10 Biblical Reasons Christ Founded the Papacy

What does the Pope actually do? Wouldn’t a Pope hinder my personal relationship with Christ? Why a Pope at all? By Scripture, this list strives to show that the Pope and the Church allow Catholics to simply live according to and love the same Jesus Christ the Apostles knew and loved.

Pietro Perugino - Entrega de las llaves a San Pedro (Capilla Sixtina, Roma, 1481-82)

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.'”

The Four Marks of the Church: One, Holy, Catholic, & Apostolic

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.

  1. Son of David: Matt 1:1-2; 9:27-29; Mk 10:47, 48 []
  2. King David’s Throne: I Chron 17:14; Ps 89:35-36; Luke1:31 []
  3. 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 []
  4. Keys of the Kingdom: Matt 16:13-20 []
  5. 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. []
  6. Cephas in the New Testament: cf. John 1:42; I Cor 1:12, 3:22, 9:5 []
  7. 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 []
  8. Abraham/Peter Rock: Quote taken from Called to Communion, Cardinal Ratzinger, Ignatius Press, p. 56. []
  9. Christ’s Prayer: St. John 17:21-25. []
  • Gerry

    I got as far as reading about Jesus being related in some convoluted way to David. This has nothing to do with facts and reality and everything to do with fulfilling scripture.

    Daft question but was Jesus related to David on his father or mothers side?

    Yes I know it was on his fathers but hold on isn’t the whole premise of christs birth that god was his father not Joseph?

    Can you see where I’m coming from?

    From memory Matthew tried to made every 14th descendant prominent & Luke traced Jesus back to Adam. He was real wasn’t he….?

    Faith is a wonderful thing but to use it to ask good people to rely on it to cover obvious inaccuracies is abhorrent. It’s also the reason that the church has lost so many followers and until it loses this conceit & arrogance it will continue to do so.

    And so it should.

    • Jem

      One of the most widely held theories suggests that Matthew’s account follows the lineage of Joseph, while Luke’s genealogy is that of Mary, the mother of Jesus. This interpretation would mean that Jacob was Joseph’s biological father, and Heli (Mary’s biological father) became Joseph’s surrogate father, thus making Joseph Heli’s heir through his marriage to Mary. If Heli had no sons, this would have been the normal custom. Also, if Mary and Joseph lived under the same roof with Heli, his “son-in-law” would have been called “son” and considered a descendent. Although it would have been unusual to trace a genealogy from the maternal side, there was nothing usual about the virgin birth. Additionally, if Mary (Jesus’ blood relative) was indeed a direct descendant of David, this would make her son “the seed of David” in keeping with Messianic prophecies.

      This was taken from http://christianity.about.com/od/biblefactsandlists/a/jesusgenealogy.htm

    • Steve

      Gary, do you realize that by your statement of David having no doing in Jesus’ life, you have denied Jesus being man and only divine. There are numerous references of Son of David and of Jesus who will come in the lineage of David in the OT and gospels. There have been many Protestants who set their life out to disprove the Catholic Church, but many of them are the biggest believers such as Cardinal Henry Newman. Don’t fall into the heresy of denying Jesus’ fully human and divine nature, a heresy called Arianism that was defeated by the Catholic Church many many years ago.

    • That’s what you call the “mystery”.

    • suechurch

      It’s hard to believe there are Christians who don’t even go to church on Christmas!

      “In those days, the decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, because he was of the house and family of David”. – Luke 2:1-4

  • Gerry, go about your merry delusional way…

  • Jon

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t Jesus make it very clear on many occasions that his Kingdom is not like earthly kingdoms? The messiah the Jews were expecting was a cultural/political leader to overthrow their physical oppressors, and Jesus refused to fit into role. Matthew 13 is full of parables of the kingdom of heaven; I don’t see any of them as promoting the kind of physical or political kingdom structure this article seems to suggest. My understanding of the kingdom of God has always been that it’s not an earthly kingdom, and only like an earthly kingdom by analogy. If not, why didn’t Jesus just do what the Jewish zealots wanted him to: overthrow the Romans and set up the Kingdom in Jerusalem or the Vatican right off the bat?

  • Joe

    Good article. Dr. Peter Kreeft speaks very well on this issue of personal relationship with Christ vs. individualistic religion. He also addresses that while Catholics have the opportunity to have the deepest and clearest relationship with Christ that many Protestants are still more serious about their faith than many lukewarm Catholics.

  • Edwin Eche

    I want to know more about Christ in order to build my faith on catholic teaching.thanks

  • Peter means small stone.Study the word Petros,it is a sling stone,some are boundary stone
    Jesus says…thou art Petros and upon this Petra, i will build my church! This was the happened when Peter called Jesus”The Holy one of God.” …Upon this Petra(means a big rock,unmovable,applied to Mount Olympus) i will build my church!

    • Matt

      So what you are saying Beauden is that Matthew 16;17-19 should actually translate like this: Blessed are you Peter, you insignificant pebble here are the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. If that’s not what you are saying what exactly are you saying?

  • Jesus in no way intended a Papacy that looks like it does today. I challenge you to Show me in Scripture where Jesus bestows total supremacy (not primacy) and infallibility exclusively on Peter. Well,guess what?… He didn’t. If he did then Paul would not have won out the argument at the first council at Jerusalem against Peter to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. What was bestowed to Peter? That Jesus built His church on the FAITH of Peter. What therefore did this make Peter? It made him THE FIRST (Primacy) among EQUALS!!!!

    • You said it right!

    • Tony Romano

      « Paul would not have won out the argument at the first council at Jerusalem against Peter »

      Nice try, but Paul’s dispute with Peter was a rebuke of Peter’s *actions* (his behavior: not eating w/Gentiles for fear of the circumcision party)–Paul did NOT correct Peter on any false *teachings*!

      Subsequent popes have borne out this pattern. Some of our popes haven’t been exactly model examples of Faith by their deeds, but NO pope has ever led the Church into doctrinal error/falsehood.

    • FR

      Scripture is clear that God is supreme, not Peter! Matthew 16:18 “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock (Peter = rock in Greek), I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” The office of Peter (The Papacy) only serves as the administration of his word here on earth which is the most significant JOB among humans because Christ put Peter (the first Pope) in charge of leading people to God (the ultimate truth) and sent the Holy Spirit TO GUIDE him to do so. To reject the Popes stance is to reject Peter and his successors’ responsibilities given directly by Christ personally.

    • Teeno

      FRTMCGILL. . . Don’t look for the answer to your questions in scriptures, friend, because you cant find them there. Look for it in the Church because the Church is the foundation and pillar of truth (Timothy), not the Scriptures. Scripture points you to the Church. IF YOU ARE AN ARDENT BELIEVER OF THE SCRIPTURE Why don’t you believe what it tells you that the Church is the foundation and pillar of truth? Do you know what you protestants are doing to the the scriptures? You twist them to suit what your itching ears want to hear. You even throw away some of the books. The Church established on Peter’s faith? Where in the scriptures can I read that? Common friend, be reasonable or you become simply a fool. Little learning is a dangerous thing. Indeed. It can send you to hell!

  • Rev. Terrence P. McGillicuddy

    Ever think Jesus is saying I build my church on the rock of Peter’s faith not on the person himself. Again a few versus after this one Jesus gives the keys to all the Apostles. No, Jesus is referring to the Peter’s faith not his person hood.

  • The above post has been updated. Outside of styling issues, the only substantive addition was to the petros/petra discussion. The list now reflects a better understanding of the Greek.

    And Thank you. This list was one of the first posted on SPL. Your support over the last three years has been tremendous.

    Thank you.

  • Andy

    “It is necessary to always bear this in mind: nothing was conferred on the apostles apart from Peter, but several things were conferred upon Peter apart from the apostles.” Pope Leo XIII

  • Davis

    Lots of things have been addressed here so forgive me because there will be many gaps since I would need to make a post about the length of the original one to answer everything. A couple of things though.
    1) First of all, protestant churches (legitimate ones anyway, ones who have the fundamentals tenets of faith as the basis for salvation as explained thoroughly by the New Testament) are not living in schism because they have different denominations which arise simply out of difference in personal conviction. The best way I can explain this is with a personal example. I go to a “baptist” church that is right across the street from a “pentecostal” church. Are we fighting amongst each other about who teaches about Christ correctly? No. We live in love and respect for one another, often inviting members of the other church to our church and vice versa. There is no contradiction in the fundamentals of the faaptith. The difference comes in with personal convictions about how church services should proceed. There is no contradiction in actual church doctrine. Yes there are churches who claim things that are completely against accepted Protestant doctrine. This is no reason to say that the protestant faith is full of contradictions. The fundamental Protestant faith does not stand by what those “rogue” (for lack of a better word) churches believe. I’ve heard of a few instances in which so called “Catholic” churches were denounced for some aspects of “heretical” teaching. It’s the same thing here. The protestant faith does not crumble in disunity because there are false so-called-protestant churches out there.
    2) Yes Christ intended for there to be leaders who would help explain theology to Christians. That’s what a pastor is for. His job is to be a spiritual leader. Catholics have taken this to the far extreme so as to set up a physical ruling government over the earth (shall we talk about how some Popes in the past millenia had more political power than the kings of certain countries themselves? Spiritual leaders? I think not.) The issue that protestants have with the Pope is that they don’t do what this article claims they do. Popes do no hold Christ’s original teachings as it was given to the apostles. To summarize this point, I want to paraphrase Paul’s words which go something along the lines of “If anyone comes to you with a different Gospel than what you have received, let him be anathema.” The catholic doctrine is nothing like what the Christian faith originally was. One example is that the Papacy is given equal if not supreme power in parallel to scriptures. Meaning that the Pope can invent whatever theology he deems “proper” and his word goes unchallanged because it is supreme to the Scriptures. This is also the problem that Protestants have with the notion of “the Pope being the leader so that no one has to worry about what it means to live a Catholic life.” The pope can do whatever he wants, and no one gets to ask any questions. They just have to obey without challanging the premises of new doctrines in comparison to scripture.

    • Jose

      How do you know that the Pope does not hold to Christ’s original teachings as it was given to the apostles? As a Protestant, the only way you could prove that is by appealing to scripture. The problem you’ll have with that is that there wasn’t even a canon of scripture until 400 AD, and it was the Catholic Church who declared that canon to be infallible. And it was the Catholic Church who first interpreted scripture. Thus, for the first 400 years of Christianity the faith was maintained through Tradition (The faith handed on by the apostles to their disciples and through non-biblical writings) not Scripture, and Scripture is a product of Tradition. We can stand here now and say that our interpretation of scripture is what the apostles received, but we have no way to prove it without appealing to Tradition or proving that our Church descends from the apostles, both of which the Catholic Church can do. And if it was not for the Pope’s ability to bind and loose infallibly we could not be certain that the scripture we have is truly God-breathed. It’s imperative to have a clear understanding of what infallibility means and how past Popes have exercised this authority, because it seems that that is what you are misunderstanding. The Pope has never just done whatever he wants when it comes to doctrine. Infallibility does not mean that everything he says goes. When he writes letters or gives a sermon, or just living his everyday life he is not exercising infallibly. And no Pope is exempt from sin just because he is in the office of Peter. That would be impeccability, not infallibility. And of course why Paul could have rebuked Peter. Even so, the Pope rarely exercises his infallibility, and it is always in regards to matters of faith and morals, which have been studied and labored over by the magisterium of the Church, often times stemming from hot debates amongst the faithful.

  • M. Salazar

    Any Protestant who tries to refute the papacy by using scripture is demonstrating ignorance of the history of bible. It was the Church that produced the bible. The church led and directed by the “one who holds the keys.” The books of the bible were selected and “canonized” by the Church, a church led and directed by a successor to Peter. Perhaps instead of twisting scripture, certain Protestants should go and cherry pick ancient texts, canonize them, and produce their own “bible” to substantiate their spiritual claims. That way, those who call themselves “Protestant”, or try to subsume “Christian”, can publish 20,000 + different bibles. Better yet, why even rely of scripture? Have we not the Holy Spirit with us? And what if the Holy Spirit tells me the Catholics gotta be wrong and that “I” am right?

  • Benson

    Did God accept Jesus’prayer for his church to be 1 /united ? Can thousands of arguing “Christians” be termed 1? Is separation not a product of satan, as opposed to unity? Work of the holy spirit (Galatians)is NEVER separation! If your Church is a product of separation Then it was not founded by Holy spirit!