Q. In Matthew 16, is Jesus going to build His Church on Peter’s confession or on Peter?
A. Both, in one way, because certainly the Church is built on “Christ the Son of the living God”. However, the plain sense of Mt. 16 has to be speaking about Peter. Peter is the Rock on which the Church will be built. After all, Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter and what does the name Peter mean? Rock.
In addition to this, in v. 18 “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church”, the pronoun “this” must have a noun that it is referring to, an antecedent. Antecedents are usually the closest noun that came before the pronoun. In this case that noun would be Peter.
Often, when trying to explain away Peter as the rock on which Jesus will build His church some have said, “No, the rock is not Peter it is Peter’s confession that is the rock on which Christ will build His Church.” That seems reasonable until you think about the rules of grammar. The pronoun “this” is in verse 18. Peter’s confession is in verse 16. That is two verses, three sentences and seven nouns away.
16: Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.“
17: And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
18: And I tell you, you are Peter, and on THIS rock I will build my church
If pronouns in English or any other language could have seven nouns in between the pronoun and the antecedent it would be incomprehensible. For example:
I have a car. I love to drive. I also have a truck. My house has a two-car garage with a pool. IT is beautiful.
What is beautiful? The pool or maybe the house. Who would contend that the writer meant that the car was beautiful? And yet, that is the sort of grammatical gymnastics required to assert that Peter’s confession was the rock upon which Jesus would build His Church