June 2020

Peter & the Primacy in the New Testament

by Steve Ray on June 30, 2020

St. Peter in the New Testament
What Do We Know About Him?

Kd-KeysPeter is the big rugged fisherman who became the humble servant of the servants of God. Jesus chose him from among the Twelve to be the leader and the visible head of the Church.

What do we know about Peter from the New Testament? More than most people realize. It is good to remember this man that Jesus specially chose. Here is my article on Peter and the Primacy in the New Testament.

From the obscure fishing village of Capernaum on the shores of Galilee, Simon son of John rose to great prominence in the early Church. When choosing Simon as a disciple, Jesus informed him that his name would be changed to Cephas (Rock) (Jn 1:42). From his simple beginning as a fisherman, Simon Peter’s life ended in a glorious martyrdom in the Imperial City of Rome.

In the NT, the names Simon, Peter, or Cephas occur almost 200 times. The names of all the other disciples combined occur only about 130 times. In the NT lists of apostles, Peter is listed first. Matthew uses the word first (Mt 10:2) to “to single him out as the most prominent one of the twelve”. He was the spokesman and authoritative voice of the apostles, as seen in the early chapters of Acts. Paul spent fifteen days in private with Peter before beginning his own apostolate (Gal 1:18).

Jesus bestowed special prerogatives on Peter, recounted in Matthew 16:13-20. Peter is given a new name, which in Scripture denotes a change in status or position (e.g., Gen 17:4?5). Jesus spoke Aramaic and gave Simon the Aramaic name Kepha (Rock) which is is “Petra” in Greek and “Peter” in English. The Greek “petra” is feminine so the masculine “Petros” was adopted.

There is no distinction between Kepha the man and Kepha the Rock upon which Jesus would build his Church-Peter is the rock (cf. CCC no. 552). Protestants often claim that Christ is the only foundation (1 Cor 3:11) attempting thereby to unseat Peter. However, they mistakenly mix the metaphors. In 1 Corinthians, Paul is the builder and Jesus is the foundation; in Matthew, Jesus is the builder and Peter is the rock foundation. Another NT metaphor pictures the Church “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Eph 2:20).

Jesus chose Caesarea Philippi as the backdrop for the Petrine appointment. Here Herod had built a temple to Caesar Augustus atop the massive rock, a center of pagan worship and a source of the Jordan River. At the rock base was a gaping cavern referred to by the pagans as the “gates of hell”. Standing before the “temple” built to the “divine Caesar”, Jesus revealed God’s plan to build his new “temple”, the Church, to the true God with Peter as the solid rock.

After establishing Peter as the “Rock”, Jesus promises to give Peter the “keys of the kingdom of heaven”-a reference to the steward’s keys in Isaiah 22. The Davidic throne had been vacant since the Babylonian captivity (586 BC). The archangel Gabriel announced to Mary her Son Jesus would be given “the throne of his father David” (Lk 1:42). As Jesus, the new King of Israel, re-established the Davidic throne he appointed Peter to the office of royal steward-to rule “over the house” of the king (cf. CCC 553). Keys represent exclusive dominion and this authority was granted to Peter alone. The office of royal steward was successive in Israel. Familiar with their history, the Jews certainly understand that the office of Peter would be filled by successors as was the royal steward’s office in Judah. The steward may die, but the office continues.

As the steward of Christ’s kingdom, Peter is given the authority to bind and loose. This entails more than “opening heaven’s door to those who believe the Gospel”. Protestant scholar M. Vincent explains, “No other terms were in more constant use in Rabbinic canon-law than those of binding and loosing. They represented the legislative and judicial powers of the Rabbinic office. These powers Christ now transferred . . . in their reality, to his apostles; the first, here to Peter.” Aramaic scholar George Lamsa writes, “ ‘He has the key,’ means he can declare certain things to be lawful and others unlawful; that is to bind or to loose, or to prohibit or to permit, or to forgive”.

Other passages express Peter’s primacy. Jesus tells Peter that, “Satan demanded to have you [plural], that he might sift you [plural] like wheat, but I have prayed for you [singular] that your faith may not fail; and when you [singular] have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Lk 22:31?32). Peter represents the apostles before God, and Jesus prays for him exclusively that he in turn can support his fellow apostles. This perfectly exemplifies the primacy of the Pope and his collegiality with the other bishops. Jesus also appoints Peter the shepherd of his sheep with the universal Church in view (Jn 21:15?17).

The Jews would understand, according to contemporary usage, that the words “feed” and “tend” meant to teach, govern, and rule. St. Augustine comments, “The succession of priests keeps me [in the Catholic Church], beginning from the very seat of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after His resurrection, gave it in charge to feed His sheep, down to the present episcopate.” St. John, writing long after Peter’s death, reminds Christians of Peter’s singular status.

Papal infallibility is often challenged by mentioning Paul’s public rebuke of Peter in Galatians 2:11-14. However, Paul does not oppose Peter’s teaching, but rather Peter’s failure to live consistently with his teaching. It was Peter’s example that everyone followed so his conduct was crucial. Papal infallibility does not guarantee impeccable conduct; it only guarantees infallible teaching under strict conditions (CCC no. 891). Paul acknowledges Peter’s office as “Rock” by referring to his as “Cephas” eight times-the title Christ himself had chosen. Tertullian (c. 160?c. 225) wrote, “If Peter was reproached [by Paul] . . . the fault certainly was one of procedure and not of doctrine” (On Prescription Against the Heretics, 23).

James’ pastoral summary at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) does not nullify Peter’s primacy. On the contrary, Peter delivered a binding pronouncement and defined doctrine. Only after Peter spoke did the debating assembly “keep silence” (Acts 15:12). After Paul relates his experiences, James spoke, as the bishop of Jerusalem, to summarize, quoting Peter along with Scripture. In 1 Peter 5:1, Peter’s calls himself a “fellow elder”. This humble greeting does not diminish Peter’s authoritative office anymore than the President’s words “My fellow Americans” denies Presidential authority, or the Popes’ greeting “my fellow bishops” denies Papal authority.

In the first century, Christians and Jews referred to Rome with the pseudonym “Babylon”-persecutor of God’s people. Peter wrote his first epistle from “Babylon” (1 Pet 5:13) where he was later martyred. Jesus prophesied that aged Peter’s arms would be stretched out and John interprets Jesus’ words as foretelling Peter’s death (Jn 21:18?19). After decades of spreading the Gospel and ruling as Bishop of Rome, Peter’s noble apostolate ended in crucifixion, though his Petrine office continued. Early Church history consistently affirms Peter’s crucifixion and burial in Rome around AD 67. From the first century onward, the chair of Peter in Rome was revered among the Church Fathers.

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Greek definition of the word “first”: Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature (William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich [Chicago, IL: Univ. Chicago, 1957], 733).

Tertullian’s quote: William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Liturgical Press, 1:121.

Vincent’s quote: M. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1887, 1980), 1:96.

Lamsa’s Quote: George M. Lamsa, Old Testament Light [New York, NY: Harper 

Augustine’s Quote: Against the Epistle of Manich¾us in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, first series, ed. by Philip Schaff [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983], 4:130).

Tertullian’s Quote: William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers 1:121.

Referencing Rome as Babylon: (Orac. Sybil. 5, 159 f.; 4 Esdras. 3:1; Apoc. Baruch, vis. ii; Rev. 14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21).

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Recommended Reading:

Upon this Rock: St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome in the Scriptures and the Early Church, Steve Ray, Ignatius Press, 1999.

Peter in the New Testament, Raymond Brown, ed., Augsburg Publ. and Paulist Press, 1973.

And on this Rock: The Witness of One Land and Two Covenants, Stanley L. Jaki, Christendom Press, 1997.

The Keys of the Kingdom Stanley Jaki, Franciscan Herald Press, 1986.

Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr, Oscar Cullmann, Westminster Press, 1953.

The Shepherd and the Rock: Origins, Development, and Mission of the Papacy, J. Michael Miller, Our Sunday Visitor, 1995.

Jesus, Peter, and the Keys, Scott Butler, Norman Dahlgren, David Hess, Queenship Publ., 1996.

To see the whole life of Peter filmed on location in a rollicking and adventurous format, check out our DVD Peter, Keeper of the Keys. To hear Steve’s talk, Peter: the Rock, the Keys & the Chair, click here and scroll down a page.

I also have three articles on INFALLIBILITY:

 

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This is a recording of my interview with Paul Thies on the Eucharist. You can listen by clicking below. His website page for this talk is here.

Questions discussed:

1.      As a convert to Catholicism, describe how you came to accept the Real Presence?
2.      What was instrumental in increasing your devotion to the Eucharist?
3.      What is the most common objection to the reality of the Real Presence you receive from non-Catholics? What do you say to them?
4.      Why do you think so many Catholics struggle with the teaching of the Real Presence?
5.      How has the Eucharist impacted your prayer life?
6.      How has the Eucharist impacted your marriage and how you parent?
7.      What is a scripture passage that is particularly meaningful to you on the Eucharist?

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A loving wife of an unbelieving Protestant husband asked me to explain to her husband that Jesus renamed Simon as Peter and how that relates to Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew. So in simple terms I gave it a simple (though a bit long) explanation. I hope it helps you as well.

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Let’s give this a whirl for your husband’s sake. We know Aramaic was the daily language of the Jews in Judea after their return from their exile to Babylon in 586 BC. Jesus, though he obviously knew Hebrew and probably Greek, primarily spoke Aramaic.

“Greek took over as the language of government, literature, and commerce, but Aramaic remained the language of the common people in Palestine until the Arab Muslim conquest.”

“As Aramaic was spoken commonly in Palestine during the New Testament times, Jesus and his disciples spoke Aramaic (Matt 26:73). Fragments of Aramaic appear, for example, in Matt 16:17Mark 5:417:3414:3615:34John 1:42; and Acts 1:19. The Gospel stories were probably first transmitted orally in Aramaic, although only the Gospel of Matthew is reported to have been written originally in Hebrew or Aramaic.” (CBD, “Aramaic”)

When under extreme pain on the crucifixion Jesus said, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” These are Aramaic words.

“According to Matthew 27:45–50…” says the Evangelical Bible Knowledge Commentary, “…near the end of this period of time, Jesus could bear the separation no longer and cried out in a loud voice, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? These Aramaic words mean, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? (a quotation of Ps. 22:1).”

Here we have clear biblical evidence that when Jesus spoke, even under the emotional terror of the crucifixion, he spoke in Aramaic. This is just common knowledge and undisputed by anyone who knows New Testament history.

Golan BaniasAccording to scholars, the dialogue going on in Matthew 16 about the rock and the keys was certainly in Aramaic which would be expected since it was the vernacular language. In Aramaic, there is just one word for rock and it is kepha.

Matthew had to translate his original Aramaic/Hebrew text or the dialog of Jesus into Greek and since Greek had feminine and masculine nouns—and rock was the feminine petra, he had to translate the word differently since a 200-pound fisherman could not go around with a feminine name like Petra. In the translation, Matthew made the Aramaic name Kepha — Petros—petra with a masculine ending.

Where do we first find the word Kepha used in the Gospels? It is in St. John 1:42 when Jesus first meets Simon. We so naturally think of him as Simon Peter that we think he had that name all along. However, when Jesus first met him he was simply Simon. But Jesus said, “Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas’ (which means Peter)”  (John 1:42 (ESV)) The English Standard Version (ESV) is the new favorite translation among Protestants.

In the footnote to the word Peter it says, “Cephas and Peter are from the word for rock in Aramaic and Greek, respectively.” It must be emphasized that Cephas is the Greek transliteration of the Aramaic Kepha which means rock. Cephas (Kepha) and Peter are not different names. They are merely the same name, Rock, in two different languages, Aramaic and Greek, respectively. Cephas is the Greek transliteration of the Aramaic Kepha. This name was appropriately given to Peter near Caesarea Philippi. The water that flowed from the massive rock there was the source of the Jordan River.

Jesus says “You shall be called Cephas.“ When will Simon be called Cephas? Do we see any other later place in Scripture where he will be given that name since Jesus already predicted it will happen?

Yes, of course, in Matthew 16:18. Jesus speaking in the vernacular Aramaic (established earlier in this e-mail) he said to Simon, “You are kepha and on this kepha I will build my church.” In English Bibles, which are two languages beyond the original Aramaic, we read Peter where we lose the original Aramaic word parallel.

Protestants often use this sequence of languages and details of translation to obfuscate the text and confuse people. They use this obfuscation to deny what Jesus was actually saying about the Catholic Church has always taught.

Screen Shot 2020-05-08 at 10.09.25 AMQuoting my own book Upon this Rock, “W. F. Albright, eminent Protestant scholar and internationally regarded as the “dean of biblical studies”, writes, “This is not a name, but an appellation and a play on words. There is no evidence of Peter or Kephas as a name before Christian times.… Peter as Rock will be the foundation of the future community.

Jesus, not quoting the Old Testament, here uses Aramaic, not Hebrew, and so uses the only Aramaic word that would serve his purpose. In view of the background of verse 19, … one must dismiss as confessional interpretation any attempt to see this rock as meaning the faith, or the messianic confession, of Peter. To deny the pre-eminent position of Peter among the disciples or in the early Christian community is a denial of the evidence.… The interest in Peter’s failures and vacillations does not detract from this pre-eminence; rather, it emphasizes it. Had Peter been a lesser figure his behavior would have been of far less consequence (cf. Gal 2:11ff.)” (W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann, The Anchor Bible: Matthew [Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1971], 195).

“David Hill, Presbyterian minister and senior lecturer of biblical studies, University of Sheffield, writes, “It is on Peter himself, the confessor of his Messiah-ship, that Jesus will build the Church.… Attempts to interpret the ‘rock’ as something other than Peter in person (e.g., his faith, the truth revealed to him) are due to Protestant bias and introduce to the statement a degree of subtlety which is highly unlikely” (The Gospel of Matthew, New Century Bible Commentary [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1972], 261). For more information on this point, see James T. Shotwell and Louise Ropes Loomis, The See of Peter [1927; reprint, New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1991], especially 23–24).

“Name changes held great weight in Eastern cultures. Abraham’s name change from Abram (father) to Abraham (father of nations) is a prime example. It signified a change of status or mission. Jesus changed Peter’s name from Simon to Rock. Jesus is making it obvious that something important is taking place; Peter’s status has changed for all time, and, as with Abraham, this change would have a continuing impact on the new covenant community.

The fisherman was now the steward of a kingdom. Fundamentalists may object, “Only Christ can be the rock.” However, the same figures of speech can be applied to more than one person in Scripture. In one illustration, Jesus is called the cornerstone, not the foundation, while the apostles are called the foundation (see Rev 21:14).

“God is called rock in Deuteronomy 32:4, and the name is now given to Peter, who shares in God’s rock-ness. Jesus is the one with the keys (Rev 3:7), but the keys are delegated to Peter. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, but Peter is also given the responsibility of shepherd (Jn 21:15–17). The apostles were to share in the authority and work of Christ.” (The Infallibility of the Church [London: John Murray, 1914], 338). (Stephen K. Ray, Upon This Rock: St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early Church, Modern Apologetics Library (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999).

And one must realize that in biblical terms a change of names is of earth-shattering importance. Abram received his new name Abraham when he received a new covenant and became the father of all those who believe by faith (Romans 4:11). Jacob was renamed Israel when the covenant was renewed and he became the father of the 12 tribes. We cannot assume that the change of Simon‘s name to Cephas—Peter—was any less significant in the eyes of Jesus. Jesus knew that this name change marked a huge statement of importance, change of status, and position.

download (1)Paul is often considered to be at odds with Peter. People like to quote Galatians 2:11 to imply that Paul did not respect Peter’s primacy and authority.

But quite the opposite. If Paul intended to diminish Peters’ authority he would have referred to him merely as Simon, his given name. But instead, he emphasized Peter’s position and authority by referring to him as Cephas—the Rock! Here Paul uses the Greek transliteration of the very word Jesus spoke at Caesarea Philippi (Matt. 16:18). Peter was the authority but unhappily not living up to his own authoritative teaching regarding the salvation of Gentiles equally with Jews.

As a Baptist, I had to learn all this the hard way. I went to Israel and studied the location where Jesus said these words in the Gospel of Matthew, and studied in detail the Jewish context and background to this text and in short, I became a Catholic.

If anyone really wants to understand this whole Biblical passage I would suggest they read my book Upon this Rock, Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early Church.

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