Chapter 10 -- Apostolic Succession
Peter Is the Rock
The plain reading of these verses is unmistakable. Simon says Jesus is the son of the living God. Jesus says Simon is son of Jonah. Simon says Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus says Simon is the Rock. Jesus changes Simon's name to Peter and declares He will build His church on Peter-the Rock. Furthermore, Jesus promises the gates of the netherworld will not prevail against this church He is building on Peter's office. Jesus gives Peter alone the keys to the kingdom of Heaven and states that whatever Peter binds on earth shall be bound in Heaven and whatever Peter looses on earth shall be loosed in Heaven. It is cut and dried. Jesus just chose Peter, the Rock, to shepherd His flock.
But, as may happen in Scripture, there may be conflicts between these and other verses, necessitating a possible alternate interpretation. Let's explore possible Scriptural conflicts with these verses.
Jesus said "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah." Jesus called Simon "blessed". Simon's spirituality had been confirmed by the Son of the living God. Simon may not be the ideal Apostle, he may not be steady (rock-like) in character, we even know he denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed, after he swore he would not do so. Nonetheless, Jesus called him "blessed" for God revealed to Simon that Jesus was the Messiah. There are no conflicting verses in Scripture where the Bible declares someone "blessed", but did not really mean it. One can only conclude Simon was, in fact, blessed.
Jesus went on to say "And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church...". It loses a little of the word-play in English. Using Aramaic, we get "And so I say to you, you are Kepha, and upon this kepha I will build my church, …". Now the irony is easier to see. Jesus changed Simon's name to 'Kepha', which means 'rock'. (In Latin, we substitute 'Petrus' for 'Kepha' and 'petram' for 'kepha'. There is still sufficient word-play in Latin. 'Petrus' in English is 'Peter', but 'petram' is 'rock', thus the loss in word-play when translated into English.)
Why would Jesus change Peter's name to 'Rock' unless He meant that Peter was the rock? 'Kepha' was not a name in Aramaic. It is possible Simon was the first person who ever lived to be named 'Kepha'. Jesus didn't do this to give Simon a strange name; He did it to convey a certain status, as was done so often throughout Biblical history.
In Gen 17:5, God changes Abram's name to Abraham "for I am making you the father of a host of nations". In Gen 32:29 God changes Jacob's name to Israel "because you have contended with divine and human beings and have prevailed". Jesus changed Simon's name for just such a reason. Peter became the shepherd of the flock.
Some have said Jesus was speaking of Himself when He said "this rock". In other words, it is as if Jesus said "And I say to you, you are Peter, and I will build my church on me…". To support this, they may say God is referred to as 'rock' in 2 Sam. 22:2-3, 32, 47; 23:3; Psalm 18:2,31,46; 19:4; 28:1; 42:9; 62:2,6,7; 89:26; 94:22; 144:1-2. God is referred by the title of 'rock', so it makes sense Jesus was referring to Himself as 'the rock'.
This requires gratuitous reading of Matthew's verses. Just because God is called a rock in other books of Scripture does not, of itself, mean only God and Jesus can be called rock. Indeed, Jesus may have chosen this metaphor to give Peter even greater status in the eyes of the disciples present.
Also, one has to counter grammatical correctness. It makes no sense to claim Jesus made Peter the object of the first part of the sentence, then used the conjunction 'and', then switched the object of the second part of the sentence to Himself. He should have at least used the word 'but' instead of 'and' so as to read "…you are Rock, but upon this rock I will build my church".
Others have said Jesus was speaking of the physical rock where they were standing when He said "this rock". They claim Jesus was in Caesarea Philippi standing before the place of worship of pagan gods, crafted by Herod. In a show of force, Jesus was going to build his church with Gentile converts from pagan worship.
There is nothing in the verses above to suggest this. It requires considerable literary license to get from the plain meaning of the text to this interpretation. Furthermore, it requires considerable theological study to discover, leaving only the most learned an opportunity to know it, if it is the truth. Again, grammar is offended by the conjunction 'and' rather than 'but', just as above.
Others state Jesus was speaking of Peter's faith when He said 'this rock'. They claim Jesus was going to build His church on the faith of Peter, and despite the clear wording in the rest of the verses, Peter was given no special status. (Note: the Catholic Church does not deny Jesus could be referring to Peter's faith in this case. But the Catholic Church doesn't separate Peter from his faith--Jesus makes Peter the shepherd of His church.)
To express 'this' in the phrase 'this rock', the Greek 'tautee tee' is used. 'Tautee tee' means 'this same' or 'this very'. It points to the subject of the sentence. It does not point to a concept, such as Peter's confession of faith, it points to something physical, like Peter himself. See http://www.catholicsource.net/articles/sung2.htm, http://www.scripturecatholic.com/the_church.html, or http://www.angelfire.com/ok3/apologia/firstpope1.html for a complete analysis of 'tautee tee' in this context.
Others state that one must read the original Greek to understand the intent of this passage. They claim in Greek, 'petra' (feminine) means large rock, 'petros' (masculine) means little rock. In the Greek translation, Jesus said "you are 'Petros', and upon this 'petra' I will build my church". They claim Petros and Petra are not the same, so Jesus could not have meant that Peter was the rock.
The first problem with this is that petra and petros are the same thing in Greek. Opponents may argue that long ago that wasn't the case, they meant different things. There is some agreement among scholars that may have been true as late as a few hundred years before Christ, but not after that.
The next problem is that opponents fail to realize that Jesus could not call Peter by the feminine name of 'Petra'. That would be similar to calling John by the name of 'Joan', or Andrew by the name of 'Andrea'. The masculine form of Petra is Petros, so that was the proper name given. The play on words is somewhat shaken, but the intent is still obvious.
'Lithos' means pebble in Greek. If Jesus needed a masculine name for Simon that means small rock, the translator could have used 'Lithos'. The early Greek translators did not do this because they knew what Jesus meant from the Aramaic, and there was an obvious play on words.
In an interesting irony, Simon means 'grain of sand' in Aramaic. Why would Jesus change Simon's name from 'Grain of Sand' to 'Small Rock'? If Simon was not the rock, Jesus would have left his name as it was for an even greater emphasis.
Jesus planned to build his Church on rock (Peter), not sand (Simon).
Jesus spoke in Aramaic. As explained above, this verse makes even more sense when you go back to the Aramaic.
In Aramaic, 'kepha' means large rock and 'evna' means little stone. He said "you are 'Kepha' and upon this 'kepha' I will build my church". We know Jesus called Peter "Kepha" because that name was used for him elsewhere in the Gospels. He did not say "you are 'Evna' and upon this 'kepha' I will build my church". Here, there are no gender distinctions, Jesus' meaning is clear and the play on words is obvious.
Plus, it makes no sense for Jesus to bless Peter, then tear him down by calling him 'Little Stone' then build him up again by giving him the keys to the kingdom of Heaven. Taken in context, Peter must be the rock.
The Gates of the Netherworld Shall Not Prevail Against His Church
Jesus then said "the gates of the Netherworld shall not prevail against it." The plain meaning of this text implies Satan will never bring down Jesus' church. It will be the pillar and foundation of truth for all time, regardless of Satan's attempts at sabotage.
This does not mean the Church won the majority of the battles with Satan. If the Church failed, even once, to preach the truth as regards faith and morals, then Jesus' promise would have been broken. Satan is the Father of Lies. A single falsehood would mean the gates of the Netherworld prevailed against the Church as regards that issue. Jesus said the Netherworld would not prevail at all.
Consider Luther's break from the Church about 1,500 years after the death of Christ. For Luther to claim the Church was preaching falsehood all those years means Christ was wrong from Day 1. Rather than the gates of the Netherworld never prevailing against the Church, it would have prevailed non-stop.
The Catholic Church has preached the same truths since the time of Christ. Nothing has changed. Doctrines may have become more fully understood and oral tradition may have confirmed what was not written in Scriptures, but the truth never changed. The Eucharist is the same now as it was then; oral tradition is the same now as it was then; salvation is the same now as it was then; apostolic succession is the same now as it was then.
Consider every Protestant faith in existence today, thousands of them. Each has a founder who rejects at least one truth preached by the Catholic Church because this founder discovered the 'actual truth' as he/she sees it. None of the Protestant faiths were in continual existence since Jesus made this promise to Peter, not to mention they were not the Church founded on Peter, which denies their connection to these verses at all. But, if any one of them was correct in their interpretation of the truth, then the Catholic Church preached a falsehood, and Jesus failed in His promise.
One might claim faith is non-denominational, or the Church Jesus alludes to is a spiritual Church made up of all true believers. The same arguments apply. If your faith ever accepted a doctrine as true, such as Sola Fide, then discovered it was not true after all, that faith is not the Church founded by Jesus. Your teachers were not direct successors of the Apostles; they were deceivers, intentional or otherwise. The Holy Spirit did not guide them when they first preached the falsehood.
The Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven
Jesus then said "I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven". The plain meaning of this text in English, as was true in Biblical times, is that Jesus is granting authority to Peter. If I give you the keys to my car with no provisos, it implies you may drive it. I expect you to take care of it. Unless I state otherwise, it does not mean you are free to wreck it, or damage it in any way, or even steal any personal items I left on the seat, but the car is yours to use. You are in control of my car until I take it back or you give it back to me.
Jesus did state otherwise when he gave Peter the keys. He said "whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven, whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven." That is the condition expressly granted to Peter to go along with the keys to the kingdom. Peter had full authority to bind and loose, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit led Peter to say "This is Church doctrine" then God would honor that doctrine in Heaven. If Peter said "This is not Church doctrine" then God would not honor that doctrine in Heaven. Peter was the final word on Earth. When disputes arose, and they often did, Peter settled the issue.
Jesus knew what He was doing when He gave Peter this authority. Jesus knew what Peter would do, and all Peter's successors. He knew Peter would find a successor to Judas' vacated apostolic office. He knew Peter would accept Gentiles into the Church. He knew Peter would move to Rome. He knew Peter would establish successors for all the Apostles, so Jesus could be with them, even to the end of the age. Knowing all these things, Jesus chose Peter. Indeed, although another of the original Apostles might have made a better first Pope, Jesus knew the future of His Church with Peter at the helm to start.
In Isaiah 22, we see an example of the granting of keys to a kingdom. In fact, most theologians recognize Jesus was imitating this chapter of Scripture in His Peter-is-the-rock discourse. In Isaiah 22, the king was displeased with Shebna, the Prime Minister of the House of David. (Note, David was dead for quite some time. The House of David was the kingly succession from David himself. This was important to the Jews, since God promised to establish the lineage of David forever, and the Messiah was promised to come from the House of David. See 2 Sam. 7:16; Jer 33:17; Psalm 89:3-4; 1 Chron.17:12,14)
God was going to place Eliakim in the office of Prime Minister of the Kingdom of David. In comparison, Jesus was going to place Simon in the office of 'Prime Minister' of His Church. In 2 Kings 23:34 God changes Eliakim's name to Jehoiakim. Jesus changes Simon's name to Peter. God gives Eliakim the keys to the Kingdom of David. Jesus gives Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. God gives Eliakim authority-"when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open." Jesus gives Peter authority-"whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Eliakim's 'descendants and offspring' shall enjoy the glory of Eliakim's office. Peter's successors shall enjoy the authority of Peter's office. And note, the Office of Prime Minister is just that-an office. If vacated, it can be filled again. That is the significance of being Minister-it is an office. And, the Prime Minister is the office over all other Ministers.
In Revelations Chapter 3, 'The Holy One' refers to Jesus. Jesus holds the key of David. Jesus, the Messiah, from the House of David, gave the keys to Peter. He declared a new Prime Minister in the lineage from David, just as God declared Eliakim.
The early church understood all of this. They rallied around the authority of Peter right from the start. In Acts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8 and 15, when Peter acted, when Peter spoke, it settled the matter. Everyone submitted to Peter's authority. Then, as now, Peter sought counsel from the other Apostles and disciples, but when he spoke, it was done.
Peter Is the Shepherd
These are words Jesus would speak to His shepherd. "Feed my lambs", "feed my sheep" and "tend my sheep" are unmistakably a shepherd metaphor.
The House of David shall be prince over them forever. There shall be one shepherd for them all. They shall live by God's statutes and observe His decrees. Jesus knew this, and spoke to Peter as His shepherd.
Rulers ruled from the throne. The chair of Moses was the office of the spiritual rulers of the Jews. Since it was the chair of Moses, Jesus acknowledged the people must do and observe whatever they are told by the holder of that office. No matter who held that office, the people were expected to honor whatever they were told, even if, as in this case, they should not follow the example. The holder of that office was the successor of the authority of Moses. So it is with the chair of Peter.
Satan planned to sift all the Apostles like wheat. Jesus prays for Simon's faith to not fail and commands him to strengthen his brothers. Simon, the Shepherd, must tend to his flock.
One of the first doctrines Peter established was to provide for apostolic succession, for his own succession. In that way, there would always be a shepherd for the flock; there would always be a final arbiter to settle issues, even until the end of the age.
Peter's first act as the Shepherd was to seek a successor to Judas' office. Judas was one of the twelve, and now he was gone. Rather than accept that there were only eleven now, Peter declared a successor must be found for the office. Peter, with the power to bind and loose, said it must be so, and all the others submitted. No one challenged him. Thus began the first in the long line of successors to the Apostles.
The Papal succession continued unabated, even when Martin Luther began the great protest over 1,400 years after Peter died. But Christ promised the gates of the Netherworld would not prevail against His Church. Luther's successors take the plain meaning of the verses above and twist them to their own destruction, to borrow a phrase from 2 Pet 3:16.
Jesus spoke to all the Apostles when he said these words. The Apostles spoke then, and declared apostolic succession. Their successors speak now in the Church. If you reject the successors of the Apostles, you reject the Apostles themselves, thus you reject Christ.
Here is a clear showing of succession. Paul is succeeded by Timothy, who will be succeeded by "faithful people", who will be succeeded by "others as well'.
Paul is succeeded by Titus, then he directs Titus to appoint other presbyters. Later in this same Chapter, Paul continues:
Some Individuals who do not honor the succession from Paul to Titus to the presbyters are labeled rebels, idle talkers and deceivers. This includes those who call themselves Christian (Paul says "especially the Jewish Christians"). They interpret the Scriptures and formulate their own views apart from the presbyters' guidance. They try to get others to believe in their way. Paul notes they must be silenced since they are teaching for sordid gain. This implies one can trust those who are direct successors of Paul, but those who are not direct successors, even though Christians, can deceive.
Foundation of the Apostles
The Church was not founded by Peter. Peter was not the cornerstone of the Church. He was the rock-the steady, early head of the Church. Paul acknowledges all the Apostles had a special place in Christ's Church, sharing in the foundation with the prophets.
Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit to the Apostles once He (Jesus) is gone. Among other things, the Holy Spirit will guide the Apostles to all truth, and He will take everything that the Father has, which also belongs to Jesus, and declare it to the Apostles.
And note, Jesus did not tell them everything right then because they could not yet bear it. He would send the Holy Spirit, who will "declare all things that are coming". This denotes things would be learned in the future. The Holy Spirit will not only confirm the truth of the past to the Apostles, He will declare things as they come. Jesus did not instruct the Apostles with everything that was important to know-they were to learn from the Holy Spirit as they could bear it. Jesus said He would be with them, even to the end of the age, and the Holy Spirit will guide them as it becomes important for them to know. The successors of the Apostles are being guided by the Holy Spirit today, and we are not yet at the end of the age.
Jesus tells the Father that as the Father sent Him (Jesus), so shall He (Jesus) send the Apostles. Jesus was sent with all authority, so Jesus sent the Apostles with all authority. And, Jesus consecrated them in truth. They must declare what is truth.
The Bishops of the Catholic Church are the only direct successors of the Apostles. All other Christians are possible deceivers. If you want to be certain you hear the truth from the successors of the Apostles, you must submit to the Church's teaching.
Jesus is speaking to His Apostles when He promises the Holy Spirit will speak through them. Jesus doesn't make this promise of all believers, only the Apostles and their successors.
Peter reminds us Jesus bestowed precious and great promises on the offices of the Apostles. Through the Apostles, the promises pass to us to share in the divine nature. In other words, it is the offices of the Apostles that teach us the way of salvation. It is the offices of the Apostles that pray for us. It is the offices of the Apostles that bind and loose, and guide us. It is the offices of the Apostles that contemplate the truth as revealed by the Holy Spirit, and reveal it to us.
We Are To Rely on the Apostles To Interpret Scripture
Peter tells us the Scriptures are not a matter of personal interpretation. If the office of the Apostles interprets Scripture, we can not derive our own contrary personal interpretation. Jesus gave the promise to the offices of the Apostles for the very reason of passing the truth to the masses. False teachers, who feel they are right and the offices of the Apostles are wrong, will introduce destructive heresies (interpretations of Scripture contrary to that declared by the office of the Apostles). Many will follow their licentious ways-in other words, many will have no regard for accepted rules and standards-thereby the truth will be reviled. The false teachers will interpret Scripture for themselves and revile the truth.
Does this sound familiar? Have you ever heard of anyone deriving a personal interpretation of Scripture contrary to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, promote that heresy to the point of leaving the Church or starting their own church in protest, reviling the truth, and many follow them? Peter is directly addressing what happened at the Protestant Reformation, and the thousands of different Protestant denominations that were formed in this very way.
Let's look at it another way. Suppose the Federal government declares that to reside in this country, all citizens must pay taxes. Furthermore, the Federal government establishes laws to govern taxes and the Internal Revenue Service to oversee everything that has to do with taxes-rules, regulations, collections, enforcement, etc. Now suppose Citizen Joe comes along and reads one of the laws established by the government, interpreting that law to say he does not have to pay taxes on the income from his hobby. The IRS interprets the law otherwise. Joe starts his own IRS. Many others who don't want to pay taxes on their hobbies join Joe. When Joe is hauled before the Tax Court, the judge will ask if he followed the law as interpreted by the IRS. Joe's defense will be he disagrees with the IRS on this point, and started his own IRS. What result? Joe, and all his followers, will have to pay all their back taxes and penalties, or go to jail. Joe wasn't confused as to what was truth; Joe was intentionally avoiding the truth.
God declares to reside in Heaven, one must love and obey Him. God established laws to guide us, and the Church to shepherd us. When Citizen Joe comes along and says he knows the Church Jesus established for that very purpose is wrong, and Joe has the Holy Spirit on his side on a certain issue, when Joe meets Jesus on Judgment Day, what result? And what result can be expected for those who follow Joe?
Paul says the manifold wisdom of God will be made known through the church.
Peter was blessed. Peter was the rock, the Prime Minister of the faith. Christ found His church on Peter's office. Peter and the Apostles provided for the succession of their offices. The bishops of the Catholic Church are the direct successors of the Peter and the other Apostles. Satan, the Father of Lies, will never prevail against the Church.
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