v. 13) When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His Disciples, saying, “Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?”
v. 14) And they said, “Some say that you are John the Baptist: some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the Prophets.”
v. 15) He said unto them, “But whom say you that I am?”
v. 16) And Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
v. 17) And Jesus answered and said unto him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood have not revealed it unto you, but My Father which is in Heaven.”
v. 18) And I say also unto you, “That you are Peter and upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.”
v. 19) “And I will give unto you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven: and whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.”
This is the third and final article in this series on Matthew 16 and we are seeing the Catholic Church’s abuse and hi-jacking of this passage for their own purposes.
Last month, we saw how the Catechism of the Catholic Church falsely claims that Peter was the only rock of the Church (CCC #881), placing Peter above all the other apostles; and we demonstrated that the biblical evidence certainly points against this idea. See here:
The Catechism Strikes Again
The Catholic Catechism also claims that Peter is the only one to whom the keys were directly given:
“…Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles and in particular through the ministry of Peter, the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom.” (CCC #553)
So, what is all this about? What are these “keys” that Jesus is giving to Peter? Of course, these are not literal keys, but a metaphor. Keys represent authority, power and access, and since they are the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, they must give access to Heaven. This is the binding (locking) and loosing (unlocking) concept that Jesus was speaking of, i.e., restricting or allowing access to Heaven.
Catholics also claim that this authority that Peter received from Jesus is an infallible authority, and because of this, he (Peter) cannot officially proclaim error when teaching on faith and morals. Not only that, this infallible authority will also be passed on to his successors. The reason they claim infallibility is because they believe: 1) Jesus gave Peter the legislative power (ability to make laws) to bind and loose. 2) Peter decides that a particular teaching should become law, and makes it binding on the church. 3) God sees this action and is somehow obligated to endorse or ratify this new law from His throne in Heaven.
And the Catholic says that the reason that this action has to be infallible is because God cannot lie or endorse an erroneous or false decree. And since He must always endorse what Peter binds or looses, He won’t ever let Peter bind or loose the wrong things, guaranteeing freedom from error. Sounds good, right?
But that’s not the way it works. Man doesn’t make the rules and then obligate God to agree with him. Nor is God obligated to keep anyone from making bad decisions. Everyone is accountable for his own decisions (Galatians 6:7).
You see, the keys come with the implied understanding that you will abide by the rules of the one who gave you the keys in the first place. This promise from Jesus to Peter is neither a license to bind and loose whatever he wants, nor is it a guarantee to never teach false doctrine (whether “officially” or not). This is not about telling God what to bind or loose. Rather, Jesus is saying, “Peter, I will back you as long as you do My will,” He is NOT saying, “I will keep you from ever straying from My will.” Church leaders are expected to be more responsible and more accountable than others (1 Timothy 3:1-10; Titus 1:5-9). The Bible tells church leaders to guard their teachings (Acts 20:28-31; 1 Timothy 4:16; 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:14). But why tell them to “keep” or “guard” those teachings if they are guaranteed an infallibility and protection against error? There is no biblical evidence of anyone in the post-apostolic church who would have infallibility.
Ok, so Peter was given the keys to the kingdom. But is he the only one who obtained these keys? No, not at all. Speaking to all the apostles in another passage, Jesus said:
“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.” (Matthew 18:18)
We can see from this verse that Jesus is giving this same power to bind and loose to ALL the apostles. It is the same exact wording as Matthew 16:19 (except the “ye” and “you”). So they must necessarily all have the same keys, that is, the same authority. Jesus gave nothing to Peter that he didn’t also give to the other apostles. To try and say that Peter is “the only one to whom He [Jesus] specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom” is deceptive. The Catholic Church makes a big deal out of isolating Peter in Matthew 16:18-19 and then they try to insert the doctrine of the papacy here.
But the Catholic will say, “But look at all the special things Peter did and experienced! Shouldn’t he have this ‘primacy’ and this special role as pope?” Catholics will argue that he was the first one to get the keys, that Jesus told him to “Feed My sheep,” that Jesus changed Peter’s name, etc., etc. But if these sorts of accomplishments suggest that a man should be pope, then we could suggest the apostle Paul, as well, for this honor. After all, Paul has a better “resume” than Peter. Whatever evidence can be brought forth for the primacy of Peter, more (and better) evidence can be brought forth for the primacy of Paul. See this link for an interesting comparison between Peter and Paul:
Of course, no one is actually saying that Paul is a pope, but the point is that Catholics are not consistent when they use this argument. If someone had to be a pope based on experiences and accomplishments, it seems it should be Paul.
Ok, so ALL the apostles had the power of binding and loosing. But what were the limits of this power? When discussing the papacy, Catholics will almost always speak very highly of Peter’s authority. But sometimes, an interesting thing happens when Catholics are pressed about the limits of this gift to bind and loose. Someone in the discussion may well ask, since Peter had this special primacy and authority, couldn’t he decide to proclaim any wild teachings he desired to promote? Could he make crazy laws for the church that everybody would have to follow? Maybe change some existing infallible Catholic teachings? After all, wouldn’t God bind and loose whatever Peter chose to bind and loose? This is a valid question, since he is given so much attention and power in the Catholic Church.
At this point of the discussion, Catholics will often tone it down and say no, Peter can’t decree such things; that’s not what this means, and they may quote something like “Pastor Aeternus” of the First Vatican Council, which says:
“For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.” (Session 4, Chapter 4, Paragraph 6)
Ok, so according to Vatican I, this power of binding and loosing was apparently not for creating new doctrines, etc., but only to cause Peter to “religiously guard” and “faithfully expound” the revelation that already existed. But isn’t this the job of every pastor who is worth his salt? This is the norm for biblical churches, to try to religiously guard and faithfully expound God’s Word. Actually, this is every Christian’s duty. So, how does this separate Peter from the rest? How does this make Peter’s status any higher than the other apostles? It doesn’t. There is nothing in Matthew 16 that calls for the Catholic Church’s exalted view of Peter.
But notice how the discussion goes from:
A)Peter is the Vicar of Christ, referred to as “His Holiness,” who has full, supreme and universal power over the whole church, who has the power to make statements that are infallible (without error) and irreformable (unchangeable; not subject to improvement), and being under his authority is an absolute necessity for salvation.…
B) Peter has to follow (and be faithful to) the Word of God, just like everybody else.
“A” (above) can only be concluded by much hype and exaggeration, as well as eisegesis (reading things into the text), while “B” is much closer to the truth, and closer to the meaning of binding and loosing in Matthew 16.
When the Catholic is pressed on this point and this “special gift to Peter alone” is examined, we find that ultimately, they will be forced to downplay Peter’s status.
To get a good idea of the nature and scope of this power of binding and loosing, we need to look at the grammar used in this context. The structure in the Greek grammar of both Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18 is unique and very important. Many scholars (e.g., A.T. Robertson, J.R. Mantey, Charles B. Williams, Robert Young, Jay P. Green, Sr., and Thomas Constable, just to name a few) agree on the type of perfect tense used in these passages and teach that it indicates a state of completion. The Greek is literally saying, “Whatsoever you bind / loose on earth shall have been bound / loosed in Heaven,” “…is already bound / loosed in Heaven,” “…shall be what has been bound / loosed in Heaven,” “…having been already bound / loosed in Heaven,” etc. There are well over a dozen different Bible translations that render it this way, or something very similar. This may be somewhat awkward in English, but according to these scholars, it is faithful to the Greek, which is the inspired language.
Ok, so why does this type of perfect tense matter? The important thing to note is that this structure demonstrates that the binding and loosing in Heaven actually comes FIRST - BEFORE a man on earth has declared what is bound or loosed.
It is interesting to note that this very same Greek construction is also used in John 20:23 where Jesus tells the apostles that whoever’s sins you retain / forgive are retained / forgiven. This type of structure indicates that God’s forgiving or retaining comes first, and then man’s proclaiming of the person’s spiritual status afterward (based on that person’s acceptance or rejection of the gospel).
This is not a situation where a man can decide to forgive or retain the sinner’s sins, as in the Catholic confessional – it is a situation in which a believer simply declares / proclaims / confirms what God has already clearly stated in His Word, concerning the sinner’s response to the gospel. Forgiveness depends on whether a person is repentant and how he reacts to the gospel, not on some special formula that the priest, rabbi, or minister uses.
So, practically speaking, this passage is simply saying 1) “Since you have accepted the gospel on earth, you are already forgiven (loosed) in Heaven,” or 2) “Since you reject the gospel of Jesus Christ on earth, you have already been condemned (bound) in Heaven and excluded from eternal life.”
Again, as with all three passages mentioned above (Matthew 16:19, 18:18, and John 20:23), it is NOT a case of a man having power over other people’s souls, or creating laws at will, or absolving sins and then afterward, God being obligated to give His seal of approval. Binding and loosing (as well as retaining and forgiving) has to do with entrance into Heaven and is simply declaring what God has already done according to His Word. Scripture is the standard upon which a person can bind or loose something. The keys that were first given to the apostles are simply the gospel of Jesus Christ, because THAT is “…the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16). And these keys are, by extension, given to every Christian through the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). When Christians are obedient in proclaiming the truth about a person’s acceptance or rejection of the gospel, God will ratify (or has already ratified) that proclamation in Heaven.
Another argument that Catholics often use to justify Peter’s primacy as pope is to parallel Matthew 16:19 with Isaiah 22:20-22. Here is the passage:
v. 20) And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call My servant Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah.
v. 21) And I will clothe him with thy robe, and strengthen him with thy girdle, and I will commit thy government into his hand: and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah.
v. 22) And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.
Since there is a key involved, and since there is opening and shutting (“loosing” and “binding”) involved, and what seems to be a type of “prime minister” position, Catholics believe that this is symbolic of Jesus giving the keys to Peter, with Peter ruling over the Church by way of a papacy.
But this Isaiah passage is actually about a man named Shebna (v. 15) who, because of his pride, was about to lose his position as second only to the king (Hezekiah), and God was handing his position over to another man named Eliakim. So, Catholics compare Peter to Eliakim, who was to receive the “key of the house of David” (v. 22). And they say that Jesus is giving Peter these same keys to be a sort of “prime minister” of the Catholic Church. This is Catholic typology.
But this is far from good biblical typology. The Bible mentions several different keys (or sets of keys). Does each and every one of these also apply to Peter just because keys are mentioned? What is it in Isaiah 22 that demands a parallel with Peter? If this typology is accurate, then who represents Shebna in the Matthew 16 scenario? Who did Peter replace? The truth is, he replaced no one, since the apostles were the foundation of the church era. And if this passage points to Peter, then what is the significance of Isaiah 22:25, that is, how was Peter ever “removed” or “cut down”? We would think that Catholics would be cautious about applying this to Peter or his papacy.
The Jewish Connection
And it doesn’t apply for good reason. This Eliakim (whose name means “God will raise up”) is a type of Jesus Christ, not Peter. It is Jesus who will have the glorious throne in v. 23 (the everlasting throne of David - 2 Samuel 7:12-16; Isaiah 9:6-7; Luke 1:31-33; Acts 2:30). And it is Jesus who has the “key of David” (Revelation 3:7).
The “key of the house of David” in Isaiah 22, we believe, focuses more on the promises of David’s throne, the setting up and fulfillment of his kingdom. The “house of David” is about the ancestry or the line of David. Again, the key (singular) of the house of David (Isaiah 22:22) had to do with Israel (note the reference to Jerusalem and Judah in v. 21), while the keys (plural) of the kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 16:19) have more to do with the church.
There may be similarities between Isaiah 22 and Matthew 16, but they are not the same thing.
We have often said that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. The Catholic Church’s claim to Matthew 16:13-19 is no different, in fact, it is one of their most fervent claims, but their focus is on the wrong person. They have a lot to lose if they are proven wrong here. That’s why they fight tooth and nail to promote these ideas.
Once again, this passage is NOT about Peter and his “primacy.” It is about the person, the work, and the message of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God. It is about His gospel of salvation through faith in that glorious work on the cross… and that alone. He has also called all Christians to share this gospel with a lost and dying world. As we said earlier, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16), and it is exactly what this passage (Matthew 16:13-19) and this series of articles is all about.
We are not against Peter. He was definitely a leader in the church who has done much for the gospel. He became a great man of faith, in spite of his initial shortcomings, and he will sit on a throne just as all the other apostles will. But we must be ever mindful of over-emphasizing anyone, be it an apostle, Mary, a “saint,” or any minister. And this is exactly what the papacy does: It wrongly focuses on, and exalts, a mere man rather than Jesus Christ.
According to God’s infallible Word, there IS no papacy, there IS no pope, there IS no one ruler on earth over the whole church.