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Is the church built on Jesus or Peter?

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Matthew 16:18 reads, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” The name “Peter” which Jesus gave to Simon is petros in Greek, meaning “little pebble” or small rock. And the “rock” term Jesus mentions building His church upon is petra which can mean a mass of connected rock. Either way, Jesus is saying Simon is a rock involved in the building of His church, but He may be implying Simon is part of an interconnected whole—a possibility which is greatly supported biblically.

Even if Simon Peter was meant to be a unique rock upon which the church was built, the Scriptures support that in some sense in Ephesians 2:20 where it says the household of God (or the church) was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.”  Here we see that the apostles such as Peter were considered a part of the foundation of the church, likely because they were literal founders of the movement that spread it to the corners of the globe, among other reasons. However, note that it is in that very same sentence that Jesus is mentioned as the cornerstone. He is, uniquely, what will serve as the plumb line for the whole building and the part without which the whole building falls. 

The overall picture of the church given to us in the Scriptures is that of a structure made of living stones where each part, each member of the body of Christ, is important, but not the focus since Jesus holds that seat—​as seen in 1 Peter 2:5: “you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” So there is no need to try and pit Peter and Jesus against one another as the foundation of the church. God’s Word clearly puts the focus on Christ but gives Peter and us our place as part of His living castle, the great household of the faith. Praise God we can be part of it through Jesus Christ, who made the way for all by faith alone in His finished work alone! 

Alex McFarland

Alex has preached in over 2,200 churches throughout North America and numerous more internationally. He also speaks at Christian events, conferences, debates, and other venues to teach biblical truths and preach the gospel.

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