 10:1 and following, where he preached the gospel to Cornelius and his neighbours, who were Gentiles. Peter had thus the honour of laying the foundation of the church among the Jews and Gentiles. He was made the head of Christs earthly Church. See also Gal 2:9. Detractors would argue that Jesus did not mean to exalt Peter to supreme authority above all the other apostles. See Acts Chapter 15, where the advice of James, and not of Peter, was followed. See also Gal 2:11, where Paul withstood Peter to his face, because he was to be blamed - a thing which should not have happened if Jesus meant that Peter should be absolute and infallible. This argument, however, belies a misunderstanding of the teachings of the Catholic Church, as neither the Catholic Church nor any other church teaches that the Successor of Peter is absolute or infallible in all matters.

Will build my Church. This refers to the custom of building, in Judea, on a rock or other very firm foundation. See Barnes "Mt 7:24".

The word church means, literally, those called out, and often means an assembly or congregation. See Acts 19:32; Gr.; Acts 7:38. It is applied to Christians as being called out from the world. It means, sometimes, the whole body of believers, Eph 1:22, 1Cor 10:32. Protestants believe that this is its meaning in this place. It means, also, a particular society of believers, worshipping in one place, Acts 8:1, Acts 9:31, 1Cor 1:2, etc. Sometimes, also, a society in a single house, as Rom 16:5. In common language, it refers to a religious organization that carries on the work of spreading a religious message or to a church building. This statement by Jesus uses the image of the rock, as in a foundation stone of a church building, to represent Peter who is designated as the foundation of His earthly Church.

And the gates of hell, etc. Ancient cities were surrounded by walls. In the gates, by which they were entered, were the principal places for holding courts, transacting business, and deliberating on public matters. See Barnes "Mt 7:13".

The word gates, therefore, is used for counsels, designs, machinations, evil purposes. Hell means, here, the place of departed spirits, particularly evil spirits. And one meaning of the passage is, that all the plots, stratagems, and machinations, of the enemies of the church, should not be able to overcome it - a promise that has been remarkably fulfilled. This phrase also guarantees that the teachings of the Church in matters of faith and morals (ie. subjects which could result in a Church follower passing through the gates of hell) will be without error. Jesus later elaborates on the powers he is giving his Church on earth in the very next verse Mt 16:19.

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