An Exchange on Peter, the Papacy and Succession

An Exchange on Peter,
the Papacy
and Succession

With a few comments thrown
in on Infallibility
By: Matt1618

Here is an exchange on the issue of the Papacy, where I have an exchange with a Protestant on Mt. 16:18-19. His comments, which are often responses to prior statements of mine, are italicized. Then I respond to each of his italicized comments.

In Matt.16:18-20 Jesus set forth the foundation of the church: "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church."Because of this supposed divinely ordained apostolic succession, the pope is considered to be the supreme and authoritative representative of Christ on earth. When a pope speaks ex cathedra he is said to speak with divine authority equal to that of God in scripture. Such an explanation, however, is presumptuous and unbiblical, because the rest of the New Testament makes abundantly clear that Christ alone is the foundation and only head of His church.

Actually, Paul confirms this and you even quote it yourself. The household of God has as its foundation the apostles and prophets in Eph. 2:20. If Peter is the head of the apostles, then the Catholic interpretation perfectly fits.

Peter is from Petros , a masculine form of the Greek word for small stone, whereas rock is from petra, a different form of the same word, referring to a rocky mountain or peak. Perhaps the most popular interpretation is therefore that Jesus was comparing Peter, a small stone, to the great mountainous rock on which He would build His church. The antecedent of Rock is taken to be Peter's divinely inspired confession of Jesus as "the Christ, the Son of the living God" (v.16,17).

That interpretation is faithful to the Greek text and has much to commend it, but it seems more likely that, in light of other New Testament passages, that was not Jesus's point. In his letter to Ephesus Paul says that God's household is "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone" (Eph.2:20).

I notice here, you admit that it is not the correct interpretation, but still try to give it). It is "If my other interpretation doesn't work, I have this one to fall back on." In an earlier exchange you had claimed that this was the correct interpretation (Peter as a small stone argument.) Now you move to something else. This is the 'anything but Peter defense.' Peter is a small stone argument is not faithful to the Greek text. Here is why:

Petros is simply the masculine form of the feminine Greek noun petra. Like Spanish and French, Greek nouns have gender. When the female noun petra, large rock, was used as Simon's name, it was rendered in the masculine form as petros. Otherwise, calling him Petra would have been like calling him Michelle instead of Michael.

Protestant Greek scholars like D.A. Carson and Joseph Thayer admit there is no distinction in meaning between petros and petra in the Koine Greek of the New Testament. [Joseph H. Thayer, Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996), 507; D.A. Carson, "Matthew," in Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor's Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), vol. 8, 368.] Petra does mean 'rock', usually a 'large rock.' That is exactly what petros means. The Greek word for 'pebble' or 'small stone' is lithos, not petros, used numerous times in the Bible (Mt. 4:6, 7:9, 21:42, by my quick count, 32 times in the New Testament).

David Hill, a Presbyterian minister at the University of Sheffield wrote,
It is on Peter himself, the confessor of his Messiahship, that Jesus will build the Church. Attempts to interpret the 'rock' as something other than Peter in person (e.g. his faith, Jesus, etc.) are due to Protestant bias, and introduce to the statement a degree of which is highly unlikely (David Hill, The Gospel of Matthew, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972), 261)

In fact, as of the time of the writing in Greek, petros was never used to mean small stone. Centuries before, it had that meaning, but at the time of the writing of the gospels, no Greek literature, even outside the Bible, used it to mean small stone. You can not even hold this argument in reserve. For more on this issue, please read this

Another very relevant fact is that Jesus spoke to the apostles in Aramaic. The language that he used when he actually spoke to Peter, is "You are Kepha, and upon this Kepha I will build my Church." We know this because it is mentioned in Jn 1:42, and the name Cephas, which is derived from this is confirmed elsewhere as well (Gal. 1:16-19). Intervarsity Press confirms this: Craig Keener, "In Aramaic, 'Peter' and 'rock' are the same word."(The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, Intervarsity Press, 1993, 90). If Jesus wanted to use the word stone in Aramaic, it would have been 'Evna'. It is unreasonable to suspect that Christians wouldn't be able to understand what Jesus meant in Aramaic, until it was written in Greek some 20 to 30 years later, by which time this lithos small stone meaning in petros, no longer now even existed!!

In all four gospel accounts Peter is clearly the leading apostle, and he remains so through Acts 10. He was most often the Twelve's spokesman during Jesus's earthly ministry (Matt. 15:15; 19:27; John 6:68) and he was the chief preacher, leader, and worker of miracles in the early years of the church (Acts1:15-22; 2:14-40; 3:4-6, 12-25; 5:3-10,15,29).

Good admission, except I would carry it through Acts 15.

It therefore seems that in the present passage Jesus addressed Peter as representative of the twelve. In light of that interpretation, the use of the two different forms of the Greek for rock would be explained by the masculine petros being used of Peter as an individual man and petra being used of him as the representative of the larger group.

As shown, to retain the meaning of rock, Peter had to be given the name petros. There is no mention anywhere in the text of him only 'representing' the apostles, as Jesus does not say that.
Let us take a look at the text. Each of the you's highlighted are singular yous, not plural yous.
17 Blessed are you Simon Barjona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father who is in heaven. 18 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. 19 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.'

Jesus says he is specifically talking to who in these verses? He is speaking directly to Peter. According to rules of grammar, the phrase 'this rock' must relate to the closest noun. That happens to be Peter, the you in the immediate four nouns before. Gramatically, it is impossible for your interpretation to be the main interpretation of this verse. If Jesus wanted to say that Peter was only representative of the apostles, he would have said, 'you' in the plural, as in Greek, they make distinctions in the use of singular you and plural you. Jesus only used the singular you in the context of both giving the keys and binding on earth and heaven. Jesus knows very well how to make the distinction between the apostles as a group, and the chief apostle, Peter.

It was not on the apostles themselves, much less on Peter as an individual, that Christ built His church, but on the apostles as His uniquely appointed , endowed and inspired teachers of the gospel. The early church did not give homage to the apostles as persons, or to their office or titles, but to their doctrine, "continually devoting themselves to the apostle's teaching"

Yes, the apostles were uniquely appointed and endowed and inspired teachers. Christians devoted themselves to the apostle's teaching; however there was leadership even among the apostles, as Jesus himself shows (Mt. 16:18-19, Lk 22:32, Jn 21:15-17), and is born out by the first part of Acts (Acts 1-15). Before and after this Acts 2 passage, Peter exercises authority, for example declaring, for people to get remission of sins, they needed repentance and baptism, for them and their children (Acts 2:38-39). The context of continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching, is Peter's teaching them revealed truth. Other apostles have authority to preach as well, but it is significant that from the foundation of the Church, Peter is the preeminent one teaching, even among the rest of the apostles.

Because they participated with the apostles in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ, the prophets of the early church were also part of the church's foundation. (Eph.2:20). That the Lord did not establish His church on the supremacy of Peter and his supposed papal successors was made clear a short while after Peter's great confession. When the disciples asked Jesus who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, He replied by placing a small child before them and saying, "Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt.18:1-4). Had the twelve understood Jesus's teaching about the rock and the keys of the kingdom as referring exclusively to Peter, they would hardly have asked who was greatest in the kingdom. Or, if they had forgotten or misunderstood Jesus's previous teaching, He would have answered by naming Peter as the greatest and probably would also have chided them for not remembering or believing what He had already taught (Matt.14:31; 26:24; John14:9).

Jesus does make this choice. In the midst of Peter boasting that he would stay faithful, Jesus shows something that specifically relates to Peter as the one who, after he falls, would be the one to confirm the brethren.

Luke 22:31-32 "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren."

The structure of Jesus' words are of paramount importance. Jesus notes that Satan wants to have all of the apostles. However, he prays only for Peter as the one who will strengthen the brethren. The backdrop for Jesus saying this (Luke 22:24-32) is very similar to the Matthew 18 background you gave. Jesus did clarify on the eve of his death, this need for unique leadership.

He prays for Peter as for the confirmer and support of the others; and what is this but to declare him head of the others? Truly one could not give Peter the command to confirm the Apostles without charging him to have care of them . . . Is this not to again call him foundation of the Church? If he supports, secures, strengthens the very foundation-stones, how shall he not confirm all the rest? Strengthen means to confirm, fix, establish, make stable, place firmly, and set fast. This in fact confirms that Christ made Peter the leader, the rock, and had invested him with the keys. The context is that the whole apostolic band would be strengthened by the one for whom the Lord prayed- Peter(see also Jn 21:15-17, which we will see later).

Jesus spoke of the authority of the church. "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven," He said; "and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." The Lord was still addressing Peter as the representative of the twelve, telling him that whatever you shall bind, that is, forbid, on earth shall be bound in heaven and that whatever you shall loose, that is, permit, on earth shall be loosed in heaven. He told Peter and the twelve, and by extension all other believers, that they had the authority to declare what is divinely forbidden or permitted on earth!

What you quote is actualy a proof for infallibility. You surely couldn't mean that all believers are infallible. The context of this statement is Peter's earlier confession of faith in Christ. Jesus had already affirmed specifically Peter's doctrine on the matter (v. 17). In the context of Peter being given this authority, he says that whatever you shall bind, that is, forbid, on earth shall be bound in heaven and that whatever you shall loose, that is, permit, on earth shall be loosed in heaven. It surely couldn't mean that every believer has that authority. Otherwise, with all the denominations, God would be binding himself to error. An invisible Church can not have such authority. He says that whatever Peter binds on earth is bound in heaven. Whatever Peter declares on earth is true in heaven. God binds himself to Peter's decree. Here in Mt. 16, he only speaks to Peter.

What about the significance of Peter being given not only the keys, but also the power of binding and loosing, in Matthew 16:18-19, and how does this relate to papal authority? As Robert Sungenis notes:

"The Greek phrasing in Mt. 16:19, 'whatever, you bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven, "offers decisive support for the doctrine of infallibility. The future shows that a binding occurs in heaven either prior to or simultaneous with the binding performed on earth... In addition, the Greek verb is in the passive voice which indicates that heaven is receiving the binding, not initiating it. How does all this prove infallibility? Simply by the fact that since God cannot lie, he cannot validate or dispense any decision in faith or morals that is in error. When the Church makes a binding or loosing decision it must be inerrant otherwise God would not be able to issue an effor-free binding or loosing in heaven."

True, this is given as a whole to the apostles in a collective sense in Mt. 18:18. That is why we also hold that Ecumenical Councils are infallible as well, though not individual bishops. It is simple, God can not bind in heaven falsehood. Otherwise God would be a liar. Thus, the truths that are bound by God's authority on earth, must be true. He gave this to a visible authority on earth. Heb. 6:17-18. "God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us:" God keeps his oaths and cannot lie. If his authority on earth teaches falsehood, that would bind God to falsehoods. So not only do we have a promise that the gates of hell (and error) shall not prevail against the Church (which implies infallibility), but in v. 19 an even stronger assertion. An invisible Church could in no way have such authority.

Shortly after His resurrection Jesus told the disciples "if you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained" (John 20:23). In giving instruction for church discipline to all His people, Jesus said that, if a sinning believer refuses to turn from his sin after being counseled privately and even after being rebuked by the entire congregation, the church is not only permitted but obligated to treat the unrepentant member "as a gentile and tax collector" (Matt18:15-17). He then said to the church as a whole what He had earlier said to Peter and the other apostles: "Truly I say to you, whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (v.18). In other words, a duly constituted body of believers has the right to tell an unrepentant brother that he is out of line with God's word and has no right to fellowship with God's people.

Actually, Jn 20:23 is about how the apostles have the authority to forgive or retain sins. This is a ministry given to them by Jesus. Yes, that is the basis for the sacrament of confession. But of course that is another issue. Yes, the Church as a whole, in the context of apostolic authority, has the authority to bind on earth what can be bound in heaven. However, it is not given to individual Christians. The context is of a visible church, and in this statement is given to the apostles as a whole. In union, the apostles were indeed able to bind on earth that which is in heaven.

Your interpretation ignores the fact that Jesus specifically gave keys to Peter, and no one else. What do the keys mean?

Focus on v. 19, which no one doubts is spoken only to Peter. No other apostle in the New Testament is given the keys, which show authority. In the context of authority, as the only key holder, whatever he binds on earth is bound in heaven. Jesus gives him authority. Jesus establishes an office. Next, look at important text that gives us more light, and is in fact what Jesus draws from: Isaiah 22:15-22. Isaiah says, 22:15-22:

15 Thus says the Lord GOD of hosts, 'Come, go to this steward, to Shebna, who is over the household, and say to him: 16 What have you to do here and whom have you here, that you have hewn here a tomb for yourself, you who hew a tomb on the height, and carve a habitation for yourself in the rock? 17 Behold, the LORD will hurl you away violently, O you strong man. He will seize firm hold on you,... 18 and whirl you round and round, and throw you like a ball into a wide land; there you shall die, and there shall be your splendid chariots, you shame of your master's house. 19 I will thrust you from your office, and you will be cast down from your station. 20 I will call my servant Eli'akim the son of Hilki'ah, 21 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. 22 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.

Notice God gives authority to Eliakim, over the household. He mentions that he is given the key, and whatever he binds on earth is bound in heaven (He shall shut, and none shall open), etc. He is called a FATHER. This text actually shows succession of an office, and the leader is a Father (This is written hundreds of years after the succession of David). There is a king, with a prime minister in the text of Isaiah. Just like Jesus is the king with the prime minister of Peter and his successor. The successor is a Father.

Father refers to authority, not an office. I am a father. I was not elected or appointed as a father, I got married and became one. I have the authority and responsibility of a father in my house, it is not an office.

It is not either authority or office, but both shows both authority and office. This office that succeeds has authority. It is obviously an office of succession. In the context of Isa. 22;15, it says that that Shebna is head over the household and Father. This is hundreds of years after the Davidic kingdom is installed. The office of King continues in Israel. At the same time, the office of Eliakim succeeds as well, as one over the household. This is the context of Jesus' statement, with people understanding that the language he is using, is drawn from a passage which shows succession with both an office and authority (head of household v. 15, who has the authority to bind and shut, who is a Father (vv. 20-22). Directly implied is succession of this office.

I wrote:
Honest Protestants admit that one can not get a full grasp of Mt. 16:18-19 without seeing the parallel text of Isaiah 22. What Eliakim shall shut, none shall open is directly related to Jesus' promise to Peter that whatever he binds on earth shall be bound in heaven, in context of this authority. For example, Oscar Cullmann, a Lutheran biblical scholar makes the connection between Isaiah 22:22 and Mt. 16:19.

The terms in the two texts are the same. There are many words and terms used in many parts of scripture that are the same. The Pharasees tried to trap Jesus. He said "Show me a coin. Whose inscription and likeness is on it?". In another verse Jesus points out a widow putting a coin in the collection box at the temple. The word "coin" is used both times, but they are different coins and used to point out different things that Jesus is trying to get across.

It is much more than just one mere word being used in different ways. The combination of keys, head of household authority of Shebna, opening and shutting, in Isa. 22 as compared to keys, authority, giving Peter a name of Rock, and binding and loosing in Mt. 16, is too close to just say, 'well, ignore the similarities'.

I commented that these Protestant commentators admitted that there was a huge tie-in between Jesus giving the keys to Peter as an authority:

'In Matthew 16:19 it is presupposed that Christ is the master of the house, who has the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, wit which to open to those who 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.' Oscar Cullman, Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr, trans. Floyd V. Filson, (Philadelphia : Westminster, p. 203.)

What does the Expositor Biblical Commentary (A very Protestant commentary) say about Isaiah 22? The word father suggests both his authority over the people of Jerusalem and also the provision he would make for them in virtue of his office. V. 22 is not intended figuratively but literally, for the steward would have the master key of the palace fastened to the shoulder of his tunic.' The official in charge of the royal buildings and supplies would certainly have considerable and probably increasing power.'

I have many commentaries and several of them disagree at one point or another. I will also assume that as the authors grow older and study the scripture more, that there are changes that they would like to have made in their earlier works. The point is, a commentary is just that: comments. Opinions held at the time the commentary was printed. There are no ministers that I know of who haven't changed their minds once in a while over the course of their ministry as they study the scriptures.

I will agree with you that commentators, even Catholic commentaries are not infallible. I just showed that these commentators, who have no affinity with the Catholic Church, saw a definite tie-in that shows that the authority given to Peter as uniquely given to him as the keyholder, which puts him in the same category in authority as the 'head of the household' of Isaiah 22. Note, btw that the Expositor Biblical Commentary mentioned the same thing I mentioned earlier: that Isaiah 22 shows both authority and office. The difference is that in the New Covenant, the promises are greater than that which was given in Isaiah 22. I am not aware of any of the above commentators, when they got older, saying 'oh well, these were youthful mistakes', and as I matured in growth, I understood that I was wrong here.'

John 21:15-17.
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." 16 A second time he said to him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep." 17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.

Notice the context of Jesus' commission to Peter. First, Peter's three-fold affirmation of Jesus, is explicitly to undo his three-fold denial of Christ earlier. This confirms that after Peter's fall (as predicted in Luke 22), he is in the position of confirming, strengthening the brethren, as we saw earlier. Notice, that in the midst of the apostles, Peter is given the responsibility of strengthening, confirming the rest of the apostles. Yes, in Acts 20:28, elders are given authority to feed the flock. However, that is in the context of elders having authority over the flock, lay people under them, as in a Minister over the laity in any type of Church, Protestant or Catholic. However, John 21, shows Peter is given this task in reference to the apostles. His authority is thus, to feed, strengthen, and rule, even the apostles.

One Greek word that shows Peter's authority over the apostles is the word used in John 21:16. Robert Sungenis notes the word used in John 21:16 (poimaine) in many cases translated as only 'tend', has a much further importance, and shows that it means ruling.

Sungenis writes "There is a change from 'feed' (Greek: boske to 'shepherd' (Greek: poimaine. Peter is told to 'feed' the lambs, but both shepherd (or tend) the sheep. Of the two, poimaine is the more technical and comprehensive of the two. It is used of 'ruiling' in other texts. (e.g. Matthew 2:6, Revelation 2:27, 12:5; 19:15), whereas boske (feed) refers only to feeding. In each one of these three word exchanges there is a movement from weaker to stronger. The weaker words, arnia, phileo, and boske are replaced by the stronger words, probatia, agape, and poimaine The progression from weaker to stronger helps to show, in a preliminary way, the parameters and requirements for the ministry that Peter will soon undertake. Under the divine assistance that he will eventually receive from the Holy Spirit, Peter will inaugurate his role over the clergy and laity that, in turn, will be followed by his, Scott Butler, inJesus, Peter, and the Keys, pp. 124-125.

Sungenis notes that this word that Jesus used in reference to Peter in John 21:16 in relation to his sheep is exactly the same word that is used of Jesus ruling the flock. For example, in Rev. 2:26-27 it says:
26 He who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, I will give him power over the nations, 27 and he shall rule them poimaine with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received power from my Father;

In this section Rev. 2:27 refers to Psalm 2:9 which denotes the rule of God and the context shows it is an austerere ruling. Jesus is the Son who rules in Psalm 2:9 (as cited in Heb. 1:5 and 5:5). This same word is applied to Peter, here in John 21:16.

It is also used in Mt. 2:6
6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule poimaine my people Israel.

Here it speaks of Jesus ruling his people Israel, the word poimaine, rule, the exact word which is used of Peter ruling the flock in John 21:16. Besides him are all the apostles that Peter is told to not only feed but poimaine (rule). Also, according to Sungenis, in the Septaguint, the word poimaine , denotes ruling, governing. The word specifically used in John 21 shows that Peter has the authority to rule over the other apostles. To deny that, is to say that in these other places that Jesus did not have authority to rule his people Israel, per Mt. 2:6 where the same word (as also reflected in Rev. 2:27). In fact, each time the word translated 'tend' in John 21:16 is used in other instances (9 times in the New Testament) it is used as an exclusive meaning of 'ruling' (Rev. 2:27; 12:5; 19:15) or a combination of both nourishing and ruling (Mt. 2:6, Lk 17:7; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2; Rev. 7:17). Yes, in other instances elders are told to shepherd the flock, but never over other apostles, while in John 21, this language is used of Peter's ruling, shepherding the other apostles.

Why would one think that when Jesus specifically gave Peter the keys, which meant authority to bind and loose, that he specifically used language, that specifically implies succession? The keys of the kingdom, represent authority to govern for the king. This statement in Isaiah 22 that Jesus specifically is drawing from, is several hundred years after the establishment of David as king. When Jesus makes the promise that the gates of hell shall not prevail (as in v. 18) and his promise for the church is forever, he specifically uses images of keys and binding and loosing, where succession of this office has taken place, without the failure of the office holder as shown in Is. 22:24. The new covenant is established on better promises. In any case, why would Jesus establish something, just to throw it away when the person died? Jesus made provisions and promises in these verses for the Church, Peter and successors.

�1998 An An Exchange on Peter, the Papacy and Matt1618... This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author.

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