Is the dogma of the papacy supported by history?

I would like to propose a question, in all sincerity, about the history and development of the dogmas and doctrines concerning the Pope.

Put very simply, does history (especially the Church Fathers) support

  1. The primacy and authority of St. Peter over the other apostles,
  2. the concept of a transferable Petrine ministry or an episcopal primacy of not merely honor but also jurisdiction passed from St. Peter to another bishop,
    and 3. the concept that said Petrine ministry/primacy inherently resides with the bishop and successor to the See of Rome?

I’m primarily interested in considering considering arguments that utilize more than “proof-texts” and do not rely on sources of questionable authenticity (i.e. St. Maximus’ Letter to Peter).

I ask these questions as a Protestant inquirer who’s been considering converting to Catholicism, however, the claims and historicity of the Eastern Orthodox give me pause. Aren’t they just as ancient as the Catholic Church? Don’t they have a very compelling historical case for a much more congenial episcopate that wouldn’t have recognized the Bishop of Rome as the pastor of the whole Church in the early centuries? The idea that a strong centralized authority structure makes sense (to someone) is not the same thing as providing evidence that this is the type of government Christ actually established for His Church! Yet many articles I’ve found defending the Catholic position mostly boil down to little more than that. I’m looking for links or other resources that can clearly demonstrate the real historical truth of the claims made about the Papacy in Vatican I and II and the CCC, if indeed these claims are true, from history and the Church Fathers.

I can refer you to the many citations provided in these Catholic Answers tracts.

I’m primarily interested in considering considering arguments that utilize more than “proof-texts” and do not rely on sources of questionable authenticity (i.e. St. Maximus’ Letter to Peter).

The tracts I referred you to do not contain any such dubious citations.

I ask these questions as a Protestant inquirer who’s been considering converting to Catholicism, however, the claims and historicity of the Eastern Orthodox give me pause. Aren’t they just as ancient as the Catholic Church?

Yes. No (Roman) Catholic denies this. The Eastern Orthodox practice seven valid Sacraments and rightfully claim the title “catholic.” Their Bishops and priests have valid Orders, and validly confer Apostolic Succession upon their clergy. Any person who, acting in good faith, choses Orthodoxy over (Roman) Catholicism does not endanger his salvation in any meaningful way.

Don’t they have a very compelling historical case for a much more congenial episcopate that wouldn’t have recognized the Bishop of Rome as the pastor of the whole Church in the early centuries?

Possibly. But, like ALL doctrine, the truth of the Primacy of Rome (Peter) has developed over time.

The idea that a strong centralized authority structure makes sense (to someone) is not the same thing as providing evidence that this is the type of government Christ actually established for His Church! Yet many articles I’ve found defending the Catholic position mostly boil down to little more than that. I’m looking for links or other resources that can clearly demonstrate the real historical truth of the claims made about the Papacy in Vatican I and II and the CCC, if indeed these claims are true, from history and the Church Fathers.

The links I provided demonstrate that the seeds of Petrine primacy were evident in the early (pre-Nicene) Church. No rational (Roman) Catholic contends that the Early Fathers understood the Office of Peter as we understand it today (and we have probably barely scratched the surface).

The Orthodox often claim (at least implicitly) that the entire Deposit of Faith was fully understood in the Apostolic Era and it cannot further develop.

This claim is shown to be rather silly because of a guy named Nestorius, who had a heresy named after him.

Nestorius was the flippin’ Archbishop of Constantinople. If I’m not mistaken (and I’m not), that is the very same Apostolic See of Antiquity that the Orthodox claim today.

It would be really silly if the Orthodox claimed that the Hypostatic Union was clearly understood from Apostolic times, when the flippin’ Archbishop of Constantinople proposed a heresy (in the Fifth Century) against it, and caused an Ecumenical Council (which, ironically, the Orthodox accept) to be convened to condemn the false teaching of the flippin’ Archbishop of Constantinople.

Any eight-year-old Catholic (or Orthodox) child, if properly catechized, should understand the basic concept of the Hypostatic Union. This understanding was not firmly developed until the Fifth Century. That is long past the Apostolic Era.

Without doing any research, we can honestly say that the answer to all three of these questions is yes. Having said that, none can deny that the Papal office today is much larger than in the early Church. The Bishop of Rome became the unquestioned authority in the West/Latin Church. His role in the East was much less, although he was certainly considered to have a primacy as the Successor of St. Peter.

The Great Schism between East and West is certainly the great tragedy of Christian history, but did not become set in stone until the Muslims conquered the East.

These questions you ask, are answered by St Irenaeus. He was from Smyrna, in present day Turkey. Irenaeus was one man away from an apostle, specifically St John. His mentor if you will, was St Polycarp of the same city (Smyrna) who was a disciple of St John the apostle. Both Polycarp and Irenaeus are bishops in the Catholic Church. The Martyrdom of Polycarp

Ireneus wrote “Against Heresies” where he specifically answers your questions

Bk 3 Chapter 3 v 1-3

All 3 of your questions are specifically answered in 3 paragraphs in that link

I’ve asked this same question in various ways, for at least a decade, on these forums,

When is the first time we see “Orthodox Church” in writing, in history?, please give references properly referenced

No answer …yet.

Here’s the Catholic Church [FONT=&quot] [FONT=&quot]#34[/FONT][/FONT]

That’s the problem, they weren’t congenial. It wasn’t till the late 4th or 5th century that the patriarchal system appeared in the East. That was their attempt to spread the authority around equally to 5 patriarchs in the Church making the bishop of Rome 1st among equals.

No pope ever accepted that equalization of sees.

"3. In Christian literature, the expression begins to be used in the East when, from the fifth century, the idea of the Pentarchy gained ground, according to which there are five Patriarchs at the head of the Church, with the Church of Rome having the first place among these patriarchal sister Churches. In this connection, however, it needs to be noted that no Roman Pontiff ever recognized this equalization of the sees or accepted that only a primacy of honour be accorded to the See of Rome.It should be noted too thatthis patriarchal structure typical of the East never developed in the West.

  1. The expression appears again in two letters of the Metropolitan Nicetas of Nicodemia (in the year 1136) and the Patriarch John X Camaterus (in office from 1198 to 1206), in which they protested that Rome, by presenting herself as *mother and teacher, *would annul their authority.In their view, Rome is only the first among sisters of equal dignity."


This argument over primacy Jesus already settled.

said in different ways using the same Gospel passage from Luke #30 , #385 ,#616 , #660 ]


While this may not exactly answer your questions, I found this writing of St. Ignatius of Antioch written circa 107 A.D. to the Church in Rome to be very convincing proof that the early church considered the church in Rome (the See of Peter) to have authority over the whole church:

*“Ignatius, also called Theophorus, to the Church that has found mercy in the greatness of the Most High Father and in Jesus Christ, his only son; to the Church beloved and enlightened after the love of Jesus Christ, our God, by the will of him that has willed everything which is; to the Church which also holds the presidency in the place of the country of the Romans, worthy of God, worthy of honor, worthy of blessing, worthy of praise, worthy of success, worthy of sanctification, and because you hold the presidency of love, named after Christ and named after the Father; here therefore do I salute in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father.” —Letter to the Romans, Intro

He wrote this WHILE being transported to Rome for martyrdom (thrown to wild beasts). He also said in the same letter:

*“Allow me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose means it will be granted me to reach God. I am the wheat of God, and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.” *

I get really passionate when Protestant family members and friends try to tell me that the writings of the early church martyrs indicate NOTHING about how the church functioned or operated in the beginning and say that they aren’t credible. I mean, these people were flippin’ KILLED for their faith! :mad:

Steve, I’ve seen you ask this question before and I think the reason you haven’t gotten an answer is because it’s a superfluous question. Yes, you do see the phrase “Catholic Church” earlier in history but it’s not really the actual word that is used that authenticates the Catholic Church versus the Orthodox Church. It’s the MEANING of the words.

Catholic = Universal

So, for 1,000 years, the church was catholic.

But, it was also orthodox since orthodox means “conforming to what is generally or traditionally accepted as right or true; established and approved.”

The names that each side use are truly just semantics because the Catholic Church believes that it is both catholic and orthodox.

Guess what…the Orthodox believe the same thing about themselves. For the sake of differentiation, each side chose a different word to distinguish their identity from the other. I don’t see that as being a big deal or the make it or break it for their claims.

The question is, which side validly uses the titles they proclaim in their names? Which one is BOTH catholic (universal) and orthodox (established and true)?

Personally, I believe that history proves that the Catholic Church does, but I don’t believe the name “Catholic” has anything at all to do with proving this.

And, besides, it’s a question that is impossible to answer.

It’s like asking someone to prove a negative.

Suppose I find a citation from 400 or 800 or 1200 that uses the term “Orthodox Church.” How do I know there are no older citations that I don’t know about?

Maybe, someday, every document ever written (and preserved) will be loaded into a searchable database. Until then, Steve’s question is impossible to answer.

Thanks for the replies! And keep them coming if you know of good, scholarly, arguments for the Papacy.

As others have said it’s important to remember that the terms “Catholic” and “Orthodox” were less sectarian until post-schism and used for their literal denotative meaning (as both sides claim their adjective is still today) in contrast to innovative of spurious doctrines of heretics.

My argument is not so much historic but more spiritual, but nonetheless:

Never it can be legal to kill an innocent and defenseless human due to needs, sensibilities or desires of other humans. Hence, when something is allowed to be killed due to needs, sensibilities or desires of other humans, it must be a non-human.

Hence, when somebody declares a right to kill something due to needs, sensibilities or desires of other humans, it must be a non-human, and therefore the somebody inseperably also declares that something to be non-human, when he declares its free to be killed.

Declaring humans to be non-humans is straight from hell.

In the seventies, in the eighties, in the nineties, in the last decade and in this decade and probably in many decades to come, humankind as a whole, represented by their elected, semielected and not-at-all-elected leaders of nations was/is/(maybe) will be on the brink of declaring a right to abortion and thereby declaring unborn humans to be non-humans.

According to all accounts i read from Pro-Choice advocates, the attempt to declare killing unborn humans a right and thereby declare unborn humans to be non-humans, failed mostly and sometimes only due to one participant in the respective conferences:

The Vatican.

“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.”

“So by their fruits you will know them.”

“The year 1922 marked for us the renewed efforts of our arch-enemies to hinder the progress of enlightenment. The seat of this opposition is to be found in the Roman Catholic Church.” Margaret Sanger, “Facing the New Year,” Jan 1923 )

ok, honoarble mention goes toward:
“Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod”
“Southern Baptist Convention”
and of course the orthodox churches
for also mostly or completely avoiding/fighting this lie, that unborn humans are non-humans)

(addition: of course, it is probably never ok to kill a defenseless and innocent human, but that means its also not ok for third party interest, which is sufficient for the argument and avoids touching the issue of killing to avoid suffering)

Dr. Scott Hahn is one brilliant (former Protestant, I might add) theologian/scholar/apologist that has written and spoken of the historical and Scriptural roots of the Papacy.

Stephen Ray (another convert) also has a wonderful audio that goes through this as well and together, these audios make a VERY compelling argument for the authenticity of the Primacy of Peter.

You can find those works on YouTube, but you can get an audio CD or download (Hahn’s) from Lighthouse Catholic Media found here called "Why Do We Have a Pope?

Ray’s audio called “Peter: Rock, Keys, Chair” can be purchased from his website and is found here.

And I would say It’s NOT a superfluous question. If one is new in town and looks in the phone book for Catholic Church, will they find the Orthodox church under that name?

Take it back to the fist century. No phone books :rolleyes:. How does one find the proper place of worship? See Irenaeus quote that follows

Besides there is no Orthodox Church, they are All separate ethnic churches, not one church. Ecclesiastically, NO ONE speaks for all of them. The EP (Ecumenical Patriarch) in Istanbul, doesn’t speak for the whole, nor does he have authority over the whole. They have no ONE who has universal authority. They left that when they left Peter.

As for Catholic meaning universal, I would suggest a more specific ecclesiastical explanation of that from Irenaeus which I gave already in Bk 3 Chapter 3 v 1-3]

(All emphasis mine)

Irenaeus gives the warm up

“2. Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings;”

then he gives the nitty gritty

"the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church,(Rome) on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the who existpreserved continuously by [faithful men] everywhere."

Irenaeus is one man away from an apostle. And he tells us that what he just wrote, comes to us from Peter and Paul at Rome.

Now I would suggest,THAT’S universal, and it is Catholic in the ecclesiastical sense :wink:

As opposed to those he says who by evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings, i.e. don’t assemble with “this” Church or agree with “this” Church. THOSE as he says are the unfaithful.

We see and can reference, “Catholic Church” in writing from the 1st century. That’s the name of the Church in the Nicene creed.

Bp John a Melkite Catholic Bishop, has seen this issue from both sides. Here is his explanation


Again, using the example above, If one is new in town and asks where is the Catholic Church, they won’t send you to the Orthodox Church or vice versa.

Look at Bp John’s explanation again. See how he qualifies Catholic as not Orthodox.

and I know people who call themselves Catholic, and they are no more Catholic than my BBQ pit.

I believe proper names should have meaning, and they should matter.

Look again at the full apologetic from Irenaeus Bk 3 Chapter 3 v 1-3 ], and compare that also with the explanation of Bp John.

You state a lot of facts that do, in fact, support the authenticity of the Catholic Church but again, the proper name Catholic, has really nothing to do with it. The full name of the Orthodox faith is something like “The Orthodox Catholic Church” but since they don’t want to be confused with us, they use Orthodox. It’s not the name that matters. It’s which one holds to the original orthodox catholic faith. Further, in the early church, there was no need to use the word “orthodox” to describe the church because it is a comparative adjective that assumes there is necessarily something that is “unorthodox.” Since the church was one and held the same faith, the word catholic (universal) is a better descriptive adjective because orthodox had no meaning if there wasn’t something that was unorthodox. In the schism, their use of “orthodox” makes sense because they hold that the western church was being “unorthodox.”

It’s kinda like a store in my area called the Dollar General Store versus another store called Dollar Tree. The Dollar General Store has a longer existence but, in opposition to its name, not everything in the store is a dollar. It’s name is misleading. However, everything in the Dollar Tree IS $1. So, which store is more true to its name? You can’t say the Dollar General Store simply because it’s been around longer.

Lastly, I’m more concerned about being a part of the original church that holds to the orthodox beliefs of the Apostles than I am about a universal church that may not be orthodox. Again, it’s not about the name. It’s about the proof.

Historically, Peter was appointed the Chief Shepard job based upon the rock verse and the feed my lamb verse. No other apostle was given this additional responsibility. For the first 1000 years, Rome was recognised as necessary for assent for Ecumenical Councils resolutions to be considered valid even though the seat of empire administration has moved from Rome to Constantinople. Although Constantinople tried to make a grab for the 2nd ranking post, she didn’t succeed. From actions and communication from fellow patriarchates, it is clear that they all defer/appeal to Rome at various points in time. This at the very least establish precedence.

Without dwelling too much on name calling, who is catholic or who is not, I think it is important to identify which church, Orthodox or Catholic, in substance, continue to carry the Chief Shepardhood, after the Schism. The question to ask is this, did the Orthodox Church after the Schism of 1054, continue to recognize the validity of Roman Popes after the Schism. Or did the Orthodox Church legally and in action took over the Chief Shepardhood job. If the Patriach of Constantinople after the Schism did not /could not make a valid claim for the Papacy, then the conclusion must follow that Rome never relinquished that Papal Office. And hence, the Church of Rome must by virtue of that represent the valid successor of St Peter. It is important to distinguish that it is the Seat of Peter the deciding factor, not the location of the Church. If tomorow, the Pope decides to move to Brazil, Rome will no longer have that seat.

In summary, if one agree that the Chief Shepard job exist and that Peter was the one given the job, what is left is to identify who has valid succession to that job. So far , the Catholic Church is the only valid claimant because she has never relinquished that job.

On opposition whether Rome has universal jurisdiction, all I can say is that, Christ himself appoints Peter to shepard/feed his sheep/lambs. Peter doesn’t need the permission of the other apostles because the job was given to him by Christ. The job wasn’t decided by fellow apostles. Whether the other apostles agree to or not is irrelevant. Anyone who disagree with Peter need to check with Christ what authority was given. They can’t limit Peter’s jurisdiction because they are not in a position to determine that for Peter. Peter and his successors are answerable to Christ and not anyone else.

I would disagree with that. Names DO and SHOULD mean what they are. Keep reading, even you believe that.

So names DO mean something. :slight_smile:

so names don’t matter :confused:

Then why use either term? They would call themselves the Church of what’s happening now or some other such name, because names don’t matter

So names DO matter :slight_smile:

That’s like saying no need to call the Church Catholic either because it’s a comparative adjective that assumes there is necessarily something that is “not catholic”

Oh wait, there WERE groups that weren’t Catholic. They broke away from the Catholic Church… That’s why I quoted Irenaeus. It’s why Paul wrote against and condemned those who would cause divisions from the kataholos Church the apostles were building.

It’s why Jesus prayed for perfect unity just as He and the Father are perfectly one so are the apostles to be one like that, as are those to be one that they bring to the faith, because Jesus knew divisions happen and since the HS doesn’t speak on His own but only takes from Jesus and teaches THE apostles, that which Jesus taught, then that means Jesus is the one condemning division,

The consequence for that sin on one’s soul are horrendous as scripture teaches. And there is no expiration date to the warning or consequence

So names DO matter :slight_smile:

But I gotta tell ya, there were examples of the unorthodox.

Those who broke from Peter for just one example, are clearly unorthodox. Heresy is another example.

Actually it makes no sense.

schism is the key word. Peter didn’t break from himself. THEY broke from Peter. THEY by definition, are then unorthodox and non Catholic.

See? names DO matter.

Is there anything less than $1 in the dollar tree? If so that’s a conflict in your example. Are you absolutely sure there is no item over $1 in the dollar tree?

Either way, that’s talking about purely human instituted institutions. The Catholic Church is divinely instituted by Jesus. Of which not even the gates of hell will prevail against it. It is the pillar and foundation of truth. If one can’t take those promises to the bank then they can’t take any promise of Jesus to the bank

You’re creating a conflict of terms. Look again at how Irenaeus describes what is to be “EVERYWHERE”
see the link [Bk 3 Chapter 3 v 1-3] in my previous post


Arguing for the papacy from history is the easy part; let me argue from scripture instead! Did Jesus Himself establish the papacy? You bet!

Peter – The Royal Steward

Here are two questions that need to be answered:

1. Is Jesus a king?
2. Did He re-establish the office of the Royal Steward?

You probably said “Yes” quickly to the first question, but you may have hesitated or even answered “No” to the second. Let’s take a look at what scripture and history tell us about the office of the Royal Steward.

In ancient times, a king might choose a second in command (known as the royal steward or prime minister) who literally wore a large key as a symbol of his office and who spoke with the authority of the king. The prophet Isaiah confirms this:

Isaiah 22:20-22
"In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah. I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.”

In the passage above, God is speaking to Shebnah, an unfaithful steward serving King Hezekiah. God is telling Shebnah that he is about to be replaced by Eliakim, and this confirms the existence of the office, the key worn as a symbol of the office, and the continuation of the office in perpetuity – despite the change of office holder. In other words, the office of the royal steward continued even when the man who held the office died or was replaced by someone else. God Himself passes the key from one steward to the next.

In the New Testament, we learn that Jesus inherits the throne of his father, David.

Luke 1:31–33
And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.

We also read the following:

Matthew 16:13-19
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 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. 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.

The passage quoted above from Matthew tells us that Jesus named Peter as His royal steward and gave him the “keys to the kingdom of heaven" as the symbol of his authority to speak in His name. Since Jesus is an eternal king, the office of royal steward in His kingdom will never end. Peter died as a martyr as Jesus foretold, but the successors of Peter have taken his place in the perpetual office that Jesus established in His royal court.

In addition to the reference to a key or keys, note the following parallels:

"What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” (Is. 22:22)
"Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Mt. 16:19)

Jesus specifically referenced the passage from Isaiah when He appointed Peter to the office of Royal Steward granting him the authority to speak universally in His name. To do so faithfully, Peter could not teach error. God’s protection of His own flock by preventing the formal teaching of error in His name is referred to as “infallibility”.

**Therefore, if Jesus, our eternal king, established Peter as His first Royal Steward in a perpetual office, then don’t Peter’s successors, the Bishops of Rome, continue to serve in that office today? **


Protestant Scholars and Commentaries on Peter as Royal Steward

Jamieson, Fausset & Brown

[The steward is] the king’s friend, or principal officer of the court (1 Kings 4:5; 18:3; 1 Chronicles 27:33, the king’s counsellor) . . .

Keys are carried sometimes in the East hanging from the kerchief on the shoulder. But the phrase is rather figurative for sustaining the government on one’s shoulders. Eliakim, as his name implies, is here plainly a type of the God-man Christ, the son of “David,” of whom Isaiah (ch. 9:6) uses the same language as the former clause of this verse [and the government will be upon his shoulder] (Jamieson, Robert, Andrew R. Fausset & David Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1961 [orig. 1864; Fausset and Brown were Anglicans, Brown Presbyterian], 536 – on Isaiah 22:15,22).

New Bible Dictionary

In the . . . exercise of the power of the keys, in ecclesiastical discipline, the thought is of administrative authority (Is 22:22) with regard to the requirements of the household of faith. The use of censures, excommunication, and absolution is committed to the Church in every age, to be used under the guidance of the Spirit . . .

So Peter, in T.W. Manson’s words, is to be ‘God’s vicegerent . . . The authority of Peter is an authority to declare what is right and wrong for the Christian community. His decisions will be confirmed by God’ (The Sayings of Jesus, 1954, p.205). (New Bible Dictionary, ed. J.D. Douglas, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1962, 1018)

In the Old Testament a steward is a man who is ‘over a house’ (Gen 43:19, 44:4; Is 22:15, etc). In the New Testament there are two words translated steward: ‘epitropos’ (Mt 20:8; Gal 4:2), i.e. one to whose care or honour one has been entrusted, a curator, a guardian; and ‘oikonomos’ (Lk 16:2-3; 1 Cor 4:1-2; Titus 1:7; 1 Pet 4:10), i.e. a manager, a superintendent – from ‘oikos’ (‘house’) and ‘nemo’ (‘to dispense’ or ‘to manage’). The word is used to describe the function of delegated responsibility. (New Bible Dictionary, ed. J.D. Douglas, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1962, 1216)

Eerdman’s Bible Dictionary

In accordance with Matthew’s understanding of the kingdom of heaven (i.e., of God) as anywhere God reigns, the keys here represent authority in the Church. (Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, ed. Allen C. Myers, Grabd Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, rev. ed., 1975, 622)

New Bible Commentary

Eliakim stands in strong contrast to Shebna . . . Godward he is called ‘my servant’ (v.20; cf. ‘this steward’, v.15); manward, he will be ‘a father’ to his community (v.21) . . .

The opening words of v.22, with their echo of 9:6, emphasize the God-given responsibility that went with it [possession of the keys], to be used in the king’s interests. The ‘shutting’ and ‘opening’ mean the power to make decisions which no one under the king could override. This is the background of the commission to Peter (cf. Mt 16:19) and to the church (cf. Mt 18:18). (New Bible Commentary, Guthrie, D. & J.A. Motyer, eds., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 3rd ed., 1970 [Reprinted, 1987, as The Eerdmans Bible Commentary], 603)

The phrase is almost certainly based on Is 22:22 where Shebna the steward is displaced by Eliakim and his authority is transferred to him. ‘And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.’ (This is applied directly to Jesus in Rev 3:7). (New Bible Commentary, Guthrie, D. & J.A. Motyer, eds., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 3rd ed., 1970 [Reprinted, 1987, as The Eerdmans Bible Commentary], 837)

Adam Clarke

For further references to the office of the steward in Old Testament times, see 1 Kings 4:6; 16:9; 18:3; 2 Kings 10:5; 15:5; 18:18, where the phrases used are “over the house,” “steward,” or “governor.” In Isaiah 22:15, in the same passage to which our Lord apparently refers in Matt 16:19, Shebna, the soon-to-be deposed steward, is described in various translations as:

  1. “Master of the palace” {Jerusalem Bible / New American Bible}
  2. “In charge of the palace” {New International Version}
  3. “Master of the household” {New Revised Standard Version}
  4. “In charge of the royal household” {New American Standard Bible}
  5. “Comptroller of the household” {Revised English Bible}
  6. “Governor of the palace” {Moffatt}

As the robe and the baldric, mentioned in the preceding verse, were the ensigns of power and authority, so likewise was the key the mark of office, either sacred or civil. This mark of office was likewise among the Greeks, as here in Isaiah, borne on the shoulder. In allusion to the image of the key as the ensign of power, the unlimited extent of that power is expressed with great clearness as well as force by the sole and exclusive authority to open and shut. Our Saviour, therefore, has upon a similar occasion made use of a like manner of expression, Matt 16:19; and in Rev 3:7 has applied to himself the very words of the prophet. (Adam Clarke, [Methodist], Commentary on the Bible, abridged ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1967 [orig. 1832], 581)


R.T. France

Not only is Peter to have a leading role, but this role involves a daunting degree of authority (though not an authority which he alone carries, as may be seen from the repetition of the latter part of the verse in 18:18 with reference to the disciple group as a whole). The image of ‘keys’ (plural) perhaps suggests not so much the porter, who controls admission to the house, as the steward, who regulates its administration (cf. Is 22:22, in conjunction with 22:15). The issue then is not that of admission to the church . . . , but an authority derived from a ‘delegation’ of God’s sovereignty. (R.T. France; in Morris, Leon, Gen. ed., Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1985, vol. 1: Matthew, 256)

Oscar Cullman

Just as in Isaiah 22:22 the Lord puts the keys of the house of David on the shoulders of his servant Eliakim, so does Jesus hand over to Peter the keys of the house of the kingdom of heaven and by the same stroke establishes him as his superintendent. There is a connection between the house of the Church, the construction of which has just been mentioned and of which Peter is the foundation, and the celestial house of which he receives the keys. The connection between these two images is the notion of God’s people. (Oscar Cullmann, Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr, Neuchatel: Delachaux & Niestle, 1952 French ed., 183-184)

Raymond Brown, Karl Donfried and John Reumann

The prime minister, more literally ‘major-domo,’ was the man called in Hebrew ‘the one who is over the house,’ a term borrowed from the Egyptian designation of the chief palace functionary . . .

The power of the key of the Davidic kingdom is the power to open and to shut, i.e., the prime minister’s power to allow or refuse entrance to the palace, which involves access to the king . . . Peter might be portrayed as a type of prime minister in the kingdom that Jesus has come to proclaim . . . What else might this broader power of the keys include? It might include one or more of the following: baptismal discipline; post-baptismal or penitential discipline; excommunication; exclusion from the eucharist; the communication or refusal of knowledge; legislative powers; and the power of governing. (Peter in the New Testament, Brown, Raymond E., Karl P. Donfried and John Reumann, editors, Minneapolis: Augsburg Pub. House/New York: Paulist Press, 1973, 96-97. Common statement by a panel of eleven Catholic and Lutheran scholars)

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament

In biblical and Judaic usage handing over the keys does not mean appointment as a porter but carries the thought of full authorization (cf. Mt. 13:52; Rev. 3:7) . . . The implication is that Jesus takes away this authority from the scribes and grants it to Peter. (J. Jeremias, in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Gerhard Kittel, abridgement of Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985, 440)

All these New Testament pictures and usages go back to a picture in Isaiah (Is 22:22) . . . Now the duty of Eliakim was to be the faithful steward of the house . . . So then what Jesus is saying to Peter is that in the days to come, he will be the steward of the Kingdom. (William Barclay, Gospel of Matthew, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975, vol. 2, 144-145)

Isa 22:15 ff. undoubtedly lies behind this saying . . . The keys are the symbol of authority . . . the same authority as that vested in the vizier, the master of the house, the chamberlain, of the royal household in ancient Israel. Eliakim is described as having the same authority in Isaiah. (William F. Albright and C.S. Mann, Anchor Bible: Matthew, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971, 196)

And what about the “keys of the kingdom”? . . . About 700 B.C. an oracle from God announced that this authority in the royal palace in Jerusalem was to be conferred on a man called Eliakim . . . (Isa. 22:22). So in the new community which Jesus was about to build, Peter would be, so to speak, chief steward. (F.F. Bruce, The Hard Sayings of Jesus, Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1983, 143-144)

You may find this article quite exhaustive:

Pay particular attention to chapter 8.

Here is an excerpt:

  1. Peter’s Reception, Direct From Christ, Of Not Only His Extraordinary Apostolic Power But Also His Permanent Power Over The Whole Church

For Peter, at least, what was received immediately from the hands of Christ was indubitably a regular ordinary power, transmissible for all time; in virtue of it, on the precise point of the government of the universal Church, his relation to the other Apostles was not one of equality, but the relation of a shepherd to his flock. The Saviour made him not merely the same promises as he made to the others, but promises still more astonishing by which he was designated as the foundation stone of the Church and the keybearer in this world of the Kingdom of Heaven—“And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven” (Matt. xvi. 18-19)—and again: “Feed my sheep” (John xxi. 16-17). When He made these promises, the new powers conferred thereby were, besides the exceptional and intransmissible powers common to all the Apostles, the regular, permanent, transmissible powers in virtue of which, from the morrow of the Ascension, Peter and his successors were to be the ultimate visible foundation of the Church, the stewards of the Kingdom of Heaven, the supreme shepherds of all the sheep of Christ. The divine Word, by reason of the mysterious love that impelled Him to become incarnate to heal our wounds through this sensible contact, had willed to become Himself the Master, Teacher and Visible Head of the apostolic band, which He sent to preach the Kingdom of God; at the same stroke He had willed to give His Church its first constitution by organizing it around Himself as a single visible centre. When He withdrew His visible presence from men, He had either to replace this first organization of the Church by a new one, or else, if He wished to preserve His work as it stood and develop it along its original lines, to have recourse to the sole remaining solution: namely, to single out one of the Apostles from the rest by promising him a special assistance, powerful enough, effectual enough, to enable him to become the visible spokesman of Christ, His Vicar on earth, a permanent visible centre of organization for the universal Church. "Since Christ was about to withdraw His bodily presence from the Church, "says St. Thomas Aquinas, who here touches the root of the question, “He needed to appoint one to take His place in governing the whole Church. Wherefore, before His Ascension, He said to Peter: Feed my sheep; and before His Passion: Thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren; and to him alone He made the promise: To thee I will give the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven; whence it results that in order to safeguard the unity of the Church, the power of the keys was to descend from Peter to the others.”[848] And again: “If the power of binding and loosing was given to all the Apostles in common, nevertheless a hierarchy appears in this power, and that is why it is given first to Peter alone, as to him from whom it should pass down to the others.”[849]

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit