Friday, May 4, 2018

Do John 21:15-17 and Luke 22:31-32 prove Peter was Pope?

By Keith Thompson

John 21:15-17 

15So 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." 16He said to him again 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, "Shepherd My sheep." 17He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You" Jesus said to him, "feed My sheep (John 21:15-17).

The Roman claim is that here Jesus singled Peter out by instructing him to be the leader of the church. Roman apologist Patrick Madrid argues for the Roman Catholic position:
"There are other biblical examples of St. Peter’s primacy. One of the most striking is the episode where Christ makes him the shepherd of His Church, telling him, again in the singular form, “feed My lambs…tend My sheep…feed My sheep" (Patrick Madrid, Pope Fiction, [Basilica Press, 1999], p. 31).
The first Vatican Council argued,

“And it was upon Simon alone that Jesus after His resurrection bestowed the jurisdiction of Chief Pastor and Ruler over all His fold in the words, ‘Feed my lambs, feed my sheep” (Vatican I, First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, 4th Session, Ch. 1, 1869-1870, edited by Re. Vincent McNabb, O.P. [Burns and Oates], 1907).

However, the first thing one must immediately observe is that if Peter was here given the honor of being made absolute leading shepherd of all Christians with the words “feed my lambs” and “shepherd my sheep,” then why was Peter continuously grieved through out the encounter and not showing any hint of gratefulness, happiness or honor? Did Peter not know that he was being endowed with special papal prerogatives in this conversation? Obviously Peter saw no such thing happening and thus he remained saddened and grieved through out (see v. 17). He was not happy and feeling blessed as one would expect had he thought he was being granted prime authority as leader of the church. His sorrowful attitude is evidence against the idea he was being bestowed with papal power which would, if actually taking place, be cause for joy or at least a neutral to turn from grief.

Second, it is clear this text concerns the reinstatement of Peter as feeder and shepherd of the sheep which is on equal level with the other apostles, not an elevation to the role of supreme leader with universal jurisdiction. Peter was singled out here and told to feed or shepherd Christ’s sheep, not because Peter was being exalted in a papal sense, but because preceding this event Peter had denied Christ three times (Mark 14:72) as predicted by Jesus (Mark 14:30). Peter thus needed special pastoral care and restoration from Jesus after this betrayal. That is why Jesus asked Peter if he loved him three times. In place of Peter’s triple denial, Christ gives Peter the threefold question: do you love me? This replaced Peter’s triple denial with a triple confession of love and loyalty. Peter was thus restored functionally when told by Jesus to feed His sheep. Although Peter did not officially lose his office as apostle or his faith by denying Christ three times, he was nevertheless extremely distraught for denying Christ to the point to where he broke down and wept bitterly in Mark 14:72 and needed to be made glad again as John 20:20 shows. Hence, Peter in John 21:15-17 needed that reinstatement and forgiving reassurance that he was still worthy to feed and shepherd Jesus’ people as an apostle of Jesus. As opposed to being elevated above the other apostles as unique shepherd of the flock, as Rome asserts, the contextual evidence suggests that Peter was actually only being restored back to the level of the other apostles who had not denied Jesus. Merrill C. Tenney observes,

“The chief reason for the narration of this episode seems to be to let Peter know that the Lord still loved him and had not cast him out . . . The three questions Jesus addressed to Peter stand in contrast to Peter’s three denials.  The disciples were no doubt aware of Peter’s denial of Jesus, and the commission that Jesus renewed with him in their presence would reassure them of Peter’s place among them. . .” (Merrill C. Tenney, John, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary with the New International Version, ed., Frank E. Gaebelein, [Zondervan, 1981], p. 201).

Tenney then argues Jesus’ three-fold command to Peter concerning feeding and shepherding his sheep,

“does not necessarily give Peter the sole responsibility for the oversight of Christ’s followers; all of his spiritually mature disciples were called to be shepherds (cf. 1 Peter 5:2). This challenge to Peter demanded a total renewal of his loyalty and reaffirmed his responsibilities” (Merrill C. Tenney, John, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary with the New International Version, ed., Frank E. Gaebelein, [Zondervan, 1981], p. 202).

The fifth century Bishop Cyril of Alexandria agreed,

“And what is the meaning of the words, Feed my Lambs, and the like? We reply, that the inspired Peter had indeed already been elected, together with the other disciples, to be an Apostle of God, but, when the events connected with the plot of the Jews against Him came to pass, his fall came betwixt; for the inspired Peter was seized with uncontrollable fear, and he thrice denied the Lord . . . Therefore, by his thrice-repeated confession the thrice-repeated denial of the blessed Peter was done away with, and by the saying of our Lord, ‘Feed my lambs,’ we must understand a renewal as it were of the apostleship, already given unto him. . .” (Cyril of Jerusalem, Commentary on John, Book 12 italics mine).

Cyril affirmed the Protestant view regarding the meaning of John 21, thus negating the papal interpretation. However, if the Roman interpretation of John 21 is the way it has always been understood by the Church, and if it so clearly indicates that Peter was made the unique leading or ruling shepherd of the whole Church, why does Cyril, this early Bishop of Alexandria, who is a supposed saint and doctor of the Catholic Church, interpret this text to mean that Peter was merely being reinstated to the apostleship as opposed to being elevated above all the apostles? He understood feeding the lambs to be the regular thing the apostles did, thereby showing Peter was being put back on their level. In fact, no apostolic father or early church writer writing before 325 A.D. interpreted John 21:15-17 the way modern Catholics do in respect to an absolute primacy of jurisdiction being bestowed.

Third, although the First Vatican Council and Roman materials argue the phrases “feed my lambs” (Boske ta arnia mou), “shepherd the sheep” (Poimaine ta probata mou), and feed my sheep” (Boske ta probata mou), in vv. 15-17 prove Peter was made leader of the church, others beside Peter feed and shepherd the flock of God in the New Testament. Catholics argue that the Greek word for shepherd in v. 16 (Gk. poimaine) carries the meaning of ruling with power. For example Sungenis states, “In the final analysis, “pasturing” or “shepherding,” of necessity, includes the concept of “ruling.” (Robert Sungenis, The Gospel According to St. John, The Catholic Apologetics Study Bible, Volume VI, [Catholic Apologetic International Publishing Inc., 2011], p. 256 n. 767). Therefore, since the word can denote ruling, it is argued Peter shepherding here deals with his alleged universal jurisdiction and power as pope.

However, not only does Paul in Acts 20:28 command the Ephesian Bishops to poimainō the church or shepherd the church (same Greek word used), but Peter himself in 1 Peter 5:2 commands the elect exiles of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia to poimainō the flock of God or shepherd the flock of God exercising oversight (same Greek word used). Peter stated,

“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd (poimainō) the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly(1 Peter 5:1-2).

D. A. Carson offers insight as to why Jesus’ command to shepherd the sheep involving ruling or authority in John 21:16 does not support the Roman position: 

“As for John 21:15-17, neither founding pre-eminence nor comparative authority is in view. It is true that the figure of the shepherd can be used to picture authority. But this passage does not establish that Peter has relatively more authority than other ‘shepherds’ of the flock of God. When close comparisons are made with Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 4:14, it becomes clear that each shepherd of the flock of God, of Jesus’ sheep, of the church of God, is to mirror both authority and a certain brokenness that is utterly exemplary. The Ephesian elders are to guard and shepherd the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made them overseers . . . while Peter pictures himself as a ‘fellow elder’ who can encourage other elders to be ‘shepherds’ and ‘overseers’ (‘bishops’), ‘being examples to the flock’. . . Thus there is nothing intrinsic to the language of John 21:15-17 that suggests a distinctive authority for Peter . . . In the context of the Forth Gospel, these verses deal with Peter’s reinstatement to service, not with his elevation to primacy" (D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, [Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1991], pp. 678-679 italics mine).

It is argued the word boske in vv. 15, 17, which means “feed,” proves Peter fed the sheep as leader of the church. However, the word itself doesn’t carry that meaning. It simply portrays, as Thayer notes in his lexicon: “the duty of a Christian teacher to promote in every way the spiritual welfare of the members of the church” (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testament, translated and revised by Joseph Henry Thayer, [Harper & Brothers, 1887], p. 104). All of the apostles and early church leaders did that. That was their goal – the welfare and growth of believers.

 Luke 22:31-32

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).

Catholic writers emphasize two  points from this text. First, they interpret this passage to mean that Peter’s faith that Jesus prayed may not fail is actually Peter’s beliefs. They take “will not fail” to mean will not be fallible. In other words Peter’s beliefs will be infallible. It is taken to be a statement of Peter’s infallibility as pope and thus his role as pope on issues of faith or morals. As The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “His mission will be to keep this faith from every lapse and strengthen his brothers in it” (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed., p. 156, paragraph 552). Not only that, but Peter’s alleged papal successors will be infallible as well. As Vatican 1 stated in the fourth session: “. . .this See of Saint Peter remains ever free from all blemish of error, according to the divine promise of the Lord our Saviour made to the Prince of His disciples: ‘I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not; and that when thou art converted, confirm thy brethren.’” (Vatican I, First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, 4th Session, Ch. 4, 1869-1870, edited by Re. Vincent McNabb, O.P. [Burns and Oates], 1907). The second point Catholics make is that Peter was supposedly elevated as prime shepherd of the flock and set apart with the phrase “strengthen your brothers”. When Jesus said to Peter “strengthen your brothers” the Greek word for strengthen means confirm, establish or make stable. As Roman writer Steve Ray argues: “The whole apostolic band would be strengthened by the one for whom the Lord prayed - the one whom the Lord appointed as shepherd of the flock” (Steve Ray, Upon This Rock: St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early Church, [Ignatius Press, 1999], p. 48 n. 63).

However, concerning the first point, when Jesus prayed that Peter’s faith may not fail, it had nothing to do with the Roman dogma of papal infallibility. That is not the context. Peter’s faith not failing doesn’t mean, as Vatican I says, the “see of Saint Peter being free from error.” Peter’s faith not failing, as Walter L. Liefeld notes in his commentary on Luke, means Peter’s faith “may not give out’ or ‘may not disappear completely’ (as the sun in a total eclipse) (Walter Liefeld, Luke, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 8, Frank E. Gaebelein, ed. [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984], p. 1029). The clear reading of this passage and the context of the proceeding events shows Jesus’ prayer was quickly answered since even though Peter was tested resulting in him denying Christ three times later that night in Luke 22:54-62, Peter turned back to Christ in Luke 24:12 at the empty tomb after seeing Christ’s body gone. His faith was tested but still alive and did not give out – he turned back to Christ and professed his faith to Christ in John 21:15-17 after the resurrection. That is what Christ was talking about in Luke 22:32 when He prayed Peter’s faith would not fail. To read in the later Romish doctrine of papal infallibility and papal primacy is to go beyond that which is evident from the context. Commenting on this point, Reformed scholar Keith Mathison states,
"Jesus prays that Peter’s faith will not fail during the temptation that is about to come that very night. There is absolutely nothing explicit or implicit in the text concerning the faith of potential successors of Peter. Nor is there anything in the text even remotely suggesting that Jesus’ prayer involved the bestowal of any gift of infallibility upon either Peter or any successors. A prayer that Peter’s faith will not fail in a specific coming test simply does not entail infallibility" (Keith Mathison, The Shape of Sola Scriptura, [Canon Press, 2011], p. 192).
With regard to how the early church writers interpreted Luke 22:32’s statement that Peter’s faith would not fail and that Peter was to strengthen his brothers, Brian Tierney notes:
"The scriptural text most commonly cited in favor of papal infallibility is Luke 22.32. There is no lack of patristic commentary on the text. None of the Fathers interpreted it as meaning that Peter’s successors were infallible" (Brian Tierney, Origins of Papal Infallibility, [Leiden: Brill, 1972], p. 11).
With this in mind it must be asked: if Luke 22:32 shows that Peter’s successors were infallible, why didn’t any of the church fathers interpret it as such?

With respect to point two, Luke 22:32’s statement “strengthen your brothers” or “confirm your brothers” does not prove Peter had papal primacy as the leader of the church. The word “strengthen” or “confirm” in Luke 22:32 is stērizō in the original Greek. However, when one does a word study it becomes clear it does not prove Peter was infallible leader of the church since others besides Peter in the New Testament stērizō the flock. The same word is used in Acts 18:23 of the Apostle Paul strengthening the disciples of Jesus in Galatia and Phrygia. Does that make Paul the pope with a papal primacy? The word is used in Romans 1:11 of Paul strengthening the Christians in Rome. The word is also used in 1 Thessalonians 3:2 of Timothy strengthening the Thessalonians. Does that make Timothy the pope? The word is also used in Acts 15:32 of Judas and Silas strengthening the Christians in Antioch. When the same word is used in Acts 14:22 it is in reference to comforting strength: “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” This is the sense in Luke 22:32 as well. 

As William Hendriksen correctly observed,

". . .considered in and by itself, Simon's fall was bad, very bad, tragic. Yet, once it had occurred, Simon must make good use of this bad fall. He must use it to strengthen his fellow disciples" (William Hendriksen, Luke, New Testament Commentary, [Baker Book House, 1978], p. 974).

As opposed to advancing papal primacy or Peter being leader of the church, Peter strengthening the brothers must be taken in a comforting sense since Peter could relate to trials, tribulations, temptations and tests and so was in a good position to help others who go through those same experiences. That is the emphasis of Jesus commanding Peter to strengthen the brothers. Papalism is just not in view at all.

Open Roman Catholic authorities will readily admit that neither Luke 22:32, the verse in question, nor John 21:15-17 and Matthew 16:18 teach papal infallibility. Romanist author and Professor Richard P. McBrien denied that “our modern concept of infallibility appears precisely . . . in the New Testament” (Richard P. McBrien, Catholicism: Completely Revised & Updated, [HarperCollins, 1994], p. 761).

No comments:

Post a Comment