Fullness of the Truth Pt. 4.1: The Authority of the Catholic Church

by Sep 17, 20200 comments

Link to the entire series of posts

So far we have covered how the natural law lead me to investigate the claims of the Catholic Church. We then looked at sola fide, the doctrine for which Lutherans claim the Church stands or falls on, and how the Catholic view of justification is more biblical and fits the historic beliefs of the Church from the time of the apostles. And last, we looked at sola scriptura and how it is a self-defeating proposition and how the Bible and Church history speak against it. We will now look at the question did God endow the Catholic Church with His divine authority over all Christians?

In this post, we will look at what that authority claim is, where it comes from, and other attributes unique to the Catholic Church.

1. The Catholic Church is the Fullness of the truth

Back when I was Lutheran, I often heard Catholics claim the Catholic Church is the “fullness of the truth”. At the time I sort of understood what they were saying, but it wasn’t until I dug into all its teachings I really saw why. The Catholic church claims to be the full articulation of reality through its understanding of natural theology, its being the living authority of Christ on earth interpreting scripture and traditions, and its being given authority over all the means of grace through the sacraments.

Once I dug into all the Catholic Church teaches, I couldn’t but help agree. They have pondered most every aspect of reality one could think of and have very convincing answers for all of them.

All that said, the Catholic Church sees other Christian denominations as brothers and sisters in Christ.1 They have parts of the truth. But they do not have the fullness of the Truth which they claim is found only in the Catholic Church. This is why they (and I) desire to see everyone come into the fullness of the truth receiving all the gifts that await them in the Catholic Church.

We now will explore what this fullness of truth looks like. First, we will look at what kind of a church it is the Jesus instituted.

The Essence of the Church

2. Jesus instituted one, unified Church that was to be the foundation for Christians for all time.

First, the Catholic Church claims that God instituted it as the single Church of Christ. Through the Catholic Church exists a divinely given authority structure meant to unify Christians for all time.

Here is some biblical support for this claim:

One is the Church, which after His Resurrection our Savior handed over to Peter as Shepherd (cf. Jn 21:17), commissioning him and the other apostles to propagate and govern her (cf. Mt 18:18ff.) (and which) He erected for all ages as “the pillar and mainstay of the truth” (cf. 1 Tm 3:15). And this Church of Christ, “constituted and organized in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the Successor of Peter and the bishops in union with that Successor.”(3) This declaration of the Second Vatican Council is illustrated by the same Council’s statement that “it is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone, which is the general means of salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained,”(4) and that same Catholic Church “has been endowed with all divinely revealed truth and with all the means of grace”(5) with which Christ wished to enhance His messianic community.2

Again, the Catholic Church acknowledges that there exists outside of her other Christian communities that are imperfectly united to Christ through an imperfect and indirect communion with the Catholic Church.

This is no obstacle to the fact that during her early pilgrimage the Church, “embracing sinners in her bosom, is at the same time holy and always in need of being purified,”(6) nor to the fact that “outside her visible structure,” namely in Churches and ecclesial communities which are joined to the Catholic Church by an imperfect communion, there are to be found “many elements of sanctification and truth (which), as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, possess an inner dynamism towards Catholic unity.”(7)3

3. The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ

Following scriptures and apostolic traditions, the Catholic Church then also sees itself as the mystical body of Christ with Christ as its head (1 Corinthians 12:13, 1 Corinthians 12:27, Colossians 1:24, Romans 12:4-5, etc.).

The first benefit which We trust the Church will reap from a deepened self-awareness, is a renewed discovery of its vital bond of union with Christ. This is something which is perfectly well known, but it is supremely important and absolutely essential. It can never be sufficiently understood, meditated upon and preached…Consider the words of Our Predecessor, Pius XII, rather than our own. In his memorable encyclical Mystici Corporis he wrote: “We must accustom ourselves to see Christ Himself in the Church. For it is indeed Christ who lives in the Church, and through her teaches, governs, and sanctifies; and it is also Christ who manifests Himself in manifold guise in the various members of His society.” (18)

How gratifying and pleasant it is to dwell on the words of Sacred Scripture, the Fathers, Doctors and Saints, which come to our minds when we contemplate this wonderful article of faith. Was it not Jesus Himself who told us that He was the vine and we the branches? [Jn 15. 1] Do we not have before us all the riches of St. Paul’s teaching, who never ceases to remind us that we “are all one person in Jesus Christ”? [Gal 3. 28] He is always exhorting us to “grow up in him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body…,” [Eph 4. 15-16] and admonishes us that “Christ is all in all.” [Col 3. 11]

As for the Doctors of the Church, We need only recall this passage from St. Augustine: “. . . Let us rejoice and give thanks that we have become not only Christians, but Christ. Do you understand, brothers, the grace of Christ our Head? Wonder at it, rejoice: we have become Christ. For if He is the Head, we are the members; He and we form the whole man . . . the fullness of Christ, therefore; the head and the members. What is the head and the members? Christ and the Church.”4

4. God wants the Church to be unified, not divided.

In scriptures we clearly see God wants his Church to be one (Rom 16:17, Jn 10:16, 1 Cor 1:10, Jn 17:17-23).

This is echoed in the Catholic Catechism:

CCC 820 “Christ bestowed unity on his Church from the beginning. This unity, we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time.”277 Christ always gives his Church the gift of unity, but the Church must always pray and work to maintain, reinforce, and perfect the unity that Christ wills for her. This is why Jesus himself prayed at the hour of his Passion, and does not cease praying to his Father, for the unity of his disciples: “That they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us, . . . so that the world may know that you have sent me.”278 The desire to recover the unity of all Christians is a gift of Christ and a call of the Holy Spirit.5

5. Protestants often speak to unity, but yet they endlessly divide over doctrine.

Here is a description of former Protestant Pastor that saw this very problem.

During my years of pastoral ministry, I was involved in many ecumenical initiatives that sought to build church unity, including the Promise Keepers men’s movement that attempted to bridge denominational boundaries among Christian men in America. I have been to many meetings and conventions where we talked, sang, and prayed for Christian unity. However, I never felt like anyone was serious about it. It was well and good to have ecumenical prayer meetings, but I knew when push came to shove, you would have to pry everyone’s denominational distinctions out of their cold, dead fingers. If we had been really serious about unity, we would have had to submit our doctrinal differences to a common person or group of persons (a synod or council), and then abide by whatever decision resulted. I knew no one was ever going to do that: not the Calvinists, not the Baptists, not the Lutherans, not the Pentecostals, and so on. We were all convinced of the truth of our own positions. We were all paying lip service to unity, but for real unity to come about, there would have to be (among other things) a universal pastor with whom “the buck stopped.”6

— John Bergsma

6. The one unified Church that Jesus instituted was always meant to be the sole Church passed on through apostolic succession.

The Bible shows the mechanism for the passing on of the priestly office by the laying on of hands:

1 Timothy 4:14

14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.

1 Timothy 5:22

22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.

Here is the Catholic Catechism’s explanation of this concept of apostolic succession.

CCC 861 “In order that the mission entrusted to them might be continued after their death, [the apostles] consigned, by will and testament, as it were, to their immediate collaborators the duty of completing and consolidating the work they had begun, urging them to tend to the whole flock, in which the Holy Spirit had appointed them to shepherd the Church of God. They accordingly designated such men and then made the ruling that likewise on their death other proven men should take over their ministry.”374 (77; 1087)7

Finally, here is Clement of Rome showing us a very early look at how the office of the bishops were appointed by apostles and passed to pass on the Traditions and their office.

1 Clem 42:1-3

The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ was sent forth from God. So then Christ is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ. Both therefore came of the will of God in the appointed order. Having therefore received a charge, and having been fully assured through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and confirmed in the word of God with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth with the glad tidings that the kingdom of God should come.

1 Clem 42:4-5

So preaching everywhere in country and town, they appointed their first fruits, when they had proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons unto them that should believe. And this they did in no new fashion; for indeed it had been written concerning bishops and deacons from very ancient times; for thus saith the scripture in a certain place, I will appoint their bishops in righteousness and their deacons in faith.

1 Clem 44:1-3

And our Apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife over the name of the bishop’s office. For this cause therefore, having received complete foreknowledge, they appointed the aforesaid persons, and afterwards they provided a continuance, that if these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed to their ministration.8

7. Scriptures and the Church are both part of the same tradition. They are intimately connected.

Here is Dei Verbum explaining the Church and scriptures intimate connection.

  1. Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.9

I think a very important detail is to remember that oral tradition was initially the primary way the Christian Church spread its message. It wasn’t until late in the apostle’s lives that they started to write down their teachings at which point, both oral and written traditions continued to function together as the living tradition of the Church.

CCC 83 The Tradition here in question comes from the apostles and hands on what they received from Jesus’ teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit. The first generation of Christians did not yet have a written New Testament, and the New Testament itself demonstrates the process of living Tradition.10

8. While the Magisterium of the Church is given authority to interpret scripture, it is also the servant of the Word of God

The Apostles were tasked by Jesus to preach the gospel message to the whole world. In this request, they were called to form the Church.

Mark 16:15 (ESV)

15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.

Jesus gave His Church, through the apostles, the authority to settle disputes (in this specific context over what is sin).

Matthew 18:17 ESV

17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Finally, we see the Church is meant to be the pillar and foundation of truth, it is the authority that protects the God’s truth.

1 Tim 3:15 (ESV)

15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.

These are just some of the reasons, then, the Catholic Church sees itself as being tasked with protecting God’s truth, which it does through authoritatively interpreting scripture and the traditions of the Church.

CCC 85 “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.”47 This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.11

This doesn’t make the Church superior to the Bible. Rather, the Church is the servant to the Word of God, but is the necessary entity to interpret scripture and define dogma to maintain the unity of the Church that is called for all over in the Bible.

CCC 86 “Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith.”4812

Finally, Dei Verbum points out that the Church and scriptures couldn’t stand without one another.

But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on,8 has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church,9 whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.

It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.13

Where the Authority of the Catholic Church is Derived From

The office of the Papacy is one of, if not the biggest, sticking point between Catholics and non-Catholics. There is just not enough space show all the arguments that Protestants typically give against the Papcy here. Furthermore, my aim with this writing is to hopefully show some things that Catholics teach that Protestants may not be aware of. As such, I will simply point people to the document A Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope in the Book of Concord to read Lutheran’s ideas on the Papacy in detail.14 Here is the conclusion on the Papacy from that document.

59] But those who agree with the Pope, and defend his doctrine and [false] services, defile themselves with idolatry and blasphemous opinions, become guilty of the blood of the godly, whom the Pope [and his adherents] persecutes, detract from the glory of God, and hinder the welfare of the Church, because they strengthen errors and crimes to all posterity [in the sight of all the world and to the injury of all descendants].15

9. Papal Primacy: Matthew 16 and the rock

Matt 16:13–20 is one of the key Bible verses for showing where the Catholic Church derives her authority through the office of the Pope. Through multiple methods, this Bible verse shows that Jesus instituted a Church, and through Peter, gave authority to an individual who would serve as the prime minister (head Bishop/Pope) of Jesus’ Church to guide and protect all Christians in doctrines of faith and morals. Also, in the “binding” and “loosing” language, we see Jesus bestowing an authority on Peter and the Church to make dogmatic decisions for the Church on earth in Jesus’ stead.

Matthew 16:13-20 (ESV)

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, 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-Jonah! 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 gates of hell 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.

The first key point to notice is the name change of Simon to Peter. In the bible, whenever someone receives a name change, this is to signify their special status and mission in God’s plan of salvation like Jacob’s name change to Isreal (Genesis 32:22-32).

So what is the significance of the name change? Well, the name Peter in Greek (Petros) means rock, so Jesus is doing some word play to say that Peter is the rock (petra) that he will build his church on. In doing so, he also gives Peter the name “Rock” to signify this important task assigned to him.

A common objection levied against this idea from Protestants is that in Greek, there are different words “Petros” for Peter and the word “petra” used to describe the Church. Petros means little stone and petra means large rock. As such, Peter is not the rock Jesus is building a church on, rather Jesus is actually contrasting the Church from Peter. This is what the sentence would look like with just these words rendered in Greek:

“And I tell you, you are petros, and on this petra I will build my Church.”

This objection really is not that strong, though. First, the two variations of the Greek word “rock” are just to maintain proper grammar.

In Greek, the word for rock, petra, is grammatically feminine and takes the ending a, which is feminine. However, you can’t make a feminine noun into a man’s name. So, when petra is given as Simon’s name, the ending is changed to the masculine-os, thus his name is petros.16

More importantly, Jesus spoke Aramaic, not Greek.

But Jesus usually spoke a different language, called Aramaic, with his disciples. We see a hint of untranslated Aramaic peeking through in Matthew 16, because the phrase “Bar-Jonah” in verse 17 is Aramaic for “son of John.” So, Jesus was originally speaking in Aramaic when he made Peter the Rock of the Church, and in Aramaic the word for rock is kepha, and kepha cannot take any endings in Aramaic. The original spoken words of Jesus would have been:

“And I tell you, you are kepha and on this kepha I will build my Church.” The word kepha was given a Greek masculine ending (-s) and appears nine times in our Bibles as “Cephas”: John 1:42; 1 Corinthians 1:12, 3:22, 9:5, 15:5; Galations 1:18, 2:9, 11, 14.17

In the original language, the words are identical. This really lends credence to the idea that Jesus was making a play on words and specifically naming Peter as the foundation for His church that would carry on His mission after He ascended to heaven.

Here is another interesting detail from modern Catholic Theologian, Brant Pitre, about the Rock in Matthew 16. The rock referenced to build the church is likely a reference to the “shetiah“, the foundation stone in the temple that the ark of covenant used to sit on. As such, when Jesus says he building the church on Peter, he is saying Peter is the new foundation stone for Jesus’ new temple, His new Church that is to spread out all over the world.

Jesus says, “On this rock I will build my Church.” Well, we have to do a little more Greek study here. What does the word church mean? Now, when most of us hear the English word “church,” we tend to think first and foremost of a building, a sanctuary, a church building. Or maybe we’ll think of the institution of the Church. In the original Greek, the word church simply means assembly. It’s from two Greek words ek kaléō “to call out”. You put them together you get ecclesia, “the assembly”. It was used in Old Testament times in the Greek translation of the Bible to refer to the assembly of Israel. They would be called out of their homes and called together into the temple, especially to worship the Lord.

So what Jesus here is describing is Peter as the foundation of his assembly, of his Church that he is going to establish, this new Israel, in a sense, this new assembly of God. Now why does that matter? It is very interesting because if ecclesia as a church is tied to the Temple in Jerusalem, one of the things ancient Jews would’ve known was that there was a very important rock in the Temple in Jerusalem. It was called the even shetiah, the foundation stone. And you see this in ancient rabbinic writings like the Mishna, which contains traditions from the time of Jesus that say that in the holy of holies there was a special stone, the foundation stone, where the Ark of the covenant used to be before it was taken away by Jeremiah at the time of the Babylonian exile. So that at the time of Jesus, whenever the high priest would go into the temple to offer sacrifice, because there was no ark, he would actually sprinkle the blood of the day of atonement on the foundation stone, on the even shetiah. It was kind of the foundation of the Temple and the foundation of the ecclesia, of the Assembly of God’s people, worshiping the Lord in the Temple. So when Jesus says to Peter, “you are rock and on this rock I will build my assembly, my ecclesia,” he’s doing nothing less than talking about the church as a new temple, which, if you recall from other videos we’ve seen, Isaiah and other people prophesy about. One day there would be this new temple of God, this new place of worship, in this case the new temple of God, is centered not just on Jesus but also on Peter as a foundation.18

— Brant Pitre

10. The Catholic Church fulfills the Davidic Kingdom

The Catholic Church is the fulfillment of the Davidic kingdom. That is why the apostles sit on thrones judging the tribes of Israel (Luke 22:30). Jesus is the king and the apostles, with Peter as their head, are the royal stewards. As the stewards, they have the divine authority to bind the church in doctrine. As just seen above, Peter was singled out by Jesus to have some kind of primacy over the other 11 disciples.

During my journey into the Catholic Church, I began to realize this: Jesus is both Son of God and Son of David; therefore, his kingdom is both kingdom of God and kingdom of David. Once I realized that, all sorts of things about the Bible and the Catholic Church began to make sense! …References to David and his kingdom actually continue through the Gospels and into Acts and occur elsewhere in the New Testament, especially in Revelation. The connection of Jesus to the fulfillment of the promises to the royal House of David is actually a major theme in the New Testament generally, but to grasp it we have to see that the Church is the fulfillment of the kingdom of David. That’s why Jesus promises the Twelve that they will “sit on thrones judging the tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:30). When do they do that? When they rule authoritatively over the Church in Acts (see Acts 5:1–11, for example). The Church is the “Israel of God” (Gal 6:16).


The Catholic Church is the transformed kingdom of David. The Son of David, Christ the King, rules over it. On earth, the royal steward guides it, a priestly and paternal man, a man called “papa” or “pope” by the citizens of the kingdom. He can “bind and loose” by declaring what is in accord with divine law and what is prohibited by it. So, for example, when Paul VI judged in his encyclical Humanae Vitae that artificial contraceptives were prohibited by divine and natural law, it was an exercise of the power of “binding” given to Peter and his successors.


The doctrine of papal infallibility is already implied in Matthew 16:19 when we read it in light of Jewish religious culture and through Jewish eyes. We have already seen that the Jewish Encyclopedia understands “binding and loosing” as an exercise of divine authority, ratified and sanctioned by “the celestial court of justice.” This is precisely what Jesus means by saying “what you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.” Heaven will confirm the decisions of Peter on earth; and surely this implies that heaven will first guide the decisions of Peter on earth, because heaven cannot confirm error. That implies infallibility.19

— John Bergsma

11. Papal Primacy: Matthew 16 and the keys and Isaiah 22

Next, we have what I find to be the most compelling piece of evidence for the Papacy in Matthew 16, and that is its connection to Isaiah 22. A common aspect of Catholic theology has always been to look back into the Old Testament to see prefigurements of things that would happen later in the New Testament. The prime example is how the Passover lamb, the imperfect sacrifice for sins in Exodus, foreshadowed Jesus as the perfect sacrifice for all of mankind in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 5:7, John 1:29). These foreshadowings in the Old Testament, often called typology, are later fulfilled in the New Testament. Important is the fulfillments are always in a greater manner than the foreshadowing in the Old Testament.20

St. Augustine calls typology how “the New Testament lies hidden in the Old, and the Old is unveiled in the New.”

We see this same thing with Matthew 16 when Jesus says he is giving Peter the “keys of the kingdom” and the powers to “bind” and “loose”.

We see this same language in Isaiah 22 as we see discussed here by Catholic theologian John Bergsma telling how this very common connection in Catholic theology was never shown to him in his Protestant seminary before his later conversion to the Catholic Church.

I didn’t know the Old Testament background for this verse. What I am about to show you was never shown to me in the seminary, and it rocked my world when I first saw it. Matthew 16:18–19 is actually drawing on a famous passage from the prophet Isaiah.

Thus says the Lord GOD of hosts, “Come, go to this steward, to Shebna, who is over the household, and say to him: 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?… I will thrust you from your office, and you will be cast down from your station. In that day I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, 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.” (Is 22:15–22)

Again, it amazes me that, even though we discussed Matthew 16:18–19 in several different classes in my seminary, no one ever pointed out the connection with the Isaiah passage, even though the connection is well-known among Bible scholars and mentioned in several commentaries.21

–John Bergsma

I highly recommend reading Bergsma’s entire explanation of the connections between these two sections of the Bible. There is so much going on that one would miss without knowing all the background information of the Jewish contexts. Here are a few highlights.

First the clothes spoken of in Isaiah 22 show that the steward had a fatherly role to protect the kingdom. (also, helpful to know is the word “Pope” literally means “papa”.)

“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.”

Let’s note two things. First, the “robe” and “girdle” were priestly garments because the royal steward was connected with the priesthood. It is highly probable that Eliakim was of priestly descent because his father’s name, “Hilkiah,” was popular within the Levitical priesthood.3 Second, Eliakim will be a “father” to Jerusalem and the House of Judah. The “House of Judah” was a name for the entire kingdom of David. So, we see that the royal steward had a paternal or fatherly role for all the citizens of the kingdom. They looked to him as a father-figure: a provider and protector.

Do you see where this is going? The ancient kingdom of David had an important role for a second-in-command figure, a priestly character who was a “father” or “papa” to all the people in the kingdom. Sound familiar?22

–John Bergsma

Next, the king gave keys to the kingdom to this royal steward in Isaiah 22 which gave him the same authority as the king to rule in his stead.

“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.”

Apparently, the key to the royal palace (“the key of the house of David”) was worn on the shoulder of the royal steward as a sign or badge of his office. Perhaps it was tied there on his garment.4 The statement “he shall open, and none shall shut” emphasizes the royal steward’s authority no one but the king himself could oppose the steward’s decisions.23

–John Bergsma

Finally, the power to “bind and loose” is something that is meant to be authoritative over all Christians. Even Jewish scholars recognize this connection in Matthew 16.

Later in life, I was again shocked to discover how clearly Jewish scholars understand the profound authority that is being conferred on Peter in this passage. The Jewish Encyclopedia explains that the authority to “bind and loose” was not merely an academic or intellectual exercise, but a divinely given power. Prominent rabbis would “bind and loose” for ancient Jews, and it was not that the rabbis “merely decided what, according to the Law, was forbidden or allowed, but that they possessed and exercised the power of tying or untying a thing by the spell of their divine authority.”24

–John Bergsma

Here is another Bible commentary showing the connection between Matthew 16 and Isaiah 22 as bestowing a power to the Papacy to rule of doctrine and morals for the Church.

“In conferring upon Peter authority as head of the Church (Matt 16:19), Jesus uses the rabbinical teaching terms “to bind” … and “to loose”. In rabbinic usage the terms mean ‘to forbid’ and ‘to permit’ with reference to interpretation of the law, and secondarily ‘to condemn or place under the ban’ and ‘to acquit.’ Thus, Peter is given the authority to determine the rules for doctrine and life (by virtue of revelation and subsequent leading of the Spirit; Jn 16:13) and to demand obedience from the Church, reflecting the authority of the royal chamberlain or vizier in the Old Testament (cf. Is 22:22).”25

All this said, Bergsma then concludes:

So, let’s put this all together. Based on the background in Isaiah 22, we come to understand that bearing the “key of the kingdom” was the mark of office of the royal steward, the man over the palace and “number two” to the king himself. Therefore, Jesus’ words to Peter in Matthew 16:18–19 confer on him the role of royal steward in his (Jesus’) kingdom, and they also grant Peter the authority to make decisions about how to interpret divine law, particularly the Scriptures. In the Old Testament, the role of the royal steward was both priestly and paternal: it was filled by a man who wore priestly garments, and he was recognized as a “papa” by all the citizens of the kingdom. Moreover, this role was not a personal charism that died with the royal steward, but it was an “office” or “station” that was filled by another when the previous occupant died or was removed.

One has to be fairly blind not to see that this is model of the papacy26

— John Bergsma

12. The keys given to Peter were meant to be an office that was handed down. This was the institution of the office of the Papacy.

Here is Dr. John Bergsma speaking about how Isaiah 22 points to a prime minister office that is to be handed down, just as Peter’s role will be in Matthew 16.

Finally, let’s notice the royal steward held a well-defined office or position that would be filled by another after he died or retired. So, God says to Shebna: “I will thrust you from your office (Hebrew matsav) and cast you down from your station (Hebrew ma’amadh).” It wasn’t a charismatic role held by one person that disappeared with him, but the role continued perpetually.27

— John Bergsma.

Here is some more of the typical New Testament evidence for the continuation of Peter’s special office.

The principle of continuation of the Petrine ministry as such seems clear in the memory of the man, beginning perhaps with classic “Petrine primacy” texts such as Matthew 16:17-19; Luke 22:31; and John 21:15-17. All three texts imply a post-Easter continuation of Peter’s task that seems intrinsically permanent in nature and not tied to the identity of the one apostle.”28

13. Summary of Papacy in Scriptures

Here are a couple modern Protestant scholars that also see the logic in the Catholic reading of Matthew 16.

The major opinion of modern exegetes…[is] that Peter, as a sort of supreme rabbi or prime minister of the kingdom, is in 16.19 given teaching authority, given that is the power to declare what is permitted (cf. The rabbinic shara’) and what is not permitted (cf. The rabbinic ‘asar). Peter can decide by doctrinal decision what Christians must and must not do. This is the traditional Roman Catholic sunderstanding, with the proviso that Peter had successors.29

Ultimately, they reject the Catholic Church’s vision of the papacy because they don’t see it as an office that is handed on after Peter. The very nature of the keys in Isaiah 22 show us the exact opposite, though. Peter was made the prime minister of Jesus’ kingdom and the keys symbolize an office that is mean to be passed on as it was in Isaiah 22. There are just too many parallels in those texts for this not to be the case.

Matthew 18:17 ESV

17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Blog End

  1. see Lumen Gentium 15 
  3. ibid. 
  5. Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., p. 228). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference. 
  6. Bergsma, John. Stunned by Scripture (p. 19). Our Sunday Visitor. Kindle Edition. p. 19 
  7. \^Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., p. 228). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference. 
  8. The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians. Translated by J.B. Lightfoot. 
  9. Catholic Church. (2011). Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation: Dei Verbum. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana. 
  10. Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., p. 228). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference. 
  11. ibid.
  12. ibid. 
  13. Catholic Church. (2011). Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation: Dei Verbum. In Vatican II Documents #10. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana. 
  14. see also Smalcald Article IV: Of the Papacy. http://bookofconcord.org/smalcald.php#article4 
  15. A Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope. bookofconcord.org/treatise.php 
  16. Bergsma, John. Stunned by Scripture (pp. 20-22). Our Sunday Visitor. Kindle Edition. p. 22 
  17. ibid. 
  18. Pitre, Brant. 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass Readings Explained Year A. Catholic Productions. 
  19. Bergsma, John. Stunned by Scripture (pp. 20-22). Our Sunday Visitor. Kindle Edition. p. 27 
  20. see or listen to Dr. Lawerence Feingold’s talks on typology here: https://www.hebrewcatholic.net/11-typology-how-the-old-testament-prefigures-the-new/ 
  21. Bergsma, John. Stunned by Scripture (pp. 20-22). Our Sunday Visitor. Kindle Edition. p.27 
  22. ibid. 
  23. ibid. 
  24. ibid. 
  25. Myers, Allen C, editor. Eerdmans Bible Dictionary. Revised ed., Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1975, pg. 158. 
  26. Bergsma, John. Stunned by Scripture. Our Sunday Visitor. Kindle Edition. p. 27 
  27. ibid. 
  28. Bockmuehl, Markus. Simon Peter in Scripture and Memory: the New Testmante Apostle in the Early Church. baker Academic, 2012, pg. 183. 
  29. W.D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, The Gospel according to St. Matthew, 2:638) 

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