The Papacy in Scripture - No Rocks Required

March 7, 2014 | 19 comments

In an earlier blog post, I made the point that the role of St. Peter and his successors is made remarkably clear in Matthew 16:18-19 and its immediate context:

And I tell you, you are Peter (Gr.—petros—‘rock’), and on this rock (Gr.—petra‘rock’) I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Jesus here promises infallible authority to Peter that would empower him to speak in the place of Christ, or as his vicar on earth. Catholics believe just what the text says. When St. Peter (and his successors) “binds” something on earth, it is “bound” in heaven. That’s infallible authority with the power of heaven to back it up!

Among the comments responding to my post, there was one I get fairly regularly when the topic of Matt. 16:18-19 as it relates to the Papacy comes up. The commenter said:

... from this one verse, Matt. 16:18, which is read and interpreted out of context, the Catholic church claims that Peter is the rock on which Christ's church is to be built.

My first thought in response to an objection like this is always, "How many times does God have to tell you something before you will believe and obey it?” After all, Jesus only gave us the proper form for baptism one time in Matthew 28:19, and yet all Christians believe it to be the proper form nonetheless.

Nevertheless, I do think this is a valid question that deserves an answer: Is Matthew 16 the only text that demonstrates the truth of the papacy in Scripture? 

The answer is a resounding no!

The List Goes On And On

Below is a list of biblical texts all related to the primacy of St. Peter and the Papacy. Word count limitations prevent me from quoting all of them; you'll have to do some homework and look up some of these texts yourself. But when you do, you’ll notice there is not a single “rock” to be found among them.

And this is anything  but an exhaustive list. There are many more biblical texts we could take a look at. Consider this my top 10 list: 

  1. Matt. 14:23-27: St. Peter is uniquely empowered by Jesus to walk on water, and when his faith begins to falter, our Lord does not allow him to go under. This is a prelude to Jesus promising to give his authority that can never fail to Peter in Matt. 16.  The gift of the papacy is here assured not to depend upon the person of St. Peter or of his successors, but on the promise and power of Christ.

  2. Matt. 17:24-27: After receiving the promise of authority in Matt. 16, St. Peter is once again given supernatural power to provide for both himself and Jesus when the first-century equivalent of the I.R.S. comes calling! Peter acts as Christ’s “vicar” or in the place of Jesus in miraculous fashion guaranteed by Jesus not to fail.

  3. Luke 5:1-10: The multitudes that gather to hear Jesus at the shore of Lake Gennesaret, press in on him so that he has to step off shore into one of two boats that are there docked. The boat he steps into just happens to be Peter’s boat. Hmmmm. Jesus then proclaims the gospel from the barque of Peter (5:1-3)! Sound familiar? Then, Jesus tells Peter to put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch. Can you imagine the people present? They must have been thinking that Jesus was nuts! Multitudes have to just stand there and watch St. Peter go fishing? St. Peter then says, “We have toiled all night and caught nothing” (vs. 5), yet he lets down the nets at the command of Jesus. When they catch so many fish they need to bring out the other boat to haul in the load, Peter realizes that Jesus is calling him to more than catching catfish! Fish are metaphors for Christians. Peter says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man” (vs.8)! Jesus responds, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” St. Peter receives a unique and singular calling from Christ to be the fisher of men. And once again, Peter receives supernatural power that cannot fail to fulfill his unique calling.

  4. Luke 22:24-32: In this text, Jesus teaches the apostles the true nature of authority, especially in verses 24-28. True authority in the New Covenant is commanded to be servant of all. He will speak with infallible authority just as Christ did, but he must also wash the feet of his brothers just as Christ did. In this context, Jesus said to the apostles:

    [A]s my Father appointed a kingdom for me, so do I appoint for you that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you (Gr.—humas, plural—“you all”), that he might sift you (Gr.—plural again) like wheat, but I have prayed for you (Gr.—sou, singular—Peter alone) that your faith (Gr.—singular again) may not fail; and when you (Gr.—singular) have turned again, strengthen your brethren.

    In the context of committing his kingdom authority to the apostles to govern the church (the “Israel of God”—see Gal. 6:16), Jesus especially prays for Peter so that he may be the source of strength and unity for the rest of the apostles. If the apostles want to be protected from the devil’s attempts to divide and destroy them and the church, they must be in communion with Peter. And notice, Jesus says specifically to Peter, that, literally from the Greek text, "the faith of you [Peter] will not fail." This is precisely what the Catholic Church has been teaching for 2,000 years!

  5. John 10:16: Jesus prophesied:

    And I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, and one shepherd (emphasis added).

    Who is this prophetic shepherd?  The answer seems simple. And on one level it is. Jesus declared himself to be “the good shepherd” (Gr.—poimein—“shepherd” or “pastor”) in John 10:14. Jesus is the shepherd. Yet, if we dig deeper into the text we discover another meaning as well. In the context of prophesying about this “one flock” and “one shepherd,” Jesus says he must gather “other sheep” referring to the gentiles. Who does our Lord use as the shepherd to bring this prophecy to pass? The answer is found in our next two texts.

  6. John 21:1-17: Here, we find another example of Jesus aiding the fishing of the apostles who “caught nothing” all night long (vs. 3). At the command of Jesus they let down their nets and catch an astonishing 153 “large fish” (vs. 11). When Jesus commands the net to be hauled ashore, St. Peter heaves the entire net of fish to shore by himself. No man can lift that size of a catch out of the water and on to the shore by himself. If you take these words literally to mean Peter actually did this, it seems Peter was given supernatural strength to do what no man could naturally accomplish. Fish are symbols representing the faithful (recall Luke 5:8-10). And the symbol of “the net” is used elsewhere in the New Testament for the Church (see Matt. 13:47). Not only is Peter’s ability to carry these fish (all the faithful) a miracle, but the fact that the “net” is not broken is also extraordinary. The message seems to be that the Church Jesus establishes containing all of God's faithful with Peter packing the power will never be destroyed!

    It is in this context that Jesus then asks St. Peter three times, “Do you love me... Do you love me... Do you love me?” When Peter responds in the affirmative the second time, Jesus responds by commanding Peter to “tend (Gr. poimaine—'shepherd') my sheep” (vs. 16). Jesus the shepherd here commissions Peter to be the prophetic shepherd of John 10:16 to shepherd the entire people of God! How many of the sheep belong to Jesus? All of them. How many of his sheep did Jesus give to St. Peter to shepherd? All of them.

  7. Acts 1:15-26: As a matter of historical record, St. Peter takes the helm of the Church and gives an infallible interpretation of Psalm 69:26 and 109:8 in choosing a successor for Judas.

  8. Acts 10:1-48:

    In this chapter from the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus personally sees to the fulfillment of the prophecy of John 10:16. He appears to St. Peter and commands him to bring the gospel to the gentiles by way of Cornelius, the centurion. When Peter then “commanded [Cornelius and his household] to be baptized” in Acts 10:48, the prophecy of John 10:16 was fulfilled. There was now one fold and one shepherd for Jews and Gentiles. That ministry has continued to this day in the successors of St. Peter, the bishops of Rome.

  9. In Acts 15: 1-12, the ministry of St. Peter as “the shepherd” of the Universal Church continues. When there was a heresy spreading in the church at Antioch (and elsewhere) so widespread and problematic that Paul and Barnabas could not quell the resulting confusion, the church there decided to “go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question” (vs. 1-2). The question concerned salvation and the Old Covenant law in relation to the gospel. Some among “believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up, and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise…and…to keep the law of Moses’ (vs. 5) or else you ‘cannot be saved’” (vs. 1). In particular, they spoke of the gentiles who were converting to Christ, but the same would apply to all. The real question was: Are Christians saved by the grace of Christ in the New Covenant or must they obey the Old Covenant as well for salvation? The first Church Council (of Jerusalem) was convened and the theological question was put to rest by the pronouncement of St. Peter. When everyone was arguing, St. Peter arose and declared the truth on the matter and then, to translate the text below in modern parlance, everyone shut up! The matter was settled by the “one shepherd” given to the Church as a source of unity and authority:

    The apostles and elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter rose and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice…that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe…we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” And all the assembly kept silence… (Vs. 6-12, emphasis added)

  10. Matt. 10:2: In the context of the calling and listing of the twelve apostles, Peter is referred to as "the first" apostle. We know this does not mean "first" chronologically because Peter was not the first called by Christ in time—Andrew was (see John 1:40-41). The Greek word, protos—“first”—often denotes a sense of preeminence, or even a primacy in authority, not necessarily simply being "first" in time. It can be translated as “chief.” For example, St. Paul says of himself:

    The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost (Gr.—protos) of sinners.

    Moreover, Christ is referred to as prototokos, or “first-begotten” in Col. 1:15. Here St. Paul teaches us about Christ’s eternal generation, which has been accomplished outside of time. He is; therefore, the creator and the one who has preeminence over all things, according to the text. Colossians 1:15-18 reads: "[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the first-born (Gr.—prototokos) of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth…He is before all things…He is the head of the body, the church…that in everything he might be pre-eminent (Gr.—proteuon, a verb with the same root as protos and prototokos)." In a notably direct and overt manner, by referring to St. Peter as the “first” apostle, St. Matthew presents the first Bishop of Rome just as we see him represented in the rest of the New Testament; he is revealed to be "chief" of the apostles, or to have a primacy of authority over all the apostles and, by extension, over the entire church.


Tim Staples is Director of Apologetics and Evangelization here at Catholic Answers, but he was not always Catholic. Tim was raised a Southern Baptist. Although he fell away from the faith of his childhood, Tim came back to faith in Christ during his late teen years through the witness of Christian...

Comments by Members

#1  Denise Gradwell - Tampa, Florida

Matthew 16:18 NIV
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.

March 7, 2014 at 2:36 pm PST
#2  don lipps - cincinnati, Ohio

Here are 2 more scriptures and their reasoning that I like.
Go to the 22nd chapter of Isaiah. Shebna was steward of the house of Hezekiah king of Judah and a member of the kingly court with significant influence. He was found by God to be a corrupt and self-serving steward. God tells Isaiah to prophesy to Shebna that the authority he has will be taken away from him and given to Eliakim. “…and I will clothe him [Eliakim] with your rob, and will bind your belt on him and will commit your authority to his hand.” (22:21 RSV-CE) This transfer of authority is symbolized by a key. “And I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; he shall open and none shall shut; he shall shut and none shall open” (22:22 RSV-CE). Keys, a sign of authority, were large and cumbersome in Old Testament times and were usually hung over the shoulder and were a means to identify who the steward of the house was. Having received the key to the house of David, Eliakim will have full and complete authority over the household. His decisions will be final. There will be no one who has authority to change his decisions.
In the Book of Revelation we find the angel making a direct reference to Jesus with this verse. You may remember that the Book of Revelation begins with Jesus sending an angel with a message to various Churches. To the Church in Philadelphia Jesus has the angel say “The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one shall shut, who shuts and no one opens….” (Rev 3:7 RSV-CE). Jesus uses the very same language and images of the key. Just as in Isaiah, there is no one who can undo an act of Jesus. Once Jesus has opened it is opened or once it is closed it is closed. This is important because it is the mission of Jesus to open heaven to the souls of the just. But that would have little meaning if one could come later and then close what Jesus had opened.
Next we turn to a scene in the Gospel of Matthew where the image of the key is significant. Peter has declared that Jesus is the “…the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” (Mt 16:16 RSV-CE). Jesus next makes this startling statement “And I tell you, you are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church……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.”( Mt 16: 18-19 RSV-CE).

March 7, 2014 at 4:39 pm PST
#3  Noé Garcia - Alexandria, Virginia

>"There are many more biblical texts we could take a look at. Consider this my top 10 list"

In your years of apologetics, do you have just a list of ALL the verses you'd use? no problem with just the verses without reasoning included. Thanks!

March 7, 2014 at 6:12 pm PST
#4  Fr John Cummings - Reynolds, Indiana

Correction: 10. Matt. 10:2: In the context of the calling and listing of the twelve apostles, Jesus [Peter?] is referred to as "the first" apostle.

March 8, 2014 at 3:16 am PST
#5  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

In my CD set entitled, "The Shocking Truth About the Pope and the Bible," I go through all of the biblical texts relating to Peter. I may have missed a few, but I go through ton of them. I recommend you check it out. You won't be disappointed. You can get it right here at at the shop site.

March 8, 2014 at 7:08 pm PST
#6  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Fr. Cummings,
Good catch! I just corrected the mistake. Thanks!

March 8, 2014 at 7:09 pm PST
#7  Carmela Powell - DENTON, Maryland

I just love you, Tim. I have learned a TON on CAL!
However, I am not seeing where Jesus GOT BACK OUT of the boat before Peter caught the fish...just wondering?

March 9, 2014 at 11:44 am PST
#8  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger


That is another good catch. You are right. Jesus was in the boat with him. I made the correction. Thanks!


March 9, 2014 at 4:11 pm PST
#9  Carmela Powell - DENTON, Maryland

Just trying to keep ya humble, Tim! Thanks a bunch for ALL your Catholic Answers!! I look forward to my trip to the gym everyday to listen to my podcasts!

March 11, 2014 at 1:02 pm PST
#10  Benjamin Thomas - Swansboro, North Carolina

I'm not sure how anyone could read Acts 15 and not realized Peter's place (and his successors')

March 11, 2014 at 5:13 pm PST
#11  paul pineda - bakersfield, California

And may I add the passage in Mark 16: 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Even an angel now calls Simon by the name given Him by Jesus...Peter/Cephas/Rock....and he is the only apostle named in particular. There is a significance, I think, in the angel using the name meant Peter's repentance was truly from the heart in his denial of Jesus, and an affirms Peter's coming role to build the Church.

March 12, 2014 at 2:15 pm PST
#12  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Hey Paul,

You inspired me to write a more complete version of this post on my own blog at It's up now and it's called "The Papacy in Scripture - More Than Matthew 16." I present my "top 18" verses and more.

March 25, 2014 at 10:18 pm PST
#13  paul pineda - bakersfield, California

Thanks, Tim. I just checked your blog. I will reference your blog, if you do not mind, to others seeking questions about the Catholic Church.

March 28, 2014 at 12:06 pm PST
#14  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

By all means, Paul!

March 28, 2014 at 4:54 pm PST
#15  Seokwon Chung - Tempe, Arizona

Dr. Staples.

This post almost got me tears. I got so mad the fact that no one told me when I was growing up as a Catholic in Korea.

Today is the feast day of St. Augustine of Hippo. And he argued that the significance lay in the fact that 153 is the sum of the first 17 integers (i.e. 153 is the 17th triangular number), with 17 representing the combination of divine grace (the 7 gifts of the Spirit) and law (the Ten Commandments). But I don't know whether we have a church's official understanding of this miraculous number. If there is, I'd like to know! But weirdly today when I saw a picture of a net and fish my father caught that was sent by him from Korea, I made this observation, so check it out if it makes sense. Thanks.

Miraculous catch of 153 fish

#33(the age of Jesus)+120(the # of disciples at the pentecost)=153

a)33 = The age of Jesus, His real eternal living presence, the head of the boat(=the Church)
b)120 = 120 disciples at the Pentecost, the body of the church, fishers of men
c)153 = The Church that is consist of the head which is Christ and the Body which is 12x10 disciples at the Pentecost.

Christ's message through this number: "Always remember this number. And see how powerful you really are with Me. The job of this new awesome boat which is the Church is to save souls not fish. Don't go back to your old style. As this number shows, I'll be with y'all till the end of the age(Mt. 28.20)."

August 28, 2014 at 6:07 pm PST
#16  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Hey Seokwan,

The Church has never given us anything definitive here so it is certainly okay to speculate.

September 1, 2014 at 9:12 am PST
#17  Seokwon Chung - Tempe, Arizona

Response to #16

Oh, I see. And I think speculations from those who do both sitting and kneeling theology are necessary to make a doctrine. Otherwise, there will be no progress. In science, in order to know the presented theory is correct, we should go through the experiment to test it. Then, we can have better confidence and trust the theory since it's proved by the experiment. So, I'm curious what kind of process do we go through in the Catholic Church nowadays when theologians present their works? Do we make some progress in biblical and systematic theology in the 21st century? Obviously to make a council to test the theory is too much work. Thanks.

September 2, 2014 at 7:07 am PST
#18  Seokwon Chung - Tempe, Arizona

2nd Response to #16

: I absolutely trust your 10 bible verses up there. They make so sense and seem totally to support the papacy, but at the same time I'm wondering which saints or theologians have formulated this so that all Catholics could believe this. When we want to know which bible verses support some Catholic claims, as a lay person where should we go to except the CCC? It's hard to find and I feel hesistant whether I should trust this or not. The vatican website doesn't really satisfy the thirst of Catholics, so is there any official books that do this function and have been approved by the Church ? Thanks.

September 11, 2014 at 4:36 pm PST
#19  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

There is a lot of freedom in the Church to employ biblical texts to support our doctrines. I like to first see if the Catechism uses a particular text, but I then go to my Verbum software and see how the Fathers and Doctors of the Church use it, the Councils, and other Papal documents. Then, I check some of my favorite Catholic commentaries and the Catholic Encyclopedia, as well as other Catholic authors that I have read over the years. You don't have to do all of this, obviously, but there are lots of places you can go to check and see how a particular passages has been used in the Church.

September 14, 2014 at 7:06 pm PST

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