Does Matthew 16:13-20 Support Papal Succession and Infallibility?

tomgroeneman's picture

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Below is an exposition of the passage in question. What is your understanding of Peter as the rock? Can Papal succession by the laying on of hands since Peter be established? Is a Roman Catholic reading of these verses-that Peter's authority is invested in all Popes- acceptable?

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Matthew 16:13-20
13When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"
14They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
15"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"
16Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
17Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." 20Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.

The Foundation of the Church
This passage begins with the simple question that Jesus asked: “Who do you say He is?”. Your answer will determine to a great extent how you understand God and the world around you. Many acknowledge Jesus as a teacher and prophet and important person in history. Others think of Him as a social reformer, community organizer or revolutionary. Some consider Him as their personal butler to answer their bidding whenever they need something or some kind of therapist. Your conception of God effects how you relate to Him and other people.
Many people followed Jesus but few knew or understood who He was. The disciples answered Jesus’ question by naming others from OT history and John the Baptist. King Herod, who beheaded John the Baptist, thought that he had risen from the dead and that is who Jesus was. There was the expectation amongst the people that a prophet would come like Elijah or Jeremiah to prepare the way for the Messiah and this was prophesied in the OT ( Deut. 18:18 and Mal. 4:5 ).
But Peter was the one to give the most complete answer of who Jesus was: The Christ. Christ is not Jesus’ last name but it is a title describing His being anointed as the Messiah of Israel, the savior and deliverer of the people who would establish His reign on the earth of peace and righteousness. Not only did Peter know that He was the coming one but also that He was the Son of God, the one true and living God, God in the flesh. This understanding came to him as a gift from God by revelation. The Greek word used here is apocalupto, to reveal, uncover or disclose, the same word used to name the book of Revelation- the Apocalypse, which has come to mean something beyond the simple meaning of unveiling. The point is that only God can open the mind of a fallen human being and reveal to them the understanding of who Jesus is. It is a blessing.
Jesus then uses a play on words to introduce the concept of the Church. The name Peter means rock and Jesus uses architectural language to explain the establishment of the Church. This rock can be understood in three basic ways. 1) It is Peter himself who is the foundation of the Church and this is by far the most widely accepted interpretation. Peter was indeed the prominent apostolic witness of the early Church and one of its primary leaders. 2) The rock foundation of the Church is the confession of Jesus being the Christ along with the message of the gospel that the Church is built upon. 3) That Jesus was pointing to himself and referred to himself as the rock. The Bible speaks of God being a rock in many instances so this is another possibility.
The word used for rock is the same as the word Jesus used in the sermon on the mount in Matt. 7:24. This passage encourages us to build our lives on a good foundation of hearing the word of God and doing it. When construction is done on a skyscraper, the engineers dig deep down into the bedrock so that the building will be stable and secure. The higher it is to be, the deeper the foundation must be laid. Church planters and the apostolic ministry lay the foundation for the potential Church. Their work is essential to its growth and prosperity. Eph. 2:20-22
Jesus said that He would build His Church. It is His divine work not the mere efforts of men. Because of this, it being the work of God almighty, the forces of darkness cannot overcome it. We do not need a lot of Churches if they are going to be weak, anemic compromised religious institutions but we do need strong, vibrant victorious Churches that are going to preach the word of God, evangelize the nations and storm the gates of hell. Too many Christians today are defeated by their own sin and compromise with the world. I would dare to say that many people in today’s Churches are not even saved. They have been baptized and are very religious and do good works but do they really know the Lord? Have they confessed with Peter that there is a Messiah and He is Jesus and He will save me from my sins and the fires of hell? Do they pray daily and read the Scriptures? Or are they still hanging on to vices and worldly music and movies? Do they cheat on their taxes and take advantage at work? How many of us truly live and walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and not according to the dictates of our own selfish flesh?
I want to be part of a Church that Jesus builds and I do not want to please the world and be like it but I want to overcome the world and defeat the enemy. Jesus promised the authority to bind and loose. This meant that what you forbid and allow will also at the same time happen in heaven. The verbs are in the subjunctive mood so it means that the outcome is conditional on what God ordains in heaven and how we use the keys that He gives us. God is working with us to bring about His purposes in the earth.
The Church has been established and will not be defeated no matter what Satan throws at us. The foundation was laid by the apostles 2000 years ago and you can read about it in the book of Acts. There was opposition and persecution and struggle and hardship but what Jesus promised has come to pass.

DanFugett's picture

The Church's One Foundation

Part of the answer to any claim to apostolic successtino or infallibility must include all of scripture. The rule of immediate context would suggest we look in Matthew for other uses of the terms and words used in the passage under analysis. We find indeed that another passage exists. I find Mattew 18 a very significant counter balance to the theories posited for Matt 16 referring to a successtion of apostolic authority back to Peter, or for infallbility on the basis of Christ's promise the gates of hell could not overcome the Church He was building on Petra (Himself).

Matthew 18 starts out reminding all of us what true Christianity must consist of. It must consist of conversion and becoming like children. The childlike humility of true Christian leadership is foundational to Jesus teaching ministry here, as it is elsewhere in His life. Christ further spells out the reponsibility of true Chrisian leadership: real Christian leaders, like He Himself the great shepherd, consider one soul as valuable as 99.

Matt 18:15 brings us to an interesting concept. The Church. Are we to suppose that Christ had in mind here and in chapter 16 a single head of the universal church in whom was vested the single authority to represent the entire church and therefore decide when a person has not "heard the church?" Matt 16 already established the Church is built on Jesus (if one follows the Greek which was the language the NT was written in). Even if one presumes Matt 16 is referring to Peter, which the Gk doesnt allow, then Matt 18 counters that assumption. In Matt 18:20 2-3 people are sufficient that Christ is present. Church exists at that time and place. Where Christ is IS the CHURCH. Can anyone argue that point? The presence of the Lord Jesus Christ makes that gathering Church. The epistles bear out the usage of this one word, "CHURCH" to denote the universal chuch or a regional church or a local city church. We have the Church of Jesus Christ, the churches of Galatia and the church of Ephesus. In fact, Matt 18 taken with Matt 16 provides a very strong argument that each local church was a CHURCH in Jesus eyes and concurrently part of the universal Church. Christ says "tell it to the church" ... "where two or three are gathered in my name I am there in their midst".

Matthew 18 also speaks of binding and loosing. But wait....doesnt an apostle have to be involved? Surely CHrist couldnt have meant to extend to His church (even where 2-3 untrained and people where no hands have been laid but have gathered) the power to bind and to loose? Yes. Christ does exactly that. You and I have the right and authority, as children of God, to come to God's throne and ask Him anything as Christ illustrated in His model prayer (Matt 6).

Now, Paul expands on the role of leadership and by the time JOhn writes in AD 90ish he is writing to the 7 angels (probably pastors since God's Angels arent capable of sin post exhile of 1/3) of the 7 churches. But that doesnt diminish the power of our Lord's words. The Bishop of the pastoral epistles wasnt needed for Christ to hear the binding and loosing prayer of His people. He who warmed the heart of 2 people on the road of Emmaus, does so today!! The reality of it has been proven time and time again. If one views the power to bind and loose as the prayer of faith that avails much (Jas 5), then 2-3 of God's people standing in persevering intercession can move spiritual mountains. At this same time I have to caution that my view sounds like I would support the home/church and simple church view that institutional churches are wrong. That is not my view. I have strong views on a trained pastorate and accountability but the dynamics of Jesus providing HIS COMMON every day people a life-changing DIRECT path to Him cannot be diminished.

As to an unbroken line of succession, I think some questions need to be asked. Where are the signs of an Apostle in any human today as defined by Paul in 2 Cor 12:12? Has the historic ediface of universal church leadership existed in purity of doctrine and life? NO! It is significant that we understand the apostolic and prophetic ministries of the church were meant to be foundational. Has the Foundation not been laid? Does the Church not exist? Scripture did not provide a means of succession of these offices, and Acts 1 lays out the only known criteria for being an Apostle --- one of the 12 to be precise. That criteria was to be a first hand eye witness as were the 12 and Paul, by special revelation. I am not cutting out the gifts of Christ referenced in Eph 4 by any means. But I dont believe the apostolic and prophetic ministries of the church reside in one person quite like they did in the first century or, more specific, until the canon was complete and the Church began to empower that canon by common use. Cannot the church today be still benefiting from the final revelation of scripture the apostles and prophets of the 1st century deposited to us in scripture? I believe the gift of the apostles and prophets is still effective when we come closer to Christ, and more like Him, as our mind is made more like His.

Matt 16 speaks of a Church Body to be built but Eph 3-4 speaks of a Church Body that has been built on the Chief Cornerstone (the ROCk=Jesus) along with the foundational ministries of the prophet and apostle. I will leave it up to each person to decide whether we have grown up or down but teh church was THE CHURCH in the first century. That is, the role of Apostle and Prophet appear to have become less and less needed as Christians became established in the Word, and united in the common faith that included the regular prayer meeting; and unity around their local bishop. Despite Ac 15, which occurred during the life of the apostles, I do not see sufficient scripture to justify the support of universal counciliar or episcopal ruling of the entire church through an eternal priesthood/succession. I bring that up because the transition of reponsibility to the local church (Gal 1 and Rev 2-3) and to quasi-apostolic leaders like Titus and Timothy, for doctrinal purity and unity, seem to me to make the historic ecclesiastical definition of binding and loosing subsumed in a papal see to be a rather moot point.

Submitted as a poster (without my spell checker),

In Christ,

Dan Fugett, Sr Moderator
dfugett2010@gmail.com




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