|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
16:13-20 Peter, for himself and his brethren, said that they were assured of our Lord's being the promised Messiah, the Son of the living God. This showed that they believed Jesus to be more than man. Our Lord declared Peter to be blessed, as the teaching of God made him differ from his unbelieving countrymen. Christ added that he had named him Peter, in allusion to his stability or firmness in professing the truth. The word translated rock, is not the same word as Peter, but is of a similar meaning. Nothing can be more wrong than to suppose that Christ meant the person of Peter was the rock. Without doubt Christ himself is the Rock, the tried foundation of the church; and woe to him that attempts to lay any other! Peter's confession is this rock as to doctrine. If Jesus be not the Christ, those that own him are not of the church, but deceivers and deceived. Our Lord next declared the authority with which Peter would be invested. He spoke in the name of his brethren, and this related to them as well as to him. They had no certain knowledge of the characters of men, and were liable to mistakes and sins in their own conduct; but they were kept from error in stating the way of acceptance and salvation, the rule of obedience, the believer's character and experience, and the final doom of unbelievers and hypocrites. In such matters their decision was right, and it was confirmed in heaven. But all pretensions of any man, either to absolve or retain men's sins, are blasphemous and absurd. None can forgive sins but God only. And this binding and loosing, in the common language of the Jews, signified to forbid and to allow, or to teach what is lawful or unlawful.
Verse 18. - And I say also (I also say) unto thee. As thou hast said unto me, "Thou art the Christ," so I say unto thee, etc. Thou art Peter (Πέτρος, Petrus), and upon this rock (πέτρα, petra) I will build my Church. In classical Greek, the distinction between πέτρα and πέτρος is well known - the former meaning "a rock," the latter "a piece of rock," or "a stone." But probably no such distinction is intended here, as there would be none in Aramaic. There is plainly a paronomasia here in the Greek; and, if our Lord spoke in Aramaic, the same play of words was exhibited in Kephas or kepha. When Jesus first called Peter to be a disciple, he imposed upon him the name Cephas, which the evangelist explains to be Peter (John 1:42). The name was bestowed in anticipation of Peter's great confession: "Thou shalt be called." This preannouncement was here fulfilled and confirmed. Upon this passage chiefly the claims of the Roman Church, which for fifteen centuries have been the subject of acrimonious controversy, are founded. It is hence assumed that the Christian Church is founded upon Peter and his successors, and that these successors are the Bishops of Rome. The latter assertion may be left to the decision of history, which fails to prove that Peter was ever at Rome, or that he transmitted his supposed supremacy to the episcopate of that city. We have in this place to deal with the former assertion. Who or what is the rock on which Christ says that he will hereafter build his Church? French Romanists consider it a providential coincidence that they can translate the passage, "Je te disque, Tu es Pierre; et sur cette pierre je batirai," etc.; but persons outside the papal communion are not satisfied to hang their faith on a play of words. The early Fathers are by no means at one in their explanations of the paragraph. Living before Rome had laid claim to the tremendous privileges which it afterwards affected, they did not regard the statement in the light of later controversies; and even those who held Peter to be the rock would have indignantly repelled the assumptions which have been built on that interpretation. The apostolic Fathers seem to have mentioned the passage in none of their writings; and they could scarcely have failed to refer to it had they been aware of the tremendous issues dependent thereon. It was embodied in no Catholic Creed, and never made an article of the Christian faith. We may remark also that of the evangelists St. Matthew alone records the promise to Peter; Mark and Luke give his confession, which was the one point which Christ desired to elicit, and omit that which is considered to concern his privileges. This looks as though, in their view, the chief aim of the passage was not Peter, but Christ; not Peter's pre-eminence, but Christ's nature and office. At the same time, to deny all allusion to Peter in the "rock" is quite contrary to the genius of the language and to New Testament usage, and would not have been so pressed in modern times except for polemical purposes. Three views have been held on the interpretation of this passage.
(1) That Christ himself is the Rock on which the Church should be built.
(2) That Peter's confession of Jesus Christ as Son of God, or God incarnate, is the Rock.
(3) That St. Peter is the rock.
(1) The first explanation is supported by passages where in Christ speaks of himself in the third person, e.g. "Destroy this temple;" "If any man eat of this bread; Whoso falleth on this stone," etc. In the same sense are cited the words of Isaiah (Isaiah 28:16), "Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation." Almighty God is continually called "a Rock" in the Old Testament (see 2 Samuel 22:32; Psalm 18:31; Psalm 62:2, 6, 7, etc.), so that it might be deemed natural and intelligible for Christ to call himself "this Rock," in accordance, with the words of St. Paul (1 Corinthians 3:11), "Other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid (κεῖται), which is Jesus Christ." But then the reference to Peter becomes unmeaning: "Thou art Peter, and upon myself I will build my Church." It is true that some few eminent authorities have taken this view. Thus St. Augustine writes, "It was not said to him, 'Thou art a rock (petra),' but, 'Thou art Peter,' and the Rock was Christ" ('Retract.,' 1:21). And commentators have imagined that Christ pointed to himself as he spoke. In such surmises there is an inherent improbability, and they do not explain the commencement of the address. In saying, "Thou art Peter," Christ, if he made any gesture at all, would have touched or turned to that apostle. Immediately after this to have directed attention to himself would have been most unnatural and contradictory. We may safely surrender the interpretation which regards Christ himself as the Rock.
(2) The explanation which finds the rock in Peter's great confession has been widely adopted by commentators ancient and modern. Thus St. Chrysostom, "Upon this rock, that is, on the faith of his confession. Hereby he signifies that many were now on the point of believing, and raises his spirit, and makes him a shepherd." To the same purport might be quoted Hilary, Ambrose, Jerome, Gregory Nyss., Cyril, and others. It is remarkable that in the Collect from the Gregorian Sacramentary and in the Roman Missal on the Vigil of St. Peter and St. Paul are found the words, "Grant that thou wouldst not suffer us, whom thou hast established on the rock of the apostolic confession (quos in apostolicae confessionis petra solidasti) to be shaken by any commotions." Bishop Wordsworth, as many exegetes virtually do, combines the two interpretations, and we cite his exposition as a specimen of the view thus held: "What he says is this, 'I myself, now confessed by thee to be both God and Man, am the Rock of the Church. This is the foundation on which it is built.' And because St. Peter had confessed him as such, he says to St. Peter, 'Thou hast confessed me, and I will now confess thee; thou hast owned me, I will now own thee. Thou art Peter,' i.e. thou art a lively stone, hewn out of and built upon me, the living Rock. Thou art a genuine Petros of me, the Divine Petra. And whosoever would be a lively stone, a Peter, must imitate thee in this thy true confession of me, the living Rock; for upon this Rock, that is, on myself, believed and confessed to be both God and Man, I will build my Church." As the opinion that Christ means himself by "this rock" is untenable, so we consider that Peter's confession is equally debarred from being the foundation intended. Who does not see that the Church is to be built, not on confessions or dogmas, but on men - men inspired by God to teach the great truth? A confession implies a confessor; it was the person who made the confession that is meant, not the mere statement itself, however momentous and true. Thus elsewhere the Church is said to have been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20), "Ye," says St. Peter (1 Peter 2:5), "as living stones are built up a spiritual house." "James and Cephas who were reputed to be pillars" (Galatians 2:9). In Revelation (Revelation 21:14) the foundationstones of the heavenly temple are "the twelve apostles of the Lamb." Hence we gather that the rock is a person.
(3) So we come to the explanation of the difficulty which naturally is deduced from the language if considered without regard to prejudice or the pernicious use to which it has been put. Looking at the matter in a straightforward way, we come to the conclusion that Christ is wishing to reward Peter for his outspoken profession of faith; and his commendation is couched in a form which was usual in Oriental addresses, and intelligible to his hearers. "Thou hast said to me, 'Thou art the Son of God;' I say to thee, 'Thou art Peter,' a rock man, 'and on thee,' as a rock, 'I will build my Church.' "As he was the first to acknowledge Christ's nature and office, so he was rewarded by being appointed as the apostle who should inaugurate the Christian Church and lay its first foundation. His name and his work were to coincide. This promise was fulfilled in Peter's acts. He it was who took the lead on the Day of Pentecost, when at his preaching, to the hundred and twenty disciples there were added three thousand souls (Acts 2:41); he it was who admitted the Gentiles to the Christian community (Acts 10.); he it was who in these early days stood forth prominently as a master builder, and was the first to open the kingdom of heaven to Jews and Gentiles. It is objected that, if Peter was a builder, he could not be the rock on which the building was raised. The expression, of course, is metaphorical. Christ builds the Church by employing Peter as the foundation of the spiritual house; Peter's zeal and activity and stable faith are indeed the living rock which forms the material element, so to speak, of this erection; he, as labouring in the holy cause beyond all others, at any rate in the early days of the gospel, is regarded as that solid basis on which the Church was raised. Christ, in one sense, builds on Peter; Peter builds on Christ. The Church, in so far as it was visible, had Peter for its rocky foundation; in so far as it was spiritual, it was founded on Christ. The distinction thus accorded in the future to Peter was personal, and carried with it none of the consequences which human ambition or mistaken pursuit of unity have elicited therefrom. There was no promise of present supremacy; there was no promise of the privilege being handed down to successors. The other apostles had no conception of any superiority being now conferred on Peter. It was not long after this that there was a strife among them who should be the greatest; James and John claimed the highest places in the heavenly kingdom; Paul resisted Peter to the face "because he stood condemned" (Galatians 2:11); the president of the first council was James, the Bishop of Jerusalem. It is plain that neither Peter himself nor his fellow apostles understood or acknowledged his supremacy; and that he transmitted, or was intended to transmit, such authority to successors, is a figment unknown to primitive Christianity, and which was gradually erected, to serve ambitious designs, on forged decretals and spurious writings. This is not the place for polemics, and these few apologetic hints are introduced merely with the view of showing that no one need be afraid of the obvious and straightforward interpretation of Christ's words, or suppose that papal claims are necessarily supported thereby. I will build my Church (μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν). My Church, not thine. Plainly, therefore, the Church was not yet builded. Christ speaks of it as a house, temple, or palace, perhaps at the moment gazing on some castle founded securely on a rock, safe from flood and storm and hostile attack. We know how commonly he took his illustrations from objects and scenes around him; and the rocky base of the great castle of Caesarea Philippi may well have supplied the material for the metaphor here introduced. The word translated "church" (ἐκκλησία), is found here for the first time in the New Testament. It is derived from a verb meaning "to call out," and in classical Greek denotes the regular legislative assembly of a people. In the Septuagint it represents the Hebrew kahal, the congregation united into one society and forming one polity (see Trench, 'Synonyms'). The name kehila in modern times is applied to every Jewish community which has its own synagogue and ministers. From the use of the metaphor of a house, and the word employed to designate the Church, we see that it was not to be a mere loose collection of items, but an organized whole, united, officered, and permanent. Hence the word Ecclesia has been that which designated the Christian society, and has been handed down and recognized in all ages and in all countries. It may be regarded as the personal part of that kingdom of heaven which was to embrace the whole world, when "the kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ" (Revelation 11:15; see Introduction, § 10.). The gates of hell (ᾅδου) shall not prevail against it. Hades, which our version calls "hell," is the region of the dead, a gloomy and desolate place, according to Jewish tradition, situated in the centre of the earth, a citadel with walls and gates, which admitted the souls of men, but opened not for their egress. There are two ways of explaining these words, though they both come to much the same idea. The gates of Hades represent the entrance thereto; and the Lord affirms that death shall have no power over the members of the Church; they shall be able to rise superior to its attacks, even if for a time they seem to succumb; their triumphant cry shall he, "O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55). Through the grave and gate of death they shall pass to a joyful resurrection. The other interpretation is derived from the fact that in Oriental cities the gate is the scene of deliberation and counsel. Hence "the gates" here may represent the evil designs planned by the powers of hell to overthrow the Church, the wiles and machinations of the devil and his angels, Hades being taken, not as the abode of the dead, but as the realm of Satan. Neither malignant spirits nor their allies, such as sin, persecution, heresy, shall be able to wreck the eternal building which Christ was founding. Combining the two expositions, we may say that Christ herein promises that neither the power of death nor the power of the devil shall prevail against it (κατισχύσουσιν αὐτῆς), shall overpower it, keep it in subjection. The pronoun refers doubtless to Church, not rock, the verb being more applicable to the former than the latter, and the pronoun being nearer in position to ἐκκλησίαν. To see here an assurance of the infallibility of the pope, as Romanists do, is to force the words of Scripture most unwarrantably in order to support a modern figment which has done infinite harm to the cause of Christ. As Erasmus says, "Proinde miror esse, qui locum hunc detorqueant ad Romanum Pontificem."
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And I say also unto thee,.... Either besides what he had already said concerning his happiness; or, as the father had revealed something great and valuable, so likewise would he; or inasmuch as he had freely said and declared who, and what he was, in like manner he also would say what Peter was, thou art Peter: intimating, that he was rightly called Peter, or Cephas, by him, when he first became a follower of him, Matthew 4:18, which words signify the same thing, a rock, or stone; because of his firmness and solidity, and because he was laid upon the sure foundation, and built on the rock Christ, and was a very fit stone to be laid in the spiritual building. The aptness of this name to him is easy to be seen in his full assurance of faith, as to the person of Christ, and his free, open, and undaunted confession of him.
And upon this rock will I build my church: by the church, is meant, not an edifice of wood, stones, &c. but an assembly, and congregation of men; and that not of any sort; not a disorderly, tumultuous assembly, in which sense this word is sometimes taken; nor does it design the faithful of a family, which is sometimes the import of it; nor a particular congregated church, but the elect of God, the general assembly and church of the first born, whose names are written in heaven; and especially such of them as were to be gathered in, and built on Christ, from among the Jews and Gentiles. The materials of this building are such, as are by nature no better, or more fit for it, than others: these stones originally lie in the same quarry with others; they are singled out, and separated from the rest, according to the sovereign will of God, by powerful and efficacious grace; and are broken and hewn by the Spirit of God, generally speaking, under the ministry of the word, and are, by him, made living stones; and being holy and spiritual persons, are built up a spiritual house: and these are the only persons which make up the true and invisible church of Christ in the issue, and are only fit to be members of the visible church; and all such ought to be in a Gospel church state, and partake of the privileges of it: these materials are of different sorts, and have a different place, and have a different usefulness in this building; some are only as common stones, and timber; others are as pillars, beams, and rafters; and all are useful and serviceable; and being put, and knit together, grow up as an holy temple to the Lord: and are called, by Christ, "my" church, because given him by the Father; and he has purchased them with his own blood; are built by him, and on him; inhabited by him, and of whom he is the head, king, and governor; though not to the exclusion of the Father, whose house they also are; nor of the Spirit, who dwells in them, as in his temple. This church Christ promises to "build". Though his ministers are builders, they are but under builders; they are qualified, employed, directed, encouraged, and succeeded by him; he is the wise, able, and chief master builder. This act of building seems to have a special regard to the conversion of God's elect, both among Jews and Gentiles, particularly the latter; and to the daily conversions of them in all ages; and to the building up of saints in faith and holiness; each of which will more manifestly appear in the latter day; and are both generally effected through the word, and ordinances, as means, the Spirit of Christ blessing them. By the rock on which Christ builds his church, is meant, not the person of Peter; for Christ does not say, upon thee Peter, but upon this rock, referring to something distinct from him: for though his name signifies a rock, or stone, and there may be some allusion to it; and he is so called because of his trust and confidence in the Lord, on whom he was built; but not because he was the foundation on which any others, and especially the whole church, were built: it is true, he may be called the foundation, as the rest of the twelve apostles of the Lamb are, Ephesians 2:20 without any distinction from them, and preference to them; they and he agreeing in laying doctrinally and ministerially Christ Jesus as the foundation of faith and hope, but not in such sense as he is; neither he, nor they, are the foundation on which the church is built, which is Christ, and him only. Moreover, what is said to Peter in these, and the following words, is not said to him personally and separately from the rest of the apostles, but is designed for them, as well as him, as appears by comparing them with Matthew 18:18. As he spoke in the name of them all, to Christ; so Christ spake to him, including them all. Peter had no preeminence over the rest of the apostles, which he neither assumed, nor was it granted; nor would it ever have been connived at by Christ, who often showed his resentment at such a spirit and conduct, whenever there was any appearance of it in any of them; see Matthew 18:1 and though Peter, with James, and John, had some particular favours bestowed on him by Christ; as to be at the raising of Jairus's daughter, and at the transfiguration of Christ on the mount, and with him in the garden; and he appeared to him alone after his resurrection, and before he was seen by the rest of the disciples; yet in some things he was inferior to them, being left to deny his Lord and master, they did not; and upon another account is called Satan by Christ, which they never were; not to mention other infirmities of his, which show he is not the rock: and, after all, what is this to the pope of Rome, who is no successor of Peter's? Peter, as an apostle, had no successor in his office; nor was he bishop of Rome; nor has the pope of Rome either his office, or his doctrine: but here, by the rock, is meant, either the confession of faith made by Peter; not the act, nor form, but the matter of it, it containing the prime articles of Christianity, and which are as immoveable as a rock; or rather Christ himself, who points, as it were, with his finger to himself, and whom Peter had made such a glorious confession of; and who was prefigured by the rock the Israelites drank water out of in the wilderness; and is comparable to any rock for height, shelter, strength, firmness, and duration; and is the one and only foundation of his church and people, and on whom their security, salvation, and happiness entirely depend. Christ is a rock that is higher than they, where they find safety in times of distress, and the shadow of which is refreshing to them; and therefore betake themselves to him for shelter, and where they are secure from the wrath of God, and rage of men: he is the rock of ages, in whom is everlasting strength; and is the sure, firm, and everlasting foundation on which the church, and all true believers, are laid: he is the foundation of their faith, and hope, and everlasting happiness, and will ever continue; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. The Jews speak of the gates of hell: sometimes of the gate of hell, in the singular number (p); and sometimes of the gates of hell, in the plural number. They say (q), that
"Mnhygl vy Myxtp hvlv, "hell has three gates", one in the wilderness, one in the sea, and one in Jerusalem.''
They talk (r) of
"an angel that is appointed , "over the gates of hell", whose name is Samriel; who has three keys in his hands, and opens three doors.''
And elsewhere (s) they say, that
"he that is appointed over hell his name is Dumah, and many myriads of destroying angels are with him, and he stands , "at the gate of hell"; and all those that keep the holy covenant in this world, he has no power to bring them in.''
Our Lord may allude to these notions of the Jews, and his sense be, that all the infernal principalities and powers, with all their united cunning and strength, will never be able to extirpate his Gospel, to destroy his interest, to demolish his church in general, or ruin anyone particular soul that is built upon him. Again, the gates of "Hades", or hell, sometimes seem to design no other than the gates of death, and the grave, and persons going into the state of death; see Job 38:17 where the Septuagint use the same phrase as here; and then the sense is, that neither death, nor the grave, shall finally, and totally prevail over the people of God, and members of Christ; but they shall be raised out of such a state, and live gloriously with him for ever. By it here is not meant Peter himself; though it is true of him, that Satan, and his posse of devils that beset him, did not prevail against him, so as to destroy his grace, hurt his estate, and hinder his salvation: nor could death, in all its frightful appearances, deter him from holding, and preaching, and maintaining the doctrine of Christ; and though death, and the grave, have now power over him, yet they shall not always detain him: but rather, it designs the doctrine Peter made a confession of; which, though it may be opposed by hell and earth, by Satan, and his emissaries, by the open force of persecutors, and the secret fraud of heretics, it may be brought into contempt by the scandalous lives of professors; and though the true professors of it may die off, yet truth itself always lives, and defies the power of death, and the grave: or else the church in general is meant, and every true believer. These words do not ascertain the continuance of anyone particular congregated church, but secures the church universal, which will continue as long as the sun and moon endure, and the perseverance of everyone of God's elect; and assure that death, and the grave, shall not always have the dominion over the saints, but that they shall be rescued from them. Once more, this "it" may refer to Christ the rock, who, though he was brought to the dust of death, by the means of Satan, and the powers of darkness, yet to the ruin of him that had the power of death; and though death, and the grave, had power over him for a while, yet could not hold him; he rose victorious over them, and ever lives, having the keys of hell and death, to open the gates thereof, and let his people out when he thinks fit.
(p) T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 39. 1. Succa, fol. 32. 2. Bava Bathra, fol. 84. 1.((q) T. Bab. Erubin, fol. 19. 1. Menasseh ben Israel, Nishmat Chayim, fol, 33. 1, 2.((r) Zohar in Gen. fol. 47. 4. (s) Ib. fol. 7. 1.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
18. And I say also unto thee—that is, "As thou hast borne such testimony to Me, even so in return do I to thee."
That thou art Peter—At his first calling, this new name was announced to him as an honor afterwards to be conferred on him (Joh 1:43). Now he gets it, with an explanation of what it was meant to convey.
and upon this rock—As "Peter" and "Rock" are one word in the dialect familiarly spoken by our Lord—the Aramaic or Syro-Chaldaic, which was the mother tongue of the country—this exalted play upon the word can be fully seen only in languages which have one word for both. Even in the Greek it is imperfectly represented. In French, as Webster and Wilkinson remark, it is perfect, Pierre—pierre.
I will build my Church—not on the man Simon Bar-jona; but on him as the heavenly-taught confessor of a faith. "My Church," says our Lord, calling the Church His Own; a magnificent expression regarding Himself, remarks Bengel—nowhere else occurring in the Gospels.
and the gates of hell—"of Hades," or, the unseen world; meaning, the gates of Death: in other words, "It shall never perish." Some explain it of "the assaults of the powers of darkness"; but though that expresses a glorious truth, probably the former is the sense here.
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