Thursday, May 01, 2008

Scripture and the Pope: Part 2

Here is Part 2 in my debate with Amy on the authority of the pope and the Scriptural witness to this authority. Also see Part 1.

Pax Christi,
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Thank you for engaging me in this discussion. I know you are busy. I have been praying for you and the cute girl in your profile pic.
Thank you!! That means a great deal to me. We certainly need your prayers. You'll be happy to know that my fiancee's name is Amy too! the fact that we are both Switchfoot fans, there can be no debate on this.

Again we have a point where no contention can be made: The Bible is authoritative because it has been inspired by God (God-breathed). (2 Tim. 3:16, 17)
Good to know.

Now I have a question: 1)How do you know for sure: "his words are protected from error by a charism of the Holy Spirit given to the Successor of St. Peter."
Can you direct me to scripture that supports this?
Well, as I'm sure you know, the foundational passage is Mt 16:13-20, where we find a truly amazing conversation between Jesus and Peter:

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.

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

Knowing all this, 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
  • Jesus and the apostles spoke Aramaic, in which case 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 (cf. 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, Jesus imitated the OT structure of Davidic kingdoms when he gave Peter the keys, and with these keys comes the authority that was always traditionally associated with them. 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.

Note also that whatever Peter binds and looses on earth is bound and loosed in heaven. In other words, Jesus is in heaven ratifying the authoritative decisions and pronouncements that Peter makes on earth. This in fact makes perfect sense in light of what we have already seen about the keys. On earth, Peter holds the keys. In heaven, Jesus holds the keys (cf. Rev 1:18; 3:7). Together they open and shut in the household of the Lord.

Now, this doesn't mean that they are equals. All things pale in comparison to Jesus. This also doesn't mean that Jesus now fails to be the primary authority. What it does mean is that, just as in the passage from Isaiah, Peter is the steward given authority by the King to rule the House while the King is away. You could say that the King continued to rule his house through his steward and the other cabinet of ministers. Similarly, Jesus rules his Church on earth through the pope and the bishops in communion with him. This authority, both in teaching and in governance, was given to the steward when he received the keys.

So, Jesus ensured that Peter would be a true and lasting rock for His Church by giving him the keys. Jesus also ensured this when he prayed specifically for the faith of Peter:

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

Notice that the "you" in vs. 31 is plural but the "you" in vs. 32 is singular. So, while satan wishes to deceive the entire group of 12, Jesus responds to this by praying specifically for one of them: Peter. Why would Jesus do this, unless He intends for Peter to be the one from among them who will govern them and keep them from error?

Jesus ensured this in a third way when He promised Peter and the other apostles that they would receive the Spirit of Truth:

Jn 14:16-17,26 And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you. 26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

Jn 16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

Of course, they received this Spirit at Pentecost, and it has persevered to this day as a "guide into all truth."

2)Would you say that Peter did not have this same charism of the Holy Spirit, except for what he wrote in scripture (which is inspired by God) because some of what he spoke was a denial of Christ? (John 13:37-38)
In a severe moment of temptation, Peter thrice denied that he knew or was a disciple of Jesus. This was surely a serious sin, but the Catholic teaching is not that all popes will be morally perfect (the historical record clearly shows that many haven't been). Instead, what we believe is that, "when the Roman pontiff speaks ex cathedra, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals" and that "Therefore, such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the church, irreformable" (First Vatican Council, "First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ").

The pope will sin. Morally speaking, he may turn his back on God altogether. He may even hold private opinions that are heretical. But, he will never teach heresy in an authoritative capacity.

I, like you, believe in submission to church leadership. I know that it was a command for Peter to feed Christ's sheep. (John 21:17) Good church leadership provides this to His church through the exposition of the Word of God.
Yes, but do you know the full implications of that passage? Let's take a look at it:

Jn 21:15-19 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. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go." 19 (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, "Follow me."

Note that in vs. 15, Jesus asks Peter, "Do you love me more than these?" ("these" being the other apostles). Jesus is interested in singling out Peter from among the group. This is b/c Jesus has a great task for Peter: to "feed" and "tend" His sheep. These are the actions of a shepherd, and He's asking Peter to play this role.

When we look closer at this "feeding" and "tending" we find that there is actually much more at stake. First, the greek word for "feeding" is bovskw (or "bosko") and it denotes promoting the spiritual welfare of others (see here). Also, the greek word for "tending", poimaivnw (or "poimaino") actually has the alternative meaning of ruling a people (see here). This is seen in verses from Matthew's Gospel (cf. Mt 2:6) and Revelation (cf. Rev 2:27; 7:17; 12:5; 19:15) where the word is translated as "rule" or "govern." So, essentially, we have here Jesus setting Peter apart from the other apostles to be His shepherd, providing spiritual nourishment and rule for his fellow servants and for the whole Church. Of course, Jesus equips Peter for this task in the ways that I've already mentioned.

Note also that Jesus asks Peter three times "Do you love me?", essentially giving Peter the chance to reverse the thrice denial that you mentioned. I think this shows that Peter's denial of Jesus does not deter Jesus from making Peter the Rock of His Church and equipping him so that he can speak authoritatively on moral and doctrinal matters. What good of a shepherd would Peter be if he led the flock astray? Jesus would have us remain in the truth so that Satan will not be able to sift us like wheat and so that his kingdom will never prevail over the Church (cf. Mt 16:18).

Pax Christi,


  1. Wow, such a diligent and informed response, thank you. I must chew. I'll be back in a little while.

    I was happy to be reminded that I share your fiance's name, "Amy", which of course you know means beloved.

  2. Though my digestion of your post is incomplete, and I have no hope of addressing everything you have written, I will do my best to reply. My reply is very incomplete. Thank you, in advance, for putting up with the length of this.

    Some of your post matches up with what I have learned my entire life in studying the Bible.

    Some things you have written, I hold as truth, the first of them being that,“All things pale in comparison to Jesus.”
    Second, I also agree with your view that people’s names hold great importance.

    Thirdly, your point on keys and authority pointing back to the Davidic kingdom “Among these was a prime minister who was second in authority only to the king (cf. 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", I agree with, though I am not completely familiar with it in depth. However, I do not think this necessitates that Peter must then be considered second in authority under Christ.

    I have always believed that Jesus was referring to Peter's confession "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" And that this confession was the "rock" upon which Christ would build His kingdom; using Peter's new name as a play on words to point to Himself. Certainly we would both agree that Christ being the Son of the living God is the rock upon which his kingdom is built. I do not believe the person Peter or his descendants are more foundational to the Kingdom than Christ’s being the Son of God is, however valuable they may be. When Peter speaks truth given to him by the Father, Jesus speaks to him of opening heaven based on this truth. This truth is that Jesus is the Son of the Living God. I have always been taught that what is “bound and loosed” is not new proclamations of truth by a church leader, but souls. “The keys of the kingdom” refers to the Gospel. The Gospel being, Christ, the Son of God has come to bear your sins and clothe you in His righteousness.

    A few verses later, Peter speaks lies from Satan as he tries to stand between Christ and His cross. Jesus rebukes Peter and identifies the source of Peter’s lie as Satan. The central discussion of this passage is Christ; Who He is "the Son of God" and what He came to do "take up His cross" And then what He will do in the end "come in the glory of His Father with His angels.." to judge.

    Contextually, though I freely concede I am not anywhere near as educated as you are in original languages, I do not see Church leadership in this passage. I will keep reading, but I see Christ and His Gospel very clearly.

    With that said, I am not saying that it is unbiblical for an organization of churches to have a single authority over them (though most passages on the subject describe a plurality of elders.) Only that there is just one mediator between God and man, and that is Christ. (1 Tim. 2:5) As I have studied, it is not just that Christ takes precedence, but that there is just Christ between God and man.

    I appreciate that you have graciously granted that there have been Popes who have fallen, failed and spoken heresy. There are many evangelical leaders who have disqualified themselves as tragically.

    You wrote:
    “The pope will sin. Morally speaking, he may turn his back on God altogether. He may even hold private opinions that are heretical. But, he will never teach heresy in an authoritative capacity.”

    When I say the following, I’m not referring to a one time sin, which we are all prone to daily. Matthew 18:15-20 Jesus is clear about a person who does the above, that they are to be confronted by one or two people in the church, then by the whole church and then they are to be removed from fellowship. And again Jesus says to all His disciples, “What you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, what you loose shall be loosed in heaven.” Certainly this man could never be qualified to be a leader again, even if he repents and is restored to fellowship.
    (Matt. 18: 15-20; 1Tim. 5:19,20 ;1 Tim 3, 2 Tim. 3:8; 1 Cor. 9:27).
    Do you believe the Pope is above this? I do not believe any church leader I have ever known is above this, no matter how much I admire them.

    My biggest reason for asking the original question “Is the Pope’s word as authoritative as the Bible?” is to draw a line of consistency in religious belief and establish a common ground upon which we can debate the important doctrines of Christianity.

    My next question is: Do you know of any proclamations of a Pope, present or past, that have been considered Ex Cathedra (infallible or authoritative) that contradict direct teachings of Scripture?

    You may post your reply here or on my site. Thanks again,


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