Donny's Ramblings


Was Peter the Rock Upon Which the Church was Built?

My opinions on this matter have drastically changed since this was written, yet I leave this posted so that I can look back on it.

I’ve made no efforts to hide the fact that I’d love to convert to Catholicism.  I love many things about the Catholic Church.  The problem is that I will not pretend to believe things I don’t actually believe.  I have a hard time with the importance given to Mary.  I cannot accept the doctrine of Papal Infallibility.  Scripture indicates that Baptism is NOT necessary for salvation, but Catholic belief is that it is.  Catholics also believe that we are justified by works, whereas I’m convinced that scripture shows that we are justified by faith, that our justification has nothing to do with what WE DO, but everything to do with what JESUS DID.

And then there is the Catholic belief that it is THE Church Jesus built.  This claim is made in the following way:  Jesus told Peter that he (Peter) was the rock upon which He’d build His church (and Catholics believe Peter was the first Pope – perhaps I’ll get to that claim another time, because it’s not necessarily true).  The verse used to back up this claim is from Matthew 16:18:

Matthew 16:18: And I say to you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.

But wait… let’s read more of that passage starting back at verse 13 and going to verse 20:

When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ.

There are a few things that indicate Jesus is not calling Peter the rock upon which He will build His church, but instead calling Himself that rock.  First of all, it should be known that Simon Bar-Jonah was called Peter long before this.  When Jesus first met Simon-Peter, He said he would be called Cephas, which is Aramaic for “rock” or Peter, which is Greek for “rock.”  Back to the passage in Matthew 16:

  1. In the original language, the word Petros was used when Jesus called Peter by name (“you are Peter”), but petras (notice the change) was used when He mentioned the rock upon which He would build His church.  In other words, Jesus seemed to be telling Peter he was strong like a rock, and congratulating him on recognizing who Jesus was, then going on to say that He would be building a church on Himself.
  2. Ephesians 2:19-22 sheds some light on how Paul understood things: “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, JESUS CHRIST HIMSELF BEING THE CHIEF CORNERSTONE (rock), in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”

#2, along with the change in Greek words in the Matthew 16 passage, make it pretty clear who the rock is upon which Jesus will build His church.

1st Corinthians 3:11 also makes it clear that Jesus is the foundation (it reads, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.”). Also, David tells us about Jesus being the rock upon which the church will be built, back in Psalm 118:22 where he wrote, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone (rock).”

We also need to consider this: in the Matthew 16 passage, building His church was a yet-future work of Jesus, for He had not yet started the process. He said, I will build (future tense) My church, but His mission for the nation Israel had to be concluded before another mission could be set in motion. This is probably why Jesus said not even the gates of hades would overcome this mission. Jews would understand hades’ gates to refer to physical death. When He stated that the gates of hades would not prevail against it, Jesus was therefore telling the disciples that His death would not prevent His work of building the church. On Himself. The Cornerstone. He knew He would be crucified and resurrected, but that would not stop Him from building His church on the rock (Himself).

But what about that part where Jesus gives Peter The Keys to the Kingdom?   Peter was told he would possess the keys and be able to bind and loose, forgive sins, etc. However, those same keys were given to all the Apostles.  John 20:20-23 says, “Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

One very common thing that Catholics seem to believe, at least when I’m discussing things like this with them, is that the early church was uniform in belief and tradition right up until the splits around 1000AD.  The truth is that the early church was NOT uniform. It was quite diverse right up until Constantine became a Christian. After that, those he favored were given more power and possessions. Those he didn’t faded away, and many of their writings were destroyed. That’s an historical fact. The church was-not-uniform despite what Catholic teaching wishes to be true. There were disagreements right from the very beginning.

Even when the disciples walked with Jesus, their understandings varied. That didn’t magically change after He ascended. In fact, the Gospel of John is believed to have been inspired by John’s need to correct some of the things Thomas believed. Other early Christians argued all the time, which is why you see people being labeled heretics in the first century. That doesn’t mean they necessarily WERE heretics, mind you… it just means that one person or group held a position or positions that was at odds with the beliefs of another group.

In conclusion, scripture seems to make it clear that the rock upon which Jesus built His church is… HIMSELF.


Different People Have Different Views of God

In my morning readings I came across the following commentary, which reflected something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately.  I started a google buzz about it, but then realized it’d make a good blog article too.  So here goes:

God’s revelation of Himself is suited to men’s spiritual capacity. Different souls get different views of God.


1. They appear different to different eyes:

Visit two homes, perhaps in the same street, in which there is similar trouble—sickness, or bereavement, or failure in business, or sore poverty. In one, all is gloom, repining, comfortless perplexity. In the other, there is light in the darkness, a rainbow on the storm.

To one sufferer God’s ways are hard, dark, mysterious; he is even ready to think them unjust. The other says, “I could not bear it in my own strength, but the Lord stands by me and strengthens me. God’s will must be right. He cannot make mistakes or be unfaithful. He is my Refuge and Strength.” So with God’s government of the world and general providence. One mind fastens on the pain, sorrow, calamity, which every hour records—pestilence, earthquake, tempest, and so forth. Another sees that the universal design and general working of all natural laws is for good and happiness, not evil; that the main part of human suffering has its root in sin; that “the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord;” and trusts God for the rest.

2. God’s dealings not only appear different; they are and must be different, according to the temper and attitude of our souls. To the soul that bows under God’s hand, trusts his Word, clings closer to him in trial, it is “chastening”—full of mercy, rich in result (Heb. 12:6, etc.). The proud, stubborn heart, that resents and rebels against affliction, is hardened by it, like Pharaoh.

This reminds me of something I’ve said about my brother and my perception of our parents… sometimes he’ll talk about them and it’s like we had different parents, ’cause the one’s he’s talkin’ about don’t resemble the parents I remember.

The commentary goes on… this is so true:


Come to the Scriptures in a cavilling (means “make petty”), critical, hostile spirit, and they will teem with difficulties. Read them carelessly, scornfully; they will be dull and lifeless. Search them, with an earnest desire to know the truth, with prayer for the Holy Spirit’s teaching, with candour and humility; they will “talk with thee” (Prov. 6:22), and unfold their secrets. Thou shalt hear God’s own voice speaking to thy soul; and find what the Thessalonians found (1 Thess. 2:13).

That’s so true in my life… I get so much more out of reading scripture now that I’m not constantly looking to “prove it wrong” or out of a spirit that seeks to justify the bitterness I’ve always held towards it.


Isaiah’s prediction was fulfilled (Isa. 53:2, 3). Scrupulously religious persons, but blinded by self-righteousness, could no more see his glory than sceptics, hypocrites, or scoffing triflers (Matt. 13:14, 15). But his disciples—those who first believed on him, and then lived in close converse with him—could say, “We beheld his glory” (John 1:14).

CONCLUSION: So it is to-day:

This is a universal law—What God is to you—what Christ is to you, shows what you are, and determines what you shall be. The gospel is an open secret, but still a secret, from proud, worldly hearts. The physician is for those who are sick and know it. The Saviour is for sinners who feel themselves sinners. The living water will not flow into a vessel turned upside down. Heaven itself would be no heaven to a heart full of love of the world, of self, of sin, and void of love to God.

Sometimes when I’m in conversations with atheists I realize I’m just spinning my wheels – I remember my own mindset back in my “there is no God” porn-producing days.  Nothing anybody said could truly “get through” to me.  It was only after a group of people showed the love of God incarnate over the course of four years, and that love broke down my anger and bitterness, that I was able to “see”.

Isn’t it fascinating how deeply personal this walk with God is for each of us?  Don’t you think it’s important that we share our journeys with each other, thereby enriching our lives – bringing deeper shades of color to all of us?  I do.

For the record – the commentary used is: The Pulpit Commentary: Psalms Vol. I. 2004 (H. D. M. Spence-Jones, Ed.) (121–122). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.


Why I’m Loving the Bible

Growing up, and throughout my adult years up until just a few years ago, I often saw the Bible as a boring book.  When God changed my life in September of 2006 I still held that feeling, especially when it came to The Old Testament.

But I started attending Neighborhood Church in Redding, California, and that has made all the difference…

Bill Giovannetti is the Lead Pastor at NCRedding, and he often uses passages from the Old Testament in his sermons.  And the sermons hold my attention.  Seriously, if I hadn’t said that myself I’d be inclined not to believe it.  The Old Testament not boring?  “Whatchu talkin’ ’bout, Willis?”

Bill has become one of my best friends.  We meet regularly and chat about life, liberty, and the pursuit of… whatever we’re pursuing at the time.  When I told Bill, a few years ago, that I thought the Bible was poorly written and somewhat childish, Bill told me he thought I was wrong, loved the Bible, and thought it was beautifully written.  Thing is, I have a bullshit detector built in, and it wasn’t going off when he told me that.  He meant it.

Author Donald Miller wrote, “Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.”  Don’s on to something there… because Bill’s obvious love for the Bible ignited a curiosity within me.  Bill has a doctorate degree.  In addition to being a Pastor, he’s a Professor at the local University.  Early in our friendship, when the aforementioned conversation took place, I needed to know why this intelligent man said such things about the Bible.  I needed to know why I could look him in the eye and tell he wasn’t just spewing out Christianese when he claimed to love it.

In Bill’s sermons, he takes us to the time and place being discussed.  We who listen to him speak hear context.  We learn about the culture of the people.  We are given an insight as to what the text meant to them… how they understood it.  I wanted to know how Bill knew these things, so I asked (that desire for knowledge is actually what led me to the place where I told Craig Gross from XXXChurch that I wanted to enroll in Seminary – which Craig responded to by telling me X3’s Esther Fund would pay for it).  I’ve been learning how to study the Bible, and I have to tell you… I get so much more out of it when digging into context and culture than by just reading the words.   I’ve read through the New Testament four times so far and I get something new out of it each time.

On a side note here, I’d like to recommend the following book to anyone who has the same desire “to know” burning inside of them: How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth – notice the word Its doesn’t contain an apostrophe… that’s because it doesn’t mean “for all IT IS worth”, it means “for all the worth it contains within”.

In the second half of 2009 I picked up the Scholar’s Library: Gold software package from  There are literally thousands of resources available within that package.  It makes a computer nerd like me very happy to be able to study from the comforts of my easy chair with my laptop warming the tops of my legs.  I read three chapters a day and try to do so in the morning before doing anything else.  Currently, I’m working through an Old Testament reading plan from  I start by reading an entire chapter.  Once finished with reading the text through, I open up a few different commentaries and read what they have to say.  Then I browse other miscellaneous resources that come with the software.  I’m always learning something interesting.  One recent example: it’s thought that Joshua was a skilled military leader long before taking over for Moses, and likely led the Egyptian army in battles.  Maybe it’s my inner nerd, but I find things like that fascinating.  It paints a more colorful picture when I read about his conquests leading Israel.

“Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.” Indeed, Mr. Miller, indeed.  And so by watching a man love the Bible, and trying to figure out WHY he loves it,  I too have discovered a love for the Bible.  Sometimes I’m frustrated that I can’t find the words to express this properly.  All I can say is, dig into it, and see for yourself.

Question for the Day:  What do you think about the Bible? Be honest.

This morning I was reading through Joshua 5 and 6.  Earlier today on Google Buzz I wrote the following:

Donny Pauling – Buzz – Public
When Joshua was trying to figure out how to take the walled city of Jericho without possessing the weapons necessary to do so he was very troubled. He couldn’t figure it out. As the leader, it was his job to do so. But as he was pacing around fretting what he was gonna do he ran into God and was basically told, “Hey, this is my battle. Don’t worry about it. I’m leading this charge. You’re just a soldier following orders here. Let your mind rest ’cause I’ve got this covered.” What a relief, huh? Joshua didn’t need to bear the heavy burden and responsibility of leadership alone.

Sometimes I forget that life’s problems are taken care of. I can just be a dependent, rather than needing to worry about things I can’t change…

Donny Pauling – What a thought:

An army is being led into battle. Joshua, as leader, would normally shoulder the responsibilities. But not this time. God made it clear the He was leading the charge. Joshua was standing behind Him this time, not having to carry the weight of the world.

Lead, God. Lead. You’re the General in Charge. Take charge of my life…I’ll just listen for your commands.

I got a whole lot out of today’s readings, which also included chapters from Psalms and Genesis… those thoughts are just a few I pondered.  Studying the Bible each day just sets a tone for the day, know what I mean?


And I Wonder, Still I Wonder

We’re told that if we want to know God we should read our Bible. But how did those He used to write the Bible know Him, and why can’t I encounter Him the same way they did? And since the Canon of the Bible wasn’t decided upon until the 4th century, did all who lived beforehand NOT know Him to the extent those of us who possess a Bible are able to know Him?

Do we put too much emphasis on reading the Bible and not enough on living in communion with God and conversing with Him in person?

These are questions I have, as I study for the exegesis class I’m currently taking.


Who Decided What Books To Place in Our Bible?

In past blog posts, and on a local message board in which I discuss such things with others, there have been a few people who have asked questions in regards to my statements as to the relationship of the Council of Nicaea to the Canonization of scripture, and my assertion that the men who met at that Council ultimately determined what books appear in the Bible you and I hold in our hands. I haven’t responded to those questions, as I knew that I’d eventually post this article.

FYI: this article is one part (of five) of a paper that I had to write for a Seminary class assignment. You’ll notice it refers to other writings not posted here. Should anyone wish to read the other writings I’d be happy to post them in a future blog post. There are also references in parenthesis to books in the Bibliography from which this paper comes. I’ll post that Bibliography as a comment to this blog post for those who might want that information.

Event #2: Canonization of Scripture

What can possibly be of more importance to the history of the church than the scriptures upon which it is based? Yet few of us have any clue why our Bibles contain the books they contain. Fewer still realize that at the time of canonization, the opinion of the Christian community was split almost 50/50 as to what should and should not be considered as scripture (Pagels, 2004, pages 170-175). While some simply accept the idea that to be considered part of the canon of scripture, writings must be traced to an apostle as the writer or main source, others point out that even those writings traced back to apostles are often in conflict.

Having received both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Stanford, and her PhD from Harvard, author Elaine Pagels is the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University. Ms. Pagels area of expertise is early Christian history. When new religious artifacts are discovered, Pagels is often called upon to help interpret them.

In her book Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, Pagels points out that there are literally hundreds of pages of “gospels” and “apocrypha” written during the first centuries, many of them documents the average lay person isn’t even aware exist, that contain sayings, rituals and dialogues attributed to Jesus and his disciples. In the early years of Christianity many of these documents were just as well known as the 27 books we have in the New Testament of our Bibles today. The Gospel of John, written at close to the same time as the Gospel of Thomas, reveals a minor rivalry even amongst two of Jesus’ own disciples, and many of today’s best scholars believe John’s gospel was written as a rebuttal to teachings attributed to Thomas. One example of rivalry is hinted at by reading the books that are included in our Bibles: while the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke refer to Jesus appearing to the 11 after his Resurrection (Judas was no longer with them), the Gospel of John says Jesus appeared to 10 of them, as Thomas was not present. And it is only in John’s gospel that Thomas is referred to as a doubter. John’s gospel emphasizes that some of the key beliefs put forth by Thomas’ gospel are incorrect. The Gospel of Thomas teaches, for example, that God’s light shines not only in Jesus but potentially in everyone. Thomas’ gospel encourages the hearer not so much to believe IN Jesus, as John’s gospel requires, as to seek to know God through one’s own, divinely given capacity since all are created in the image of God (Pagels, 2004, pages 30-73).

Many amongst the first generations of Christians disagreed with John’s gospel that Jesus was God in the flesh, doubted his writings were scripture, and did not want his book to be part of what we now call the New Testament. Those believers also took issue with the fact that in a handful of places John’s gospel differs with, and even directly contradicts, the combined testimony of the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. John tells a different version of Jesus’ final days, for example. John also places the story of Jesus in the Temple disrupting the money changers at the beginning of his ministry, while the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke place that as happening at the end of his ministry. Only in John’s gospel do we find the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead, which was an act that upset the leaders of the time so much that they wanted to kill not only Jesus but Lazarus as well, because they were concerned that if he were to go on doing such things everyone would believe in him. It is noted that even early defenders of John’s gospel, such as a teacher named Origen, are quoted as saying that the author of John’s gospel might not always tell the truth “literally” but always told the truth “spiritually” (Origen, Commentary on John, 10.4-6).

If John was to be believed, Jesus proclaimed himself begotten of God, equal to God, and God in the flesh. If Thomas was to be believed, Jesus only claimed to have been created by God just as the rest of us, although with a deeper level of connection and understanding. According to Thomas, although he may have been of similar substance as God, Jesus was not fully man and fully God and he wanted the world to know that God’s Light could be found within all of us.

The argument between those who believed the teachings attributed to John and those who believed the teachings attributed to Thomas led to many writings and discussions. It is clear that if the four gospels of our Bibles were Matthew, Mark, Luke and Thomas we’d have a much different view of Jesus than we do now, with John’s gospel as the fourth.

One man in particular, a man named Irenaeus, wrote extensively on such matters. Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp, and Polycarp was a disciple of John. Irenaeus was very much in favor of showing those who followed Thomas’ teachings the errors of their ways. He was of the opinion that those who disagreed with John had “cast truth aside” and “resorted to evil interpretation” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1, c. 180). He was alarmed to learn that even amongst those in congregations to whom he personally traveled as a missionary, many were divided on whether to believe the teachings attributed to Thomas or whether to lean more towards what was taught by John’s gospel.

Irenaeus’ writings became quite influential in guiding the paths of those that would eventually decide which books belong in our Bibles. His opinion could be summed up with his assertion that if those heretics had been right, we would have no need for revelation and “the coming of the Lord” would “appear unnecessary and useless” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies). Through Irenaeus’ writings, it was made very clear that John’s gospel definitely means that God = Word = Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. Irenaeus declared that teachings like Thomas’ gospel were nothing more than gnosticism pushing its influence into Christianity. Even so, the discussion continued after he died in 202 AD, and wasn’t totally settled until late the next century, many years after Constantine became the first Christian Roman Emperor and ended the persecution of Christians.

When I mentioned in “Event #1” that Constantine, after becoming emperor, gave back to the church all the lands that were taken from it, what I didn’t mention was that Constantine also befriended many of the bishops, even writing them personal letters (Barnes, 2006, pages 208-227). The purpose of the Council of Nicaea in 325 was to resolve disagreements over the nature of Jesus in relationship to the Father, in particular, whether He was of the same substance as God the Father or merely of similar substance. As many of us know, this council resulted in the Nicene Creed, which Constantine himself endorsed. Afterward, the official doctrine became such that “all Christians henceforth must accept and participate in the only church recognized by the emperor – the catholic (universal) church.” Even a year before the Council of Nicaea, Constantine made an attempt to legislate an end to “sects” he considered heretical, which included half the Christians in the empire (MacMullen, 1986, pages 59-119). His beliefs on what was or was not heretical (meaning, “wrong teaching”) were greatly influenced by the bishops he had befriended, who were in turn followers of the line of beliefs written by the likes of Irenaeus. Although it is often said that the canon of scripture was issued at the Council of Hippo in 393 and at the Council of Carthage in 397, because of the nature of the politics surrounding the Nicene council and Constantine’s endorsement of it, the books that conflicted with the Nicene Creed were already “on the way out.” The desire (or often times: commands) to destroy those books led those who wished to preserve them to hide and bury them in jars or even graves (we have recovered some of these texts even as recently as the mid 1900s).

In 367, Church Father (and bishop) Athanasius, wrote an easter letter that listed the 27 books we now have in our New Testament (it should be noted that Athanasius was present at the Council of Nicaea, and was very much involved with those on “the winning side”). The Western church approved the same 27 books at the Council of Hippo in 393 and at Carthage in 397 (Garlow, 2000, pg 48). In the alternate textbook assigned for this class, How God Saved Civilization, there is a quote by David F. Wright on page 49 that states the following:

Although churchmen in a literal sense created the canon (the Bible), they were only recognizing the books that had stamped their own authority on the churches. The criteria for accepting a book as canonical (authentic) were sometimes complex. Above all, it had to be written or sponsored by an apostle, and also be recognizably orthodox in context, and publicly used by a prominent church or majority of churches… But the eventual shape of the New Testament shows that the Early Church wanted to submit fully to the teachings of the apostles. It had been created by their preaching and now grounded itself upon their writings.

Whether or not one might wish to disagree with the exclusion of certain books from our Bible that for centuries had been accepted as scripture by half the Christian community, and whether or not one might wish to argue that the ultimate list of 27 books of the New Testament was greatly influenced by political pressures and favors from the first Christian Emperor, there is no doubt that the canonization of scripture is one of the most important events in all of church history. It is literally what millions have built their faith, and lives, upon.


Focusing on What’s Important

We all get so easily distracted by petty things and ask the wrong questions. That’s what hit me as I read this:

Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?”

Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong questions. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over.”

Of course, we all know the outcome of that story: Jesus healed the blind man’s eyes so he could see.

I still have goosebumps, literally, from his words. “You’re asking me the wrong questions. You’re looking for someone to blame.” That is just SO like us. Like ME. Asking the wrong questions, and looking for someone to blame instead of searching, while the sun shines, for the work that I COULD and SHOULD be doing.

Today I’m going to try my hardest not to look for someone to blame. I’m going to keep my eyes open and try to see the work that needs done. God help me see it.

(more and more, I’m becoming a Jesus Freak)


Focusing on What's Important

We all get so easily distracted by petty things and ask the wrong questions. That’s what hit me as I read this:

Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?”

Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong questions. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over.”

Of course, we all know the outcome of that story: Jesus healed the blind man’s eyes so he could see.

I still have goosebumps, literally, from his words. “You’re asking me the wrong questions. You’re looking for someone to blame.” That is just SO like us. Like ME. Asking the wrong questions, and looking for someone to blame instead of searching, while the sun shines, for the work that I COULD and SHOULD be doing.

Today I’m going to try my hardest not to look for someone to blame. I’m going to keep my eyes open and try to see the work that needs done. God help me see it.

(more and more, I’m becoming a Jesus Freak)