Sep 132012
This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Why Do We Have A Pope?

Dr. Hahn’s discussion regarding the papacy focuses primarily on Matthew 16:15-18 in three main aspects, those being 1) the rock, 2) the keys, and 3) the guarantee of Jesus.  As Dr. Hahn states on track 4 at the 2:30 mark:

[On recommending other items for further study] … and lastly, if you’ll permit me, I’ll recommend a tape that I made sitting at my desk about a year ago … it’s entitled Peter and the Papacy and in this tape I focus primarily upon Matthew 16 verses 17-19.  I focus upon three aspects that we’re going to begin with this morning: the rock, the keys, and the guarantee of Jesus that the gates of hell will not prevail.  The rock, the keys, and the guarantee of Jesus that the gates of hell will not prevail; those three ideas are closely associated with the very important passage that we find in the first Gospel, the Gospel of Matthew chapter 16 verses 17-19.

Dr. Hahn then goes on to read the passage starting at verse 13.  I predominantly use the ESV in my studies and throughout this site primarily because it is the translation I’m most comfortable with.  It is certainly not because it suits my interests; I would encourage anyone to cross check the passages along with a sanctioned translation approved by the Catholic Church.1  Matthew 16:13-19 reads:

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 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. 18 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. 19 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.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.2

This post will focus on the first of the three aspects, namely, the rock, while the subsequent posts will deal with the keys and the guarantee of Jesus.

The Petrine Succession of the Papacy

To start with, we need to have a basic handle on the doctrine of the papacy.  Catholic tradition holds that the disciple Peter is the first Pope (or bishop) of Rome and that there has been a succession of this chair (or office) ever since.  This is called the Petrine Succession of the Papacy; Petrine being the adjective form of the name Peter and papacy being the office of the Pope.  It is because of this very doctrine that Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed that the Roman Catholic Church is the only “true church” and that other denominations (or churches) do not have the “means of salvation.”3

This doctrine also claims papal infallibility.  For the sake of unity, I’ll repeat here what I showed in Part 1 of this discussion because I think Dr. Hahn states it quite clearly on track 3 at the 2:07 mark:

The church teaches, in a simple summary, that the holy father, the pope, the bishop of Rome, as the successor of Peter and the vicar of Christ, when he speaks as the universal teacher from the chair of Peter in defining faith and morals, does so with an infallible charism, or an infallible gift, through the holy spirit so that we can give to him the full ascent of our intellect and of our will.  And we can hear the voice of Christ coming to us through the voice of the pope when he is speaking in this capacity.

It is important to note that this is not to say the Pope is always and at all times infallible or cannot sin.  The Catholic Church does not hold to this position.  The doctrine states that he is infallible when he is speaking ex cathedra (from the chair).  Dr. Hahn notes on track 3 at the 1:20 mark that the Pope goes to confession, therefore he must have something to confess.

The natural question is one of where this doctrine is derived from and this is where Matthew 16:15-19 comes in.  The idea is that Peter is: 1) the rock in verse 18, 2) given the keys to the kingdom in verse 19 and 3) given the guarantee of Jesus that the gates of hell will not prevail in that same verse.  I will note from the outset that even if Dr. Hahn’s interpretations derived directly from Matthew 16:15-19 are correct, it does not follow that the office of the papacy is legitimate for reasons that will be addressed as these posts continue.

Peter as This Rock

There are two prevailing interpretations for just what ‘this rock‘ is referring to in Matthew 16:18; the first is that Peter is indeed ‘this rock‘ which I will refer to as the Petrine interpretation and the second is that ‘this rock‘ is pointing to the confession, or more specifically, Christ Himself, that Peter makes in Matthew 16:16.  For obvious reasons, Catholicism holds to the Petrine interpretation.  Dr. Hahn goes through great lengths to demonstrate that this is not a uniquely Catholic interpretation.  He quotes numerous protestant theologians that agree with the idea that Peter is ‘this rock‘.  This certainly is true.  As one of two prevailing interpretations I’m sure there may be some within Catholic ranks that agree with the predominant protestant view as well.  Rather than rehash everything he quotes in the lecture I would like to quote Dr. Craig L. Blomberg who agrees with the Petrine interpretation:

The expression “this rock” almost certainly refers to Peter, following immediately after his name, just as the words following “the Christ” in v. 16 applied to Jesus. The play on words in the Greek between Peter’s name (Petros) and the word “rock” (petra) makes sense only if Peter is the rock and if Jesus is about to explain the significance of this identification.4

So while it is true there are many non-Catholic theologians that agree with the Petrine interpretation of Matthew 16:18, that doesn’t mean they come to the same conclusions that Catholic doctrine holds to.  As Dr. Blomberg goes on to note while wrapping up the discussion of this passage:

At any rate, there is obviously nothing in these verses of the distinctively Catholic doctrines of the papacy, apostolic succession, or Petrine infallibility or of the Protestant penchant for Christian personality cults. In fact, in Acts, Peter seems to decrease in importance as the church grows (on Peter’s life more generally, see comments under 10:2). Instead, Matthew presents the challenging and exciting promise of God’s presence with his entire church, as it seeks to witness and minister to the world, in a way that should encourage no one to despair but stimulate all to service.5

In the end, even if we grant the Petrine interpretation of Matthew 16:18 (or even Catholic interpretations of the entire passage) there is simply no reason to believe that Peter becomes the first pope and initiates apostolic succession.  There is no textual evidence of this and therefore the only way to arrive at the conclusions Catholic doctrine teaches is to eisegete these ideas into the passage.  But is the Petrine interpretation valid?

The Confession as This Rock

I disagree with Dr. Blomberg’s insistence that Peter is ‘this rock‘.  As I noted, the other primary interpretation of the passage is that this rock is referring to the confession that Peter makes in Matthew 16:16, or even more specifically Christ Himself.  This seems to me the most natural reading of the passage.  Matthew 16:15-18 reads:

15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 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. 18 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.6

Much of these discussions will get into the wordplay going on in this passage, that Πέτρος (Peter/Petros) and πέτρα (rock/petra) sound similar and both having somewhat flexible and interchangeable meanings.  Of course, this is the case.  There is a lot going on in this passage in addition to the wordplay with Peter’s name however that is beyond the scope of this discussion.  One item that is worth pointing out in regards to the wordplay is that πέτρος, when not used as a formal name was used of a free standing stone whereas πέτρα was used as a solid mass of rock.  As John Nolland points out in his commentary on Matthew:

The likelihood of these various construals may be affected by the relationship between the meanings of πέτρος (when not used as a name) and πέτρα. Both terms exhibit significant flexibility of meaning. Originally πέτρα was used of a solid mass of rock and πέτρος of a (free-standing) rock/stone, but occasional early interchangeability has been documented.7

John Nolland goes on to say that these differences would not warrant a clear contrast (e.g., ‘you are Peter = [little stone], but it is on this [much greater solid] rock that I will build my church’) but I think it is worth pointing out especially in light of the doctrines that come about due to Peter being identified as this rock.

Many scholars note that Matthew may have originally been written in Hebrew and certainly much of the early church fathers agree with this.8  The reason that becomes important in the discussion is because the Aramaic of Peter and rock/stone are identical in the form of כאפא (kepha) which then renders the verse as: you are Kepha and on this kepha I will build my church.

What I want to draw attention to is the word this in verse 18 because that is where, I believe, the shift from Peter to his confession takes place, Peter being in second person while this rock is in third.  As theologian Cris Putnam notes in Petrus Romanus:

Arguing this in non-technical language is somewhat strained but when going from second person, “you, Peter,” to third person, “this rock,” then “this rock” is referring to something other than the person who was being addressed in the preceding phrase, something that we find in the immediate context.9

So what is it that we find being addressed in the immediate context?  It is most assuredly the confession of Peter in verse 16.  As Putnam goes on to explain:

If you recall from your formative years in Sunday school, when in doubt, the correct Sunday school answer was nearly always, “Jesus.”  Indeed, Jesus is the answer here as well.  The misappropriated response to Peter is praise from Jesus for Peter’s inspired confession: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).  In this author’s (Putnam) view, it is on this confession of Christ that the Church is built.  In Peter’s own words, Christ is the cornerstone that the builders rejected which has become the capstone (1 Peter 2:7).10

Putnam also points out that Augustine, who is heralded as one of the early fathers of the Catholic Church, agreed with this interpretation.  Augustine states in his Homilies on the Gospel of John in Tractate CXXIV:

For, as regards his proper personality, he was by nature one man, by grace one Christian, by still more abounding grace one, and yet also, the first apostle; but when it was said to him, “I will give unto thee 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,” he represented the universal Church, which in this world is shaken by divers temptations, that come upon it like torrents of rain, floods and tempests, and falleth not, because it is founded upon a rock (petra), from which Peter received his name. For petra (rock) is not derived from Peter, but Peter from petra; just as Christ is not called so from the Christian, but the Christian from Christ. For on this very account the Lord said, “On this rock will I build my Church,” because Peter had said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” On this rock, therefore, He said, which thou hast confessed. I will build my Church. For the Rock (Petra) was Christ; and on this foundation was Peter himself also built.11

It’s very important to note here that Augustine seems to know nothing of the Petrine interpretation.12  Instead, his discussion stems from the fact that Peter, as a name, is given to Simon because of his confession of faith and specifically points out that the Rock is Christ.  From here, any competent concordance will help in demonstrating that the type, or picture, of The Rock and Christ is certainly not a foreign concept in Scripture.


While there may be decent grounds for both interpretations of just what this rock is referring to, the most plausible interpretation is that it is in reference to the confession that Peter had just made.  In light of the narrative and the type, or picture of The Rock given throughout the Old Testament and confirmed in the New Testament as pointing to The Messiah, it seems the most natural reading.  But even if we grant the Petrine interpretation, I would only point back to what Dr. Blomberg states, that “there is obviously nothing in these verses of the distinctively Catholic doctrines of the papacy, apostolic succession, or Petrine infallibility”.  Indeed, there is only one way that I know of to get the doctrines out of this passage that Catholicism holds to and that is eisegesis, a manner of inserting your own presuppositions into the text in order to make it mean what you want it to mean.  It is simply not enough to point to Peter as being the subject of this rock in Matthew 16:18.  In the next post I’ll address the second aspect of the passage that Dr. Hahn discusses – the keys.

  1. For translations approved by the Catholic Church please visit Bible Versions and Commentaries.
  2. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Mt 16:13–20). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  3. Pope: Jesus formed “only one church” retrieved Sep. 7th, 2012
  4. Blomberg, C. (1992). Vol. 22: Matthew. The New American Commentary (252). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  5. Blomberg, C. (1992). Vol. 22: Matthew. The New American Commentary (256). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  6. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Mt 16:15–18). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. Emphasis mine.
  7. Nolland, J. (2005). The Gospel of Matthew: A commentary on the Greek text. New International Greek Testament Commentary (669). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.
  8. For a brief and readily available discussion of this see Matthew’s Hebrew Gospel
  9. Thomas Horn and Cris Putnam, Petrus Romanus: The Final Pope Is Here, (Defender Publishing, 2012), 175; emphasis in original
  10. Same source as footnote 9
  11. Augustine of Hippo. (1888). Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel according to St. John J. Gibb & J. Innes, Trans.). In P. Schaff (Ed.), A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series, Volume VII: St. Augustin: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Soliloquies (P. Schaff, Ed.) (450). New York: Christian Literature Company.  Emphasis mine.
  12. If Augustine is aware of the Petrine interpretation of Matthew 16:18, he doesn’t seem aware of it here.  He may address it elsewhere but as of this writing I am not familiar with it.


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  2 Responses to “Why Do We Have A Pope? by Dr. Scott Hahn; Part 2: This Rock”

  1. I am honored to be quoted in this context. What Catholic apologists never admit, but is demonstrably true, is that the papacy as they hold to be today did not exist until the 7th century. That’s why Augustine’s exegesis disagrees with Scott Hahn’s. Hahn presupposes the pretrine myth and reads it back into the passage whereas Augustine was not influenced by such papal propaganda.

  2. Thanks, Cris! Dr. Hahn doesn’t talk much about the origins of the papacy, but he does make the claim that Peter was the first bishop to Rome which is what I hope to address in wrapping up this response to the lecture. The eisegesis is pretty bad at some points in this lecture, to say the least.

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