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Matthew 16:18-19 and 1Timothy 3:15

Handout #10     11/16/14

I. Introduction
A. All class long, when we come to the question of the Roman Catholic (RC) and Eastern Orthodox (EO) view of the church, I have been saying, “Where’s the proof in Scripture?”
B. Today we’re going to look at the two passages which are most frequently cited in answer to this challenge.
II. 1Timothy 3:15 “so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.”
A. The RC/EO argue that this verse proves that the church has primacy over the scriptures, since it says that the church is the pillar and buttress of the truth.
1. They argue that the apostles are built on Jesus, the Church is built on the apostles, and the Bible is built on the Church.
B. Is that what this passage really means? Let’s look at it carefully.
C. First of all, there is no article before church in “the household of God, which is the church of the living God,”
1. "The lack of the definite article before ECCLESIA [church] indicates that Paul is thinking of the local church." (Mounce, W. D., Pastoral Epistles, Word, Vol. 46, p. 222).
D. Now let’s look at “pillar and buttress of the truth.”
1. The second word, translated in the ESV as buttress, is found only here in the NT and in later Christian literature. Nowhere does this word mean foundation.
a. “The other suggested translation is ‘foundation.’ There is no example of HEDRAIOMA used with this meaning in any text (as is true of the previous translation). Hanson argues for this translation on the basis of the cognate noun HEDRASMA, which means ‘foundation,’ and the Qumran concept of the community as the ‘foundation of truth.’ The only other cognate in the NT is HEDAIOS, which means ‘firm’ or ‘steadfast’ (1Cor 7:37; 15:58; Col 1:23), which could just as easily suggest the idea of pillar or protector.” (Mounce, W. D. (2000). Pastoral Epistles (Vol. 46, p. 223). Dallas: Word, Inc.)
2. Also, this should not be taken as saying that the church is THE pillar and buttress of the truth. The definite article is not here either. Listen to what Fenton John Anthony Hort said about this verse: “There are few passages of the New Testament in which the reckless disregard of the presence or absence of the article has made wider havoc of the senses than this. To speak of either an Ecclesia or the Ecclesia, as being the pillar of the truth, is to represent the truth as a building, standing in the air supported on a single column.” (Christian Ecclesia, 174).
3. What does it mean that the church is the pillar and buttress of the truth?
a. The image I’ve always used to describe what I think this means is a tee holding up a golf ball. This doesn’t mean the tee has primacy over the golf ball. The opposite is obviously true.
b. But I think the Bible has an even better analogy, in 2Corinthians 4:7 “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” Does the clay pot have primacy over the Treasure inside because it holds it? It is unthinkable.
c. The church is founded upon the truth and then the church holds up the truth for the world to see.
E. “Nothing in the Pastoral Epistles (1&2Timothy, Titus) supports the idea that the gospel is subordinate to the church (i.e., that the church is the foundation of the gospel) as developed in later centuries (cf. Roloff, Commentary on 1Timothy, p.200–201).” Mounce, W. D. (2000). Pastoral Epistles (Vol. 46, p. 223). Dallas: Word, Inc.
F. The meaning of this verse must not be disconnected from the theme of the whole epistle. In this first letter to Timothy, Paul is stressing the importance of Timothy, the leader of the church, being a godly man, the importance of godliness in the church and the choosing of godly church officers, the importance of a right understanding of salvation, and importance of church matters and worship being handled in a godly way. It is because of the church’s function as the promoter, supporter and protector of the gospel. It is because the truth of the gospel is so important that it is important for the church to be godly.
III. Matthew 16:15–19 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
A. Both RC & EO teach that this verse sets up an office of infallible authority over the church, that the Church as an institution will continue on forever without error.
1. Both argue that the gates of hell not prevailing against the church means that the church is granted infallibility.
2. But why? Is that what it says?
a. It’s clear here that the church is in a battle.
b. “Gates of hell” implies that the church on the offensive.
c. The fact that the gates of hell will not prevail means that the church will conquer and be victorious.
3. But how does this mean the church will not make errors? How does it mean they are infallible?
B. Of course, RC also take this as referring to the institution of Peter as the first pope.
1. If you ask them what Biblical evidence there is that there’s an infallible church or an infallible pope, this is the main passage they point to.
2. This RC interpretation was first argued by Popes in the early third century and gained ground in the two centuries after that.
a. You see, gradually over the early centuries, Rome became preeminent among the churches, not because of an interpretation of this passage or any other.
b. The modern Catholic view of this passage was not even one of the views of the early church. It was only later that this passage was used to defend this preeminence of Rome (see Peter and the Rock by William Webster).
c. The primacy of the Roman church was driven primarily by the fact that Rome was the capital of the Roman empire. (In fact, when there was a second capital in Constantinople, the bishop of Constantinople shared preeminence with the Roman bishop.)
d. The primacy of the Roman bishop was not cemented until the mid fifth century. Even then, the primacy of the bishop of Rome was seen and used only in a supportive and pastoral sense. The Eastern part of the church accepted this role in light of the prestige and position of the city of Rome in the Roman empire. It didn’t accept Rome as having jurisdiction over other churches.
3. The problem with this is that in order to make this RC interpretation, they make several assumptions:
a. Jesus spoke this to Peter as an individual, distinct from the other apostles.
b. Peter was bishop of Rome (there is no mention of this in the NT or any credible historical evidence for this).
c. All subsequent bishops of Rome were included in what Jesus said.
4. But...
a. The passage says nothing about successors of Peter or the other apostles.
b. And Jesus says nothing about the infallibility of Peter, much less about the infallibility of his successors.
c. Finally, Jesus says nothing about any exclusive authority Peter was being given over the other apostles.
(a) In fact, Peter didn’t operate as the big honcho in the book of Acts:
i) He is sent by the apostles in Acts 8:14.
ii) He is held accountable for his actions by the church in Acts 11:1-18.
iii) He is rebuked by Paul in Gal.2:11-14.
(b) In the RC scenario, Peter’s successor must have had authority over the apostle John.
d. Also, there is no infallible institution like this in the OT.
(1) Something new and radical without substantial NT warrant.
5. What is the rock on which the church is being built? Is it Peter?
a. Changing Simon to Peter — Peter = rock
b. I think Jesus is referring to Peter as a representative of the apostles. Let me tell you why.
c. Christ is the rock.
(1) God as rock - e.g. Deuteronomy 32:4 “The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He.”
(2) Christ the rock of Daniel’s vision (Dan.2) - the rock grew and filled the earth
(3) 1Cor.10:4 the rock in the wilderness was Christ
(4) 1Peter 2:4 “And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God.”
d. Christ is the cornerstone.
(1) “The stone which the builders rejected, this became the very corner stone,” (Matt.21:42)
(2) 1Cor. 3:11 “no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
e. The apostles are foundational in a secondary sense. The apostles as foundation stones:
(1) Eph.2:19-22 “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”
(2) Rev.21:14 “The wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”
f. Christ is the Rock. Peter becomes a rock when the Lord opens his eyes and he gets who Jesus is. The others will follow. They are rocks because Jesus is the rock.
g. Peter was the first among equals. (His firstness can be seen in this confession, in the stories of Matthias, Pentecost, Ananias and Sapphira, and Cornelius, and in other places.)
h. The church is a building, being built by Christ on this foundation. It begins with the Lord Jesus, the cornerstone. Then comes the apostles as the rest of the foundation, beginning with Peter. Finally, God continues the building process by adding in each one of us who believes.
i. Christians as living stones in 1Peter 2:4-5 “And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house.
j. We each become a rock when we link up with Christ.
IV. Conclusion
A. In both cases, the RC/EO interpretation of these passages smacks of coming back to the Bible looking for evidence of something, not being driven by the Bible to believe something.
B. And if you point to Church Tradition to justify Church Tradition, there’s a problem there, it seems to me.