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The Papacy and Sacred Scripture

On the Readings for Sunday, August 23, 2020

The entrance portal of St. Peter's Parish Church in Radovljica. (Photo: Donald Judge from England/Wikimedia Commons)
The entrance portal of St. Peter's Parish Church in Radovljica. (Photo: Donald Judge from England/Wikimedia Commons)

• Isa 22:19-23
• Psa 138:1-2, 2-3, 6, 8
• Rom 11:33-36
• Matt 16:13-20

“The doctrine of the primacy of Peter is just one more of the many errors that the Church of Rome has added to the Christian religion.”

So wrote the Presbyterian theologian Loraine Boettner in his 1962 book, Roman Catholicism, a popular work of anti-Catholic polemics. Although the religious landscape has changed significantly since the early 1960s, there are still many non-Catholic Christians today who agree wholeheartedly with Boettner’s assertions. The Papacy is unbiblical! It has no basis in Scripture! Peter was never singled out as a leader of the apostles!

Growing up in a Fundamentalist home, I believed such statements. But I now agree instead with the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the ‘rock’ of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock” (par 881; cf. 551-53). Some of the reasons for the change in my beliefs are found in today’s readings, which provide some Old Testament context for the papacy and also describe a profound exchange between Jesus and Peter.

First, the Old Testament background. King Solomon and his successors had twelve deputies or ministers who helped the king govern and rule (cf., 1 Kings 4:1ff). The master of the palace, or prime minister, had a unique position over those twelve, as described in today’s reading from the prophet Isaiah. The prime minister wore a robe and sash befitting his office, and was entrusted by the king to wield the king’s authority. The symbol for that authority were “the keys of the House of David,” which enabled the minister to regulate the affairs of the king’s household—that is, of the kingdom. In addition, this prime minister is described by Isaiah as a “father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.”

Fast forward to about the year A.D. 30. Jesus and his disciples are in the region of Caesarea Philippi, a pagan area about 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. They likely were standing at the base of Mount Hermon in front of a well-known cliff filled with niches holding statues of pagan deities; at the top of the cliff stood a temple in honor of Caesar. Jesus first asked the disciples who other people thought he was. The variety of answers given revealed the confusion surrounding the identity of Jesus, quite similar to the confusion and controversies about Jesus in our own time.

Jesus asked who they thought he was. It was Peter—brash but correct—who responded with the great acclamation, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”, confessing both the divinity and kingship of Jesus. Peter was then addressed singularly by Jesus, who renamed him Petros, or “Rock”. That name was unique among the Jews, reserved in the Old Testament for God alone. Jesus further declared he would build his Church upon the newly named Rock, and he gave Peter “the keys to the kingdom of heaven.”

This dramatic moment makes little or no sense without the context provided by Isaiah 22 and other Old Testament passages. Jesus, heir of David and King of kings, was appointing Peter to be his prime minister, the head of the Twelve. “The ‘power of the keys’,” explains the Catechism, “designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church” (par 553). The binding and loosing refers to prohibiting and permitting; it also includes the function of rendering authoritative teaching and making official pronouncements.

Does this mean that Peter and his successors are sinless or even somehow divine? No, of course not. They are men in need of salvation, just like you and me. But God has chosen to work through such men in order to proclaim the Gospel, to lead the Church, and to protect the teachings of Christ. They are fathers (“pope” means “papa”) who hold a unique office for one reason: they were called by Christ to hold the keys of the household of God.

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the August 24, 2008, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

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About Carl E. Olson 1197 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. Quasi divinity of Peter a reverent exaggerated aura. Our Lady virtual if not equal divinity veiled understanding. Masses in incomprehensible Latin Nuns not quite making the distinctions understood. Author Olson began with a valuable negation. Valuable because he had to pick and dig and scratch with fingers through scripture his mind critically disposed until truth gleamed. Converts have that advantage over born heretical Catholics [my heresy was infantile and excusable] as many are evidenced in their internet stories, Marcus Grodi interviews. Still many adult Catholics remain borderline apostates. My advantage of sorts was drifting off into the deep distressed then struggling back to the truth. “Does this mean that Peter and his successors are sinless or even somehow divine? No, of course not” except he was chosen by God to lead, defend the true faith. The heretical aura remained until an obstreperous Jesuit seminary prof recounted very sinful pontifical escapades. John Paul II reassured my aura heresy wasn’t quite so bad. Until later on. Did Our Lord not select Judas Iscariot? Did he not love him expecting great things? Or is predetermination to fulfill scripture return to heresy? The former is true the latter is understood in context of God’s omniscience. Although mystery betwixt the two opposites remains. For example was Benedict’s resignation providential unfolding of a divine stratagem confirmed by a lighting bolt? Current travail makes some think so. What shatters Traditionalist and Modernist apostasy is clarified during this pontificate. That it’s the Chair that possesses divine fabrication not necessarily the person ensconced. What then suffices? If not that we remain enclosed in the Sacred Heart knowing whatever transpires He will elicit good.

    • It seems to me Jesus addresses this in scripture when asked “what are we to do about unrighteous leaders in Israel” He answered “do as they say because they sit in the seat of Moses, but do not do as they do.” I interpret the “as they say” to mean the true words and meanings of scripture from the beginning, Tradition. Just let the meaningless vapidity pass on by. Simple and true. We know in this day what the truth has always been and if a question arises the authentic Catechisms are still around or can be if you hurry. So hold fast to the truth. We have a promise from God that He is with us until the end of the age and always. Jesus, I trust in you.

  2. “The keys to the kingdom of heaven” is a very common mistake, resulting from a careless reading of the passage. What Jesus actually says is “the keys of the kingdom of heaven”, i.e., the keys that belong to the kingdom. And what do these keys lock and unlock? The gates of hell, probably. The extended passage is a promise of the resurrection of the dead.

  3. Context, context, context.
    Isaiah 22:25 In that day, says the Lord of hosts,, the peg that is fastened is the secure place will be removed and be cut down and fall, and the burden that was on it will be cut off; for the Lord has spoken.

    Matthew 16:21-23 From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

    The word “pope” comes from the Latin word “papa” meaning father. Most scholars agree that the first real pope was Gregory I (590-604). The pope claims to be the mediator between God and men with the power over souls in purgatory.
    However, the Bible contradicts this claim by stating that “For there is only one God, and there is only one Mediator between God and mankind, the Man Christ Jesus” I Timothy 2:5 The papacy attempts to usurp the power and authority belonging solely to Christ by claiming the pope as head of the church, but the Bible declares that Jesus is the head of the church (Col. 1:18), and that “He has put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, and the fullness of Him who fills all in all. See also Col. 2:9,10

    The pope also claims the titles of “His Holiness” or “The Holy Father” in direct violation of Christ’s warnings to His followers: Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. Matthew 23:9,10

    • ‘Most scholars agree that the first real pope was Gregory I’

      Apparently ‘most’ scholars only includes anti-catholic internet trolls and not Catholic scholars. Try reading Eusebius sometime.

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. The Papacy and Sacred Scripture - Catholic Daily
  2. The Papacy and Sacred Scripture - Catholic Crossing
  3. What do all of the false Christs of our age have in common? – Catholic World Report

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