Peter and the Papacy
Let’s begin with a religious trivia question: “What is the one teaching that is believed by Catholics’, but by no other religious denomination?”
The answer of course, is the papacy. Catholics believe that Jesus Christ instituted this office while on earth, to guide all the faithful to heaven. Personally, I believe that the office of Papacy is one of the greatest treasures we have as Catholics. We have God’s promise that the Church he built will never teach error; will never lead the flock astray. That is powerful stuff. To know that all you need to do is listen to what the church teaches as truth, and abide by it is truly a remarkable gift. No, you needn’t go out and buy Greek lexicons, and Hebrew lexicons, and 5 different translations of the Sacred Scriptures to know what God expects of you. The Catholic believes that the Holy Spirit guides the Church, and the pope is protected from error when teaching the flock in matters of faith and morals. So what is the Biblical basis for this doctrine.
If you have a Bible, let’s open to the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation. We read Jesus saying: “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one; I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” Rev 1:18. Jesus has the “keys”. Whenever we read the Holy Bible, we have to remember in what time and to whom it was written. We cannot put our 21st century lifestyle into interpreting it. Now in Jewish theology the keys are symbolic of the ultimate authority. We discover this by going back into the Old Testament, back to the prophet Isaiah. We read in Isaiah 22;** “In that day I will call my servant Eli'akim the son of Hilki'ah, and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your girdle on him, and will commit your authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. 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. And I will fasten him like a peg in a sure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his father's house. And they will hang on him the whole weight of his father's house, the offspring and issue, every mall vessel, from the cups to all the flagons.” Isaiah 22:20-24.
There is so much in this passage we can talk about. Notice how Eliakim will be a “father” to his people. That is a Biblical Truth that many of our separated brothers and sisters have a problem with. I’ll discuss that in the Q&A part. Notice too, how Eliakim has all this authority, and he isn’t even the king!!! He has the position of what we might call ‘prime minister’, or ‘secretary of state’.
But what we want to key on for our purposes tonight is that Eliakim will receive these ‘keys’ (these to the kingdom of David). What can he do with these keys? “He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.” The Jews, remember we have to interpret the Scriptures the way the 1st century Jew would, understood this to mean ultimate authority. And it is the one who holds the “keys” that has that authority.
This phrase “he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open” is rendered “he shall bind and loose,” they are two ways of saying the same thing. As Catholic scholar Francis Ripley notes: “We know of a Rabbi called Nechonya who lived about the year 70 AD. He always put the following prayer before his lessons: ‘May it please thee, O Yahweh, my God and God of my fathers, that we may not declare impure what is pure what is pure and pure what is impure; that we may not bind what is loosed nor loosed what is bound.” (The Pope, The Vicar of Christ, CTS).
According to Jewish historian Josephus; “The power of binding and loosing was always claimed by the Pharisees. Under Queen Alexandra the Pharisees became the administrators of all so as to be empowered to banish and readmit whom they pleased as well as to loose and bind.”
We even see this understanding in the New Testament: “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in.” (Matt 23:13) Here Jesus rebukes the religious leaders of His day for misusing this authority of “binding and loosing,” thus they did not allow others to enter (they ‘shut the door’). In the first verses of this chapter we read “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.” (Matt 23:3) In other words, what they taught, had to be obeyed, it was their practice of their teaching that was at fault.
Now, you are probably sitting there thinking “that’s all well and good, but what has that got to do with us, we are not Jews, but Catholics.” Well, I told you that story to tell you this one. So let us turn to the New Testament. The Gospel of Matthew to be precise.
Chapter 16:16-19. ** Another point to remember, every phrase of Scripture is there for a reason. The more you study Scripture, the more you find that to be true. So let’s set up this discourse. We see that Matt tells us “when they came to the area of Ceasarea Phillipi. . . Why is that important? At Ceasarea Phillipi there is a huge mass of rock, akin to the “Rock of Gibraltar.” That was the background for this teaching. So as we read this, picture this huge rock mass in the background. Now follow along with me: “He (Jesus) said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "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 powers of death 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." (Matt 16:15-19)
So here, in the New Testament, we see Jesus handing these “keys”, these to the kingdom of heaven, over to one of His Apostle’s, Peter. Now notice the similarity between this passage and the one from Isaiah of the OT. Where Eliakim has the key placed on his shoulder, Jesus hands the keys to Peter; Where “he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open,” Peter is told that “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
This similarity is noticed even by Protestant commentators. Oscar Cullman, ** in his work Peter, Disciple, Apostle, Martyr (1953) writes “In Matthew 16:19 it is presupposed that Christ is the master of the house, who has the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, with which to open to those who wish to come in. Just as in Isaiah 22:22 the Lord lays the keys of the house of David on the shoulders of his servant Eliakim, so Jesus commits to Peter the keys of His house, the Kingdom of Heaven, and thereby installs him as administrator of the house.”
The Anchor Bible commentary, A Protestant work says this: “By conferring the power to bind and loose upon church leadership, Jesus authorizes it to interpret the Scriptures and establish norms for Christian behaviour (vol 1).” R.T. France, another Protestant scholar says; “these terms (binding and loosing) thus refer to a teaching function, and more specifically one of making halakhic pronouncements (i.e. relative to laws not written down in Jewish Scriptures but based on an oral interpretation of them) which are binding on the people of God. In that case, Peter’s ‘power of the keys’ declared in (Matt) 16:19 is not so much that of a doorkeeper, who decides who may or may not be admitted, but that of the steward whose keys of office enable him to regulate the affairs of the household.” (Matthew: Evangelist and Teacher, 1989. 247) (Isn’t that the office of the pope defined? And this from a Protestant!)
So that’s three Protestant sources (and I could name more) that agree with the Catholic understanding of this key passage. Peter, thus has received this office from Jesus Himself. Jesus is the guaranteer that whatever Peter declares allowed, will be allowed in heaven, and whatever he declares forbidden, is likewise forbidden in heaven. Thus Peter, and his successors in turn, have the authority to proclaim to all Christians what is true, and what is false. We will now turn back to the Scriptures to look at two more keyt passages that develop this doctrine a little more clearly. Turn to Luke 22:31-32 to see how Jesus puts it. Now to John 21:15-17.
** Speaking of “binding and loosing, R.T. France, in another place says; “’Shall be bound & shall be looosed’ (as stated in Matt 16:16-19) are literally future perfects (i.e. shall have been bound, shall have been loosed), and as future perfect sounds as stilted in Greek as in English, the tense is apparently deliberate. In that case, it is not heaven that will ratify Peter’s independent decisions, but that Peter will pass on decisions that have already been made in heaven.” (The Gospel according to Matthew, an introduction and commentary).
So there you have it folks, our basis for our belief in the papacy and the authority that goes with it. I don’t have time to get into all the arguments right now. That’s all well and good, you may say, but “what does this mean to me, the layperson in the pew?”
How many moms have we here tonight? How much time do you have to do a Scriptural exegesis on the doctrine of the Trinity? Or you, on the two natures of Christ, or you, on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist? Not much time right? Well, the marvelous truth of it is, you don’t have to. Christ has done it for you in the form of his Church. By delegating his keys and His authority to bind and loose, you can rest easy that when the Church speaks it is speaking in the name of Christ. Let us turn to see this in Luke 10:16.
So you needn’t go out and buy 5 different Bible translations, Greek and Hebrew lexicons, and the writings of the early Fathers. These things are good things, and if you have the time, wonderful to do. But Christ has given you His assurance, His guarantee that whatever the Church binds on earth is bound in heaven, and whatever His church looses on earth will be loosed in heaven.
To sum it all up in a nutshell, “if Jesus Christ says he will delegate to Peter, as rock, the keys of the kingdom of heaven in order to build Christ’s Church against which the gates of hell will not prevail, what would Christ be if He did not keep His word”(Jesus, Peter, and the Keys p 78)? Think about it!
So take courage folks, and trust what the Church proclaims as true, and know that it is Christ Himself who is speaking to you through his mouthpiece, His Church.
**One final quote from a Protestant authority, you might recognize the name, Martin Luther, 5 years after the Reformation: “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)