Monday, April 22, 2013

Rocks, Keys, and the Gates of Hades

Last week one of the leadership assignments touched on Matthew 16 where Jesus gives Peter the keys to the kingdom.  This is of course the classic text where Roman Catholics trace the idea of Peter being the first pope.  God gives the keys to Peter, who gives them to Linus, who gives them to Clement... who gave them to Pope Francis I this year. Protestants have of course often responded by saying that the "rock" on which Jesus built his kingdom was not Peter but the confession that Jesus is the Christ.

Some historical notes.  First, Peter, which means rock, was not Peter's birth name.  In fact, since Peter is Greek, Jesus may never have made the sounds, petros, ever.  "Cephas" is the Aramaic name that Jesus gave Simon, son of Jonah.  Simon was his birth name.  Jesus gave him the name Cephas, "rock."

So that makes it pretty likely that Peter is a central part of the referent of "on this rock I will build."  This of course is light years from popes and apostolic succession, but it does seem to imply that Jesus is centrally talking about Peter.  Additionally, the "you" in "I will give you" is singular, so it is not even something Jesus is saying to all his disciples there.  He is speaking to Peter specifically.

The "gates of hell" here are not the gates of Gehenna, the place of punishment, but the gates of Hades, the realm of the dead in general.  In short, death will not win over the kingdom.  "Kingdom of heaven" does not likely mean anything different from "kingdom of God" in Mark.  Heaven is the place from which God rules, not the place where we will be in the kingdom (cf. Matt. 8:11).

Some thoughts on the Matthew 16 passage...


Joshua Henderson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joshua Henderson said...

I've always seen Peter as the leader of the other Apostles, so whenever I read this passage I interpret it as Jesus giving Peter the initial duties of leading His Church. I guess I don't see a problem with recognizing him as the first "Pope" so to speak. Maybe not the same duties as today's pope, as Paul discusses his rebuking of Peter in Galations and you probably won't have many Cardinals writing an op-ed in the New York Times rebuking Pope Francis I. Is it possible that the Confession of Jesus as the Christ is the "keys" to heaven and the Church was entrusted to bring this news to the world, being led by Peter? Or am I going too far?