Confession of Peter
In Christianity, the Confession of Peter (translated from the Matthean Vulgate Latin section title: Confessio Petri) refers to an episode in the New Testament in which the Apostle Peter proclaims Jesus to be the Christ (Jewish Messiah). The proclamation is described in the three Synoptic Gospels: Matthew 16:13-20, Mark 8:27–30 and Luke 9:18–20. Specifically, Peter declares, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
The proclamation of Jesus as Christ is fundamental to Christology; the Confession of Peter and Jesus’ acceptance of the title “Messiah” form a definitive statement in the New Testament narrative regarding the person of Jesus Christ. In this New Testament narrative, Jesus not only accepts the titles Christ and Son of God, but declares the proclamation a divine revelation by stating that his Father in Heaven had revealed it to Peter, unequivocally declaring himself to be both Christ and the Son of God.
In the same passage Jesus also selects Peter as the leader of the Apostles, and states: “Upon this rock I will build my church”. Most Christian denominations agree that the statement applies to Peter, but they diverge on their interpretations of what happens after Peter.
The Confession of Peter is also the name of a liturgical feastday celebrated by several Christian churches, often as part of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Background and setting
In the New Testament, this pericope and the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus which follows it appear towards the middle of the Gospel narrative and jointly mark the beginnings of the gradual disclosure of the identity of Jesus to his disciples.
The setting is near Caesarea Philippi in northern Palestine and is at the beginning of the final journey to Jerusalem which ends in the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus.
Peter’s Confession begins as a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples in Matthew 16:13, Mark 8:27 and Luke 9:18. Jesus begins to ask about the current opinions about himself among “the multitudes”, asking: “Who do the multitudes say that I am?” The disciples provide a variety of the common hypotheses at the time, ranging from John the Baptist to Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the (other) prophets. The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, following Jewish medieval rabbi David Kimhi and theologican John Lightfoot, suggests that Jeremiah “is mentioned as a representative of the Prophets, because in the Jewish Canon the book of Jeremiah came first of the Prophets, following the books of Kings.”
Earlier in the Gospel narrative, these hypotheses about Jesus’ identity were provided in Mark 6:14-16 by those in the court of Herod Antipas when he wondered if Jesus was John the Baptist restored to life.
Proclamation and acceptance
In the three Gospel accounts, after asking about the views of “the multitudes”, Jesus asks his disciples about their own opinion: “But who do you say that I am?” Only Simon Peter answers him: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”.
Only in Matthew 16:17 Jesus blesses Peter for his answer, and later indicates this revelation is the foundational rock of the Church. This begins with:
Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven.
In blessing Peter, Jesus not only accepts the titles Christ and Son of God which Peter attributes to him, but declares the proclamation a divine revelation by stating that his Father in Heaven had revealed it to Peter.In this assertion, by endorsing both titles as divine revelation, Jesus unequivocally declares himself to be both Christ and the Son of God.
The reference to “my Father” is distinguished in that in the New Testament, Jesus never includes other individuals in such references and only refers to his Father, however when addressing the disciples he uses yourFather, excluding himself from the reference.
Selection of Peter
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.
The word “Peter” in this verse is, in Greek, “petros”, while this “rock” is “petra”. It is a play on words, but if the original language was Aramaic the word in both cases is simply “kepha”. A distinction that petros meant a stone and petra a solid piece of rocky ground is sometimes suggested, but Greek use in antiquity seems to have been less precise.
The word “church” (ekklesia in Greek), as used here, appears in the Gospels only once more, in Matthew 18:17, and refers to the community of believers at the time. The “gates of hell” (of Hades) refers to the underworld, and the abode of the dead, and refers to the powers opposed to God not being able to triumph over the church. The keys of the kingdom of heaven refer to the metaphor of the Kingdom of Heaven being a “place to be entered” as also used in Matthew 23:13, where the entrance to it can be shut.
Peter’s authority is further confirmed by: “Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven”. As discussed below, various Christian denominations have assigned different interpretations to the authority granted in this passage.
All three of the Synoptics end the account with Jesus telling the disciples not to reveal that he was the Messiah to anyone, a statement which in the 20th century gave rise to theory of the Messianic Secret in the Gospel of Mark.
In the Roman Catholic Church, Jesus’ words, “upon this rock I will build my church” are interpreted as the foundation of the doctrine of the papacy, whereby the Church of Christ is founded upon Peter and his successors, the Bishops of Rome. Jesus’ next statement, “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” are interpreted as the foundation of the doctrine of papal infallibility.
Some Protestants believe that the verse states that Peter was the foundation stone of the Church, but do not accept that it applies to the continuous succession of popes, as the Bishops of Rome. The statement “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” is usually taken to mean that the Church will never become extinct. Some Protestant evangelical groups adhere to the interpretation that it is Peter’s “confession” itself that is “the rock on which will be built the Church of Jesus”, i.e. The church will be built on Jesus alone as the foundation stone of his church. This interpretation usually uses the argument of the difference between petros and petra in Greek (“You are Peter [petros] and on this rock [petra] I will build my church.”)
The Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches also reject the succession of popes and see Jesus’ words, “whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” as bestowing first upon Peter what was later bestowed upon all of the Apostles collectively. The Orthodox believe in the infallibility of the Church as a whole, but that any individual, regardless of their position can be subject to error.
Ecumenical meetings among different denominations have taken place regarding these interpretations, but no final agreement has emerged.
The Roman Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter on 22 February in the General Roman Calendar. In the General Roman Calendar of 1960, the feast is celebrated on 18 January. Some Anglican and Lutheran churches celebrate the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter on 18 January.
The Confession of Peter is the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, is actually an octave rather than a week and was originally known as the Octave of Christian Unity. It is an international Christian ecumenical observance that began in 1908. It spans from 18 January to 25 January (the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul).
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- The Collegeville Bible Commentary: New Testamentby Robert J. Karris 1992 ISBN0-8146-2211-9 pages 885-886
- The Gospel of Matthew by Rudolf Schnackenburg 2002 ISBN0-8028-4438-3 pages 7-9
- One Teacher: Jesus’ Teaching Role in Matthew’s Gospel by John Yueh-Han Yieh 2004 ISBN3-11-018151-7pages 240-241
- The People’s New Testament Commentary by M. Eugene Boring, Fred B. Craddock 2004 ISBN0-664-22754-6page 69
- Pocket Dictionary of Liturgy & Worship by Brett Scott Provance 2009 ISBN978-0-8308-2707-7 page 59
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- In Matthew’s account only: Matthew 16:14
- Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges on Matthew 16; John Lightfoot’s Commentary on the Gospels on Matthew 16 and on Matthew 27, all accessed 25 January 2017
- The Gospel of Mark, Volume 2 by John R. Donahue, Daniel J. Harrington 2002 ISBN0-8146-5965-9 page 336
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- Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr by Oscar Cullman 2011 ISBN1602584133 page 20
- The Gospel of Matthew (Sacra Pagina Series, Vol 1) by Dainel J. Harrington 1991 ISBN978-0-8146-5803-1 page 248
- Upon this Rock: St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early Church by Stephen K. Ray 1999 ISBN978-0-89870-723-6 pages 11-15
- Papal infallibility: A Protestant Evaluation of an Ecumenical Issue by Mark E. Powell 2009 ISBN978-0-8028-6284-6 pages 35-40
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