I have been discussing the authority of the pope within the Roman Catholic church. My friend said that in Matthew 16 the Greek distinguished between the words Peter and rock. However Matthew was actually written in Aramaic (which Jesus also spoke in) and within this language the difference between these two words is not as clear. Can you offer any insight on this verse? -- Michael Messina (Baltimore)

As you noted, it is possible Matthew was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic, though this is not certain. I have heard much about Peter -- petros or stone -- and the rock -- petra -- cliff or bedrock -- referring to the confession of Christ. You are right: the word play does not work so neatly in Aramaic. I believe that, perhaps influenced by the Protestant Reformation, many have over-interpreted this passage.

Peter was not a pope by any stretch of the imagination, but that does not mean that Jesus in Matthew 16 isn't designating him the leader of the first church. Without conceding the papacy, I feel comfortable with the idea that Jesus is not so much contrasting Peter with himself (unreliable versus reliable) as he is indicating Peter was indeed the one on whom Jesus would initially launch his world-changing movement. Jesus even entrusted Peter with "the keys."

Again, Peter's being the first leader of the fledgling Jerusalem Christian community is a far cry from the papacy! Besides, by the middle of Acts, Peter no longer seems to "lead" the Jerusalem church -- whose leadership he shares with John and James the brother of Jesus. As for there being a solitary leader of the church worldwide, this is absent from the New Testament.

Correction: there is a solitary leader of the church: Jesus Christ!

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