Saturday, July 24, 2010

Thoughts on Infallibility (Part IIc): Other Gospel Passages Involving Peter

As I make constant references to past articles in this series, here are the links for your convenience.

  • Part I can be found here
  • Part IIa can be found here
  • Part IIb can be found here


Now that we have discussed Matthew 16, there are other considerations from Scripture to look at about Peter.  Some of them show Peter has an important role.  Others we will look at because it they are commonly used by non-Catholics to challenge the belief in Peter being given headship over the Church established by Christ.

As this article is lengthy in itself, it will merely focus on the Gospel passages, especially those which seem to be misinterpreted or misrepresented when it comes to rejecting the Catholic belief.  Article IId will move on to Acts and the Epistles, where, once Christ has ascended, we see how the Church carries on His teachings through Peter.

The reader is reminded that the parts of article II are not independent, but is essentially a large article broken into parts (otherwise, it would be over 10,000 words in length)

Preliminary Remarks

Some readers may notice I am focusing more on authority rather than on infallibility in this article.  This is because infallibility is necessarily linked to authority which will be bound or loosed in Heaven.  If an error is bound or loosed in Heaven, it indicates that God's authority is behind this error.

Keep in mind that the Early Christians saw the Scriptures of the New Testament as authoritative because of the source (the Apostles, or in the case of Mark and Luke, because they were written by those who knew the Apostles).  Paul, Peter, James, Jude, John, Matthew… their writings were accepted as people who had encountered Christ personally and who taught with authority.  Mark was traditionally held to be written by one who knew Peter personally.  Luke was traditionally held to be one who knew Paul personally.

We recognize that these New Testament writings are inspired and inerrant.  However, we forget the fact that they were held to be important because of who was writing them.

So we have a link: The Apostles were believed to be teaching authentically what was handed to them by Jesus, and when they made decisions (the appointment of Matthias and the Council of Jerusalem), nobody questioned their right to do so.

If God Cannot Err, He Cannot Contradict Himself

At any rate, because of the fact that what Peter binds and looses will be bound and loosed in Heaven, we ought to add a ninth syllogism to consider.

Syllogism #9

  1. [God] is [inerrant] (All [A] is [B])
  2. No [contradictory claims] are [inerrant] (No [C] is [B])
  3. Therefore no [contradictory claims] are from [God] (Therefore no [C] is [A])

Those who disagree with the Catholic understanding of infallibility often argue that since "it doesn't exist, there is no problem," but since we have Jesus' promise directed to Peter, we do have a problem.  Either God protects Peter and his successors from error when teaching or we do have the possibility of God binding and protecting error.  Since we do acknowledge that the Church was protected from error in the case of the canon of Scripture (See article I, syllogism #4), we can see it is not unreasonable for Catholics to believe God protects the Church in other areas in terms of things essential for salvation.

Part I: Do Certain Gospel Verses in Scripture Deny the Primacy of Peter?

(Please note that this article pertains to the Gospels alone.  Passages in Acts (Such as Acts 15) and the Epistles (such as Galatians 2) will come in Article IId.  I haven't overlooked these.  This separation is done to keep these articles from going on too long.)

Did Jesus Revoke His Promise?

So let's look at the allegation that certain passages revoke the promise made to Peter (and a promise was made, to Peter specifically in the second person) in Matthew 16.  I have come across some groups who claim that even if Jesus did make a promise to Peter, Peter's later actions in Scripture show that he lost the rights to this promise.

However, if we accept Syllogism #9, we can't accept this interpretation.  If Jesus, being God (See article IIb Syllogism #8) is inerrant, then for Him to revoke a promise He made would be to contradict Himself.  Was He wrong in making the promise?  Or wrong in revoking it?  Catholics don't believe Christ did revoke His promise to Peter, but those who do claim this need to recognize that a God who does not err does not make promises He is unwilling to keep.

Therefore we need to keep syllogism #9 in mind when looking at the argument against infallibility from Matthew 16:20-23, which reads:

21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.

22 Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”

23 He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Some have argued that this was a revocation of the promise made to Peter by Jesus (which indicates a promise was indeed made).  However, there are some problems with this.  The first is Syllogism #9 above.  If Jesus made a promise to bind and loose in Heaven what Peter bound and loosed on Earth, then the revocation of this would be a contradiction of this promise.

This is because either Jesus would have erred in making this promise to begin with, or He would have erred in revoking it.  Now, since we accept Jesus is God (See syllogism 8 in Article IIb) and that God cannot err (Syllogism 1 in Article I) it stands to reason that Jesus would not have made the poor judgment of making a promise to Peter and then needing to revoke it.

The second reason is even simpler.  The rebuke makes no mention of a revocation of the promise Christ made.  To claim there was a revocation is simply the insertion of a meaning into the text (eisegesis).  Therefore, these verses cannot be used as evidence to a claim that Christ did so.  The verses simply don't say what people who argue a revocation want them to say.

It seems more probable that the rebuke was over Peter's failure to understand the mission of the Messiah.  The human thinking was of a political messiah who was to right the wrongs in Israel.  God's thinking was of the salvation of the world from their sins.  What sounded horrible to Peter (the crucifixion) was perfectly understandable when one knew God's plan of salvation.

The only way one could try to use this passage against Peter would be if they wanted to claim Peter was making an official Church teaching (which I don't believe is the case).  However, unlike other verses where Peter does make decrees (such as in Acts), in this case, Peter spoke privately with Jesus ("took him aside").  So it seems, again, that this passage does not indicate what certain people claim about it.

Did Peter's Denial Mean The Revocation of Christ's Promise?

That Peter denied Jesus is attested to in all of the Scriptures (see Matt 26:34, Mark 14:30, Luke 22:34, John 13:38).  Peter promised to stay with Jesus even if it meant risking his life.  Jesus foretold that Peter would deny Him.  It turned out that Peter did exactly what Jesus had foretold.

The problem is, to claim that these verses mean Peter lost his right to the promise Peter made is eisegesis, putting a meaning into Scripture which is not present.  Indeed, we see in Luke 22:31-32, that Jesus had something to say to Peter:

31 “Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you [second person plural] like wheat,

32 but I have prayed that your own faith [second person singular] may not fail; and once you [second person singular] have turned back, you [second person singular] must strengthen your [second person singular] brothers.”

Now, remembering Syllogism #9, it follows that either Jesus contradicts Himself (if the promise to Peter is revoked when Peter denies Jesus) or else Jesus, knowing all the disciples would falter, and that when Peter turned back (the Greek indicates turning from doing wrong, repenting), he was to strengthen (establish, make firm) his brothers.

In other words, Peter has an assignment which anticipates his denial.  To strengthen his brethren once he has turned back.

When we get to John 21, we can see that despite Peter's denial, we have a scene with Jesus and Peter which is touching:

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

16 He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” (Jesus) said to him, “Feed my sheep.

18 Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

19 He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”

Peter is again given the mission to tend Jesus' lambs and sheep.  Given that we are the sheep of His flock, Peter's mission is one of looking after the flock.  It seems to be a necessary element of this commission that Peter must have authority over this flock.  Otherwise, how could Peter tend the sheep?

So it seems that Peter's personal sins did not take away from the task which God had called him to do.

What About The "Dispute over Authority" Verses?

Others point to the dispute among the Apostles as to who was the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.  They argue that this means that the Apostles were not aware of the primacy of Peter  However, this is to miss the point of these readings.  This was not about authority over the Church on Earth, but over privileges when Christ came into power.  Like Peter in Matthew 16:21-23, they couldn't fully grasp the idea that Christ's kingdom was not a political kingdom on Earth.

The dispute among the Apostles seems to have been set off by James and John and their mother, who asked for a special favor in Matthew 20:

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee approached him with her sons and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something.

21 He said to her, “What do you wish?” She answered him, “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.”

22 Jesus said in reply, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” They said to him, “We can.”

23 He replied, “My cup you will indeed drink, but to sit at my right and at my left (, this) is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”

24 When the ten heard this, they became indignant at the two brothers.

25 But Jesus summoned them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt.

26 But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant;

27 whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.

28 Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (See also, Mark 10:35-44)

What we have here is not a denial of authority in the Church, but an insistence on what this authority is for.  James and John wanted special privileges when Jesus came in His glory.  Jesus made clear that the one who would lead would do so as service to the whole, and not as a  position of privilege.  The Catholic Church recognizes this, in one of the titles of the Pope, which is Servant of the Servants of God.  We see the Pope as having a ministry which looks out for the good of the Church in the role of the shepherd, and not as some sort of monarch living off of his subjects.  The fact that some have not lived up to this does not take away from the intent Christ has called those who would shepherd to observe.

Part II:The Relationship of Jesus and Peter in Scripture

The next section is to look at the relation of Christ to Peter in the Gospel accounts.  We have Matthew 16 which gives us the promise, but how did the actions in Scripture show this?  Some may not be too impressed by this section.  However, as I mentioned in Article IIb, we are looking at the Scriptures as data.  How was Peter involved in the ministry of Christ?  Do we see any prominence in Peter's actions among the twelve?

These are all things which make sense when one accepts the claim that Peter was made the head of the Church, but seem somewhat random if one rejects this.

First in the Lists

First we need to notice the prominence of Peter in all the lists of the Apostles.  While in all the lists, ten of them are given in various sequences, Peter is always placed first and Judas is always placed last.  Judas being placed last is pretty obvious.  As the betrayer of Christ, he would not be seen as equal to the others.  Yet Peter is always first.  Not James (which would seem likely if it was James who was head of the Church as some seek to argue).  Nor is it John, the Beloved Disciple.  James and John are considered important of course and play important roles in the Gospels… but are usually mentioned with Peter, with Peter mentioned first.

So the person who would deny the primacy of Peter would need to explain this curious fact, as to why all four Gospels mention Peter first.

Peter the Spokesman

We also need to recognize that when it came to the actions of the Apostles, it was mostly Peter who spoke for the Apostles (See Matt 15:15, 16:23, 18:21, 19:27, Luke 12:41, John 6:68 for example).  Now 18th century Protestant commentator Matthew Henry wrote:

Peter’s temper led him to be forward in speaking upon all such occasions, and sometimes he spoke well, sometimes amiss; in all companies there are found some warm, bold men, to whom a precedency of speech falls of course; Peter was such a one: yet we find other of the apostles sometimes speaking as the mouth of the rest; as John (Mk. 9:38), Thomas, Philip, and Jude, Jn. 14:5, 8, 22.

However, this isn't really the case.  It's inserting meaning which assumes the denial of the primacy of Peter and seeks to justify this assumption.  First, the invocation of Peter's personality is something Henry is putting into Scripture (eisegesis).  Second, the other cases indicate they were speaking for themselves, whereas Peter asks questions like "Do you intend this parable for us…?"

Peter the Second In Command

I always found this section striking from Matthew 17:

24 When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and said, “Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?”

25 “Yes,” he said. When he came into the house, before he had time to speak, Jesus asked him, “What is your opinion, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax? From their subjects or from foreigners?”

26 When he said, “From foreigners,” Jesus said to him, “Then the subjects are exempt.

27 But that we may not offend them, go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and for you.”

First of all, the collectors went to Peter, which seems to indicate that there was some purpose to approaching him, instead of Jesus, and instead of one of the others among the twelve.  Second, that Jesus had a miracle pay the tax not just for Jesus, but for Peter too.  However, not for the other eleven.  There seems to be the demonstration of a link between Jesus and Peter not necessarily present with the other eleven.

Now some have claimed it was because it was Peter's house that he was approached.  However, we need to consider something here.  All males 20 and older were obligated to pay the Temple Tax when enrolled in the census, as we see in Exodus 30:

11 The LORD also said to Moses,

12 “When you take a census of the Israelites who are to be registered, each one, as he is enrolled, shall give the LORD a forfeit for his life, so that no plague may come upon them for being registered.

13 Everyone who enters the registered group must pay a half-shekel, according to the standard of the sanctuary shekel, twenty gerahs to the shekel. This payment of a half-shekel is a contribution to the LORD.

14 Everyone of twenty years or more who enters the registered group must give this contribution to the LORD.

15 The rich need not give more, nor shall the poor give less, than a half-shekel in this contribution to the LORD to pay the forfeit for their lives.

16 When you receive this forfeit money from the Israelites, you shall donate it to the service of the meeting tent, that there it may be the Israelites’ reminder before the LORD, of the forfeit paid for their lives.”

So, all the twelve were obligated to pay, and about a month before Passover, there were moneychangers throughout Israel according to some sources who would exchange the foreign coins for the shekel (the tax seems to have been paid at the Temple, but since the shekel was not used for ordinary [civil] transactions (see Matt. 22:19), it appears it was a special coin for religious purposes and transactions [See John 2:15]). 

Jews who were residents and visitors both could make use of the service, so mere residency seems not to apply.  Yet the question was only asked about Jesus, and Jesus provided the coin needed to pay for Him and Peter. Remember, Peter's brother Andrew (Luke 6:14) and his partners in fishing James and John (Luke 5:10) also lived in the area (and thus would fit under the residence question), and some have alleged that it was James, not Peter, who was head of the Church in light of Acts 15.  Yet they did not go to James, a fellow Apostle and partner of Peter in the fishing enterprise.

So, the questions are: If one denies a special role for Peter, then why did the collectors go to Peter with the question?  Why did Jesus include Peter with Himself when it comes to paying the tax but not the other apostles?

Jesus' Visiting Peter after the Resurrection

Another interesting fact was shown in Luke 24:

33 So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them

34 who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!”

35 Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

While we do not have an account of what Jesus said to Peter, I find it notable that Peter was one of the first (since we do not know whether Jesus appeared to Peter before, after or at the same time He was present with the two disciples) to see the risen Lord.

Taken by itself, perhaps one could shrug it off and say "Who knows what God was thinking?"  However, God does not act randomly, even if we may not be able to comprehend the mind of God.  When we consider what Jesus has said to Peter in Luke 22:31-32, it seems this is not merely a throwaway incident.

It is not enough to argue a possible alternate interpretation.  One could argue a possible alternate explanation with space aliens.  The issue is, on what basis is this alternate explanation held?


Each individual piece, taken in isolation could be given an alternate explanation.  However, when taken as a whole, it becomes much more like obstinacy to deny that Peter had a role given to him by Christ to tend His sheep, and strengthen his brethren.

In the next article (IId), I intend to look at the role of Peter in Acts and in the Epistles.  Jesus has ascended to Heaven.  How does Peter act then?

Hopefully, after IId, I will be done with Peter and Scripture, and ready to move on to what Christ had to say about His Church itself in Article III.

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