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A.        The Prominence of Peter in the NT

Evangelical Protestants must get over their aversion to Peter. There is no escaping the fact that he played a dominant role in the gospels and in the early development of the church in Acts.

(1)       Every list of the twelve apostles has Peter placed at the top (Judas is always listed last; see Mt. 10:2; Luke 6:13-16; Acts 1:13).

(2)       Peter was the first of three special disciples whom Jesus included in his inner circle (Mt. 17:1; Mark 5:37; 9:2; 14:33; Luke 8:51; 9:28).

(3)       Peter is often mentioned explicitly by name while the others are often referred to simply as 'disciples' or 'the eleven' (Mark 16:7; Acts 1:15; 2:14; 2:37; 8:14; 10:45; 1 Cor. 9:5; 15:5).

(4)       The names of Peter (whether Peter, Simon, or Cephas [the Greek transliteration of the Aramaic Kepha) are used 191x in the NT.

(5)       Peter's pre-eminence in the book of Acts - Acts 1:15-26; etc.

(6)       Peter is often the spokesman for the apostles (Mt. 8:29; 18:21; Lk. 12:41; Jn. 6:67ff.).

Other facts about Peter:

Son of Jonas (John 1:42; Mt. 16:17)

Brother of Andrew (Mt. 10:2; John 6:8)

He was married (Luke 4:38; 1 Cor. 9:5)

He possibly had children (Clement of Alexandria in Stromata 3,6; ANF 2:541)

Peter was the first man to see the risen Christ (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5)

Peter assumed leadership on the Day of Pentecost and preached the first gospel sermon (Acts 2:14-40)

Peter exercised a leading role in the early church (Acts 5:1-11; 10:1ff.; 15:1ff. and Jerusalem Council)

B.        Texts on which the RCC builds its case for Papal Authority

(1)       Matthew 16:17-19; 18:18

"And Jesus answered and said to him, 'Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say that you are Peter [Petros], and upon this rock [petra] I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you [singular] shall bind on earth shall be bound [estai dedemenon = future periphrastic, perfect passive participle = "shall have been bound"] in heaven, and whatever you [singular] shall loose on earth shall be loosed [estai lelumenon = "shall have been loosed"] in heaven'" (Matthew 16:17-19).

"Truly I say to you [plural], whatever you [plural] shall bind on earth shall be bound [estai dedemena = "shall have been bound"] in heaven; and whatever you [plural] loose on earth shall be loosed [estai lelumena = "shall have been loosed"] in heaven" (Matthew 18:18).

a.         What/Who is the 'Rock'?

Assuming Jesus spoke Aramaic, this statement would have read: 'You are kepha and upon this kepha I will build my church.' However, in the Greek text there is a slight change: 'You are Petros and upon this petra I will build my church.' Some Protestants make much of the change in terms, arguing that if Peter were himself the 'rock' on which the church is built that Jesus would have said, 'You are Petros and upon this petros I will build my church.' But there is good reason why Jesus used two different Greek words. The Greek word for 'rock,' petra, is feminine. Not wanting to give Peter a feminine name, he simply coined a new name for him that was masculine in gender, Petros.

What about the alleged difference between petros = small stone (but only in pre-Christian literature), and petra = massive rock? The argument is that Peter is a small stone, but on the massive rock, whether Christ himself or the confession by Peter that Jesus is the Christ, the church will be built. This distinction is unlikely, and when it may obtain it occurs only in poetry. Also, the Aramaic kepha = massive rock. If Jesus had wanted to say "small stone" he had another Greek word that was more appropriate (lithos), but in that case he would have lost the pun.

Other Protestants point to the fact that Jesus switches from direct address to the third person: 'You are Peter [direct address] and upon this rock [third person] I will build my church.' This supposedly indicates that the 'rock' is not Peter himself but the confession he makes, one made by all Christians. Stephen Ray (Upon This Rock: St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early Church [Ignatius Press, 1999]) argues that 'the third person not only refers to Peter . . . but also includes something even more extensive: the stewardship of Peter, the primacy, the office of the universal shepherd. It includes Peter, yet, but projects out through time; and time is an important element in this passage, extending beyond the individual man to the perpetual office being established' (36).

b.         In what way/sense did Jesus build his church on Peter?

c.         What are the 'keys of the kingdom of heaven'?

The standard RC interpretation is that the keys represent the delegation of authority. The idea is that Jesus is leaving the earth and is assigning a vice regent or steward to be over his 'house'. In giving Peter the 'keys' Jesus is granting him power and authority to administer affairs on behalf of the absent King. As for the 'keys', see Isa. 22:22 and Rev. 3:7.

Protestants have generally understood the 'keys' and the one who holds them as referring to the power to exclude or permit entrance to the kingdom (cf. Rev. 9:1-6; 20:1-3). Especially helpful is Jesus' statement to the Pharisees in Luke 11:52,

'Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered.'

d.         What is the power of 'binding' and 'loosing'?

The typical RC interpretation is that Peter is granted the right to make binding decisions for, regarding, and on behalf of the church that God will ratify from heaven. As Stephen Ray put it, 'God binds himself to Peter's decisions' (37). Peter, so they contend, 'has power to exercise administrative and legislative authority with a mandate from heaven' (Ray, 40). Thus, according to Rome, Peter (or his successors in the papal chair) make authoritative and legislative decisions to which God then adds his imprimatur.

Protestants read these texts as asserting that Peter's (or the church's) decisions are a reflection of what has already been legislated in heaven. To the degree that the church remains consistent with Scripture, its declarations 'shall have already been established' in heaven. D. A. Carson provides this summation:

'Peter accomplishes this binding and loosing by proclaiming a gospel that has already been given and by making personal application on that basis (Simon Magus). Whatever he binds or looses will have been bound or loosed, so long as he adheres to that divinely disclosed gospel. He has no direct pipeline to heaven, still less do his decisions force heaven to comply; but he may be authoritative in binding and loosing because heaven has acted first (cf. Acts 18:9-10). Those he ushers in or excludes have already been bound or loosed by God according to the gospel already revealed and which Peter, by confessing Jesus as the Messiah, has most clearly grasped' (Matthew, 373).

(2)       Luke 22:31-32

'Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers' (Luke 22:31-32).

The fact that Jesus prays only for Peter and instructs him to "strengthen" the other disciples supposedly confirms the idea that Peter is the leader of the apostolic company who is expected to guide and provide spiritual encouragement to the others.

(3)       John 20:23

'If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven [apheontai = perfect passive]; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained [kekratentai = perfect passive]' (John 20:23).

Although the verb forms are different from Matthew 16 and 18, the theology is much the same. When we faithfully proclaim the terms of the gospel, on which forgiveness of sins is suspended and entrance into the kingdom granted, people either repent and believe or not. We are given the authority, based on that gospel, to declare, based on human response, whether an individual is forgiven or still under the guilt of his/her sin.

(4)       John 21:15-17

This text is interpreted as Jesus appointing Peter to be the universal shepherd of the entire flock of believers. Says Ray: 'The Good Shepherd appoints Peter to participate in his own authority as shepherd, to exercise delegated authority and leadership over the flock. What is this but a veritable primacy of jurisdiction'? (49).

(5)       Acts 1:15-26

The RCC interprets this story as providing a biblical precedent for apostolic succession. Just as the office of Judas Iscariot had to be filled by another, so also the office of Peter subsequent to his death.

Q: 'On what grounds does Rome argue that the office and authority of the original 12 apostles extends beyond their deaths'? Mathias was selected to fill out the original 12. But why should we think that the 12 are themselves to be succeeded by others?

According to Rome, the original company of apostles 'designated such men and then made the ruling that likewise on their death other proven men should take over their ministry' (CC, 861). Again:

"'Just as the office which the Lord confided to Peter alone, as first of the apostles, destined to be transmitted to his successors, is a permanent one, so also endures the office, which the apostles received, of shepherding the Church, a charge destined to be exercised without interruption by the sacred order of bishops.' Hence the Church teaches that 'the bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church, in such wise that whoever listens to them is listening to Christ and whoever despises them despises Christ and him who sent Christ'" (CC, 862).

C.        The Doctrine of Papal Infallibility

Infallibility may be expressed in one of three ways. First, the church as a whole is considered infallible when it recognizes and concurs upon some truth of faith or dictate of morality:

'The body of the faithful as a whole, anointed as they are by the Holy One (cf. 1 John 2:20,27), cannot err in matters of belief. Thanks to a supernatural sense of the faith (sensus fidei) which characterizes the people as a whole, it manifests this unerring quality when 'from the bishops down to the last member of the laity,' it shows universal agreement on matters of faith and morals' (Lumen Gentium, 12).

Second, Rome believes truth can be stated infallibly by the bishops when they are in union with the pope.

Third, in certain circumstances, the pope alone can speak with an infallibility by virtue of a gift (charism) bestowed by Christ and passed down through apostolic succession:

'The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful - who confirms his brethren in faith - he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals' (Lumen Gentium, 25).

This concept was formally defined at the First Vatican Council (1869-70) in the decree Pastor Aeternus where it was determined that for a statement of the pope to be considered infallible it must meet these conditions:

(1)       The Pope must be speaking ex cathedra (lit., 'from the chair' of Peter), or in the capacity as chief shepherd and teacher of the universal church.

(2)       The Pope must explicitly declare ('by a definitive act') that this doctrine is a truth of faith and so define it.

(3)       This doctrine must pertain to either 'faith' or 'morals'.

This doctrine is not meant to suggest that the Pope is always infallible in everything he says or that he cannot sin or make serious mistakes in judgment. The charism of infallibility does not extend to papal encyclicals, apostolic exhortations, or other informal communications from the papacy. Nevertheless, according to Vatican II:

'this religious submission of will and of mind must be shown in a special way to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra. That is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known chiefly either from the character of the documents (in which the teaching is presented), from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking' (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, no. 25).

In other words, when the magisterium 'teaches' ordinarily it is to be received with 'religious assent' or 'religious submission of will and of mind' but not necessarily with the 'obedience (or assent) of faith' which is required for all infallibly defined doctrines.

See especially CC, 888-892.

How would this apply to the situation described in Galatians 2:11-21?

The only two instances in recent years of the Pope declaring official dogma:

The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary (1854)

The doctrine of the Assumption of Mary (1950)

D.        The relationship between the Pope and the College of Bishops

"'The college or body of bishops has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter's successor, as its head'. As such, this college has "supreme and full authority over the universal Church; but this power cannot be exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff'" (CC, 883).

"'The college of bishops exercises power over the universal Church in a solemn manner in an ecumenical council.' But 'there never is an ecumenical council which is not confirmed or at least recognized as such by Peter's successor'" (CC, 884).