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Does Matthew 16:13-20 Support Papal Succession and Infallibility?

tomgroeneman's picture

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Below is an exposition of the passage in question. What is your understanding of Peter as the rock? Can Papal succession by the laying on of hands since Peter be established? Is a Roman Catholic reading of these verses-that Peter's authority is invested in all Popes- acceptable?


Matthew 16:13-20
13When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"
14They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
15"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"
16Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
17Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." 20Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.

The Foundation of the Church
This passage begins with the simple question that Jesus asked: “Who do you say He is?”. Your answer will determine to a great extent how you understand God and the world around you. Many acknowledge Jesus as a teacher and prophet and important person in history. Others think of Him as a social reformer, community organizer or revolutionary. Some consider Him as their personal butler to answer their bidding whenever they need something or some kind of therapist. Your conception of God effects how you relate to Him and other people.
Many people followed Jesus but few knew or understood who He was. The disciples answered Jesus’ question by naming others from OT history and John the Baptist. King Herod, who beheaded John the Baptist, thought that he had risen from the dead and that is who Jesus was. There was the expectation amongst the people that a prophet would come like Elijah or Jeremiah to prepare the way for the Messiah and this was prophesied in the OT ( Deut. 18:18 and Mal. 4:5 ).
But Peter was the one to give the most complete answer of who Jesus was: The Christ. Christ is not Jesus’ last name but it is a title describing His being anointed as the Messiah of Israel, the savior and deliverer of the people who would establish His reign on the earth of peace and righteousness. Not only did Peter know that He was the coming one but also that He was the Son of God, the one true and living God, God in the flesh. This understanding came to him as a gift from God by revelation. The Greek word used here is apocalupto, to reveal, uncover or disclose, the same word used to name the book of Revelation- the Apocalypse, which has come to mean something beyond the simple meaning of unveiling. The point is that only God can open the mind of a fallen human being and reveal to them the understanding of who Jesus is. It is a blessing.
Jesus then uses a play on words to introduce the concept of the Church. The name Peter means rock and Jesus uses architectural language to explain the establishment of the Church. This rock can be understood in three basic ways. 1) It is Peter himself who is the foundation of the Church and this is by far the most widely accepted interpretation. Peter was indeed the prominent apostolic witness of the early Church and one of its primary leaders. 2) The rock foundation of the Church is the confession of Jesus being the Christ along with the message of the gospel that the Church is built upon. 3) That Jesus was pointing to himself and referred to himself as the rock. The Bible speaks of God being a rock in many instances so this is another possibility.
The word used for rock is the same as the word Jesus used in the sermon on the mount in Matt. 7:24. This passage encourages us to build our lives on a good foundation of hearing the word of God and doing it. When construction is done on a skyscraper, the engineers dig deep down into the bedrock so that the building will be stable and secure. The higher it is to be, the deeper the foundation must be laid. Church planters and the apostolic ministry lay the foundation for the potential Church. Their work is essential to its growth and prosperity. Eph. 2:20-22
Jesus said that He would build His Church. It is His divine work not the mere efforts of men. Because of this, it being the work of God almighty, the forces of darkness cannot overcome it. We do not need a lot of Churches if they are going to be weak, anemic compromised religious institutions but we do need strong, vibrant victorious Churches that are going to preach the word of God, evangelize the nations and storm the gates of hell. Too many Christians today are defeated by their own sin and compromise with the world. I would dare to say that many people in today’s Churches are not even saved. They have been baptized and are very religious and do good works but do they really know the Lord? Have they confessed with Peter that there is a Messiah and He is Jesus and He will save me from my sins and the fires of hell? Do they pray daily and read the Scriptures? Or are they still hanging on to vices and worldly music and movies? Do they cheat on their taxes and take advantage at work? How many of us truly live and walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and not according to the dictates of our own selfish flesh?
I want to be part of a Church that Jesus builds and I do not want to please the world and be like it but I want to overcome the world and defeat the enemy. Jesus promised the authority to bind and loose. This meant that what you forbid and allow will also at the same time happen in heaven. The verbs are in the subjunctive mood so it means that the outcome is conditional on what God ordains in heaven and how we use the keys that He gives us. God is working with us to bring about His purposes in the earth.
The Church has been established and will not be defeated no matter what Satan throws at us. The foundation was laid by the apostles 2000 years ago and you can read about it in the book of Acts. There was opposition and persecution and struggle and hardship but what Jesus promised has come to pass.

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