The centuries-old debate between Catholics and Protestants about who Jesus built the Ecclesia upon is mainly an issue of semantics, ignoring the fact that people in ancient times used idiomatic language. No matter how well something is translated, there will always be discrepancies due to not having a full understand of the culture—the older it is, the more obscure. Thank the Lord He still gives out knowledge and wisdom in this day.
Matthew 16:13-20 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 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.” Then He strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
John 1:42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas (which means Peter).”
The name Peter (Petros-masculine form) means pebble, little rock, broken piece of rock in the Greek. The word rock (petra-feminine form) is only used four times in the NT; one reference is to Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4). Jesus called Himself the stone which the builders rejected, the chief cornerstone (capstone) (Psalm 118:22, Isaiah 28:16, Matthew 21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17).
Others argue that going by the Aramaic text, Kaypha (Cephas, Peter) means large rock and evna, little rock, the latter not being used. They conclude that Jesus established the Ecclesia upon Simon Peter, making him the main representative of Christ. The problem with that is it ignores the Old and New Testament symbolism both the words rock and stone signify—God and His control over the whole Earth. Also, Jesus gave the power to bind and loose spiritually to all disciples (Matthew 18:18). Going by these definitions alone is inconclusive.
Usually, commentaries have my eyes rolling, but Albert Barnes saw the same problem I did and my position on Christ being “this rock” being a bit off:
And upon this rock … – This passage has given rise to many different interpretations. Some have supposed that the word “rock” refers to Peter’s confession, and that Jesus meant to say, upon this rock, this truth that thou hast confessed, that I am the Messiah and upon confessions of this from all believers, I will build my church. Confessions like this shall be the test of piety, and in such confessions shall my church stand amid the flames of persecution, the fury of the gates of hell.
Others have thought that Jesus referred to himself. Christ is called a rock, Isaiah 28:16; 1 Peter 2:8. And it has been thought that he turned from Peter to himself, and said, “Upon this rock, this truth that I am the Messiah – upon myself as the Messiah, I will build my church.” Both these interpretations, though plausible, seem forced upon the passage to avoid the main difficulty in it. Another interpretation is, that the word “rock” refers to Peter himself.
This is the obvious meaning of the passage; and had it not been that the Church of Rome has abused it, and applied it to what was never intended, no other interpretation would have been sought for.
“Thou art a rock. Thou hast shown thyself firm, and suitable for the work of laying the foundation of the church. Upon thee will I build it. Thou shalt be highly honored; thou shalt be first in making known the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles.” This was accomplished. See Acts 2:14-36, where he first preached to the Jews, and Acts 10, where he preached the gospel to Cornelius and his neighbors, who were Gentiles. Peter had thus the honor of laying the foundation of the church among the Jews and Gentiles; and this is the plain meaning of this passage. See also Galatians 2:9.
But Christ did not mean, as the Roman Catholics say He did, to exalt Peter to supreme authority above all the other apostles, or to say that he was the only one upon whom he would rear his church. See Acts 15, where the advice of James, and not that of Peter, was followed. See also Galatians 2:11, where Paul withstood Peter to his face, because he was to be blamed – a thing which could not have happened if Christ (as the Roman Catholics say) meant that Peter was absolute and infallible. More than all, it is not said here, or anywhere else in the Bible, that Peter would have infallible successors who would be the vicegerents of Christ and the head of the church.
The whole meaning of the passage is this: “I will make you the honored instrument of making known my gospel first to Jews and Gentiles, and I will make you a firm and distinguished preacher in building my church.”
Satisfied with this explanation, I put the issue aside. The Father was not finished with it because the next morning I awoke to the words, “Peter was the first stone.” Their meaning filled my mind: the Spirit of God spoke first through Peter; therefore Peter became the first rock laid beside the cornerstone, Christ Jesus. Jesus also told Peter he was already a part of Him, His Body (kingdom, temple, ecclesia), by what the Holy Spirit inspired Peter to say (Matthew 16:17, Luke 9:20, John 6:68-69).
Some time later, He caused me to dig a little deep. The Hebrew equivalent of peter means firstling (firstborn), that which separates (from the whole, offspring), first opens. Jesus used a pun, a play on words! Matthew and John through the Spirit knew exactly what they had written. The Father will confirm His word to anyone who truly seeks Him and His truth.
All praise to Him for His precious insight! See how we make a simple thing so complicated? God exalts no man but His Son; only His will through His servants is paramount. Oh, look, Peter and Paul agree.
1 Peter 2:4-8 As you come to Him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to Him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:
“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in Him
will never be put to shame.”[Isaiah 28:16]
Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,
“The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone,”[Psalm 118:22]
“A stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.”[Isaiah 8:14]
They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.
1 Corinthians 3:8-11 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 2:19-21 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone. In whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.