REBUTTAL ON "What Think Ye of Rome?" Part III
Part Four: The Catholic-Protestant Debate on Papal Infallibility
by Norman L. Geisler and Ralph E. MacKenzie
from the Christian Research Journal, Fall 1994, page 24. The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller.
The Protestant argument is in italics, the Catholic response in bold plain print.
Papal infallibility was formalized at the First Vatican Council, A.D. 1870. It is required belief for Roma7n Catholics but is rejected by evangelicals. On examination, the major biblical texts used to defend this dogma do not support the Catholic position. Further, there are serious theological and historical problems with the doctrine of papal infallibility. Infallibility stands as an irrevocable roadblock to any ecclesiastical union between Catholics and Protestants.
Itis true that this is an irrevocable roadblock to unity. For when it comes right down it, the issue is still authority. Who, or what, is the final authority. Obviously, if the Catholic Church is right in its understanding of Papal Infallibilty, then the non-Catholics affirmation of sola Scritura falls like a house of cards.
According to Roman Catholic dogma, the teaching magisterium of the church of Rome is infallible when officially defining faith and morals for believers. One manifestation of this doctrine is popularly known as "papal infallibility." It was pronounced a dogma in A.D. 1870 at the First Vatican Council. Since this is a major bone of contention between Catholics and Protestants, it calls for attention here.
THE DOCTRINE EXPLAINED
Roman Catholic authorities define infallibility as "immunity from error, i.e., protection against either passive or active deception. Persons or agencies are infallible to the extent that they can neither deceive nor be deceived."
Regarding the authority of the pope, Vatican I pronounced that
all the faithful of Christ must believe "that the Apostolic See and the Roman Pontiff hold primacy over the whole world, and that the Pontiff of Rome himself is the successor of the blessed Peter, the chief of the apostles, and is the true [vicar] of Christ and head of the whole Church and faith, and teacher of all Christians; and that to him was handed down in blessed Peter, by our Lord Jesus Christ, full power to feed, rule, and guide the universal Church, just as is also contained in the records of the ecumenical Councils and in the sacred canons."
Furthermore, the Council went on to speak of "The Infallible 'Magisterium' [teaching authority] of the Roman Pontiff," declaring that
when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when carrying out the duty of the pastor and teacher of all Christians in accord with his supreme apostolic authority he explains a doctrine of faith or morals to be held by the Universal Church, through the divine assistance promised him in blessed Peter, operates with that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer wished that His church be instructed in defining doctrine on faith and morals; and so such definitions of the Roman Pontiff from himself, but not from the consensus of the Church, are unalterable. [emphases added]
Then follows the traditional condemnation on any who reject papal infallibility: "But if anyone presumes to contradict this definition of Ours, which may God forbid: let him be anathema" [i.e., excommunicated].
Roman Catholic scholars have expounded significant qualifications on the doctrine. First, they acknowledge that the pope is not infallible in everything he teaches but only when he speaks ex cathedra, as the official interpreter of faith and morals. Avery Dulles, an authority on Catholic dogma, states for a pronouncement to be ex cathedra it must be:
in fulfillment of his office as supreme pastor and teacher of all
(2) in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, i.e., as successor of Peter;
(3) determining a doctrine of faith and morals, i.e., a doctrine expressing divine revelation;
(4) imposing a doctrine to be held definitively by all.
Dulles notes that "Vatican I firmly rejected one condition...as necessary for infallibility, namely, the consent of the whole church."
Second, the pope is not infallible when pronouncing on matters that do not pertain to "faith and morals." On these matters he may be as fallible as anyone else.
Third, although the pope is infallible, he is not absolutely so. As Dulles observes, "absolute infallibility (in all respects, without dependence on another) is proper to God....All other infallibility is derivative and limited in scope."
Fourth, infallibility entails irrevocability. A pope cannot, for example, declare previous infallible pronouncements of the church void.
Finally, in contrast to Vatican I, many (usually liberal or progressive) Catholic theologians believe that the pope is not infallible independent of the bishops but only as he speaks in one voice with and for them in collegiality. As Dulles noted, infallibility "is often attributed to the bishops as a group, to ecumenical councils, and to popes." Conservatives argue that Vatican I condemned this view.
far as it goes, this is a fair treatment of the definition of this
doctrine. I would like the reader to take note, however, of the
qualifications of an infallible declaration (as noted above):
(1) in fulfillment of his office as supreme pastor and teacher of all Christians;
(2) in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, i.e., as successor of Peter;
(3) determining a doctrine of faith and morals, i.e., a doctrine expressing divine revelation;
(4) imposing a doctrine to be held definitively by all.
All these requirements must be met for it to be "infallible."
A PROTESTANT RESPONSE
Not only Protestants but the rest of Christendom -- Anglicans and Eastern Orthodox included -- reject the doctrine of papal infallibility. Protestants accept the infallibility of Scripture but deny that any human being or institution is the infallible interpreter of Scripture. Harold O. J. Brown writes: "In every age there have been those who considered the claims of a single bishop to supreme authority to be a sure identification of the corruption of the church, and perhaps even the work of the Antichrist. Pope Gregory I (A.D. 590-604) indignantly reproached Patriarch John the Faster of Constantinople for calling himself the universal bishop; Gregory did so to defend the rights of all the bishops, himself included, and not because he wanted the title for himself."
Pope Gregory's infamous quote was intended to put in line someone who stepped out of line. A bishop who claimed for himself the title that was not due him recieved the rebuke he deserved. Note that it was the pope who put this bishop back in line. Pope John Paul II would reproach any bishop today who would dare make the same claim that John the Faster did. This would in no way affect the pope's standing in the Church, or his place as the visible head.
As far as the quote from O. J. Brown, it is merely a man's opinion. The fact of the matter is, when there isn't a visible head to lead the faithful, corruption most certainly will follow. Each man believing that he has the correct interpretation regardless of what anyone previously held (Since this is the case in the Protestant church we can see some of the 'fruits: "Health and Welfare Gospel," :"Lordship Controversy," "Toronto Blessing," "Dispensationalism," etc., etc.).
There are several texts Catholics use to defend the infallibility of the bishop of Rome. We will focus here on the three most important of these.
Matthew 16:18ff. Roman Catholics use the statement of Jesus to Peter in Matthew 16:18ff. that "upon this rock I will build my church..." to support papal infallibility. They argue that the truth of the church could only be secure if the one on whom it rested (Peter) were infallible. Properly understood, however, there are several reasons this passage falls far short of support for the dogma of papal infallibility.
First, many Protestants insist that Christ was not referring to Peter when he spoke of "this rock" being the foundation of the church. They note that: (1) Whenever Peter is referred to in this passage it is in the second person ("you"), but "this rock" is in the third person. (2) "Peter" (petros) is a masculine singular term and "rock" (petra) is feminine singular. Hence, they do not have the same referent. And even if Jesus did speak these words in Aramaic (which does not distinguish genders), the inspired Greek original does make such distinctions. (3) What is more, the same authority Jesus gave to Peter (Matt. 16:18) is given later to all the apostles (Matt. 18:18). (4) Great authorities, some Catholic, can be cited in agreement with this interpretation, including John Chrysostom and St. Augustine. The latter wrote: "On this rock, therefore, He said, which thou hast confessed. I will build my Church. For the Rock (petra) is Christ; and on this foundation was Peter himself built."
The fact that "many Protestants insist that Christ was not referring to Peter" in this passage carries little weight, seeing that Protestant's weren't around for the first 1500 years of Christendom. There are also "many Protestant's" who agree with the Catholic interpretation of this passage. "The meaning is, 'you are Peter, that is Rock, and upon this rock, that is, upon you Peter, I will build my church.' Our Lord, speaking Aramaic, probably said, 'And I say to you, you are Kepha, and on this kepha I will buiold my church.' Jesus is then promising Peter that He is going to build His church on him. I accept this view." (William Hendrickson, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel of Matthew)
This "second person/third person" argument is as weak as the sandy foundation Christ told us not to build on Matt 7. To quote Robert Sungenis: "If this argument were true, then you would also have to argue that 'I' and 'church' in Jesus' statement, 'I will build my church' could not be linked with one another since the former is in the first person and the latter would be in the third person. One can plainly see that this would be a fallacious line of argumentation." (Jesus, Peter, and the Keys, p 25)
Point 2 above uses the ol' "Petra/Petros argument. Donald A. Carson, a Protestant himself says: "The word Peter petros, meaning 'rock' is masculine, and in Jesus' follow-up statement he uses the feminine word petra. On the basis of this change, many have attempted to avoid identifying Peter as the rock on which Jesus builds His church yet if it were not for Protestant reactions against extremes of Roman Catholic interpretations, it is doubtful whether many would have taken 'rock' to be anything or anyone other than Peter." (see Zondervan Bible Commentary-New Testament, Matthew, quoted in Jesus, Peter, and the Keys, p 18)
In point 3, we are told that because all the Apostle's were given the power to bind and loose in Matt 18:18, then they all had the same authority. Our question is this, "Why did Jesus single out Peter here?" And "Why is it only to Peter that the keys to the kingdom of heaven are given?" And "Why does it follow that because all the Apostle's can bind and loose, Peter's authority is hereby negated?" After all, Scripture clearly teaches that Christ Jesus is the foundation (1 Cor 3:11), yet Scripture just as clearly states that the Apostle's are also foundations (Eph 2:20). Can both be true? Of course they can. Once we understand that the Apostle's are only called 'foundations' because they are IN the one true foundation, Christ Jesus, these two passages can then be reconciled. Similarly, Christ is the teacher (Matt 23:8), yet 'teacher' is an office within the church (Eph 4:11). So in the same way Christ is our one true teacher, yet there can be other teachers, in Christ, so too, all bishops together have the authority to bind and loose, but Peter has it singularly, he has the keys.
On the last point, I hesitatingly call into question the veracity of the authors. They quote Augustine, as though he backs their cause. Yet, anyone who reads Augustine will find other quotes too. Such as "If the order of bishops succeeding to each other is to be considered, how much more securely, and really beneficially, do we reckon from Peter himself, to whom, bearing a figure of the Church, the Lord says, 'Upon this rock I will build my Church."
Second, even if Peter is the rock referred to by Christ, as even some non-Catholic scholars believe, he was not the only rock in the foundation of the church. Jesus gave all the apostles the same power ("keys") to "bind" and "loose" that he gave to Peter (cf. Matt. 18:18). These were common rabbinic phrases used of "forbidding" and "allowing." These "keys" were not some mysterious power given to Peter alone but the power granted by Christ to His church by which, when they proclaim the Gospel, they can proclaim God's forgiveness of sin to all who believe. As John Calvin noted, "Since heaven is opened to us by the doctrine of the gospel, the word 'keys' affords an appropriate metaphor. Now men are bound and loosed in no other way than when faith reconciles some to God, while their own unbelief constrains others the more."
these authors show us the verse that says the "keys" were
given to all the Apostle's? I think not. Peter is the
exclusive 'keyholder.' As Martin Luther is quoted as saying
"“So we stand here and with open mouth stare heavenward
and invent still other keys. Yet Christ says very clearly in
Matt 16:19 that he will give the keys to Peter. He does not say
he has two kinds of keys, but he gives to Peter the keys he himself
has and no others. It is as if he were saying: why are you
staring heavenward in search of the keys? Do you not understand
I gave them to Peter? they are indeed the keys of heaven, but
they are not found in heaven. I left them on earth. Don’t
look for them in heaven or anywhere else except in Peter’s
mouth where I have placed them. Peter’s mouth is my
mouth, and his tongue is my key case. his office is my office,
his binding and loosing are my binding and loosing” (Martin
Luther, The Keys, in Conrad Bergendoff, ed. trans. Earl Beyer and
Conrad Bergendoff, Luthers Works, vol 40, Philadelphia: Fortress,
1958, p 365-366)
Now to say "Now men are bound and loosed in no other way than when faith reconciles some to God, while their own unbelief constrains others the more." is a great example of one reading their own biases into Scripture. Look closely at the verse. It says whatever YOU bind . . . whatever YOU loose . . ." There is not even a hint here that would suggest that the binding and loosing was dependent on the preaching and the then acceptance of that preaching.
Further, Scripture affirms that the church is "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone" (Eph. 2:20). Two things are clear from this: first, all the apostles, not just Peter, are the foundation of the church; second, the only one who was given a place of uniqueness or prominence was Christ, the capstone.
one argues that all the Apostle's are the foundation, as I have
previously pointed out. And if this was the only passage that
dealt with church leadership in the Bible, then the authors may well
have a valid point. But we know there are many more passages
dealing with the church, some of which will be touched on this
article. But to take this one verse and absolutize to the
exclusion of all others that are relevant to it is improper.
Let us listen to the words of St. Francis De Sales: "In a word, let us interpret St. Paul passage by passage: do you not think he makes his meaning clear enough when he says: "you are built upon the foundations of the Prophets and Apostles? But that you may know these foundations to be no other than that which he preached, he adds: "Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone." Our Lord then is the foundation and St. Peter also, but with so notable a difference that in respect to the one the other may be said to not be it. For our Lord is foundation and founder, foundation without other foundation, foundation of the natural, Mosaic, and Evangelical Church, foundation perpetual and immortal, foundation of the militant and triumphant, foundation by his own nature, foundation of our faith, hope and charity, and of the efficacy of the Sacraments. St. Peter is foundation, not founder, of the whole Church; foundation but founded on another foundation, which is our Lord; foundation of the Evangelical Church alone, foundation subject to succession, foundation of the militant not of the triumphant, foundation by participation, ministerial not absolute foundation; in fine, administrator and not lord, and in no way the foundation of our faith, hope, and charity, nor of the efficacy of the Sacraments. A difference so great as this makes the one unable, in comparison, to be called a foundation by the side of the other, while, however, taken by itself it can be called a foundation, in order to pay proper regard to the Holy Word. So, although he is the Good Shepherd, he gives us shepherds under Himself (see Eph 4:2),between whom and His Majesty there is so great a difference that he declares himself to be the only shepherd (John 10:2). (The Catholic Controversy, pp 246-7)
Indeed, Peter himself referred to Christ as "the cornerstone" of the church (1 Pet. 2:7) and the rest of believers as "living stones" (v. 4) in the superstructure of the church. There is no indication that Peter was given a special place of prominence in the foundation of the church above the rest of the apostles and below Christ. He is one "stone" along with the other eleven apostles (Eph. 2:20).
the authors deriving their lack of evidence from this one verse, or
are we not to look at Scripture as a whole? Let's see, to which
of the Apostle's did our Lord say:.
A.)... "PUT OUT INTO DEEP WATER, AND LET YOUR NETS DOWN FOR A CATCH" (LUKE 5:3)
B.) ..."DON'T BE AFRAID, FROM NOW ON YOU WILL CATCH MEN" (LUKE 5:10)
C.) ..."TAKE IT (A COIN) AND GIVE IT TO THEM FOR MY TAX AND YOURS" (MATT 17:27)
D.) ..."AND I TELL YOU, YOU ARE ROCK, AND ON THIS ROCK I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH"(MATT 16:18)
E.) ..."I GIVE TO THEE THE KEYS OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN" (MATT 16:19)
F.)... "BUT I HAVE PRAYED FOR YOU SIMON, THAT YOUR FAITH MAY NOT FAIL."(LUKE 22:32)
G.) ..."STRENGTHEN YOUR BROTHERS" (LUKE 22:32)
H.)... "FEED MY SHEEP" (JOHN 21:15-17)
to which of the Apostle's is. . .
A.) ...ALWAYS FIRST IN ALL THE LISTS OF THE APOSTLES?(MATT 10:2;MARK 3:16; LUKE 6:14; ACTS 1:13)
B.) ...ALWAYS FIRST WHENEVER MENTIONED WITH ANYONE ELSE? (MATT 17:1; MATT 26:37; MARK 5:37; MARK 9:2; MARK 14:33; LUKE 8:51; LUKE 7:28)
C.) ...ALONE GIVEN A NEW NAME (JOHN 1:42; MATT 16:18)
D.) ...THE FIRST TO ENTER THE EMPTY TOMB (LUKE 24:12; JOHN 20:6)
E.) ...GIVEN SPECIAL MENTION APART FROM THE OTHER APOSTLES? (MARK 16:7)
F.) ...GIVEN THE MOST MENTION IN THE GOSPELS AND ACTS? (PETER = 191 TIMES; JOHN = 48)
G.) ...THE ONE WHO WALKED ON THE WATER, A PREROGATIVE OF GOD (MATT 14:22ff)
the resurrection, which Apostle . . .
A.) ...PREACHES THE FIRST SERMON? (ACTS 2:14-26)
B.) ...TAKES THE LEAD IN CALLING FOR A REPLACEMENT FOR JUDAS? (ACTS 1:22)
C.) ...WORKS THE FIRST MIRACLE OF THE CHURCH AGE? (ACTS 3:6-12)
D.) ...UTTERS THE FIRST 'ANATHEMA'? (ACTS 5:2-11)
E.) ... SHADOW WORKS MIRACLES? (ACTS 5:15)
F.) ... IS THE FIRST (AFTER CHRIST), TO RAISE A DEAD PERSON? (ACTS 9:40)
G.) ...IS THE FIRST TO ACCEPT THE GENTILES?(ACTS 10:9-48)
H.) ...SETTLES THE DISPUTE AT THE COUNCIL OF JERUSALEM? (ACTS 15:7-11)
This is in no way an exhaustive list, but it is a pretty impressive list of credentials, no?
Third, Peter's role in the New Testament falls far short of the Catholic claim that he was given unique authority among the apostles for numerous reasons.
I've just laid a solid foundation that tells us otherwise.
(1) While Peter did preach the initial sermon on the day of Pentecost, his role in the rest of Acts is scarcely that of the chief apostle but at best one of the "most eminent apostles" (plural, 2 Cor. 21:11, NKJV).
Again, see above! Indeed, after Paul's conversion, Paul is the star of the show in Acts, but that would seem to be because Luke (the author of Acts) was Paul's traveling companion, not Peter's
(2) No one reading Galatians carefully can come away with the impression that any apostle, including Peter, is superior to the apostle Paul. For he claimed to get his revelation independent of the other apostles (Gal. 1:12; 2:2) and to be on the same level as Peter (2:8), and he even used his revelation to rebuke Peter (2:11-14).
understand Catholic theology, all bishops ARE equal in status and
authority. Only when the bishop of Rome, note 'bishop', speaks
and acts in his capacity as shepherd of the flock (John 21:15-17) is
he superior. In Church history, a layperson, and a woman no
less (St. Catherine), rebuked the pope. But she never for one
minute thought she was his equal or (gasp) superior. She simply
recognized him doing something wrong and corrected him. It had
nothing to do with his teaching status, but his behavior. The
pope acquiesked to her correction and continued on in his role as
pope. Similarly here, Peter was not teaching or instructing,
but was not acting proper to his teaching. Did not Jesus
command his hearers in Matt 23:2-3 ""The scribes and the
Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they
tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not
practice." What they taught still had to be obeyed
regardless of their behavior.
(3) Indeed, if Peter was the God-ordained superior apostle, it is strange that more attention is given to the ministry of the apostle Paul than to that of Peter in the Book of Acts. Peter is the central figure among many in chapters 1-12, but Paul is the dominant focus of chapters 13-28.
I've already addressed this issue. The simple truth is Luke was the author of Acts, and was Paul's travelling companion. It would only make sense that he would write about the man he was with, rather than another personnage.
(4) Furthermore, though Peter addressed the first council (in Acts 15), he exercised no primacy over the other apostles. Significantly, the decision came from "the apostles and presbyters, in agreement with the whole church" (15:22; cf. v. 23). Many scholars believe that James, not Peter, exercised leadership over the council, since he brought the final words and spoke decisively concerning what action should be taken (vv. 13-21).
afraid this is wishful thinking on the authors part. Read Acts
15 again. Ask yourself, "when did the meeting quiet down,
that is, no more debates?" Answer: Only AFTER Peter
spoke. Protestant professor, the late F.F. Bruce comments:
"During the silence which followed Peter's appeal, Barnabus and
Paul (who are named naturally in this order in a Jerusalem setting)
added further evidence which could only support Peter's argument.
But Barnabas and Paul spoke as witnesses, not ants or as participants
in the debate, and in Jerusalem their words could carry nothing like
the weight that Peter's did." (F.F. Bruce, The Book of Acts,
Eerdmans, p 291, quoted in Jesus, Peter, and the Keys, p 93)
Then James speaks up. "in an effort to make James, as opposed to Peter, stand out as the primary decision maker at the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, some Protestant apologists have seized on the statement given by James in verse 14, 'men and brethren, hear me.' The inference is made that because the words 'hear me' are in the Greek imperative mood (the mood used to issue commands), that James is issuing an ecclesiastical dictate to the rest of the assembly which denotes the supreme authority he held as bishop of Jerusalem, even over Peter who was also present. The net effect of elevating James' command is to make it appear that Peter, who also spoke at the assembly, had no fundamental authority at this point and that James was the undisputed and final decision maker. Such conclusions are totally without warrant."
"The Greek word translated 'hear me' in Acts 15:14 is akouoo which is used hundreds of times in the New Testament. For example, the same word is used in two verses prior in Acts 15:12 in the Greek indicative mood and translated as 'and heard (akouoo) Barnabas and Paul.' it is a word that, in itself, does not connotate authority. Placing akouoo in the Greek imperative mood in Acts 15:14 can simply be understood as a request for those gathered to give thier undivided attention to what will subsequently be spoken. The use of the imperative mood can be made strong or weak depending upon the context in which it is placed, but the use of the imperative does not necessarily denote any official authority for the one using the mood. The imperative mood ofakouoo can be used for ANY desire of one person seeking the attention of another. It can be used, for example, in a simple request such as, 'listen, did you hear that noise?' or it can be used in a stronger context such as 'Listen, do not do that again.' It can even be used of a subordinate who issues a request to a superior such as 'Listen, sir, to how I will do your bidding." (Robert A. Sungenis, quoted in Jesus, Peter, and the Keys, p 97
And what does James say first? "Men and brethren, hearken unto me: Simon has declared (exegesato). . ." "The word exegesato also occurs in John 1:18 where the Son declares the Father. The use of the same word could be significant. it could mean: as jesus declares the Father to the world, Peter declares Jesus (and therfore also the Father) to the world." (Jesus, peter, and the Keys, p 97) Remember, whatever you bind on earth. . . . ? After Pope St. Leo's letter was read at the Council of Chalcedon, "the eastern and Western bishops cried out: 'this is the faith of the fathers, this is the faith of the Apostle's. So we all believe. Thus the orthodox believe. Anathema to him who does not thus believe. Peter has spoken thus through Leo. So taught the Apostle's.'" (Phillip Schaff and Henry Wace, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol 14 - The Seven Ecumenical Councils, 2nd series, p 259)
(5) In any event, by Peter's own admission he was not the pastor of the church but only a "fellow presbyter [elder]" (1 Pet. 5:1-2, emphasis added). And while he did claim to be "an apostle" (1 Pet. 1:1) he nowhere claimed to be "the apostle" or the chief of apostles. He certainly was a leading apostle, but even then he was only one of the "pillars" (plural) of the church along with James and John, not the pillar (see Gal. 2:9).
need to remember that the pope, first and foremost, is a priest.
This is how Pope John Paul II can address the priest around the world
with, "My brother priests." The pope is a priest, so
this argument is really to no avail. Peter didn't have to claim
to be the "chief Apostle" because Christ did it for him (as
we are explaining in this rebuttal). Besides, in the small
Christian community at that time every one knew who Peter was.
For him to come out and state that "I'm the pope" when
everyone already knew it would be quite arrogant. It
would be similar to inviting the Queen of England to your home and
then sit and listen to her tell you she is queen of England.
And by the way, where is that passage where Peter claims "he was not the pastor of the church?"
We also need to look at other Apostle's, and how they addressed themselves:
James " James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ." This doesn't say he was an Apostle, only a servant.
Jude " Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James." Ditto for Jude. To take this one passage and absolutize it to mean Peter wasn't first Apostle is ludicrous.