Saturday, February 04, 2006

Tu es Petrus


As Evan has explained, nobody denies that Peter is a rock upon whom the church is built. That's not in dispute. No Protestant denies Peter's foundational role in Ephesians 2:20. But the other apostles are included in that passage. Jesus is singled out as the cornerstone, but Peter isn't singled out. Thus, the issue with regard to Matthew 16 isn't whether Peter is a foundation stone of the church. He is. The issue in dispute is whether Matthew 16 logically leads us to the conclusion that Peter is a foundation stone in a unique way that makes him a Pope. And, if he was a Pope, do we have reason to conclude that he would have successors in that role and that the successors would exclusively be Roman bishops? Catholics are trying to place far more weight on Matthew 16 than it can carry.

It's reasonable to see Peter as the rock in that passage. Many Protestant and Eastern Orthodox scholars do. But Peter's being the rock in that passage doesn't logically lead to a jurisdictional primacy of Peter, much less a jurisdictional primacy of Roman bishops.

The keys don't lead to papal conclusions either. Other figures are referred to as having keys (Matthew 18:18, 23:13, Luke 11:52, Revelation 3:7, 9:1, etc.). Remember, binding and loosing and opening and shutting are functions of the keys. (That's why passages like Isaiah 22, Matthew 16, and Revelation 20 mention the opening and shutting or binding and loosing just after mentioning the keys.) To suggest that the apostles in Matthew 18:18 can bind and loose, but don't possess the keys, would be nonsensical. Similarly, it would be ridiculous to suggest that the angel in Revelation 20 didn't use a key to release Satan in verse 7, just because that verse doesn't mention a key. A key is mentioned in verse 1, and binding and loosing Satan would involve a key, even if the key isn't mentioned each time the binding and loosing are mentioned. When Matthew 18 refers to all of the apostles performing the function of the keys, it logically follows that they possess the keys. Possession of those keys isn't unique to Peter.

Why is Peter singled out in Matthew 16, then? Because he singles himself out. He's the one who answered Jesus' question. Similarly, John and James are singled out in Mark 10:35-40 because they were the ones who initiated the discussion with Jesus, not because they were being given some sort of primacy.

Catholics sometimes argue for a papacy by interpreting Matthew 16 in light of Isaiah 22:20-22. But whatever relevance Isaiah 22 would have to Matthew 16, it would have that same relevance for Matthew 23, Luke 11, and other passages that use such imagery. And any Catholic appeal to Isaiah 22 would have to be a partial appeal, not a complete parallel, since a complete parallel wouldn't favor the claims of Roman Catholicism. God is the one who gives the key in Isaiah 22, so an exact parallel would put Jesus in the place of God, not in the place of the king. So, if Jesus is God and Peter is the prime minister, then who is the king? Some church official with more authority than Peter? What about Isaiah 22:25? Should we assume that Popes can "break off and fall", and that the keys of Matthew 16 can eventually pass to God Himself (Revelation 3:7) rather than to a human successor? If Catholics only want to make a general appeal to Isaiah 22, without making an exact parallel, then how can they claim that papal authority is implied by the parallel? Why can't the Isaiah 22 background convey a general theme of authority without that authority being papal authority?

Why do Catholics have to resort to a passage like Matthew 16? What if we had to resort to such passages to argue for the existence of other church offices, such as the office of deacon? Instead, as we would expect, offices such as that of the deacon and the bishop are mentioned explicitly and often. Not only are the offices mentioned (Acts 20:17, Philippians 1:1), but we also see repeated references to their appointment (Acts 14:23, Ephesians 4:11, Titus 1:5), their qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9), their discipline (1 Timothy 5:19-20), their responsibilities (Ephesians 4:12-13, Titus 1:10-11, James 5:14, 1 Peter 5:1-3), their reward (1 Timothy 5:17-18, 1 Peter 5:4), their rank (1 Corinthians 12:28), the submission due them (1 Timothy 2:11-12), etc. If there was an office that was to have jurisdictional primacy and infallibility throughout church history, an office that could be called the foundation of the church, wouldn't we expect it to be mentioned explicitly and often? But it isn't mentioned at all, even when the early sources are discussing Peter or the Roman church and its bishops.

Craig Keener, citing Jaroslav Pelikan, comments that "most scholars, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, concur that Peter died in Rome but doubt that Mt 16:18 intended the authority later claimed by the papacy (Pelikan 1980: 60)" (A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999], p. 425). The Roman Catholic historian Klaus Schatz comments:

"There appears at the present time to be increasing consensus among Catholic and non-Catholic exegetes regarding the Petrine office in the New Testament….The further question whether there was any notion of an enduring office beyond Peter’s lifetime, if posed in purely historical terms, should probably be answered in the negative. That is, if we ask whether the historical Jesus, in commissioning Peter, expected him to have successors, or whether the author of the Gospel of Matthew, writing after Peter’s death, was aware that Peter and his commission survived in the leaders of the Roman community who succeeded him, the answer in both cases is probably 'no.'…If we ask in addition whether the primitive Church was aware, after Peter’s death, that his authority had passed to the next bishop of Rome, or in other words that the head of the community at Rome was now the successor of Peter, the Church’s rock and hence the subject of the promise in Matthew 16:18-19, the question, put in those terms, must certainly be given a negative answer." (Papal Primacy [Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1996], pp. 1-2)

# posted by Jason Engwer : 2/03/2006 2:48 PM



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Relevant to this discussion are Steve Hays' critique of Philip Blosser's critique of sola scriptura, "By Scripture Alone," and Blosser's rebuttal, "Sola Scriptura revisited: a reply to Steve Hays (in 95 antitheses)."