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The Papacy and Sacred Scripture

On the Readings for Sunday, August 27, 2023

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 1216 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.

    • Mr. Vogel:

      For the sake of candid discussion, I am very interested in your claim above that: “the Pope claims to be mediator between God and men with power over souls….”

      My sense is, of course, that this is an erroneous view (though it may…ironically…be a view shared by many Bishops, priests and lay Catholics themselves, simultaneously with people who are not Catholics who eject Catholic faith because of this erroneous view).

      Do you have a source to substantiate your claim, or is this instead your general sense of things?

    • Sounds like fundamentalist Brian is back under a new name. Weren’t you banned from here because of your constant attacks on Catholic teaching? Why are you here again? Why is a fundamentalist trolling a Catholic website?

  4. As the Catholic church recycles its’ sermons every 3 years, so does Carl with his articles…check out the dates on the comments. I guess when all you can do is skim the surface of scriptures, that’s to be expected. Sigh

    • “As the Catholic church recycles its’ sermons every 3 years…”

      Your ignorance of the Catholic Church is equal to your ignorance of Scripture. The Roman rite of the Catholic Church has a three-year cycle of Readings for liturgies; the Eastern Churches (both Catholic and Orthodox) have a one-year cycle. Homilies (sermons) are not “recycled”, although I’m sure priests will sometimes repeat what they’ve said in previous homilies.

      The only thing shallow going on here are your sad attempts to insult. But it’s clear that’s all you have; your many comments over the past few months display little real knowledge of God’s Word and certainly no grasp of history, theology, and commonsense. If I wanted something deeper from a Fundamentalist, I’d dig out my rather large Jack Chick comic collection.

    • If I may add to the papacy and sacred scripture the papacy and Apostolic recognition:
      Accept our counsel and you will have nothing to regret. If anyone disobey the things which have been said by him [God] through us [i.e., that you must reinstate your leaders], let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and in no small danger (Pope Clement I AD 80).
      You [the church at Rome] have envied no one, but others you have taught. I desire only that what you have enjoined in your instructions may remain in force (Ignatius of Antioch Letter to the Romans AD 110).
      The greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul, [is] that church which has the tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. With that church, because of its superior origin, all the churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world, and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition (Irenaeus Against Heresies AD 189).
      The Lord says to Peter: ‘I say to you,’ he says, ‘that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. And to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever things you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, they shall be loosed also in heaven’ [Matt. 16:18–19]. On him [Peter] he builds the Church, and to him he gives the command to feed the sheep [John 21:17], and although he assigns a like power to all the apostles, yet he founded a single chair [cathedra], and he established by his own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity (Cyprian of Carthage The Unity of the Catholic Church AD 251).
      [The] judgment [concerning Athanasius] ought to have been made, not as it was, but according to the ecclesiastical canon. It behooved all of you to write us so that the justice of it might be seen as emanating from all. Are you ignorant that the custom has been to write first to us and then for a just decision to be passed from this place [Rome]? If, then, any such suspicion rested upon the bishop there [Athanasius of Alexandria], notice of it ought to have been written to the church here. But now, after having done as they pleased, they want to obtain our concurrence, although we never condemned him. Not thus are the constitutions of Paul, not thus the traditions of the Fathers (Pope Julius I Letter on Behalf of Athanasius AD 341 in Athanasius, Apology Against the Arians 20–35).

  5. Revelation 12:10
    “Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: Now have salvation and power come, the reign of our God and the authority of his Anointed One”

    Even when Jesus Second Coming, Comes, in all His Power and Glory, to Rule the world under Messianic Reign, Jesus will still Rule on earth with and through an ‘Anointed One’, which, an ‘Anointed One’, in Revelation 11:15 “Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet. There were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world now belongs to our Lord and to his Anointed, and he will reign forever and ever.’, means, post apocalyptic Catholic Popes, or their upgraded equivalents.

    Psalms 1:2
    “Why do the nations protest and the peoples conspire in vain? Kings on earth rise up and princes plot together against the LORD and against his anointed one”

    NABRE Bible note for Psalms 2:2
    Anointed: in Hebrew mashiah, “anointed”; in Greek christos, whence English Messiah and Christ. In Israel kings (Jgs 9:8; 1 Sm 9:16; 16:12–13) and high priests (Lv 8:12; Nm 3:3) received the power of their office through anointing.

    Psalms 1:2
    Why do the nations protest and the peoples conspire in vain? Kings on earth rise up and princes plot together against the LORD and against his anointed one: “Let us break their shackles and cast off their chains from us!” The one enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord derides them, Then he speaks to them in his anger, in his wrath he terrifies them: “I myself have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.” I will proclaim the decree of the LORD, he said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you. Ask it of me, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance, and, as your possession, the ends of the earth. With an iron rod you will shepherd them, like a potter’s vessel you will shatter them.” And now, kings, give heed; take warning, judges on earth. Serve the LORD with fear; exult with trembling, Accept correction lest he become angry and you perish along the way when his anger suddenly blazes up. Blessed are all who take refuge in him!

    Revelation 11:15
    Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet. There were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world now belongs to our Lord and to his Anointed, and he will reign forever and ever.’

    Matthew 19:28
    Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

    Revelation 2:26
    “‘“To the victor, who keeps to my ways until the end, I will give authority over the nations.

    Revelation 3:12
    “The victor I will make into a pillar in the temple of my God, and he will never leave it again. On him I will inscribe the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my God, as well as my new name”.

    Revelation 3:21
    I will give the victor the right to sit with me on my throne, as I myself first won the victory and sit with my Father on his throne.

  6. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Romans 1:21-23

    Pretty much sums of the vast number of Catholics (giving adoration to God’s deceased creatures like Mary, Joseph, saints; priests kissing relics in the alter…the list goes on and on………sigh)

    • Your ignorance is breathtaking. And both sad and funny. Sigh.

      You do know that St. Paul is writing about homosexuality in Romans 1, right?

      It reminds me of the great quote by Abe Lincoln: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.”

      But, really, why do keep using a Catholic book to attack and lie about Catholics?

  7. Thank you, Carl, for this reflection. Greatly respect your work and am thankful for personal transition from being an anti- papacy fundamentalist to become an outstanding teacher of the Catholic Faith.
    As a cradle Catholic, I have had a somewhat opposite experience in trying to understand the proper role of the papacy. Why do we call the Pope His Holiness when history seems to contradict that title by the moral conduct of some popes who were anything but holy. Such obeisance seems also to contradict Sacred Scripture (see Acts:10,26).
    The best I have been able to come up with, strictly as a non-scholarly lay person, is that the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ which sometimes throughout history includes and is led by the moral and doctrinal teaching of the sitting pope. Certainly believe that occurred during the papacies of JP II and Benedict. In all humility, just harder for me to state the same with Francis.

    • Thanks, Tom. Terms such as “Your Holiness” or “Your Excellency” are not necessarily descriptive of personal sanctity (although we hope they are!) but of the call and vocation of the office.

      Personally, it has been helpful to recognize that, yes, there have been some bad popes (the “pornocracy” was especially bad in the late 900s), but, overall–and especially in recent centuries–popes have been notable for their personal sanctity and various abilities. But the Petrine office doesn’t rely on personal holiness or various talents, as wonderful as those are. It has very limited and specific duties–important and essential in ways, but far more narrowly focused than most people think (or so it appears to me).

      The Church is ruled by Christ; Divine Revelation is the bar for all of us–not the personal pronouncements of pontiffs, although they have a notable role and place in the life of the Church. But guarding, professing, defending and (if necessary) further defining dogma and doctrine are the essential actions of a pope, as well as being a visible sign of unity in Christ. And I think that Benedict XVI, especially, tried to emphasize this fact. But, for the most part, it fell on deaf ears. Ironically, the current papacy, in its own problematic manner, is reminding us of the same truth.

      • Thank you, Carl, for your kind and detailed response.

        Certainly agree that “Divine Revelation is the bar for all of us.”

        CWR is a true blessing for all seeking to be faithful Catholics.

        • Well asked, dear ‘Tom in Florida’ (incidentally we’re praying for Floridians to escape the approaching storm); and, well replied, dear Carl.

          It is an enormous help in debates about the papacy for the participants to all have read Eamon Duffy’s superbly written & illustrated: ‘Saints & Sinners: A History of the Popes”, Yale, 1997.

          Also, we need to contemplate the way that Saint Peter exercised the powers bestowed on him by our LORD, Jesus Christ. As with Peter’s profession: “You are The Christ, The Son of The Living God!”, Peter RELIED ON REVELATIONS from The Father & The Holy Spirit, e.g. in his ministry to the pagan household of Cornelius. Peter NEVER engaged in power-over politics & syncretism with the principalities, powers, dominions, rulers, authorities, governments, and thrones of secular society. Pope Peter limited himself to proclamation of Gospel Truth & to caring for & feeding the lambs & sheep given him by our Master, Jesus Christ. Peter’s method of ‘popeing’, if we can call it that, is amply confirmed in the epistles: 1 Peter and 2 Peter of our New Testaments.

          The First Pope must be our benchmark in assessing the teachings and behaviors of any who claim to be his successor. Without Peter there’d be no pope.

          All that is alien to Saint Peter must greatly diminish our respect for a pope; but not for the potential for a godly person to fulfil the Petrine Office at a future date. This needs to be the heart of our prayers for The Pope.

          It is preposterous to maintain that we Catholics must respect and be shaped by whoever occupies the position and whatever they do. Such a claim subverts the Apostolic Witness & the credibility of Catholicism among all godly people.

          Peter is as Peter does. By their fruit you will know them.

          Hoping these brief comments helps deobfuscate this issue, that for far too long has been discombobulating our mutual understanding of our Faith.

          Ever in the grace & mercy of Jesus Christ; love & blessings from marty

  8. Before verse 24, where is Paul talking about homosexuality?
    Whenever people, in their conceit and ingratitude, begin to reason on their own, without constantly checking the results of their speculations
    with God’s revelation in nature, history, conscience, and especially, whenever possible, with the Word of God, their foolish hearts are darkened. Such darkness indicates mental dullness, emotional despair, and spiritual depravity.

  9. Divine Revelation is the antidote to Divine Monarchy. The process involves signs. Acts 2.22,43 are verses regarding signs, Christ, and the Apostles. This is extremely important, because it is a teaching that could help masses of illegal immigrants to understand why they don’t need to leave their homelands in order to find a “better life.” It is a theology that supports the doctrine of Divine Providence. The preaching of the seeking of signs as a form of Revelation needs to be expounded further from the pulpit. The Body of Christ is spiritual/mystical. Therefore, metaphysics (John Paul II regarding the teaching of Acquinas) is an essential element of Christian teaching.

    “Prohibiting” and “permitting” are perhaps milder words that “blessing” and “cursing,” yet they generally serve the same purpose. Christ didn’t seek to condemn, yet he knew that if someone crosses a line, that God would send forth a rebuke — for their own good.

    The description of Mt. Hermon was interesting.

    I wish that one of the writers for this interesting forum would visit the Anchor Stone International,, and Wyatt Research websites, and learn about the discovery of Noah’s Ark. I have just arranged my third radio interview — to be held in late October, with Jerry Bowen, who is the director of Anchor Stone International — that concerns this discovery. (July, ’21 and Feb. ’23 were the first two, on KPRZ 106.1 FM San Diego, Christian radio, Caz Taylor “Come Together San Diego” podcast.)
    This is the most incredible Christian news that most Christians haven’t heard about.

    I regret that these are last hour remarks.

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