Who is the rock of the church — Jesus or Peter?

The biblical interpretation discussion continues


Just about forever, there has been controversy over who the rock is. Who is the rock upon which the church was built? Generally, it comes down to two options. It’s either Jesus or it’s Peter.

When Rome became the center of Christianity, the emphasis was put on Peter as the rock of the Church.

There has always been opposition to Peter being the rock. As a Lutheran, I would like to cite Martin Luther as the one who opposed this first, but that would not be true. The opposition to Peter as the rock came years before Martin Luther was around.

I just read a book on a man by the name of John Huss, who lived a century before Luther. One of his biggest gripes with the church was that it recognized Peter as the rock. He believed the rock to be Jesus Christ. Huss got this teaching from a man by the name of John Wyclif, and it keeps going back and back and back down the line. Forever, there have been people who recognized that Peter is not the rock upon which the church is built.

Many of the songs we sing today will claim for the rock to be Jesus Christ. We recently sang the hymn "On Christ the Solid Rock, I Stand" at Oldham Lutheran.

So, who is it? Is it Peter or is it Jesus?

Better yet, if we actually look at what Jesus is talking about in the gospel of Matthew (16:18-19), the rock is not a person. Jesus does not say that he is the rock of the church. No one says that Peter is the rock of the church. But Christ does say this: on this rock I will build my church.

Language is strange in that we can use words like this to signify what we really mean. So, what does Jesus mean when he says this? It would be common grammatically for Jesus to use the word this to describe something that has already been talked about. It would also be perfectly acceptable to use the word this as an introduction, which is where faith lends itself to. Jesus says, "On this I will build my church." Then he describes the forgiveness of sins.

The rock upon which the church is built is this: preaching the loosing of sins — the forgiveness of sins.

The rock that Jesus speaks of is not himself, and it is certainly not Peter. And truly, there is no better person to do this loosening work of forgiving than Christ himself. However, he does it in a very strange way. He hands over the keys of his kingdom to preachers and says, "go set the people loose from their sins, and whoever you loose, I will loose." Christ's freeing work is now being done by your preacher.

If you would like to be loosed from your sins, yourself, go find someone who can speak the words to you — one of Christ's preachers. Amen.


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