Let us first begin explaining where the pope, his authority, and his power came from by using the word of God itself, the Holy Bible. Catholics mainly use Matthew 16:13-19 to prove the establishment and the existence of the papacy.
The Papacy in the Gospel of Matthew
The Gospel According to Matthew is a very prestigious book in fact that no other was so frequently quoted in the non-canonical literature of earliest Christianity. This gospel was believed to have been written in Greek. We also use the support of other verses such as John 1:42 as I will demonstrate for you soon. Here is what Matthew 16:13-19 says:
“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Phillipi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do men 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-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 upon this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death 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.'”
The Importance of Simon’s Role in the Papacy
One of the first and most important things that is noticed is that Simon is the first one to answer Jesus’ question. He confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah. What does Jesus do next? He blesses Simon telling him that Simon knows this because God, the Father who is in heaven, has revealed it to him.
We can easily see that Simon has been especially favored by God because it was to Simon that it was revealed that Jesus is the Lord.
Immediately after that Simon is renamed Peter. Now, name changes in the Bible aren’t done for nothing. God changes people’s names for a very good reason. When God changes someone’s name it signifies a change in their status. For example, Abram’s name is changed to Abraham. Abram means “exalted father” whereas Abraham means “father of a multitude”.
Another example is the change from Jacob “supplanter” to Israel “God prevails”. We see that Simon’s name is changed to Petros meaning “rock” not “stone”. Therefore Matthew 16:18 is read as this: “And upon this Rock (Peter) I will build my church.”
Over the past few centuries, many people have twisted the meaning of the passage due to their lack of understanding the translation and the Greek language. They say that the word used for “rock” in “upon this rock I will build…” is not Petros, but petra, a Greek word that has the meaning of “rock” and only “rock”.
Their argument is that if Jesus had intended to make Simon the Rock then Jesus would have called Simon Petra and not Petros. Since Jesus did rename Simon, Petros, Jesus must have meant that Simon is not the Rock, but a “stone” or a “little pebble” just like all of us Christians are called in 1 Peter 2:4-5:
Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones (Greek: lithoi) be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
In this passage it is apparent that each Christian is a “stone” a lithos (singular of lithoi) not Petros.
We look to another passage in support of the significance of renaming Simon to Peter (Petros). Our example is John 1:42:
“Then he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Kephas.'”
Kephas is Aramaic for the word Rock and it only means rock. It has no other meanings. Neither the Greek equivalent Petros nor, with one isolated exception, Kephas is attested as a personal name before Christian times.
So, why here does it say Kephas instead of Petros?
Why does Jesus Rename Simon Differently?
It turns out that Jesus did not rename him differently. Jesus spoke Aramaic and not Greek. Sure you could say that Jesus is God and knows all languages so therefore he could have spoken what he wanted to. Well, the problem with that is Jesus had a mission to accomplish.
Jesus needed to be able to teach people in a language they understand; in a language that his disciples spoke and that language was Aramaic and not Greek. When translating occurred for the Gospel of John, the translator obviously decided to leave it untranslated in the text.
Now that we have a better understanding of languages and the original translation we can go ahead and tie Matthew 16:18 (Petros) and John 1:42 (Kephas) together to clarify upon whom the church was built.
Since the Aramaic Kephas means “rock” and “rock” only; it could not possibly ever mean “stone”. From this evidence we can conclude that Jesus must have meant that when he renamed Simon, Peter, he meant to apply the title “Rock”, petra, to him. The reason Jesus could not have named Simon petra, however, is very clear.
Jesus would have been giving Simon a feminine name because it has a feminine ending. petra is a feminine noun. It would not be appropriate to give a male person a female name. So Jesus switches the ending -a to -os so the Greek word “Rock” could be applied to Simon.
Again, we know that Jesus means to call Peter “Rock” and not “Stone” because in Aramaic he calls him Kephas, which can only mean “Rock” and not Evna, which is the Aramaic name for “Stone,” and because he could have called him Lithos instead, the Greek word for stone which already possesses a male ending.
More about the Papal Office
If you want to know more about the the origins of the Papal office, check out our post on the Proof and Reason of the Papal office.