About a year ago, we took a Sunday aside to look at Matthew 16 and the issue of the papacy. Here I (Matt) have reposted from my personal blog (original 9/25/15) the exegesis of Matthew 16 we looked at, plus expanded thoughts (including an examination of church history). Obviously, this post is rather lengthy, but I would encourage all to read it and use it as a resource. For the glory of God alone!
As the Pope makes his visit to America, I find it important to bring some clarity to the subject. One thing that is sadly missing is any theological significant discussions of the doctrine of the papacy itself.* Significant in the Roman Catholic system is the understanding that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ, the head of the true Church, who infallibly can define doctrine. They believe that the Pope has taken the “seat of Peter”, who they believe to be the Prince and Chief of the apostles, and that those who follow after him as the Bishop of Rome. This doctrine was first clearly articulated in the Vatican 1 Council. In this council the church infallibly interpreted Matthew 16:13-20 as well as John 21 to refer to Peter’s primacy. They also made the claim that this has been the teaching of the church since the beginning. Vatican 1 reads:
We teach and declare that, according to the gospel evidence, a primacy of jurisdiction over the whole Church of God was immediately and directly promised to the blessed apostle Peter and conferred on him by Christ the lord.
It was to Simon alone, to whom he had already said You shall be called Cephas , that the Lord, after his confession, You are the Christ, the son of the living God, spoke these words:
Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the underworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
And it was to Peter alone that Jesus, after his resurrection, confided the jurisdiction of Supreme Pastor and ruler of his whole fold, saying: Feed my lambs, feed my sheep.
To this absolutely manifest teaching of the Sacred Scriptures, as it has always been understood by the Catholic Church, are clearly opposed the distorted opinions of those who misrepresent the form of government which Christ the lord established in his Church and deny that Peter, in preference to the rest of the apostles, taken singly or collectively, was endowed by Christ with a true and proper primacy of jurisdiction…
And so, supported by the clear witness of Holy Scripture, and adhering to the manifest and explicit decrees both of our predecessors the Roman Pontiffs and of general councils, we promulgate anew the definition of the ecumenical Council of Florence, which must be believed by all faithful Christians, namely that the Apostolic See and the Roman Pontiff hold a world-wide primacy, and that the Roman Pontiff is the successor of blessed Peter, the prince of the apostles, true vicar of Christ, head of the whole Church and father and teacher of all Christian people.
That apostolic primacy which the Roman Pontiff possesses as successor of Peter, the prince of the apostles, includes also the supreme power of teaching. This Holy See has always maintained this, the constant custom of the Church demonstrates it, and the ecumenical councils, particularly those in which East and West met in the union of faith and charity, have declared it. -Vatican 1, Session 4, 1:1-4, 3:1 4:1 (https://www.ewtn.com/library/COUNCILS/V1.HTM)
The Roman doctrine of the papacy stands or falls on Matthew 16:13-20. We will examine this Roman Catholic dogma in three phases: first, looking at Matthew 16:13-20, second, looking at relevant New Testament passage, and third, looking at history before giving concluding thoughts.
Examining Matthew 16:13-20
This passage falls into a context that must be remembered. Matthew is about 55% of the way through writing his gospel as he turns to a chapter 16. As we look at the passage we can clearly see that chapter as a whole is meant to teach us about one clear thing: discipleship. Matthew 16:1-12 is about Jesus telling the disciples to avoid the teachings of the Pharisees, and by implication to place their trust on His Word. Disciples trust in Christ’s Word and not man’s word. The passage in question is next (16:13-20). Following passage Jesus reveals to them what must happen to Him when He goes to Jerusalem (which the disciples don’t understand). He then turns and gives the command for discipleship, to take up our cross and follow Him. This makes up the disciple’s command.
When looking at Matthew 16:13-20, we must also note that the other two gospels do not include all of the teaching here that Matthew does, so we will focus primarily on Matthew. The context remains virtually the same for Mark and Luke. Matthew 16:13-20 is about the disciple’s confession. Jesus beings teaching the disciples with a question, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13). The answer to this question seems to be the central point of the passage. Many answers are given, but Jesus wants to know what the disciples specifically believe about His identity (v. 14-15). Peter’s answer is the center point of the passage, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (v. 16). Obviously Peter had answered correctly, and Jesus highlights this by saying, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (v. 17). God has revealed to Him what so few had understood out of the crowds, He was the Christ. Luke 9 and Mark 8 stop their accounts here with Mark adding that Jesus charged them not to tell anyone about His identity. The disciple’s confession is the clear point the passage is trying to make. But what of verse 18 and 19?
Jesus turns to Peter and saying, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19). We must notice that Matthew finishes the passage the way Mark does, with the confession being at the center of the teaching- He changes them to tell anyone about His identity (18:20). Jesus tells Peter that He is the “Pertos” (rock) and then identifies a “petra” (rock) upon which He will build His church. Is Peter the petra? It is also important to note, briefly, that even if Peter himself was the rock, it still is a far cry from proving all that the Roman Catholic Church associates with this verse. It says nothing of His supremacy or authority, nor of successors, or of papal infallibility. Much is assumed even if the Roman Catholic Church is correct on this verse.
Strictly looking at Matthew 16 we see that Jesus begins his statement in the second person to Peter, but shifts it to 3rd person, this is most likely done because He is changing what He is referring too. Also, the use of the word, “this” seems to denote the same “this” in the context- the confession of Jesus as the Christ. The confession of Jesus as the Christ is the rock upon which the church will be built and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.
Why can the gates of Hell not overcome this? Because the truth of the identity of Christ and the person of Christ Himself are inseparable. His truth remains because He remains. Jesus often makes this clear connection between His Word and Himself being one and the same, such as in John 15:7 where Jesus says, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you,” To abide in Jesus is to have His Word abide in you. The rock upon which the church is built is Jesus Himself, specifically in His truth about Himself.
Then Jesus turns and tells Peter that He will give him the keys of the kingdom, to bind and to loose the kingdom. I admit, verse 19 is speaking only to Peter. Peter alone is given the keys in Matthew 16, but it doesn’t stay unique long. In Matthew 18:18, in a conversation about church discipline, this authority is extended to the entire church, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” The keys of the kingdom are certainly given to him in the confession itself (which is the central point of the passage). Peter (and the entire church) are given the responsibility of stewarding the gospel both in Word (preaching) and in deed (which is where discipline comes in. Peter uses these keys in several instances in the book of Acts, the preaching of Pentecost, and the discipline case of Acts 5 (this was Tertullian’s view of it, as we will see later).
Peter is not given specific authority that the rest of the church is not given. In fact, Paul enacts discipline (as does the church at Corinth) in 1 Corinthians 5. We have the responsibility to steward gospel living in line with a gospel confession. There is a point in which people reveal the validity of their confession, and the church is to act on that through discipline. This stewardship, both in our preaching of the Word and the responsibility given to local churches in church discipline are what it means for the church to be given the keys to the kingdom. We bind the gospel, and we binds souls in Heaven.
Often times, Roman Catholic apologists will quote Isaiah 22:20 and say that the “keys of the Kingdom” are in reference to the keys in this chapter. “And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.” There are two reasons this just simply can’t be the case. First, looking at the finer details of the text, Isaiah is referring to a single key, while Jesus is referring to plural keys. But, looking in the context of the passage, the Lord is speaking of Eliakim the son of Hilkiah (v. 20) not as a prophecy toward Peter’s day. Even if it were to foreshadow the future, Jesus is the one who rules the house of David, not Peter. This text simply cannot be applied here. Futhermore, Revelation 3:7 describes the church at Philadelpha holds the “key of David” (singular). If nothing else, one can claim that individual local churches hold the key.
It is clear from looking at Matthew 16:13-20 that the confession of Peter about Christ is the center of the passage. Christ and the confession, which are unbreakable, are the petra upon which the church is built, and the keys of the kingdom are the stewardship of this confession both in preaching and in discipline.
An Examination of the Rest of the New Testament
Does the rest of the Bible support the idea of the papacy or the idea that the rock if Jesus and His Word? The key to finding out the answer to this would be explore the use of the term “perta” in the New Testament. First, if we look into the gospels the term “petra” is only used in two other situations. First, in Matthew 27 the term “petra” is used for the rock that was rolled in front of Jesus tomb (Matt. 27:51, 60). But, the other case of this is much more significant. In Matthew 7 (or Luke 8) we see Jesus closing out His most famous sermon- the Sermon on the Mount. He has been closing out by teaching about false prophets and to avoid false religion. He then says these words, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24). Jesus is clear- those who build their life on Me and my Word build their lives upon the rock. Jesus seems to be teaching a similar idea to that of Matthew 16, notice both Him and His Word is in view. But the New Testament evidence doesn’t stop there.
It is also clear that the New Testament writers did not consider Peter to have papal primacy. Paul also uses the term “Petra” in reference to Jesus in two places as well. First in 1 Corinthians 10:4, Paul refers to Jesus as the Rock from which the Old Testament saints drank from in the wilderness. These people had built their life upon Christ and His Word. Also, in Romans 9:33 he calls Jesus the “petra of offense.” The Jews had rejected His Word, for them instead of being a rock of salvation, Jesus was a rock of offense. Paul seemed to believe Jesus was the rock and the foundation of His church. We also see this in Ephesians 2:20 where He ascribes the title of Cornerstone to Jesus (and not to Peter).
We find Peter right after the confession in Matthew 16:23 being called “Satan.” He did not understand that Jesus would need to die and resurrect (and in his defense, neither did most of the rest of the apostles). He even was the one to outright deny Him three times. Peter’s life is a testimony to the fact that God gives millionth chances. Further evidence of this comes from Galatians 2 where Paul confronts Peter in His sin- hypocrisy and racism. Paul condemned and confront Peter for false teaching- He was certainly not viewed as the churches infallible head. Notice also that in Galatians 2, Paul does not come to Peter alone to confirm His apostleship, but also to James and John.
Peter goes on to write a letter. In the book of 1 Peter, he writes to the exiles throughout Asia. He is encouraging them admits suffering and to continue in holiness in the face of it. He calls then in chapter 2 to build their life upon the rock- which is Jesus. 1 Peter 2:4 describes Him as a “living stone.” He goes on in verse 8 to call Jesus the “petra of offense”. The Word of God is in view here, “They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.” Peter is clear- Jesus and His Word are the rock we are to build our life upon, even in suffering. He goes on to write to his “fellow elders” to continue in their work, built upon Jesus. Peter seems to not see himself as supreme, but as an elder alongside many, standing on Jesus in a culture that wanted to destroy them.
Examining Church History.
Lastly, let’s look at a bit of church history. The claim of Vatican 1 was that this teaching has always been affirmed by the church, but is this the case? Even just a brief scan of the teachings of the early church show that Vatican 1 lied when it said that their interpretation of the text was the constant interpretation of the Church. Here are some quotes with the relevant parts highlighted.
What then says Christ? You are Simon, the son of Jonas; you shall be called Cephas. Thus since you have proclaimed my Father, I too name him that begot you; all but saying, As you are son of Jonas, even so am I of my Father. Else it were superfluous to say, You are Son of Jonas; but since he had said, Son of God, to point out that He is so Son of God, as the other son of Jonas, of the same substance with Him that begot Him, therefore He added this, And I say unto you, You are Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church; Matthew 16:18 that is, on the faith of his confession. Hereby He signifies that many were now on the point of believing, and raises his spirit, and makes him a shepherd. And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And if not against it, much more not against me. So be not troubled because you are shortly to hear that I shall be betrayed and crucified.
– John Chrysostom (349-407), “Homily on Matthew, 54” (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/200154.htm)
And if we too have said like Peter, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, not as if flesh and blood had revealed it unto us, but by light from the Father in heaven having shone in our heart, we become a Peter, and to us there might be said by the Word, You are Peter, etc. Matthew 16:18 For a rock is every disciple of Christ of whom those drank who drank of the spiritual rock which followed them, 1 Corinthians 10:4 and upon every such rock is built every word of the church, and the polity in accordance with it; for in each of the perfect, who have the combination of words and deeds and thoughts which fill up the blessedness, is the church built by God….
Are the keys of the kingdom of heaven given by the Lord to Peter only, and will no other of the blessed receive them? But if this promise, I will give unto you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, Matthew 16:19 be common to the others, how shall not all the things previously spoken of, and the things which are subjoined as having been addressed to Peter, be common to them? For in this place these words seem to be addressed as to Peter only, Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, Matthew 16:19 etc.; but in the Gospel of John the Saviour having given the Holy Spirit unto the disciples by breathing upon them said, Receive the Holy Spirit, John 20:22 etc. Many then will say to the Saviour, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God; but not all who say this will say it to Him, as not at all having learned it by the revelation of flesh and blood but by the Father in heaven Himself taking away the veil that lay upon their heart, in order that after this with unveiled face reflecting as a mirror the glory of the Lord2 Corinthians 3:18 they may speak through the Spirit of God saying concerning Him, Lord Jesus, and to Him, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.
– Origin (184-253), “Commentary on Matthew”, (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/101612.htm)
For the rock (Petra) is the original name. Therefore Peter is so called from the rock; not the rock from Peter; as Christ is not called Christ from the Christian, but the Christian from Christ. Therefore, he says, You are Peter; and upon this Rock which you have confessed, upon this Rock which you have acknowledged, saying, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, will I build My Church; that is upon Myself, the Son of the living God, will I build My Church. I will build you upon Myself, not Myself upon you. – Augustine (354-430), “Sermon 26 on the New Testament.” (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/160326.htm)
In (Peter) himself the Church was reared; that is, through (Peter) himself; (Peter) himself essayed the key; you see what (key): Men of Israel, let what I say sink into your ears: Jesus the Nazarene, a man destined by God for you, and so forth. (Peter) himself, therefore, was the first to unbar, in Christ’s baptism, the entrance to the heavenly kingdom, in which (kingdom) are loosed the sins that were beforetime bound; and those which have not been loose dare bound, in accordance with true salvation; and Ananias he bound with the bond of death, and the weak in his feet he absolved from his defect of health. – Tertullian (155-240), “On Modesty” Ch. 21 (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0407.htm)
Many more quotes could be added, and much more could be said, but I wish to sum up and conclude by calling all readers to build your life upon the rock of Christ. We have seen that though the Roman Catholic church would teach that Peter is the rock, the supreme head of the apostles, whose successors as the bishop of Rome are given supreme authority over the church. The church claims that this has always been the belief of the Church. As we have seen, this claim biblically and historically fails. Roman Catholicism wants you to build your life upon the words of their councils and their priests. They want to teach you that there is salvation found only through obedience to the ordinances of their church, to the constant taking of Sacraments. They will teach you that you must go through Mary, or priests to come to God. But ultimately, this teaching is sand. Christ says His Word is the petra with which we build our lives on (Matthew 7:24-27).
Christ Word says that the Bible is alone sufficiency to bring us to salvation and sustain us in godliness (2 Timothy 3:15-16, Psalm 119:9). Christ’s Word teaches that justification is not by works, but through faith alone in the finished work of Christ (Romans 4:5, Ephesians 2:8-9). Christ’s Word would teach that our salvation is not maintained by our works, but that we perfected and kept by the Spirit (Romans 8:30, Galatians 3:1-5). Christ’s Word would teach that He alone is the only mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). Christ Word would teach that peace and forgiveness are found by faith in Christ blood alone, apart from works.
My closing appeal to Roman Catholics is to leave behind the slavery of works to which you are living, and find freedom. Examine the Scriptures-be Bereans (Acts 17:11)! The Word of Christ is at stake, and if His Word, then Himself. Don’t be caught on the stormy day of Judgement Day without Christ as your foundation. He is our only salvation on the Day of Wrath. In the same breathe where Jesus said to build our life on His foundation we given a frightening warning, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:22-23). Don’t build your life upon the sand of your work. It is not about the amount of works you do, but about if you know Christ, and you are known by Him. Do you know Him? Are you sure? You can be. Turn from trusting in man and in self and turn to Christ, place your life faith upon His foundation and His promise in John 5 will be true of you. You can have assurance and pass from death to life today.
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. – John 5:24
*On a past Episode of the Dividing Line, James White dove into the history of the papacy:
Albert Mohler in his recent (Sept. 21-24 2015) episodes of “the Briefing” has also been bringing clarity to the issues: http://www.albertmohler.com/2015/09/21/the-briefing-09-21-15/