There is a video out there, by Cale Clarke’s own admission, of him visiting Caesarea Philippi and proclaiming to his audience that that is the location where Jesus spoke to St. Peter and said, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
As it turns out, according to Dr. Michael Barber who has championed this idea for many years, that may not be the case. On a recent segment of The Cale Clarke Show, Cale discussed the case of this mistaken holy site, what the gospels have to say about it, and why being wrong is a good thing.
Cale said that for years, it had always been taught by historians and Holy Land guides that it was at Caesarea Philippi, at the base of the temple of Pan, that Jesus spoke to Peter and instituted him as the first pope of the Catholic Church. A cave there, at the base of a cliff face, is known for being the home of a dark and murky lake that was used as an example of the depths of hell in Jesus’s words. This supposed holy site is a popular location for people to preach about Peter’s profession of Jesus as the Messiah. And as mentioned earlier, Cale himself has done so.
Dr. Elaine Phillips, a professor of the Old Testament at Gordon College, even wrote the following about this location:
“In the heart of this thriving city, Caesarea Philippi, encompassed by stone images to Syrian and Greek gods and an imposing temple devoted to the imperial cult, Jesus asked his disciples to identify Him.”
This place, ripe with compelling scenery and an awe-inspiring atmosphere, would surely fit the image in our minds when we read from Matthew 16. But unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that it was the exact location where this historical event took place. The problem with Dr. Phillips’s assertion, says Dr. Michael Barber, is that it ignores what the Bible says:
“Now Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’” (Mark 8:27)
“Once when Jesus was praying in solitude, and the disciples were with him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’” (Luke 9:18)
“When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’” (Matthew 16:13)
Nowhere in the three gospels where this event is mentioned does it say that it took place in the heart of the city of Caesarea Philippi, let alone in front of the pagan temple to Pan. It was certainly in the region, as indicated by Mark and Matthew, but the exact location is not specified.
Further, as Dr. Barber discusses, Jesus would not have used this temple as a comparison for His Church, not because He wanted to avoid object lessons but because it didn’t warrant a comparison. The establishment of a pagan cult to a false shepherd is not even in the same realm as the true Church. A more apt comparison would be with the Jewish faith and Christianity. Christianity is the fulfillment of scripture and Judaism. Jesus was a Jew and they were God’s chosen people. But Christ marks the turning point in salvation history.
And finally, Jesus would not have used this location in Caesarea Philippi for His discussion with Peter because this seemingly popular idea that the temple of Pan marked the entrance to hell simply didn’t exist. It’s an idea that has been upheld by various guides and historians because of the misinterpretation of this location but people of the time did not believe that that cave and lake somehow marked the gates of hell.
Cale reflected on his misguided propagation of this idea and assured his audience that he was glad Dr. Barber had finally convinced him. It is our duty in life to continually pursue the truth and whenever we are proved wrong, we are “disabused of mistaken notions” and we come a little closer to the full truth. Anytime we are corrected, we should be relieved rather than embarrassed. A little closer to the truth is a little closer to God.
Tune in to The Cale Clarke Show weekdays at 5pm CT