The Pope, primacy, where does the Pope get his authority?

Authority: The keys in Isaiah and Matthew

Catholics believe that Jesus had a very specific purpose in saying that Peter was the Rock upon which he would build his Church. He was evoking Isaiah 22:22. Some Evangelicals think that the Greek word that means "rock" did not refer to Peter but only to his "delaration." We don't think it holds up under scrutiny when we look at it grammatically, linguistically, historically and most important, Biblically. Jesus built his Church on people, not a declaration. We've moved this is discussion exploring the Greek, Aramaic Biblical text, the history, early Christian quotes, to a separate article.

In the Isaiah passage, Shebna was the Chancellor (like a Prime Minister) under King Hezekiah. This Prime Minister had a special role above the cabinet. He got the keys to the kingdom. Shabna messed up and was unfaithful so God appointed Eliakim to Prime Minister and gave him the keys. In Mat 16:18, Peter got the keys just the way Eliakim got them in Isaiah 22:15-24.

Isaiah 22:15-24 Matthew 16:18-19
22:15 (Shebna) you have cut out a tomb here for yourself ... in the rock? ...I will thrust you from your office... 22:20 On that day I will call my servant Eliakim son of Hilkiah, 21 and will clothe him with your robe and bind your sash on him. I 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 I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open. 23 I will fasten him like a peg in a secure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his ancestral house. 24 And they will hang on him the whole weight of his ancestral house, the offspring and issue, every small vessel, from the cups to all the flagons. are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

Protestant theologian Albright says:

Isaiah 22, verse 15, undoubtedly lies behind this saying of Jesus (Matt. 16:18). The keys are the symbol of authority and ... the same authority vested in the vicar, the master of the house, the chamberlain of the royal household in ancient Israel. In Isaiah 22 Eliakim is described as having the same authority. (ibid)

David Palm wrote the following:

Long before I had any inkling of becoming Catholic I came to embrace the current majority report among Protestant scholars, namely, that "this rock" of Matt 16:18 refers to the person of Peter and that he is the foundation on which Christ would build His Church. I was challenged later, by those same scholars and by Catholic apologists, to see from the use of Isa 22:22 in Matt 16:19, that our Lord, as the son of David and new King of Israel, reestablished the office of "steward" or "one who is over the house" (in modern parlance, the prime minister). He [Jesus] gives that office to Peter, as symbolized by the "keys of the kingdom." This establishes that in principle there is nothing antithetical between the supreme Lordship of Jesus Christ and a mortal man serving as His "vicar" on earth. (

When Jesus says  "whatever you bind" to Peter in Matt. 16:18, the Greek text used for "you" is singular. In Mat 18:18 the Greek text, the word for "you" in "whatever you bind" is plural. Catholics think these two juxtaposed but similar phrases lay out the early structure of the Church with Peter as the Pope and the other apostles as priests.

In Matt.18:16, true to his usual form of teaching, Jesus was invoking an old testament Scripture. In this case it was Isaiah 22:22. If we look at this passage, we see the precedent of succession to which Catholics believe Jesus was referring.

...  I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open...and he will become a throne of honor to his ancestral house.  And they will hang on him the whole weight of his ancestral house, the offspring and issue, every small vessel, from the cups to all the flagons. (Isaiah 22:22)

In the Old Testament, the office of Chancellor was a dynasty that had successors. This was evidenced by the reference to an office, a throne, a robe, authority, and the keys. This office also sounds a lot like a present day Pope. The key holder is called a father. This appears very much to be the language of succession. Even the reference to the "House of David" in Isaiah 22:24 points to the issue of succession. David had died 400 years earlier. Jesus is also in the lineage of David. Jesus was King and certainly had the authority to give Peter the chancellor's (Prime Minister's) keys that God had given to Eliakim.

Scott Hahn (Ph.D. and former Evangelical pastor) says:

When Jesus gives to Peter the keys of the kingdom, Peter is receiving the Prime Minister's office, which means dynastic authority from the Son of David, Jesus, the King of Israel, but also an office where there will be dynastic succession.(ibid)

Keys are a permanent kind of thing. Jesus didn't say "I'll take them back after you die". That would not make sense. Catholics think Jesus gave Peter the "office" just as Eliakim had been given the "office". Jesus gave Peter power to bind on earth. So Peter had power to name a successor, which Catholics think he did. He gave the keys to Linus, who gave them to Anacletus, who gave them to Clement.

Jesus is the head of the Church and Peter was his Vicar on earth

I heard a great Evangelical Christian song by the band Audio Adrenaline that says, "I want to be your hands, I want to be your feet." Most Evangelicals understand that Jesus needs people to do his work on earth. Catholics are saying that Jesus wants someone to lead his people on earth. This person is not taking Jesus' place, he is simply guiding the Church the same way Peter did when he stood up in the upper room, and told the apostles that they must replace Judas, and do so with someone who had traveled with them from the time of John the Baptist (Acts 1:15). As the head of the apostles his duty was to guide the apostles and oversee a successful unanimous outcome. Catholics think Jesus is still doing that through Peter's successor today.

"The Pope is not an absolute monarch whose thoughts and desires are law. On the contrary: the Pope’s ministry is a guarantee of obedience to Christ and to his Word. He must not proclaim his own ideas, but rather constantly bind himself and the Church to obedience to God’s Word, in the face of every attempt to adapt it or water it down, and every form of opportunism."

- Pope Benedict XVI, Mass of Possession of the Chair of the Bishop of Rome, May 2005

Jesus said "Upon this rock 'I' will build my Church." Jesus is the head of the Church. Catholics believe the Pope is simply his "vicar" on earth, the one who He has appointed. The Pope could sing the song, "I want to be your hands, I want to be your feet." Jesus is the King which in Isaiah 22:22 is represented by King Hezekiah. Peter is the Vicar on Earth which in the Isaiah 22:22 passage is represented by Eliakim. The Pope's role is kind of like that of a chairman of a board, or captain of a football team, with the other team players being the bishops. It has been like this since the dawn of Christianity. The owner and leader of the team is Jesus.

Catholics don't think the Church is "man-made." They think it is God made. Jesus said "Upon this rock 'I' will build my Church." (Mat 16:19) He did not say "you" will build my Church. Catholics think the Church was conceived at the Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles. (Acts 2:3) Catholics believe the Holy Spirit has been resting on the Catholic Church ever since. An historical timeline of the early Church is here.

"There is one God and one Christ and but one episcopal chair, originally founded on Peter, by the Lord's authority. There cannot, therefore, be set up another altar or another priesthood. Whatever any man in his rage or rashness shall appoint, in defiance of the divine institution, must be a spurious, profane and sacrilegious ordinance."

- St. Cyprian 246 AD, The Unity of the Catholic Church

Examples of Peter's Authority among the Apostles

  • Next to Jesus, Peter is mentioned more than any other apostle in Scripture (152 times).
  • He stood up and spoke on behalf of the apostles (Mt 19:27, Acts 1:15, 2:14)
  • He stood up at the birth of the Church at the Pentecost to lead them. (Acts 2:14)
  • The disciples were referred to as Peter and the Apostles. (Acts 2:37, 5:29)
  • Peter was given the authority to forgive sins before the rest of the apostles. (Mat 16:18)
  • He was always named first when the apostles were listed (Matthew 10:1-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16, Acts 1:13) -- sometimes it was only "Peter and those who were with him" (Luke 9:32);
  • John ran ahead of Peter to the tomb but upon arriving he stopped and did not go in. He waited and let Peter go in. (Jn 20:4)
  • Peter stepped out of the boat in the middle of the storm, even though they were all afraid they would die in the storm. (Mat 14:29)
  • Jesus told Peter to "feed my lambs ... tend my sheep ... feed my sheep." (Jn 21:15-17) The difference between a sheep and a lamb might be significant. A lamb is a baby, a sheep is an adult. Perhaps Jesus was asking Peter to take care of both the general people (the lambs), and the apostles (sheep). Regardless of that interpretation of sheep and lambs, is clear Jesus is asking Peter to feed and tend his flock. That is what a shepherd does. It appearsthat he is asking Peter to shepherd his Church on earth, on his behalf.

Does Ephesians 2:20 refute Matthew 16:18?

Some Evangelical apologists point to Ephesians 2:20.

20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.[a]

They use this to say that Peter is not the leader of the apostles. Those who resort to this passage represent minor group of fringe Evangelical apologists. Most Evangelicals acknowledge the primacy of Peter. They just deny the Catholic claim of succession. But let's take these two issues one at a time. It is always important to read the Bible in context. Here is the entire passage:

1 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth,[b] called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body[c] through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.[d] 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.[e] 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually[f] into a dwelling place for God.

The passage is about the ingrafting of the Gentiles into the people of God. It is not a passage intended to explain the hierarchy of the apostles, or the Church. Matthew 16:18 sets the order of the apostles. Paul is stating these things after Jesus said to Peter "feed my sheep" (Jn 21:15-17). Peter's primacy is well established. When Paul says "the apostles AND prophets" he is demonstrating the wider context of the people of God, rather than the specifics of how the apostles should relate to one another, and who is their leader. Peter's role is a collegial one among the apostles, like the captain of a basketball team rather than that of a CEO of a company. So naturally, in a context such as this he will just say the apostles, rather than "The Prophets, Peter, the Petrine office, and the Apostles who will be bishops". That would be a very distracting sentence, and deviate from the main point which is about the Gentiles. Just as the Israelite community was built on the 12 tribes with Aaron as its priest, the new covenant people of God are built on the 12 apostles. However, that does not diminish the fact that one of these 12 were appointed to be their leader.

How could Jesus have decided to build his Church?

Bishop Fulton Sheen describes it very well. There are 3 basic ways Jesus could have organized his Church:

  1. Democracy (Everybody votes and the idea with the most votes wins)
  2. Aristocracy (A group of elders get together and prayerfully make a decision on behalf of the people)
  3. Theocracy (Built on one person who leads the others who provide input but who defer to their leader)

Jesus asked the apostles, "Who do they say that I am?" (Mat 16:13) He was referring to the general people, their democratic voice. They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." In other words, no unity, no certitude. Leave the government to the people and you get no unity.

Then he appealed to the aristocracy, the apostles, but there was no answer, (Thomas doubted, Judas was in money, Philip was troubled about relations with the heavenly father.) Jesus could not build his Church on an aristocracy alone.

At this point one man comes forward without the consent of the others. It is Peter, who says "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." It is the right answer. Here was one man, divinely illuminated, speaking for all, who confesses the divinity of Christ, who is to be chosen as the leader of the Church. This is the Theocratic form of the Church that Catholics believe Jesus chose. This is what God did when he chose Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses etc.. Jesus is the big rock, and Peter is a little rock, acting on behalf of Christ on earth, giving the keys to him.

While in Corinth, St. Clement, who was the Pope in 96 A.D., wrote appeals for the memory of the two martyrs, Peter & Paul (epistle to the Corinthians 5:3-7) He explicitly referred to the Apostles who appointed bishops and made provisions for their succession.

Irenaeus was familiar with those who had been close both to Peter and to Paul and who "had the preaching of the blessed Apostles ringing in their ears." He testifies that the truth which the Church received from the Apostles had come down to him, and consequently "one and the very same life-giving faith had been preserved in the Church and was handed down in its purity and integrity from the Apostles even to his own day" (Against Heresies 3,3). (Knights of Columbus pamphlet Mary Mother of God)

Catholics feel this commission is not without biblical precedent. In the Old Testament we see prophets passing on power to their successors by the laying on of hands and anointing. For example:

Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him (Deut 31:1-8)

You [Elijah] shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place (1 Kg 19:16)

...Samuel took a horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers and then spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. (1 Sam 16:13)

Over time, the successors to the Apostles were called bishops ("Bishop" is a translation of the Greek "episcopos" which literally means "one who oversees/supervises") and they had an office: "This saying is trustworthy, whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task" (1 Tim 3:1) (see also Phil 1:1)

Why is word "Pope" is not in the Bible?

The "Pope" is not really an office, but merely a nickname for the Bishop of Rome. St. Peter ended his days as the Bishop of Rome, and the Bishop of Rome succeeds to the ministry of St. Peter as the head of the universal Church. "Pope," is merely a nick-name from the early 300s. It comes from the Greek word "papa," that means "father" or "patriarch." It was not exclusive to the Bishop of Rome himself. Rather, in the very ancient Church, there were three regional patriarchal bishops (1) Rome, (2) Alexandria (in Egypt), and (3) Antioch (in Syria)in that order of primacy. All three of these bishops derived their authority from St. Peter and from ties of discipleship between Peter (in Rome) and his disciples Mark (in Alexandria) and Evodius (in Antioch). It was necessary to have patriarchs in different parts of the world when fast communication and transportation systems did not exist.

Someone told me there are upside down crosses in the Vatican, and that proves the Papacy is from Satan. Is that true?

caravaggio painting of Peter's CrucifictionPeter requested to be crucified upside down because he felt unworthy of dying on the cross the way his Lord and Saviour died. Ever since the time of Peter's death, the Church has symbolized Peter's martyrdom with an upside down cross. This is called a "Petrine Cross." The Vatican is built on the place where Peter was martyred. The Pope sits in the seat of Peter and therefore there are "Petrine" crosses (upside down) in the Vatican. The Church will not discontinue the Petrine Cross (Peter's Cross) just because satanists are trying hijack the Cross to mock us. Nor will the Church discontinue a 2000 year old tradition that was recognized by all Christians until the 1500's because some Evangelicals are confused as to its meaning.

When I was in Rome, I visited the jail where tradition reports that Peter was held. In the picture above there is the pillar where tradition says Peter was chained. The altar next to it was built in the middle ages and has upside down cross, symbolizing the way Peter was crucified.

Doesn't the Bible say "call no man father?" Why do Catholics say "Holy Father?"

Some Evangelicals point to the Scripture passage "Call no man your father?"  (Mat 23:9-10) as a reason not to call priests "father." In the same sentence Jesus says "Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah." Using this passage to claim that we cannot call a priest "father" would mean that we could not call professors at an Evangelical Bible college "instructors." If we were to take this passage literally, it would mean that I could not call my earthly dad "father" either. Catholics don't believe Jesus was forbidding the use of "father" in that passage. There are plenty of examples in the Bible where that the word "Father" applies to humans, and the Bible links the priesthood to fatherhood. (Judges 17:10, 18:19, 1st Thess. 2:10-11, Acts 4:25, 7:2, 8, 14, Philip. 2:22,Hebrews 12:9, 1st John 2:13, 14 , 1st Cor. 4:15, 1st Thess. 2:11-12.) Catholics believe that Jesus was condemning the hypocrisy of unholy men who were in office at the time, he was not condemning their office.

It is in light of the Bible and the history of the early Church that Catholics are totally fine with having a Pope.

(1) Scott Hahn, A Closer Look at Christ's Church, Answering Common Objections

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