Why Did Jesus Say Peter Was The Rock On Which The Church Would Be Built?

by Dr. Michael L. Williams · Print Print · Email Email

A common belief of millions of professing Christians is that Peter was designated by Jesus to be the foundation or head of the church. Because of this, great honor is paid to Peter to this day by these same professed believers. When asked why they believe this, many will quote Matthew 16:18-19 as the answer, explaining that Jesus said Peter was the rock on which the church would be built. If this is true, why did Jesus say Peter was the rock on which the church would be built? To answer this, the text in context of Matthew 16 needs to be studied.

What is the context of Matthew 16?

Jesus had just arrived with the disciples at Caesarea Philippi, about 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. He had just left Magdala, which was on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, where he had just debated with the Pharisees and Sadducees who wanted him to produce a sign from heaven to verify who He was. Jesus warned the disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. The disciples did not understand what he meant by warning them to beware of leaven. Jesus explained to them how He had earlier told them not to beware of the leaven of the bread miraculously produced, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. This encounter left the disciples with the idea of people wondering who Jesus was in their minds.

Why Did Jesus Say Peter Was The Rock On Which The Church Would Be Built

What did Jesus mean by building His church upon a rock?

At Caesarea Philippi, Jesus expounded upon this thought when He asked the disciples, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” Their answers varied. They said that some said that He was John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. Jesus then asked them directly, “But whom say ye that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus responded to Peter by saying, ‘Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. 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. And 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’” (Matthew 16:17-19).

So, what did Jesus mean when He referred to building His church upon this rock? First, Jesus stated that Peter did not come up with his answer on his own, but that it was revealed to him by God the Father in heaven. Second, when Jesus said, “…thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church…”, He was making two linguistic points. The first point was a comparison of the name Peter to the word rock. The New Testament was written in Greek. The name Peter in Greek is petros, meaning a pebble or small stone. The word for rock in the Greek is petra, meaning a massive rock or bedrock. Jesus was making the linguistic point that this simple truth that God had revealed to Peter, the pebble, about Jesus being the Christ, the rock.

The second linguistic point was that the rock was the foundation or bedrock upon which He would build His church. This was a reference to salvation through Jesus the Christ. This is referred to in several other passages as follows:

Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste. (Isaiah 28:16)

Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock. But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great. (Luke 6:47-49)

For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:9-11)

Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)

Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, (Hebrews 6:1)

See also Ephesians 1:15-23; Ephesians 4:15-16; Ephesians 5:23; 1 Peter 2:1-8

It is clear from these passages that the church was built upon Jesus Christ, not Peter. Consider for a moment what Jesus said just afterwards to Peter in Matthew 16:20-23. Jesus told the disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Christ. Then Jesus started explaining how He must go in to Jerusalem to suffer and be killed and be raised again on the third day. When Peter heard this, he rebuked Jesus! Peter told Jesus to stay away from there so that it doesn’t happen to Him. Jesus responded by telling Peter “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savour rest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (Matthew 16:23).

Focusing on what Jesus said to Peter, it is hard to believe that Jesus would have meant that He was going to build His church on Peter, whom He referred to as Satan and an offense. To suggest otherwise, would mean that Jesus was mistaken about Peter or that Jesus would build His church on satanic man-made values with Peter as the head. While it is clear that some churches have built their foundation on satanic man-made values, this was not the foundation that Jesus built the church upon.

Conclusion

Many professing Christians believe that Peter was designated by Jesus to be the foundation or head of the church. They base their belief on an out of context interpretation of Matthew 16:17-19. Instead, Jesus referred to Peter being a small pebble that understood the real foundation of the church, Jesus Christ. Reading this passage in proper context along with supporting verses shows us that Jesus is the Christ, the Rock of our salvation.

Read more about Peter here: Apostle Peter Biography

Resources – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, King James Version



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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Tony Reese June 10, 2015 at 9:53 am

Very well done. I’ve often had this debate with other Christians over the meaning of this passage. As always it’s always prudent to read any scripture within context of the whole Bible.

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Dr Michael Williams June 11, 2015 at 12:14 am

Thanks for your comment Tony. Yes, as Peter said, no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. We must let the totality of the Scripture interpret for us the meaning of every passage. This is what amazes me when a theologian of notariety makes a heretical statement saying that Paul and others didn’t know or were ignorant about certain topics, but we know better now that what he taught was wrong. This proves the that they really do not understand that even if Paul could not envision what man says is normal today, the Holy Spirit certainly knew when He inspired the prophets and the Apostles what to write. To say that the Word of God is a myth, full of errors and contradictions is to say that Jesus is a myth, full of errors and contradictions. John 1:1,14. Thanks be to God for His Word. 1 Corinthians 1:30: 2 Timothy 3;1-17.

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Mr Anthony Cotton June 15, 2015 at 1:15 pm

I have evan a print out about this issue,and it states the the sins of Peter above,but when I look up above I can`t see any.
I was brought up a Roman Catholic,but I am a born again Christian now.
I have been on this site about 5 yrs now,and I know Jack really well.
This always crops up who is the head of the Catholic Church,and they always answer Peter because of what Jesus said.
I have told a few that he is not the head of the church,but they always fall back on to what Jesus said so why don`t they understand it like the way you put it.
It`s their in Black and White what Jesus said to Paul “Thou art Peter and I will build “MY CHURCH”.
So evan the Vatican and all it`s bishops,and cardinals take this wording,and say Jesus made Paul the head of the church on earth.
They know it`s Jesus`s church,but the pope is the leader of the church on earth.
So why does the Vatican believe this,and you are talking about learned men who have studied the bible the same has you.
This statement has still got me baffled today.
I know who the head of the church is Jesus,but try telling that to the catholics!

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PJ June 22, 2015 at 1:46 pm

Re: ‘Vatican & learned men who have studied the Bible the same as you’. It’s better to say men who have used the Bible to support false doctrines. The Vatican and it’s teachers ,priests, etc. are not the same as true believers who “……..searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so”. Acts 17:11

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G.Rodrigues August 17, 2018 at 9:37 am

I am a Catholic! Of course Christ is the head of the Church! The Pope is only a human leader heading the Catholic Church to guide it. Everyone has a leader. The Pope does not claim to be God nor do we believe He is God. The Catholic Church believes and follows what is from the Bible but Tran so many different sects including born again change and interpret the word according to their belief. There is no root or grounding and is newly established unlike the Catholic Church which was found centuries ago.

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Jack Wellman August 17, 2018 at 10:08 am

Hello Mr. Rodirgues. I know many Catholics are saved but by praying to and through Mary we are breaking Jesus’ command to pray through His name alone and He also said, “Call no man father,” so I have many issues with the Catholic Church. Just because they’ve been around a long time doesn’t mean it’s the only way or the best way. Anthrax has been around for a very long time and we can’t say that’s good just because it’s been around a long time, because the Islamic faith has been too. I pray you see the Pope as only a man and a sinner, like we all are.

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Mr Anthony Cotton January 9, 2017 at 1:43 pm

Sorry I have been away quite some time now due to a problem with another site which was sending me emails to buy tops and hoodies with slogans on them.
I thought this site was shut down because I never received any emails.
Back to PETER!
PJ you are quite right to point this out.
I just can`t believe how the Vatican can come up with this definition of what Jesus said and meant.
You are talking about millions of people who believe in what the Vatican says.
Surely they must know the meaning of this what Jesus Himself said but they don`t and I have had quite a torrid time with this guy who was in charge of this site who was a Catholic told me if I posted this again I would be removed from the site.
I WAS REMOVED and never went back.

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Mike Coward November 9, 2017 at 4:45 pm

At Caesaria Phillipi is the Temple of Pan. In the cliff wall is a cave with water coming out to start the Jordan River. This is called the gates of hell and in the water is a rock 5 foot wide. Human sacrifices were conducted on that rock and if the blood was seen down below it would indicate their gods approval of the offering. It was probably the most vile place on earth. God being sovereign makes his claim amidst this evil place. There were 4 rocks there, not three, and the gates of hell were represented both literally and symbolically.

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Jack Wellman November 9, 2017 at 5:43 pm

Thank you sir. I think the overwhelming point is that Jesus found the church and He is the Head of the Church and no man…and that is the point of this article. Thank you for adding to our knowledge. I had not heard about the gates of hell being represented there. Interesting that Jesus would say that not even the gates of hell would prevail against His church, and yet many think the church is irrelevant.

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cyp April 2, 2018 at 1:35 am

I like you mentioned Jesus calling Peter Satan because most people that discuss this verse leave this out. And is extremely important.

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David January 23, 2019 at 2:00 am

Out of interest, why do you leave out the verse that immediately follows? After Jesus says, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hadesshall not prevail against it” he goes on to say to Peter in verse 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.”. In those days, the keys, of a typically walled city, were given to the Royal Steward when the King was away – in other words bestowed authority. This in itself doesn’t deny that Peter is a man. A separate point to those suggesting Peter is Satan, why would Jesus refer to Peter as blessed after Peter acknowledged him as the Christ in verse 17? (And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.) God bless you all on your journey in faith and search for the truth.

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Jack Wellman January 23, 2019 at 9:19 am

Hello David. The church has the keys to the kingdom. If Peter were still in charge of the church then we’re in trouble. He’s dead. He’s not hear. Jesus, not Peter or Paul or any pope is head of the church. The statement “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” is building on what Peter had just said..that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. The church has prevailed, not Peter. Peter was blessed because he got to know that Jesus is the Messiah…most aren’t, so he is most blessed. No Scriptures were left out. THank you for yoiur comment sir.

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ashiraladonai October 12, 2019 at 1:13 pm

If the Church has the keys to the kingdom as you claim, why in the original Greek was the comment made in the 2nd person singular – & not plural? Jesus wasn’t speaking of the Church when He’d said “you”. He was speaking to St. Peter with the Apostles present.

Under Thayer’s Greek Lexicon (BibleHub), we read the following:

“c. to give to one’s care, intrust, commit; aa. something to be administered; universally: παντί ᾧ ἐδόθη πολύ, Luke 12:48; property, money, Matthew 25:15; Luke 19:13, 15; ἀμπελῶνα, a vineyard to be cultivated, Mark 12:9; Luke 20:16; τάς κλείς (κλεῖδας) τεσς βασιλείας. Matthew 16:19”

And this under Strong’s Concordance (BibleHub):

“Matthew 16:19 PPro-D2S – on the “you” in the original Greek:

Strong’s Greek: 4771. σύ (su) — 2926 Occurrences

Personal / Possessive Pronoun – Dative – 2nd Person Singular”

Here is the Parallel Greek w/ Strong’s Concordance:

https://biblehub.com/text/matthew/16-19.htm

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Jack Wellman October 12, 2019 at 1:32 pm

Hello friend. Peter is dead. He is not the head of the church nor any man. Scripture teaches that Jesus is the Head of the Church. “The” Rock…the Cornerstone, not Peter or a pope. These far‑reaching claims are based on the verses found in Matthew 16:18-19. Let us make a careful and critical examina­tion of these verses and see what Jesus said and what He actually meant. Here is the text: “Thou art Peter, and upon this Rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And 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.”

The word petros for Peter in the Greek is in the masculine gender and the word petra for the rock is in the feminine gender. Petros and petra are two distinct words in the Greek. Petros is a shifting, rolling, or insecure stone, while petra is a solid, immov­able rock. In the English language the gender is not specified by the article. We say the fork, the spoon, and the knife. The three words have the same article. In the Greek, as in many of the modern languages, each noun and corresponding article is in the masculine, feminine, or neuter gender. In many cases it is an arbitrary arrangement, regardless of sex.

The article in Greek is important. If one noun is in the masculine it must have a mas­culine article, and if it is in the feminine it must have a feminine article. The text under consideration in the Greek shows that petros is in the masculine, and petra in the feminine, proving that they are two distinct words; and each one has a different meaning. Now the question is, on which of the two, petros or petra, did Christ establish His church? Was it on petros, a movable stone, or petra, an immovable rock?

The text indi­cates clearly that the church of Christ is built on petra and not on Petros. Now, who is this petra or rock on which Christ built His true church? Let the Holy Bible again give the answer. If the Bible gives the answer, we make no mistake in accepting it because the definition is authentic. “They drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock [petra, in the Greek] was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4). Here we have evidence that petra refers to Christ, and not to Peter, petros. Again we quote: “Jesus Christ Himself being the chief Cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20) “He is the Rock, His work is perfect” (Deuteronomy 32:4; 2 Samuel 22:2-3) (Douay, 2 Kings 22:2-3).

I suggest you find a good study Bible and you can see how you are in error. I am glad the church wasn’t build on Peter…he was still a sinner, like we all still are, but the church is built upon the Rock…and not a stone, or a man.

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MIchael E Mixon July 28, 2019 at 2:25 pm

I do not think that Jesus meant a physical church but a spiritual church. Building the physical church resulted in our current form of Christianity that is no different than what Jesus encountered with the Pharisees and Sadducees. Just as corrupt today as then.

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Jack Wellman July 28, 2019 at 2:54 pm

Not so Mr. Mixon. Where else would our church meet of over 130? The church are the people of God and not brick and mortar, but brick and mortar are needed to hold this many of God’s children. Your judging churches and Christians is contrary to the Word of God. Please repent since I detect a root of bitterness, and a root of bitterness that’s not removed can grow worse, and to the point of you judging everyone around you but yourself. We are to work out our own salvation, not that of others, according to Scripture. I pray you repent of this bitterness and judging all Christians as Sadducees and Pharisees. This is sin my brother.

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Mathew September 15, 2019 at 6:29 am

Saying Peter was a pebble and that he would bulls his Church on this pebble as a rock. Isnt that like a parable of the tiny mustard seed turning into the biggest tree?

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Jack Wellman September 15, 2019 at 3:53 pm

Peter’s statement that He is the living Son of God is what the church will be built on. Peter’s dead. Jesus lives forever. If it was about Peter that Jesus said He would build the church on would be amazing…build it on a human? No, this is Jesus’ church as He is the Head, not Peter or any pope.

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Timothy Scott September 20, 2019 at 8:37 am

When Jesus left the earth, he needed someone to build and spread his church, and Peter was chosen to do so, despite what you think. Without an organization of some sort, the church and Christianity would not have spread and grown, so thus was born the Catholic Church. If there was no Catholic Church, there would be no Reformation, and the following splittings of the hundreds of Christian churches we now have. As weak, sinning humans, we need a structure of people and brick and mortar buildings to keep us directed towards our goal of being with Jesus forever.

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Jack Wellman September 20, 2019 at 9:33 am

Hello Mr. Scott. Many pepole do not believe in praying to Mary or Joseph or other deceased saints, but to pray only thru Jesus name to the Father. that’s what Christ commanded, so your harsh words for others who are not Catholic is not very Christian and not actually accurate. You base your belief on Matthew 16:18 …’And I say unto thee Peter, thou art Peter [petros], and upon this Rock [petra] will I build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’

So who was the “rock” [petra] that Christ was talking about? Was it Peter like the Catholics believe? Or was Christ speaking of Himself? Well, we are going to use the best way of getting to the TRUTH of this verse, by using the Bible to interpret itself.

Who did Peter believe was the “rock” upon which the church was to be built? Speaking of Jesus Christ before the people, Peter said:

Acts 4:11-12 …’This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.’

Ok, is there any reference at all here from Peter that the church was to be built upon himself? No, he clearly points to Christ Jesus as the “stone” or “rock” that the church is to be built on, with Jesus being the HEAD of it. And notice what else Peter says. He clearly states that NO OTHER NAME HAS BEEN GIVEN AMONGST MEN whereby we can be saved. Only Jesus Christ. And yet the Catholic leaders teach that it is only through the Roman Church that salvation can be secured, due to Jesus giving Peter the “headship” of the church. But Peter himself disagrees with them!

We are not critizing the Catholic Church but neither so you should not criticize (chastize is a better word) non-Catholics. I am saddened by your harsh words for “people of bring and mortar buildings.” The church is not a building but believers, the Body of CHrist, but they cannot all squeeze into a house, and need brick and mortar to give space for more people. You have a great misunderstanding about many things. I pray you see your harshness and doctrinal errors.

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ashiraladonai October 12, 2019 at 2:25 pm

@Jack Wellman

Peter is not dead unless you deny the power of Christ that those who abide in Him live because He lives.

John 11:25-26 King James Version (KJV)

25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:

26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?

In the New Covenant, we are one in Him. Death does not separate us from Him – nor from one another if united & abiding in the Vine, Who is Christ Jesus. That is Scriptural, sir.

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Jack Wellman October 12, 2019 at 2:49 pm

Peter cannot run the church from heaven…Jesus does my friend. Yes, Peter is not dead, but he is not here on the earth to run the church. As I said before, Jesus is the Head of the Church. Dozns of places proclaim that. Don’t put your faith in any man…but only in the Lord. You are greatly mistaken.

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