Church Authority : LUSENET : Catholic : One Thread

On another thread I asked why the Roman Catholic Church believes itself to be the sole representative of Christ upon earth and that all Christians must answer to their authority. To me the argument for this seems to consist of three points:

1) all Christ’s authority passed to Peter, 2) Peter’s authority passed to his successors and 3) these successors are the Popes

The poster and frequent commentator Paul posted a long argument about Matthew 16:13-20 guaranteeing that all Christ’s authority on earth passing to Peter. Some other interpretations come to my mind.

I’ve looked at the Greek text of these passages, and I’m not so sure that this is the best interpretation – especially considering that just a few verses later in Matthew 16:21-23, Peter (perhaps forgetting himself) tries to lecture Jesus, and Jesus calls him “Satan” and a “stumbling block”.

This does not seem to be a good start to an everlasting, exclusive but transferable reign of Godly authority. Indeed, these verses (if taken with the earnestness of 16:13-20) would seem to cancel the previous verses entirely!

Can someone give me some more evidence for any of these claims for divine authority? Such weighty matters, concerning the spiritual destiny of all humankind, must surely have some strong evidence to back them up.

-- Origen (, February 23, 2003


Much has been written on this matter. For just the tip of the iceberg, click here.

God bless,

-- Hollis (, February 24, 2003.

This feeble argument is put forth time and time again, presumably because there is no better argument to offer. Peter does not "lecture" Jesus here. Rather, in his overwhelming love and zeal for the Lord, and not yet realizing the necessity of the Lord's passion and death in God's plan of salvation, he fearlessly professes that he will protect Jesus, and not allow Him to suffer. Jesus, who as a man is already fearful of what is going to happen to him, tells Peter that what he is saying is a source of temptation - that's why He calls Peter "tempter". It's the kind of exchange that might take place between any two friends. One person, in all sincerity, says something that inadvertently causes a problem for the other. So, the other friend reprimands him. Such an exchange would not have any effect on a solid friendship between two ordinary people, so it is ludicrous to suggest that it might somehow might alter the eternal plan of God for His appointed Vicar.

You say "I’ve looked at the Greek text of these passages, and I’m not so sure that this is the best interpretation". I assume you have a doctorate in Greek, and also in Biblical exegesis? The persons who provided the interpretation of these passages were expert in both areas; but more important, they also had the direct promise of Jesus to His Church, "whatsoever you bind on earth is bound in heaven". Do you? Can't you see the catastrophe that has been wrought upon the Christian faith by the unscriptural human tradition of personal interpretation? Why do you persist in it??

-- Paul (, February 24, 2003.


Are you sincerely looking for Truth, or just looking to argue with someone? (I am genuine in asking this, not trying to accuse or be argumentative.)

Peter wasn't "lecturing Jesus" when Our Lord rebuked him. Peter was denouncing the upcoming crucifixion, which Jesus was foretelling. Then Peter said something to the effect of, "God forbid that that would ever happen." Then, Jesus rebuked Peter.

The places in the Bible which establish the primacy of Peter are many...and I have already described them in detail in other threads on this forum, as have others.

If you read the Gospels and Acts, you will see that Peter is always (except once) listed first among the apostles, and Judas listed last. After Christ's death, Peter takes on the role of vicar immediately, his shadow even cures people. Even before Christ's death, it is Peter who acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, and that there is no place else to go, as Jesus is the One Who has the words of Eternal Life.

Please let me know if you can't find the other threads, or if you sincerely need.

We are more than happy to give you answers if you are open to receiving the Truth.

May the Peace of Christ and Love of Mary guide you to the fullness of Truth. Pax Christi. <><

-- Anna <>< (, February 24, 2003.


As my kids would say, "You rock!"

Pax Christi. <><

-- Anna <>< (, February 24, 2003.

For Paul: Nope, I don’t have Bible, Greek or theology degrees. I’m just a generalist who likes to examine the big questions and “make a right judgement”, if it’s possible to do so.

I’m not just teasing you guys; I really want to know the substance behind what you’re claiming. So far, I’m just getting a circular argument.

I’ll leave aside the “inspired interpretation” claim for the moment since I don’t see any justification or evidence for it. It does have the attraction of ending all intellectual inquiry, though, so maybe …. ;^)

But really: even the Catholic study Bibles I’ve read (I’m recalling the St. Joseph edition of the New American Bible) don’t carry your explanation. It’s not very strong scholarship, IMHO.

Here are some alternate interpretations that all seem to be more likely to be correct than the one you put forward:

OK, alternate interpretation 1: Others churches of apostolic tradition (as far as I understand them) see the Matthew 16:13-20 passage as indeed passing certain authorities and responsibilities on to Peter – and to some extent the other apostles. The difference is that this “apostolic ministry” is seen to pass on to the bishops, not just to one bishop, by whatever title.

Alternative interpretation 2: Yes, authority was passed to Peter and the other apostles, chiefly for setting up the churches and writing the New Testament. The authority ended when Peter and the others died. However, it lives on in the Bible, which carries God’s authority on religious matters. The church established on these Biblical teachings will endure till the end. (This interpretation is popular with many Protestants.)

Alternative interpretation 3: There is a play on words contrasting Peter (the small rock) with his proclamation of faith in Christ (the Big Rock). The keys are given to Peter and the other apostles to establish the church and complete the Bible. But when they died, this passes to the bishops (for apostolic traditions) or simply to the Bible as the record of the gospel message (for others). Some point at the role of evangelists in appointing bishops/presbyters as evidence of the latter. (This is also popular with Protestants.)

Any of the above 3 might be acceptable for literalists. The next considers modern Biblical scholarship.

Alternative interpretation 4: Modern scholarship has clearly shown that the apostle Matthew or other eyewitnesses could NOT have written Matthew 16 or any other part of the book. For instance, the real author(s), who I’ll call pseudo-Matthew, copied large sections of Mark (actually, the majority of the book) verbatim, something no “eyewitness” or “directly inspired” person would do.

In other words: Matthew (and the other gospels for that matter), are works of literature meant to teach Christians something about their Lord and something about the Christian life. But they are not eyewitness or directly inspired accounts, or even “histories” at all. There’s a powerful theory (by Michael Goulder) that the synoptic gospels are written as catechisms for early converts, with their structure largely paralleling the synagogue readings from the Torah leading up to Passover (and therefore Easter as well).

What’s more: there is little scholarly reason to consider most of the characters of the gospels as anything other than literary characters, who are used to convey symbolic messages. Some, such as Herod and Pilot, are historical (and these were chosen for their evil reputation). Others? Well, the evidence is exceedingly thin. This is somewhat shocking since we were all taught to think of the gospels as literal, historical accounts.

All our fighting and bloodshed, over literary characters!

Pseudo-Matthew and Pseudo-Luke also used a common source called “Q” by scholars, since they also produce much the same material from a common source. But what was in Q? Well, it appears to be a book of Wisdom teachings attributed to Jesus. The “historical Jesus” is not its theme – its Christ is the timeless, Divine teacher who speaks with the voice of God’s Sophia (Wisdom) to God’s people. But we only have what Pseudo-Matthew and Pseudo-Luke chose to use of Q; we don’t have Q itself.

Was Matthew 16:13-20 from Q? We don’t know. The “establish the church” passage isn’t in Luke. It’s not in Mark. In Mark (the earliest gospel), 8:29-30, Simon Peter makes the same confession – and Jesus just tells them to keep quiet about it. He doesn’t proclaim any sort of authority for Peter and other apostles. It’s strange that “Mark” leaves this out, since it is so important, but he does – since “Mark” doesn’t know any thing about such a claim of “apostolic authority”.

Where did the extra Pseudo-Matthew bit come from? And since it is obviously so important to the message of the gospel (the establishment of the one and only true church), isn’t it important to know?

OK – what I’ve said above about Matthew is well established by Biblical scholars, who, yes, have doctorates (and plenty college, believe me). Some are even Catholics who haven’t got kicked out yet. The following is a bit further afield, and it is just my opinion:

The closest thing we have to Q, other than the parts reproduced in Matthew and Luke, is the “gnostic” sayings/wisdom Gospel of Thomas. The two have much text in common, though often “Thomas” has Jesus saying things one doesn’t expect. In the passage in “Thomas” that parallels Matthew 16:13-20, it is Thomas who makes the right confession, not Peter. Then Jesus takes Thomas (the twin) aside and teaches him the secret teachings, which are so radical Thomas cannot explain them to the other disciples.

Simon is pictured as a bit slow, a “brother” to Jesus (see Mark 6:3), and perhaps represents the egocentric ego, which is slow to catch the reality of what Jesus is teaching and often stumbles (as in Matthew 16:21-23 and elsewhere). The true twin, Thomas, catches it in the “Gospel of Thomas”. Simon does not.

(Nasty comment warning: don’t read ahead unless you’re curious!)

So, where does Matthew 16:17-20 come from? Is there any reason to believe it not to a self-serving insertion by an institution eager to consolidate its power? The only thing it “adds” the messages of Matthew 16 is that the “church of Peter” carries any and all power as long as the earth endures.

So, here’s my question for the real Biblical scholars out there: what’s the earliest manuscript or fragment that actually has Matthew 16:17-20 in it? This may give us some idea of its dating. The earliest whole manuscripts are late 4th century, I believe, but it was an established tradition before that, in the time. How early was it?

I don’t have any textual evidence for this, but I suppose it must have turned up around mid 2nd century, since Irenaeus makes a big deal over the “only four” gospels and for the authority of bishops. Before Irenaeus, history is silent on the “canonical” gospels.

-- Origen (, February 25, 2003.

Dear Hollis,

Yes, your link is very interesting. Thank you.

I haven't seen anything to answer my concerns about the authority of the Roman Catholic church, but this material is well organised and, well, gentle.

It seems that some of the "church fathers" took up the position in the mid to late 2nd century.

-- Origen (, February 25, 2003.

Origen, This page cites many Protestant scholars who support the interpretation of Peter as "rock." (Forgive me for inquiring as to your sincerity.)


Could you explain how to do links? Or point me in some direction to learn how? Also, bold, italic, etc.? (Thanks.)

Pax Christi.

-- Anna <>< (, February 25, 2003.

Dear Anna,

Thanks for the link. It's interesting, and I like different arguments on these points, but it doesn't really justify Paul's (and I suppose the Catholic church's) position on this question.

But I think I'll drop the point and leave you good Catholic folk in peace. It's your forum, after all.

-- Origen (, February 25, 2003.

Hello Origen,

One uncommon answer to your question is to look to the great commission in the Gospel of Matthew in which Our Lord commands his apostles to "go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, teaching them to obey all my commandments for behold, I am with you always until the end of time".

So his command was to a) Apostles who have universal teaching authority, b) over the whole earth, c) over the whole of faith and d) and Christ would remain with these teachers until the end of time.

Thus, for this to be true, Christ's Church (the "people of God", the "flock", the Kingdom, etc.) would have to be universal (Catholic) and rooted in the teaching authority of envoys sent by and sustained by Jesus Christ not just in that generation, but in all generations...

This being so, (and it's hard to see how this is NOT so given both the text and clear context), having Peter be first among equals in this teaching body of personal envoys of Christ isn't so far fetched.


-- Joe Stong (, February 26, 2003.


I like your answer, though I disagree with bits of it – especially since I took the promise of Christ being “with you” to apply to all his disciples.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from following the path that seems best to them, nor to deny that the Catholic faith is the right path for many. And if one is a Catholic, it seems obligatory to follow the authorities of the church, though I really didn’t think when I started this argument that this applied to one’s very thoughts.

My point has been to question whether that authority rested so securely as to be applied to everyone. In other worlds – was it a matter of faith, a matter of tradition (however venerable) or a matter of indisputable fact?

That it is easily and honestly disputed by a generalist layman like me seems to rule out the last option.

But with you and Anna being so nice about it, I’d like to drop the argument.

-- Origen (, February 26, 2003.


Look at it this way: every week we get Protestants here claiming the church is wrong because of "X", and none of them have the same complaint, it's always something different, and often they even contradict each other.

WHY would Christ institute a church where everyone believes something different and believes themselves correct? Having ONE church that one can KNOW they get the Truth from makes more sense, doesn't it?


-- Someone (, February 26, 2003.

There is no such thing as an indisputable fact. The question is not whether it is indisputable, but simply whether it is fact. We know from Scripture, Tradition, and history that it is. The fact that some people don't know this fact doesn't make the fact any less factual. When everyone "knew" the earth was flat, the fact of its roundness was just as true as it is today. Truth is objective and absolute, independent of belief. Which is why we are so blessed to have an infallible source of fact, so we don't have to guess at the truth.

-- Paul (, February 26, 2003.


At long last, I think I understand your position. And your first statement is, of course, true.


-- Origen (, February 27, 2003.

Origen, I disagree with you, but that was pretty cute! ;-)

-- Christine L :-) (, February 27, 2003.


the earth is not flat?

-- rod (, March 09, 2003.

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