AHC A You Are the Messiah You Are the Rock Ordinary 21 - Hebrew Catholics

Association of

Hebrew Catholics

New Zealand Branch

“You Are the Messiah!” — “You Are the Rock!”

Ordinary 21     Year A

A Hebrew Catholic Perspective

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St. Matthew 16: 13 — 20



The scene where the event in our text occurs is a secluded northern spot near the outskirts of Caesarea Philippi, built by the Tetrarch Philip to honour and ingratiate himself to the “divine” Emperor of Rome. Going from Bethsaida, our Lord chose this location as a quiet place of retreat for His chosen Apostles and for Himself.

The place is significant, not only because it is twenty odd miles from
North of the Sea of Galilee, and really “out of the way” of the Lordꞌs
antagonists, but also because of what it symbolised. “Caesarea Philipi”
means “Philipꞌs Caesarea”. It was the ancient Paneas, expanded and
largely rebuilt by Herod Philip II, tetrarch of Ituraea, and cleverly
named after Caesar and himself. It is not to be confused with Caesarea
built earlier by Herod the Great (Philipꞌs father) on the sea-coast,
north of Jaffa (Joppa).

This beautiful city was Herod Philipꞌs tribute to the invincible god, the
Emperor, against whom his enemies could never prevail — or so he believed.

At last Jesus is alone with His disciples for a few days. For nearly three years He has been revealing Himself concerning His divinity. It is now time for Jesus to take a decisive step!

We are familiar with the custom of Jesus (as seen in Matt. 14: 23) to pray intensively before events of great importance. This was His way of opening the hearts and souls of His hearers to the divine message He wished to convey to them. The event soon to be witnessed by the Apostles has always been seen as one of supreme importance since the beginning of the Church.

Again, let us note His model of intense prayer preceding action.


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Some Reflections on the Text

Verse 13

When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he
asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

Bearing in mind the setting for this event, we need to note that when Jesus takes His disciples aside in this way, it is always for in-depth instruction, for rest, and for prayer: all in a harmonious balance. This occasion is no exception. As is so often the case, out of such a time together, momentous understandings are developed.

So Jesus asks his disciples, words to the effect:

“What are people saying about Me?”
“Are they saying I remind them of someone?”

Verse 14

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.

•     Why John the Baptist? Remember Herodꞌs fear,
       and his belief in transmigration of souls.

•     Why Elijah? It is widely believed that Malachi had
       prophesied (3: 23) that Elijah would return at the end of time.
       Jesus had earlier (Matt. 11: 10 — 14) talked of John the Baptist
       in this role.

•     Why Jeremiah? Our Lordꞌs fearless denunciation of
       wrong, and the doers of wrong, made Him resemble in
       many ways the character of Jeremiah (Callan, O.P.) Also
       this could be based on II Maccabbees 2:1 — 12 (L. F. Miller).

•     Why one of the other prophets? These were all held in
       high regard in Judaism, and there was much speculation
       about this young, bright and knowledgeable rabbi walking
       in the sandals of some such prophet.

So, they reply that He is referred to in a variety of ways such as: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets. The answers are kind, but unsatisfactory, because they don’t convey to Jesus the other things people have said about Him. Why do the disciples (we are talking of the twelve apostles) not mention the belief that Jesus was the Messiah? Quite simply, Jesus had successfully demonstrated that He was definitely not the kind of messiah-figure the people wanted to follow. As they came to realise that, they gradually gave up listening to Him. The crowds were generally convinced that He was a holy man but, apparently, not the Messiah.

Verse 15

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Jesus quietly, perhaps rather solemnly, accepts their reply. At an appropriate moment, equally quietly, he asks:

“But what about you. Who do you say I am?”

Verse 16

Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the
Son of the living God.”

Without delay, having listened to all of Jesus’ explanations as to why he is not the popular image of the Messiah who would lead Israel out of Roman bondage, and having listened to the gripes and bitter criticism of Jesus by many would-be followers, Simon (or Simon Peter, or even Peter as he was later called) now answers our Lord from the depths of his soul.

“You are the Anointed One. You are the Messiah
(in Greek, Christ).
  You are the Son of the living God!”

Verse 17

Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon
son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed
this to you, but my heavenly Father.

Clearly, warmed and profoundly moved by this beautiful declaration never before heard from human lips, Jesus in turn addresses Simon in words never before applied to a human being.

“You are greatly blessed, Simon bar or ben Jonah, (Jonah’s son), for this was not revealed to you through human means. This was revealed to you personally by my Father in heaven. You have heard all the human reasons why I am not good enough to be the Messiah, and you have rejected them all. Thus my Father has found your soul open to receiving the truth from Him, and it is this you have just proclaimed.”

We notice how our Lord switches back to Simonꞌs own original name and adds the traditional, ꞌSon of Jonahꞌ to emphasise his earthly status, as well as his cultural background. He is a Jew answering for his people. In the very next sentence Jesus resumes using the name Peter, given long ago (See John 1: 42).

Verse 18

And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will
build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not
prevail against it.

This is a beautiful and unique moment. Each man has attributed to the other a title of great Biblical significance. It is a critical moment as the Messiah is fully identified on the terms he chose.

It is also a turning point for the twelve and for Simon, who, in memory of this occasion, continued to be called Rock; or in English (retaining a link with the Greek text of this Gospel) Peter.
Sadly for the Church, one and a half millennia later, this single verse became the most hotly debated in the whole of Scripture.

Great cataclysmic eruptions within Christianity have taken place as factions have fought each other over its meaning, and caused catastrophic damage.

Our Reflection, on this text therefore needs to go to greater lengths to help our readers continue steadfastly and remain deep-rooted in their Faith. Our comments will reflect a genuine, early church, Hebrew Christian perspective, which we share willingly with those who wish to at least understand this viewpoint, even if seeing it quite differently.

Much divergence seems to arise from an over-emphasis on textual analysis — important though that be; and from historical and political influence which, although long passed, can still exert a strong impact on how we see things. Our position is that we all need to reflect humbly yet nobly on this vital element in our Christian heritage. For those who wish to take a little extra time to look closely at this amazing passage, we offer Appendix 1.

Jesus had more to say to Peter — stunning words, the meaning of which we are still learning.

Verse 19

I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and
whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

As with verse 18, the rabbinic cultural setting for our Lordꞌs formal appointment of St. Peter is the background which lightens up the text.

To “bind” and to “loose” in Hebrew usage are absolutely clear references to the authority to declare a matter lawful or unlawful with respect to the Torah — i.e. to the Law, Godꞌs personally gifted Words and Teaching for His People.

There can be no mistaking our Lordꞌs intent in speaking in this way to His newly appointed “Foreman”, “Royal Steward”, “Prime Minister”, “Chamberlain” or “Vice-Regent” — whichever harmonises with the culture of the relevant time and place.

Our Lord, our beloved Rabbi, is here giving authority to St. Peter, as His representative, to make known, explain and determine the Torah of the Gospel — His Law, His Words, His Teaching. In due time, Peter came to understand, as did the infant Church, that our Lord Jesus Christ was the embodiment, the incarnation of the Word — the Torah — of God. Thus St. Peter was to become the Chief Rabbi, as it were, appointed by Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit to lead, to serve, to guide, to encourage, and finally to die the privileged death of a martyr.

We strongly encourage students of Scripture to read this Appendix 2 (Explanation of Verses 18 and 19) which offers a very readable commentary on these important verses.

Jesus adds to Peter’s newly declared position within the twelve:

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven; whatever
you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever
you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven”.

Verse 20

Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that
he was the Messiah.

This amazing episode closes with our Lord demanding that the disciples do not tell anyone what they heard Peter say! This was His way of preventing the people, who expected the Messiah to establish a kingdom, from initiating a political movement and proclaiming Him King. (Compare with Matt. 8: 4).



It is very tragic that Christians are so divided over this passage of Sacred Scripture. The text is one of the most beautiful in the whole Bible. In fact, it was intended to help maintain unity, focus and spiritual stamina in the Christian community. We could be forgiven for thinking, “How could we have gone so wrong?” The answer, however, is to shift our focus back on to our Lord’s teaching and message — and to take great care to do this, respecting the unique cultural heritage in which He chose to present all of this.

This Apostolate seeks to encourage listening to Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate — and to one another. We simply must do this or watch the Church disintegrate to the rejoicing of its hostile enemies all too eager to encourage our in-house fighting.

Our Reflection on the passage upon which we have been meditating has attempted to present the historically traditional view of the text. We hope this encourages fellow Christians, or at least helps clarify misunderstandings of the past.

We close with part of a beautiful sermon from St. Cyprian. All Christians desiring to heal the breach of division in the Church can — fortunately — even if, perhaps, with differing interpretations — read and affirm the principle of unity St. Cyprian upholds. Let us pray that we can be instruments whereby we help promote the unity of Christ’s Body, the Church, and collectively, help hold back, with God’s help, the raging, destructive forces pitching their worst against it.


St Cyprian (C.E. 195 – 258 approx) Bishop of Carthage

The Lord said to Peter: ‘I now say to you: You are Peter and
on this rock I will build my Church… I will give you the keys
of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth shall
be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth
shall be considered loosed in heaven.’

To him again, after his resurrection, he says, Feed my sheep.
Upon him, being one, he builds his Church; and though he gives
to all the apostles an equal power, and says, As my Father sent
me, even so send I you; receive ye the Holy Ghost: whosesoever
sins ye retain, they shall be retained; — yet in order to manifest
unity, he has by his own authority so placed the source of the
same unity, as to begin from one. Certainly the other apostles
also were what Peter was, endued with an equal fellowship
both of honour and power; but a commencement is made from
unity, that the Church may be set before us as one; which one
Church, in the Song of Songs,
(6: 9), doth the Holy Spirit
design and name in the person of our Lord:

My dove, my spotless one, is but one; she is the
only one of her mother, elect of her that bare her.

He who holds not this unity of the Church, does he think that he
holds the faith? He who strives against and resists the Church,
is he assured that he is in the Church? For the Blessed Apostle
Paul teaches this same thing, and manifests the sacrament of
unity thus speaking;

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one
hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God.

                                    (St Cyprian, On the Unity of the Church)


To all our readers desiring and praying for unity in our Lord Jesus Christ, we offer the Aaronic Blessing, begging God’s peace and lovingkindness be poured out upon us all.


The Blessing of Aaron

Numbers 6: 24 — 26

The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!




Further Reading

For those who would like a detailed
study resource on the readings for the Sunday, please visit:

Agape Bible Study — 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

If you require only the section on the
Gospel reading, just scroll down the page.

To view all the material on the Agape website please visit:


This website is highly recommended:


Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature

(Mark 16: 15)

The real Jesus, is the real answer to the real needs of the world!

Let us remember God’s teaching, contained in His Word and in doing
so, remain close to Him. The following are only examples illustrating
how you can note the gems the Holy Spirit highlights for your on-going

“You Are the Messiah!”     “You Are the Rock!”

Ordinary 21   Year A                  St. Matthew 16: 13 — 20

1.    One of the greatest tragedies for Christianity has been how our Lord’s
       intention to provide for unity among Church members has been turned
       into a cause for division.

       Those who decline to look to the Chair of Peter have continued to
       sub-divide, the catch-cry being, “Fit or split!” There is no room for
       finger pointing in any direction, or hijacking the moral high ground.
       We all share in the casualty which has resulted, and we all need to
       play our part in rebuilding respect and understanding with the most
       sincere intention of preparing the way for the Lord to restore His Unity.
       Our Lord prayed for unity on behalf of His Apostles on the night of the
       Last Supper (John. 17). We, too, can join Him in praying for this gift to
       be bestowed on His Church.

2.    “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” How privileged was
       St. Peter who, alone, was favoured by God the Father with the
       inspired knowledge that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah — despite
       what “everyone” was saying! We take it for granted, but to the people
       of our Lord’s day, this was an amazing declaration. Would this not be
       a worthy acclamation to ascribe to the Lord in our daily prayer? How
       much we need to recognise the truth it proclaims. As we begin to
       proclaim this awesome truth, it will impact on our
spiritual stamina and
       insight — and help others do the same.

        3.    The world around us, increasingly, ridicules Biblical principles —
               especially Christian understandings. Some large religious organisations
               constantly promote the bizarre, ridiculous, if not “miraculous” and thus
               actually denigrate the real Jesus of the New Testament. All of this has been
               very effective in eroding Western allegiance to Christ, and led to massive  

               “walk away.”  We will need to counteract this influence in positive ways to
               strengthen a deeply spiritual, yet down to earth, practical Faith.

Let us pray for one another to take firm, decisive action to build our lives on the life
and teaching of Jesus Christ: Messiah, and Son of the living God.



 Click here for a printable copy of these Reflections


Matthew 16: 13 — 20

Ordinary 21     Year A


13     8 When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi 9 he asked
         his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

14     They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, 10 others Elijah, still
         others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15     He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

16     11 Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the
         living God.”

17     Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
         For flesh and blood 12 has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly

18    And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my
        church, 13 and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.

19     I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. 14 Whatever you
         bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on
         earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

20     15 Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was
         the Messiah.

9 [13] Caesarea Philippi: situated about twenty miles north of the Sea of Galilee in the territory ruled by Philip, a son of Herod the Great, tetrarch from 4 B.C. until his death in A.D. 34 (see the note on ⇒ Matthew 14:1). He rebuilt the town of Paneas, naming it Caesarea in honor of the emperor, and Philippi (“of Philip”) to distinguish it from the seaport in Samaria that was also called Caesarea. Who do people say that the Son of Man is?: although the question differs from the Marcan parallel (⇒ Mark 8:27: “Who . . . that I am?”), the meaning is the same, for Jesus here refers to himself as the Son of Man (cf ⇒ Matthew 16:15).

10 [14] John the Baptist: see ⇒ Matthew 14:2. Elijah: cf ⇒ Malachi 3:23-24; ⇒ Sirach 48:10; and see the note on ⇒ Matthew 3:4. Jeremiah: an addition of Matthew to the Marcan source.

11 [16] The Son of the living God: see ⇒ Matthew 2:15; ⇒ 3:17. The addition of this exalted title to the Marcan confession eliminates whatever ambiguity was attached to the title Messiah. This, among other things, supports the view proposed by many scholars that Matthew has here combined his source’s confession with a post-resurrectional confession of faith in Jesus as Son of the living God that belonged to the appearance of the risen Jesus to Peter; cf ⇒ 1 Cor 15:5; ⇒ Luke 24:34.

12 [17] Flesh and blood: a Semitic expression for human beings, especially in their weakness. Has not revealed this . . . but my heavenly Father: that Peter’s faith is spoken of as coming not through human means but through a revelation from God is similar to Paul’s description of his recognition of who Jesus was; see ⇒ Gal 1:15-16, “. . . when he [God] . . . was pleased to reveal his Son to me. . .”.

13 [18] You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church: the Aramaic word kepa – meaning rock and transliterated into Greek as Kephas is the name by which Peter is called in the Pauline letters ( 1 Cor 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; 15:4; Gal 1:18; 2:9, 11, 14) except in Gal 2:7-8 (“Peter”). It is translated as Petros (“Peter”) in John 1:42. The presumed original Aramaic of Jesus’ statement would have been, in English, “You are the Rock (Kepa) and upon this rock (kepa) I will build my church.” The Greek text probably means the same, for the difference in gender between the masculine noun petros, the disciple’s new name, and the feminine noun petra (rock) may be due simply to the unsuitability of using a feminine noun as the proper name of a male. Although the two words were generally used with slightly different nuances, they were also used interchangeably with the same meaning, “rock.” Church: this word (Greek ekklesia) occurs in the gospels only here and in Matthew 18:17 (twice). There are several possibilities for an Aramaic original. Jesus’ church means the community that he will gather and that, like a building, will have Peter as its solid foundation. That function of Peter consists in his being witness to Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God. The gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it: the netherworld (Greek Hades, the abode of the dead) is conceived of as a walled city whose gates will not close in upon the church of Jesus, i.e., it will not be overcome by the power of death.

14 [19] The keys to the kingdom of heaven: the image of the keys is probably drawn from Isaiah 22:15-25 where Eliakim, who succeeds Shebnah as master of the palace, is given “the key of the house of David,” which he authoritatively “opens” and “shuts” ( Isaiah 22:22). Whatever you bind . . . loosed in heaven: there are many instances in rabbinic literature of the binding-loosing imagery. Of the several meanings given there to the metaphor, two are of special importance here: the giving of authoritative teaching, and the lifting or imposing of the ban of excommunication. It is disputed whether the image of the keys and that of binding and loosing are different metaphors meaning the same thing. In any case, the promise of the keys is given to Peter alone. In Matthew 18:18 all the disciples are given the power of binding and loosing, but the context of that verse suggests that there the power of excommunication alone is intended. That the keys are those to the kingdom of heaven and that Peter’s exercise of authority in the church on earth will be confirmed in heaven show an intimate connection between, but not an identification of, the church and the kingdom of heaven.

15 [20] Cf Mark 8:30. Matthew makes explicit that the prohibition has to do with speaking of Jesus as the Messiah; see the note on Mark 8:27-30.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition
(c) 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington D.C.
and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part
of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission
in writing from the copyright owner.



Appendix 1

Name change in the Bible

And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build
my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail
against it.
                                                                                  (Matthew 16: 18)

In Matthew 16: 18, our Lord gives Simon a new name. Many readers take little
notice of this. However, the Biblical tradition relating to name changes by God,
highlights this as something very significant.

From our Lordꞌs words, and reflecting on His style which incorporates
great clarity and precision, it is widely held He had in mind two
passages from Scripture: Genesis 17: 1 — 6, and Isaiah 51: 1 — 5.
We present these here as they are so very important in understanding
what Jesus was preaching.


Genesis 17: 1 — 6

1   1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared
     to him and said: “I am God the Almighty. Walk in my presence and
     be blameless.

2   Between you and me I will establish my covenant, and I will
     multiply you exceedingly.”

3   When Abram prostrated himself, God continued to speak to him:
4   “My covenant with you is this: you are to become the father of
     a host of nations.

5   2 No longer shall you be called Abram; your name shall be Abraham,
     for I am making you the father of a host of nations.

6   I will render you exceedingly fertile; I will make nations of you; kings
     shall stem from you.

1 [1] The Almighty: traditional but incorrect rendering of the divine title shaddai, of uncertain meaning.
2 [5] Abram and Abraham are merely two forms of the same name, both meaning, “the father is exalted”; another variant form is Abiram (⇒ Numbers 16:1; ⇒ 1 Kings 16:34). The additional – ha – in the form Abraham is explained by folk etymology as coming from ab-hamon goyim, “father of a host of nations.”


Isaiah 51: 1 — 5

1   1 Listen to me, you who pursue justice, who seek the LORD; Look
     to the rock from which you were hewn, to the pit from which you
     were quarried;

2   Look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth;
     When he was but one I called him, I blessed him and made him

3   Yes, the LORD shall comfort Zion and have pity on all her ruins;
     Her deserts he shall make like Eden, her wasteland like the garden
     of the LORD; Joy and gladness shall be found in her, thanksgiving
     and the sound of song.

4   2 Be attentive to me, my people; my folk, give ear to me. For law
     shall go forth from my presence, and my judgment, as the light of
     the peoples.

5   I will make my justice come speedily; my salvation shall go forth
     (and my arm shall judge the nations); In me shall the coastlands
     hope, and my arm they shall await.

1 [1] Rock . . . pit: your glorious ancestry.
2 [4-5] The conversion of the Gentiles.

Rabbinic Source

Traditional rabbinic teaching related a story emphasising how God made use of chosen people (sometimes a person, sometimes a body of people) to be His agent in the world.

There was a king who desired to build and lay foundations. He dug constantly deeper but found only a swamp. At last he dug and found a petra. He said, “On this spot I shall build and lay foundations”. So the Holy One, blessed be He, desired to create the world, but sitting and meditating on the generations of Enoch and the flood, He said, “How shall I create the world, seeing that those wicked men will only provoke Me?” But as soon as God perceived that there would rise an Abraham, He said, “Behold, I have found a petra upon which to build and to lay foundations of the world.” Therefore he called Abraham Rock, as it is said, look to the rock from which you were hewn ….. (Isa. 51: 1 and 2)
(Yal. 1. 766, cited by S. Shechter, Studies in Judaism, 2nd series, Pg. 118 and 119.)

It is helpful to remember, for the sake of continuity in Sacred Scripture, to recall that Godꞌs promise was renewed in Jacob:


Genesis 35: 10 — 11

God said to him: “You whose name is Jacob shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” Thus he was named Israel.

God also said to him: “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and multiply. A nation, indeed an assembly of nations, shall stem from you, and kings shall issue from your loins.

Thus we can say:

Abraham was considered to be the rock from which the people Israel was hewn (Is. 51: 1 — 2), and a rabbinic saying claims that Abraham was the rock on which God built the world. Similarly, Peter will be the human patriarch and foundation-stone of the new people of God.
(Matthew, by John P. Meier, Veritas Publications 1980)

This Patriarch of the new people of God, Peter (Petra, Rock) will be blessed in ways corresponding to Abraham and Jacob.

Some would say, how strange that God would build His plan of salvation for mankind on men, though great indeed, who were — humanly speaking — not without grave weaknesses. We go seriously astray, however, in our understanding of Scripture when we fail to recognise that God’s choice of all-too-human vessels is at the very centre of His Plan. Human frailty lost us Eden. God uses human frailty in the Divine Restoration in a way that ultimately gives glory to Him. There is no short cut! Jesus did not set up His Church with angels running it. His choice is to work through the weakest of creatures so that, ultimately, the Glory of God will shine forth for the whole of creation to see. That should be a great source of comfort to us all.

The Church has come to apply the same title (i.e. father) to each of these great patriarchs. We talk of “our father Abraham”, and in the case of the patriarch heading the Church, the title came into use a century and a half after later — more in respect of the role than as a formal title.

Of particular importance are the parallel features associated with the two men.


Two Patriarchs: Abraham and Peter

•   Both men were established as patriarchs: heads of successive generations in
    the Faith.

•   They were called “rock” by the Father and the Son.

•   Many nations would spring from them.

•   Indeed, each would be associated with Godꞌs expressed Will:

“For my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.

•   In each patriarch, God served notice that in the restoration of His Household, the    
    defining characteristics would include especially:

openness and inclusivity for all sincere people;

— an enriched sense of belonging and feeling accepted
     back into His family;

strong unity among His People, and an accompanying
     sense of identity in the world;

— a passionate belief in their Faith and mission.



During the first centuries of the Church’s existence, Christians honoured our Lord’s choice of title for its leadership on earth. They talked of the Chair of Peter. They also, increasingly, honoured the patriarchal role from Scripture — papas (Greek) — father of nations. Although the latter was used quite widely, it retained the aspect of “head of a household,” no matter how small or local a part of the whole Household of God: all connected in mission and purpose. Political interference later created division among Christians, but the Biblical perspectives we have described remain a source of inspiration to us, and can help us foster unity among the Body of Christ.



Explanation of Matthew 16 verses 18 And 19

 (Based on “The Gospel According to St. Matthew, by L. F. Miller, S.T.J.; Joseph Wagner, Publishers. 1937).
Adapted for Internet use.

Click here for a printable copy of this paper

Verse 18

And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will
build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not
prevail against it.



At His first meeting with Simon, Jesus declared to him that his name
would be changed to Peter. In the list of the Apostles, Matt. 10: 2, the
name Peter had already been given to him. Whenever God changed
the name of a person, this was done to designate a special office or
dignity divinely conferred upon him. God changed Abram’s name
to Abraham:

“No longer shall you be called Abram; your name
shall be Abraham, for I am making you the father
of a host of nations.

I will render you exceedingly fertile; I will make
nations of you; kings shall stem from you.”
                                                          (Gen. 17: 5 — 6).

Jacob’s name was changed to Israel:

God said to him: “You whose name is Jacob shall
no longer be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your
name.” Thus he was named Israel.

God also said to him: “I am God Almighty; be
fruitful and multiply. A nation, indeed an assembly
of nations, shall stem from you, and kings shall
issue from your loins.  
          (Gen. 35: 10 — 11).



On the present occasion, Jesus declares the future office of Peter, because
of which He had changed his name from Simon. In the Aramaic language,
which Jesus spoke, the term translated by the name “Peter” means rock,
and it is not known to have been used before this time as a personal name.
Hence, the words of Jesus are equivalent in English to:

“You are Rock, and upon this rock I will build my church.”

The symbolic meaning that Jesus attached to the name Rock, or Peter, is
apparent from the name itself, from the context, and from Old Testament
usage. In the Hebrew Old Testament God is often called a rock — e.g., in
Deut. 32: 4 (“the Rock”), (“the rock of his salvation”); Ps. 17: 47 
(“my rock”), etc. All these appellations express the idea that God is the
unshakable basis of His people’s salvation. With this background in the
minds of the Apostles and the readers of the Gospel, the designation of
Peter as the rock upon which Jesus will build His Church clearly conveys
the idea that Peter is the unshakably firm support and basis on which the
Church — both the building and its foundation, in the metaphor — was to
be established. Furthermore, since authority is the source from which a
society derives its firmness and stability, the words of Jesus contain the
promise that He will confer the supreme authority in His Church on Peter.


“Gates of the netherworld”

“Gates of the netherworld” — the power of the devil and his helpers.
“Gates” are equivalent to “city,” as in Deut. v. l4 “The stranger that is
within your gates” (Compare with the same usage in the Hebrew text of
Deut. 12: 21; Ps. 85: 2; Ps. 99: 4). “Netherworld” (Greek “Hades”) is not
“the realm of the dead,” as in the Old Testament, but rather the devil,

(1) “prevail” is to overthrow by hostile activity, which proceeds
from a person;

(2) the devil is the principal enemy of the Church (Matt. 13: 39;
Lk. 22: 31; Jn. 8: 44), against whom Christians are particularly
warned (2 Cor. 4: 4; Eph. 6: 11 —18; 1 Peter 5: 8); and

(3) “netherworld” designates the devil in Rev. 6: 8 and 20: 14.  
Since the most powerful adversary of the Church is incapable of
overthrowing it, its unshakable permanence to the end of time,
on the rock that is Peter, is foretold by these words of Christ.


Verse 19

I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and
whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”


To   “Give the Keys”

To “give the keys” of a house, a kingdom, or of anything symbolically
represented as such, to any one is to confer upon him the supreme
administrative power over it, subject only to the one that confers the keys.

— In Isa. 22: 22 Eliacim receives the keys of the house (that is,
     the kingdom) of David;

— in Rev. 3: 7; Jesus has the key of David; Rev. 1: 18; He has the
     keys of death and hell; Rev. 9: 1; and Rev. 20: 1; an angel has
     the key of the bottomless pit.

     The same figure occurs in Greek and rabbinical literature.
     St. Peter, therefore, here receives the promise of the supreme
     authority and responsibility within the Church, subject only to
     Jesus, who confers it.


“Whatever you bind or loose.”

According to contemporary usage in Israel, the power of “binding and
loosing” is the power of teaching and the legislative and the judicial power.
Since this power, as promised to Peter, extends to all things “whatever,”
it is universal in scope. Hence, it is limited only by the divinely established
purpose and constitution of the Church, and it extends to all her members.
Since this power is promised to Peter alone, it is the supreme power in the
Church, and it is shared by none of the other Apostles. The concluding
words, “shall be bound . . .  loosed also in heaven,” declare that God will
ratify the acts that Peter will perform as head of the Church in the exercise
of the powers here promised to him.

Traditionally, the Church has acted on our Lord’s words as implying a
guarantee to His representative on earth of right decision-making,
but this relates to teaching and defining matters of faith and morals only.


Editorial Comment

Many Christians who are not members of the Catholic Church may have difficulty understanding the authority Roman Catholics believe was conferred on St. Peter. Our Lord taught that His Church would always be led by the Holy Spirit to maintain the integrity of His doctrine and commands. Members of the Church are bound to uphold all that Jesus commanded (Matt. 28: 18). However, it is well documented, commencing with the Book of Acts, and recorded in the annals of the Church down through history, that people may hold a very extensive range of opinions on all aspects of the Faith. Indeed, within the Catholic Church there has never been a period when debates have not been in progress about one matter or another. The Church thrives on informed, rational and respectful divergence of viewpoints and their humble expression for open debate. This practice has continued in the Church since it was part of the Synagogue. Indeed Hebrew Catholics view it as a gift from Judaism: the on-going, lively debate of the Faith as it presents in the contemporary world — in whatever era.

The issue raised in Matthew 16: 19 above is that in matters of faith and morals, when adjudication is required — and this does not normally occur without substantial, long term debate beforehand — when the faithful need a clear definition of articles of the Faith, the responsibility for this and the authority to declare what the correct teaching is — this is the role of whoever is sitting “in the chair” of Peter.



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