Monthly Archives: February 2020

Jesus’ resurrection was a bodily resurrection

(image courtesy Wikipedia, Resurrection by Luca Giordano)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Many scholars and laity have attempted to debunk Jesus’ bodily resurrection. These are a few examples:

(a) John Shelby Spong: ‘Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history’ (1998).

(b) John Dominic Crossan, fellow of the infamous Jesus Seminar, wrote: ‘Jesus’ burial by his friends was totally fictional and unhistorical.  He was buried, if buried at all, by his enemies, and the necessarily shallow grave would have been easy prey for scavenging animals’ (1994:160) and Jesus’ resurrection was an apparition – a ghost (Crossan 1994:160).

(c) Rudolf Bultmann asked: “But what of the resurrection? Is it not a mythical event pure and simple? Obviously it is not an event of past history” (Bultmann 1984, Kerygma and Myth, online version).

(d) An antagonist: ‘If, as you say you believe, Jesus, resurrected with a physical body about 2,000 years ago, the probability that he is still alive and well is so infinitesimal that it may be considered non-existent.

Are they correct, based on the texts of the Bible?

1. The Greek word, soma, always means physical body.

When used of an individual human being, the word body (soma) always means a physical body in the New Testament. There are no exceptions to this usage in the New Testament. Paul uses soma of the resurrection body of Christ [and of the resurrected bodies of people – yet to come] (I Cor 15:42-44), thus indicating his belief that it was a physical body (Geisler 1999:668).

In that magnificent passage of I Corinthians 15 about the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of people in the last days, why is Paul insisting that the soma must be a physical body? It is because the physical body is central in Paul’s teaching on salvation (Gundry in Geisler 1999:668).

Check out these Scriptures:

The doctrine of the bodily resurrection is affirmed abundantly in the New Testament (see Jn. 5:28-29; 6:39-40; Mk. 12:18-27; Acts 17:32; 26:8; Rom. 8:23; 1 Thess. 4:16; 1 Cor. 15; 2 Cor. 5:1-2; Phil. 3:21).

2. Jesus’ body came out from among the dead

There’s a prepositional phrase that is used in the NT to describe resurrection “from (ek) the dead” (cf. Mark 9:9; Luke 24:46; John 2:22; Acts 3:15; Rom. 4:24; I Cor. 15:12). That sounds like a ho-hum kind of phrase in English, ‘from the dead’. Not so in the Greek.

This Greek preposition, ek, means Jesus was resurrected ‘out from among’ the dead bodies, that is, from the grave where corpses are buried (Acts 13:29-30).  These same words are used to describe Lazarus being raised ‘from (ek) the dead’ (John 12:1). In this case there was no doubt that he came out of the grave in the same body in which he was buried. Thus, resurrection was of a physical corpse out of a tomb or graveyard (Geisler 1999:668).

This confirms the physical nature of the resurrection body.

3. He appeared to over 500 people at the one time.

Paul to the Corinthians wrote that Christ

appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me [Paul] also, as to one abnormally born (I Cor. 15:5-8).

You could not believe the discussion and controversy one little verb has caused among Bible teachers. Christ ‘appeared’ to whom?  Here, Paul says, Peter, the twelve disciples, over 500 other Christians, James, all the apostles, and to Paul ‘as to one abnormally born’.

The main controversy has been over whether this was some supernatural revelation called an ‘appearance’ or was it actually ‘seeing’ his physical being. These are the objective facts:

  •  Christ became flesh;
  •  He died in the flesh;
  •  He was raised in the flesh, and
  •  He appeared to these hundreds of people in the flesh.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was not a form of ‘spiritual’ existence. Just as he was truly dead and buried, so he was truly raised from the dead bodily and seen by a large number of witnesses on a variety of occasions (Fee 1987:728).

No wonder the Book of Acts can begin with: ‘After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God’ (Acts 1:3 NIV).

4. Why is the bodily resurrection of Jesus important?

[Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Kinnaird Resurrection) by Raphael, 1502, courtesy Wikipedia]

We must understand how serious it is to deny the resurrection, the bodily resurrection, of Jesus. Paul told the Corinthians: ‘If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith’ (I Cor. 15:13-14).

The updated World Christian Encyclopedia, just published by Oxford University Press, says that by mid-century there will be 3 billion Christians, constituting 34.3% of the world´s population, up from the current 33%.

Christians now number 2 billion and are divided into 33,820 denominations and churches, in 238 countries, and use 7,100 languages, the encyclopedia says (Zenit 2001).

If there is no bodily resurrection, we might as well announce it to the world and tell all Christians they are living a lie and ought to go practise some other religion or whoop it up in a carefree way of eating, drinking and being merry.

British evangelist and apologist, Michael Green (1930-2019), summarised the main issues about the bodily resurrection of Christ:

The supreme miracle of Christianity is the resurrection…. [In the New Testament] assurance of the resurrection shines out from every page.  It is the crux of Christianity, the heart of the matter. If it is true, then there is a future for mankind; and death and suffering have to be viewed in a totally new light. If it is not true, Christianity collapses into mythology. In that case we are, as Saul of Tarsus conceded, of all men most to be pitied (Green 1990:184).

5. The bodily resurrection is absolutely essential for these reasons:

These are not minor reasons; they are essential to core Christianity.

5.1 Belief in the resurrection of Christ is absolutely necessary for salvation

Romans 10:9 states: ‘If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved’. Salvation means that you are saved from God’s wrath because of the resurrection of Christ. You are saved from hell.

Your new birth, regeneration is guaranteed by the resurrection. First Peter 1:3 states that ‘In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’.

The spiritual power within every Christian happens because of the resurrection. Paul assured the Ephesians of Christ’s ‘incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms’ (Eph 1:19-20).  You can’t have spiritual power in your life without the resurrected Christ.

In one passage, Paul links your justification through faith to the resurrection; he associates directly your being declared righteous, your being not guilty before God, with Christ’s resurrection.  Romans 4:25 states that Jesus ‘was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification’.

Your salvation, being born again, justification, having spiritual power in the Christian life depends on your faith in the raising of Jesus from the dead.  Not any old resurrection will do. Jesus’ body after the resurrection was not a spirit or phantom. It was a real, physical body. If you don’t believe in the resurrection of Christ, on the basis of this verse, you can’t be saved.

Also,

5.2 Christ’s resurrection proves that he is God

From very early in his ministry, Jesus’ predicted his resurrection.  The Jews asked him for a sign. According to John 2:19-21, ‘Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days”… But the temple he had spoken of was his body’.  Did you get that?  Jesus predicted that he, being God, would have his body – of the man Jesus – destroyed and three days later, he would raise this body.

Jesus continued to predict his resurrection: ‘For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth’ (Matt. 12:40).  See also Mark 8:31; 14:59; and Matt. 27:63.

The third reason Christ’s bodily resurrection is core Christianity is:

5.3 Life after death is guaranteed!

Remember what Jesus taught his disciples in John 14:19, ‘Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live’. If you truly have saving faith in Christ, his resurrection makes life after death a certainty.

Another piece of evidence to support the resurrection as a central part of Christianity is:

5.4 Christ’s bodily resurrection guarantees that believers will receive perfect resurrection bodies as well.

After you die and Christ comes again, the New Testament connects Christ’s resurrection with our final bodily resurrection. First Cor. 6:14 states, ‘By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also’.

In the most extensive discussion on the connection between Christ’s resurrection and the Christian’s own bodily resurrection, Paul states that Christ is ‘the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (I Cor. 15:20).

(image courtesy of Heartlight)

What are ‘firstfruits’? It’s an agricultural metaphor indicating the first taste of the ripening crop, showing that the full harvest is coming.  This shows what believers’ resurrection bodies, the full harvest, will be like.

The New Living Translation translation of 1 Cor. 15:20 explains it in down to earth terms, ‘But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died’.

Do you see how critically important it is to have a biblical understanding of the nature of Christ’s resurrection – his bodily resurrection?

In spite of so many in the liberal church establishment denying the bodily resurrection of Christ or dismissing it totally, there are those who stand firm on the bodily resurrection. Among those is Dr Albert Mohler Jr who provides a summary of the essential need for Jesus’ resurrection:

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead separates Christianity from all mere religion–whatever its form. Christianity without the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is merely one religion among many. “And if Christ is not risen,” said the Apostle Paul, “then our preaching is empty and your faith is in vain” [1 Corinthians 15:14]. Furthermore, “You are still in your sins!” [v. 17b]. Paul could not have chosen stronger language. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” [v. 19].

Yet, the resurrection of Jesus Christ has been under persistent attacks since the Apostolic age. Why? Because it is the central confirmation of Jesus’ identity as the incarnate Son of God, and the ultimate sign of Christ’s completed work of atonement, redemption, reconciliation, and salvation. Those who oppose Christ, whether first century religious leaders or twentieth century secularists, recognise the Resurrection as the vindication of Christ against His enemies (Mohler 2016).

6. Conclusion

In spite of attacks from the cynics, sceptics and liberal church, the bodily (soma) resurrection of Jesus demonstrates he rose in a real body that could be touched. Those around him communicated with him; he ate with them (see John 20:20, 26-28; Luke 24:39-43).

It was a soma (bodily) resurrection when Jesus came ek (out from) among the dead. If there is no bodily resurrection, there is no Christianity. He appeared to over 500 people, many of whom were still alive (inferring doubters could go to check with them).

Belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection are necessary for salvation (Romans 10:9). His resurrection demonstrates he is God and resurrection of believers in the future is guaranteed.

Christianity without the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is merely one religion among many. “And if Christ is not risen,” said the Apostle Paul, “then our preaching is empty and your faith is in vain” [1 Corinthians 15:14] (Albert Mohler Jr.)

7. Works consulted

Crossan, J D 1994. Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. San Francisco: Harper SanFrancisco.

Fee, G. D. 1987, The first epistle to the Corinthians (gen. ed. F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Geisler, N. L. 1999. Resurrection, Evidence for, in N L Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

Green, M. 1990. Evangelism through the local Church. London: Hodder & Stoughton

Mohler, A 2016. The resurrection of Jesus Christ and the reality of the Gospel (online), March 25. Available at: http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/03/25/the-resurrection-of-jesus-christ-and-the-reality-of-the-gospel/ (Accessed 28 March 2016).

Zenit 2001. World Christianity on the rise in 21st century (online. Available at: https://zenit.org/articles/christianity-on-the-rise-in-21st-century/ Accessed 29 March 2016.)

 

Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 13 February 2020.

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Matthew 16:19 – binding and loosing

[According to Catholic doctrine, the popes are successors of Saint Peter (kneeling, right), courtesy Wikipedia]

By Spencer D Gear PhD

I have been to Pentecostal-Charismatic churches where this verse has been used as a basis to bind the demon in a person and loosing a person from demonic bondage. I refer to Matthew 16:19 (ESV). Is that the meaning of the text?

The context includes Matt 16:18. See my article, Matthew 16:18, The Church built on Peter?

1. What is binding and loosing?

Eminent preacher and Christian writer, John MacArthur, claims:

There is no scriptural command to bind Satan, nor is there any biblical example of the practice. Satan remains at large as the “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) until he is chained or bound (by an angel, not a human being) during the millennial reign of Christ (Revelation 20:1-3). The disciples cast out demons, but they never bound them or Satan (MacArthur 1969).

This verse has created quite a bit of controversy among interpreters since the time of Jesus. It reads: ‘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 (Matt 16:19 ESV).

The contentious statements include:

3d-gold-star-small  ‘I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven’.

3d-gold-star-small  ‘Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven’.

3d-gold-star-small  ‘Whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven’.

2. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven

In Matt 16:19 we have the ‘figure of a building with keys to open from the outside’. However, Rev 1:18 and 3:7 state that the Living One who was dead and is now alive holds the ‘keys of death and Hades’ and the ‘keys of the kingdom of heaven’.

In Matt 16:19, Jesus hands the keys of the kingdom over to Peter. This is not to make Peter the first pope. From Matt 16:18 we learn that Jesus hands the building (oikodomew) over to Peter for him to be a ‘gatekeeper’ or ‘steward’. The same power was given to the other apostles and belongs to every believer down through the centuries.

We know in the context this is not promoting Peter the pope because the disciples were having an argument over who would be the greatest in the kingdom and they presented this dispute to Jesus (Matt 18:1). They were at it again in Matt 20:21.

Surely these verses confirm that Jesus did not make Peter the foundation of the church and the first pope.

Peter held the keys just as every preacher-teacher does in proclaiming the Gospel. Alfred Edersheim in his massive exposition on the life of Christ expounds the significance of 16:19,

Viewing ‘the Church’ as a building founded upon ‘the Petrine,’ it was not to vary, but to carry on the same metaphor, when Christ promised to give to him who had spoken as representative of the Apostles – ‘the stewards of the mysteries of God’ – ‘the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.’ For, as the religious unity of His disciples, or the Church, represented ‘the royal rule of heaven,’ so, figuratively, entrance into the gates of this building, submission to the rule of God – to that Kingdom of which Christ was the King. And we remember how, in a special sense, this promise was fulfilled to Peter. Even as he had been the first to utter the confession of the Church, so was he also privileged to be the first to open its hitherto closed gates to the Gentiles, when God made choice of him, that, through his mouth, the Gentiles should first hear the words of the Gospel [Acts 15:7] and at his bidding first be baptized (Edersheim 1953:1035).

‘After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe’ (Acts 15:7 NIV).

So the ‘keys of the kingdom’ of heaven relate to the offer of salvation that any preacher, teacher or disciple can make to encourage all people to go through the gate of salvation to enter God’s kingdom. Jesus reminded us:

‘Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it (Matt 7:13-14 NIV).

3. Bind and loose on earth

Image result for image bind and looseTalk about controversy! I have heard them in churches and small groups, ‘I bind you, Satan, in the name of Jesus’. These preachers use verses like Matt 16:19 to support their theology of demonology.

In context, do binding and loosing have anything to do with Satan and his demons?

‘To “bind” … in rabbinical language is to forbid, to “loose” … is to permit’. The verbs for ‘bind’ and ‘forbid’ are future, perfect, indicative, indicating the binding and loosing will be completed – with continuing results. Jesus uses binding and loosing language to all of the disciples in Matt: 18:18. After his resurrection, Jesus’ repeats the same language (John 20:33), indicating this is not the special privilege given to Peter (Robertson 1930:134).

This view also is supported by Friedrich Büchsel in The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament under the entries for dew (I bind) and luw (I loose) in Matt 16:19 and elsewhere,

Jesus does not give to Peter and the other disciples any power to enchant or to free by magic. The customary meaning of the Rabbinic expressions is equally incontestable, namely, to declare forbidden or permitted, and thus to impose or remove an obligation, by a doctrinal decision (Büchsel 1964.2:60).

So every preacher or disciple who shares the Gospel of Christ for salvation is engaged in binding and loosing.

Satan and his demons are missing from this context. It has everything to do with calling people to repentance (being loosed) and warning them about continuing in sin and the ultimate eternal consequences.

I cannot find any Scripture to support the view that Christians are called upon to bind and loose Satan.

4. Conflict with casting out demons?

How does the above exposition harmonise with the following verses or are they in conflict?[1]

Matt 10:1, ‘Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and illness’.

Matt 12:27, ‘And if I [Jesus] drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges’.

Matt 17:19-20, “Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, ‘Why couldn’t we drive it out?’ He replied, ‘Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you’.

Mark 3:14-15, ‘He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.

Mark 6:13, ‘They drove out many demons and anointed with oil many people who were ill and healed them’.

Mark 9:18, ‘Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not’.

Luke 9:40, 49-50, ‘I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not…. ‘Master,’ said John, ‘we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us’. ‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said, ‘for whoever is not against you is for you’.

Luke 11:19, ‘Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges’.

Acts 16:16-18, ‘Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.’ She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned round and said to the spirit, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’ At that moment the spirit left her’.

5. Genuine conflict or not?

None of these excellent verses above conflicts with the exegesis I provided in Matt 16:19 of binding and loosing. Jesus also used binding and loosing language to the disciples in Matt: 18:18. After his resurrection, Jesus’ repeats the same language in (John 20:33).

If you travelled with missionaries to countries where there is serious demonic activity in the culture, you’d be exposed to the need for exorcism. However, when some of these missionaries return to their conservative churches in the western world, they often avoid talk of the demonic. I spoke with a retired missionary from Brazil who told me of the spiritism in that country and the need for exorcism when a person submits to Jesus Christ. He was involved in a number of such exorcisms.

God certainly gives Holy Spirit power for demons to be cast out, but the passage in Matt 16 did not teach that.

6. Conclusion

Matthew 16:18 does not make Peter the first pope. Peter was the first to make the formal announcement, ‘You are the Christ/Messiah’.

In handing the keys of the kingdom over to Peter, Jesus was handing them also to every disciple down through the centuries. It is our responsibility to proclaim the Gospel of God’s message of salvation.

As for the message of binding and loosing, there is nothing in context to declare it has anything to do with binding and loosing Satan.

To bind in rabbinical language refers to forbidding something while to loose indicates to permit.

The Gospels and Book of Acts give examples of exorcism of demonic spirits. This still takes place in parts of the world. Today, demonic manifestations are seen in various countries of the world, including Ethiopia.

So to bind and loose refers to sharing the Gospel of salvation through Christ. Those bound in sin will be loosed – set free – through Christ.

7. Works consulted

Büchsel, F 1964. Dew, luw. In Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, G. Kittel (ed.), G W Bromiley (transl. & ed.), vol 2, 60-61. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Carson, D. A. 1984. Matthew. In F. A. Gaebelein (Gen. Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Vol. 8), (pp. 1-599). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Regency Reference Library (Zondervan Publishing House).

Edersheim, A 1953. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans. Christian Classics Ethereal Library, public domain. Available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edersheim/lifetimes.html (Accessed 28 January 2020).

Geisler, N & Howe, T 1992. When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

MacArthur, J 1969. Does the Bible teach that Christians can bind Satan and demons? Grace to You (online). Available at: https://www.gty.org/library/questions/QA150/does-the-bible-teach-that-christians-can-bind-satan-and-demons (Accessed 28 January 2020).

Robertson, A T 1930. Word Pictures in the New Testament (vol. 1, Matthew and Mark). Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

8.  Notes

[1] The following quotes are all from the NIV.

Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 13 February 2020.

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Matthew 16:18, The Church built on Peter?

Image result for image Matthew 16:18

(image courtesy Pinterest)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

‘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’ (Matt 16:18 ESV).

This verse has caused controversy for 2,000 years. It shouldn’t if we knew the context and the Greek language used.

1. Roman Catholic teaching

The Roman Catholic interpretation is that the apostle Peter is the foundation of the Catholic Church. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 concluded:

Wherefore the most holy and blessed Leo, archbishop of the great and elder Rome, through us, and through this present most holy synod, together with the thrice blessed and all-glorious Peter the apostle, who is the rock and foundation of the Catholic Church, and the foundation of the orthodox faith, has stripped him [Dioscorus] of the episcopate (Extracts from the Acts of the Council, Session III, emphasis added).

Catholic Straight Answers leaves no doubt: ‘Without question, St. Peter was the first pope of the Catholic Church’.

2. Greek and Peter the Pope

Does the NT Greek text confirm Peter as the first Pope, according to this verse?

screneRed-small  ‘You are Peter’. Here, Peter is the Greek, petros (masculine), which was a proper name for the Aramaic, Cephas.

screneRed-small  Then there is a pun, a play on words. This pun has caused theological heart-burn down through the centuries.

screneRed-small ‘on this rock’ uses petra (feminine) for rock and not petros – and a different gender. What could Jesus be referring to?

screneRed-small  Some interpreters have tried to see Peter as a rock on which Jesus builds his church but Jesus is the foundation.

screneRed-small  A play on words is common in Scripture (e.g. Ex 3:14) and should not be minimised because of this. It is still God-breathed Scripture.

It is true petros and petra mean ‘stone’ and ‘rock’ respectively in earlier Greek than the NT. However, in this passage, Jesus probably means in the underlying Aramaic, ‘You are kepha and on this kepha’ since the word was used both for a name and a ‘rock’ (Carson 1984:368).

If Jesus wanted to say (through Matthew’s Gospel) that Peter was a stone in contrast to Jesus, the Rock, he could have used lithos for ‘stone’ but there would be no pun used and that would defeat Jesus’ purpose.

The objection that Peter considers Jesus the rock is insubstantial because metaphors are commonly used variously, till they become stereotyped, and sometimes even then. Here Jesus builds his church; in 1 Corinthians 3:10, Paul is “an expert builder.” In 1 Corinthians 3:11, Jesus is the church’s foundation; in Ephesians 2:19-20, the apostles and prophets are the foundation (cf. also Rev 21:14), and Jesus is the “cornerstone.” Here Peter has the keys; in Revelation 1:18; 3:7, Jesus has the keys. In John 9:5, Jesus is “the light of the world”; in Matthew 5:14, his disciples are. None of these pairs threatens Jesus’ uniqueness. They simply show how metaphors must be interpreted primarily with reference to their immediate contexts (Carson 1984:368).

‘On this rock’ refers to a ledge or cliff of rock as in Matt 7:24 where the wise man built his house on the rock. Petros is usually a smaller piece of rock. However, we shouldn’t make too much of this distinction as Jesus probably spoke Aramaic and the pun was used regularly.

The point is that Jesus is speaking of the building of the ekklesia (church). In the NT ekklesia is used of both a local congregation and in the general sense of ‘the church’. Usually, the word referred to a local assembly (e.g. Acts 19:39) but became associated with an unassembled group that was persecuted (Acts 8:3).

A T Robertson’s conclusion is sound:

The wealth of imagery in Matthew 16:18 makes it difficult to decide each detail, but the main point is clear. The ekklesia which consists of those confessing Christ as Peter has just done will not cease. The gates of Hades or bars of Sheol will not close down on it. Christ will rise and will keep his church alive (Robertson 1930:131-132).

3. Peter not first Pope

Hierarchy of the Catholic Church

Saint PeterSaint Peter – (image courtesy Wikipedia)

 Peter could not have been the first Pope for a number of reasons (based on Geisler & Howe 1992:347-348):

gold foward button  Popes and RC priests are celibate but Peter was married (Matt 8:14).

gold foward button  We know from Gal 2:14, Paul had to rebuke Peter for his hypocrisy because ‘they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel’. Peter was not infallible in his teachings and practice.

gold foward button  The Roman Catholic Church clearly contradicts Scripture by making the Pope the foundation of the Church. The RCC website states:

Jesus spoke Aramaic, and, as John 1:42 tells us, in everyday life he [Jesus] actually referred to Peter as Kepha or Cephas (depending on how it is transliterated). It is that term which is then translated into Greek as petros. Thus, what Jesus actually said to Peter in Aramaic was: “You are Kepha and on this very kepha I will build my Church” (What the Early Church Believed: Peter as Pope).

This article then provides examples from the Early Church Fathers that ‘Jesus promised to build the Church on Peter’ – the first Pope.

However, this clashes with 1 Corinthians 3:11 (NIV) which states, ‘For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ’.

gold foward button  The church is ‘built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone’ (Eph. 2:20 NIV). It is not built on Peter, the first Pope. What did the early church do? ‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer’ (Acts 2:42). It was not a devotion to the apostle Peter’s teaching.

gold foward button  Peter was not head of the first church council in Jerusalem.

There is no indication that Peter was the head of the early church. When the first council was held at Jerusalem, Peter played only an introductory role (Acts 15:6–11). James seems to have a more significant position, summing up the conference and making the final pronouncement (cf. Acts 15:13–21). In any event, Peter is never referred to as the “pillar” in the church. Rather, Paul speaks of “pillars” (plural), such as, “James, Cephas, and John” (Gal. 2:9). Peter (Cephas) is not even listed first among the pillars (Geisler & Howe 1992:348)

gold foward button Some Protestant interpreters want to make ‘this rock’ refer to Peter who gave the solid (rock-like) testimony that Jesus was ‘the Christ, the son of the living God’ (Matt 16:16).

However, a significant difficulty with this view is that Peter was a rock and not the rock. And he was not ‘the only apostolic rock. Peter affirmed this in his own writing:

So the honour is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone” (1 Peter 2:7 ESV)

There is nothing in this passage about Peter’s and his successors’ infallibility, exclusive authority when speaking ex cathedra. It creates overwhelming exegetical and historical problems for this position, especially after Peter’s death and the appointment of another apostle to replace him.

What the NT does show is that Peter is the first to make this formal confession and that his prominence continues in the earliest years of the church (Acts 1-12). But he, along with John, can be sent by other apostles (Acts 8:14); and he is held accountable for his actions by the Jerusalem church (Acts 11:1-18) and rebuked by Paul (Gal 2:11-14). He is, in short, primus inter pares (“first among equals”); and on the foundation of such men (Eph 2:20), Jesus built his church (Carson 1984:368).

4. ‘The gates of hell shall not prevail against it’

Image result for clipart Gates of Hades‘Hell’ is Hades in this text. Some interpreters consider this indicates Satan’s strength with his legion of followers because ‘gates’ in other biblical and non-biblical literature points to defence (5:22; 11:23). They see the church, being built by God, as not being defeated by the hosts of darkness (Gen 22:17; Ps 127:5).

Other interpreters focus on Hades and Rev 1:18, claiming that ‘death will not prevent Messiah’s people from rising at the last day…. But

“Gates of Hades” … seems to refer to death and dying…. Because the church is the assembly of people Jesus Messiah is building, it cannot die. This claim is ridiculous if Jesus is nothing above an overconfident popular preacher in an unimportant vassal state of first-century Rome. It is the basis of all hope for those who see Jesus as the Messiah who builds his church (Carson1984:370).

That seems to be the most reasonable conclusion I’ve encountered.

So, that leads to these Bible translations: the powers of death will not overcome the church (RSV), will not have any power over it (CEV), will not prevail against it (ESV, NRSV), will not overpower it (CSB, NIV), ‘will not be able to defeat my church’ (ERV), will not conquer it (NLT), and will not be strong enough to destroy it’ (NIRV).

These verses contain other controversial issues. See my article on Matthew 16:19 – binding and loosing.

5. Works consulted

Büchsel, F 1964. Dew, luw. In Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, G. Kittel (ed.), G W Bromiley (transl. & ed.), vol 2, 60-61. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Carson, D. A. 1984. Matthew. In F. A. Gaebelein (Gen. Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Vol. 8), (pp. 1-599). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Regency Reference Library (Zondervan Publishing House).

Edersheim, A 1953. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans. Christian Classics Ethereal Library, public domain. Available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edersheim/lifetimes.html (Accessed 28 January 2020).

Geisler, N & Howe, T 1992. When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

MacArthur, J 1969. Does the Bible teach that Christians can bind Satan and demons? Grace to You (online). Available at: https://www.gty.org/library/questions/QA150/does-the-bible-teach-that-christians-can-bind-satan-and-demons (Accessed 28 January 2020).

Robertson, A T 1930. Word Pictures in the New Testament (vol. 1, Matthew and Mark). Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 05 January 2020.

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