Recently on The Faith Explained, Cale received an email from listener Jim who wanted to know more about the biblical roots of the papacy and where the authority of the Pope truly comes from.
“Please explain in full detail the biblical justification for the Pope. I can’t seem to find one anywhere. Thanks,” read the email.
Cale said he receives this question all the time, so it might be good to make a whole segment out of answering it. He began by explaining that to examine the origins of the papacy, he would first have to examine the role of the man who became the first pope: Peter.
Within all of Jesus’s followers, he had a core group of twelve that He called the Apostles. But even within those twelve, Jesus had an even closer inner circle that consisted of Peter, James, and John. Those three Apostles were privy to spectacular events and miracles that nobody else witnessed. Cale referred to the healing of Jairus’s daughter in which Jesus instructed only the three to follow Him to the house where He healed her.
And then in Chapter 9 of Mark, we get the telling of the Transfiguration where Jesus leads the same three to the top of a mountain and “his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus.” (Mark 9:3-4)
There is no question that the three apostles of the inner circle were especially privileged to have witnessed these events, but even beyond that, Peter is always listed before his peers and that’s for good reason.
“In fact, every time there’s a list of the apostles given in the New Testament anywhere, Peter’s name always comes first. You know who’s last? You guessed it: Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus,” said Cale. “Peter is always mentioned. Specifically, he’s always named. And sometimes the other apostles are called ‘the eleven’. It’s like ‘Peter and the eleven’ or ‘Peter and the other disciples’.”
Peter’s name is mentioned in the New Testament 191 times. The rest of the apostles combined are only mentioned by name 130 times. That is no coincidence. But why does the mention of Peter’s name matter so much? For starters, Names are tremendously important in Hebrew culture. And secondly, “Peter” was not his birth name. He was called Simon, but Jesus renamed him, which is a classically biblical indicator that one’s identity and mission in life has changed.
Simon means “reed”, something that is notably known for swaying in the breeze because of its instability. But Jesus has called him to become something more. In fact, He has called him to become the rock upon which Jesus will build His church.
“Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17-19)
Jesus has unequivocally given a special role to Peter. Not only has he been named the foundation of the Church, but he has been given the authority to wield the power necessary to “strengthen [his] brothers”. Without Peter, the Church would have no earthly head. With no earthly head, we do not have access to the sacraments, the “keys to the kingdom of heaven”. We are doomed to eternal damnation without the Magisterium of the Church, and therein lies the biblical justification for the papacy.
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