On this Rock

Prelude, Purpose, Plan

Protestants, Orthodox and Catholics largely agree on perhaps 95% of the most important teachings of Christianity. Why do we drift from the message that Jesus taught into partisanship and graceless rivalry? For instance, how do we deal with the claim by Rome of exclusive church authority descended from the Apostle Peter? A common proof-text is Matthew 16:13-20. What does this passage actually say and not say to us?

1. Matthew 16:13 Caesarea Philippi

In Matthew 16:13 we read, When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’” Caesarea Philippi was a city built on a rock to honor Caesar Augustus who called himself the son of a god. The imagery and the contrast with brutal human leadership were evident. In contrast to Caesar, the leaders of the Church of God were not to elevate themselves above their fellows, but become servants of all. The authority of deciding church matters was given to Peter but not to him alone. Jesus later explained that the other Apostles also carried decision-making authority (Matthew 18:18). The rock we build Christian ministry on is Jesus Christ not people.

2. Matthew 16:15-17 Who do We Say He Is

In Matthew 16:15 Jesus asked his disciples, “But who do you say I am?” The answer to that question defines us. Peter answered it and he was named after the Rock of our Salvation. Are we like Peter, rock of the Rock? Some things about God are revealed to us by God alone. What a shame that this passage is overshadowed by those who wish to promote their own flesh and blood church leadership. Yet, when we understand who Jesus is, when that is revealed to us from our Father in heaven, then we too are Rock of the Rock and we receive the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

3. Matthew 16:16 Origen’s View of the Rock

Origen commented on Matthew 16:16 writing, ‘if we too have said like Peter, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," not as if flesh and blood had revealed it unto us, but by light from the Father in heaven having shone in our heart, we become a Peter, and to us there might be said by the Word, "Thou art Peter," etc. For a rock is every disciple of Christ of whom those drank who drank of the spiritual rock which followed them, and upon every such rock is built every word of the church… all bear the surname of "rock" who are the imitators of Christ...’

4. Matthew 16:18 Peter was Rocky not Pope

We are called Christians because we believe in Christ. We could also be called Rocks of the Rock of our salvation, Jesus. That’s how many early Church fathers saw Peter’s faith in Jesus who is the cornerstone in the Church’s foundation of prophets and apostles (Ephesians 2:20). Jesus nicknamed Cephas as Rock (Peter) just as followers of Christ are named Christian. There is nothing in Matthew 16:18 declaring Peter as first in succession of men carrying sole authority over the entire Church. Nothing in the Bible or in early church writings universally supports the dogma of a Roman papacy as the sole Christian authority throughout the rest of Church history.
Reference: Saint Augustine, Retractions (20.1) and Sermons (vol 6, sermon 229)

5. Matthew 16:18 You are Peter

In Matthew 16:18 we read, I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church.” Peter is “Petros” and rock is a feminine “Petra” in Greek. Rome says that the rock in Matthew 16:18 was the same word as Peter in Aramaic. Where is the evidence that this conversation was in Aramaic? People from Galilee commonly spoke Greek as well. Does internal linguistic evidence show Matthew was written in Greek and that Jesus most likely spoke in Greek? Are linguistic markers of a translation from an Aramaic conversation absent? Many early church Fathers did not agree with Rome’s interpretation of this.

6. Matthew 16:18 Upon THIS Rock

Does the word “this” make Jesus’ statement “on this rock I will build My church” point away from Peter? It is a feminine Greek pronoun. If Rome’s argument about translating from Aramaic were correct, shouldn’t the meaning be made clearer not ambiguous? Why wouldn’t Jesus say, “upon you I will build my church”? Does the Greek grammar of the word “this” contradict Catholic dogma by directing our attention away from Peter as its intended meaning? What did it point to? Many early church Fathers said that “this rock” was Peter’s confession of faith, while others said it was Christ Himself. Is the grammar then clear that Peter was not the rock?

7. Matthew 16:18 Augustine’s View of Peter

Augustine of Hippo wrote, Christ is the rock (Petra), Peter is the Christian people. For the rock (Petra) is the original name. Therefore Peter is so called from the rock; not the rock from Peter; as Christ is not called Christ from the Christian, but the Christian from Christ. "Therefore," he saith, "Thou art Peter; and upon this Rock" which thou hast confessed, upon this Rock which thou hast acknowledged, saying, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God, will I build My Church;" that is upon Myself, the Son of the living God, "will I build My Church." I will build thee upon Myself, not Myself upon thee.’

8. Matthew 16:18 Chrysostom’s View of Peter

Chrysostom did not believe Matthew 16:18 supported Papal succession. ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church;" that is, on the faith of his confession… He that has built His church upon Peter's confession...’ (1) Peter’s authority over all the world did not continue beyond his grave other than through those who confessed the same faith. "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ....I have preached Christ, I have delivered unto you the foundation. Take heed how you build thereon, lest haply it be in vainglory, lest haply so as to draw away the disciples unto men." (2)

9. Matthew 16:18 The Gates of Hades

In Matthew 16:18 Jesus spoke of the church that the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” In Greek mythology, Hades is pictured as a place with strong gates that do not permit escape. In this context, Jesus most likely used the term as a metaphor for the grave. That which overthrows all other societies will not overthrow the church. Many have tried. Roman Emperors, Zoroastrians, Jews, Persians, Middle Eastern Muslims, Chinese, Indians, Japanese, Bhutanese Buddhists, Russian Communists, Mexican governments, Madagascans, Fascists, Nazis, and North Korean despots all failed to destroy the church. The grave has no power over those who know that they will rise from the dead.

10. Matthew 16:19 Pope Impossible

The Apostles of Jesus Christ were scattered far and wide. How reliable was communication between the Christians of India, Ethiopia, Turkey and Spain? Is it unrealistic to claim Peter’s authority over all these lands in a time when it would have been a matter of practical impossibility? Early church fathers did not interpret Matthew 16:19 as Rome later came to. Could it simply be that wherever the right faith is to be found, there are the keys to the kingdom? How can any one person have a monopoly on that faith? Is that why Paul wrote that no other foundation than Jesus Christ can be laid (1 Corinthians 3:11)?

11. Matthew 16:19 Tertullian’s View of the Keys

In Matthew 16:19 Jesus said, I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.” Tertullian taught that the whole Christian faith is built upon Peter being the first to confess Christ. What about the keys? Tertullian believed that, ‘(Peter) himself, therefore, was the first to unbar, in Christ's baptism, the entrance to the heavenly kingdom...’ He reasoned that Peter’s confession gave him and any others who showed this same faith, the key to the kingdom, not human politics and a succession of popes in an exclusive church. Indeed, ‘from that time forward, every number (of persons) who may have combined together into this faith is accounted "a Church"’.

12. Matthew 16:19 Whatever You Forbid/Permit

In Matthew 16:19 we read, Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.” As Peter opened the kingdom of heaven by his declaration of faith, so do the descendants of the faith of Peter “declare the terms under which God forgives sin and allows entrance to the kingdom.”1 This is shared by all the Apostles in Matthew 18:18. Their decisions “will have been tied up” and “will have been untied.”2 This is not divine endorsement of mere human decisions but divine guidance, enabling each to be “the faithful steward of God’s prior decisions.”3
1Michael J. Wilkins. The NIV Application Commentary. Zondervan. 2004. 578.
2R. T. France. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. The Gospel of Matthew. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2007. 626.
3Ibid. 627.


Rivalry between Christian denominations only damages the message of Christ. Are we not all on the same team? When the Church was truly catholic, long before its many schisms, early church Fathers had no consensus of opinion on Peter’s role. Focusing on things that Matthew 16:18 does not say instead of what it does say dishonors the words of Christ. The passage neither states that Peter was the first pope, nor that he would head an apostolic succession of popes.
Are not all of us (Protestants, Orthodox and Catholics) Christians of Christ, rocks of the Rock when we, with Peter, openly declare that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God”? Because of our confession, are we not also then His “church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it”?


Saint Augustine, Retractions (20.1) and Sermons (vol 6, sermon 229)
Michael J. Wilkins. The NIV Application Commentary. Zondervan. 2004. 578.
R. T. France. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. The Gospel of Matthew. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2007. 626.
Ibid. 627.

Clean Hearts


Much of human bigotry is based upon physical characteristics such as race, nationality, income, religion and so on. Yet, Jesus shows that what is important is whether or not our hearts are clean.


Let’s examine the bigotry of putting some people down because of their outward appearance.


We will look at Matthew 15:10-28 and two confrontations that Jesus had.

1. Read Matthew 15:10-19 (Confrontation with the Pharisees)

Defiled by the Words

What makes us clean or unclean? Old Testament laws defined clean and unclean foods and practices. The Pharisees’ hand washing ritual was a man-made rule of serious devotion to those laws. Jesus' disciples were criticized for ignoring the ritual. Jesus was blunt and provocative. He stated that these highly respected religious leaders were not of God and that the disciples should ignore them. Was Jesus concerned with spiritual cleanness? Was the real purpose of Old Testament cleanliness laws to teach us about being spiritually clean in our hearts? Fastidiously following the Old Testament food laws does not guarantee a clean heart. Can religious rituals distract us from important matters of the heart? Faith is not outward religious mumbo jumbo, a show. Cleaning up unclean hearts is God’s focus. Are we letting God wash our hearts clean?

Necessary Offense

Some people have the philosophy that we should by all means avoid offense. If we naively swallow the line of politically correct speech we may find difficulty with passages such as this. Yet, Jesus was often faced with a dilemma, avoid offense and stand for nothing or cause offense and teach a valuable lesson. He often criticized the Pharisees publicly. Jesus was no kisser of rear ends. At times tough words are required in order to bring out the best in people. The shock value of offensive language is used sometimes throughout the Holy Scriptures to wake people up and bring them to repentance. One of the weaknesses of the King James Bible is that it watered down some of that language due to English cultural prejudice towards polite speech. Tough love occasionally requires speaking in a blunt, offensive manner.

When Blunt is Right

Some cultures have a reputation for being tactless and blunt while others seem to be more diplomatic and polite. To the well-mannered among us Jesus’ behavior here may seem inappropriate. Yet Jesus was without sin, so is it ourselves that we need to examine? What can we learn from Jesus' bluntness in his encounter with the Canaanite woman? Grace towards others includes tact and is therefore in many cases a good response. However, is tact the appropriate course in every situation? In professions like the theater, choreography, firefighting and the military there is little time for polite diplomacy. Commands must be given sharply and followed quickly. When someone is about to drive over a cliff, is saying "Pardon me" really appropriate? Positive confrontation can be used for good and what Jesus did was always good.

2. Read Matthew 15:20-28 (Confrontation with a Gentile Woman)

Faith not Race

Jesus rejected a Gentile woman asked for healing, saying that it was not right to give the children’s food to dogs? Wow! Rather than take offense, the woman boldly challenged Jesus. Her faith was bigger than her racial sensitivities. Jesus was elated to see her great faith and healed her daughter. Could such a glowing compliment coming on the heels of such an awful insult be the core of this lesson? Was Jesus really a racial bigot or testing her faith? Dare we judge Christ by human political correctness? A good teacher will sometimes challenge students with an offensive view to bring out the best in them. How could Jesus, who created all of humanity, be racially bigoted? Doesn’t the story really show that regardless of race, bold faith is what counts with Jesus?

Was Jesus Rude & Bigoted?

The story of Jesus and the Gentile woman is one of the most shocking. Jesus appeared to be rude and bigoted. It was an animated encounter. The woman cried for mercy and the disciples, like a bunch of school bullies encouraged Jesus to just get rid of her. It is reminiscent of some churches today, who turn away from communion those of a different church or shun family members who have left their order. Why was Jesus so uncharacteristically blunt? Unlike harshly exclusive churches Jesus relented when he saw faith. Faith is what matters, not the race or church or order that a person belongs to. Abraham was the father of the faithful. Faith transcends breed, and Jesus’ drama emphasized that point. When will we get over our religious bigotry and recognize the faith of others?

Confrontation Jesus-Style

We don’t like confrontation. Yet occasionally it is necessary. Some avoid it by gossiping or pretending that everything is okay. Others confront in negative and divisive ways by the extremes of bullying or cowardice. Jesus confronted a Gentile woman in a positive way. What can we learn from this in regard to confrontation Jesus-style? First, we notice that Jesus gave the woman no reply. The time for confrontation was not until she became insistent. Second, he became increasingly specific with the woman. First, he replied mildly about his ministry excluding Gentiles. Then he became very blunt, reminding the woman of her ancestry. The Canaanites once engaged in child-sacrifice and ritual prostitution. This disgusting history is perhaps why Israelites called them dogs. The confrontation revealed the woman’s faith for the disciples to see and Jesus intervened as she requested.

An Unclean Person made Clean by Faith

In the Old Testament period unclean eating and unclean people were equally forbidden. Some have tried to link the lists of unclean foods with in-edibility, but that is reading into the Bible more than it says. The whole of the laws of clean and unclean are summarized by Peter’s remarkable revelation that we should no longer call any person unclean (Acts 10:28). And so Jesus began leading his disciples into this new understanding by confronting a Gentile woman from a region with a particularly heinous history, Canaan. Every nation has a history of crimes against humanity. Americans bow their heads in shame over slavery and stealing native American lands. Australians bow their heads in shame over genocide of the Tasmanian aborigine. Germans bow their heads in shame about the holocaust. Jesus’ confrontation was a lab lesson in understanding that faith makes anyone clean, no matter what their historical background.

Shame and Grace

Shame is a terrible burden. Are we so ashamed of our past that we find it difficult to pray? A Gentile woman asked Jesus to heal her daughter. We are not told of her personal sins, only that she was from a culture known for ritual prostitution and sacrifice of newborn children. Our culture is similar, with our shameless immorality and killing of inconvenient unborn children. When we are ashamed of personal sins or the sins of our people we may find it difficult to pray and ask God for any blessings. We may feel undeserving and we would be right. None of us is deserving. However, God’s grace covers shame. He blesses us though we don’t deserve it and this story is one of many examples where God graciously intervened when someone boldly requested his help. God welcomes all who come in faith.

Welcome Mat or Trespass Sign

What kind of sign is outside our church building? What kind of reputation do we have in the community? Do we seem to have a welcome mat or a no trespassing sign? The discussion between exclusivity and inclusiveness in the Church is two thousand years old and the conversation is not over yet. Part of that discussion is these events. The Old Testament was very exclusive. Males had to be circumcised. Everyone had to meet strict requirement of ritual cleansing. Even marriages with foreigners were forbidden. Israel’s relationship with its neighbors was best described as a one-way street with no compromises. In the New Testament, we find a change. The requirements are simple: repentance towards God, faith in Jesus Christ and willingness to follow where the Holy Spirit leads. All people everywhere are included.

When Jesus says No

When Jesus says no are we reluctant to appeal? Remember the persistent Gentile woman here and the persistent widow elsewhere. Could it be that God will sometimes test our faith in ways that make us think he is unfair, racist, bigoted, rude, arrogant or uncaring? Yet, in the end his mercy is just. Faith means not giving up. Jacob wrestled all night with God’s messenger. It seems that God wants us to learn to be unrelenting. Indeed, he that endures to the end shall be saved (Matthew 10:22, Matthew 24:13). Just as a wise parent will encourage a placid child to fight for themselves, is God trying to bring out the best in us by helping us to learn persistence even in the face of insults?

Unable to be Insulted

Don’t you just love to be around people who are unfazed when they are insulted! Some people just shrug their shoulders, others even agree with the insults with a so-what attitude especially if a fault that is common to all is part of the affront. There are many similar fascinating approaches that defuse potentially angry encounters. Jesus insulted a Gentile woman by saying that it's just not right to take bread out of the children's mouths and toss it to the dogs. Many people would hurl back another insult and some might even want to start a useless fist fight over such taunting words. What did the woman do? Rather than be insulted she turned the insult to her favor, by insisting that even the dogs get to eat the crumbs from the table. Let’s imagine a time when our culture has few Christians left.

The Year 3020

It is the year 3020. Asia and Africa are wealthy Christian continents. After a thousand years of poverty and trouble, Europe and America are returning to Christianity. Historians tell us what happened to the once great Christian powers of Europe and America. They became decadent and worshipped the gods of Money, Power and Sex instead of the true God. They were Democratic Oligarchies making parents work long hours with low pay and with little time off. Families were sacrificed for the wealthy elite. Reminiscent of other ancient societies like the Canaanites they were sexually promiscuous and killed their unwanted children. Christianity waned, marriages failed and children suffered most. They became possessed by the demons of violence. In the year 3020 many from Europe and America are returning to Christianity and praying to Jesus to heal their children. Is this our future? Are we filled with national pride and arrogance or do we come to Jesus with nothing?

She Came to Jesus with Nothing

The woman of Canaan came to Jesus with nothing. European and American Christians come to Jesus with pride and arrogance. We believe that our heritage makes us superior. Canaanite history by contrast was reprehensible and despised. We quickly forget our own shame. The Napituca, Mystic and Jamestown Massacres are only a few of the many shameful acts of American history. The Spanish Inquisition, Polish pogroms and Nazi atrocities are only a few of the many shameful acts of European history. The disciples were from a people with a long history of knowledge of God but they had little faith. The Canaanite woman came to Jesus with nothing, but her faith was strong. Perhaps like Paul we ought to count our own pasts as dung (Philippians 3:7-8) and come to Jesus with nothing to brag about.

Tradition Does not Guarantee Faith

The woman of Canaan came to Jesus with nothing but was praised for her great faith. The Pharisees came to Jesus with a great tradition in the Holy Scriptures but were criticized for their almost total lack of faith. Modern Christianity is based upon Scripture, tradition, reason and in some cases experience. Of those, Scripture is the most reliable. Our traditions often mirror those of the Pharisees and our literature reflects the Jewish Talmud. We are proud of our traditions, whether they are ancient or modern. We speak highly of our Church fathers and bind rules upon our denominations that neither Jesus nor the Apostles demanded of the Church. We ask if we have fulfilled all the requirements that were established by mere men, but do not ask if we have great faith. Yet it is faith that saves.


Bigotry defines some people as unwashed, unclean, unwanted based entirely upon physical characteristics such as race, nationality, income, religious tradition and so on. Yet, Jesus shows that what is important is whether or not our hearts are clean and filled with faith. Will we allow him to make our hearts clean by faith?