A Question I Was Asked:

Do Matthew 16:19 and 18:18 Give the Roman Catholic Church Full Authority to Explain/Interpret Jesus As They Claim? If Not, What is Their Meaning?

What about Jesus' words to Peter in Matthew 16:19 and 18:18. What do these words mean? The Roman Catholic Church teaches that these words give them permission and authority for them to judge and to adjudicate, that they have the authority to execute the judgements of Jesus on earth. If they are wrong, how else can these words be explained?

"...If there really is any main, central human leader of the Church in the first century it could only have been Paul the Apostle; to him was entrusted the 'Gospel to the Gentiles' which would become the major thrust of the Church after AD70. In contrast, Peter maintains a very low profile, with Paul even disciplining him on one occasion. Against this evidence, the Roman Catholic belief that Peter became the first "pope" is hard to maintain.."

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay, I think it is probably time that I gave a full explanation on this point. So here goes:

18. And 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. 19. I 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." (Matthew 16:18-19).

15. "If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' 17. If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.18. "Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:15-18).

Backing Up Decisions in a Day of False Teachers and Spurious and Fraudulent "Bible Books" Until the Full New Testament Was Authenticated

I have taken Matthew 18 back to verse 15 because this was about solving disputes in the early Church, a point which is too often forgotten when this Scripture is quoted. Before the Bible canon was completed, the early church needed to have some authentication for making certain decisions, maybe tough decisions which would need to be made, this especially with regard to expelling proven troublemakers, as well as temporarily disciplining people to bring them back into line. These words make it plain that - at that period of time - God would back up tough decisions taken by the fledgling Church on earth; He would consider them Heaven-backed decisions. These decisions, however, needed to be made by men in genuine authority in the early Church: that is, elders, evangelists and apostles (while the latter office continued, that is).

Later, fully authenticated and written Scripture (the New Testament canon) would become available, strengthening the position of true believers against heresy. Spurious and fraudulent books would now be kicked into touch, but we often forget that for a few hundred years it was 'open season' for false teachers. Notice how Jesus alludes to this:

25. "All this I have spoken while still with you. 26. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:25-26)

26. "When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father - the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father - he will testify about me. 27. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning. (John 15: 26-27).

So the Holy Spirit would actually guide the formation of the completed Bible canon. Until then there was no full and agreed Bible canon, (even although the epistles and certain other parts of the New Testament were soon available). But more authority was needed, heretics travelled around, they probably even had their own 'divine books' which they were taking around and claiming as "divinely-inspired scripture." The work of the Holy Spirit was sorely needed to differentiate between the frauds and God's true and authentic New Testament books. Unquestionably God's Holy Spirit, His Advocate, led these early church councils to exclude heretical books (of which there were at least several, and very likely many) and to ensure that the truly inspired words of Holy Scripture were included. This is why we can count on our New Testament in our day and don't need to worry that certain inspired books somehow got overlooked. God Himself took care of it!

The Protestant View

In general, Protestantism does not see Matthew 16:18-19 and Matthew 18:18 as necessarily eternally valid, these words were substantially for the early Church, prior to the completion of the New Testament canon. In contrast, the institution of the Roman Catholic Church sees these verses as eternally valid, but only as applied to their own institution. As I understand it, they are not 'generous' about this, they say that this applies to their institution alone and Protestants stand outside of that so the words have no relevance for Protestants.

However, The General Principles Still Stand

Whilst I am sure we can accept that these Scriptures were mainly and primarily for the very early fledgling Christian congregations, without question, some of the general principles involved in those two Matthew Scriptures are still standing. Let us look at some examples of that:

1. The Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.
God has indeed given His Church 'the keys to the kingdom of Heaven.' (Matthew 16:19). To a large degree He uses us and our ministries to unlock those heavenly gates for thousands of people! Yes, actual Election is in His hands but He often uses us to fulfill His will, bringing people into contact with true Bible teaching.

2. The Gates of the Grave Shall Not Prevail.
The gates of Hades shall not prevail against the Church (Matthew 16:18). In other words, the time will never come that every single Christian will have died and no true believers remain on earth.

3. Handling Church Disputes.
The principles of the best way to handle church disputes given in Matthew 18:15-18 still stand, at least generally speaking. Sadly they are frequently not followed, unfortunately it is also true to say that they assume genuinely converted individuals holding key positions in congregations, sometimes no longer the case. It is also correct to point out that they were pertinent for a day in which one church of God existed - not many groups and denominations! So we can see why most Protestants - if not all - would say these instructions were primarily for the early church, until the establishment of the full Bible canon.

4. God Will Back Up Decisions.
Where decisions are made by leaders who are truly guided and led by the Holy Spirit and where such decisions are in accordance with God's eternal will, He will back up those decisions in Heaven! But He will undoubtedly not back up decisions which are made out of anger, envy, strife, jealousy, poor judgment or a plain lack of spiritual understanding, especially in a day in which the full and authenticated Bible canon is now available in 554 languages! God does not 'wet-nurse' His people, in general we are advised to 'search the Scriptures' and to carefully pray over major decisions.

These Instructions Are NOT About Setting Church Doctrine, NOR About Making Peter the First "Pope"!

Surely mistakenly, the Roman Catholic Church insists that these two Matthew Scriptures give them - and them alone! - full authority to set doctrines and to explain them. That is plainly not so; the New Testament itself sets the true doctrines (teachings) of the Church, this is embodied in the major Protestant teaching of 'Sola Scriptura' (Scripture alone). As we have seen, the two Scriptures we have looked at are primarily concerned with settling and solving church internal disputes, especially in the very early Church. If these directives extended to doctrinal matters it is inconceivable that Paul the Apostle (who outlined and explained so much of the necessary Christian teaching) makes no mention of them. Also, it is Paul - and not Peter - who has by far the fullest teaching role among the Apostles, seriously calling into question the usual Catholic teaching that Matthew 16:18-19 made Peter the first "pope," and leader of the church under Christ. "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church" is apparently simply a play on the meaning of 'Peter' which, of course, means 'rock' (petros). If Peter was appointed the first overall human leader of the Church, he seems to have been remarkably unaware of this, because - thereafter - he plays 'second fiddle' to Paul for the rest of their time in ministry, with Paul even needing to discipline Peter on one notable occasion! (See Galatians 2:11-21). If there really is any main, central human leader of the Church in the first century it could only have been Paul the Apostle; to him was entrusted the 'Gospel to the Gentiles' which would become the major thrust of the Church after AD70.

Robin A. Brace. February 19th, 2016.