Why Do Catholics Have a Pope?
- Thursday, May 01, 2008
"But what about you?' he asked. "Who do you say I am?'
Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
The Catholic Church sees three important points here:
- The Primacy of Simon Bar-Jonah above the other apostles demonstrated through his divinely-inspired response to Jesus.
- The establishment of Simon Bar-Jonah, renamed "Peter," as the Rock from which Christ expressed intention to build His Church.
- The handing over of the keys to the kingdom with the authority to "loose" and "bind."
Simon's divinely-inspired response. While our ears may have become numb to these passages over the centuries, this moment was, no doubt, as dramatic as the surrounding landscape – one on which Protestants and Catholics alike hinge their faith. Jesus' earthly ministry had made waves among the Jews and Gentiles. The apostles here recount how, in awe of Jesus' teaching and miracles, many surmised he must be an Old Testament prophet come back from the dead. But the truth about Jesus' identity was even more astonishing than the rumors, so amazing that even His closest followers had yet to make the connection. When Jesus turns to His chosen twelve to identify Him, Simon Bar-Jonah ("son of Jonah") speaks first among all – a pattern of leadership the Catholic Church teaches can be found throughout the New Testament (CCC 880). In this defining moment, Simon asserts Jesus is not merely a prophet but the Messiah, God Incarnate. The Apostle's astounding profession of faith – directly inspired by the Heavenly Father – leads into Christ's words that for Catholics have had tangible implications to this very day.
The renaming of Simon. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
When a person in the Bible is renamed, it is a sign of God's intention to work in a special way through that individual. Abram became the father of nations after being renamed "Abraham," and Sarai the mother after being renamed "Sarah." Other pivotal renamings in Biblical history include Jacob becoming "Israel" and Saul becoming "Paul."
In regards to Catholic doctrine, the implication of Simon's new name is easiest to understand when going back to Jesus' native language, Aramaic -- the language scholars believe the original words were spoken (Ray 1999, 34). Unlike modern English and New Testament Greek, the Aramaic word for "Peter" and the word "rock" are identical: Kepha. So this verse, when spoken, would have sounded something like this:
And I tell you that you are Rock (Kepha), and on this rock (kepha) I will build my church…
Catholic doctrine asserts that linguistically, Christ links the person and position of Peter – not Himself or a general profession of faith – to the founding of His Church here (CCC 881). While both Christ and the Apostles are referred to as "rocks" (kepha) and "small stones" (Greek, petros) in other areas of Scripture, Catholic teaching points to Peter as the only person in the Bible given the proper name "Kepha," later spelled "Cephas"(Ray 1999, 35).
While some Christians might see the assertion that Peter was the rock upon which Christ would build His Church as an affront to Christ's Headship and status as the true Rock, Catholics take a different view. To better understand why, let's move to the next Scripture, involving the keys to the kingdom.
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