About that chair and that hat…

So, about this hat…

Trent: …just what is the Lutheran exegesis of Matthew 16:13-19?


Jason, I remember you taking me in hand on my first Sunday at Zion Marshall my freshman year at Hillsdale and telling me that I was doing “exegetical gymnastics” when I defaulted to the “Peter’s confession is the rock” position. Fond memory.

So, Peter’s the Rock. So what? Why is he not the pope? Or, if he’s the pope, why is that not all that Rome says it is? I guess I’m wondering…is it Rome’s interpretation of the nature of the Office of the Keys that is the erratum here?

I’d love to have discussion with y’all about this if you’re willing to have it. Fr. Charles, please remember to Reply-all if you can — I don’t want others to miss your missives!

Aaron: Garry Wills says that Rome’s read of Matthew 16 is an anachronism.

BTW Sungenis is a nut. My hardcore papist friends can’t stand him because he drags their side down so badly. Also BS that Augustine as Sungenis contends believed in the primacy of Rome.

(Admin note: “Rome has spoken; the matter is settled.” When St. Augustine wrote this, he was basically saying, “OK, all the votes are in.” It was more like saying, “OK, Miami-Dade County sent in their returns, we can call the election now.”)

Eric: It’s bad exegesis to say that the rock is the confession rather than the confessor, since Jesus is clearly punning on his name, but I think it’s equally clear that Peter is called a rock, the foundation of the church, because of that confession and the subsequent role he had in building the church upon it. The problem with the Papist reading here is that what’s true of Peter is true also of the other Apostles. In Matt. 18, Jesus repeats what He told Peter about the keys, this time to all the Apostles. Then we have Eph. 2:20 and Rev. 21:14, which call the Apostles the foundation of the Church. Peter got special mention because 1) he was the first one to put the confession into words, 2) he was the leader of the group (#1 and #2 are related), and 3) because the pun worked for his name.

So is he the Pope? The real question is, is the Pope Peter? And the followup question, which is even harder for Roman Catholics to answer: when did Peter ever assert any kind of authority that looks anything like the claims that developed over the next fifteen centuries for the Bishop of Rome? It’s an awfully big leap from primus in paribus to Unam Sanctam.

Fr. Charles: Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope 25-29 is noteworthy. Here the “rock” is the confession St Peter made (TPPP 29) or the “rock” is the “ministry of the confession which Peter made” (TPPP 25).

The difficulty with the Roman position is this: Even if one stipulates that the “rock” is conceivably Peter – many non-Roman including Lutheran exegetes hold that opinion – it is still quite difficult to then conclude that each bishop of Rome is the successor of Peter in a unique sense such that the words addressed to Peter apply to all the bishops of Rome. There are even responsible Roman Catholic scholars who admit that one cannot even prove a monarchical episcopate at Rome until later in the 2nd century; it seems that until then the Roman Church was governed by a corporate body of presbyters/bishops. Another problem is that Peter is also viewed by Roman Catholics as founder of the See of Antioch: so the Roman Church keeps the Feast of the Chair of Peter at Antioch on Feb.18. Why then are not all the subsequent bishops of Antioch included in the words addressed to Peter?

Aaron: Wouldn’t  a good Roman apologist claim the “development of doctrine” as an explanation for the difference?

Fr. Charles: “Development of doctrine,” Romanly understood, plays a part. But as Dr Phillips notes, it’s quite a leap from primus in paribus to Unam Sanctam of Boniface VIII.

Eric: A big problem with “development of doctrine” on this question is that the monarchical papacy developed in the Latin church and nowhere else. How do you know that the Roman evolution is the correct one? The Pope says so. But how do you know that the Pope has the authority to make such a ruling? The Roman evolution says so. It’s a logical circle. It works well enough as a post-hoc justification for those who are already inside, but it’s pure assertion, and it doesn’t get the RC to a point where he can actually appeal to Scripture to establish his position. It’s purely defensive: “Yeah, I know Scripture doesn’t exactly say that, but here’s why we’re not worried about that.”

Trent: Eric (a.k.a. Dr. Phillips, dearest cousin, etc.),

Didn’t Peter’s own brother (St. Andrew) put the confession into words much sooner? I mean, not in direct response to a query by Our Lord, but an indication of faith, all the same:

“One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, “You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas” (which is translated, A Stone)” (St. John i, 40-42).

And then Philip comes out with this:

“Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote — Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph'” (St. John i, 45).

And Nathanael with this:

“Nathanael answered and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!'” (St. John i, 49).

What’s special about St. Peter’s confession? It almost seems like Christ is saying to him, “Alright! You finally get it! Now I can use you to spread the Gospel.” Not a whole lot more. This doesn’t take away from St. Peter’s honor. Far from it — acknowledging the honor that is conferred by the blessing of Christ, i.e., Christ’s regard for Man/a man, is a greater recognition and honor than could be garnered for possessing an “indelible character.” As Fr. Charles has said, St. Peter is great on account of the great forgiveness he receives from Our Lord, not on account of anything else…

Jason: Greetings all from Afghanistan.

I’m a little rusty, but I’ll try to throw in my two cents briefly and hope you can sort it out.

Jesus could never have made more obvious statement than, “Your name is ‘Rock,’ on my ‘Rock’ I will build the Church…” That’s dummy-proof and I don’t think anyone on either side of the debate has a position that hangs on deciding or un-deciding that question. Is there really a question? “You are Rock, on my Rock…”

However, let’s keep in mind the position against which confessional Protestantism and the Eastern Orthodox are arguing:

Does “Rock” mean “the ultimate and infallible bishop of the Church catholic who possession both a primacy of honor and jurisdiction over all Christians which gives to him the authority to speak ex cathedra; the Rock is the bishop of all whose word is self-authenticating”? Put otherwise: “The word of the Rock is justified/proved by its origin from the Rock, even if that word seems to conflict with the historic and Biblical Gospel”?

…or, and secondly:

Does Christ’s designation of the “Rock” (St. Peter) as “Rock of the Church” mean that he possesses an authority in his office over the other apostles, such that there is a distinction of quality within the office of the Rock — some quality that does not belong to the other apostles and by extension, other bishoprics of the later Church?

I submit to you that a simple reading of the “Rock” passage does not bear, necessarily, the doctrinal claims of the later development of doctrine (circle), as Dr. Phillips has so aptly pointed out.

I submit to you that the authority to bind and loose sins is given to all of the Apostles; that it is the greatest authority of the apostles and belongs to the whole Church in the same quality/kind as it belongs to Peter.

(Admin note: Christ speaking to all of the disciples, not just Peter — “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.

“Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

“Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” [St. Matthew xviii, 15-20].)

Hence, any bishop of the Church could become a heretic by teaching falsely against the people of God (Ezekiel 34); in order to become a disloyal shepherd one usually must in fact have been a shepherd indeed; and Peter’s distinction as leader among the Apostles, which is obvious from the Acts narrative, does not change the fact that his position rests in the Gospel, which is the foundation of the Church (1 Cor. 3).

Further, given the interactions between Peter and Paul, it is all the more obvious that Peter’s status as Rock does not give to him some special position to self-authenticate doctrine that militates against the Gospel. And further, that any Apostle can publicly rebuke that teaching if it is wrong, as Paul did. ie. Any treatment that Peter received from the Church, when he risked falling into error, can certainly be duplicated in the later Church. The greater you make Peter, the more obvious it becomes that later bishops of Rome can be rebuked for error.

Hence, the point is moot. The question to ask is not: who is Peter, his doctrine will be right. Ultimately, we must still ask, what is the Gospel, according to the witness of the Scriptures and the catholic testimony of the whole Church, as was in fact the case at so many counsels.

I end on that point because the debate over the status of Peter is actually a  debate about doctrinal hermeneutics, right? Can we read the Scriptures to verify their meaning, or must we ultimately conform to what Peter says they mean, since he is the Rock — assuming of course the whole Roman development around that passage. If he is the “Rock” in the Roman sense, it is even more obvious that later bishops of Rome can be rebuked for error, since Peter, the Rock himself, was rebuked. If he is only the Rock in an historical sense and enjoys only a primacy of honor which depends upon his orthodoxy, then we are left in the same place.

Bottom line: Peter never claimed that he was correct because he was the Rock. Rome shouldn’t either.





  1. Trent et al.,
    I’ll be lucky to get to the Church Father ever with as much reading as I have to do here. I really just wanted to ask a couple questions, and maybe work on preparing a couple future blog posts. The “Primacy of the Papacy” argument has been exhausted, for now. At least, I’m exhausted, and I haven’t even participated. But there are a few things I need to be made more clear to understand the Lutheran position:

    1. None of the Lutherans ever accepted the distinction between the acts of Peter (refusing to eat with the Gentiles) and the teachings of Peter (actually advising at the Council of Jerusalem, and then letting James, the bishop of Jerusalem, make the final doctrinal decision). Yet this all occurs in Galatians and Acts 15, seemingly after Peter had the vision where he was ordered to call no animal unclean, one which certainly binds all the Gentiles coming into the Church. Apparently, James though, when explaining the command, still has the Gentiles abstain from strangled animals and blood. Why? (Admittedly, this is just an honest scriptural question–being Lutheran or Catholic has little to do with it.)

    What the Lutherans ignored, however, was that Peter was sinning, and rebuked for doing so. No one has ever claimed that the Pope’s status as alter Christus or vicar of Christ on earth has made him sinless; rather, his teachings are without error. Some can say that he teaches by example, which is why we have had the vast majority of popes striving to give the Church a holy example. But, many popes have done MANY scandalous and sinful things, but that doesn’t deny any of the Catholic position.

    2. I need an Ecclesiology from the Lutherans. I have no idea what you mean when you say “the Church” and I think this would be a helpful clarification. Am I a member of your Church, even though I am in error? How big is the sheepfold? Who is the visible Head, or do we have an invisible Head but visible members (what a strange set-up that would be)? Is there a Church Triumphant and Church Militant, as there are in Catholic Tradition? Obviously, we’ll accept that you don’t have a “Church Suffering” because the Catholics know enough to know that you’ve rejected Purgatory. Is the Church everyone who adheres to Scripture? Who chose Scripture? Is it a process like Evolution? An abstraction wherein “all bishops/Fathers as defined by a later period were in agreement and therefore we have a NT Canon.” But they weren’t; some were ashamed by the fact that we had Four Gospels (shouldn’t there be only one? After all, Christ and the Father are one, and the Truth is one) They certainly weren’t in agreement about the OT either, compare Augustine and Athanasius’s Canons to get a perfect picture of Catholic (Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana, Book II, Paragraph xi) and Protestant (Athanasius, Easter letter of 376) OT Canon (almost, one Papist book slipped in under the radar). I just don’t like the massive abstraction of “the Church” used and misused and even abused by many Protestants and Catholics, but I will admit and have found several great explications of this question from the Catholic side.

    3. A more thorough explanation of why you’re not Antinomian with the distinction between Law and Gospel, and why Christ’s fulfillment of the Law makes it so that nothing we do is good in God’s eyes, even though the Scriptures abound with references to us being judged according to our works (not our faith) [Rev. 2:23; 20:13; 2 Cor. 5:10; Jer. 17:10; Matt. 16:27; 12:36-37; Rom. 2:5-6], and the call to perfection is a clear one from the likes of Jesus in the Gospels, and well as the letters of John (Matt. 5:48 and 1 Jn. 2:5-6, but really large chunks of this letter).

    4. The insistence on Justification in this post has led many of us to refuse to believe that we actually agree. Justification comes through baptism and then through Faith (when old enough). But no one has said a thing about sanctification? Do you not make that distinction (I could have sworn you did). How are we sanctified? Keaton dropped a bomb on me a few months ago that I’ve been thinking about a lot. He mentioned that our problem as Catholics is that we see Grace as a substance. How do Lutherans differ from us on that? Can we parse out some Biblical assertions about Grace? I would certainly love to see how it fits into two different Sacramental understandings.

    After all, Catholics essentially believe that our relationship with Christ is brought about (justification) by Baptism and an acceptance of the Faith of the Church. Our Sanctification, however, is brought about in LOVE, starting probably in fear of the Lord and the moral law, which was never abrogated, but as we know, fear of the Lord is the beginning and not the end of Wisdom. Love of the Lord is what we are called to, and in that Love, we emulate Him and become more like him. I don’t believe my works are nothing, but I also have the perspective that I am only capable of doing good because of the great Love God has for me and his merciful grace slowly detaching me from sin and all other impurities in preparation to see Him face to face at the great Wedding Feast. I am not saved by Faith, but that was an absolutely necessary and amazing beginning. I am saved by Love, by the Love of Christ becoming present to me every day in the Sacrifice of the Mass, preserved and handed down in an unbroken line of succession by all of the Apostles, from the Prince of the Apostles on down. I can’t understand how or why you make distinctions between the Human setup of the Church and Christ’s setup (of which there was almost none directly). Why can’t “Whatever you bind on earth, is bound in heaven…etc…” be understood to mean “However you set up the Authority that I have given you and commanded you to teach with, that is how is will be understood and honored in Heaven.” Is that really stretching it? Christ set up almost nothing in terms of the human structure of things, but why must we think only what he set up is what must always and only be what works. He doesn’t speak of evils like contraception or IVF, but we have clear moral teachings on that which we consider dogmatic. He doesn’t lay out the Canon of Scripture, which would’ve been nice if He’d done so. He doesn’t make a lot of things clear because He knew that He would be with us always, even to the end of the age. I think it is Ignatius of Antioch who said “He cannot call God his father who does not have the Church as his mother.” So, full circle (and done rambling), what is the Church, for Lutherans.

  2. Being at the bottom, I’m not sure anyone will read this anyway, but I have one more salvo to replace whatever I said above which was, admittedly, emotive. I’m glad you invited me to this, Trent, though I do feel more and more every day that I am a linguist and NOT a theologian. Your thoughts, however, have acted as pebbles in my shoe, for which I’m grateful.

    I want to look at Peter throughout Scriptures. We all admitted that he is the most important apostle and the leader of the apostles. But can we not conclude that his office is specifically different from the others based on two other passages? Luke 22:32 “strengthen your brothers.” They are all brother bishops–Pope Francis still uses and means this language, but fraternal correction from the Pope means something, as fraternal correction from Peter would have carried more weight among the original apostles.

    The second piece is most of the last chapter of the Gospel of John, but particularly “Do you love me more than these?” first asked in comparison to the other apostles (the seven Christ just appeared to) and then “Do you love me?” and then, a change of verb, and a third time “Do you love me?” Peter’s response is similar each time, but he is told by Christ “Feed my Sheep!”

    So, it seems that in one, Christ has given him the power to strengthen and probably also correct his brothers, and in the other, Christ has given him power over the whole church–every, single lamb. I don’t know why, if Christ did this to Peter, his successor would not also have this same particular and pastoral calling to authority and oversight, however it happened to develop over time. Why would Christ leave the sheep without a Shepherd? A local shepherd, clearly, could not be the whole Church, so wouldn’t there need to be a Universal shepherd?

    Humbly submitted for your thoughts. You can mostly ignore everything in the above comment that isn’t a question. I’m learning still, and though I went to school amongst some heavy-hitting theologians in High School, I am not a theologian myself. 🙂 Cheers! And a Happy Maundy Thursday to you all!

  3. Hey Tom!

    Just a note on brass tacks: unfortunately no one else has joined the blog’s masthead. It’s just you and me at the moment. I invited Paul Ray (he’s joining the RCC soon) to contribute, an SSPX seminarian, and a spate of Lutheran clergymen and seminarians. I have several bona fides from among the invitees that they will join, but given that many have been involved in the services of Holy Week, they haven’t been able to attend to the conversation. However, since it is a members-only blog (i.e., only authors can post, view, and/or comment), every member is alerted by email when there’s any activity on the blog. This includes a post being added or edited, or comments being made. It’s a pretty nifty setup.

    Thanks very much for joining the blog and for your most recent comments. I think spirited, substantive debate is good. It’s challenging, of course, to discuss matters in which not only (indeed, not mainly) heads are involved, but hearts, as well. But I think we’ll all be better for trying to hone our arguments with charity and keep them from devolving into personalities and quarreling. As Chesterton says, “I object to a quarrel because it always interrupts an argument.”

    With that said, I’m thinking about what you’ve written in these recent comments. Blessed Maundy Thursday to you, too!

  4. ThomasMore asked: “Why would Christ leave the sheep without a Shepherd? A local shepherd, clearly, could not be the whole Church, so wouldn’t there need to be a Universal shepherd?”

    Christ left the Church with many shepherds–eventually millions at the local level. There were Universal Shepherds too: not just one of them, but Twelve-plus. What is the need, aside from the inherent institutional stability of Monarchy (which is surely a prudential and not a theological consideration) for there to be but one? If that’s what Jesus intended in his interactions with Peter, He was being incredibly oblique about it. “Feed my sheep,” yes, that’s what all the Shepherds do. Why does Peter get special instruction on that point? Maybe because he had rejected Jesus? That’s clearly the implication when we’re told Peter was grieved because Jesus asked a third time “Do you love me?” Maybe also because Peter is the representative Apostle, the actual “first among equals” — a term that was horribly abused by the later Papist tradition to imply all sorts of things Jesus could have told him if He wanted, but of course never did. As for the idea that “strengthen your brothers” implies fraternal correction, sure, no problem. But before you try to drive a pontifical truck through that little opening, remember that in the only biblical example we have of one Apostle fraternally correcting another, Peter was the correctee (Gal. 1). If that event doesn’t imply that Paul was exercising Papal authority over Peter, then why should Jesus’s words to Peter imply that he was supposed to exercise Papal authority over anyone else? If there were any real basis in Scripture for the Pope’s claims to divinely-appointed Monarchical power and dogmatic infallibility, you would not be forced to resort to such weak “proof texts” as these.

    Eric Phillips

  5. Gotta call out Eric on this one, if only because Fr. Charles is not on the masthead yet (he’s going to need some help figuring this out), and he surely would do so if he were here.

    We can’t say ‘Papist’, be it ever so descriptive and denotative of “one who follows the pope.” Say Roman Catholic, please.

    Other than that…

    I agree with Eric, unsurprisingly. It’s also interesting to note that the “Canon of the Council of Jerusalem” (or was it a decree?) enjoining the Gentiles to abstain from blood and from things strangled is not dogma. It’s neither a mandatum nor a credendum. It’s not part of the faith. Why? Because in the same way that there is nothing magic about the papacy, there’s nothing magic about a church council.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but we Gentiles still eat things that are strangled (mmm, chicken), and we eat blood (I love a rare steak — blood pudding or blood sausage anyone?) — St. James’s emendations against such things were made out of deference to the need to act in love to the weaker brethren who would be offended if the Christians in Antioch did not keep follow certain aspects of Levitical dietary laws. They do not conflict with what St. Paul says about food sacrificed to idols in I Corinthians 18, which is also not an instance of an apostle issuing a categorical imperative regarding food, but reiterating the divine command which is the fulfillment of all Law: the command to love. The other thing that St. James says at the Council of Jerusalem is “don’t fornicate.” It doesn’t hurt to repeat such things…

    But, to recur to my point: there’s nothing magic about a church council. Or a Church Council.

    What basis do you have for believing that when all of the bishops of the Church get together and vote on something, the result is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit? This seems a little bit like the speculation in quantum physics about the existence of dark matter: we need something else to explain what makes this system (i.e., Roman Catholicism) work, something mysteriously unaccounted for. But you don’t account for it. You just insist that it’s there because it seems like has to be, according to the need for post hoc justification which frequently arises within Roman Catholicism.

    A great many Roman arguments (not good ones, but you still need to wonder at their prevalence) include something along the lines of what you said above (not that yours is a bad one…am I covering my ass enough?): Christ just wouldn’t have left the Church without a singular visible head. Christ wouldn’t have left us without a magisterial interpreter who can act as arbiter in every theological debate. The thought of the Church being left with “nothing but” the deposit of the apostolic peaching in the Scriptures seems terrible to Roman Catholics. But what if that’s true? There’s a way in which the “nothing but” argument can easily become a straw man — the backwoodsy Baptist pastor and his leatherbound KJV arguing about “him that pisseth against the wall.” But that’s not sola scriptura. Rather, sola scriptura is what St. Thomas Aquinas articulates here:

    Theology invokes great thinkers on matters where they are received authorities: thus St. Paul at Athens quoted Aratus, ‘in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain of your own poets have said, For we also are his offspring.’ [Acts 17:28] Theology treats them as sources of external evidence for its arguments. Its proper and indispensable court of appeal is to the authority of the canonical Scriptures. The writings of the Fathers of the Church are also proper sources, yet their authority is not final. Faith rests on divine revelation made through the prophets and apostles and set down in the canonical Scriptures, not on revelations, if there be any, made to other holy teachers (Summa Theologica, Ia i. 8, ad 2).

    Is that ironic that St. Thomas says this? I don’t think so. I think he was a good theologian, and this proves it. He’s also not alone.

  6. Why can’t we say “Papist” from time to time? Everyone says “Lutheran,” and that’s 99-to-100% of the time. The terms are at least equally accurate. Not to mention, when I used the word I was talking about the development of actual claims for the Papacy.

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