Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Authority of Peter and Apostolic Succession

This is the text for my talk for the most recent edition of "Catholics on the Move" which can be viewed Sundays on KUAM at 4pm and 8pm.
Hi, I’m Tim Rohr of the Catholic Evidence Guild of Guam and this is “Sharing the Faith”.
In our last episode, we made the point that while the Catholic Church reveres Holy Scripture as the inspired Word of God, the Word of God cannot be confined to a book. In other words, if Jesus had wanted us to just follow a book he would have left us one. He didn't. What he did leave us was a Church, and a teaching authority for that Church.

We pointed out that in Matthew 16, Jesus hands Peter the Keys...not a book.

Let's take a look at Mt. 16: 18-19

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
And 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. (By the way, that's right from the King James Version)

In these two verses we see Jesus doing several things:
1. He gives Simon a new name: Peter, which means Rock
2. Then He tells us why he came: to build his Church
3. He then tells us where He will build that Church: on Peter
4. He then guarantees that He personally will protect His Church: the gates of hell will not prevail

5. Next, he confers upon Peter the office of prime minister and (this is important) dynastic succession upon his office

6. And finally, he gives Peter's office ultimate authority over earth AND heaven: what you declare bound on earth will be bound in heaven...

Pretty amazing stuff.
Critics try to explain away Peter as the Rock by claiming that Jesus was only referring to Peter's confession of faith, and not Peter personally. However, if that was the case, there would have been no need for the name change. Amongst the Jews, as in the case of many ancient societies, a name denoted function. The changing of Simon's name to Peter was a role change that was obvious to the rest of the apostles.

Two important things about the name Peter. First, Peter, had never been used before as a name. No one had ever been given the name Rock before. Second, not only does Jesus continue to call him Peter throughout the rest of the Gospel, Paul and the other apostles call him Peter, or Kepha (Rock in Aramaic) throughout the rest of the New Testament. If Jesus had only been referring to Peter's confession of faith and not Peter himself, they would have just kept using his original name, Simon. But they didn't.

And what about the Keys? Was this just a nice literary symbol that Jesus used or did it mean something? Jesus' words are almost verbatim lifted from Isaiah 22:22
"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."
Again, from the King James version.
The Lord here is speaking of Eliakim. David is long gone. But the house of David is still around. And Eliakim is given the key, the authority. It's still David's house, but someone else is running things, Eliakim. Eliakim doesn't take the place of David. He's not a new David. He's filling an office in David's house, David's dynasty. Eliakim is in effect the prime minister.
Christ's almost verbatim use of Isaiah 22:22 here is not accidental. Christ, himself, is the fulfillment of the House of David. And in Mt. 16 He makes Peter the Prime Minister. The keys imply both authority and dynastic succession just as it was with Eliakim. Peter is the new prime minister, but with a twist. Where as Eliakim was not a new David, Jesus is. It's now his house, Jesus's house. And Peter or Rocky is the new first dude.

But what's really wild here is the power he gives to Peter and to Peter's office: the power to bind and loose, both on heaven and on earth. Jesus is giving this guy power over everything and through his office, the same power to all who inherit the keys...right down to Pope Benedict XVI.
Some will call this a circular argument and claim that if we don't claim the absolute authority of Scripture we cannot claim that this particular Scripture is authoritative in itself.

In short, the Catholic Church does proclaim the authority of Scripture, because the Catholic Church, the Church built on Peter, gave us that Scripture. In other words, the Bible is true because the Church which Jesus founded, built, protected, and empowered...says so.
Jesus didn't give us a book. He gave us a Church, and a teaching authority for that Church. The question is which Church is it? It's the Church built on Peter. And there is only one Church that even makes the claim.
To learn more about this topic and the Catholic Faith, visit us at www.cegguam.org
I’m Tim Rohr of the Catholic Evidence Guild of Guam, and this has been “Sharing the Faith.

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