The Papacy

Keys of the Kingdom

In this short dialogue, Mark Bonocore educates James White on the finer points of patristics and the keys of St. Peter. White asks in blue. Mark answers in black.

I've asked Gerry Matatics and others this question, and never gotten an answer: can you name anyone in the first 1000 years of church history who presented the argument you do from Isaiah 22?

Sure.   What about St. John Cassian (c. 362-435), who writes:

"O Peter, Prince of Apostles, it is just that you should teach us, since you were yourself taught by the Lord; and also that you should open to us the gate of which you have received the Key (singular).  Keep out all those who are undermining the heavenly House; turn away those who are trying to enter through false caverns and unlawful gates since it is certain that no one can enter in at the gate of the Kingdom except the one unto whom the Key (singular), placed by you in the churches, shall open it."  (John Cassian, Book III, Chap 12, Against the Nestorians on the Incarnation)

Compare this to Isaiah 22, which reads:  

"On that day I shall summon my servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah.  ...I will place the Key of the House of David on his shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, and when he shuts, no one shall open."

Cassian is clearly drawing from Isaiah 22, and applying it to Matt 16.  

I believe the reason we don't see Isaiah 22 used more extensively is that it's rooted in a sense of Jewish national identity.   And, since most of the fathers were Gentiles, it's not surprising that they see the Keys of Matt 16 referring to authority in a more generic sense (which is equally valid).   However, we do see the Kingly, Davidic aspect of the Keys alluded to more often in the Semetic-speaking branches of the Church.   For example, Aphraates the Sage (c. 330 A.D.), one of the oldest fathers of the Syrian Church, says ... "David handed over the Kingdom to Solomon and was gathered to his people; and Jesus handed over the Keys to Simon and ascended and returned to Him Who sent Him." (Aphraates, xxi, 13).  

Also, St. Ephraem the Syrian (c. 350) writes ...

"Then Peter deservedly received the Vicariate of Christ over His people." (Ephraem, Sermon de Martyrio.  SS.  App. Petri et Pauli).  

Can you explain why Jesus says "keys" while Isaiah says "key"? 

Sure.  :-)

Firstly, it is well known that Matthew (unlike Mark or Luke) has a preference for the plural (e.g. Matt 4:3; 8:26; 12:46; 15:36).   Also, in Matt 16, we are dealing with a Heaven-earth relationship, rather than a mere earthly kingdom (as in Isaiah 22).   Thus, Peter holds two keys:  one Heavenly and one earthly, since his Master is a two-fold King:  both the earthly successor to David and the eternal King of Heaven.  Another possibility is that the "keys" (plural) in Matt 16 refer to Christ's  juxtaposition of the "Kingdom of Heaven" vs. the "gates of hell."   We also see this in St. Ephraem the Syrian, who writes:   

"Thee, O Simon Peter, will I proclaim the blessed, who holds the Keys which the Spirit made.  A great and ineffable word that he binds and loosens those in Heaven and those under the earth ..."  (Ephraem, Asseman. Bibl. Orient. t. i. p. 95) in Colin Lindsay, Evidence for the Papacy, (London: Longmans, 1870), 31.  

There is also a possibility that the "keys" (plural) in Matt 16 imply that Peter would succeed to the office of prime minister for the **united** Kingdom of Israel under Jesus.   As any student of Scripture knows, the Kingdom of David and Solomon split into two during the reign of Solomon's son Rehoboam.   At this point, there existed two Israelite Kingdoms (north and south), each with its own king; and each king had a prime minister or "major domo" (see: 1 Kings 16:9, 18:3 vs. 2 Kings 15:5 which refer to the prime minister of northern Israel vs. the prime minister of Judah in the south).   However, in the reign of Jesus, the northern Israelites (the Samaritans) are called back into the unity of the Messanic Kingdom (e.g. John 4:21-42, Acts 8:4-17, etc.).  And so, if the "key" (singular) was the symbol of authority for both the prime minister of Judah in the south and the prime minister of Israel / Samaria in the north (i.e., each official possessed one key), then it may very well be that Peter is given the keys (plural) for both these kingdoms, north and south, to show that the true Israel (the Church) is now one, united Kingdom under Jesus the Messiah.  

Can you cite any biblical evidence that the key of the house of David is, in fact, identical with the keys of the kingdom of heaven?  Can you cite any patristic interpretation in support of your position?

With pleasure, James.  :-)  I recall that, in your Boston College debate against Sungenis and Butler, you claimed that Matt 16 is merely about the identity of Jesus.   You said that any references to the Church or to a Pope, etc. were distractions from the intended purpose of the passage.    Well, that's a pretty two-dimensional exegesis, if you ask me.   Matt 16 is not merely about the identity of Jesus.   Rather, it is about who the people say that Jesus is.  

In Matt 16:13, Jesus asks "Who do the people say that I am?"   These are the people of Israel, who do not know that He is their King.

Jesus then asks His disciples (His "royal entourage," if you will):  "Who do you say that I am?"    And, in reply, Peter speaks up and confesses that Jesus is the Messiah: the promised successor to David -- the King of Israel !

Thus, Jesus makes Peter the prime minister of that remnant of Israel which will believe in Him: the Church.    Here, we must note that the Greek word for "Church" ("Ekklesia") means "those who are called out."   Thus, "the Church" will comprise those members of Israel who will accept Jesus as their Messiah/King.  This will be Jesus' House of David.    And, within that House, Peter holds the prime minister's Keys (e.g. Isaiah 22).  

As for patristic support, look again to Cassian & Aphraates above.   Yet, can you provide any patristic evidence saying that Matt 16:19 does not refer to Isaiah 22?   

Interestingly enough, the Messianic Jew, David H. Stern --who actually attended classes at Fuller Theological Seminary (as opposed to taking their correspondance course, like some others we know ;-) provides abundant evidence that King Hezekiah (the King of Isaiah 22) was seen as a prefigurement of the Messiah by 1st Century Jews [David Stern, The Jewish New Testament Commentary, 1992].     

See what you miss when you skip class?  ;-)

You wrote:  "Now, while it is true that, in Matt 18:18, Jesus bestows a similar authority to "bind and loosen" upon all of the Apostles collectively, it is to Peter alone that Christ entrusts "the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven." So, what are these Keys? What are they suppose to signify?"      When, specifically, did Christ bestow the keys ALONE to Peter?  The Greek verb in Matthew 16 is future in tense.  Hence, if this does not take place in Matthew 18:18, when does it?  And, can you cite patristic foundation for saying the keys differ in authority and meaning from the power of binding and loosing?

:-)   First of all, the way you pose the question is shamefully deceptive, and based on an incorrect understanding of the Greek.   In comparing Matt 16:19 and 18:18, the "bind/loose" statements are each arranged in two couplets.  The first verb in the couplet is an active aorist and the second is a perfect passive participle which is best translated into English as a passive future perfect.  Thus, the verses literally say "Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in Heaven."  The obvious meaning of the Matt 16:19 &18:18 statements is that whatever the Apostles (and their successors) bind upon the faithful (i.e., faith or morals) will not be their own teaching but what has already been bound upon the Church by God in eternity.   So, I am overwhelmed by your misuse of the Greek.

Yet, to entertain your challenge, ...    Peter officially received the "Keys" of the Kingdom upon Jesus' Ascension into Heaven.    For example, in Acts 1:15-23, immediately after Jesus' Ascension, yet before the coming of the Holy Spirit, Peter takes charge of the infant Church and initiates the election for Judas' successor.   Here, one cannot deny that Peter is acting as an organizer and unifier for the Church; and that he gives "spiritual nourishment" to the assembly by authoritatively interpreting the Psalms (Acts 1:20) --Psalms which say nothing about Judas or about their Apostolic mission.   Thus, Peter is exhibiting a teaching authority which is independent of the OT Scriptures; and he does this before the Holy Spirit has supplied the Church with the charism to teach (Acts 1:8; 1 Corinth 12:7-11).  

So, Peter's primal authority (symbolized by the Keys) is manifested from the time of Jesus' Ascension onward.   Just like the OT prime minister of the Kingdom, Peter can only act with the King's authority in the King's physical absence.

...And the same is true for Matt 18:18, which is about the Church's authority to excommunicate.    Do you think that Jesus intended the Church to use this authority while He was still on earth?   If so, please produce an example of the Apostles excommunicating someone while Jesus was still among them.   Would that not, rather, be Jesus' decision?  

As for your problem with Peter alone receiving the Keys, in relation to Matt 18:18, ....  I pointed out the following in my debate with Mr. Engwer:  

"Mr. Engwer attacks the idea that Peter alone was given the Keys of the Kingdom by asserting that the Apostles' collective authority to "bind and loosen" (Matt 18:18) is part of the same imagery as "the Keys."   Indeed, Engwer asks, 'How can they bind and loosen unless they hold the keys'?   He then goes on to speak of the collective authority to  "bind and loosen" exercised by the "key-holding" Jewish authorities in Luke 11:52 & Matt 23:1-3; and claims that Peter's possession of the Keys does not make him the Pope.   Well, here Engwer is blinded by his anti-Papal prejudices, which lead him to see the Pope as some dictatorial force set over the Church, rather than being an organic part of the Church itself.   Yes.  Like the Jewish authorities, the Church collectively holds the Keys, in that Peter is part of this Church and acts along with it.   Yet, the Church does not possess the Keys independently of Peter.   It cannot "bind and loosen" to the exclusion of him --just as the Jewish authorities could not "bind and loosen" to the exclusion of the High Priest, who was the final arbiter of their authority (John 11:49-51 & Acts 23:3-5)."  

Furthermore, ....   Look again at Isaiah 22's reference to the prime minister's authority: ...I will place the Key of the House of David on his shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, and when he shuts, no one shall open ."

This assumes that there are others who can "open and shut" (i.e., other royal ministers with authority).   Yet, when the prime minister "opens and shuts," that's it.   None of the other ministers can oppose his decision.   Why?  Because the prime minister holds the Key of the King's authority.  

And so it is with the Apostles.   In Matt 18:18, the Apostles (i.e., Christ's "royal ministers") are each given the authority to bind and loosen.   Yet, Peter alone (the prime minister) holds the Key.   Thus, he is the final authority among the ministers; and they cannot "bind & loosen" to the exclusion of him.  

Why is there no citation of the only place in the NT where Isaiah 22 is actually cited (Revelation 3:7) in your presentation?  I have found this a regular omission by RC apologists in presenting this unique argument.

Oh?  :-)   Well, as I also pointed out in my debate with Engwer, ...  

"Mr. Engwer also says that Jesus Himself holds the Key of David in Rev 3:7.   Well, of course!   Just as Jesus remains the true Shepherd (in Heaven) while Peter is merely the vicarious shepherd (on earth), Jesus never relinquishes total authority.   Rather, He merely delegates it to Peter, His servant.   This is exactly the situation in Isaiah 22, where Eliachim holds the key for King Hezekiah.   Yet, Hezekiah still ultimately holds the key.     Thus, we're not dealing with an "either-or" situation, but a "both-and" situation.   And, if you interpret Rev 3:7 any other way, then you are demoting Jesus from King to prime minister."

So, do you subscribe to an "either-or" interpretation, James?   :-)   Well, if so, then how do you reconcile Rev 3:7's unmistakable use of Isaiah 22 with the Kingship of Christ?  The person who possesses the Key in Isaiah 22 is not  the King, but the prime minister.   Thus, is St. John saying that Jesus is merely the prime minister????  :-)  

Furthermore, you do realize that we're not taking about physical keys here, right?   :-)   

Rather, this "Key" is merely a metaphor for "authority."   Thus, when Jesus gives the Key (or Keys) to Peter, it does not mean that Christ Himself no longer possess them.   For example, if I hold the title of ownership to my car, yet allow you to drive it as my chauffeur, it's still my car.  I still possess it.   You are just driving it for me.   Thus, Jesus' possession of the Key in Rev 3:7 does not mean that He is without a prime minister on earth.   Such an interpretation would assume that, in giving the Keys to Peter, Jesus no longer possessed them Himself for a time; yet now somehow has them back in Rev 3:7.    

Well, if that's what you think, please show me where the Scriptures depict Peter relinquishing the Keys of Matt 16 or returning them to Jesus.  

And, indeed, James, I'm a bit puzzled about your own position on this issue, since you attack our interpretation without seeming to have an established interpretation of your own.  For example, ...

You imply that ....A) The "Key" of Isaiah 22 is not the same thing as the "Keys" of Matt 16, whereas Jesus Himself possesses the Key of Isaiah 22 in Rev 3:7.  

Well, if that's the case, then Jesus is merely a prime minister, or His own prime minister, since Rev 3:7 is a direct reference to Isaiah 22, which speaks about the prime minister, and not the King.   But, in any event, you are clearly saying that Jesus alone holds authority and does not delegate it to anyone else.  

Yet, you also imply ...

B) The power to "bind & loosen" in Matt 18:18 is the same thing as the Keys in Matt 16, and thus the Keys are shared equally by all the Apostles.  

Yet, if "A" is correct, then neither Peter nor the Apostles (nor the Church) hold authoritative Keys or the power to bind and loosen, since 1) these Keys do not refer to the delegation of Christ's authority (per Isaiah 22) and 2) Jesus Himself holds the exclusive authority to "bind and loosen" represented by the Key of Rev 3:7 (which is the Key of Isaiah 22).   And so, if Jesus alone holds this authority, He doesn't have any earthly representative(s); and thus Matt 16 & Matt 18 are empty, ephemeral promises which have no significance for us today.  

So, which is it?   :-)  You can only hold to one or the other.   Either we Catholics are confusing the Apostles' collective authority and foolishly applying it to Peter alone, or there is no bestowed authority, since Christ Himself possesses it exclusively (i.e., Rev 3:7).   So, which is our error, James?   It cannot be both.    

Mark Bonocore
The Catholic Legate
December 24, 2004