Dec 132012
This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series The Bible Made Me Do It! by Tim Staples

The practice of praying to the saints is one that seems to go quite a ways back in Church history. Protestantism has held from its inception that praying to the saints is not only worthless in that those who have departed from us don’t hear our prayers, but misdirected because our prayers should only be in communion with God through Jesus the Messiah.  Towards the end of Tim Staples’ talk he brings this topic up which will complete this series of posts.

What the Scriptures Say

Tim mentions this topic as a part of the close of his discussion when he was at this point coming to grips with adopting Catholicism.  At the 68:35 mark he says:

…My roommate was out and I remember just collapsing on my bed and I slid down to my knees and looked up to the ceiling and for the first time in my life, I prayed to a saint.  I knew intellectually praying to saints, of course, Hebrews 12:1, Matthew 17:1-3, Revelation chapter 5, Revelation chapter 6, it’s all over the New Testament.  I knew praying to saints was real.  But I’d never done it.  I knelt in exhaustion and I looked up to the ceiling and I said ‘Mary…’

The practice of praying to saints is largely understood as asking the departed to intercede for us as we would ask our fellow believer’s on earth to intercede for us.  This practice isn’t isolated to the Catholic tradition as a few other traditions make this a part of their framework as well.  The question I have most is a matter of what Scripture says and what Tim, and subsequently Catholic apologetics, bring up in its defense.

The first reference Tim states is Hebrews 12:1 which reads:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us1

The primary problem with using this verse to substantiate prayer to saints is that this verse doesn’t talk about praying to saints in any way.  Put in context it should be noted that the writer to the Hebrews is exhorting the believers to run the race of faith as their predecessors had already done, going back to Creation.  He concludes by illustrating them as a crowd of spectators at this point who would be cheering us on.  I doubt the author had any idea that this would somehow be interpreted as justification for praying to saints, especially in light of verse 2 which reads:

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

If this passage had anything to do with prayer then it would only exhort us to focus our prayers on Jesus, but my argument is that this passage has absolutely nothing to with prayer but instead has everything to do with looking to the greats of our faith who have passed on before us as examples and encouragement for ourselves, the ultimate of which is Jesus.  Paul Ellingworth, in his Hebrews commentary, writes:

V. 2 will apply explicitly to the readers what was doubtless implicit, but not expressed, in chap. 11, namely that the goal of their journeying, the fulfilment of their faith, was to be found in the person of Jesus.2

While Hebrews comes up short in light of exemplifying prayer to saints, Matthew 17:1-3 doesn’t do much better.  It reads:

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. 3 And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.

The transfiguration narrative has Peter, James and John accompanying Jesus up a mountain where He is transfigured before them and at that time Moses and Elijah appear.  The three disciples are obviously aware of this somehow as Peter then asks Jesus if he should go about putting up tents for them to stay in.  But where is prayer here?  At best this can only be used to substantiate that those who have passed before us are alive and in communion with Jesus to some degree.  But no Christian would argue this.

Some might turn to the passage in Luke where, in Luke 9:28, it states specifically that Jesus went up to pray.  But it never says that Jesus prayed to anyone but The Father.  Again, if we are looking to these passages to example or substantiate praying to the saints, this is another dead end.  But Tim did mention a couple chapters in Revelation.

I’m figuring Tim has his mind on Revelation 5:8 and Revelation 6:9-11. Revelation 8:3-4 is another often cited passage regarding the topic of prayer to saints.  Revelation 5:8 reads:

And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

The saints here should be linked with the saints in Revelation 6:9-11 which reads:

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

The question that should be asked here is who are the saints praying to? The answer is they are praying to God. The next question is why? Is it because they were petitioned to by their fellow man? I don’t think so, the text doesn’t allow for it.  Furthermore they are praying for themselves in that their blood would be avenged.

There is no example in these passages of Christians on earth praying to any other Christian who has departed.  What’s more is that of the several commentaries I read in regard to Revelation 5:8, 6:9-11, 8:3-4 they are all in agreement that these saints are not limited to those who have already been martyred but that this is figurative of the Christian body who have undergone and are presently going through persecution of various sorts.  For the final Scripture, Revelation 8:3-4 reads:

And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, 4 and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.

While I don’t believe the idea of praying to saints is as grim as some make it out to be in that they suggest it has to do with conversing with the dead in the form of the occult, I do not find it a biblical practice by any stretch of the imagination.  Of all the passages Tim Staples cited in regard to knowing intellectually that praying to saints was real, not one actually addresses the topic in any meaningful sense so as to give us a picture that the practice is valid.  It would only make sense that Paul would not only mention but exhort such a practice if it were valid seeing as how he petitions Christians to pray for him in Colossians 4:3, he states that he continually prays for other Christians in Colossians 1:3, 2 Thessalonians 1:11 and 2 Thessalonians 3:1 and he petitions that Christians pray for all people in 1 Timothy 2:1-2.  Not once does he, or any other writer in the Bible, suggest we pray to other people in order that they pray for us.

  1. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  2. Ellingworth, P. (1993). The Epistle to the Hebrews: A commentary on the Greek text. New International Greek Testament Commentary (637). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.


© 2011-2018 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.

Dec 062012
This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series The Bible Made Me Do It! by Tim Staples

When you hear about the doctrine of The Immaculate Conception your initial reaction is to assume that it has something to do with the birth of Christ but this is not the case.  The Immaculate Conception is actually about the birth of Mary.  This doctrine holds that Mary was conceived without original sin and subsequently led a sinless life.  It is this idea that Tim Staples goes after Matt Dula with next.

I had originally hoped to get into some of the Marian doctrines during the series of posts reviewing Dr. Scott Hahn’s lecture on The Virgin Mary Revealed Through Scripture.  Dr. Hahn didn’t discuss much by way of doctrine so, in the end, it wasn’t entirely relevant to those posts.  While Tim Staples addresses the Immaculate Conception directly, the discussion is rather light and therefore doesn’t get into it extensively.  Of course, many of these doctrines could easily take up a series of posts individually but, for the sake of this review, I’ve endeavored to limit the discussion to what Tim brings up in the audio.

The Loaded Question

While getting into this topic, Tim brings up several Scriptures: Romans 3:10, Romans 3:23 and 1 John 1:8-9.  All of these deal with the issue that all have sinned.  This is what Tim brings up to Matt in his next argument regarding the Immaculate Conception.  At the 49:42 mark he says:

I even got a little boldness back, I said ‘Matt, you mean to tell me, you gonna tell me Mary is without sin?  How can the Bible make it any more plain?  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God!’  And then, I’m thinking in my mind please don’t give me an answer! … And sure enough, Matt comes back and he says … ‘Okay Tim, yeah I understand what you’re saying there, all have sinned, yeah.  But let me ask you this, if you’re gonna say that all have sinned, if that verse means, in a literal, absolute sense, all have sinned … if you’re gonna take that in an absolute sense, we’ve got a problem here, Tim, cause, if it says all and then it says if any man says he has no sin, he is a liar and the truth’s not in him, was Jesus fully man?’ [Tim:] ‘Yeah…’ [Matt:] ‘But was He fully man or what was He, 50% … 25% man?’ [Tim:] ‘He was fully man.’ [Matt:] ‘Oh so Jesus sinned then, right?’ [Tim:] ‘No.’ [Matt:] ‘Oh so there are exceptions, then, aren’t there?'[Emphasis in recording]

What happened in this discussion is easy to miss.  When Matt asks if Jesus was fully man and Tim replies yes he actually fell into a trap.  Matt had asked a loaded question.  A loaded question is an informal fallacy which presumes information that may or may not be correct.  The way the question is worded will only allow for a particular answer, forcing the respondent to answer in a manner that admits the presupposition.  The classic example is the question ‘Have you stopped beating your wife yet?’  The way the question is worded allows only for a yes or no response and either response admits guilt.

The way out of this is to either call the questioner out on the fallacy or answer the question in a manner that corrects the presuppositions.  The question ‘Was Jesus fully man?’ is invalid because Christian theology holds that Christ is fully God and fully man and never, at any time, one or the other.  This is called the Hypostatic Union, a theological term used to describe how the person of Jesus Christ subsists in two natures, man and the divine.  I’m sure Tim would never deny this as it is a doctrine held by Catholicism1, and yet without the clarification he is opening himself up to heresy.

I don’t fault Tim on this, nor do I think Matt realized what he was doing with the question.  You really have to pay close attention when involved in discussions like this and even at that many people aren’t quite sure how to handle it.  A good example, however, is in the movie My Cousin Vinny where D.A. Jim Trotter is determining whether Mona Lisa Vito is an acceptable witness by asking her a question in order to validate her expertise in the subject; the question happens to be a loaded question.  Mona Lisa Vito doesn’t attempt to answer, instead she calls the question bunk (edited here):

D.A. Jim Trotter: Now, uh, Ms. Vito, being an expert on general automotive knowledge, can you tell me… what would the correct ignition timing be on a 1955 Bel Air Chevrolet, with a 327 cubic-inch engine and a four-barrel carburetor?
Mona Lisa Vito: It’s a bunk question.
D.A. Jim Trotter: Does that mean that you can’t answer it?
Mona Lisa Vito: It’s a bunk question, it’s impossible to answer.
D.A. Jim Trotter: Impossible because you don’t know the answer!
Mona Lisa Vito: Nobody could answer that question!
D.A. Jim Trotter: Your Honor, I move to disqualify Ms. Vito as a “expert witness”!
Judge Chamberlain Haller: Can you answer the question?
Mona Lisa Vito: No, it is a trick question!
Judge Chamberlain Haller: Why is it a trick question?
Vinny Gambini: [to Bill] Watch this.
Mona Lisa Vito: ‘Cause Chevy didn’t make a 327 in ’55, the 327 didn’t come out till ’62. And it wasn’t offered in the Bel Air with a four-barrel carb till ’64. However, in 1964, the correct ignition timing would be four degrees before top-dead-center.
D.A. Jim Trotter: Well… um… she’s acceptable, Your Honor.
All Have Sinned

In the midst of this discussion the issue of the context surrounding the word all comes up.  Tim’s answer has wrongly created an exception to the rule that all have sinned and Matt corners him on it as indicated by the last question in the quote above.  It’s a matter of whether the statement that all have sinned is absolute and global in scale.  At the 51:25 mark Tim continues:

The word all is not meant to be interpreted as all in an absolute sense.  This is common in sacred Scripture.  For example, in Matthew chapter 3 verse 5, John the Baptist is baptizing in the river Jordan and what does it say?  All of Jordan and Judea and the surrounding countries came out to be baptized by John.  Do you think all of those countries came out there that day?  He couldn’t kerplunk ’em that fast.  … You see the word all … can mean a large number or a particular group and so forth and it’s used all over the Bible like that. … He got me thinking, are there more exceptions to Romans 3? … Of course there are, what about a baby in the womb?  Has he committed a personal sin? … No. How about the severely retarded, how much sinning have they done? None.  How about a 2 year old baby? None.  And so forth.  So there’s lots of exceptions then!

The question as to how the word all should be applied in this sense is certainly valid but the examples are poor.  Pointing to a child in the womb, a two year old baby or someone who is severely retarded and claiming that they are an exception isn’t entirely accurate since the issues Paul deals with in Romans 3 have to do with accountability, as Paul mentions in Romans 3:19.  In order to be accountable one must be able to understand or reason.  To state a 2 year old child doesn’t sin is incorrect – just ask any parent.  The question isn’t whether they are the exception to the rule and unable to sin, but rather, whether they have reached an ability to understand that they are accountable to God, that they are without excuse as Romans 1:18 states.  In that case, Paul makes it plainly clear in Romans 3 that all have sinned on a global scale, both Jew and Greek (any non-Jew in this context) and if he wasn’t clear enough, he quotes Psalm 14:1-3 which only puts greater emphasis in that there is none who does good, no not one.  As the Holman New Testament Commentary notes on Romans 3:23 states:

In light of Paul’s present tense fall short in 3:23, and in light of his just-concluded recitations of the actual sins of Jews and Gentiles, it seems that the all have sinned in 3:23 is a picture of mankind’s sinful characteristics. The 5:12 “all sinned,” on the other hand, seems to be a picture of mankind’s inherited character as a sinner. In other words, by 5:12 Paul will have said that as descendants of Adam, mankind is a sinner and proves it by sinning. All of which causes him to fall short of the glory of God.2

We sin because we are sinners.  That doesn’t change in either of the examples and so they aren’t exceptions.  What changes is our level of accountability which is going to be determined by our ability to understand our state before a holy and righteous God.  The idea of an age of accountability is one that is frequently debated amongst theologians but is only implied in Scripture.  People often ask what the ‘age of accountability’ is, but because Scripture never gives an affirmative answer, we shouldn’t attempt to either.  It is likely on an individual basis.

Hail, Full of Grace

All of this leads us to the idea that Mary was conceived without original sin and lived a sinless life.  The reasoning goes something like this: The Bible says all have sinned, but Jesus was fully-man and did not sin, therefore there are exceptions.  If there is one exception, there could be other exceptions which brings us to the possibility that Mary is an exception too.  But as I’ve already pointed out, Jesus wasn’t an exception because Jesus is fully God and fully man.  You cannot separate the two.

But if these premises were to hold, the next logical question is a matter of where we can find Mary’s sinless state in Scripture.  At the 52:35 Tim continues:

… [Quoting Matt] ‘Let’s turn to Luke chapter 1’.  We have an awesome, awesome verse.  And you know this story.  The angel Gabriel comes down to a 15 year old girl and says…?  Now the angel didn’t say ‘Hail Mary’ … he said ‘Hail, full of grace!’  Now listen, here’s what’s important.  When you look at that text … an angel is approaching a 15 year old girl.  Now in Scripture, when an angel comes into the presence of a human being, what happens?  Human beings have the tendency to do weird things.  … like fall on their faces, why?  Because an angel has a superior nature to ours.  If an angel, in fact, were to appear, right here, right now, remember this folks, apart from a particular grace of God, you and I could not discern whether it’s Jesus, an angel or the devil apart from grace, a particular grace that God gives us.  This is why St. Paul can say if I or an angel from Heaven preach to you any other Gospel, reject it.

I’m not entirely sure of how this is being reasoned.  Catholic interpretations allow for a lot of eisegesis in Luke 1:28.  The greeting of Χαῖρε (chaire, hail, in this sense) can be used to link back to Zephaniah 3:14 and Zechariah 9:9 where the use of χαίρω (chairo, rejoice) is used in the LXX.  In those arguments Mary becomes a fulfillment, or a type of the daughter of Zion or Jerusalem.3  While I do see merit in that reasoning the focus should never be taken away from the prophecy that Mary was to give birth to the Messiah.

The question is one of worthiness on Mary’s part.  There is no indication that Mary was highly favored or full of grace based on anything she did or didn’t do or that she can subsequently bestow grace and there is simply no reason to suggest that this greeting indicates she was sinless.  Tim’s points about humans doing weird things when angels appear and that only by a particular grace that God gives us would we be able to discern that it is even an angel seems to stem from the Vulgate translation of the verse.  Noted in the New International Greek Testament Commentary, Marshall writes:

The Vulgate rendering, gratia plena, is open to misinterpretation by suggesting that grace is a substance with which one may be filled, and hence that Mary is a bestower of grace. S. Lyonnet* saw a connection between this verse and Jdg. 5:24 where Jael is described as ‘most blessed’ (εὐλογηθείη; cf. Ps. 45:2 (44:3); Dn. 9:23), but this is far fetched. … The greeting conveys the message ὁ κύριος μετὰ σοῦ. This is an OT greeting (Jdg. 6:12; Ru. 2:14), meant as a statement rather than a wish (ἐστίν is to be supplied). It prepares the recipient for divine service with the assurance ‘The Lord will help you’ (H. Gressmann). It does not, therefore, indicate the moment of conception (as in Sib. 8:459–472, in NTA II, 740), a thought excluded by the future tenses in 1:35.4

At any rate, the idea that humans do strange things when greeted by angels is not absolute in Scripture.  In Genesis 18 Abraham was greeted by two angels and God Himself.  His reaction was one of giving immediate respect and honor.  I do not deny that we wouldn’t be able to discern an angelic being apart from God’s help but this has nothing to do with our sinful state.  We know some specific sins of Abraham since the chapters cataloging his life tell us about them.


Because of the faulty reasoning used to come to the conclusion that there are exceptions to the teaching of Scripture that all have sinned we can dismiss the notion that there are exceptions.  I don’t believe we can rely on that in any meaningful sense to then point to Mary and say she could be an exception.  Even if it were the case there is simply no good biblical basis for determining that Mary was unstained by original sin and subsequently led a sinless life.  To get to that conclusion from reading Luke 1:28 is nothing but eisegesis and seems to be based on somewhat poor translational choices instead of the greater catalog of biblical and extra-biblical material.

  1. See the Catholic Encyclopedia entry for Hypostatic Union.
  2. Boa, K., & Kruidenier, W. (2000). Vol. 6: Romans. Holman New Testament Commentary (107). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  3. Marshall, I. H. (1978). The Gospel of Luke: A commentary on the Greek text. New International Greek Testament Commentary (65). Exeter: Paternoster Press.
  4. Same as footnote 3.


© 2011-2018 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.

Nov 292012
This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series The Bible Made Me Do It! by Tim Staples

The topic of justification is certainly one of the more heated items of discussion in Christendom and for good reason.  For the Christian, the issue of how the sinner can be justified before a holy God is the crux of all humanity.  In the Salvation page, I attempt to show the problem of sin with Christianity’s proposed solution as the only logically valid option.  Part of what makes Christianity unique is the insistence that man cannot bridge the chasm between he and God but rather, God must come to man.

The question of whether we are justified by works or faith would almost seem to create a false dilemma, but in reality, if we are not justified by faith alone then some form of works must be required for Salvation and so the options stand.  It is the doctrine of Sola Fide, or by faith alone, that Tim Staples brings up next in his presentation and as his debate with Matt Dula shows, he was ill prepared.

By Grace Through Faith

At the 43:00 mark Tim is coming off the heals of the previous accusation and mentioning the fact that Matt would always have an answer and was getting through but it wouldn’t stop Tim.  He introduces the next topic for discussion:

…And I would go to something more important, in fact like, most important.  What about justification, right?  Salvation?  Okay, maybe the Catholics got lucky on this or that but hey, Salvation baby, the Bible says, and it doesn’t get any more plain than this in Ephesians chapter 2 verses 8 and 9, right?  For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, less any man should boast.  … Now let’s hear a come back on this one Matt.  Salvation, justification is by faith alone, by grace through faith.  It has nothing to do with works and what do these Catholics teach?  Justification by faith and works.  Heresy!  Heresy! [Emphasis in recording]

Tim is certainly right here but this isn’t the only example.  Paul explains numerous times in his Epistle to the Romans that justification cannot be of works.  Romans 3:20 reads:

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.1

Romans 3:28 reads:

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

And Romans 4:16:

That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all…

It would seem a pretty open and shut case but the problem arises in Matt’s response.  At the 46:09 mark Tim continues:

Well, Matthew says, alright, let’s check out James chapter 2 … verse 19 … he says: You believe there is one God you do well, the devil also believes and trembles!  But wilt thou know, oh vain man, that faith without works is dead!  And he’d go down to verse 24, he says something very important, I remember Matt making me read this, where it says You see how that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.  And then Matthew closed my Bible he looked at me and he said ‘Tim, I want you to look me in the eye and I want you to be honest with me, you believe in Sola Scriptura, right?’  And I said ‘absolutely, Jack, Bible alone’ … ‘You believe in the Bible alone? Okay, well I want you to look me dead in the eye and I want you to tell me that you’re gonna read this verse, you’re gonna read where the Bible says we’re justified by works and not by faith alone … Close your Bible and say well, gee, we must be justified by faith alone – cause the Bible says we’re justified not by faith alone!  Can you honestly tell me that, Tim?’  And of course I came back with the response ‘Well, you know, works, if you’re truly born again … works are going to be coming out…’ and I gave the Protestant line.

While Tim gave part of a Protestant answer the conversation really shouldn’t have ended there because Tim could have just as well gone back to Romans 3:20 or Romans 3:28 and turned it around on Matthew asking him the same question.  And I wonder what Matt’s response would have been.

Harmony of Scripture

Whenever Scripture confronts us with what seems to be a contradiction we are left with a few options.  We can accept the contradiction and claim we can’t know it, we can use it as an excuse to abandon the faith, or we can attempt to harmonize it and prove it’s not a contradiction at all.  The first option leaves us open to the second.  It creates a slippery slope.  It doesn’t seem to take many of these for most people to give up.  The third option may be difficult at times but is certainly the most fruitful. Christianity has stood the test of time and this conundrum is no exception.

At the start, there are some simple questions that should arise if we are to believe that justification, that is right standing before a holy God, is a mixture of faith and works, such as: What works?  How do we know that particular works will justify us?  What is the ratio of faith and works?  Who decides what works and how is it decided?  What are the implications to faith if works are also required?

These are valid questions that must be asked.  A discussion often goes on in Evangelical Christianity as to whether one must be baptized to be saved.  I often ask, if that is so, is that what you would plead when standing before God?  We need to think about what that would look like.  Would you exclaim that you put your trust in Christ’s work for salvation and you were baptized?  You see, the moment you put that and in place, you have taken something away from Christ’s completed work.

John MacArthur notes in his commentary on James that Martin Luther struggled with this passage and even went so far as to call the Epistle of James an ‘epistle of straw’.2   I’m not sure whether Luther saw the problems in the questions above or was simply that adamant in his opposition to Catholic doctrine but the unfortunate thing for Luther was that he was unable to harmonize what James was saying with the doctrine of Sola Fide.  He’s not alone in that problem even today.  Peter Davids writes his commentary on James 2:24:

James immediately moves to a concluding statement in his argument that sums up the results of the two scriptures previously considered. In so doing he comes closer than anywhere else in the epistles to directly contradicting Paul. Because of this possible conflict, 2:24 must be viewed as a crux interpretum, not only for James, but for NT theology in general.[Emphasis in original]3

To call it a crux interpretum doesn’t seem to give us much hope.  The term, meaning crossroad of interpreters, is used to suggest a text is difficult even to the point of impossible to interpret.  I hold that while it may be difficult the answer lies in the very passage being debated.

We have to remember that the difficult verses, specifically James 2:17, 19-20, 24 do not stand alone.  They have an overarching theme and when put in context demonstrate what James is taking issue with.  The entire chapter is full of discussion regarding how we should live – outward signs, not only for each other but for the unbelievers as well.  James deals with showing partiality, breaking the royal law – specifically, any outward sign that demonstrates love of neighbor (James 2:8), being merciful and then gives examples of such.  James 2:15-16 discusses sending someone off who is in need without giving them what they need and he asks ‘what good is that?’  Only then does James say that faith without works is dead.  At that point James gives what I think is his entire point, he says in verse 18:

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

Who is James showing his faith to and what happens when you show your faith?  The answer is that while justification by faith pertains to one’s standing before a holy and righteous God, justification by works pertains to a person’s standing before other men.  James has already said that Salvation is God’s gift in James 1:17-18.  If he’s contradicting Paul, he’s also contradicting himself.


The word justification (δικαιόω, dikaio’o) in Scripture doesn’t always mean justification before God which is the topic that gets so much attention.  John MacArthur notes in his commentary on James:

It’s important to understand that the Greek verb dikaio o (justified) has two general meanings.  The first pertains to acquittal, that is, to declaring and treating a person as righteous.  That is its meaning in relationship to salvation and is the sense in which Paul almost always uses the term.  He declares, for example, that we are “justified as a gift by [God’s] grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24) … The second meaning of dikaio o pertains to vindication, or proof of righteousness.  It is used in that sense a number of times in the New Testament, in relation to God as well as men.  Paul says, “Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, ‘That You may be justified in Your words, and prevail when You are judged'” (Rom. 3:4).4

The context, in this case, certainly sheds light on what James is saying and the usage that should be employed for the word justification.  Taking a few verses out of the chapter in order to show that justification before God is a mixture of faith and works is to ignore the vast majority of the New Testament’s teaching on the subject.  Not only was Tim caught off guard at the thought of the contradiction, Matt didn’t do anything to resolve it.  Both of them should have set out to harmonize the passage with Paul’s teaching but instead they concluded with a poor understanding of what James was trying to convey.

  1. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  2. MacArthur, John. 1998. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (136). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers
  3. Davids, P. H. (1982). The Epistle of James: A commentary on the Greek text. New International Greek Testament Commentary (130). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
  4. Same as footnote 2, page 137.


© 2011-2018 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.

Nov 212012
This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series The Bible Made Me Do It! by Tim Staples

Much of Tim Staple’s talk on his conversion to Catholicism centers around discussions he had with a friend of his, Matt Dula, while stationed at Quantico in the Marines.  At that point Tim had been involved in apologetics as a response to questions that were surfacing in his own mind.  At the 27:11 mark he is noting that as he had been growing up, he was needing to own his faith.  He states:

But now I’m becoming a man and I realize, I’ve got to know in my heart.  … I want to challenge you to do the same thing.  I want to challenge you to ask yourself the question ‘Why are you Baptist?  Why are you Calvary Chapel?  Why?’  Especially considering if you’re Calvary Chapel that church has only been around since 1965.  See, I started thinking about things like this.  So I realized, wait a second now, how can this be the true church if they’ve only been around since 1965?  Where was the true church before then?  Or if you’re Lutheran.  They’ve been around for 460 years, well who was the true church before then?  And so, I started thinking … I started thinking about things like this.  I need to know why I believe what I believe and I got involved in apologetics.
The True Church

This idea of a true church in the manner that Tim is bringing up is the result of faulty reasoning.  When corrected, it can avoid a lot of the frustrations within the Christian body.  While the topic of what the church is is beyond the scope of this discussion, it is important to realize what the church is not.  The church is not a corporate body or entity on earth that one is to give allegiance to in order to be a member of.  The word church comes from the Greek ἐκκλησία (ecclesia) which means the called out ones.  The true church1 is the body of Christ, that is, anyone who holds to trust in Jesus Christ and His finished work on their behalf along with a few essential doctrines which the Bible clearly states must be in agreement.  This goes beyond tradition or denomination in the same manner that it goes beyond race.  For Tim to bring up Calvary Chapel or the Lutheran denominations in this manner is demonstrating faulty presuppositions, that there is a true church in this regard and that these church traditions esteem themselves to be the true church which is certainly not the case.  I am not aware of any Calvary Chapel or Lutheran denomination that claims to be the true church.  Some may claim they have completely correct doctrine but that is a different matter and few and far between.

I brought this up because I believe that the spirit behind this notion of a true church is much the same that Jesus is addressing in Matthew 23:9 where Jesus states we are to call no man father on earth because we have one father in Heaven.  This is the first point that Tim mentions he gave to Matt in their discussions regarding Christianity and Catholicism.  Tim was lodging it against Matt in that Catholic tradition addresses the priest as father.

Call No Man Father

At the 39:23 mark Tim is getting into the discussions that he and Matt had and states:

I remember one of the first arguments I used when I met Matthew was old faithful, you know, when I first met Matt one of the first things I said to him ‘Oh so you say you’re a Christian…‘, I remember saying this, I said ‘Oh Christian, hmm, well aren’t Christians…‘ I was so obnoxious, ‘aren’t Christians supposed to do what the Christ says?  Isn’t that what Christian means? Christ like?  Or little Christ?  Well does not the Christ say, in Matthew 23 verse 9, call no man on this earth father, for you have one father and he is in Heaven.‘  And I said, ‘Well Matt, there you have the Christ, right in the word of God saying call no man on this earth father, and what do you Catholics call your priest but father!  You’re directly contradicting the Christ!  How can you call yourself a Christian now?

These are the sorts of arguments that really don’t do anything other than demonstrate poor reasoning.  It takes an extremely literal approach at the text and then applies that meaning to everyone in all circumstances.  This is something militant atheism is so versed at doing – completely ignoring the context and spirit of the topic and lodging it against the opposition, most likely in an attempt to silence any further discussion.  Christians should not be so naive.  In reality, it illustrates that the accuser doesn’t actually know what he’s talking about, as Tim’s friend, Matt Dula, will demonstrate.

To start, we should look at the greater context.  Matthew 23 is the chapter of woe’s against the scribes and Pharisees which represent a counter balance to the Beattitudes from chapter 5.  Verse 9 is really a part of the introduction that Jesus gives leading up to the woe’s and subsequent lament over Jerusalem.  Matthew 23:1-12 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. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”2

The main thing that should be noted here is the conjunction in verse 8: But you are not to be called…  Jesus is introducing a contrast after pointing out the problems with the scribes and the Pharisees motives.  The explanations to what Jesus is meaning in Matthew 23:8-10 can be found in the examples he gives from Matthew 23:1-7.  Further he illustrates the spirit of the discussion in Matthew 23:11-12.  The problems are actually very simple.  The scribes and Pharisees do all their deeds to be seen by others.  They love the place of honor, the best seats and special greetings.  They love being called rabbi.  Their intentions have nothing to do with actually being a rabbi, a father or a teacher.  Rather, it is all a matter of self-righteousness.  Jesus is instructing us to not fall victim to the same selfish motives.  Incidentally, Tim’s argument is a good example of what the scribes and Pharisees did.  They recognized the letter of the law but completely ignored the spirit in which it was given.

Matt Dula proceeds to correct Tim as Tim continues:

He said ‘Well Tim, you know, that’s interesting but have you considered Luke 16:24?‘  And I went, wait a second, you know, I’m thinking in my mind, hold it now, isn’t there a canon law against, like, lay people reading the Bible or something?  You know, what’s up with this, this dude here, Matthew, quoting Luke 16:24!  You see, Matthew proclaimed the power of the Holy Spirit, wow!  And the story, of course, in Luke 16:24, it’s talking about Abraham’s bosom, right?  … And the story’s not so important for us now, but what did Jesus call Abraham?  He called him Father Abraham.  And Matt’s like, ‘Well, what’s up Tim?  Is Jesus confused?‘  And I’m going ‘uh…’ He says ‘Is Jesus confused because here’s Jesus calling Abraham Father Abraham‘.  And you know, he didn’t stop there, but Matthew proceeded to pummel me with Scripture.  He goes to Roman’s chapter 4 verses 1 through 18, 7 times Abraham is called Father Abraham by Saint Paul.  Acts chapter 7 verses 1 and 2, Saint Stephen calls the elders to whom he is speaking Father and Abraham Father 2 times.  1 John chapter 2 verse 13, John the apostle, speaking to the elders at Ephesus, calls them Fathers.  I’m going, oh my goodness.  I’ve read these things a million times… where?  Where was that?  1 Corinthians chapter 4, verses 14 and 15, Saint Paul says, listen to this one, You have 10,000 instructors in the Lord Jesus Christ, you have not many fathers.  I am your father for I have begotten you through the Gospel.  So by that time I was ticked.

Matt Dula gives us a good example here of using the totality of Scripture before we jump to presumptive conclusions about a particular verse.  Craig Blomberg puts it so well in The New American Commentary:

As with many of Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, texts elsewhere in the New Testament make it clear that he is not promulgating absolute commands. People are properly called teachers in Acts 13:1; 1 Tim 2:7; and Heb 5:12. Paul will even refer to a spiritual gift that enables some people to be so identified (Eph 4:11; 1 Cor 12:28–29; cf. Jas 3:1). It remains appropriate to call a biological parent one’s father, and even one’s spiritual parent may be addressed with this term (1 Cor 4:15; cf. also 1 John 2:13; Acts 22:1). So the point of vv. 8–12 must be that such titles are not to be used to confer privilege or status.[Emphasis mine.]3

The Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible is also very forthcoming:

To construe these injunctions into a condemnation of every title by which Church rulers may be distinguished from the flock which they rule, is virtually to condemn that rule itself; and accordingly the same persons do both—but against the whole strain of the New Testament and sound Christian judgment. But when we have guarded ourselves against these extremes, let us see to it that we retain the full spirit of this warning against that itch for ecclesiastical superiority which has been the bane and the scandal of Christ’s ministers in every age.[Emphasis mine.]4

It really is foolish to be so haphazard in our handling of the text.  If there are verses that seem to illustrate something that goes against instruction elsewhere, then we need to make sure we properly understand both the instruction and the verses that seem to contradict it.  Harmonizing Scripture in this manner is often a fruitful endeavor and will lead to a more well reasoned understanding of the topic at hand.  To that end, Blomberg continues:

There is thus nothing inherently wrong with the Roman Catholic use of “Father” for priests or with the Protestant “Reverend” for ministers or even with the academic “Doctor” for people with certain degrees. But one wonders how often these titles are used without implying unbiblical ideas about a greater worth or value of the individuals to whom they are assigned. One similarly wonders for how long the recipients of such forms of address can resist an unbiblical pride from all the plaudits.5

Calling a priest father is a morally neutral form of respect towards an elder of the church.  But as Blomberg pointed out, it doesn’t come without warning.  James 3:1 reads: Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.  In Matthew 23:9, Jesus is speaking to the motives and desires of the heart, using the scribes and Pharisees as an example of what not to do.

The example argument that Tim Staples lodged against Matt Dula should serve as an illustration of mishandling Scripture.  To do so disparages not only yourself, if you get caught as Tim did, but ultimately the Scriptures themselves since most people, it seems, will not actually bother to validate what they have been told.  Furthermore, when we hear these sorts of accusations thrown at us, it is our duty to verify them.  We really have no reason to fear their outcome.  Christianity has stood through them before.

  1. The CARM article Which Church is the One True Church? is a great response to the assumption that there is a true church in the sense that Tim is suggesting here.
  2. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  3. Blomberg, C. (1992). Vol. 22: Matthew. The New American Commentary (342–343). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  4. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Mt 23:9). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  5. Blomberg, C. (1992). Vol. 22: Matthew. The New American Commentary (343). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.


© 2011-2018 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.

Nov 152012
This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series The Bible Made Me Do It! by Tim Staples

The Bible Made Me Do It!The Bible Made Me Do It! is a lecture by Tim Staples that is distributed by Lighthouse Catholic Media.  This discussion primarily deals with Tim Staples testimony after he rededicated his life to Christ in his late teens.  His testimony goes into some detail about conversations and debates that he would get into with a friend of his in the Marines, Matt Dula, while stationed in Quantico, VA.  As Tim tells the story, he found himself unable to argue much of what Matt had been showing him in Scripture and eventually converted to Catholicism.  The description of this talk reads:

Tim Staples was raised Baptist and served as an Assembly of God Youth Minister. He used his extensive biblical knowledge to attack the Catholic Church but when he was challenged on his beliefs, a two-year search for truth led him right to Catholicism. Now he uses that same incredible gift to defend the Faith and help others to embrace the beauty and richness of Catholicism.

In the presentation, Tim talks a lot about the discussions and arguments that he and Matt would find themselves in during their time at Quantico.  In the process, Tim would lodge points of disagreement at Matt and wait for Matt to respond.  To Tim’s surprise, Matt was almost always able to give an answer, and if he wasn’t, he was still able to get an answer and present it to Tim at a later time.

Since most of the talk is centered on Tim’s testimony there isn’t a lot of content to evaluate.  However, in the midst of telling his story about the discussions between Matt and himself, Tim gives out three topics that Matt was able to address which this series will deal with.  Those topics are calling the priest father, justification through faith alone and the doctrine of the immaculate conception which teaches that Mary was sinless from birth.  A fourth item will be looked at that Tim briefly mentions which is praying to the saints.


Tim spends a great deal of time in this talk exhorting his listeners to learn and teach their faith to their children and he brings up some great points along the way.  Granted, Tim is primarily concerned with Catholicism, but it certainly applies to us in the Evangelical community as well.  At the 15:46 mark1 he states:

Folks, it is so crucial for us, I want you to be encouraged tonight, moms and dads, you don’t know how important it is, we don’t appreciate how important it is to teach our children the Catholic faith.  Man, pump it into them.  Mom, dad, you are the primary catechist.  Not father, not the DRE, you are.  You need to teach them, get them involved, they need to experience our Lord when they are children.  Proverbs tells us, train up a child in the way that he should go and when he is old, he will not depart.

This is one of those things that cannot be over stated.  Here in the United States, Christians seem surprised by the direction the culture has taken over the last few generations, but we really have no valid reason to be.  We have given our children over to the state and allowed special interest groups to determine what they can and cannot learn.  As a society, we are more concerned with how well our children will do in life by way of career than we are by way of spiritual and moral maturity.  It is to our own demise.

What’s worse is thinking that our local church will have any sort of impact.  For those who do attend church regularly, do you really think that having your children there for a few hours on a weekend can compete with 30-35 hours throughout the week at a public or private school?  I can tell you from experience, it cannot.  Even if your kids are involved in some sort of youth group, they are still largely surrounded by influences you’d rather them not have.

What most parents don’t seem to realize is that it isn’t just a matter of what your kids are learning in the classroom but what they are learning from their peers.  If the ratio of student to teacher is somewhere around 20-1, they really aren’t getting much adult interaction and you can’t control what goes on in the homes of their peers that is brought back to school with them.  When both parents work full time and children are out of the home full time, how much time do the exhausted parents and children end up spending together at the end of the day?  We really should think more realistically about this.

Tim spends time discussing this because he had fallen away as a teenager.  While his story takes him back to the church, it is not the norm.2  We have got to quit fooling ourselves into thinking that our family is somehow going to be the exception when we do the same thing that everyone else is doing.  Deuteronomy 6:4-9 reads:

4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.3

The primary teacher for our kids are their parents; Scripture couldn’t be any clearer.  This means that we, as parents, need to be studying as well.  Theology and apologetics go hand in hand and are the most important topics for establishing a proper worldview.  Everything else is secondary.

  1. I originally received this talk on a CD but since it was damaged, I am working off of the audio available at this link.
  2. An excellent book that details what is happening with kids today who are raised in church is called Already Gone by Ken Ham, Britt Beemer and Todd Hillard.
  3. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.


© 2011-2018 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.

Oct 042012
This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Why Do We Have A Pope?

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?

Petrine Preeminence

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 twelveperhaps 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.

  1. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. Emphasis mine.
  2. When Dr. Hahn refers to ‘the church’ here and elsewhere he is speaking of the Roman Catholic Church
  3. I attempted to retain the emphasis from the audio
  4. Braude and Kapstein, Pesikta de-Rab Kahana (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975), p. 17. Piska 1.7
  5. 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.
  6. Newman, B. M., & Stine, P. C. (1992). A handbook on the Gospel of Matthew. UBS Handbook Series (702). New York: United Bible Societies.
  7. See Part 2, 3 and 4
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Of particular note, see Apostolic Succession (Part 9): The Reasoning Behind Irenaeus’ Succession
  11. 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.
  12. Origen. The Fathers Of The Church. Commentary On The Gospel Of John Books 13-32. Translated by Ronald Heine. (CUA Press 1993), 355
  13. Blomberg, C. (1992). Vol. 22: Matthew. The New American Commentary (254, 256). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.


© 2011-2018 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.

Sep 272012
This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Why Do We Have A Pope?

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

  1. 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.
  2. See 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; also the Salvation page on this site
  3. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. Emphasis Mine.
  4. Newman, B. M., & Stine, P. C. (1992). A handbook on the Gospel of Matthew. UBS Handbook Series (523). New York: United Bible Societies.
  5. 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.


© 2011-2018 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.

Sep 202012
This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Why Do We Have A Pope?

In Part 2 of this series I addressed the topic of the rock in Matthew 16:18 which was the first of three aspects Dr. Hahn gives in his discussion of the Papacy and Matthew 16:15-19.  The second aspect is the keys which comes from verse 19.  Matthew 16:18-19 reads:

18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.1

Dr. Hahn’s position is that the keys of the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 16:19 denote succession.  On track 6 at the 1:55 mark Dr. Hahn is discussing a paper he had written for graduate work to present to the class.  During the presentation the students were encouraged to interact with the presenter.  He states:

But when it came to presenting a 30 page paper presenting the evidence for the fact that Peter is the rock and that the keys denote succession and that the Catholic position is right, not one student spoke up for the entire two and a half hour seminar.

Dr. Hahn goes on at the 2:43 mark to state:

But protestants are often ready to admit the fact that Peter is the rock and that the keys of succession are given to him to apply an office that will be filled by successors.

As I noted in Part 2, even among those scholars that hold to the Petrine interpretation of Matthew 16:18, many do not see in the passage the Catholic doctrines of the papacy or apostolic succession.  Dr. Hahn relies heavily on this idea throughout his talk.  Certainly, utilizing the work of other scholars can be beneficial to your case but it should not have to play center stage in your argument.  Rather, it should support your argument in order to give it more weight.

I point this out because there is nothing in the passage that demonstrates Peter is to be the first pope and thus begin the Petrine succession of the papacy.  That has to be read into the text.  It would only seem logical that something of this magnitude would be demonstrated somewhere in Scripture in somewhat plain language so that we would be able to fall on it in order to validate a doctrine.  We don’t see any of that.  Not in Matthew or any other passage in the entire Bible.  As we will see, even the attempts to do so with the keys falls short.


On track 7 at the 2:50 mark, Dr. Hahn attempts to explain the keys in Matthew 16:19 as coming from Isaiah 22:22.  While discussing a quote from W.F. Albright’s comments in the Anchor Bible Commentary he states:

Albright is saying that Jesus, in giving to Peter, not only a new name ‘Rock’, but in entrusting to Simon the keys of the kingdom, is borrowing a phrase from Isaiah 22, he’s quoting a verse from the Old Testament that was extremely well known.  This, for me, was the break through.  This discovery was the most important discovery of all.  Let’s go back to Isaiah 22 and see what Jesus was doing when he entrusted to Peter the keys of the kingdom.  By the way, I do not find, hardly any Catholic defenders of the faith these days with awareness of this particular point, and this was the point above all points for me.  It was the point that the defenders of the Catholic faith in the 16th and 17th centuries were very aware of but for some reason amnesia has settled in upon many defenders and interpreters not aware of how crucial this particular passage is.

Please note that there is a lot of emphasis being placed on Isaiah 22:22 here in order to justify what he sees in the keys of Matthew 16:19.  When stating that the Isaiah passage is crucial in the manner that he does, he is, more or less, admitting that without it, the weight of the Catholic understanding of Matthew 16:15-19 is diminished.  Dr. Hahn continues:

In Isaiah 22, beginning back in verses 19 and 20 we have some very interesting background.  This is where Jesus goes for a quotation, to cite this passage.  What’s happening here?  [Quotes Isaiah 22:19-22a]  Now the house of David is like the house of [indecipherable] it’s a dynastic reference.  The house of David is the Davidic kingdom, the Davidic dynasty.  We know this because David’s been dead for hundreds of years when this is happening … [Quotes the rest of Isaiah 22:22] Look at all of the symbols of dynastic authority that are being given to this individual.  First of all, an office, second, a robe, third, a throne and fourth, keys.  The key of the house of David.  These royal keys.  Now what is going on here?

One thing should be noted before proceeding.  Jesus isn’t quoting Isaiah 22:22 in Matthew 16:19.  He doesn’t cite this passage in the manner that Dr. Hahn suggests.  While Jesus may be using some of the imagery from this passage, He is clearly not quoting the Scripture.2  Isaiah 22:19-22 reads:

19 I will thrust you from your office, and you will be pulled down from your station. 20 In that day I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, 21 and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your sash on him, and will commit your authority to his hand. And he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. 22 And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.

Dr. Hahn goes on to explain the passage.  Shebna, the prefect of the throne of Hezekiah, King of Judah is being deposed (Isaiah 22:15-19) and Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah,  is being promoted in his place (Isaiah 22:20-22).  In this promotion Eliakim is given the authority of the office which is the language used in Isaiah 22:22.  There are a few things going on that many commentators note are of importance.  One, that there is no record in Scripture of a divinely appointed office of this sort outside of the Davidic dynasty, and two, the wording is such that it seems to be intended as a satirical rebuke to Shebna3.  Dr. Hahn confuses these things.  He concludes that this is already a dynastic office that Eliakim is being divinely appointed to much like that of the Davidic monarchy.  In other words, the office of prefect is one of succession, like the office of the kings in which the first born son was to rule in place of the father.  He then takes this understanding and applies it to the keys that are given to Peter in Matthew 16:19 in order to demonstrate succession beginning with Peter.  In Dr. Hahn’s words, on track 8 at the 0:49 mark he states:

When he [Shebna] was expelled he left an office vacant.  Not only do you have dynastic succession for the king, but you also have a dynastic office for the prime minister.  When Shebna is expelled it leaves an empty office that needs to be filled and that’s why Eliakim is called to fill it.  Now, Eliakim is a minister in the cabinet, but now he’s being granted the prime ministers position.  How do we know?  Because he is given what the other ministers do not have, the keys to the kingdom, the key of the house of David.  That symbolizes dynastic authority entrusted to the prime minister and dynastic succession.  Why?  Because it’s the key of David, it’s the house of David! [Emphasis mine.]

When Dr. Hahn states that there is a dynastic office for the prime minister, he is reading this into the text.  And notice what Dr. Hahn does when he says the key symbolizes authority entrusted to the prime minister, he adds: and dynastic succession.  This is a massive leap that’s being taken.  Dr. Hahn is claiming that the key is succession.  But I would argue, the key of the house of David is not succession and Dr. Hahn should have stopped with authority because there is nothing in this passage or the Scriptures as a whole that defines the key of David in Isaiah 22:22 or the keys of the kingdom in Matthew 16:19 as succession.  This is another example of eisegesis, where Dr. Hahn seems to be reading what he wants to read into the text.  As noted in the Keil and Delitzsch Commentary On The Old Testament:

The “key” signifies the power of the keys; and for this reason it is not given into Eliakim’s hand, but placed upon his shoulder (Isa. 9:5). This key was properly handled by the king (Rev. 3:7), and therefore by the “house-mayor” only in his stead. The power of the keys consisted not only in the supervision of the royal chambers, but also in the decision who was and who was not to be received into the king’s service. There is a resemblance, therefore, to the giving of the keys of the kingdom of heaven to Peter under the New Testament. But there the “binding” and “loosing” introduce another figure, though one similar in sense; whereas here, in the “opening” and “shutting,” the figure of the key is retained.4

There is simply no reason to apply the succession of the Davidic monarchy which is given to David in 2 Samuel 7 to the key given to Eliakim and then go on to apply that to the keys given to Peter in Matthew 16:19.  As noted in the quote above, the key is given as a symbol of authority (upon his shoulder) and opens and shuts in the king’s stead.  This is even indicative by the meaning of his name as God establishes.5  As the point above all points that Dr. Hahn uses in order to apply succession to Peter in Matthew 16:19, this one comes up incredibly dull and as a result we are left with zero credibility given to the Petrine succession of the papacy.

There is one thing that should be pointed out regarding Isaiah 22:22 and that is this: the passage is clearly messianic in that it points to attributes that are specifically given to The Messiah.  Isaiah 9:6 reads:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Make special note of the line that reads: and the government shall be upon his shoulder.  This is the same imagery applied to the key on the shoulder of Eliakim in Isaiah 22:22, one that is used to help provide emphasis to the fact that the key represents authority. We then see these idioms finalized in Revelation 3:7 which reads:

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.

Eliakim then becomes a type of Christ, the God-man, in that he rules with the authority of the king, just as Christ rules with the authority of the Father.

The Authority For All

One final piece to the issue of the keys in Matthew 16:19.  When Jesus gives the keys to Peter he goes on to explain that whatever he binds on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever is loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven.  Jesus gives this same power to the rest of the disciples in Matthew 18:18 which reads:

Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

What’s most telling about this passage isn’t that the same powers are given to the rest of the disciples.  This message is given in response to the question of the disciples, who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?  I find it incredibly interesting that this authority, given to Peter, given to the rest of the disciples and subsequently given to the Christian church as a whole are given in the midst of a message where Jesus clearly discusses how important it is that authority not be held over the people.  This is the same message in which Jesus tells us to humble ourselves as a child (Matthew 18:4), that whoever would cause the little one to stumble would be better to have a millstone tied to his neck and thrown into the sea (Matthew 18:6), to settle our differences with each other in the desire to restore fellowship (Matthew 18:15-17)  and where two or three are gathered in His name there He will be (Matthew 18:20).

Dr. Hahn notes that this authority is given to the disciples in this passage but he makes mention that the keys aren’t specified.  On track 8 at the 4:00 mark he states:

In Matthew 18, the apostles get the power to bind and loose like Peter got in Matthew 16 but with absolutely no mention of the keys.  That fits perfectly in this model because in the kings cabinet all the ministers can bind and loose, but the prime minister who holds the keys can bind what they loose or loose what they bound.  He has in a sense, the final say.  He has in himself the authority of the court of final appeal.

This idea that Dr. Hahn gives has absolutely nothing to do with the context of Matthew 18 as I just noted.  And what is the authority?  The offering of the kingdom of heaven.  The spirit of Matthew 18 is that it should be graciously extended to all – something Catholic tradition has a hard time grappling with.

And on that note I will finish with some thoughts from Jamieson, Fausset and Brown’s Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible:

and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven—Whatever this means, it was soon expressly extended to all the apostles (Mt 18:18); so that the claim of supreme authority in the Church, made for Peter by the Church of Rome, and then arrogated to themselves by the popes as the legitimate successors of St. Peter, is baseless and impudent. As first in confessing Christ, Peter got this commission before the rest; and with these “keys,” on the day of Pentecost, he first “opened the door of faith” to the Jews, and then, in the person of Cornelius, he was honored to do the same to the Gentiles. Hence, in the lists of the apostles, Peter is always first named. See on Mt 18:18. One thing is clear, that not in all the New Testament is there the vestige of any authority either claimed or exercised by Peter, or conceded to him, above the rest of the apostles—a thing conclusive against the Romish claims in behalf of that apostle.6
Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven—Here, what had been granted but a short time before to Peter only (see on Mt 16:19) is plainly extended to all the Twelve; so that whatever it means, it means nothing peculiar to Peter, far less to his pretended successors at Rome. It has to do with admission to and rejection from the membership of the Church.7

While Part 2 of this series noted that Peter is likely not the subject of this rock in Matthew 16:18, an even further blow to the claims made of Petrine succession is that the keys in Matthew 16:19 have absolutely nothing to do with succession but of authority, the same authority given to the rest of the disciples and ultimately the Christian church.  In the next post I will address the third aspect of the Matthew 16:15-19 passage given by Dr. Hahn, the guarantee of Jesus.

  1. All Scripture quotations use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. Emphasis mine.
  2. That is not to say the imagery cannot be applied in some regard when interpreting Matthew 16:19.  I would state that Jesus is making an allusion to Old Testament idioms that are found in Isaiah 22:22 that will apply authority to Peter but that subsequently gets applied to all the apostles, and all the Christian church.
  3. Young, E. (1969). The Book of Isaiah: Volume 2, Chapters 19–39 (114). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
  4. Keil, C. F., & Delitzsch, F. (1996). Commentary on the Old Testament (Is 22:20–24). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.
  5. Heb. ’el-yāqîm, ‘God establishes’?; Gk. Eliakeim; Young, E. J. (1996). Eliakim. In D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer & D. J. Wiseman (Eds.), New Bible dictionary (D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer & D. J. Wiseman, Ed.) (3rd ed.) (310). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  6. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Mt 16:19). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  7. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Mt 18:18). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.


© 2011-2018 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.

Sep 132012
This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Why Do We Have A Pope?

Dr. Hahn’s discussion regarding the papacy focuses primarily on Matthew 16:15-18 in three main aspects, those being 1) the rock, 2) the keys, and 3) the guarantee of Jesus.  As Dr. Hahn states on track 4 at the 2:30 mark:

[On recommending other items for further study] … and lastly, if you’ll permit me, I’ll recommend a tape that I made sitting at my desk about a year ago … it’s entitled Peter and the Papacy and in this tape I focus primarily upon Matthew 16 verses 17-19.  I focus upon three aspects that we’re going to begin with this morning: the rock, the keys, and the guarantee of Jesus that the gates of hell will not prevail.  The rock, the keys, and the guarantee of Jesus that the gates of hell will not prevail; those three ideas are closely associated with the very important passage that we find in the first Gospel, the Gospel of Matthew chapter 16 verses 17-19.

Dr. Hahn then goes on to read the passage starting at verse 13.  I predominantly use the ESV in my studies and throughout this site primarily because it is the translation I’m most comfortable with.  It is certainly not because it suits my interests; I would encourage anyone to cross check the passages along with a sanctioned translation approved by the Catholic Church.1  Matthew 16:13-19 reads:

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.2

This post will focus on the first of the three aspects, namely, the rock, while the subsequent posts will deal with the keys and the guarantee of Jesus.

The Petrine Succession of the Papacy

To start with, we need to have a basic handle on the doctrine of the papacy.  Catholic tradition holds that the disciple Peter is the first Pope (or bishop) of Rome and that there has been a succession of this chair (or office) ever since.  This is called the Petrine Succession of the Papacy; Petrine being the adjective form of the name Peter and papacy being the office of the Pope.  It is because of this very doctrine that Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed that the Roman Catholic Church is the only “true church” and that other denominations (or churches) do not have the “means of salvation.”3

This doctrine also claims papal infallibility.  For the sake of unity, I’ll repeat here what I showed in Part 1 of this discussion because I think Dr. Hahn states it quite clearly on track 3 at the 2:07 mark:

The church teaches, in a simple summary, that the holy father, the pope, the bishop of Rome, as the successor of Peter and the vicar of Christ, when he speaks as the universal teacher from the chair of Peter in defining faith and morals, does so with an infallible charism, or an infallible gift, through the holy spirit so that we can give to him the full ascent of our intellect and of our will.  And we can hear the voice of Christ coming to us through the voice of the pope when he is speaking in this capacity.

It is important to note that this is not to say the Pope is always and at all times infallible or cannot sin.  The Catholic Church does not hold to this position.  The doctrine states that he is infallible when he is speaking ex cathedra (from the chair).  Dr. Hahn notes on track 3 at the 1:20 mark that the Pope goes to confession, therefore he must have something to confess.

The natural question is one of where this doctrine is derived from and this is where Matthew 16:15-19 comes in.  The idea is that Peter is: 1) the rock in verse 18, 2) given the keys to the kingdom in verse 19 and 3) given the guarantee of Jesus that the gates of hell will not prevail in that same verse.  I will note from the outset that even if Dr. Hahn’s interpretations derived directly from Matthew 16:15-19 are correct, it does not follow that the office of the papacy is legitimate for reasons that will be addressed as these posts continue.

Peter as This Rock

There are two prevailing interpretations for just what ‘this rock‘ is referring to in Matthew 16:18; the first is that Peter is indeed ‘this rock‘ which I will refer to as the Petrine interpretation and the second is that ‘this rock‘ is pointing to the confession, or more specifically, Christ Himself, that Peter makes in Matthew 16:16.  For obvious reasons, Catholicism holds to the Petrine interpretation.  Dr. Hahn goes through great lengths to demonstrate that this is not a uniquely Catholic interpretation.  He quotes numerous protestant theologians that agree with the idea that Peter is ‘this rock‘.  This certainly is true.  As one of two prevailing interpretations I’m sure there may be some within Catholic ranks that agree with the predominant protestant view as well.  Rather than rehash everything he quotes in the lecture I would like to quote Dr. Craig L. Blomberg who agrees with the Petrine interpretation:

The expression “this rock” almost certainly refers to Peter, following immediately after his name, just as the words following “the Christ” in v. 16 applied to Jesus. The play on words in the Greek between Peter’s name (Petros) and the word “rock” (petra) makes sense only if Peter is the rock and if Jesus is about to explain the significance of this identification.4

So while it is true there are many non-Catholic theologians that agree with the Petrine interpretation of Matthew 16:18, that doesn’t mean they come to the same conclusions that Catholic doctrine holds to.  As Dr. Blomberg goes on to note while wrapping up the discussion of this passage:

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 (on Peter’s life more generally, see comments under 10:2). Instead, Matthew presents the challenging and exciting promise of God’s presence with his entire church, as it seeks to witness and minister to the world, in a way that should encourage no one to despair but stimulate all to service.5

In the end, even if we grant the Petrine interpretation of Matthew 16:18 (or even Catholic interpretations of the entire passage) there is simply no reason to believe that Peter becomes the first pope and initiates apostolic succession.  There is no textual evidence of this and therefore the only way to arrive at the conclusions Catholic doctrine teaches is to eisegete these ideas into the passage.  But is the Petrine interpretation valid?

The Confession as This Rock

I disagree with Dr. Blomberg’s insistence that Peter is ‘this rock‘.  As I noted, the other primary interpretation of the passage is that this rock is referring to the confession that Peter makes in Matthew 16:16, or even more specifically Christ Himself.  This seems to me the most natural reading of the passage.  Matthew 16:15-18 reads:

15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.6

Much of these discussions will get into the wordplay going on in this passage, that Πέτρος (Peter/Petros) and πέτρα (rock/petra) sound similar and both having somewhat flexible and interchangeable meanings.  Of course, this is the case.  There is a lot going on in this passage in addition to the wordplay with Peter’s name however that is beyond the scope of this discussion.  One item that is worth pointing out in regards to the wordplay is that πέτρος, when not used as a formal name was used of a free standing stone whereas πέτρα was used as a solid mass of rock.  As John Nolland points out in his commentary on Matthew:

The likelihood of these various construals may be affected by the relationship between the meanings of πέτρος (when not used as a name) and πέτρα. Both terms exhibit significant flexibility of meaning. Originally πέτρα was used of a solid mass of rock and πέτρος of a (free-standing) rock/stone, but occasional early interchangeability has been documented.7

John Nolland goes on to say that these differences would not warrant a clear contrast (e.g., ‘you are Peter = [little stone], but it is on this [much greater solid] rock that I will build my church’) but I think it is worth pointing out especially in light of the doctrines that come about due to Peter being identified as this rock.

Many scholars note that Matthew may have originally been written in Hebrew and certainly much of the early church fathers agree with this.8  The reason that becomes important in the discussion is because the Aramaic of Peter and rock/stone are identical in the form of כאפא (kepha) which then renders the verse as: you are Kepha and on this kepha I will build my church.

What I want to draw attention to is the word this in verse 18 because that is where, I believe, the shift from Peter to his confession takes place, Peter being in second person while this rock is in third.  As theologian Cris Putnam notes in Petrus Romanus:

Arguing this in non-technical language is somewhat strained but when going from second person, “you, Peter,” to third person, “this rock,” then “this rock” is referring to something other than the person who was being addressed in the preceding phrase, something that we find in the immediate context.9

So what is it that we find being addressed in the immediate context?  It is most assuredly the confession of Peter in verse 16.  As Putnam goes on to explain:

If you recall from your formative years in Sunday school, when in doubt, the correct Sunday school answer was nearly always, “Jesus.”  Indeed, Jesus is the answer here as well.  The misappropriated response to Peter is praise from Jesus for Peter’s inspired confession: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).  In this author’s (Putnam) view, it is on this confession of Christ that the Church is built.  In Peter’s own words, Christ is the cornerstone that the builders rejected which has become the capstone (1 Peter 2:7).10

Putnam also points out that Augustine, who is heralded as one of the early fathers of the Catholic Church, agreed with this interpretation.  Augustine states in his Homilies on the Gospel of John in Tractate CXXIV:

For, as regards his proper personality, he was by nature one man, by grace one Christian, by still more abounding grace one, and yet also, the first apostle; but when it was said to him, “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven,” he represented the universal Church, which in this world is shaken by divers temptations, that come upon it like torrents of rain, floods and tempests, and falleth not, because it is founded upon a rock (petra), from which Peter received his name. For petra (rock) is not derived from Peter, but Peter from petra; just as Christ is not called so from the Christian, but the Christian from Christ. For on this very account the Lord said, “On this rock will I build my Church,” because Peter had said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” On this rock, therefore, He said, which thou hast confessed. I will build my Church. For the Rock (Petra) was Christ; and on this foundation was Peter himself also built.11

It’s very important to note here that Augustine seems to know nothing of the Petrine interpretation.12  Instead, his discussion stems from the fact that Peter, as a name, is given to Simon because of his confession of faith and specifically points out that the Rock is Christ.  From here, any competent concordance will help in demonstrating that the type, or picture, of The Rock and Christ is certainly not a foreign concept in Scripture.


While there may be decent grounds for both interpretations of just what this rock is referring to, the most plausible interpretation is that it is in reference to the confession that Peter had just made.  In light of the narrative and the type, or picture of The Rock given throughout the Old Testament and confirmed in the New Testament as pointing to The Messiah, it seems the most natural reading.  But even if we grant the Petrine interpretation, I would only point back to what Dr. Blomberg states, that “there is obviously nothing in these verses of the distinctively Catholic doctrines of the papacy, apostolic succession, or Petrine infallibility”.  Indeed, there is only one way that I know of to get the doctrines out of this passage that Catholicism holds to and that is eisegesis, a manner of inserting your own presuppositions into the text in order to make it mean what you want it to mean.  It is simply not enough to point to Peter as being the subject of this rock in Matthew 16:18.  In the next post I’ll address the second aspect of the passage that Dr. Hahn discusses – the keys.

  1. For translations approved by the Catholic Church please visit Bible Versions and Commentaries.
  2. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Mt 16:13–20). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  3. Pope: Jesus formed “only one church” retrieved Sep. 7th, 2012
  4. Blomberg, C. (1992). Vol. 22: Matthew. The New American Commentary (252). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  5. Blomberg, C. (1992). Vol. 22: Matthew. The New American Commentary (256). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  6. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Mt 16:15–18). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. Emphasis mine.
  7. Nolland, J. (2005). The Gospel of Matthew: A commentary on the Greek text. New International Greek Testament Commentary (669). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.
  8. For a brief and readily available discussion of this see Matthew’s Hebrew Gospel
  9. Thomas Horn and Cris Putnam, Petrus Romanus: The Final Pope Is Here, (Defender Publishing, 2012), 175; emphasis in original
  10. Same source as footnote 9
  11. Augustine of Hippo. (1888). Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel according to St. John J. Gibb & J. Innes, Trans.). In P. Schaff (Ed.), A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series, Volume VII: St. Augustin: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Soliloquies (P. Schaff, Ed.) (450). New York: Christian Literature Company.  Emphasis mine.
  12. If Augustine is aware of the Petrine interpretation of Matthew 16:18, he doesn’t seem aware of it here.  He may address it elsewhere but as of this writing I am not familiar with it.


© 2011-2018 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.

Aug 312012
This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Why Do We Have A Pope?

Why Do We Have A Pope? is a lecture by Dr. Scott Hahn and is distributed by Lighthouse Catholic Media.  The lecture largely centers around the topic of Petrine succession and the authority of the Pope.  While there is much that could be addressed from the talk, this series of posts will primarily deal with Dr. Hahn’s handling of Matthew 16:16-181 along with some other points of interest that he brings up.  The description of the talk states:

As a former Protestant minister, Dr. Scott Hahn knows very well the common misconceptions non-Catholics have about the Catholic Faith.  In this informative talk, he tackles the tough issue of the Papacy and explains our belief that the Pope is part of Christ’s design for His Church.  This presentation will help you better understand the crucial role of the successor of St. Peter in the Church.

This lecture was enjoyable for several reasons, the primary being that there were a few insights brought up during the course of the talk that are certainly worth further study.  That being said the conclusions that Dr. Hahn comes to seem to stem largely from presuppositions that are already held.  The reason I say this is because there are leaps that have to be taken from the interpretations given (assuming they would be correct) that you simply would not be able to come to on your own.  It’s for this reason that this initial post will deal with the idea and subsequent problem of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture being on equal ground.

Scripture and Tradition

Catholic tradition doesn’t necessarily rely on Scripture.  In fact, Catholicism holds tradition and Scripture in equal parts, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.”2

The problems with this are numerous, but the biggest is the reasoning behind it.  Scripture doesn’t provide Catholicism with what it needs in order to maintain the structure of the papacy and the priesthood.  As a result, the infallibility of the pope is presented so that when the pope speaks ex cathedra (from the chair of Peter) he is speaking the voice of Christ.  Dr. Hahn mentions this in his talk on track 3 at the 2:07 mark:

The church teaches, in a simple summary, that the holy father, the pope, the bishop of Rome, as the successor of Peter and the vicar of Christ, when he speaks as the universal teacher from the chair of Peter in defining faith and morals, does so with an infallible charism, or an infallible gift, through the holy spirit so that we can give to him the full ascent of our intellect and of our will.  And we can hear the voice of Christ coming to us through the voice of the pope when he is speaking in this capacity.

The question that must arise in this is ‘by what grounds?’  If the Scripture doesn’t outline this process then you have to have some mechanism to lock it into place.  The result is the tradition that makes this claim, which was defined by the infallible teaching of the pope, and since tradition is held at the same level of Scripture you can use your tradition to eisegete the text.  That’s precisely what we find happening throughout the talk.  This creates a vicious circle.

Infallible Interpretation

Since Scripture is insufficient, you must have something to determine tradition, interpretation and dogma.  The office of the papacy does just that as noted in the previous quoted comments of Dr. Hahn’s.  Once Sacred Tradition is established it can then be used to interpret Scripture.  Dr. Hahn notes the insufficiency of Scripture in track 11 at the 0:50 mark when he states:

In less than 500 years there are literally thousands and thousands of denominations that are becoming ever more numerous continuously because they only go with the Bible.  It points to the fact that we need an infallible interpretation of this infallible book. [Emphasis mine]

Notice what he says there: because they only go with the Bible.  This is absurd.  Granted, evangelicalism is indeed a mess, but to claim it’s because they only go with the Bible is a hasty generalization, not to mention a dig at the Scriptures.  Most would say the exact opposite is true.  The only interpretation that is the infallible interpretation is God’s.  God’s interpretation alone is the correct interpretation and not that of some man who claims to be speaking for Him.  This is why the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is so valuable.  It is the understanding that Scripture interprets Scripture because it is the Word of God.

Part 2 of the 3 part criteria for interpreting Scripture given by the Second Vatican Council states:

Read the Scripture within “the living Tradition of the whole Church”. According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church’s heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God’s Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (“. . . according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church”)3

What we see happening is the minimization of Scripture and the propping up of tradition.  Tradition, being given by the pope, is thought of as coming from Christ and therefore through this tradition we can understand Scripture.  This is incredibly backwards.  It really should be the other way around.  Tradition should be bound by Scripture, that is the only thing that can keep us rooted in the Word of God.  This is precisely what Jesus held the scribes and Pharisees accountable for in Matthew 15:1-6:

15 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” 3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 5 But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” 6 he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.4

The problem that Jesus is pointing to here is that the propping up of tradition voids the Word of God regardless of how noble the intention may be.  This is not to say that tradition is bad.  It is to say that tradition should never trump Scripture and should always be bound by Scripture.  Scripture and tradition cannot be used to validate each other, that is circular reasoning.  In order to be logically coherent, one must validate the other.  The question is what will it be?

Papal Infallibility

The pope is the only way out of the vicious circle that is created when Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition is put on equal footing.  Matthew 16:16-18 is used by Catholicism to formulate the office of the papacy and papal infallibility.  The problem is the stretch that has to be made to get there which I will address in subsequent posts.  Of course, the words papal infallibility do not exist in Scripture.  Even if the doctrine were correct, we shouldn’t expect them to.  I did find it interesting, however, that in track 15 at the 0:05 mark, Dr. Hahn correctly argues against the idea that the words papal infallibility should exist in Scripture:

Somebody could say “well, wait a second, why wasn’t papal infallibility defined until the 1800’s? The Bible never says papal infallibility.'”  No it doesn’t.  But the Bible never says trinity either.  And all non-Catholic Christians affirm the trinity.  Why wasn’t the word trinity used?  Well because the word trinity was not necessary until heresies arose to force the church to formulate and to defend the doctrine of God, One God in three persons, adequately and sufficiently.  At that point they came up with a very helpful term triunity or trinity to do so.

The reason I found this interesting is because in his talk entitled The Lamb’s Supper Dr. Hahn did the very thing that he is speaking against doing here, which I noted in Part 1 of my review of that lecture.  In my response, I used the word trinity as an example.  It’s not that we would expect someone like Dr. Hahn (or anyone for that matter) to never be inconsistent or make a mistake like this, but we need to recognize that the rule is universal.  You cannot apply it only when it suits your purposes.  While I don’t think Dr. Hahn is doing this intentionally, the rule still applies.


Putting Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition on equal ground introduces a logical incoherence commonly referred to as circular reasoning.  The only way around this is to introduce the doctrine of Papal Infallibility.  The Pope becomes the arbiter; the infallible interpreter of Scripture and the infallible interpreter of faith and morals.  It is for this reason that Matthew 16:16-18 is so important.  If it does not affirm what Catholic teaching says it affirms then the office of the papacy and papal infallibility is indeed in error.

  1. Dr. Scott Hahn is taking the traditional Catholic interpretation of this passage.
  2. Part 1, Section 1, Chapter 2, Article 2, Paragraph 82 Retrieved from Catechism of the Catholic Church
  3. Part 1, Section 1, Chapter 2, Article 3, Paragraph 113 Retrieved from Catechism of the Catholic Church
  4. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Mt 15:1–6). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.  Emphasis mine


© 2011-2018 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.