Proof and Reason for the Papal Office


In the Old Testament, when God established His Covenant with the nation of Israel, He provided for a living, continuing authority in the Mosaic priesthood (see 2 Chr 19:11; Mal 2:7.) This authority did not end when the OT Scripture was written; rather, it continued as the safeguard and authentic interpreter of Sacred Scripture.

When Christ established His Church, the New Israel, He set up a living, continuing authority to teach, govern, and sanctify in His name. This living authority is called “Apostolic” because it began with the twelve Apostles and continued with their successors. It was this Apostolic authority that would preserve and authentically interpret the Revelation of Jesus Christ. This same Apostolic authority determined the canon of the Bible, and will preserve the teachings of Jesus Christ in all their fullness, and uncorrupted from error, until the end of time.

Among the twelve Apostles St. Peter is clearly the head. Know Matthew 16:13-19 well: ” And so I say to you, you are Peter [Rock], and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter, which mean “rock.” Our Lord says this rock will be God’s way of preserving the Church from corruption until the end of time.

Our Lord knew St. Peter would be dead by 70 AD Therefore Christ must have intended the office of Peter to last until the end of time. St. Peter is given the “keys to the kingdom of heaven.” This is an awesome gift. To nobody else does Christ give this ruling power. Reflect on this unique privilege. Why would Jesus would give this tremendous authority to St. Peter and not intend for it to be passed on? If he early Christians needed an authoritative leader, later Christians would need one even more. After all, many of the early Christians heard the Gospel from Christ Himself and knew the Apostles personally. After all the Apostles died, the Church would have even greater need of the power of the keys when enemies would try to corrupt the teachings of Christ.

Although all the Apostles as a group were given the power to “bind and to loose” in Mt 18:18, St. Peter received this power individually at the time he was given the “keys.” Jesus would not have guaranteed to back up the doctrinal teachings of St. Peter and his successors unless He was also going to protect them from teaching false doctrine in their official capacities as Shepherds of the Church. Read Lk 22:31-32 and John 21:15-17. In the passage from St. Luke, Jesus prays that Peter’s faith would not fail; Peter in turn would strengthen the other disciples. In the passage from St. John, Jesus clearly makes Peter the shepherd of His Church. So St. Peter is the rock on which Christ builds His Church. He is given the “keys of the Kingdom” and he is made shepherd of Christ’s flock: solid biblical evidence that Jesus made St. Peter the first Pope.

Now you might be saying, “where does the pope play into all of this?” Well, the popes are Christ’s vicars, the visible and earthly heads of Christ’s Church while Christ is the invisible and supreme head. Read Acts 15. This gives an account of the first Church council, the Council of Jerusalem. Called at the request of St. Paul, this council met to decide whether Gentiles had to follow the Law of Moses as well as the Law of Christ. Notice that there was much discussion among the Apostles and presbyters. However, after Peter spoke, the assembly fell silent. His statement ended the discussion. This council obviously considered St. Peter’s authority final. Some may claim that Acts 15 shows that James, not Peter, was the head of the Church. Since James the Lesser (not James, the brother of John) gives the concluding remarks at the council of Jerusalem and also recommends some marriage and dietary regulations for the Gentiles, they conclude that James must be the head of the Church. All I can do is tell those people to read the Gospels, where St. Peter is unmistakably presented as a leader among the Apostles, whereas James the Lesser is not.

Read the first twelve chapters of Acts, which describe the early Church in Jerusalem. Every chapter (except 6 and 7, which describe Stephen’s martyrdom) shows St. Peter in a leadership position while St. James appears only briefly, and never in a leadership role. In Galatians 1:18-19, we are told that Paul went to Jerusalem after his conversion specifically to confer with Peter. He stayed with Peter 15 days. In contrast, Paul visited James only briefly during this time. At the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, it was St. Peter’s statements that settled the serious doctrinal dispute that was the reason for the council. As we saw earlier, St. Peter’s statements silenced the assembly of presbyters and the Apostles (including St. James). We know from Church history that St. James was the Bishop of Jerusalem and, as Acts 21:15-25 describes, he was concerned for Jewish Christians in Jerusalem who felt their ancient customs threatened by the great number of Gentile converts. This background explains why St. James made the concluding remarks at the council and asked Gentiles to respect certain Jewish practices. People are grasping at straws when they claim that Acts 15 proves that James, instead of Peter, was the head of the Church.

Some have also cited 1 Peter 5:1 numerous times to claim that Peter was not the head of the Church. They note that Peter, in addressing some elders (Church leaders), calls himself a fellow elder. They therefore conclude that Peter had no more authority than any other elder. But this is just like the President of the United States saying, “My fellow Americans.” This would certainly not indicate that the President has no more authority than an ordinary citizen. As an Apostle, St. Peter certainly considers his authority to be greater than that of an ordinary elder. After all, St. Peter goes on to admonish these “fellow elders” (1 Pet 5:2-4) as one having authority over them. In calling them fellow elders, St. Peter is simply acknowledging the obvious: like himself, they are also Church leaders. To insist that Peter, as an Apostle, had no greater authority than an ordinary elder, shows how little is appreciated about what Scripture says about the great office of Apostle.

Many people quote Gal 2:11-14 as well, attempting to show that Peter was not infallible and that Paul did not consider him the head of the Church. This position is not supportable. First of all, if they think Peter was not infallible, why do they accept his two letters as inspired and, therefore, infallible? We must accept that all the Apostles were infallible. After the Apostles, the popes individually and the bishops as a group in union with the pope, are infallible. St. Paul correcting St. Peter for weak behavior is no different from St. Catherine of Siena correcting weak popes in the Middle Ages. There was no doctrine involved. St. Peter himself had settled the doctrinal point at the Council of Jerusalem. St. Paul corrected St. Peter for being unwilling to confront the Judaizers from Jerusalem. Remember, St. Paul was among those who fell silent at the Council of Jerusalem once St. Peter spoke.


The early Church always accepted the Bishop of Rome as head of the Church. In about 80 AD, the Church at Corinth deposed its lawful leaders. The fourth bishop of Rome, Pope Clement I, was called to settle the matter even though St. John the Apostle was still alive and much closer to Corinth than was Rome. St. Irenaeus, who was taught by St. Polycarp (a disciple of St. John the Apostle), stresses that Christians must be united to the Church of Rome in order to maintain the Apostolic Tradition. He then lists all the bishops of Rome up to his time. St. Irenaeus presents this teaching as something taken for granted by orthodox Christians. For 250 years the Roman Emperors tried to destroy Christianity through persecution. In the first 200 years of Christianity, every Pope but one was martyred; the Romans certainly knew who was the head of the Church! A Roman Emperor’s greatest fear was a rival to the throne. Nevertheless, the emperor Decius (249-251 AD), one of the harshest persecutors of the early Christian Church, made the following remark, “I would far rather receive news of a rival to the throne than of another bishop of Rome.” Decius said this after he had executed Pope Fabian in 250 AD.


Suppose that the owner of a company had called all the employees together and announced that he was going to be gone for a while. During his absence, he was going to give the keys of the company to Billy Bob and that whatever Billy Bob commanded would be backed by him. Would you have any doubt that Billy Bob was going to be in charge of the company while the boss was away? Of course not! Then why is it so hard for some to accept that this is exactly what is described in Mt 16:13-19?


  1. James says

    So many fundamentalist Christians argue literal interpretations of scripture even when they lead to absurd beliefs that go against our God gifted reason. It is amazing therefore how they try to perform luinguistic and cerebral acrobatics to avoid the truth of Jesus’ words when He gives Peter authority over his church on earth and where this authority is attested to so comprehensively throughout the New Testament . Anyone reading Acts,even as an unbeliever could not reasonably conclude that Peter was not the leader of the new Church. As a believer, with any understanding of the Judaic Christian tradition and interested in decerning the truth, there is no substance to the arguments of those who would try to undermine the authority of Roman Catholic Church on matters of doctrine or morality by selective quotation of scripture, misinterpreted through poor linguistic scholarship or by ignorance of the style, audience or cultural nuances of the early Christian Era. The truth must be spoken boldly without apology.

  2. Rene Brunes says

    Well said and well explained. Unfortunately not many Catholics are educated enough to defend themselves from the anarchy type of scriptural interpretation that Protestants tend to fall on.

  3. Kyle says

    B Ponich, this is one of the biggest understandings between people of non catholic faith, Understand the language Aramaic, Jesus mother tongue, and understand the the translations from Aramaic to Greek and you will understand that peter means rock………when its all said and done, the christian church named catholic by man to mean universal, was the church that god commanded to be built and he gave the keys to peter, isnt it a shame that non catholic believers have run away from this church to form an independent church. People run away from the true church as they don’t believe in the teachings and they don’t know answers. Well unfortunately for them the teachings come from the bible, and people take the time to study, then they will understand……for example if a teacher is teaching in a class and the pupil does not know the answer, does the pupil run away and join another school?, what happens if they join another school and then don’t know the answer form that school, do they keep joining schools untill they find the answer, this is no different to a church, if somebody does not know the answer they work together, they study, and in the end the answer becomes clear……and the reason why our church works together, is because its a church that god commanded to be built through ST Peter, not by some random man in the street……AMEN

  4. B Ponich says

    Peter means “pebble”, not rock. Petra is the word for “rock”.. Christ church was built on Christ- He is the Rock. Not Peter. When one reads the Bible, they should ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit or interpretation will not be clear.

    • Timothy says

      As an Evangelical, I believed that in Matthew 16:18, Jesus did not say that Peter was the rock on which he would build his Church.
      I believed that Jesus was contrasting Peter with the rock, which I believed to be the confession that Jesus is the Christ.
      The way I buttressed this belief was by asserting the difference between the word used in the Greek translation for “Peter” (petros) and the word used for “rock” (petra) showed that the two were being contrasted.
      Like many evangelicals, I asserted that the term petros meant “small stone” and that the petra meant “large rock.” Jesus was therefore diminishing Peter and his importance with the large, important piece of revelation that Jesus is the Messiah.
      However, that argument simply does not work:
      In first century Greek, petros and petra did not mean “small stone” and “large rock.” As D. A. Carson points out in his commentary on Matthew in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, the terms did have those meanings in some early Greek poetry, but by the first century, this distinction was gone and the two were synonyms (EBC 8:368).
      Furthermore, as Carson points out, “the Aramaic kepa, which underlies the Greek, means ‘(massive) rock’” (EBC 8:367), not “small stone.”
      The usage of the two different terms if fully accounted for by stylistic variation. Too much repetition grates on the ears, which is the whole reason we have pronouns—to avoid excess repetition. In this case, varying the term petros as petra is a normal stylistic variation to avoid repetition in the same sentence.
      We would acknowledge even greater examples of stylistic variation in everyday speech in English. If I were a hospital administrator attending a fund-raiser where I planned to announce that one of my chief doctors, a man named Dr. Robert Stone, would be the chief physician of a new wing of the hospital, I might publicly say, “I tell you truly, Bob, that you are a Stone, and on the rock I will build a whole new wing of the hospital.” Nobody at the function would think I was referring to anyone except Dr. Stone as the rock on which the new wing is built. It is perfectly normal stylistic variation, and the etymological difference between the English terms “stone” and “rock” is ever greater than the difference between the Greek terms “petros” and “petra.”
      Even supposing, contrary to the linguistic evidence, that the two terms should be read as “small stone” and “large rock,” this does not mean Jesus is diminishing Peter in the statement. The anti-Petrine argument assumes that, if there is a difference in the two terms, there must be antithetic parallelism between the statement about Peter and the statement about the rock. I.e., that Jesus is diminishing Peter by contrasting him with the rock: “I tell you Peter, you are a very small stone, but on the great rock of my identity, I will build my Church.” However, the assumption that the parallelism is antithetic is merely an assumption with no proof. It can just as easily be synthetic, so that the statement about the rock expands on the statement about Peter: “I tell you Peter, you may look like a small stone now, but on the great rock you truly are, I will build my Church.”
      I recognized that the standard Evangelical argument against Peter being the rock does not work. However, one day I was reading Matthew 16, when suddenly the exegetical structure of Jesus’ speech to Peter became crystal clear to me and provided positive proof that, as the common sense reading would have it, Peter is undoubtedly the rock.
      In Matthew 16:17-19, Jesus makes three statements. All three begin with an assertion concerning Peter. This assertion is this followed by a two-part elaboration consisting of a contrast (human/divine revelation, Christ’s/Satan’s activity, heavenly ratification of earthly binding/loosing). This elaboration develops the meaning of the principal assertion.
      The exegetical structure of Matthew 16:17-19



      Part 1

      Part 2

      Statement 1 17 “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
      Statement 2 18 And I tell you, youare Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
      Statement 3 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.”

      The exegetical structure of the passage demands that Peter be the rock:
      Statements 1 and 3 have Peter as their principal subject, therefore statement 2 does as well.
      Statements 1 and 3 are blessings on Peter, therefore statement 2 is as well.
      The elaborations in statements 1 and 3 develop the meaning of the assertions in those statement, therefore the elaborations in statement 2 develop the meaning of statement 2.
      Faced with these facts, as well as others I don’t have time to go into here, I was forced to conclude that Peter is, indeed the rock that Jesus was speaking of.
      Many Evangelical exegetes admit the same thing. However, they immediately try to block any implications being drawn from this fact. They try to shut down the chain of inference and isolate the datum so that it cannot give rise to any ecclesiological inferences. Typically, they admit that Peter is the rock but then assure their readers—without proof—that the Catholic claims concerning Peter do not follow. These claims are left unexamined.
      In justice, one cannot simply shut down the process of inference and treat the fact that Peter is the rock as an isolated theological datum, hanging off in space, with no connections to anything else.
      One must think through the implications of this fact, just as one must think through the implications of every other fact Scripture presents us with.
      When one is allowed to do this, it becomes clear that Peter is, indeed, the chief apostle—de jure and not just de facto. I recognized this myself when I was an Evangelical. I said to myself, “It’s a good thing that Peter is not the rock, because if he were then he would be the chief apostle, and if he were the chief apostle then he would be in charge once Jesus ascended to heaven.”
      When I discovered that Peter was the rock, I was thus forced to conclude that he was the earthly leader of the Church in Jesus’ absence, and I realized that this is a pretty basic definition of the office of the pope.
      Peter’s unique role as head apostle is also not restricted to Matthew 16.
      In Luke 22, Jesus answers the question of who is the greatest apostle with another three part speech. He first explains the principle of Christian leadership (leadership is service), he then assures all the apostles that they will have prominent places in his kingdom (“you will sit on twelve thrones”), and he finally gives Peter special pastoral charge of the other apostles (“strengthen the faith of your brethren”). This entire speech is his answer to who is the greatest apostle, and he makes it clear: He has given Peter a special pastoral role (and specially prayed for Peter to fulfill this role) over the other apostles.
      Similarly, in John 21, Jesus again indicates Peter’s special pastoral role over the other apostles. We are told who is present at the scene, and John tells us it is the apostles, the core disciples. Then Jesus leads Peter in a three-fold confession (balancing his previous three-fold denial). He prefaces it by asking Peter “Do you love me more than these?” Who are “these”? The other apostles who are present. Therefore, it is with them in view that Jesus singles Peter out and reaffirms his pastoral role, telling him “Feed my sheep/lambs.” Because of the preface pointing to Peter’s special role among the apostles (“these”), they are included in Peter’s pastoral charge (“my sheep”).
      Another Catholic doctrine which I recognized would be true if Peter were the rock is the doctrine of papal infallibility.
      God has always provided a means of institutional doctrinal certainty to his people.
      In the earliest days of the Old Testament, the high priest ministered with the urim and thummim to inquire of the Lord. Since God does not lie (though he did not always answer the high priest), when he answered he was right. There was, therefore, an ex officio infallibility charism associated with the office of the high priest.
      This infallibility charism could also be exercised without the urim and thummim in some cases. In John 11, John tells us that the high priest of his day, without even realizing it, prophecied by the Holy Spirit “because he was high priest that year.” This was purely because of his office, as John indicates. It was certainly not due to his state of moral rectitude with God, for this is the Saducee high priest who has the Messiah put to death. In fact, he is plotting Messiah’s death when he makes the prophecy. This is, therefore, a purely ex officio (“of the office”) infallibility charism, not due to the moral qualities of the person holding the office or anything else.
      Given these facts, I said to myself, “It is a good thing the Catholics are not right about Peter being the rock, because otherwise they would have a good case for papal infallibility.”
      Also, incidentally, despite Peter’s own moral lapses, including his three-fold denial of the faith (“Are not you also one of his disciples?”/”I am not”; John 18:25), this obviously did not stop him from later exercising an infallibility charism in some circumstances. Nor does Paul’s rebuke of Peter’s behavior stop him from doing so.
      When people confuse the issue of limited papal infallibility with impeccability or with total infallibility, I often draw on these facts by pointing out: “I know of a pope who denied the Christian faith, was publicly rebuked by his greatest cardinal, and then later went on to write two completely infallible encyclicals. His name was Simon Peter and you can find the two encyclicals in the back of your New Testament.”

      • Jae Esse says

        Of course you don’t believe. You’re a heretical evangelical who follows watered down scripture that you interpret any which way just so that you can project your feelings on the scriptures. That is exactly what you did in your rebuke.

        • michele says

          Andres, All I can say is Wow. I was searching for truth and wisdom and here I found it. Wish I had your Humility, intelligence. and Talent to write clearly and concisely. May Or Sweet Lord Jesus continue to place His Spirit upon you for all of us wanting to know Jesus and His Plan.

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