by John Windsor
This set me thinking again about the differences between Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy regarding the Papal claims. As my background is in the Greek New Testament, I once more began pondering some of the New Testament texts that relate to this controversy.
Prominent among these is Jesus' dialogue with Peter and the other disciples at Caesarea Philippi in Matthew 16:13-20. In all three of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), this event represents the culmination of the Galilean ministry, after which Jesus reveals that He must suffer, be put to death, and rise again.
Central to this dialogue is Peter's declaration about Jesus: "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Had Peter not uttered this confession, Jesus would not have proceeded as He did in the rest of the passage. It should come as no surprise that John includes virtually the same confession at the end of his Gospel (20:31), for this statement constitutes the foundation of the Church, the Rock upon which She is built.
In replying to Peter, Jesus calls him a PETROS, a stone capable of being thrown; but His Church is built upon the PETRA, the foundation slab. One sinner cannot be the foundation upon which the Church is built. Not even an Apostle is infallible. Peter, as we all know, denied Jesus three times, and was later rebuked by Paul at Antioch (Galatians 2:11-14) for being complicit in the Judaizing heresy — in practice if not actually in teaching. Infallibility inheres only in Christ and in His Body, the Church.
Of equal interest is Jesus' statement about "binding" and "loosing," a staple of the Papal argument. One salient point rarely mentioned here is that with regard to both acts, Jesus employs the future perfect tense. This is crucial to note because the future perfect is extremely rare in New Testament Greek (it's actually quite rare in English, for that matter). Had Jesus wanted to tell Peter that his actions on earth would dictate what would happen "in heaven," the simple future tense — a much more common tense — would have worked beautifully. But this is not what Matthew writes. Instead, we have "shall be having been bound / loosed."
Complicating this even further is the fact that in Greek, the future can have an IMPERATIVE force. In other words, this statement can be construed as a COMMAND. And this is how a little-known translation called the Williams New Testament renders it: "...must be what is already forbidden / allowed." In other words, Peter cannot do anything he pleases, but must obey the will of God.
Some of this material gets repeated in Matthew 18:15-20, especially the "binding" and "loosing" — and here it gets very interesting. In 18:18, the very same future perfect tense is employed, but in this passage, the pronoun YOU is PLURAL — ALL of the future Apostles are included, not merely Peter. And, as if that were not enough, the following verses serve to reinforce the principle of collegiality: "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them." [NIV]
It is sometimes objected that these dialogues would have taken place in Aramaic. That they would have is almost certainly true. However, the biblical text has come down to us in Greek, not in Aramaic. Presumably, God has a reason for that being so. There has been speculation that Matthew was originally written in Aramaic, but there is no hard evidence to support that contention. If Matthew relied on Mark for the core of his Gospel — a position held by most modern scholars — this hypothesis becomes even less likely, as Mark's Gospel was very likely written to the Roman church (ironically), and until the early third century AD, the Roman church used Greek. Consequently, based upon the available evidence, Matthew's Gospel contains several stern and stunning rebukes to the doctrines of Papal infallibility and Papal supremacy.
John Windsor is a lay theologian. He holds a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree and is currently working on a Master of Orthodox Theology through the St. Stephen's program. Mr. Windsor is a convert to Orthodoxy and attends St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church. He has studied New Testament Greek for 40 years.
1 I believe a large majority of Catholics would hold this as wrong. Anecdotally, my uncle, who has been a de facto Catholic for over 50 years, has never once heard any Catholic express this sentiment, though I suppose there are some like this out there! —Ed.