The Myth of Papal Primacy : Part XII

Continuing the series first posted by me on the Catholica Forum.

In loving memory of Deborah Maree Wolff (2 Nov 1963 - 2 Dec 2003)

 The First Epistle of Peter (continued)...

'Rock-stone' imagery in the Hebrew Scriptures...

The 'rock-stone' theme recurs all throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and was used to refer to the Hebrew God, the gods of other peoples, ordinary men, and also concepts. The 'rock-stone' image of course is one of strength and, in the case of YHVH, also denoted the associated ideas of reliability, faith and trust in God.


"I will proclaim the name of the Lord. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he." [Deut 32:3-4]

"The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold." [Psalm 18:2]

Of the gods of other peoples...

"Their rock is not as our rock...where are their gods, the rock in which they took refuge?" [Deut. 32:31, 37]

Centuries later Isaiah still uses the term in reference to the anticipated fall of Assyria:

"His rock shall pass away in terror." [Isaiah 31:9]

Of men...

"Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth." [Isaiah 51:1-2]

"See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame." [Isaiah 28:16]

"The stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone." [Psalm 118:22]

Of concepts...

Nebuchadnezzar's Babylonian Dream:

Daniel is brought before King Nebuchadnezzar to not only recount a dream troubling the king but also to provide an interpretation. [See Daniel 2:1-23]

Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar that in the dream, the king saw a great statue with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet a combination of iron and clay. This symbol of earthly empires is then struck on its feet of iron and clay by a stone cut out of a mountain without human hands. The stone utterly destroys the statue and in turn becomes a great mountain that fills the whole earth.

Daniel's interpretation (2:24-48):

After the fall of the Babylonian empire, other empires of gradually diminishing worth will arise until the last, the empire of iron and clay, will be destroyed by the stone cut out of the mountain without human hands. The stone, the 'eben' (אֶבֶן), is the kingdom which the God of Heaven is about to set up, and which shall never be destroyed.

'Rock-stone' imagery in Hebrew thought...

Solomon's Temple

Solomon's Temple image from

"As recorded in the Mishnah, while building the second temple, the masons cleared the floor of the original Holy of Holies (Solomon's Temple). In the center of that floor they found a single stone three fingerbreadths higher than the rest of the flagstones. They left it and the community named it eben shetiyah, 'the foundation stone'." [Mishnah. Moed, Yoma, 5:2. Danby Translation, p.167.]

" is highly probably that this especially honoured stone was called eben shetiyah because the building of the Second Temple was seen as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 28. They were building in Zion. Here was a precious stone, a sure foundation on which the entire temple complex, with its rich and meaningful liturgies, was based ... The importance of the "foundation stone" was not lost on Jesus and the NT writers..."[1]

'Rock-stone' imagery in the New Testament...

In the First Epistle of Peter, a work entirely dependent on the Hebrew Scriptures, the author draws on several scriptural 'rock-stone' passages to give weight and authority to his presentation of Jesus as the ultimate expression of Hebrew thought, as the chief corner-stone of a spiritual house, the same stone 'eben' (אֶבֶן) of Daniel, that destroyed the kingdoms of the earth and is now the foundation of the kingdom which the God of Heaven is about to set up. The author regards himself and his readers as living stones, a holy priesthood, building upon the foundation laid by Jesus Messiah.

As stated in Part X of this series:

"...the belief that the Apostle Simon Peter used the word "Babylon" as a code-word for Rome and wrote 1 Peter from Rome is more widespread today than it ever could have been in the less technological past and is pursued by its proponents with such vehemence that one would think it was a self-evident truth dropped entire and without mixture from heaven."

The problem facing these proponents is that if the First Epistle of Peter was indeed written by the Apostle, then 1 Peter 2:4-8 is Peter's own explanation of the meaning of Jesus' words to him in Matthew 16:18.

1 Peter 2:4-8

"As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Messiah.

"For in Scripture it says: 'Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner-stone, elect, precious, and he that believes on him (or, it) shall not be shamed.' [Isaiah 28:16]

"Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, 'The stone which the builders rejected, the same was made the head of the corner' [Psalm 118:22] and

 'A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense' [Is. 8:14]. They stumble because they disobey the word—which is also what they were destined for."

Now compare this passage in 1 Peter with Romans 9:33 and Ephesians 2:20 where Paul makes use of the same Hebrew texts to portray Jesus as both the chief cornerstone and the stone of stumbling laid in Zion.

Romans 9:33

"Behold, I lay in Zion [Isaiah 28:16a] a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense [Isaiah 8:14] and he that believes on him (or, it) shall not be put to shame." [Isaiah. 28:16c].

Ephesians 2:20

"And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Messiah himself being the chief corner stone."

See also Mark 12:10, Matthew 21:42, Luke 20:17, Acts 4:11

There is no doubt whatsoever that the authors of the New Testament viewed Jesus as the living embodiment of the 'rock-stone' imagery found in the Hebrew Scriptures and also that this 'rock-stone' was messianic in nature, as Paul states:

"They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Messiah." [1 Cor. 10:3-4]

NOTE: This passage from Paul is not an argument for the pre-existence of Jesus. In Hebrew thought, the promise of a messiah was present before creation, as Pearlman says:

"Before the creation of the world, He who knows the end from the beginning had made provision for man's redemption."[2]

In case it be argued that the application of the rock-stone image to Jesus was merely a device invented by his followers to justify their naming of Jesus as the messiah, we find in Justin's Dialogue with Trypho the Jew that Trypho is willing to admit that there was a 'prophecy' that Messiah would be called 'a stone'.[3]

Matthew 16:13-20

Opening Scene

[v 13] "When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, 'Who do people say the son of man is?'

[v 14] They replied, 'Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.'

[v 15]'But what about you?' he asked. 'Who do you say I am?'

[v 16]Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.'

[v 17] Jesus replied, 'Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.

[v 18] 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.

[v 19] 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.'

[v 20] Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah."

Close of scene


In the time of Jesus, there were no individuals named 'Peter' ('Cephas' derived from Aramaic kêfâ = rock) until Jesus gave it as a nickname to the apostle Simon bar Jonah. In common parlance, it would be like us giving the name 'rocky' to one who appeared to be either physically or mentally tough. Only later did the word 'Peter' become a personal name.

In verse 16, Simon answers the question asked of all those present: "Who do you say I am?" with "You are the Messiah, the son of the living God." (The terms 'Messiah' and 'son of God' are synonymous. See Mark 14:61.)

In verse 17, Jesus responds with a 'truth' statement. To paraphrase: 'Just as truly as you are Simon the son of Jonah, I am Messiah, the son of God.'

Jesus then follows up by using that most favoured Jewish literary device — the pun, in this case a triplet based on the meaning of Simon's nickname.

Verse 18 and the elements of the triple pun...

"You are Petros ('Cephas' derived from Aramaic kêfâ = rock) and on this petra (Aramaic kêfâ = rock), I will build my assembly..."

  1. It was Jesus who first bestowed the nickname 'rocky' on Simon.
  2. How prescient that nickname has proved to be because 'rocky' now has faith in Jesus as the 'rock' of Israel.
  3. 'Rocky's' faith in Jesus as the 'rock' of Israel is the certain and sure 'rock' of faith on which the assembly will be built.

In Verse 20, Jesus warns all those present not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. The scene opened at Verse 13 and ended at Verse 20. The entire conversation in between was about the true identity of Jesus. (Note that in the next scene at Verse 23, Jesus calls Simon "Satan" and berates him for being a stumbling 'stone' to Jesus.)

Drawing this argument to a conclusion...

Despite scholarly awareness of 'word-play' as a literary phenomenon in ancient Near Eastern literature, the claim by advocates of Papal Primacy (and others who have little or no knowledge of these literary devices) that Peter himself is the rock is allowed to stand virtually unchallenged, or else challenged for the wrong reasons. Those who make the claim lift this statement out of its context within Hebrew 'rock-stone' imagery and ignore the comprehensive New Testament application of this imagery to Jesus.

The advocates of Papal Primacy based on the 'rock = Peter' argument are not only guilty of 'cherry-picking,' i.e. lifting verses out of context, but also are the butt of what must be the greatest cosmic joke in history — Jesus' thoroughly Jewish love of 'word-play' or 'punning,' a classic display of which we have seen in Matthew 16:18.

A Vital Equation: Messiah = son of God = rock = Jesus

The claim that Jesus regarded Simon son of Jonah as this 'rock' is totally preposterous.

Jesus himself is the chief corner-stone, the foundation of a new spiritual Temple built without human hands, the same stone 'eben' (אֶבֶן) of Daniel, that destroyed the kingdoms of the earth and is now the foundation of the kingdom which the God of Heaven is about to set up. All believers in Jesus as the Hebrew Messiah, including Simon nicknamed Peter, are 'rocks-stones' being built up to form this new spiritual Temple.

As I think I've said many times already, the one who sits in the heavens must have an outrageous sense of humour.

[1] Inverted Parallelisms and Encased Parables in Isaiah and Their Significance for Old and New Testament Translation and Interpretation : Literary structure and rhetorical strategies in the Hebrew Bible, K.E. Bailey, page 18, K. Van Gorcum, & Co, Netherlands. Eds. L. J. de Regt, Jan de Waard, J. P. Fokkelman.
[2] Myer Pearlman, Knowing the Doctrines of the Bible, Gospel Publishing House; Revised edition, 1981, p.186.
[3] Chapter XXXVI, Dialogue of Justin, Philosopher and Martyr, with Trypho, a Jew, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, ed. Philip Schaff.