Was the Church Built upon Peter?

Peter was told that, in a specialized way, he would be the foundation of the church. The words of Jesus are very plain. “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18).

It is customary for conservative Bible commentators to be dogmatic in trying to stress a play on words in this verse by appealing to the original language, so that the second word for rock (petra; a mass of rock) refers to Christ, and not Peter (petros; a large piece of rock like a detached boulder).

While anyone can be sympathetic to every effort to protect the honor of the Lord and His relationship to the Church, it is not necessary to reword the biblical terminology—or church history.

As Jesus had promised, so it was. The earliest records indicate that Jesus did build His church upon Peter. The Lord honored His commitment. Even a casual reading of the Book of Acts will see that it happened as the Lord predicted.

The Acts of the Apostles teaches how the early church was built on Peter.

In the lists of the Twelve, it is Peter whose name is listed first.

It was Peter who preached the sermon at Pentecost, and three thousand souls were converted (Acts 2:41).

It was Peter who spoke again, and five thousand more souls were added to the membership of the redeemed (Acts 4).

It was Peter who took charge of the election of Matthias to replace Judas, indicating a leadership role (Acts 1:15-22).

It was Peter who healed the lame beggar in the portico of the Holy Temple saying, “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have, give I thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk” (Acts 3:4-6).

It was Peter who was falsely accused by the rulers of the people and the elders of the Council of Israel. It was Peter who gave a defense of his faith in Christ (Acts 4:8-12, 29).

It was Peter who passed judgment on Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:11).

It was Peter who was put into prison, severely beaten, and yet gave a second defense before the Jewish Council (Acts 5:17-25).

It was Peter whom the Spirit sent to Samaria as the Church expanded, and souls were brought into the Kingdom of God (Acts 8:14).

It was Peter who prayed for, and received, the gifts of the Spirit (Acts 8:15-18).

It was Peter who opposed Simon the Sorcerer, when that greedy son of Satan tried to purchase the power of the Spirit (Acts 8:18-24).

It was Peter who gave the Jerusalem Report concerning the greatness of the grace of God (Acts 8:25).

It was Peter who embraced Paul, and supported the work of his ministry (Gal. 1:18, 2:9).

It was Peter who visited Lydda, and healed Aeneas (Acts 9:32-34).

It was Peter who visited Joppa, and stayed in the house of Simon the Tanner where he raised Dorcas from among the dead (Acts 9:36-43).

It was Peter who was given a vision commanding the gospel be given to the Gentiles (Acts 10:9-16).

It was Peter who ministered in Caesarea, preached the gospel to the centurion, and baptized him, and other believers, in the middle of the night (Acts 10).

It was Peter who encouraged the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 11:1-18; 15:7-11).

It was Peter who, when put into a prison, was delivered by an angel of the Lord (Acts 12:3-19).

It was Peter who provide the narrative for young John Mark to write down in the gospel that bears his name.

The life of Peter is foundational to the New Testament expression of the Christian faith.

Of course, there is but One ultimate Foundation for the Church as 1 Corinthians 3:11 teaches. “For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” In his debates with Erasmus and Meister Eck, Martin Luther stressed this point with the Catholic Church.

However, there is a secondary sense conveyed in the language of Matthew 16, and confirmed by Church history. The Lord really did fulfill His great promise to Peter. Upon his labors, in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church was built in a visible manner (Rev. 21:14; Eph. 2:20).

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