Primacy of Simon Peter

Primacy of Simon Peter

A number of Christian denominations and scholars hold that Simon Peter was the most prominent of the apostles, favored by Jesus of Nazareth with the first place of honor and authority. ["The Canon Debate", McDonald & Sanders editors, 2002, chapter 32, page 577, by James D. G. Dunn: "For "Peter was probably in fact and effect the bridge-man" (pontifex maximus!) "who did more than any other to hold together the diversity of first-century Christianity." James the brother of Jesus and Paul, the two other most prominent leading figures in first-century Christianity, were too much identified with their respective "brands" of Christianity, at least in the eyes of Christians at the opposite ends of this particular spectrum. But Peter, as shown particularly by the Antioch episode in Gal 2, had both a care to hold firm to his Jewish heritage, which Paul lacked, and an openness to the demands of developing Christianity, which James lacked. John might have served as such a figure of the center holding together the extremes, but if the writings linked with his name are at all indicative of his own stance he was too much of an individualist to provide such a rallying point. Others could link the developing new religion more firmly to its founding events and to Jesus himself. But none of them, including the rest of the twelve, seem to have played any role of continuing significance for the whole sweep of Christianity—though James the brother of John might have proved an exception had he been spared." [Italics original] ] This doctrine is known as the Primacy of Simon Peter or the Petrine Primacy (from the Latin "Petrus" = Peter). A number of traditions, most notably Roman Catholic, hold that Simon Peter, also known as Saint Peter or Cephas, was the first Bishop of Rome and was a martyr during the persecution of the emperor Nero. The early Christian church at this time, however, did not have the same precisely delineated functions for bishops or other official roles that one can find today.Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.]

This Primacy of Peter is closely related to, and indeed essential to, the Papal Primacy, that is, the idea that the papacy, by divine institution, enjoys delegated authority from Jesus over the entire Church. However, this doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church makes a distinction between the personal prestige of Peter and the supremacy of the office of pope which Catholics believe Jesus instituted in the person of Peter. Other denominations hold that the primacy of Peter was only relevant during the lifetime of Peter. There are various views on the nature of the primacy and how it was exercised.

Whilst the reasons for disagreement on the nature of the primacy are complex, hinging upon matters of doctrine, history, and politics, the debate is often reduced to a discussion of the meaning and translation of verse 18 of chapter 16 of the Gospel of Matthew, the "on this rock" passage. That passage is:

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter [Greek, "Petros"] , and upon this rock [Greek, "petra"] I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (King James Version)

Roman Catholic view

Roman Catholics assert the following:

In the Old Law, the High Priest had the highest jurisdiction in religious matters (Deuteronomy 17: 8-12). St. Paul tells us that Judaism was the type or figure of Christianity in 1 Corinthians 10:11: "Now all these things happened to [the Jews] in figure...". Logic dictates that a supreme head would be necessary in the Christian Church.

In Matthew 16:16-18, Jesus changes Simon's name to Peter. Elsewhere in Scripture such a name change always denotes a change in status (e.g. Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, and Saul to Paul). In the Greek text, Simon's name is changed to πέτρος ("Petros"), and in the second half of the verse the "rock" in the phrase "on this rock" is the word πέτρα ("petra").

However, while the genders are different, this is purely a grammatical requirement of the Greek language, an artifact of the translation into Greek of the Aramaic that Jesus spoke, and an attempt to preserve a pun. It is "not" an attempt to make a distinction (that is mainly confined to Greek poetry) between "rock" and "small stone" or "pebble", as some Protestants interpret it to be. In the classics, including works by Plato and Sophocles, there are also many occasions of πέτρος used to designate "rock".

A male given name should be masculine (-ος), whilst πέτρα, the word for "rock", is feminine (-α). In Aramaic, the word for rock is (variously transliterated into the Latin alphabet as "Kefa", "Kepha", "Cephas", and also transliterated into the Greek alphabet as Κήφας;, in the Gospel of John chapter 1 verse 42). In Aramaic, the same word would have been used in both places, and Jesus is directly referring to Peter when stating "on this rock will I build my church". (This is supported by the fact that the Peshitta, written in Syriac, a language cognate with Aramaic, makes no distinction between the two words.) Jesus thus declares the primacy of Peter amongst the Apostles, and a proper English translation in the style of the King James Version, if translated from the original context, would be "Thou art Rock, and upon this rock will I build my church".

The Gospel of Matthew was written in the Koine dialect of Greek, where there was no distinction between the words "petros" and "petra"; both simply meant "rock". Some Protestants point to a distinction present in a different form of Greek, but not in the one actually used by the author of the Gospel. [] ]

Translating the Gospel of Matthew into French incurs no problem as ordinary translation into English does, as "Tu es Pierre, et sur cette pierre je bâtirai mon Eglise, et les portes de l'enfer ne prévaudront point contre elle" equally preserves the asserted original Aramaic sense. A better English translation, ignoring the tradition of naming the saint "Peter" in English, would be "you are Craig, and on this crag I shall build my church...", relying on English use of the Gaelic name Craig (meaning "rock") instead of using the name Peter.

A precise English translation would be "Thou art Rock, and upon this "very" (or "same") rock will I build my church", since Matthew uses the demonstrative pronoun "taute", which means "this very" or "this same", when he refers to the rock on which Jesus' church will be built. When a demonstrative pronoun is used with the Greek word for "and", "kai", the pronoun refers back to the preceding noun. The second rock Jesus refers to must be the same rock as the first one; and Peter is the rock in both cases. ["Jesus, Peter & the Keys: A Scriptural Handbook on the Papacy ] [ [] ] [ [] ]

Jesus also said to Peter in verse 19, "I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven." Especially for the Hebrew people, keys were a symbol of authority. Indeed, Jesus declares in the Book of Revelation, that He has the "keys of death and hell," which means that He has power over death and hell; Isaiah 22:21-22 also supports this. Cardinal Gibbons, in his book "The Faith of Our Fathers", points out that keys are still a symbol of authority in today's culture; he uses the example of someone giving the keys of his house to another person, and that the latter represented the owner of the house in his absence.

Another source of Peter's supremacy can be found in John 21:15-17, where Christ tells Peter three times to "feed His sheep" and "feed His lambs." The "sheep" are understood to be the stronger portion of Jesus' flock (the clergy), and the "lambs" are understood as the weaker portion (the laity). From this, Catholics believe that Peter was given charge over Christ's whole flock, that is, the Church.

Moreover, Peter is always named first in all listings of the Apostles; Judas is invariably mentioned last. In bibleref|Matthew|10:2, Peter is described as the "first Apostle". It is important to note that Peter was neither the first Apostle in age nor election; therefore, Peter must be the first Apostle in the sense of authority.

Both Latin and Greek writers in the early church (such as the St. John Chrysostom) referred to "rock" as applying to both Peter personally and his faith symbolically, as well as seeing Christ's promise to apply more generally to his twelve apostles and the Church at large. [cite book|title="Peter's Primacy in the New Testament and the Early Tradition" in The Primacy of Peter|author=Veselin Kesich|year=1992|publisher=St. Vladimir's Seminary Press|id= |pages= 61-66]

This is reflected in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

424 "Moved by the grace of the Holy Spirit and drawn by the Father, we believe in Jesus and confess: 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' On the rock of this faith confessed by St. Peter, Christ built his Church."

552 "Simon Peter holds the first place in the college of the Twelve; Jesus entrusted a unique mission to him. Through a revelation from the Father, Peter had confessed: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Our Lord then declared to him: "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it." Christ, the living Stone, thus assures his Church, built on Peter, of victory over the powers of death. Because of the faith he confessed Peter will remain the unshakable rock of the Church. His mission will be to keep this faith from every lapse and to strengthen his brothers in it." [ [ Cathecism of the Catholic Church] ]

Regarding the Roman Catholic interpretation of Matthew 16:18-19, Jaroslav Pelikan writes, [cite book |last= Pelikan |first= Jaroslav |authorlink= Jaroslav Pelikan |coauthors= |editor= |others= |title= The Riddle of Roman Catholicism |year= 1959 |publisher= Abingdon Press |location= New York |pages= 78] "As Roman Catholic scholars now concede, the ancient Christian father Cyprian used it to prove the authority of the bishop—not merely of the Roman bishop, but of every bishop," referring to Maurice Bevenot's work on St. Cyprian. [cite book |last= Bevenot |first= Maurice | title= St. Cyprian: The Lapsed, The Unity of the Catholic Church |pages= 6-8]

Eastern Catholics agree with the above, but also consider Peter to be representative of all bishops. In this, they represent a middle-ground between the Roman Catholic position and that of the Eastern Orthodox in the next section.

Though among the Twelve Peter is predominant in the first chapters of Acts, James "the brother of the Lord" is shown to be a leader in his own right in later chapters. Some assume James outranks Peter because he speaks last in the Council of Jerusalem and suggests the final ruling (concerning Gentile converts and Jewish practices such as circumcision) agreed upon by all, and because Paul mentions him before Peter and John when he calls them pillars of the church in Jerusalem. James was indeed the first bishop or patriarch of Jerusalem according to tradition. However, Roman Catholics believe the bishop of Jerusalem was not by that fact the head of the Christian church, since the leadership rested in Peter as the "Rock" and "Chief Shepherd". [Mckenzie, John L. "The Dictionary of the Bible" (Catholic)] It is believed Peter entrusted the Jerusalem community to James when he was forced to leave Jerusalem due to Herod Agrippa's persecution. ["The Navarre Bible", footnotes]

For Catholics, the fact that the new name for Simon is Peter is in fact itself very significant. In the old testament God is frequently referred to as a Rock or stone. Jesus refers to himself as the corner stone. The book of Daniel contains a prophecy that a Rock or stone from the mountain of God (heaven) will come down to earth and destroy the pagan kings. The rock will then grow itself until it covers the entire earth. Protestants consider this prophecy to allude to the end times but Catholics consider the prophecy to refer specifically to Jesus as the Rock from Heaven. Further, Catholics see the fact that the Rock does not leave but stays to until it covers the entire earth to mean that the Church, built of the Rock of Peter, is the body of Christ, the Rock from Heaven, and that the Rock will eventually cover the entire Earth which is why the term Catholic (universal or worldwide) is the most common designation for the Catholic Church.

Eastern Orthodox & Anglican view

Eastern Orthodox and Anglicans agree that in Matthew 16:18, "rock" is a likely reference to Peter personally. [cite book|title="Peter's Primacy in the New Testament and the Early Tradition" in The Primacy of Peter|author=Veselin Kesich|year=1992|publisher=St. Vladimir's Seminary Press|id= |pages= 47-48] However, Eastern Orthodox theologians follow such Fathers as St. John Chrysostom by accept that "rock" simultaneously refers to Peter (instrumentally) as as well as Peter's confession of faith which has ultimate significance in establishing the Church. [cite book|title="Peter's Primacy in the New Testament and the Early Tradition" in The Primacy of Peter|author=Veselin Kesich|year=1992|publisher=St. Vladimir's Seminary Press|id= |pages= 61-66]

Some Orthodox scholars do not see Peter has being in any way above the other apostles, arguing that Peter did not have power and authority over them during Christ's public ministry. There were no positions of power between the twelve, only "degrees of intimacy" or "degrees of honor". According to this view, Peter has a weak symbolic primacy or primacy of honor (in the sense of a purely honorary primacy). Other Orthodox scholars follow St. John Chrysostom and the Byzantine [cite book|title="Peter's Primacy in the New Testament and the Early Tradition" in The Primacy of Peter|author=Veselin Kesich|year=1992|publisher=St. Vladimir's Seminary Press|id= |pages= 67-90] tradition in seeing Peter as the icon of the episcopate [cite book|title=His Broken Body: Understanding and Healing the Schism between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches|author=Cleenewerck Laurent|year=2008|publisher=EUC Press|id= |pages= 257-263] with his title of protos (first) implying a certain level of authority over the other apostles.

Rome's authority in the early Eastern Roman (or Byzantine) empire was recognized only partially because of Rome's Petrine character, and was not a decisive issue. Nor was Rome's authority understood as an absolute power. In the East, there were numerous "apostolic sees", Jerusalem being considered the "mother of all churches," and the bishop of Antioch could also claim the title of successor to Peter, being that Peter was the first bishop of Antioch. "Canon 28 of Chalcedon was for [the Byzantines] one of the essential texts for the organization of the Church: 'It is for right reasons that the accorded privileges to old Rome, for this city was the seat of the Emperor and the Senate.' ... The reason why the Roman Church had been accorded an incontestable precedence over all other apostolic churches was that its Petrine and Pauline 'apostolicity' was in fact added to the city's position as the capital city, and only the conjunction of both of these elements gave the Bishop of Rome the right to occupy the place of a primate in the Christian world with the consensus of all the churches." [cite book|title="Peter's Primacy in the New Testament and the Early Tradition" in The Primacy of Peter|author=Veselin Kesich|year=1992|publisher=St. Vladimir's Seminary Press|id= |pages= 68]

Protestant views

One who Protestant view on the Matthew verse agrees with the Roman Catholic view and again the disagreements about primacy stem from doctrinal sources, and disagreements such as those over the identification of Simon Peter with the Pope. Other who Protestants assert the following, based specifically on the verse in Matthew:

Jesus gives Simon the new name πητρος. However he refers to the "rock" as πητρα. The inspired New Testament Scriptures were written in Greek, not Aramaic. What Jesus "might" have said in Aramaic is conjecture. In Greek, there is a distinction between the two words, πητρα being a "rock" but πητρος being a "small stone" or "pebble". (James G. McCarthy translates the two as "mass of rock" and "boulder or detached stone", respectively.) Jesus is not referring to Peter when talking about "this rock", but is in fact referring to Peter's confession of faith in the preceding verses. Jesus thus does not declare the primacy of Peter, but rather declares that his church will be built upon the foundation of the revelation of and confession of faith of Jesus as the Christ.

Many Protestant scholars, however, reject this position, such as Craig L. Blomberg (CONTEMPORARY BAPTIST) who states, "The expression ‘this rock’ almost certainly refers to Peter, following immediately after his name, just as the words following ‘the Christ’ in verse 16 applied to Jesus. The play on words in the Greek between Peter’s name (Petros) and the word ‘rock’ (petra) makes sense only if Peter is the Rock and if Jesus is about to explain the significance of this identification" [New American Commentary: Matthew, 22:252] ." []

Donald A. Carson III (Baptist and Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Seminary) states, "Although it is true that petros and petra can mean "stone" and "rock" respectively in earlier Greek, the distinction is largely confined to poetry. Moreover the underlying Aramaic is in this case unquestionable; and most probably kepha was used in both clauses ("you are kepha" and "on this kepha"), since the word was used both for a name and for a "rock". The Peshitta (written in Syriac, a language cognate with Aramaic) makes no distinction between the words in the two clauses. The Greek makes the distinction between petros and petra simply because it is trying to preserve the pun, and in Greek the feminine petra could not very well serve as a masculine name." []

An alternateFact|date=February 2008 Protestant argument is that when Jesus said "upon this rock" in the aforementioned Matthew verse, he referred to himself, in reference to Deuteronomy 32:3-4, which states that " the Rock, his work is perfect". This idea also appears in 1 Corinthians 10:4, which says "...that Rock is Christ", as well as Ephesians 2:20, where Jesus is called "the chief corner stone".

The New Apostolic Church, who believes in the re-established Apostle ministry, sees Peter as the first Chief Apostle in the early church.


* cite book
title=Catholic Dictionary (9th edition)
author=William E. Addis & Thomas Arnold (revised by T.B. Scannell)
publisher=Virtue & Company Ltd., London
which provides citations for the use of πέτρος to mean "rock" in classical works.
* cite web|accessmonthday=June 21 |accessyear=2005
title=Who is the Rock of Matthew 16:18?

* cite web|accessmonthday=June 21 |accessyear=2005
title=Commentary on Matthew 16:17–19
work=The Catholic Evangel

* cite web|accessmonthday=June 21 |accessyear=2005
title=Do Protestants believe Peter was the vicar of Christ?

* cite web|accessmonthday=June 21 |accessyear=2005
title=Section IV: Authority
work=Refutation of James G. McCarthy's The Gospel According to Rome

* cite web|accessmonthday=June 21 |accessyear=2005| url=| title=Il Papa: Resign? Never!| work=You Big Mouth, You!
* cite web|accessmonthday=December 18 |accessyear=2005
title=50 New Testament Proofs for Petrine Primacy & The Papacy
work=The Papacy and Infallibility


See also

* Papal supremacy
* Papal infallibility
* Petrine theory
* Apostolic Succession
* Historical episcopate
*Early Christianity

Further reading


* Ray, Stephen K. "Upon This Rock: St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early Church". (ISBN 0-89870-723-4)
* Meyendorff, John, ed. "The Primacy of Peter: Essays in Ecclesiology and the Early Church". (ISBN 0-88141-125-6)

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