Monday, August 27, 2007

The Authority of Peter in Mt 16

The primary passage in support of the authority of Peter (and of subsequent popes) is Mat 16:18-19. Here is the passage, in context:

Mt 16:13-20 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesare'a Philip'pi, he asked his disciples, "Who do men say that the Son of man is?" 14 And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Eli'jah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." 15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" 16 Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 17 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. 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." 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Much can be said about this passage, but for now I want to restrict myself to two points: Peter as the rock of the Church and the authority of the Keys.

When Jesus calls Peter "Rock" (vs. 18 ) he is actually fulfilling what He said would happen to Simon when He first met him (cf. John 1:42). And so it is that Simon will now be called Peter. Note here that name-changes are not w/o import in the Bible. As it was when Abram's name was changed to Abraham (Gen 17:5) and when Jacob's name was changed to Israel (Gen 32:28), the changing of Simon's name to Peter indicates a change in mission and purpose.

But how should we understand the role of Simon now that he is "Rock"? Jesus answers this question for us:

Mt 16:18 And I tell you, you are Peter [Rock], and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.

Jesus changed Simon's name to Rock b/c Simon would now be the rock upon which the Lord will build his church.

Now, it is widely debated what we should make of the different Greek words used in this verse for Simon's new name (petros) and the rock of the church (petra). However, we have scholars from many different Christian traditions who all assert that:
  • the two Greek words did not differ in meaning by the time they were used here,
  • different Greek words were used so that Simon could be given a masculine name, instead of a feminine one (which would have been improper), and
  • since Jesus and the apostles spoke Aramaic and since there's a strong indication that Matthew's Gospel was originally written in Aramaic, the same word kepa was used both for Simon's new name and for the rock of the Church.
After the name change, we notice something else truly spectacular: Jesus grants to Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

Mt 16:19 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

Now, what does this mean? Well, first note that "keys" are a symbol of teaching authority (cf. Lk 11:52). So, we see in them the authority to "unlock" the Truth and to bind men to it. We also recall the structure of Davidic kingdoms. In these kingdoms, the king appointed a cabinet of ministers for specific tasks in the kingdom (cf. 1 Ki 4:1-6; 2 Ki 18:37). Among these was a prime minister who was second in authority only to the king (Gen 41:39-43; Esther 3:1-2). In Isaiah we see that the transfer of this authority from one prime minister to another is symbolized by the handing on of "the key of the house" [emphasis mine]:

Isa 22:15-22 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 In that day 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.

As the "Son of David" instituting a kingdom, it makes perfect sense that Jesus would imitate the OT structure of Davidic kingdoms. We even find much of the same language in Jesus' words to Peter that we find in the passage from Isaiah. So, in granting the keys to Peter, Jesus gives him both teaching authority and administrative authority as the steward over His house.

On the surface, all of this seems contradictory. Afterall, isn't Jesus the Rock? (cf. 1 Cor 10:4). Doesn't Jesus hold the keys of the kingdom? (cf. Rev 1:18; 3:7). Of course He does! What we have to keep in mind is that just b/c Jesus grants this authority to Peter, that does not mean that He must relinquish it Himself. When we say that Peter possesses the authority of Christ over His Church, we do not intend to replace Jesus with Peter. Instead we see Peter as Jesus' representative, the physical extension on Earth of the authority that Jesus wields in Heaven over his Church. It is b/c they both hold the keys--Jesus in Heaven and Peter on Earth--that we can rightfully say that whatever Peter binds and looses on Earth will be bound and loosed in Heaven (cf. Mt 16:19).

Another way to explain this is to say that Jesus exercizes His authority over the Church in the person of Peter, or through Peter and with Peter. That is essentially what the King did while he was physically apart from his kingdom: he continued to exercise his authority over the kingdom through the person he established as his steward, who represented the authority that the King still held. The pope is our shepherd and "father" in the same way that the steward of the King's house was a father for the King's people (cf. Isaiah 22:21).

As I mentioned earlier, much more can be said about this passage, but I wanted to keep it brief. Also, note that this defense of Peter's authority is only from Mt 16. Other passages can be brought to bear upon this topic as well (see Part 3).

Pax Christi,

1 comment:

  1. I saw a brief parable told by Jesus that I think has allusions to Peter: Mark 13:34 "For the Son of Man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch." Would the Porter be equivalent to 'prime minister'?


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