1. What type of kingdom did Christ intend to bring?
Jesus Christ is a descendent of King David and is referred to as “Son of David” in Scripture.1 Christ’s relation to King David is paramount in understanding the fulfillment of his covenant with God. King David was promised a descendent who would “rule forever” and sit on “David’s throne” forever.2 Christ, as the Eternal King, is certainly the descendent of King David’s who will “rule forever” from King David’s throne. During the exiles of Israel, the people wrote with hope about the New Jerusalem and the Messiah that would usher in the New Davidic Kingdom; thus, any conversation about what is and what is not properly intended by Christ, regarding his Kingdom, must be couched within the template of the Davidic Kingdom.3
2. What role did Christ intend for Saint Peter?
In the district of Caesarea Philippi, Christ asks his disciples “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” St. Peter responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus then says to St. Peter:
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
What is Christ’s intention for St. Peter with his Kingdom? On its face, the passage affirms two general truths. First, Christ changes Simon Bar-jona’s name to Peter meaning Rock, the foundation of Christ’s kingdom on earth, the Church. In the Old Testament, God changing someone’s name denoted a special calling, a new vocation, e.g., Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Jacob to Israel, etc. St. Peter’s name change denotes that he will have a special vocation among the twelve disciples. Second, St. Peter is given the “keys of kingdom,” which comes with ability to bind and loose.4 It is important to note this is one of the few times Christ ever mentions the “Church.”
3. What is the biblical backing for St. Peter’s role in accordance with the Davidic Kingdom?
If Christ’s Kingdom retains a unique Davidic character, is there any Old Testament evidence that illuminates the keys given to St. Peter? Yes, it is clear that Christ is rewording a passage from Isaiah that speaks of a position within the Davidic Kingdom:
And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him like a peg in a sure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his father’s house.
The similarities in the Old Testament passage are striking. In both passages, a person within the Davidic Kingdom is given keys that come with the authority to open and shut or bind and loose.5
4. What is the position and what is its purpose?
Reading Isaiah 22 and Matthew 16 together, the position or office given to St. Peter appears to be one of a steward or vicar. The vicar is the person who governs in the king’s stead when the king is away. He does not have the authority to change the teachings of the king, but he does have the authority to enforce and clarify them. In King David’s time, this person would rule when David was off to war or some other errand. In our age, the Vicar of Christ, aka the Office of the Papacy, governs the Church according to Christ’s teachings until Christ the King returns for his Kingdom. Notice David’s Vicar has one key to open and close the earthly kingdom, but Christ’s Vicar has two keys: one for heaven and one for earth.
5. What does the Catechism of the Catholic Church say about St. Peter and the Papacy?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
882. “The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, ‘is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.’ ‘For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.'”
6. Is there a distinction between Petros and Petra?
A popular grammatical question on the Matthew passage often takes the form of the following: But in Greek, St. Peter’s name is Petros and Christ says, “upon this petra,” so Christ was not referring to St. Peter, was he? First, note that the premise of this question is that for over two thousand years, the Office of the Papacy has been founded upon a missed nuance in Greek grammar that no one apparently noticed, including those Early Church Christians who spoke and wrote in ancient Greek.
A few thoughts. First, while the Gospel is written in Greek, Christ arguably spoke Aramaic; thus, “You are kepha and on this kepha I will build my Church.” It’s the same word. Furthermore, St. Peter is referred to as Cephas, meaning Rock throughout the New Testament.6 The distinction in Greek is slightly more nuanced.
Greek is an inflected (not “reflexive”) language, which means that the forms of nouns change based on the function a word is performing in a sentence. When this happens, the base meaning of the word remains the same. The inflection communicates information about how the word is being used grammatically but not what it means.
In the case of petros vs. petra, the change is not an inflection. Petros and petra are two different words in Greek. They are similar because they are cognates (just as “president” and “presider” are cognates in English but are nonetheless two different words with different, though related, meanings). Because they are two different words, the inflection (change of form) of petros and petra is not what is at issue here. The basic meanings of the terms is.
The point the article is making is that in Attic Greek there was a slight difference in meaning between the two, but in Koine Greek (the dialect of the New Testament) they were synonyms.
Petros and petra are two distinct words, but without a distinction in meaning. The grammatical distinction does not import any error on the historical understanding that St. Peter is the Rock referred to in St. Matthew’s passage.7
7. Is not Christ The Rock?
There are two general arguments here. First, that Christ alone bears the title The Rock; thus, it is not appropriate to grant that title to St. Peter. Second, that the passage in Matthew 16 is referring to Christ as the Rock of the Church.
First, Christ is not the only person to hold the title/name Rock. Christ is referred to as the Rock, because he is the foundation of all things; however, in the rabbinical tradition, Abraham also bore the title Rock. Isaiah 51:1-3 states, “Look to the rock from which you were hewn… look to Abraham your father.” Cardinal Ratzinger comments on the similarity between St. Peter and Abraham as Rock:
Abraham, the father of faith, is by his faith the rock that holds back chaos, the onrushing primordial flood of destruction, and thus sustains creation. Simon, the first to confess Jesus as the Christ and the first witness of the Resurrection, now becomes by virtue of his Abrahamic faith, which is renewed in Christ, the rock that stands against the impure tide of unbelief and its destruction of man.8
Christ retains the name The Rock, but both Abraham and St. Peter have carried the title Rock as well. Regarding, the St. Matthew passage, it was Jesus Christ who named Simon Bar-Jona, Peter, the Rock. It would not make any sense for Christ to name St. Peter Rock and then be – without any contextual clues of a transition – be referring to himself as the Rock upon which he will build his Church. The entire context of the passage focuses on Peter: his name is changed, he is explicitly given the keys, and his authority is explained. There is no grammatical reason why Christ would be referring to himself in the passage, especially since, again, it was he who changed Peter’s name.
The following considerations are meant to intuit certain protestant hesitancies that are common when discussing the biblical foundation of the papacy.
8. How can I follow both Christ and the Pope?
If the papacy is properly understood, as defined by the Catholic Church, then to be obedient to Christ is to follow the Pope and to follow the Pope is to have confidence in one’s understanding of Christ. Imagine a citizen of King David’s saying, “I am a citizen of King David’s Kingdom, but I will not obey his Vicar.” The statement makes little sense, as the Vicar is selected by the King and governs according to the King’s laws. The Vicar is nothing in and of himself. The Vicar always points to the King. The Pope always points to Christ. Cardinal Ratzinger taught that the pope was the “Advocate of Christian Memory.” He holds the People of God to the memory of Christ and his teachings, the identity of the community.
In short, the Pope holds the King’s people to the King’s laws while the King is away. He is the Rock upon which the King has built his Church and has been given the keys of authority.
9. Is the Pope a middleman between us and God?
Protestants often lament that the Pope is a middleman between Catholics and God, which in turn distorts the ability of a Catholic to have a “personal relationship with God.” Unlike King David’s Kingdom, though our King Jesus Christ is gone, we can still communicate with him, embrace his true presence in the Eucharist, and have a personal relationship with him. It is painfully obvious, however, in our modern world that the concept of a “personal relationship with Christ” has spun wildly out of control. With each generation, Protestant pastors attempt to reinvent the Christian religion by dogmatically projecting their personal experiences onto others. They form new “churches” upon their new understanding of Christ and Christianity. Across the board, “personal relationship with Christ” is in truth a personalized Jesus. Jesus becomes simply a concept to be molding to this or that individual’s beliefs.
The Protestant Reformation splintered the Church and the Protestants have been splintering ever since. Everyone claims their own version of Christ, and with no perceived Christ-given-authority to rule what is true and what is false. “Churches” split and Christians are divided. The Pope exists to purify, guide, and defend the Church’s relationship with Jesus Christ. The unified Church under the Pope – the Advocate of Christian Memory – holds the Church to the teachings of Christ and his apostles. He is a bulwark preventing Catholics from drifting off into the fads and ideologies of the age.
In essence, the Catholic life is one about living the Christ-centered life. It is not a life spent wondering whether or not this teaching of Christ or that new “church” is right or not. The Pope frees Catholics from worrying what is the Christian life, to simply living the Christian life.
10. What does Christ want for his Church?
Assuming all that has already been addressed, there is one specific prayer of Christ that contextualizes the greater conversation of one unified Church. In the Gospel of John, the 17th chapter is arguably the central passage of the entire New Testament and one of the most underestimated passages as well. The chapter is Christ’s prayer for his Church. Toward the end of the passage, Christ focuses on unity:
That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou hast given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, as we also are one: I in them, and thou in me; that they may be made perfect in one: and the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast also loved me. Father, I will that where I am, they also whom thou hast given me may be with me; that they may see my glory which thou hast given me, because thou hast loved me before the creation of the world. Just Father, the world hath not known thee; but I have known thee: and these have known that thou hast sent me.
Christ’s prayer for the Church begs certain questions from those who call themselves Christians: does the perpetual fracturing of one protestant group into another resemble the unity of Christ’s prayer? Does the infighting and strife of broken communities show the world Christ was really the Son of God? Do thousands upon thousands of contradictory Christian communities lend belief to the fact the one true God came to earth? The way Christianity is currently lived in the world promotes the belief that charity may be separated from unity. The God’s charity and God’s unity may be divorced.9
There are other questions that may be asked of God. Did Christ come and establish a community with no authority to guide it? Did Christ come and give us the truth without any way to confirm it? Did Christ come and preach unity and charity only to leave humanity to fracture and break under sin into thousands of contradictory communities? Did Christ come and bring humanity The Word only to have no authority to interpret it? No. He brought a Kingdom and a Kingdom structure. The Office of the Papacy unites us in one Church, one God, one Christ, and one Truth.
The Papacy does not replace Christ or stand as a threat to a personal relationship with Christ, but rather the Papacy is a means of purifying a Catholic’s personal relationship. Followers of Christ should not be forced their whole life to wonder what is and what is not Christianity. There is no need to reinvent or rediscover the faith in every generation. The Pope and the Church allow Catholics to simply live by and love the same Jesus Christ the Apostles knew and loved.
The Pope holds the King’s people to the King’s laws, so, in fulfillment of Christ’s prayer for the Church, the People of God may show the world Jesus Christ by their unity and charity.
- Son of David: Matt 1:1-2; 9:27-29; Mk 10:47, 48 [↩]
- King David’s Throne: I Chron 17:14; Ps 89:35-36; Luke1:31 [↩]
- David’s Kingdom: Is. 9:6-7; 11:1-3; Jer 33:14-15, 17, 19-21, 26; Ps 132:10-14, 17; Luke 1:31-33, 68-71; II Tim 2:8; Rev 5:5, 22:16; Rom 1:3 [↩]
- Keys of the Kingdom: Matt 16:13-20 [↩]
- Keys in the Old Testament: The verse is Isaiah 22:22, but the entire passage is notable for discerning the vocation of St. Peter. For instance, the passage is actually taking the keys from one steward to the next. This detail is often used to combat those Protestant circles who affirm St. Peter had a unique role, but argue the role died with he died. [↩]
- Cephas in the New Testament: cf. John 1:42; I Cor 1:12, 3:22, 9:5 [↩]
- Petros/Petra: The explanation is taken from the article Petros v. Petra by Jimmy Akin. Another article consulted was the Catholic Answers article Peter the Rock. SPL had previously held that the petros/petra was one of inflection and corrected this mistake during an update. Updated: 3/3/14 [↩]
- Abraham/Peter Rock: Quote taken from Called to Communion, Cardinal Ratzinger, Ignatius Press, p. 56. [↩]
- Christ’s Prayer: St. John 17:21-25. [↩]