The following was posted on the Catholic Answers forum on the topic of Peter as the foundation of the church. This quote represents fairly well the Catholic understanding of what the foundation of the church is. Out of everything discussed on that particular thread, this, believe it or not, was the most in-depth any Catholic ever got.
Thou art Peter [Kipha, Cephas] and on this rock [Kipha, Cephas] I will build my Church, cannot be understood save of building the Church on this man Peter (Cephas), otherwise the point of the phrase disappears. Jesus was called the cornerstone (1 Peter 2:4-8; Ephesians 2:20), but He could not be indicating Himself here: it would have been rather like a bad joke, if I may venture to say so: Thou art Peter, but it is on quite another Peter that I am going to build! Some try to return indirectly to this superannuated Protestant interpretation by making out the Rock to be Peter’s faith in the Messiahship of the Lord. It was indeed Peter’s faith that introduced the promise, but the promise is given to the person whose faith has just been displayed. If the building is a group, the foundation is their head: Jesus, says St. John Chrysostom, exalts Peter’s declaration, He made him pastor. The position of Peter in the Church is that of the rock on which the building is erected; thanks to this foundation the building will stand firm; thanks to this head the community will be well ruled.
Was it Peter’s faith that introduced the promise, or was it the collective faith of all the apostles? Let’s look at what took place there in Philippi.
Jesus wanted His disciples (the twelve) to see something they hadn’t noticed before. He wanted them to realize the uniqueness of there confession that Christ is the Son of God. He asked them, “Who do men say that I am?” There were a variety of answers but none that confessed Christ to be the Son of God. So He then asked them, “Who do you say I am?”
Note: keep in mind, Peter’s answer to this question is not new information, Nathaniel confessed it when he met Jesus, they all confessed it in the boat when Jesus walked on the water, and Peter, speaking for them all, confessed it when Jesus asked if they too would walk away like the unbelieving disciples. (Jhn. 6) It should also be understood that unless Judas understood this, Jesus would not have said of him, “Woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” (Mar. 14:21)
So Peter answered Jesus just as he did before, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered, “Blessed are you Simon Barjona, flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father in heaven.” Also, In His discourse with the Jews on the bread of life, Jesus told them, “No one can come to Me unless the Father draw him.”
As we continue to read Jesus’ answer to Peter, we cannot discard the context of the discourse. Jesus continues with an important conjunction, “kago.” Kago is typically rendered as “also,” this word means “in like manner.” “You are Peter (i.e. stone, petros), and on this rock (i.e. greater stone, petra) I will build My church.”
Peter’s confession is the confession of all the apostles, and Peter’s name implies his part in the foundation of the church. The foundation of the church, upon which we are built, is the collective testimony of the apostles in unison with Christ the chief cornerstone. Others can only share the confession that Christ is the Son of God if they hear the apostles’ testimony (the Gospel). And that is the foundation upon which we are built. (Compare Isa. 28:16, Luke 6:47-48, 1Cor. 3:10-17, Eph. 2:20-22, 2Tim. 2:19)
Then take a look at Revelation 21:9-14.
What is described in these verses is the bride of Christ, the church. “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” (v9) The description is a city, spiritual Jerusalem (Christ’s church), built upon 12 foundations bearing the names of the 12 apostles of Christ (v14). This is a clear image of what the church of Christ is built upon; the testimony of the twelve apostles.
That is why Origen said that the promise was not only to Peter, but to every Peter who confesses that Christ is the Son of God. And it is why Irenaeus declared that the foundation of the church is the Gospel of Christ.
Now take a look at a few Catholic comments my post inspired. Notice how no one ever attempted to rebut my post biblically or historically but focused instead on what they learn from their apologists.
This shows a complete ignorance of the fact that Jesus wasn’t speaking in Greek – he was speaking in ARAMAIC, a cousin language of Hebrew.
In Aramaic, there is no distinction between large and small rocks – they are ALL Kepha. What Jesus said was, “…you are Kepha and on this Kepha, I will build my church.”
Nice try – but even a rudimentary investigation into the linguistics involved here should have been a huge red flag . . .
That was the extent of opposing views generated by my biblical exegeses. However, it did spark an offshoot discussion (sort of) on the language of Matthew’s Gospel.
The following is from a Catholic named, Carl W. Betts.
Matthew’s Gospel, in my honest opinion, was written in Aramaic by Matthew. There are no extant copies of the Aramaic Gospel, but there is a homily by Pope Leo the Great, where he quotes Matthews Gospel as saying “And you are Cephas…”, which would indicate he had access to the Aramaic Gospel. The Gospel was either written first, or alternately, the Q source (a non-extant source composed of Jesus’ sayings in Aramaic) was written first, with other details added later. At some point, it was transcribed into Greek, which would explain the Aramaic “peeking through” such as in Matthew 16:17 (the Bar-Jona reference, which is obviously NOT Greek, but Aramaic.) Now, you may not accept the Two Source Hypothesis. There is also the Two Gospel Hypothesis, which is the minority view, and the Augustinian Hypothesis, which is held by very few. At any rate, Matthew provided the earliest material. So what was your point? Unless you are one of those who erroneously hold that only the material in Q and Luke are reliable, and everything else is a fabrication?
My response to Carl:
There is absolutely no way Leo had access to an Aramaic Gospel; your opinion is completely unfounded.
My point is, just about every early ecclesiastical writer that talked about the New Testament believed Matthew’s Gospel was originally written in Hebrew. What is interesting is that they said they knew this from tradition, which probably originated with Papias. That means the Hebrew transcript was not extant in there time. The people I am referring to are Irenaeus and Origen, both Greek-speaking, Greek-writing ECFs. It is obvious from the evidence of their writings that Matthew’s Gospel existed only in Greek at the time they wrote.
If the tradition is correct (and I know how you Catholics love tradition) the Greek was translated from Hebrew not Aramaic. So however petros and petra in Matthew 16:18 might have appeared in Hebrew, they were understood as distinctly different words when translated to Greek. If the early church believed Jesus said, “You are Peter and on you Peter I will build my church,” why would they render it differently in the Greek? And furthermore, why would Irenaeus not acknowledge Peter as the foundation if, as Catholics say, the Greek is wrong?
Origen wrote a commentary on Matthew’s Gospel, and it he talks in detail about the “rock” upon which Christ builds His church. I hope you read this; it refutes your idea of Roman authority springing out of Jesus’ promise to Peter.
“For all bear the surname of rock who are the imitators of Christ, that is, of the spiritual rock which followed those who are being saved, that they may drink from it the spiritual draught. But these bear the surname of the rock just as Christ does. But also as members of Christ deriving their surname from Him they are called Christians, and from the rock, Peters. And taking occasion from these things you will say that the righteous bear the surname of Christ who is Righteousness, and the wise of Christ who is Wisdom. And so in regard to all His other names, you will apply them by way of surname to the saints; and to all such the saying of the Saviour might be spoken, You are Peter, etc., down to the words, prevail against it. But what is the it? Is it the rock upon which Christ builds the church, or is it the church? For the phrase is ambiguous. Or is it as if the rock and the church were one and the same? This I think to be true; for neither against the rock on which Christ builds the church, nor against the church will the gates of Hades prevail; just as the way of a serpent upon a rock, according to what is written in the Proverbs, cannot be found. Now, if the gates of Hades prevail against any one, such an one cannot be a rock upon which Christ builds the church, nor the church built by Jesus upon the rock; for the rock is inaccessible to the serpent, and it is stronger than the gates of Hades which are opposing it, so that because of its strength the gates of Hades do not prevail against it; but the church, as a building of Christ who built His own house wisely upon the rock, is incapable of admitting the gates of Hades which prevail against every man who is outside the rock and the church, but have no power against it.” (Origen, Commentary on Matthew 12:11)
In addition, Eusebius claims exactly what we have been claiming all along; that the apostles laid the foundation of churches and moved on to other locations. They did not sit as bishops anywhere; they appointed bishops before they moved on.
“And when they had only laid the foundations of the faith in foreign places, they appointed others as pastors, and entrusted them with the nurture of those that had recently been brought in, while they themselves went on again to other countries and nations, with the grace and the co-operation of God.” (EH 3:37:3)
Peter was never a bishop in the church in Rome, but he did lay the foundation there with Paul.
Now one would think that my response would offer the opportunity for educated Catholics to discuss the history behind the their church’s claims. Instead I received this response from Carl:
Why should we believe your flawed, fallible interpretation, especially since it is obviously poisoned with anti-Catholic hatred.
No further evidence of your hatred is needed than your unceasing diatribe consisting of nothing more than poor scholarship and twisted “facts.” You have never made a completely honest statement.
To be fair, Carl did post a list of six biblical reasons the Catholic position is the right one.
Any time a list of the Apostles is given, Peter is always first Peter is mentioned by name more than all the others combined Peter acts as the head of the Church when he suggests the office of Judas must be filled with another
Peter preaches at Pentecost
Peter presides at the Council of Jerusalem It is Peter upon which Jesus says He will build His Church
Did I mention that Carl is a postgraduate theology student?