When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ. (Matthew 16:13-20)
A superficial reading of the passage above might leave one with the impression that Peter is the rock on which Jesus builds His church. However, the thought that a fallible man should form the foundation of a church that is able to withstand any onslaught by the devil warrants further investigation.
Considering the lifespan of the church compared to that of a man, even one with the stature of the apostle Peter, should raise some questions. The apostle Peter, although renewed by the new birth and empowered by the baptism in the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, remained somewhat of a flawed character, as the passage below indicates:
Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? (Galatians 2:11-14)
Peter was intimidated by the presence of some Jewish Christians that held onto some of their old traditions. The Lord had dealt with Peter concerning this matter before, when he was sent to the to the house of Cornelius. (See Acts 10:9-20 and 24-28) Cornelius was a Gentile, and under Jewish law it was not lawful for a Jew to enter his house, but the Spirit Himself sent him there. As he was still speaking to Cornelius and his household, the Holy Spirit fell on them, confirming the Lord’s offer of salvation to the Gentiles.
But when some traditional Jews arrived at the event described by Paul in the passage above, Peter compromised, “played the hypocrite,” and sided with them, instead of standing up for the truth of grace, which is the centre piece of the gospel.
It is inconceivable that the Lord would build His church on such a man, or any other man for that matter. No man qualifies for this position. The rock that the church is built on is the revelation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God! No other foundation, no matter how religious it may sound, is strong enough to overcome the attacks of the enemy against the church.
Jesus is victorious over all things; He is the head of the church, His very own body on earth. (See Philippians 2:8-11)
Also, referring to the passage above, the claim of the Roman Catholic Church that Peter was their first pope has no support in the New Testament. The Bible is silent on the matter; instead it mentions that Peter was the apostle to the Jews, while Paul was the apostle to the gentiles. Rome is Gentile territory. Peter’s ministry was clearly based in Jerusalem, as we often see him in connection with the church there. Paul, on the other hand, spent much time in Rome as a minister to the Gentiles.
But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. (Galatians 2:7-9)
Paul says of himself “to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles, (See 2 Timothy 1:11) and, “For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry… (See Romans 11:13)
The church is not an institute, but consists of individuals who personally established their faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. Church membership cannot save you, as the Roman Catholic Church teaches, only faith in the living Christ can. And that is how one becomes a member of the body of Christ on earth, also called the church.
This revelation is a personal experience with the living Lord himself. Head knowledge about Him is not enough, just as knowing about Him is not the same as knowing Him personally. This first-hand experience changes a person and enables him to be victorious over the enemy.
Back to the question about foundation. Two different words in the original language of the New Testament text were translated ‘rock’ in modern languages. The verse in question should read like this:
And I also say to you that you are Πέτρος = Petros = Peter, and on this πέτρα = petra = rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
There is a difference between petros (Strongs G4074) and petra (Strongs G4073). Petros is a rock or a stone, while petra is rock, a large stone, a rock, cliff or ledge. The difference is in the size, and size matters here! When you think of petra, think of Petra in Jordan.
But the Bible has more to say about the foundation of the church:
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
Since this passage mentions multiple apostles and prophets as the foundation of the church, and not only the apostle Peter, it is clear that it refers to their teaching instead of their personalities. The doctrines of the New Testament church came to us through the teachings of these men, and these still stand today as the foundation that guides our faith. Our doctrines rest on the corner stone, Jesus Christ Himself; He upholds this spiritual building called the church, and is also the head of His body on earth.