Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Myth Of Matthew 16:18 As The End-All, Be-All For Roman Catholicism

It's not unusual for Catholics who want to express disagreement with something I've written to play the Matthew 16:18 trump card.

That's where -- unlike in the same story told in Mark and Luke -- Jesus says, "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church." One Catholic reading is that Jesus meant to break away from Judaism, start a new religion and name Peter the first pope.

Many other Catholics and Protestants, including me, conclude that Jesus, always a Jew, was much more interested in announcing the in-breaking reign of God (which is what Jesus meant by the Gospel) and was not focused on creating a hierarchical and institutionalized structure. Indeed, it's hard to find a biblical scholar these days who would agree that Jesus' purpose was to start a new religion.

Still, I've never quite known how to respond to insistent Catholics who haul out Matthew 16:18 and assume that's a full answer that confirms Petrine primacy and, by extension, the assertion that anyone outside the Catholic church is apostate.

I've just received considerable help with this matter from a Capuchin Franciscan, Michael H. Crosby, in his book Repair My House.

Crosby takes a careful look at Matthew 16, comparing it to the Mark 8 and Luke 9 versions of the same story, versions that omit Jesus saying anything to Peter about being the rock (a play on his name) on which he will build a church.

To use the Matthew 16:18 passage as the be-all of Catholic reliance on Scripture and tradition, he writes, is to lean on "a selective and fundamentalist interpretation of this one text." Doing that, he says, "represents both intellectual dishonesty and scriptural errancy."

A more balanced and satisfying way of understanding the role of the church and its leadership, Crosby writes, is to balance Matthew 16 with Matthew 18. In the latter chapter, we find a broader notion of authority among the followers of Jesus, disciples who eventually would separate from Judaism and become Christianity.

In Matthew 18, Jesus gives authority and responsibility not to a single person but to the whole church (ekklesia, in Greek, which means literally the community that has been called out). Verse 17 says that a member of the ekklesia is to report to the ekklesia if someone who has sinned against him or her will not repent.

Thus, Crosby notes, Jesus assigns to the local church in 18:18 the power to bind and loose that is given to Peter in 16:19, and "both texts must be considered as equal in their power to bind and loose." The difference is that Peter gets the "keys to the kingdom" in 16 while the community in 18 "receives the promise of Christ's abiding presence in their binding and loosing in a way that is not given to Peter."


  1. Yes Jesus Christ did not intend to create a separate institution from Judaism. He meant to perfect it. The Jews were to accept Jesus as the Christ and move on in their spiritual journey. The community was to be reborn into something new and global. The church was not to be a separate entity that clashed with the Jewish community. It was to be the next step for the Jews. I do think Jesus was making something, but I don't agree that Matthew 16:18 is enough to show that, it certainly is not enough to support a new separate church with the head as Peter.
    I do think there is an authority as the church in a collective. Paul writes that the ear is not more important than the eye. The Church must be understood as a whole, while paying respects to the dignity of each member. The church is a social body. And the bishops as a whole do have authority, as we can see in the ecumenical counsels. But I think that mirroring the nature of God, and the logical need for a final arbiter in disputes, a long with the testimony of history would grant Peter a supremacy. Jesus says to Peter specifically to "tend my sheep." He also says to Peter to "strengthen his brothers," the other apostles who would go on to become the first bishops. We see Clement the bishop of Rome, intervening with the affairs of Corinth in the first century. In the next century, Victor, the bishop of Rome, excommunicated Polycrates the bishop of Ephesus due to a Easter/Passover controversy. There certainly is an authority in each bishop and the body as a whole, but special authority goes to Peter and his successors.

    1. But I think that mirroring the nature of God, and the logical need for a final arbiter in disputes, a long with the testimony of history would grant Peter a supremacy.

      Notice that this is just your biased belief base on what Papism has taught you. There is no scriptural backing for such a belief.

    2. I gave you scripture references and historical references, so what about those? We see in the letters of Ignatius that the presbyters are to be treated like the apostles, the deacons like Christ, and the Bishop like God. So here a historical evidence of the nature of God by a disciple of John. Cardinal Henry Newman had an argument for the Church in the 19th century in the wake of the vociferous atheistic attacks on the Bible. The Bible can't defend itself. It needs a reliable voice (which you may think is yourself maybe not). And if this voice is a thought group that just can put out ideas and if you disagree that's A-Okay, go make your own church, doesn't really seem like a logical institution. Now I believe in both Revelation and Reason, so just because it isn't explicitly said in the Bible (now I think it is implied with the above passages, and I would question what makes your interpretation better than mine) doesn't mean it wasn't part of the community.

    3. Sean,

      The Bible can indeed defend itself if read exegetically vs Papist eisegesis.

      To claim ONE organization is the authoritative voice is merely assertion with absolutely no evidence from Scripture, especially since the papist organization didn't even exist for the first few hundred years of Christianity.

      Your interpretation is just parroting papism. Our interpretation is via exegesis.

  2. Hi Sean,

    I think that the final standard God has given to us which reflects His character is Scripture itself. Bishops and church councils must conform to that inspired standard of authority (1 Corinthians 4:6; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

    "Feed My sheep" in John 21 simply refers to Christ restoring Peter after he had denied Him three times in a row.

    In Luke 22, Christ prayed so that Peter's faith would remain strong and that he could be a source of encouragement to the other disciples.

    Where in the texts that you allude to is Peter's joy and excitement? Would such not be the natural response to being given a position of primacy? There is nothing in these incidents pointing to Peter being bestowed some special office of authority.

    Churches worked independently to preserve truth, but came together to settle disputes and enjoyed fellowship with each other. There is no evidence that Clement of Rome acted as head of the entire church.

    The West and certain Eastern churches claimed to have the correct date of Easter that was delivered from the apostles. This episode of contradictory church tradition only proves it to be unreliable as a source of dogma. What we are left with is Scripture.

    1. I would refer you to my above comment on the ability of Scripture to defend itself. It can't interpret itself, and you may bring up a passage in Hebrews which says that Scripture is living, but that is your own interpretation of the passage to make it mean that it does interpret itself.
      Yes the Feed my Sheep passage is Christ giving Peter a chance for repentance, but He is also giving Peter a command. I think it is more than just Christ forgiving Peter. And I would question, yet again why your interpretation is better than mine.
      Luke 22, says that is what Christ did, but I think the Gospels strike deeper than a mere recitation of actions.
      I don't think there needs to be either joy or excitement in leading a flock. Christ was brutally murder. Paul was constantly stressed by the spiteful Churches. Leadership does bring some joy, but it a huge bringer of stress.
      Okay in his letter, Clement doesn't explicitly assert a universal authority, but the fact that he as Bishop of Rome, delved into the affairs of Corinth, shows that he thought he had some extended responsibility.
      And the Easter controversy supplies us with a case of a Roman bishop delving yet again into other Churches affairs, in an even more authoritative way.

    2. Sean,

      Again you just assert that the Bible can't defend itself just because papist said so. Your comments are not exegesis at all, rather you just parrot the papist teachings you've learned, and you keep telling us what you "think," as if your opinion/beliefs trump Scripture.

  3. Hello Sean,

    Yes, you did provide biblical and historical references. Nobody here said or thought otherwise. It is also true that answers have been given to your mentioned citations.

    I would say that my interpretations of Luke 22:32 and John 21:15-17 are more reasonable than yours because they are more consistent with the context of those passages. Catholics are guilty of reading assumptions into the text that are simply absent. You understand moments of Peter's failure as moments of exaltation, which is turning them on their heads.

    Clement does not say that he had primacy over other bishops, but rather is consistent with the model of churches being ruled by pluralities of elders. Rome was honored, but not viewed as superior. Churches interacted with each other. That does not at all mean a Papacy existed.

    The Easter controversy demonstrates the unreliability of oral tradition. Which one is correct, the Roman Catholic Church or the Eastern Orthodox?

    This is the excerpt from Ignatius that I think you are referring to:

    "See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God."

    Consider the analogy that he makes to illustrate the type of authority that "the bishop" has (in the same way that Jesus Christ submits to the Father). What makes that office authoritative is faithfulness to apostolic teaching (which is contained in Scripture). It is not an intrinsic or inherent authority that the pope claims for himself. The bishop is viewed as being a senior pastor amongst elders. See these articles for further details:

    Yes, the offices of bishop and deacon were instituted by God. That is not a point of dispute. However, the teachings of Scripture must be upheld at all costs. Moreover, what does it matter what a primitive author said if what he taught was heresy? If one must have some special authority in order to give grounds for his or her beliefs, then how does he or she become a Catholic? By what authority does one affirm Catholic authority?