Matthew 16:18 and the LDS Great Apostasy

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.”—Matthew 16:18

“I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight.”—Joseph Smith—History 1:18-19

The teaching of the Church of Latter-day Saints is that shortly after the death of the last apostle, the Church went through a Universal Apostasy leading the authentic LDS Church to be destroyed and eventually replaced with the Catholic Church. The LDS Church was not restored until the time of Joseph Smith. But now, they say, “Daniel, who foresaw and foretold the establishment of the kingdom of God in the latter days, never again to be destroyed nor given to other people.” (D&C 138:44)

Now obviously Latter-day Saints feel the need to reconcile their doctrine with the Bible, including Matthew 16:18, as quoted above. Following, we will discuss what is meant by “rock” and what is meant by “gates of hell”.

Now first of all, an LDS apologist would contend that the “rock” refers to Revelation from God. The Gates of Hell seem to be unable to prevail against Revelation as in they cannot keep out Revelation. So Christ’s Church would not preach out among the living alone, but also among the dead.

The first problem with this is that Jesus says specifically: you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. So He seems to clearly equate Peter with Rock. Now the usual objection to this, frequently brought up by Protestants for which reason I would not be at all surprised if I were to learn that Mormons make the same claim, is that there is a distinction between “Peter” and “rock”. The former is Πέτρος (pétros) and the latter πέτρᾳ (pétra). Now allegedly, pétros means “pebble” and pétra means “large, immovable boulder”. Although this is technically true and sometimes petra stresses immovability, both words basically mean “rock” or “stone”.1 We need to remember, first of all, that there is no such distinction in Aramaic. The word our Lord actually used is Cephas or kepha (see John 1:42). This simply means “rock”, so there should have been no such distinction in the Aramaic. So Jesus actually said: “You are kepha and on this kepha I shall build my church.” Petra was a feminine noun, for which reason it was thought that petros would fit better for a man’s name in a Greek translation. Besides, if Jesus had really intended to make a distinction, He would have said: “You are Peter, but on this rock I shall build my church.” Nor indeed can Jesus be talking about Peter’s acclamation as can be found in John 1.

“He [Andrew] first found his brother Simon, and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’” John 1:41

“Philip found Nathana-el, and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote.’” John 1:45

“Nathana-el answered him, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’” John 1:49

Peter is practically the only person in John 1 who does not affirm Jesus are Christ. Even Protestant scholar Dr. Oscar Cullman affirms: 

 “It is thus evident that Jesus is referring to Peter, to whom he has given the name Rock. He appoints Peter, the impulsive, enthusiastic, but not persevering man in the circle, to be the foundation of his ecclesia. To this extent Roman Catholic exegesis is right and all Protestant attempts to evade this interpretation are to be rejected.”

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 108

To this some Mormons would point out 1 Corinthians 3:11, which states: “For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” They say the Rock is revelation by the Father through Christ and therefore Christ is also the Rock, excluding the possibility of Peter. However, all the apostles could be called foundations of the church. (see Revelation 21:14) Catholics accept Christ as the chief foundation. However, Peter, as the chief of the apostles, could be considered after Christ, the foundation of the Church. Mormons accept the Primacy of Peter, considering him roughly the equivalent of the First President, so  perhaps they would not find this too difficult to believe.

Next, we should probably treat with the “gates of hell”. Now a Mormon would claim this means that the Church would go down and preach to those in Sheol and the “gates” would not keep them out. However, I think this is a misunderstanding of what “gates of” generally means in Scripture. In Genesis 24:60, people say to Rebecca: “Our sister, be the mother of thousands of ten thousands; and may your descendants possess the gate of those who hate them!” And in Genesis 22:17, God says to Abraham, “I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore. And your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies.” Surely this did not mean that the Israelites were going to simply steal the gates of the Philistines’ and the Moabites’ cities, but rather that the Israelites would take authority over them. On the contrary, this is a use of synecdoche, meaning the powers of hell will not prevail against the Church.

The word κατισχύσουσιν (katischusousin) “will prevail against”, generally means as in “overpower” or “have power over”, not necessarily as in “keep out”.1 At least, to my mind, it seems to suggest that hell is the aggressor.

When our Lord’s is understood that way, a Latter-day Saint might see how it makes logical sense how the rock on which the Church is built can be a person, namely Peter. It also makes sense to me that he would have a perpetual line of successors until the end of time (sans a seventeen-century-long interregnum).

Bonum Certamen Certemus

I am the Catholic of Honor


1Liddell & Scott, A Greek–English Lexicon,Oxford University Press, 1843

All Scripture verses are from the Revised Standard Version


A Patristic Defense of the Primacy of Rome

I now propose to write on the Primacy of Rome in regards to the Eastern Orthodox Church. Now the Orthodox would generally accept Peter to be chief of the apostles, but such authority was not handed on to his successors. In Matthew 16:19, Jesus gave Peter both the keys to the kingdom and the authority of binding and loosing. The first was given to Peter alone (Mt 16:19) and the second also to the other apostles as well. (Mt 18:18) Now Orthodox theologians would say these gifts are the same. The Pope, the Orthodox contend, became prime due to historical circumstances and so forth. The Pope is supposedly the “first among equals” holding a “primacy of honor”, but the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome was not instituted by Christ but came into being centuries later. I propose to defend the Catholic view, that Christ Himself instituted the Papacy as follows.

In the early church, the world was full of heretical bishops, but the bishops of Rome always seemed to keep faith. Now some Orthodox and Protestant theologians would claim that  it was because of this that the Roman Pontiffs became prime. However, the way to have the highest honor about which Christ spoke is to serve others. So the way to serve in a uniquely honorable place is to exercise jurisdiction. Now for the Papacy to be true, its essential features must be present in the Early Church.

Now, of course, from the middle of the first century to the early fourth, the Church was under an intense persecution so it was more difficult for a Pope to get involved in everything. Remember, Paul even had to contend for his authority as an apostle and ordered Timothy to do the same as a bishop. This does not mean their authority was illegitimate. Now, in a time like the Roman persecution, an exhibition of a centralizing power was basically a matter of certain death, so there was only so much Popes could do. Most of the Popes in the Third Century, for instance, were martyrs.

Now some of the Orthodox would contend that if the infallible Church had possessed an automatic, visible organ of infallibility, then doctrinal struggles of the Early Church would be unthinkable. Firstly, papal infallibility is not automatic, but only happens under very specific conditions. This seems to be saying, however, that if the Pope had the charism of infallibility, he would have used it in a certain way. Since he did not, the Pope is not infallible. When it is put that way, it does not make much sense. Also, even if the Pope had dogmatically condemned these things, I doubt heretics would not have for the most part paid attention, just as many Arians existed long after the Council of Nicaea.

So is there any evidence for Popes acting as prime in the Early Church? Yes, there is. For instance, in the late first century, the Corinthians unlawfully deposed some bishops and priests. Now Pope St. Clement I begins with apologizing for the delay. “On account of the sudden and repeated calamities and mischances, brethren, that have come upon us, we suppose that we have the more slowly given heed to the things that are disputed among you, beloved.” Clement then at once addresses the perpetrators of the sedition, “the foul and unholy sedition, alien and foreign to the elect of God, which a few headstrong and self-willed persons have kindled to such a degree of madness, that your venerable and famous name, worthy to be loved of all men, is greatly blasphemed.” (1 Clement 1:1) He then goes on to reprove them for their errors.

Notice that Clement does not need to defend his right to make such a judgment. He simply passes judgment onto those in schism. He then says: “For joy and rejoicing will ye afford us if, becoming obedient to the things that have been written by us, ye put an end, by the suggestion of the Holy Spirit, to the unlawful wrath of your discord, according to the supplication which we have made concerning peace and unity in this epistle.” (1 Clement 63:2) Hence Clement does not fear to say that the Holy Spirit is speaking through him. Clement continues: ”But if some should be disobedient to the things spoken by him through us, let them know that they will entangle themselves in no small transgression and danger.” (1 Clement 59:1) He concludes by saying he sent three envoys, Claudius Ephebus, Valerius Bito, and Fortunatus “that they may the more quickly bring us news of your peace and order.” (1 Clement 65:1) From other sources, we know that schism was healed by Clement’s actions.

Now it is possible that, since Clement apologized for his late reply, the Church of Corinth had asked him to intervene. However, they could not have just wanted any authoritative person to intervene, because John the apostle was still living. St. John would make much more sense to ask because first, he was an apostle who had known Jesus and second because he lived in Ephesus at that time, much closer to Corinth than Rome was. So it seems that they specifically wanted a successor of Peter.

Generally speaking, no local church would ever have authority over another. The Corinthians, however, held this letter and read it at least seventy years afterward according to Eusebius (Church Histories 4:23:11). In other words, they held it in almost as high esteem as they did Scripture.

St. Irenaeus could not be clearer when he said: “But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the succession of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul, that church which has the tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. With that church, because of its superior origin, all the churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world, and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition.” (Against Heresies 3:3:2)

Bonum Certamen Certemus

I am the Catholic of Honor