For the Protestant Reformers to rationalize breaking away from what was universally acknowledged in their culture as the Christian Church, it was necessary for them to deny the Catholic Church’s authority. To maintain their positions, they were forced to portray it as a kind of “anti-Church” that was unjustly claiming the prerogatives of Christ’s true (but invisible) Church.
Their chief target was, of course, the pope. To justify breaking away from the successor of Peter, they had to undercut the Petrine office itself. They were forced to deny the plain reading of Matthew 16:18—that Jesus made Peter the rock on which he would build his Church.
More recent Protestants have been able to back away from the position that early Protestants felt forced to make and have been able to admit that Peter is, indeed, the rock. It remains to be seen whether they will start drawing the necessary inferences from this fact.
“The meaning of this phrase may be thus expressed: ‘Thou, in saying that I am the Son of God, hast called me by a name expressive of my true character. I, also, have given to thee a name expressive of your character. I have called you Peter, a rock. . . . I see that you are worthy of the name and will be a distinguished support of my religion” [Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, 170].
Nineteenth-Century Calvinistic Baptist
“As Peter means rock, the natural interpretation is that ‘upon this rock’ means upon thee. . . . It is an even more far-fetched and harsh play upon words if we understand the rock to be Christ and a very feeble and almost unmeaning play upon words if the rock is Peter’s confession” [Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, 356].
Craig L. Blomberg
“The expression ‘this rock’ almost certainly refers to Peter, following immediately after his name, just as the words following ‘the Christ’ in verse 16 applied to Jesus. The play on words in the Greek between Peter’s name (Petros) and the word ‘rock’ (petra) makes sense only if Peter is the Rock and if Jesus is about to explain the significance of this identification” [New American Commentary: Matthew, 22:252].
J. Knox Chamblin
“By the words ‘this rock’ Jesus means not himself, nor his teaching, nor God the Father, nor Peter’s confession, but Peter himself. The phrase is immediately preceded by a direct and emphatic reference to Peter. As Jesus identifies himself as the builder, the rock on which he builds is most naturally understood as someone (or something) other than Jesus himself” [“Matthew” in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, 742].
R. T. France
“The word-play, and the whole structure of the passage, demands that this verse is every bit as much Jesus’ declaration about Peter as verse 16 was Peter’s declaration about Jesus. Of course it is on the basis of Peter’s confession that Jesus declares his role as the Church’s foundation, but it is to Peter, not his confession, that the rock metaphor is applied” (Gospel According to Matthew, 254).
Contemporary Dutch Reformed
“It is well known that the Greek word petra translated ‘rock’ here is different from the proper name Peter. The slight difference between them has no special importance, however. The most likely explanation for the change from petros (‘Peter’) to petra is that petra was the normal word for ‘rock.’ . . . There is no good reason to think that Jesus switched from petros to petra to show that he was not speaking of the man Peter but of his confession as the foundation of the Church. The words ‘on this rock [petra]’ indeed refer to Peter” [Bible Student’s Commentary: Matthew, 303].
“The frequent attempts that have been made, largely in the past, to deny [that Peter is the rock] in favor of the view that the confession itself is the rock . . . seem to be largely motivated by Protestant prejudice against a passage that is used by the Roman Catholics to justify the papacy” (Word Biblical Commentary 33b:470).