Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Is Peter the Rock???

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.

In preparing a sermon on Matthew 16, I have become somewhat disheartened. It must have become fashionable at some time for Protestants to believe Peter himself is the rock upon which the church is built (though many try to qualify with Peter AND the other apostles). William Hendrickson takes this view as does the Reformation Study Bible in its notes on verse 18. Edmund Clowney, former President of Westminster Theological Seminary, in his book The Church, also holds to Peter as the rock. All three sadly fail to deal with historic Protestant exegesis of this passage, instead they simply dismiss it by saying that if Rome had not abused the passage in the first place, no one would question the Peter-is-the-rock interpretation. Allow me to remind everyone of the actual history of the Protestant exegesis, so the folly of such a dismissal will be apparent.

Those who hold the Rock is Christ (just for the record I hold to this position):
Not only do Reformers such as Turretin (3.18.Q17.164-5) and Bullinger (iv.81) hold that Jesus is the rock, but so do many church fathers. Augustine, one of the four doctors of the early church, held that Christ was the rock, as did Hilary of Pointers - both men predating any abuse by Rome. Jerome, another of the four doctors, also taught that the rock was Christ.

Those who hold the rock is the confession or faith:
Here we can see John Calvin make his stand, and he is not alone. Chrysostom of Constantinople in the early 5th century makes this claim. This was not against papal abuse, which was just beginning, but simply a commentary on the verse. Theophylact also holds that the rock is the confession and faith of Peter. Claudius Archbishop of Turin (early 9th century) wrote commentaries on the books of the Bible at the behest of the Holy Roman Emperor, Louis the Pious, and on Matthew 16:18 clearly shows he believes the rock is the “apostle’s doctrine” (J.A. Wylie, History of Protestantism, vol. 1 pg. 22).

Those who reject Peter as the rock, but whose alternative unclear:
Athanasius of mid-4th century fame falls here. He never seems to support the idea of Peter as the rock, but does use the verse in a discourse about Christ seeming to refer to Jesus as God as the rock upon which the church is built (NPNF, vol. 4. Pg. 447) in his discourse against the Arians. Yet, again he does not apply the phrase to Peter, but rather says nothing will prevail against Faith after quoting verse 16 and 17 in a fragment from letter 29 (NPNF, vol. 4 pg. 551). Cyprian, too, denies Peter is the rock, seeming instead to apply the rock to all bishops everywhere, which has been interpreted by some to show a belief that the faith of Peter is what stands as the rock. However, he also seems to be the first to apply Peter as the rock in other places.

In fact, according to Launoi, only 17 of the Fathers of the church (leaders before the 12th century) can be found to express the opinion that Peter is ‘the rock’, and no less than 40 deny Peter as the rock (ANF vol. 5 pg. 561). With all of this evidence easily at hand, it seems odd that the authors of the study notes in the Reformation Study Bible would be so dismissive of any other interpretation. It also seems odd that so many people would think the not-Peter-rock interpretations arose only after the text was stolen by papists. This is untrue because we know that men like Augustine and Jerome were teaching such interpretations prior to its usurpation and perversion by roman bishops. Perhaps in a future post, I will be able to discuss this issue further. For now it is simply enough to show my displeasure at the growing trend.


Kevin said...

I'd suggest that given the diversity of interpretation, the Peter=rock reading is distinctly possible. And given the structure of the larger text, it is very likely. Consider:

Earlier Peter confesses Christ.
Later Peter rebukes Christ.

Earlier Peter received divine revelation.
Later he has in mind the things of men.

Earlier he is given the name Peter.
Later he is called Satan.

Earlier his is the rock upon which the church is built.
Later he is a stumbling stone.

I think the correspondence is illuminating and persuasive. It leaves very little wriggle room in the context. So, I suggest the Peter=rock reading is the most warranted reading of all.


Lee said...

Thanks for your comment, but I am afraid I do not see correspondence. Besides the fact that I do not believe this is where Peter receives the name 'Peter' (it is actually the only place in Matthew where he is called Simon), all I see is contradictions. This seems to me an argument against Peter as the Rock. How can one minute Peter be the Rock which Hades will never overcome and the next minute be working for Hades and Satan? It seems to either imply that the rock is not very solid, or that the rock is something or someone other than Peter. For those examples to be correspondences, the question of how Peter remains the rock must be answered. I look forward to yours, and thanks for commenting.