For the final post in this series I want to address the idea of the bishop of Rome carrying Petrine authority. In the lecture, Dr. Hahn works to establish the idea of the ‘seat of Peter’ and subsequent authority handed down to the Roman church. He uses numerous quotations from the early church in order to demonstrate that the bishop of Rome (the Pope) had Peter’s authority.
The Seat of Moses
To start, Dr. Hahn takes a couple of verses from Matthew 23 and applies them to Petrine succession. As I have worked to show in Part 3 of this series, the interpretation of Matthew 16:19 that Dr. Hahn uses in order to get succession from the text is flawed, however, Dr. Hahn uses his interpretation in order to get what he wants out of the text. Matthew 23:1-3 reads:
23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.”1
The emphasis here is on the seat of Moses. As Dr. Hahn gets into this, he states on track 11 at the 2:08 mark:
“Somebody could say ‘Well this idea of Peter speaking ex cathedra, that’s bogus, that’s novel, that’s unheard of!’ I would say ‘no, it’s not.’ When the church teaches about how the Pope, when he speaks from the chair of Peter, ex cathedra, from the seat or from the cathedra – we get the word cathedral from the fact that’s where the bishops cathedra is – he’s not inventing something new, the church2 isn’t inventing something new, it’s building, rather, on the teachings of Jesus. Turn to Matthew 23 verses 1 and 2. [Quoting Matthew] ‘Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples: the scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. So practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do for they preach but they don’t practice.’ They don’t practice what they preach. What’s he saying? Jesus says ‘The scribes and the Pharisees’ now, what does Jesus think of the scribes and the Pharisees? Well, read the rest of Matthew 23 and you’ll discover it. He goes on in this chapter to call the scribes and the Pharisees fools, hypocrites, blind guides, vipers and white-washed tombs. He doesn’t think to highly of the scribes and the Pharisees, does he? But what does he say here? ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, therefore, you have to‘, it’s in the imperative tense, ‘you have to practice and observe whatever they tell you! Whatever they tell you, you have to practice and observe’. Why? Because they sit on Moses cathedras.”3
Dr. Hahn then goes on to state that the church is simply borrowing from what Jesus is already teaching because of this passage. He continues on the same track at the 4:00 mark:
Now I would challenge anybody to go back into the Old Testament and find some explicit text in the Old Testament where we find Moses establishing a chair, some endowed seat that would always have successors. So why does Jesus refer to it? Because there’s also oral tradition, even in the Old Testament which was used by God to transmit certain essential truths that the covenant family of God requires and depends upon for its life. Jesus doesn’t quote a text, he appeals to a well known oral tradition that he assumes the scribes and the Pharisees know about, as well as his listeners.
Notice what Dr. Hahn has done: he’s taken a statement made by Jesus, claims it stems from oral tradition which defines a literal seat of authority with successors even though there is no mention of such a thing in Scripture except for these verses which don’t give us a solid definition. He then goes on to challenge anyone to find it in the Old Testament as though its absence would affirm the absence of any record regarding the establishment of the seat of Peter. We don’t find Moses establishing an endowed chair with successors probably because it didn’t happen (at least not in the manner that Dr. Hahn would seem to have us believe) and nowhere in the Bible do we see Jesus affirming such a thing. What Dr. Hahn has done only makes sense if you presume that Jesus is actually referring to an office of some sort that was set up by Moses with successors. Even if this successive seat of Moses did exist, it is only reasonable that in the span of 1500 years, throughout all the Scriptures in the Old Testament, we should at the very least find some sort of mention of it, but we don’t.
To make matters worse, Dr. Hahn appeals to oral tradition and then states that Jesus assumes everyone in his hearing already knows about this. But this claim to oral tradition, especially in the manner that Dr. Hahn is doing, simply doesn’t exist. From all the work I’ve done, the only reference we have (to the best of my knowledge) to ‘the seat of Moses’ outside of Scripture comes from the Pesikta de Rav Kahana which is simply a statement that Solomon’s throne, as referenced in 1 Kings 10:19, resembled the seat of Moses.4 There is simply nothing else to suggest any oral teaching whatsoever of an established seat of Moses with succession that the scribes and Pharisees are speaking from.
It seems to me the natural reading of Matthew 23:1-3 is that the seat of Moses is somewhat metaphorical. The scribes and Pharisees had authority to teach the law of Moses properly. They were also the ones whom the congregation looked to for instruction. John Nolland, in his commentary on Matthew, quotes an article by Mark Powell that was written for the Journal of Biblical Literature entitled ‘Do and Keep What Moses Says’. He states:
Jesus may be simply acknowledging the powerful social and religious position that [the scribes and Pharisees] occupy in a world where most people are illiterate and copies of the Torah are not plentiful. Since Jesus’ disciples do not themselves have copies of the Torah, they will be dependent on the scribes and the Pharisees to know what Moses said.… In light of such dependence, Jesus advises his disciples to heed the words that the scribes and Pharisees speak when they sit in the seat of Moses, that is, when they pass on the words of the Torah itself. [Emphasis mine.]5
If we were to grant any form of succession for this seat of Moses, I believe Newman and Stine note it perfectly as coming directly from the Mishnah:
In the Mishnah, which preserves much of the Jewish oral teaching, the chain of command is stated in the following way: “Moses received the Law from Sinai and committed it to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the Prophets; and the Prophets committed it to the men of the Great Synagogue.”6
Furthermore, the idea that this establishes an approval for the chair of Peter who becomes the first Pope and thus begins the succession of the Papacy is rather forced but this is indeed the hinge which Dr. Hahn uses to do just that. As he continues on track 12 at the 0:00 mark:
But why do we follow them [the priests and bishops]? Because they have so much charm and charisma? No. Because Jesus Christ has established in the Old Testament a seat of Moses, which he has replaced in the New Testament with the seat of Peter. In the Old Testament we don’t have the full disclosure of all final revelation but in the New Testament Jesus tells us that he will guide us into all truth.
This is more eisegesis. There is simply nothing in all the Scriptures that states a seat of Moses or a seat of Peter were ever established or that one ever replaced the other. It just doesn’t exist and it’s bad enough that the groundwork to get to this point is questionable7 but to further make the stretch that is being made here one has to wonder: at what point does it stop? Is there anything keeping us on a solid foundation?
Dr. Hahn then goes on to affirm the authority that Peter has in the apostolic church by quoting numerous sections of Acts. This is something basically no one denies. Peter is truly given a special role as a sort of head for the disciples. But Dr. Hahn takes it a step further and calls Peter the Vicar of Christ and that the works being done through Peter were apparent of Petrine primacy and preeminence. From there he works to show that the early church recognized the bishop of Rome had Peters authority by quoting numerous early church writings. On track 14 at the 0:45 mark he states:
I hardly have time to get into this but I have all these note cards about the early church, after the death of the last apostles, recognizing that the bishop of Rome had Peter’s authority and that was final and absolute. Clement of Rome, around 96AD, writing to Corinth regarding this disunity ‘But if any disobey the word spoken by him, [that is] Peter, through us…’
When I went to look at this quote from Clement’s epistle to the Corinthian church, I was rather startled at what I found. In Dr. Hahn’s quotation he specifically mentions the ‘him‘ as referring to Peter. This is simply not true. In fact, you won’t find Peter’s name mentioned in this chapter, or those surrounding it. Instead, the ‘him‘ is a reference to God. The quote, from chapter 59, in context, reads:
If, however, any shall disobey the words spoken by Him through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and serious danger; but we shall be innocent of this sin, and, instant in prayer and supplication, shall desire that the Creator of all preserve unbroken the computed number of His elect in the whole world through His beloved Son Jesus Christ, through whom He called us from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge of the glory of His name…8
While one could forgive a misunderstanding or poor quotation once, it doesn’t get much better as he continues. The next quote he makes use of comes from Irenæus:
Irenæus, writing in the 2nd century, says ‘Anyone who wishes to discern the truth may see in every church in the whole world, the apostolic succession clear and manifest.’
This is not what Irenæus wrote. The quote is coming from Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter III.1 which reads:
It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world;9
It is indeed true that Irenæus discusses apostolic succession as the passage continues, but it is far from the manner that Dr. Hahn suggests in his quote above and very different in meaning from what Catholic tradition upholds. For a great discussion on apostolic succession, Irenæus and Catholicism I highly recommend the Apostolic Succession posts done by Jason Engwer over at Triablogue.10
The next quote is from Tertullian. Dr. Hahn states:
Tertullian in the late 100s and the early 200s AD said “Was anything withheld from Peter who is called ‘the rock on which the church would be built’ who also obtained the keys of the kingdom of heaven with the power of binding and loosing in heaven and on earth?”
While this quote is much more accurate, it’s also incomplete. The quote comes from Part Second, I. The Prescription Against Heretics, Chapter XXII. Tertullian continues in the very next sentence:
Was anything, again, concealed from John, the Lord’s most beloved disciple, who used to lean on His breast to whom alone the Lord pointed Judas out as the traitor, whom He commended to Mary as a son in His own stead?11
At least from this quote, he isn’t holding Peter in much higher esteem than John. Dr. Hahn continues with several other quotes but the last I want to comment on is this:
Origen, in the late 100’s spoke of Peter first because, “He was more honored than the rest.”
This is really out of context. Origen didn’t speak of Peter first at all, for any reason. The quote comes from Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of John, Book 32.68 in which he writes:
He appears, therefore, to have assumed rashly that Jesus’ will concerning washing the disciples’ feet was not reasonable. And if one must examine in Scripture even those things thought to be most insignificant, someone may ask why, since Peter was listed first in the number of the twelve – perhaps because he was more honored than the rest, since Judas, too, who had been relegated to the last places by his wicked disposition, was truly last of all – Jesus did not begin with Peter when he began to wash the disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel with which he had girded himself. [Emphasis mine.]12
Origen is simply reasoning why Jesus didn’t wash Peter’s feet first in John 13 if we were to pick something apart since Peter is always listed first in the number of the disciples. Origen suggests Peter is listed first perhaps because he is more honored than the rest, but this has absolutely nothing to do with Papal authority. I’m not aware of anyone who would deny that Peter is given a special role at the birth of the church but to suggest that Origen has the papacy in mind in a quote like this gives me suspicion of intent. This quote, as well as the others, are misleading in the manner that Dr. Hahn gives them.
There is a reasonable view to hold regarding Peter and I think Craig Blomberg notes it well:
Illustrations of Peter’s privilege may then be found throughout Acts 1–12, in which Peter remains at the forefront of leadership in the early Christian proclamation of the gospel. … At any rate, there is obviously nothing in these verses of the distinctively Catholic doctrines of the papacy, apostolic succession, or Petrine infallibility or of the Protestant penchant for Christian personality cults. In fact, in Acts, Peter seems to decrease in importance as the church grows. [Emphasis Mine.]13
As I’ve demonstrated in these posts, the attempt to derive the papacy from Matthew 16:15-19 is nothing more than contrivance. Matters are even further complicated with the attempt to establish a seat of Peter whose authority is passed on through supposed succession. To then quote the early church fathers in a fashion to make them say what they don’t borders on dishonesty. It is only reasonable to assume for something as significant as the papacy, if it is to be taken seriously, that we shouldn’t have to go through such great lengths to show it from Scripture.
- All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. Emphasis mine. ↩
- When Dr. Hahn refers to ‘the church’ here and elsewhere he is speaking of the Roman Catholic Church ↩
- I attempted to retain the emphasis from the audio ↩
- Braude and Kapstein, Pesikta de-Rab Kahana (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975), p. 17. Piska 1.7 ↩
- Nolland, J. (2005). The Gospel of Matthew: A commentary on the Greek text. New International Greek Testament Commentary (923). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press. ↩
- Newman, B. M., & Stine, P. C. (1992). A handbook on the Gospel of Matthew. UBS Handbook Series (702). New York: United Bible Societies. ↩
- See Part 2, 3 and 4 ↩
- The Epistles of Clement: Additional Introduction. (1897). In A. Menzies (Ed.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume IX: The Gospel of Peter, the Diatessaron of Tatian, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Visio Pauli, the Apocalypses of the Virgil and Sedrach, the Testament of Abraham, the Acts of Xanthippe and Polyxena, the Narrative of Zosimus, the Apology of Aristides, the Epistles of Clement (Complete Text), Origen’s Commentary on John, Books I-X, and Commentary on Matthew, Books I, II, and X-XIV. 1897 (A. Menzies, Ed.) (247). New York: Christian Literature Company. ↩
- Irenaeus of Lyons. (1885). Irenæus against Heresies. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe, Ed.) (415). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company. ↩
- Of particular note, see Apostolic Succession (Part 9): The Reasoning Behind Irenaeus’ Succession ↩
- Tertullian. (1885). The Prescription against Heretics P. Holmes, Trans.). In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume III: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe, Ed.) (253). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company. ↩
- Origen. The Fathers Of The Church. Commentary On The Gospel Of John Books 13-32. Translated by Ronald Heine. (CUA Press 1993), 355 ↩
- Blomberg, C. (1992). Vol. 22: Matthew. The New American Commentary (254, 256). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers. ↩
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