The following is a running email thread which is currently ongoing. If you’d like to be added to it, give me your email in the comments — I’ll just copy it and add it to our list, but I won’t publish the comment. You can also tell me whether I’m allowed to publish your contributions to this blog post.
Trent: …just what is the Lutheran exegesis of Matthew 16:13-19?
Jason, I remember you taking me in hand on my first Sunday at Zion Marshall my freshman year at Hillsdale and telling me that I was doing “exegetical gymnastics” when I defaulted to the “Peter’s confession is the rock” position. Fond memory.
So, Peter’s the Rock. So what? Why is he not the pope? Or, if he’s the pope, why is that not all that Rome says it is? I guess I’m wondering…is it Rome’s interpretation of the nature of the Office of the Keys that is the erratum here?
I’d love to have discussion with y’all about this if you’re willing to have it. Fr. Charles, please remember to Reply-all if you can — I don’t want others to miss your missives!
Aaron: Gary Wills says that Rome’s read of Matthew 16 is an anachronism.
BTW Sungenis is a nut. My hardcore papist friends can’t stand him because he drags their side down so badly. Also BS that Augustine as Sungenis contends believed in the primacy of Rome.
(Admin note: “Rome has spoken; the matter is settled.” When St. Augustine wrote this, he was basically saying, “OK, all the votes are in.” It was more like saying, “OK, Miami-Dade County sent in their returns, we can call the election now.”)
Eric: It’s bad exegesis to say that the rock is the confession rather than the confessor, since Jesus is clearly punning on his name, but I think it’s equally clear that Peter is called a rock, the foundation of the church, because of that confession and the subsequent role he had in building the church upon it. The problem with the Papist reading here is that what’s true of Peter is true also of the other Apostles. In Matt. 18, Jesus repeats what He told Peter about the keys, this time to all the Apostles. Then we have Eph. 2:20 and Rev. 21:14, which call the Apostles the foundation of the Church. Peter got special mention because 1) he was the first one to put the confession into words, 2) he was the leader of the group (#1 and #2 are related), and 3) because the pun worked for his name.
So is he the Pope? The real question is, is the Pope Peter? And the followup question, which is even harder for Roman Catholics to answer: when did Peter ever assert any kind of authority that looks anything like the claims that developed over the next fifteen centuries for the Bishop of Rome? It’s an awfully big leap from primus in paribus to Unam Sanctam.
Fr. Charles: Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope 25-29 is noteworthy. Here the “rock” is the confession St Peter made (TPPP 29) or the “rock” is the “ministry of the confession which Peter made” (TPPP 25).
The difficulty with the Roman position is this: Even if one stipulates that the “rock” is conceivably Peter – many non-Roman including Lutheran exegetes hold that opinion – it is still quite difficult to then conclude that each bishop of Rome is the successor of Peter in a unique sense such that the words addressed to Peter apply to all the bishops of Rome. There are even responsible Roman Catholic scholars who admit that one cannot even prove a monarchical episcopate at Rome until later in the 2nd century; it seems that until then the Roman Church was governed by a corporate body of presbyters/bishops. Another problem is that Peter is also viewed by Roman Catholics as founder of the See of Antioch: so the Roman Church keeps the Feast of the Chair of Peter at Antioch on Feb.18. Why then are not all the subsequent bishops of Antioch included in the words addressed to Peter?
Aaron: Wouldn’t a good Roman apologist claim the “development of doctrine” as an explanation for the difference?
Fr. Charles: “Development of doctrine,” Romanly understood, plays a part. But as Dr Phillips notes, it’s quite a leap from primus in paribus to Unam Sanctam of Boniface VIII.
Eric: A big problem with “development of doctrine” on this question is that the monarchical papacy developed in the Latin church and nowhere else. How do you know that the Roman evolution is the correct one? The Pope says so. But how do you know that the Pope has the authority to make such a ruling? The Roman evolution says so. It’s a logical circle. It works well enough as a post-hoc justification for those who are already inside, but it’s pure assertion, and it doesn’t get the RC to a point where he can actually appeal to Scripture to establish his position. It’s purely defensive: “Yeah, I know Scripture doesn’t exactly say that, but here’s why we’re not worried about that.”
Trent: Eric (a.k.a. Dr. Phillips, dearest cousin, etc.),
Didn’t Peter’s own brother (St. Andrew) put the confession into words much sooner? I mean, not in direct response to a query by Our Lord, but an indication of faith, all the same:
“One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, “You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas” (which is translated, A Stone)” (St. John i, 40-42).
And then Philip comes out with this:
“Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote — Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph’” (St. John i, 45).
And Nathanael with this:
“Nathanael answered and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’” (St. John i, 49).
What’s special about St. Peter’s confession? It almost seems like Christ is saying to him, “Alright! You finally get it! Now I can use you to spread the Gospel.” Not a whole lot more. This doesn’t take away from St. Peter’s honor. Far from it — acknowledging the honor that is conferred by the blessing of Christ, i.e., Christ’s regard for Man/a man, is a greater recognition and honor than could be garnered for possessing an “indelible character.” As Fr. Charles has said, St. Peter is great on account of the great forgiveness he receives from Our Lord, not on account of anything else…
Jason: Greetings all from Afghanistan.
I’m a little rusty, but I’ll try to throw in my two cents briefly and hope you can sort it out.
Jesus could never have made more obvious statement than, “Your name is ‘Rock,’ on my ‘Rock’ I will build the Church…” That’s dummy-proof and I don’t think anyone on either side of the debate has a position that hangs on deciding or un-deciding that question. Is there really a question? “You are Rock, on my Rock…”
However, let’s keep in mind the position against which confessional Protestantism and the Eastern Orthodox are arguing:
Does “Rock” mean “the ultimate and infallible bishop of the Church catholic who possession both a primacy of honor and jurisdiction over all Christians which gives to him the authority to speak ex cathedra; the Rock is the bishop of all whose word is self-authenticating”? Put otherwise: “The word of the Rock is justified/proved by its origin from the Rock, even if that word seems to conflict with the historic and Biblical Gospel”?
…or, and secondly:
Does Christ’s designation of the “Rock” (St. Peter) as “Rock of the Church” mean that he possesses an authority in his office over the other apostles, such that there is a distinction of quality within the office of the Rock – some quality that does not belong to the other apostles and by extension, other bishoprics of the later Church?
I submit to you that a simple reading of the “Rock” passage does not bear, necessarily, the doctrinal claims of the later development of doctrine (circle), as Dr. Phillips has so aptly pointed out.
I submit to you that the authority to bind and loose sins is given to all of the Apostles; that it is the greatest authority of the apostles and belongs to the whole Church in the same quality/kind as it belongs to Peter.
(Admin note: Christ speaking to all of the disciples, not just Peter – “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.
“Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
“Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” [St. Matthew xviii, 15-20].)
Hence, any bishop of the Church could become a heretic by teaching falsely against the people of God (Ezekiel 34); in order to become a disloyal shepherd one usually must in fact have been a shepherd indeed; and Peter’s distinction as leader among the Apostles, which is obvious from the Acts narrative, does not change the fact that his position rests in the Gospel, which is the foundation of the Church (1 Cor. 3).
Further, given the interactions between Peter and Paul, it is all the more obvious that Peter’s status as Rock does not give to him some special position to self-authenticate doctrine that militates against the Gospel. And further, that any Apostle can publicly rebuke that teaching if it is wrong, as Paul did. ie. Any treatment that Peter received from the Church, when he risked falling into error, can certainly be duplicated in the later Church. The greater you make Peter, the more obvious it becomes that later bishops of Rome can be rebuked for error.
Hence, the point is moot. The question to ask is not: who is Peter, his doctrine will be right. Ultimately, we must still ask, what is the Gospel, according to the witness of the Scriptures and the catholic testimony of the whole Church, as was in fact the case at so many counsels.
I end on that point because the debate over the status of Peter is actually a debate about doctrinal hermeneutics, right? Can we read the Scriptures to verify their meaning, or must we ultimately conform to what Peter says they mean, since he is the Rock — assuming of course the whole Roman development around that passage. If he is the “Rock” in the Roman sense, it is even more obvious that later bishops of Rome can be rebuked for error, since Peter, the Rock himself, was rebuked. If he is only the Rock in an historical sense and enjoys only a primacy of honor which depends upon his orthodoxy, then we are left in the same place.
Bottom line: Peter never claimed that he was correct because he was the Rock. Rome shouldn’t either.
…more as the conversation continues. Feel free to check back or add to the dialogue in the comments. If you opt for the latter, please indicate in your comment whether you’d permit me to transfer your comment to the body of the post. Thanks.