ON THE FEAST OF THE CHAIR OF ST. PETER THE APOSTLE
I was passing through a trade fair when I came across a “Christian Cowboy” booth. Sitting on a ledge were a stack of NIV bibles with a snapshot of horses on the cover. I picked one up, then looked at the three men in front of me grinning proudly beneath the brim of their Stetsons.
“Thank you for spreading the Word, brothers,” I said, returning their smiles. “I’m a Catholic evangelist myself.” And with that, their faces dropped, their smiles now forced. The oldest of the three cowboys, a man I venture in his sixties, suddenly blurted out, “Huh. What’s that?”
I knew exactly what I was in for.
“A Catholic evangelist is someone who preaches the Gospel, that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
“Well, then you better stop worshipping Mary…”
And with that, the man launched into a tirade on how the Catholic Church is not the real Church, a mere invention about 1500 years ago; that she is fomenting a “new world order”, and Pope Francis is calling for a “one world religion”…  I tried to respond to his accusations, but he would always cut me off mid-sentence. After 10 minutes of an uncomfortable exchange, I finally said to him, “Sir, if you think I’m lost, then perhaps you ought to try winning my soul rather than an argument.”
At that, one of the young cowboys piped up. “Can I buy ya a coffee?” And with that, we escaped to the food court.
He was a pleasant fellow—a stark contrast to his haughty colleague. He began to ask me questions on my Catholic faith. Clearly, he had been studying the arguments against Catholicism, but with an open mind. Quickly, Peter became the center of our discussion. 
He began, “When Jesus said, ‘You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church,’ the Greek manuscript says, ‘You are Petros and on this petra I will build my church.’ Petros means “little stone” as where petra means “big rock.” What Jesus was really saying was “Peter, you are a little stone, but on Me, “the big rock”, I will build my Church.”
“Well, in the Greek,” I replied, “the word for “rock” is indeed petra. But the masculine form of that is petros. So in naming Peter, the masculine form would have been used. It’s grammatically incorrect to use petra when referring to a male. Besides, you are referring to an ancient form of Greek, which was used from the eighth to fourth century B.C., and even then, largely confined to Greek poetry. The language of the New Testament writers was that of Koine Greek where no distinction in definition is made between petros and petra.”
Unlike his senior, the young cowboy listened intently.
“But none of this really matters, and the reason is that Jesus did not speak Greek, but Aramaic. There is no “feminine” or “masculine” word for “rock” in His native tongue. So Jesus would have said, “You are Kepha, and on this kepha I will build my Church.” Even some Protestant scholars agree on this point.
The underlying Aramaic is in this case unquestionable; at most probably kepha was used in both clauses (“you are kepha” and “on this kepha” ), since the word was used both for a name and for a “rock.” —Baptist scholar D. A. Carson; The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 8, Zondervan, 368
“Still,” the young cowboy protested, “Jesus is the rock. Peter is just a man. If anything, Jesus was just saying that He would build His Church on Peter’s faith.”
I looked him in the eye and smiled. It was so refreshing to meet an Evangelical Christian who was open to debate without the hostility I experienced moments before.
“Well, the first thing I’d note in the text is that Jesus wasn’t just complimenting Peter’s faith. In fact, so significant was the moment that He changed his name! “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jona!… and I tell you, you are Peter…”  This hardly suggests that Jesus was belittling him as a “little stone” but, in fact, was raising up his status. This name-change calls to mind another biblical character whom God sets apart from other men: Abraham. The Lord pronounces a blessing on him and changes his name too, based also, notably, on his faith. What is interesting is that the blessing of Abraham comes by way of the high priest Melchizedek. And Jesus, said St. Paul, prefigured and fulfills his role “becoming high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” 
[Melchizedek] blessed Abram with these words: “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, the creator of heaven and earth”… No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I am making you the father of a multitude of nations. (Gen 14:19)
“Did you know,” I asked him, “that the word “pope” comes from the Latin “papa”, which means father?” He nodded. “In the Old Covenant, God set Abraham as the father of a multitude of nations. In the New Covenant, Peter is set as a father over the nations as well, albeit in a new mode. The word “catholic”, in fact, means “universal.” Peter is head of the universal Church.”
“I just don’t see it that way,” he protested. “Jesus is the head of the Church.”
“But Jesus is no longer physically present on earth,” I said (except in the Blessed Sacrament). “Another title for the Pope is “Vicar of Christ”, which simply means His representative. What company doesn’t have a CEO, or an organization a president, or a team a coach? Isn’t it common sense that the Church would also have a visible head?”
“Well, it was only to Peter that Jesus said, ‘I will give you the keys of the Kingdom.’ This is pretty significant, no? Jesus then tells Peter that ‘Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ In fact, Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when He spoke those words—He was drawing straight from Isaiah 22.”
The cowboy’s eyes narrowed out of curiosity. I grabbed my phone, which has a digital Bible on it, and turned to Isaiah 22.
“Now, before I read this, it’s important to understand that in the Old Testament, it was common for kings in the Near East to place a “prime minister” of sorts over their kingdom. He would be bestowed with the king’s own authority over the territory. In Isaiah, we read precisely this: the servant Eliakim being bestowed with the Davidic king’s authority:
I will clothe him with your robe, gird him with your sash, confer on him your authority. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; what he opens, no one will shut, what he shuts, no one will open. I will fix him as a peg in a firm place, a seat of honor for his ancestral house. (Isaiah 22:20-23)
As I read the passage, I paused at certain points. “Notice the reference to robes and sashes still worn today?… Notice the “father” reference?… notice the “key”?… notice the “binding and loosing” parallel to “opening and shutting”?… see how his office is “fixed”?”
The cowboy didn’t say much, but I could see his wagon wheels turning.
“The point is this: Jesus created on office, which Peter alone holds. In fact, all the Twelve Apostles hold an office.”
He shifted uncomfortably in his chair, but uncommonly, continued to listen.
“Have you noticed in the description of the City of God in the Book of Revelation that there are twelve foundation stones beneath the city wall?”
The wall of the city had twelve courses of stones as its foundation, on which were inscribed the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (Rev 21:14)
“How can that be,” I continued, “if Judas betrayed Jesus and then committed suicide? Could Judas be a foundation stone??”
“If you turn to the first chapter of Acts, you see that they elect Matthias to replace Judas. But why? Why, when there are dozens of Christians gathered together, would they feel they needed to replace Judas? Because they were filling an office.”
‘May another take his office.’ (Acts 1:20)
“Here, you see the beginning of “Apostolic succession.” That is why today we have 266 popes. We know most of them by name, including roughly when they reigned. Jesus promised that the “gates of Hades” would not prevail against the Church, and my friend, it has not—despite the fact that we’ve had some pretty awful and corrupt popes at times.”
“Look,” he said, “The bottom line for me is that it’s not men, but the Bible that is the standard for truth.”
“Gee,” I said, “that’s not what the Bible says. Could I have your copy?” He handed me his Cowboy Bible where I turned to 1 Timothy 3:15:
…God’s household […] is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. (1 Tim 3:15, NIV)
“Let me see that,” he said. I handed him his Bible, and continued.
“So it is the Church, not the Bible, that is the “standard” for determining what is true, and what is not. The Bible came from the Church, not the other way around.  In fact, there was no Bible for the first four centuries of the Church, and even then, it was not readily available until centuries later with the printing press. The point is this: when Jesus commissioned the Apostles, He didn’t hand them a goodie bag with a granola bar, maps, a flashlight, and their own copy of the Bible. He simply said:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations… teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age. (Matt 28:19-20)
All they had was the memory of what Jesus told them, and more importantly, His promise that the Holy Spirit would “guide them into all truth.”  Thus, the infallible standard of the truth would be the Apostles themselves, and their successors after them. This is why Jesus said to the Twelve:
Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me. (Luke 10:16)
“As for Peter, the first Pope, his role would be a visible sign of the Church’s unity and the guarantor of obedience to the truth. For it was to him that Jesus said three times, “Feed my sheep.”  I can tell you this, no doctrine of the Catholic Church was “invented” at some point over the centuries. Every single teaching of the Church stems from the “deposit of faith” that Jesus left the Apostles. It’s a miracle in itself that the truth has been preserved after 2000 years. And I guess it should be. Because if the ‘truth sets us free’, we better know what the truth is. If it’s a matter of each of us interpreting the Bible, then, well, you have what we do today: tens of thousands of denominations claiming that they have the truth. The Catholic Church is simply proof that Jesus meant what He said. The Spirit has indeed guided her ‘into all truth’. And this is easily proven today. We have this thing called Google.” 
With that, we stood up and shook hands. “While I disagree with you,” the cowboy said, “I will certainly go home and think about 1 Timothy 3:15 and the church as the pillar of truth. Very interesting…”
“Yes, it is,” I replied. “It’s what the Bible says, doesn’t it?”
First published February 22nd, 2017.