Debating about the authority of the Pope

My friend/next door neighbor has a very good heart, and he is a very loving person, I know if he was catholic, he could be a great saint. We have been debating about certain topics, he has actually agreed with some things, but the number one thing we have been discussing is the authority of the Pope, Matthew 16:18, he keeps telling me that Jesus was referring to himself as the rock and not Peter, even though the word peter means rock. I don’t want to push him away by just trying to prove him wrong, I want to bring him into the faith, are there any good arguments I can go on? What is the origin of the word “Pope” and why did we first use that word for the Vicar of Christ? Prayers appreciated too. :slight_smile:

This is the most common protestant response to a Biblical passage that is clearly self-evident. The idea is that Jesus referred to Peter first (you are rock), but somehow referred to himself in the next phrase (upon this rock…). There is nothing in the text to support this interpretation, so we must imagine that Jesus gestured at Peter for the first part, and to himself for the second.

What is the origin of the word “Pope” and why did we first use that word for the Vicar of Christ? Prayers appreciated too.

The term comes from the Latin word for “father” (or, more specifically, papa). The term has not always been restricted to the Bishop of Rome - in we the early days, any Bishop could be called “Pope.” But I think that such semantics are a distraction. Why care what we call the guy? If we call him by a more recent title, such as the “Servant of the servants of God” (also an official title, and the one preferred by Blessed John Paul the Great), what does it matter?

Catholic Answers has a number of short tracts in the library that address the Papacy:


Well first of all, let me suggest that you quit trying to “prove him wrong”. :wink:
This is an approach that is guaranteed to push him away.

Second, as David points out above, the text itself really does not support your neighbor’s view. So my first suggestion would be to acknowledge that is view is an interesting one and you want to explore it with him. Then get out his bible and explore the text together.
Begin by looking at how the sentences are structured. Is there really any way to read the passage and see Jesus referring Simon-Peter in one instance and himself in the next?
Then there is the matter of the Greek and the Aramaic terminology.
In the articles linked by David there is one called “Peter the Rock” and it covers the linguistic aspects quite well - so give it a look.

Of course once you get past Mt 16:18 you will get into other discussions re: the pope’s authority…like for instance the relative role of Peter and James as the council of Jerusalem…Paul’s admonition of Peter…the Catholic view of Papal infallibility etc.

Invite him over. Have some drinks and snacks, and share your faith with each other…
But no need to “prove him wrong”…:smiley:


There is word play there.

Peter to Jesus: “You are the Christos”
Jesus to Peter: “You are the Petros”

Let’s look at the verses in context to make sure the meaning is preserved.

The Context in Matthew 16

MATTHEW 16:13-16 13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, Who do men say that the Son of man is?
14 And they said, Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah,
and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. 15 He said to them,
But who do you say that I am? 16 Simon Peter replied, You are the Christ, the son of the living God.

Now let’s see how Jesus responds to St. Peter’s confession of faith, taking great pains to observe the context as it concerns Jesus addressing Simon Peter (all caps and bold mine).

MATTHEW 16:17-20 17 And Jesus answered him,
Blessed are YOU, Simon Bar-Jona!
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to YOU,
but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell YOU,
YOU are Peter (Cephas in Aramaic = Rock), and on this rock I will build my church,
and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.
19 I will give YOU the keys of the kingdom of heaven,
and whatever YOU bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever YOU loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Deniers of St. Peter being the Rock will sometimes say: “to see Peter as the Rock here you Catholics have to take this verse out of context.”

But is that really the case? Are we really taking this out of context? No! We make every effort to preserve the context and we still see this truth.

We can see the flow of Jesus words here. Jesus is directing these words to Peter (obviously).

We see Jesus addressing Peter as YOU here seven times! The whole flow of the context points to Peter here, despite what some people want to throw into Sacred Scripture.

*]Peter testifies that Jesus is the Christ here.
*]Jesus said St. Peter’s testimony is from Jesus’ Father in Heaven (inspired oral testimony).
*]Peter receives the Blessing!
*]Peter receives the Keys!
*]Peter receives the Power to bind here!
*]Peter receives the Power to loose here!
*]Peter is the rock.
*]Peter is “Cephas” specifically elsewhere in Scripture as well

One example of Cephas used (of many):

1st CORINTHIANS 15:3-7 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

Peter is the rock.

(Yes Jesus is ultimately the Rock, but in these verses and in this context, Peter is the Rock.)

This is not exactly on topic…but I thought I’d toss it in just FYI for future discussion…

I’ve always found it interesting that the word “Church” (Ekklesia) is used only twice in the Gospels. Both times in Matthew and both times associated with the authority to bind and loose - whatever.
There is the first instance - Mt 16:16-20 - and this passage is the oft debated one - but then there is Mt 18:15-18 Where we are told to listen “to the Church” which has the authority to bind and loose.

I often think that there is too much attention paid to Mt 16 at the expense of Mt 18. So much so that I think it becomes something of a red herring - a diversion from the fuller truth.

The protestant focuses on the issue of papal infallibility and papal authority and (rightly in my opinion) asserts that Jesus did not intend there to be (what the protestant perceives as) a dictatorial office.
The Catholic (again rightly in my opinion) asserts that Jesus did intend there to be a leader - a vicar - and that vicar is imbued with certain charisms and authority.

What both of these views can miss is the collegiality and councilior nature of the Church. ONE Body, ONE Spirit, ONE faith, ONE truth.
The Pope never acts in isolation. His teachings are never made in a vacuum. The council in Acts 15 speaks so clearly to both the authority of Peter in silencing debate, AND to the councilior and collegiate nature of the true body of believers in seeking concord with each other in order to preserve unity in Truth.

A second thing that can be missed in these matters is the (legitimate) fear of too much power in one man. Yet - all too often - what is missed is the responsibility of the office. We can discuss with our protestant brothers how the office of pope, while authoritative, is far from “powerful” in the worldly sense. Instead, the office carries a huge responsibility for the holder of said office will stand charged before God with how he discharged his duties.

I guess I bring this up because so often I see our debates as being over terminology and translation and historical ups and downs - and they seem to miss the deeper issues of where people might be coming from.

Just some thoughts.


Ask him to look around at all the other denominations that have no “pope” or any real authority to guide them. They can almost believe anything they want. Thats why they keep dividing and dividing. They can even start their own “church” if they want. I know a couple that have a ‘church’ right in their home. Then, explain how the Holy Spirit has kept the Pope and his teachng authority faithful to HIM for over 2,000 years. Many have broken away from the Catholic Church, but look where they are today. But the Catholic Church is as solid as the Rock it was built on. And it will be until the End of the World. Christ promised His Church would NEVER teach error. And it hasn’t. God Bless. Memaw

And lets never forget that the “office” of the Pope is protected by the Holy Spirit and will NEVER teach error, no matter who holds that title. God Bless, Memaw.

And this is the kind of blanket statement that can stop a conversation cold while the who hears it assumes the worst and digs in behind high and stout defensive ramparts…

NOT that the statement is wrong, but rather it’s expression can be so easily misunderstood.

It must be made clear that the office of the Vicar of Christ - that is the chief teaching office on faith and morals - is indeed protected.
It needs to be emphasized in speech similarly to how I emphasized it above.

The man who occupies that office is a different story. Historically we know that the occupants have acted contrary to good teaching…but that is something quite different.

In this connection I like to point to Mt 23:1-3 and how Jesus, on the one hand upheld the teaching authority of the Pharisees, and on the other hand negated their actions as being worthy of emulation. He very neatly bisected teaching (from the “seat” of authority) from the personal behavior of the one occupying the seat.

Just some thoughts…


This arguement that Jesus is “the” Rock, is never disputed by Catholic Teaching. He is the Rock, the Shepherd, the Priest, the Leader, etc.

What Catholicism recognizes, is the offices the Church was given by the One who has the Authority. All of His authority is given to His Church, yet we all are parts of the Church.

The passage of Matt. 16 recognizes and distinguishes Peter as being “set apart” with a specific office/ministry. This “meeting” was a template, so to speak, for a Council of the Church Leaders. Jesus proposes the question, " who do the people say that I am?". The Apostles give different answers, yet ONE answer is from the Father. Peter gives this answer, through faith. Jesus acknowledges this, and responds by appointing Peter as Prime Minister of His Church (via the Keys!).

This is prophesized in Isaiah 22:15-25
In fact, you could say Jesus, as Messiah, needed to fulfill this in order to fulfill the Scriptures about Him.


Oh my goodness, I thought I was talking about the “OFFICE” of the Pope. Pardon me for you not understanding that! We have no control how one responds to the TRUTH. We must speak the TRUTH in love and hope and pray others will respond according to God’s Will. If I was afraid of every thing I ever said to teach the TRUTH, I don’t think I would be a very faithful deciple. The TRUTH will set us free!, God Bless, Memaw


Sorry if I came off too critical. :blush:
Indeed you did say “office”. I was simply trying to emphasize that aspect.

Certainly we should never be afraid of speaking the truth.

And you are absolutely right in saying that we cannot control how another responds to something we might say (or in this case write…:D).

I guess my point is that we should choose to speak TRUTH in ways that will tend (where possible) to dissolve barriers and encourage dialogue. Doing so need not mean “fear” of speaking the truth.

Just my thoughts on the matter.


In a paradiagm shift, let’s assume Matthew was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Greek was the language of the day, and Matthew spent some personal time with Jesus. He may have been well aware of his use of the 2 genders of Peter. I have come to understand he was an educated man.
The “rock talk” starts in Matthew chapter 6, but really gets going in chapter 7. First Jesus discusses the narrow and wide gates. Immediately following, Jesus says that many followers will not enter the kingdom of God…"“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven"
Immediately following, Jesus says " “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and [o]acts on them, [p]may be compared to a** wise man who built his house on** the rock**.** And the rain fell, and the [q]floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall,** for it had been founded on the rock.** Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not [r]act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the [s]floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”

Then in Matt 16, Jesus says “Simon, you are rock, and on this rock I will build my Church”

But, I suggest Matthew knew exactly why he used 2 different genders for the term rock.

to be continued:thumbsup:

One of the titles of the office of the Pope is servant of the servants of the Lord. Or, Eved Eved Adonai in Hebrew. The Old Testament office of Moses and Joshua occupied (the seat of Moses), and the office Samuel tried to reinstate was the office of Eved Adonai.“Servant of the Lord” These Old Testament figures showed a charism of being able to “hear” and “discern” Gods will.

So, in Matthew 16, Jesus recognized that Simon had heard from God because Simon knew who Jesus was. So, Simon "you are rock, and on** this rock** I will build my Church.

Ancient, or old world languages, such as Greek and Hebrew, have grammatical gender to their nouns. Hence, Petros and Petras. Many languages still have grammatical gender today. We’re not so familiar with it because English generally does not.

But, if I were to say " Simon, you are the president(office holder) and on the presidency(office) I will build my Church", grammatical gender would come into play. And, it would in Greek. So, are the President and the Presidency the same thing? We would say yes, and no. The “Petros” could be changed, “like a peg in a sure place” but the office “Petras” would remain.

Some examples from the lexicon :

Leitourgia, the public office, is feminine;noun Leitourgos [masculine] is a public servant or office holder.

Hierateia [feminine gender] is the office of the priesthood. Hiereus [masculine gender] is the office holder; the priest.

And so on, Matthew was actually distinguishing between the office of the chief servant and the office holder. Matthew recognized the institution of a permanent office to lead the Church.

There’s more, but it would get too long.

They say we sometimes hang ourselves with our own rope, I think the Protestant argument does just that.


In Matthew 7,…“floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.”

That seems very similar to Jesus saying that “the gates of hell would not prevail” in Matthew 16.

:wink: Calm

Amen memaw. There is Truth and there is untruth. We should not compromise Truth in the name of ecumenism.

Thank you for the help everyone:) I appreciate the responses:thumbsup:

The best answer I’ve seen on this thread is the one that points out the holistic nature of the Church’s teaching.

The Church teaches that the rock is Jesus, Peter and Peter’s faith all rolled into one.

The best way to approach it is to agree with him that the Rock is Jesus, and then explain to him the Sacramental/Incarnational theology of the Church - i.e., the notion that God works through His creation.


Can you tell me where I can read that the Catholic Church teaches the rock in Matthew 16:18 is Jesus, Peter and Peter’s faith all rolled into one? I’m a cradle Catholic with 12 years of Catholic education and I don’t ever recall this teaching. Is it in the catechism or some Church document? I’ve never heard this.

As a non-Catholic, in all honesty, I find this argument, and the argument that Jesus was speaking only of Peter’s confession as the rock, as requiring theological gymnastics.
Simon was renamed Peter. Certainly Christ is speaking about and to Peter.
The issue becomes, however, what does that mean when speaking about the Bishop of Rome. Does this and the other things already mentioned in the thread mean he has an authority of supremacy over the whole Church? As many veteran posters know, the Lutheran view is that supremacy contradicts not only Christ’s admonishment that there be no hierarchy, but also the testimony of the early Church in the Council of Nicea 325, canon 6.
Is there a unique leadership position granted to Peter by Christ? I can’t see how one can deny that. Does that mean what the post-Schism Catholic Church says it means? Therein we find the rub.


Acts 9:32
“Now as Peter went here and there among them all,…”

Jon, don’t think I find this as ‘proof’, but definitely support for Peter’s authority among the whole Church.

Also, can you provide the reference to Jesus’ admonishment that there be no hierarchy in the Church?


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