Yes, the biblical evidence is overwhelming. Because I told you last week that we’d talk more about Peter’s name, we’ll follow the logical presentation of Karl Keating in his classical work Catholicism and Fundamentalism. Here we find the evidence to be irrefutable.
Keating notes first that St. Peter was almost always named first in the Gospels’ listings of the apostles (Matthew 10:1-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16; Acts 1:13), and that sometimes the apostles were referred to only as “Peter and those who were with him” (Luke 9:32). He points out that Peter was the first of the apostles to preach, the first to perform a healing miracle, and the one to whom the revelation came that Christianity was for Gentiles as well as Jews (Acts 2:14-40, 3:6-7, 10:46-48).
Keating goes on to tell us that “Peter’s preeminent position among the apostles was symbolized at the very beginning of his relationship with Christ, although the implications were only slowly unfolded. At their first meeting, Christ told Simon that his name would thereafter be Peter, which translates as Rock (John 1:42). The startling thing was that in the Old Testament only God was called a rock. The word was never used as a proper name for a man. If one were to turn to a companion and say, ‘From now on your name is Asparagus’, people would wonder. Why Asparagus? What is the meaning of it? Indeed, why Peter for Simon the fisherman? Why give him as a name a word only used for God before this moment?
“Christ was not given to meaningless gestures, and neither were the Jews as a whole when it came to names. Giving a new name meant that the status of the person was changed, as when Abram was changed to Abraham; Jacob to Israel; Eliacim to Joakim; and Daniel, Ananias, Misael, and Azarias to Baltassar, Sidrach, Misach, and Abednago. But no Jew had ever been called Rock because that was reserved for God. The Jews would give other names taken from nature, such as Barach (which means lightening), Deborah (bee), and Rachel (ewe), but not Rock. In the New Testament James and John were surnamed Boanerges, Sons of Thunder, by Christ, but that was never regularly used in place of their original names. Simon’s new name supplanted the old.”
St. Peter’s name has been firmly established by Christ as a name synonymous with God. Throughout Jesus’ and Peter’s relationship the reason became gradually clearer, but it becomes crystal clear in Matthew 16:17-19. Immediately after Peter proclaims Christ’s divinity, Jesus says, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! 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 will be loosed in heaven.”
This passage seems obvious to most readers. As Keating points out, the verse could be re-written as: “You are Rock, and on this rock I will build my church”. It makes perfect sense that Jesus is here giving St. Peter supreme authority; however, those who desire to debunk the papacy prefer to claim that the rock refers to Christ instead of Peter.
To settle this objection, we turn once more to Keating: “According to the rules of grammar, the phrase ‘this rock’ must relate to the closest noun. Peter’s profession of faith (‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God’) is two verses earlier, while his name, a proper noun, is in the immediately preceding clause. As an analogy, consider this artificial sentence: ‘I have a car and a truck and it is blue.’ Which is blue? The truck, because that is the noun closest to the pronoun ‘it’. This identification would be even clearer if the reference to the car were two sentences earlier, as the reference to Peter’s profession is two sentences earlier than the term rock.”
Not only is the reference to rock clear, but we see also that Jesus is giving Peter more authority than God had ever given any man, along with some specific promises. Immediately after stating that he will build the Church on Peter (the Rock), Jesus goes on to make a promise and explain why He will do this.
The promise is that “the gates of hell” will not defeat the Church built on Peter. This is a promise that the Church will not be destroyed by Christ’s enemies, and that she will stand until the end of time. Consider this: numerous Roman emperors, Attila the Hun, Napoleon, Hitler, and many other mighty enemies of the Church have tried to destroy her, yet she continues to live while they are but dust and ashes in the garbage heap of history. Indeed, there is not one nation on earth today that existed in its current form when the Church began, yet here she is, as youthful and vibrant as she was 2,000 years ago!
Next we find Jesus using the symbol of the keys. This symbol has always implied power and authority, and the giving of keys implies a transfer of that power and authority. This isn’t lost on us today. The owner of a business possesses both the keys to the business and the authority to run it. When he passes those keys to a new manager, he also passes over the power and authority. The guard in a prison posses both the keys to the cells and the warden’s authority to enforce the prison’s rules. When a new shift of guards come on, both the keys and their authority as passed on as well.
We covered binding and loosing last week, but it bears repeating. “Binding and loosing” among the Rabbis of Jesus’s time meant to declare something “prohibited” or “permitted”. Here it plainly means that St. Peter, the Steward of the Lord’s house, the Church, has all the rights and powers of a divinely appointed steward. He doesn’t, like the Jewish Rabbis, declare probable, speculative opinions, but he has the right to teach and govern authoritatively, with the certainty of God’s approval “in heaven”. A law giving power is certainly implied by these words. This is yet but one more proof of the divine origin of the Catholic Church.
Next week we’ll begin to more closely examine the divine attributes of the Catholic Church. Yes, divine. There is no other institution on earth that was established by God, and has God as its soul to give it life. Don’t believe me? Stick around a while!