The final aspect that Dr. Hahn discusses regarding Matthew 16:15-19 and the Scriptural source of the papacy is the guarantee of Jesus. The guarantee of Jesus comes from Matthew 16:18 where Jesus states that the gates of Hades1 will not prevail against the church. Dr. Hahn takes an interesting interpretation with this. Of course, as was noted in Part 2 and Part 3 of this series, Dr. Hahn views this rock as a reference to Peter and the keys of the kingdom as a symbol of succession. As a result you are only left with so many options when it comes to interpreting the guarantee.
As I’ve demonstrated, this rock and the keys of the kingdom can all be understood from a plain reading of the passage itself. Furthermore, the surrounding passages give even greater insight into the meaning behind these symbols. The guarantee of Jesus that the gates of Hades will not prevail against the church only makes sense in light of the understanding that this rock is Peter’s confession that Jesus is The Messiah and that the keys of the kingdom are the tools that bind and loose, the same given to the rest of the apostles in Matthew 18:18. We are to produce children of Heaven, not children of Hades.
Dr. Hahn doesn’t see this at all. He doesn’t even mention the purpose of the church which is to extend the offer of salvation in Christ Jesus in the hopes of rescuing people from their eternal demise. He doesn’t mention any of that probably because Catholic tradition has so undermined the Gospel that its most basic understanding is lost. As Dr. Hahn wraps up his lecture he addresses the guarantee as some sort of promise to not allow error in the church. On track 15 at the 0:45 mark he is on the heels of discussing infallibility and states:
…And likewise, in looking at Matthew 16 and the unconditional guarantee that Jesus gives to Peter, the recipient of the keys, the gates of Hades will not prevail against the church which is built upon the rock. The gates of Hades will not prevail against Peter and his successors. Well, the gates of Hades derives their power from error, from untruth, from falsehood, the father of lies. If one lie is allowed into the church’s pure sacred teaching, that’s like taking, you know a window pain and putting one crack in it. I’ll tell you what happens, I was driving down a highway in Milwaukee and a little pebble bounced up and just touched the windshield, a little crack. What happened? Over the next few months, my wife will tell you, that crack grew and grew and grew until we had to replace it because the whole thing could have been shattered. One should admit that if one falsehood is defined as truth, the gates of Hades have prevailed. Christ has given us an unconditional guarantee that they will not prevail because he will build his church upon Peter and his successors, the rock, the foundation stone.
This doesn’t make any sense. While it’s true on the one hand that the devil is the father of lies and he certainly works to infiltrate the church with false doctrine, the idea that Christ is making a guarantee to Peter that there will never be any error allowed in the church is simply absurd. There is no passage in Scripture that affirms this teaching but rather, to the contrary, several of Paul’s epistles are written entirely to correct error that has seeped in. Did Jesus’ guarantee fail? While I’m sure Dr. Hahn will try to rationalize such an issue, it doesn’t change the fact that what Dr. Hahn has done throughout this lecture is create a house built upon sand. He has applied everything that is meant for Christ as the foundation to Peter and his successors and even goes so far to call Peter “the rock, the foundation stone”. That is idolatry! He has so convoluted this rock and the keys in Matthew 16:15-19 that he is left with no other alternative for the guarantee. It has to apply to Peter and his supposed successors somehow and we see that eisegesis at work in the quote above.
The Gates of Hades
The promise regarding the gates of Hades really doesn’t need to be so difficult to understand. In fact, when the symbols are understood properly, the passage so gently falls into place that there really is no other alternative. We could strain particulars here and there but none of that affects the purpose of the passage as a whole which has absolutely nothing to do with Peter being the first pope and setting up the office of successors but rather the Christian offering salvation to those who are perishing.
As I have stated, it is my view that this rock represents the confession that Peter had just made, the confession stating that Jesus is “The Christ, the son of the living God.” We could take this even to mean that this rock represents Christ, Himself, an idiom found throughout the Scriptures. What makes a Christian? It is trust in a message, that Jesus is the promised Messiah, that he died as payment for our sins and was resurrected from the dead, conquering death.2 Further the keys of the kingdom work the Gates of Heaven. Jesus says that whatever Peter binds and looses on earth is bound and loosed in Heaven. This same power is given to the rest of the disciples in Matthew 18:18 in the midst of an answer to the question ‘Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?’ Jesus tells us what the binding and losing represent in Matthew 18:15-17, the discussion on restoring fellowship with those who are in sin but if there is no repentance they are to be cast out. Further, Jesus commanded us to preach the Gospel in Matthew 28:18-20 and Luke 24:46-49. This is extending the Kingdom of Heaven to those who are perishing, being no respecter of persons.
It’s only natural that the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven are juxtaposed with the gates of Hades and as a result only solidifying the proper understanding of the passage. Jesus’ promise that the gates of Hades will not prevail is a promise that those who come to repentance and faith in Christ Jesus are rescued from the gates of Hades, the grip of death! Is it any wonder that in Matthew 16:21, just two verses later, Jesus begins to explain to the disciples that He is going to suffer, die and rise again, thus defeating death? Hezekiah understood the gates of Hades as representative of death in Isaiah 38:10 which reads:
10 I said, In the middle of my days
I must depart;
I am consigned to the gates of Sheol
for the rest of my years.3
As Barclay Newman and Philip Stine note in the UBS Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew:
Here the picture is that of a “gate” through which one enters the “world of the dead,” from which there is no return. Therefore “world of the dead” becomes equivalent to “death,” while “gate” symbolizes the power that death has over its victims. An excellent Old Testament example which parallels the usage here is found in Isaiah 38:10, where Hezekiah complains that the little time he has to live will be dominated by the fact of his impending death: “I am consigned to the gates of Sheol [meaning ‘world of the dead’] for the rest of my years.” The powers of death (TEV “death”) represent humanity’s last and most feared enemy, but Jesus affirms that his community of faith need not fear its awesome power: “no enemy shall be able to destroy it, not even death”4
This interpretation has further Scriptural support. In Matthew 23:13-15 Jesus says:
13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
Jesus is using the same imagery in this passage as he is using in Matthew 16:15-19 which is why I can say with confidence that the work Dr. Hahn has to go through to get to the conclusions he does simply doesn’t need to be. It is none other than contrivance. It’s not that I believe Dr. Hahn is being disingenuous but he is clearly working toward a specific goal and that is to see Peter as the first pope and a Petrine succession of the papacy.
There is simply no good Scriptural reason to see Peter as this rock, succession as the keys of the kingdom of Heaven and the guarantee of Jesus as a promise that error will not come into the church’s teachings. Rather, the church, understood as the universal assembly of believers, is identified by the same confession that Peter makes. The same promises given to Peter are subsequently given to the rest of the disciples. Jesus explains these things Himself, allowing for an easy interpretation that falls gently into place while reading the passage. Believer’s have the power to rescue people from the gates of death that they might be brought into the kingdom of Heaven. This is the role and purpose of the church, to preach that they might believe, to teach that they might observe. As Jesus says in Matthew 24:14 “this gospel of the Kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
The next and final post in this series will address the idea of the bishops of Rome holding the authority of Peter.5
- Hades is a transliteration of the Greek ᾅδης. It is best understood as ‘the abode of the dead’ or ‘the grave’ but not necessarily hell as many translations will render it. ↩
- See 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; also the Salvation page on this site ↩
- All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. Emphasis Mine. ↩
- Newman, B. M., & Stine, P. C. (1992). A handbook on the Gospel of Matthew. UBS Handbook Series (523). New York: United Bible Societies. ↩
- This is an update from the original plan for the final post which was to discuss Peter as the first pope. This was adjusted because the lecture didn’t discuss the idea in the manner that I had originally noted. ↩
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