Thursday, September 8, 2016

MATTHEW 16 - WHO OR WHAT IS THE ROCK?



Matthew 16

v. 13) When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His Disciples, saying, “Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?”

v. 14) And they said, “Some say that you are John the Baptist: some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the Prophets.”

v. 15) He said unto them, “But whom say you that I am?”

v. 16) And Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

v. 17) And Jesus answered and said unto him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood have not revealed it unto you, but My Father which is in Heaven.”

v. 18) And I say also unto you, “That you are Peter and upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.”

v. 19) “And I will give unto you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven: and whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.”

Introduction

This article is the second in this series, and it’s topic is not a new one.  This debate has been raging for centuries, and many gallons of ink have been spilled in defending the arguments on both sides, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.  But we would like to examine the Catholic view of this passage and offer some food for thought on this topic.
 
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“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…” [directly referring here to Matthew 16:18]. (CCC #881)

“The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.  For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.” (CCC #882)

The Catholic Church claims that Peter alone is the rock upon whom Jesus built His church.  And from that “foundation” grows this giant structure which is known today as the Catholic Church, with Peter as its Supreme Pontiff (pope), whose successors will enjoy the gift of infallibility and “universal power” over the whole church, and will each be known as the “Vicar of Christ.”  He will be headquartered in Rome, with his multi-layered hierarchy of priests, monsignors, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and popes, not to mention other sub-categories, e.g., nuns, monks, abbots, etc.  All this mostly arises out of an eisegesis of the passage above.  Eisegesis is reading something into the passage rather than allowing the text to speak for itself.

So, let’s analyze the passage in question.

“Petros” and “Petra”

There are two important Greek words in Matthew 16:18 relevant to this topic, “petros” and “petra.”  Jesus stated, “You are Peter [“petros”] and upon this rock [“petra”] I will build My church.”  According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance (Complete and Unabridged), “petros” (Strong’s #4074) means “piece of rock.”  On the other hand, “petra” (Strong’s #4073), means “mass of rock.”  So, we immediately see that there is a distinction between these two words.  And, by the way, Strong is not the only scholar who makes such a distinction.  See here:


Yes, Peter’s name means “rock” (actually, “piece of rock”) and he was indeed, in a sense, a rock.  We’re not denying that.  But it’s like saying that a man’s son is “a chip off the old block” when he resembles his dad.  In the same way, Peter resembles Jesus (in purpose and behavior) and is therefore named Peter (“petros”).  In other words, it is simply a play on words, where Peter is a representative of Jesus.  Just as there is a resemblance between Jesus and Peter, there is a resemblance between “petra” and “petros,” but again, “petros” and “petra” are two different words with similar, but distinct, meanings.

But Catholics are trying their best to say that Peter alone (CCC #881) is the “petra,” the rock and foundation upon which the church is built.  Was Jesus really saying that only Peter is the foundation of the church (along with all the “hierarchy” and “infallibility” attachments) or did He mean something else?

Matthew 16:16-18

Let’s look at it more closely.  In v. 16, Peter makes an extremely important statement, confessing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  Ok, now notice the tiny word, “it” in v. 17:  “flesh and blood has not revealed IT unto you,” referring to what Peter said in v. 16.  In v. 18, Jesus points to this same “it” when He says, “Upon THIS rock.”  These two tiny words (“it” and “this”), we believe, are the key to this whole argument.  “It” (v. 17) and “this” (v. 18) are pointing to the same thing.  They are pointing to Peter’s statement of who Jesus is.  THAT is what the church of Jesus Christ is built upon – the revelation that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, the Christ.  He is the object and focus of the good news (the gospel) of salvation.  So, it is that truth, that revelation of Peter’s statement about Jesus, or better yet, Jesus Himself, that is the foundational Rock, not Peter.  We’re not trying to take anything away from Peter, but we want to be faithful and accurate with God’s Word. 
   
If God intended to identify Peter as the rock, then why doesn’t the inspired Greek text say, “You are Peter and upon you I will build My church”?  This would have removed all doubt.  If Peter is the intended foundation, then why would Jesus use two different words in the Greek (“petros” and “petra”) with two different meanings?  Again, this a play on words and God intended to distinguish the two from each other.  Related, but not the same.

The Gender Argument

But Catholics will say that “petros” is masculine and it wouldn’t be right to call Peter a feminine name like “petra.”  Yes, “petros” is masculine, but this gender argument doesn’t hold water, because the feminine “petra” is also used in other verses (Romans 9:33; 1 Corinthians 10:4; 1 Peter 2:8 – see below) in describing Jesus Himself (certainly a male).  But the inspired author could have easily avoided any “gender issues” by simply saying, “You are petros and upon this petros I will build My church.”  Problem solved.  But no, the inspired Greek doesn’t say this.  So, this “gender objection” falls flat. 

Consistency in Scripture

“Petra” refers to Jesus here in Matthew 16:18 just as much as it refers to Jesus here:  

“As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock [“petra”] of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.” (Romans 9:33)

And here:

 “And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock [“petra”] that followed them: and that Rock [“petra”] was Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:4)

And also here:

“And a stone of stumbling, and a rock [“petra”] of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.” (1 Peter 2:8)

Notice who is speaking in this last verse.  This was written by Peter.  Of all people, Peter himself would have known if he was the “rock,” the foundation of the church.  If Peter really did have a “special office,” different than, and above all the other apostles, then why doesn’t anything in Peter’s epistles reflect that idea?  In fact, we see equality with the other apostles there, instead (1 Peter 5:1).

The Phantom Aramaic

But Catholics will say that Jesus spoke Aramaic, and that the book of Matthew was actually first written in Aramaic, not Greek.  They tell us the Aramaic word for rock is “Kepha” (or “Cephas,” which is the name Jesus earlier gave to Peter – John 1:42).  Supposedly, the Aramaic uses the same word for “Peter” and for “rock.”  They say that this verse in Aramaic would read, “You are Kepha, and upon this Kepha I will build My church.”  So Catholics believe that this proves that the apostle Peter and “the foundational rock” are one and the same.

But this is a very weak argument, since we don’t have any manuscript copies of Matthew in Aramaic.  Why would the Catholic Church refer to something that doesn’t even exist?  This is pure speculation and it only shows the weakness of their argument. 
 
Besides, in John 1:42, when Jesus said, “Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, a stone [petros], we can see that the Aramaic “Cephas” is translated into the Greek “petros” anyway, not “petra.”  In Scripture, the two terms (“petra” and “petros”) are never used interchangeably.  The bottom line here is that the inspired language that God used for the New Testament is Greek.  And Greek is a very specific language… which distinguishes between “petros” and “petra.”  So, this argument also fails.
 
Thrones and Foundations

And if Peter really did have primacy over all the other apostles, then why is this not mentioned or implied in Matthew 19:27-28, or Luke 22:29-30, where Jesus tells the apostles that they will sit on twelve thrones?  In both cases, Jesus had opportunity to make Peter’s status over all the others clear, but He mentions nothing of the sort.  Nothing is said about Peter’s throne being special, or different than any of the others.  Again, in Revelation 21:14, the walls of the city of New Jerusalem have twelve (seemingly equal) foundations with the apostles’ names on them, but it never implies that Peter’s foundation would be special or stand out in any way above the foundation of the other apostles.  Strange, if Matthew 16 were implying otherwise. 

An Argument Settled
 
In Luke 9:46-48, the disciples are arguing about who is the greatest among them.  It is interesting that in this same chapter, just a few verses earlier (Luke 9:18-21), we have the parallel passage to Matthew 16, where Peter is supposedly made the “rock.”
 
But when the disciples started arguing here (v. 46), Jesus didn’t say, “Hey guys, we’ve just gone through this already!  I just told Peter that HE was the rock, that HE was the greatest among you!  Why are you arguing about this.  Have you already forgotten?”  No, Jesus says nothing at all like this.  He simply points out their need for humility (v. 47-48).  This clearly demonstrates that there was no apostle who was above all the other apostles. 
 
Papal Claims

The papacy’s extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.  The Catholic Church would need far more than this eisegesis of Matthew 16 to prove anything like a papacy, with all its accompanying (unbiblical) attachments.  Peter was indeed one of the leaders of the apostolic circle and he even was a “rock,” but he didn’t have the office or the type of primacy that the Catholic Church gives him.

Ephesians 2:20 would have been an excellent place for Paul to point out Peter’s primacy over all the others.  But instead of mentioning Peter only, Paul speaks of apostles (plural) and prophets (plural) as being the foundation of the church.
 
The reason that they were the foundation is because they were the first to receive the message of the gospel.  They were the pioneers of the foundational revelation given to the church, and this is the message of salvation through Jesus Christ alone, who is THE Rock.  Neither this passage nor any other in Scripture singles Peter out as a separate foundation.

Emphasis on Peter?

So, the emphasis in Matthew 16 is NOT on Peter.  Jesus said, “Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?  He didn’t ask, “Hey Peter, whom do men say that YOU are?”  Just because Peter grasped the revelation of who Jesus was, doesn’t make him a pope.
 
And it’s not like Jesus’ question about His identity (just above) was a test for all the apostles, and only Peter got the answer right.  That’s not likely.  It wasn’t that none of them except Peter knew the correct answer, it’s just that Peter would often speak first.  He was impetuous, that is, he would often act or speak quickly, without first thinking things through - sometimes with good results, and sometimes with bad - for example, Matthew 14:25-31; 16:21-23; 17:1-5; 26:33-35; John 13:6-9; 18:10-11; 21:5-7.  But that was Peter’s nature.

And for the record, pointing out special things that Peter did also does not demonstrate a papacy.  We could just as well point out the many special things that the apostle Paul did, but no one is claiming that he’s a pope.
 
Conclusion

The issue is not whether Peter is some type of “rock” or some kind of “foundation.”  Protestants already believe that both can be applied to him.  But the real question is this:  Can you biblically demonstrate that Peter is above or greater than all the other apostles, as the Catholic Church insists?  We firmly believe that the answer is no.

But even if it could be proven beyond a doubt that Peter is the “petra” in Matthew 16, the foundation upon which the church is built, it is STILL not Peter apart from the other apostles.  You can say that Peter is a rock in some way, but you cannot biblically isolate Peter, as a foundation, from the rest of the apostles (Ephesians 2:20; Revelation 21:14).

Once again, Catholics are reading way too much into this passage.  Matthew 16 is simply about our Lord building, heading and sustaining His church, as Christians proclaim the good news of salvation (the gospel of Jesus Christ) and set people free through knowing Him and trusting in His work on the cross.

We will continue with this series next month. 
 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

MATTHEW 16 - HAVE THE GATES OF HELL PREVAILED?



Matthew 16

v. 13) When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His Disciples, saying, “Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?”

v. 14) And they said, “Some say that you are John the Baptist: some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the Prophets.”

v. 15) He said unto them, “But whom say you that I am?”

v. 16) And Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

v. 17) And Jesus answered and said unto him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood have not revealed it unto you, by My Father which is in Heaven.”

v. 18) And I say also unto you, “That you are Peter and upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.”

v. 19) “And I will give unto you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven: and whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.”

Introduction

This will be the first article in a series dealing with Matthew 16.  This wonderful passage above contains great encouragement for the church of Jesus Christ.  However, the Catholic Church claims that this passage  is “proof” that they are the church that Jesus has established from the beginning.  Here, they believe that Christ singled out Peter the apostle and made him the first of many popes.  They also see in this passage a special gift given to Peter alone, and they believe this somehow points specifically to the Catholic Church.  They derive some of their foundational doctrines by misreading these verses.  But these Catholic doctrines are founded on shifting sand (Matthew 7:24-27).

The Tactic

When someone accuses the Catholic Church of teaching false doctrine, the Catholic will often say, “Oh, no!  If the Catholic church would fall into error, then this would mean that Jesus’ words to Peter (“the gates of hell will not prevail against it”) would be false.  You wouldn’t want to call Jesus a liar, would you?!!  Therefore, the Catholic church cannot possibly teach error.  It is indefectible.  It is infallible.”

Or so they say.

The Gift of Indefectibility?

In last month’s article, we mentioned that the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia stated:

“The gift of indefectibility is expressly promised to the Church by Christ, in the words in which He declares that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” 

Well, the Catholic Church is not indefectible by any means, and this supposed gift of indefectibility was not at all “expressly promised” to them, or to anyone else, for that matter.  This is a misinterpretation of the passage.  See this article:


The Gift of Infallibility?

And neither is the church infallible.  “Infallible” means, in part, that one cannot teach error.  Since Peter was an apostle and since he wrote two infallible books of Scripture (1 and 2 Peter), he did have access to infallibility when teaching or writing under the inspiration of God.  But there is nothing whatsoever in the above passage that would suggest that Peter’s successors would be infallible or teach infallibly.  The Catholic Church reads into this passage a special privilege for themselves that no one else can claim.  After all, according to them, they are the true church of Jesus Christ.  But every article on this blog is a testimony to the fact that the Catholic Church is NOT the church that Jesus Christ built.

The Gates of Hell Will Not Prevail

Jesus promised the true church that the gates of hell would not prevail against it.  There are several arguments over what exactly this means, but basically, we know that Jesus is saying that the true church will endure to the end and succeed in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ and His saving work on the cross, and winning souls, keeping those souls from going to hell.  This is how the gates of hell will not prevail.  It has nothing to do with a particular group “never teaching error.”

Error in the Church

Again, the Catholic Church believes that this is a “can’t-teach-error” passage, and that it only applies to THEM.  But if “hell prevailing” means that error was taught, then hell did indeed prevail, because there were all sorts of error in the early church.  That’s the very reason why the great majority of the epistles in the New Testament were written in the first place.  They were written to correct FALSE TEACHING within the church!  Although the church did not experience a complete apostasy, error was present in different degrees and at different times, even in the early church.  See these examples:  Acts 20:17, 28-30; Galatians 3:1-3; 2 Thess. 2:3, 10-11; 1 Tim. 4:1-2; 2 Tim. 4:3-4;  2 Pet. 2:1; Jude 3-4; Revelation chapters 2 and 3.

Therefore, Matthew 16:18 must have a different meaning than what they think it means.  It is not about an office of a “pope” with successors who could not possibly teach error.  It is not about indefectibility or infallibility for a particular denomination.  It is about the gospel, the good news of the salvation of Jesus Christ, the True Messiah, Who is the head of the church, and Whose gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16).  THIS is the foundation on which the church is built, and it has nothing to do with Catholicism.

Qualifiers

Yet, the Catholic Church continues to teach that this passage is about an infallible church.  But they will “qualify” (limit or restrict) the scope of this “gift of infallibility” by saying things like, “But this ONLY applies to OFFICIAL teachings of the Church.  For example, the Catholic Church’s gift of infallibility only applies when the pope is making an official pronouncement; and it’s got to be directed to the whole Church.  It’s not just when a pope offers his opinion or some unofficial comments about a teaching, nor for ‘disciplinary decisions,’ but it has to be when he is formally declaring something.  Furthermore, it is only a ‘negative protection’ for the Church.  This means that although the pope doesn’t necessarily always teach what he needs to teach, this gift simply prevents him from teaching error as truth, so it’s only used in a negative sense.”

But this is all special pleading.  The Catholic Church conveniently tailors this “gift” with ridiculous qualifiers to suit the needs (and ego) of the Church.  There is so much read into these verses that the original meaning of the passage is unrecognizable!  Their interpretation of the passage is a fantasy… and it is a perversion of the Scriptures.

And using “supporting” verses like 1 Timothy 3:15 (“the church is the pillar and foundation of truth”) doesn’t help, either.  Here, Paul’s instruction to Timothy was basically, “You need to be a pillar,” not “You are guaranteed to be an infallible pillar.”  See here:


And they also try to support their interpretation of Matthew 16 with verses like Luke 10:16 (“he that hears you hears Me”), but this was spoken by Jesus to the seventy, not to the apostles.  So, when ANY believer shares the truth of the gospel, Jesus is saying to that believer, “He that hears you hears Me.  So, these verses do not at all support the Catholic Church’s twisting of Matthew 16 and their claim of an infallible papacy.

Conclusion
Two things we know for sure:  1) “The gates of hell have not prevailed against the church” is a true statement, but NOT for the same reason that the Catholic Church says.  It is not because the church cannot teach error.  It is because of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) of spreading the gospel, which is the power of Jesus Christ for every believer.  And 2) The Catholic Church is NOT exempt from error, even in its official statements.  There are far too many contradictions between what the Bible says and what they teach.

We will continue addressing Matthew 16 and the Catholic Church’s view of it in our next article.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

THE “INDEFECTIBLE” CHURCH



Indefectible.  It’s a big word that you don’t hear very often.  In fact, it seems that the only time you hear of the word, it is almost exclusively used by Catholics in referring to their church.  Here are a few examples of Catholic sources speaking of their Church’s supposed indefectibility:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“…The most intimate cooperation of the Holy Spirit and the Church is achieved in the liturgy.  The Spirit, who is the Spirit of communion, abides indefectibly in the Church…” (CCC #1108)

The Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church said that the Church is “indefectibly holy” (Lumen Gentium 39)

The Vatican document Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past (International Theological Commission, December 1999) speaks of the “indefectible fidelity” of the Church.

Also, according to the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia (online):

“The gift of indefectibility is expressly promised to the Church by Christ, in the words in which He declares that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Under “The Church”)

Note that the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia references Matthew 16:18 here (“the gates of hell will not prevail”).  We plan to deal with Matthew 16 in next month’s article.

But what does the term “indefectible” actually mean, and why does the Catholic Church use this particular word?  According to these popular dictionaries, this is the definition of “indefectible”:

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

1)   not subject to failure or decay:  lasting
2)   free of faults:  flawless

Dictionary.com 

       1) not defectible; not liable to defect or failure
       2) not liable to fault or imperfection; faultless

Oxford Dictionary

1     1) not liable to fail, end, or decay
       2) having no defects; perfect

Ok, so the word means perfect, having no defects and no end, flawless, free of faults, not subject to failure, etc.  It’s interesting that Catholics don’t seem to have a problem attaching a word with such a weighty meaning to their beloved church.  But does this really define the Catholic Church?  Is this word a fair description of it?  Seriously, does the Catholic Church really expect us to believe that any of its people, individually or corporately, are “flawless,” “not subject to failure,” or “perfect”?  History and Scripture would surely disagree with this conclusion.  Obviously, there is no church that is perfect.

But in what sense do Catholics believe their Church is indefectible?  In basically two ways.  They believe that not only will the Catholic Church remain and live on forever, but that it also can never teach error. 

But the first problem we have with this is that the Catholic Church sees ITSELF as the true church, the one Jesus said of whom the gates of hell would not prevail, and that they ALONE are the ones who have received this promise.  No, the Catholic Church is not the true church, as is painfully evident throughout this blog.  Not only is it not the true church of Jesus Christ, but it is very unbiblical in many of its teachings.  The true church is made up of individual believers worldwide, in many different places, who believe, trust in, and are committed to serving Jesus Christ and are following His Word.

Concerning the permanence of the church, we don’t have an issue with the belief that the true church will endure to the end.  That is certainly a biblical idea.  We agree that Matthew 16:18 does indeed address that concept.  But the church will not be flawless in its teachings or its behavior, as the word “indefectible” would demand.  By definition, any less-than-perfect behavior would negate (cancel) this claim to indefectibility. 
 
But Catholics will say that the Church’s indefectibility does not apply to its behavior.  But remember, the official Catholic statement above (Lumen Gentium, paragraph 39) calls the Catholic Church “indefectibly holy.”  And notice that the context of paragraph 39 deals with the Church’s sanctification, and therefore, its morals and behavior.  Therefore, this “gift” of indefectibility must necessarily also refer to the Catholic Church’s morals and behavior.  You can’t have indefectible holiness and less-than-perfect behavior at the same time.

In the other quote above about the Catholic Church’s “indefectible fidelity,” the document says that, “the [Catholic] Church is at the same time holy [indefectibly so] and always in need of purification…”  But this is a blatant contradiction!  Again, you can’t say that it is both indefectible in its holiness and at the same time, needing purification in its behavior!  This destroys the very definition of the word “indefectible.”  So, if the term doesn’t really apply to the Catholic Church (which it doesn’t), then DON’T CALL IT INDEFECTIBLE!  Use another word.  Using this term is dishonest and arrogant. 
 
Notice that the apostle Paul does not tell Timothy, “Hey, just kick back and relax,Timothy, since the leadership of the church has this special gift of indefectibility.  All your teachings will automatically be true and will come out perfectly, no matter what, so you don’t ever have to worry about teaching error!”  No, he tells Timothy to guard his teaching (1 Timothy 4:16; 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:14) and fight to maintain it.  This doesn’t sound like a gift of indefectibility in which Timothy couldn’t preach error, even if he tried.  Why should it be guarded if it was never in danger?  It’s a great exaggeration to attach the word “indefectible” to any earthly person or group after the apostolic era.  God alone has that perfection, that flawlessness.

The true church is made up of godly, but imperfect, humans.  We can indeed have assurance that the true church will prevail, but only because of the power and faithfulness of Jesus Christ, Himself.  The bottom line is, the Catholic Church is wrong: an “indefectible” church simply does not exist.