Where does the Bible support the authority of the papacy?
The passages that support papal authority all center on Peter. This is because Peter was the first pope of the Church, and every pope who comes after him receives the same power and authority that Peter first held. I don’t have room to provide each passage, so you’ll have to look them up as we go along.
The primary passage in support of papal authority is Mt 16:17-19. First, notice that Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter. This name comes from the Greek word petros, which means “Rock.” As vs. 18 tells us, Simon’s name was changed because he would be the rock upon which Jesus would build His Church. Verse 19 tells us that he who is the Rock of the Church will have the keys of the kingdom and the authority to bind and loose.
By referring to “keys” and to “binding” and “loosing,” Jesus is giving Peter the power of the steward in the Davidic kingdom. Under the Davidic kings, there was a steward or prime minister who was second in authority only to the king (cf. Gen 41:39-43; Esther 3:1-2). While the king was away, the steward had full command over the kingdom, an authority which was symbolized by a set of keys that only the steward possessed (cf. Isa 22:15,19-22). By referring to this position Jesus is telling us that, just as the steward had authority over the household of the king, Peter will have authority over the Church of Christ.
The “binding” and “loosing” is rabbinical language that refers to making disciplinary judgments, to binding people to certain punishments and loosing, or forgiving them of all penalties. As vs. 19 says, whatever Peter bounds or looses on earth will be bound or loosed in heaven. This means that Peter’s authoritative decisions receive ratification from above, from God!
Peter’s authority is seen in other passages as well. In Jn 21:15-19, Jesus gives Peter the task of “feeding” and “tending” Christ’s sheep. This task is Peter’s in a preeminent way, since Jesus singled Peter out from among the other apostles when He gave Peter this command. In Lk 22:31-32, Jesus tells the 12 apostles that Satan wishes to “sift them like wheat.” Jesus responds to this by praying for the faith of one of them: Peter. This shows the importance of Peter’s faith to the vitality and endurance of the Church. Finally, in Jn 14:16-17,26 and Jn 16:13, Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will guide Peter (the pope) and the apostles (the bishops) into all truth. This Counselor will be with them forever and teach them all things. In other words, there is God-given and God-protected authority to be found in the papacy and in the bishops in communion with him.
Much more can be said, but that should suffice as an introduction.
Peace of Christ to you,
WIMM Board Member
Director of Religious Education, Blessed Mother Catholic Church
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