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Catholicism vs. Protestantism:

Source of Authority and the Papacy

Volume I of the new edition of my Scripture Workbook is already available. It addresses the "Essentials of the Faith." For details on that book, see the Preview Page. I am currently working on Volume II. It will address "Controversial Theologies, Cultic Doctrines, and Ethics." One of the "controversial" issues being addressed is the difference between Catholicism and Evangelical Protestantism. This subject will be addressed in two successive studies. Below is an excerpt from the first part of the first study.

Catholicism vs. Protestantism

This Scripture Study will address the important differences between Catholicism and Evangelical Protestantism. The Catholic position will be presented first then the Protestant position. Following the "BUT" is the Protestant response to the Catholic position.

Note that a couple of points of difference have already been addressed. The Catholic view of salvation was addressed in Scripture Study #15 found in Volume I (pages 165-166). The Catholic views of baptism being necessary for salvation and infant baptism were addressed in the previous study.

Source of Authority

Catholic Viewpoint:

The source of authority for Christians is the Bible plus Catholic tradition plus the ex cathedra pronouncements of the pope.

Protestant Viewpoint:

The source of authority for Christians is the Bible alone (sola scriptura).

The authority of the pope will be addressed in the next section. Here the main question is if the Bible is sufficient in itself or if tradition needs to be added to it. The "tradition" referred to here is the teachings of Jesus and the apostles that was supposedly handed down orally but not written down, hereafter called "apostolic tradition."

Catholic Verses:

Matthew 28:19-20:

Jesus commanded the apostles in regards to their disciples, "teaching them to be observing all [things], as many as I commanded you*." It is clear that all of Jesus' teachings are not contained in the four canonical Gospels, so this command must include teachings found both in the Gospels and in the apostolic tradition.

John 20:30: 21:25:

Here the Apostle John specifically tells us that he has not recorded all of Jesus' words and deeds, so we need apostolic tradition to be added to the written record for the complete teachings of Jesus.

BUT:

In regards to both of these verses, John tells us in 20:31, "But these have been written so that you* shall believe [or, be convinced] that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and so that believing you* shall be having life in His name." So it would seem John believed the teachings of Jesus he recorded in his Gospel were sufficient for his readers. They did not need additional oral tradition.

2Thessalonians 3:6:

Paul refers to the "the handed down teaching [or, tradition] which they received from us." It was these oral traditions that his readers were to abide by. Similarly, we need apostolic tradition in addition to Scripture to know how to fully live for Christ.

BUT:

This verse is from one of Paul's earliest epistles and before most of the rest of the NT was written. Now that we have the completed NT we do not need to depend on oral traditions which cannot be verified as being truly apostolic and which may have changed over the centuries. Instead, we can trust fully in the reliable and unchanging written Word of God.

Protestant Verses:

Note that all of the verses listed in Scripture Study #1 in Volume I would be applicable here. Those verses show the Scriptures are wholly reliable and complete in themselves. But below is a discussion of a couple of the most pertinent of those verses in this regard.

2Timothy 3:16f:

This was one of Paul's last epistles. In it he declares that the Scriptures are "beneficial for teaching [or, doctrine], for verification [or, reproof], for correcting faults, for instruction in righteousness." He gives no hint that we need to look outside of the written Scriptures for any of these benefits. In fact, Paul declares that the Scriptures alone can make the believer "fully qualified" and "completely equipped."

2Peter 1:12-15; 3:1f:

In these verses, Peter says he is writing to his readers so that they will "be having at all times after my departure a remembrance of these [things]" (1:15). The things he wants them to remember is what he wrote in his first and now second epistles (3:1). So he refers them to what he has written not what he may have spoken.

In addition, the following verses demonstrate that oral traditions are not reliable and in fact can lead us astray: Matthew 15:1-9; Mark 7:1-13; Col 2:8; 1Peter 1:17-19. It is to the written Scriptures we must turn for God's direction for our lives (Isa 8:20).

Colossians 1:16:

Paul did not tell the Colossians to repeat his oral teachings. He instead instructed them to read aloud his epistles, and this included not just the epistles directly sent to them but also to other churches. So Paul's emphasis later in life was on what he had written.

The Papacy

Catholic Viewpoint:

Peter was the chief apostles and the "rock" on which the Church was built. The pope is Peter's successor and Christ's representative on earth. As Peter's successor he is invested with the authority of Peter. As such, the pope's ex cathedra pronouncements have the same authority as Scripture.

The definition of ex cathedra is:

Descriptive term for an official pronouncement from the pope. Ex cathedra is Latin for "from the chair." Roman Catholics believe that the pope speaks infallibly when speaking ex cathedra on questions of faith or morals, such as when Pope Pius XII declared in 1950 that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was physically taken up to heaven after her death (Dictionary.com).

Protestant Viewpoint:

The pope has no greater authority than any other Christian leader. He is not somehow Peter's successor as Peter neither had nor needed a successor.

Catholic Verses:

Matthew 16:17-19:

Peter is the "rock" that the Church is built upon. Peter is given the "keys" to the kingdom and the authority to forgive sins. Peter is thus elevated over the other apostles and made the first "pope" of the Church. This authority is then passed down throughout history through his successors, the popes.

BUT:

First, Jesus used two different words for "rock." The Greek word for "Peter" means "a stone" while the Greek word for "rock" means "bedrock." Thus Jesus was saying Peter is "just a small stone" while He (Jesus) is the real bedrock that the Church is built on (1Cor 3:11).

On this point, it is true that most likely Jesus was speaking in Aramaic, which does not have two such words for "rock." But the Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to write these words in Greek using these two different Greek words, so the difference is significant.

Second, the authority to forgive sins was given to all the apostles, not just Peter (John 20:23). Moreover, only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:7). The authority given here was one of declaration, declaring what had already been done in heaven (Luke 25:47). This can be seen in that the verbs are in the perfect tense, indicating something that has already happened but has continuing results, hence the ALT's translation "will have been bound in the heavens" (for more on this point of Greek grammar, see the author's Companion Volume to the ALT, pp. 64-5).

Third, the verse does not say "and your successors." So even if the Catholic interpretation were correct, it does not follow that today's pope, some 2,000 years later, has the same authority as Peter did.

Acts 1:15-22:

Peter takes the leadership role among the apostles and other disciples. Note also that since Judas had died, he needed to be replaced, setting up the pattern of apostolic succession.

BUT:

Yes, Peter took a leadership role here, but he is not the only apostle who does so, as will be detailed shortly. On Judas, he needed to be replaced because he defected, not because he had died. The number of twelve original apostles needed to be maintained, to parallel the twelve tribes of Israel (see Rev 21:12-14). As proof of both of these points, when James the apostle was executed, there was no successor appointed for him (Acts 12:2).

Acts 2:14-40:

Peter gave the first speech on the Day of Pentecost, bringing in the first converts to the Church. This again shows his leadership role.

BUT:

Again, yes Peter is one of the leaders of the early Church, but not the only one. And since Peter was the "Apostle to the Circumcision" (i.e. the Jewish people) it made sense for him to make the speech here to an all Jewish audience. But later, Paul will take forefront when the Gospel goes to the Gentiles (see Gal 2:7-8).

Acts 15:7-11:

For this historic, first Ecumenical Council, Peter again takes the leadership role, being the first to speak.

BUT:

Before Peter even speaks, there is "much debate" among all of "the apostles and the elders" (verses 6-7). Peter then speaks, but then Barnabas and Paul present their case (verse 12). Moreover, it appears that James (the half-brother of Jesus) is actually in charge, as he is the one who proposes how to settle the matter in dispute (verses 13-21). Then all of the "apostles and elders" agree to James' proposal and choose "men from them" to represent their decision in Antioch (v. 22). The letter is then sent out in the name of "the apostles and the elders and the brothers" not just in Peter's name (verse 23). So Peter is not presented as having any special authority over the others in attendance.

Protestant Verses:

Acts 12:17:

After Peter was miraculously delivered from prison, he felt a need to have this event reported to James. So again, James appears to have a top position among the apostles. Moreover, other than at the Jerusalem Council in chapter 15, this is the last time in Acts in which Peter is mentioned. The focus then shifts to Paul. So Peter's actions and words are absent from over half of the Book of Acts, with more attention being given to Paul. It's hard to understand this change in focus if Peter is the infallible leader of the fledgling Church.

Galatians 2:9:

Paul does not afford Peter any special status, but places him on the same level as James and John.

Galatians 2:11-16:

Paul rebukes Peter "in the presence of all." So Paul does not look at Peter as somehow having the highest position or as being infallible. Paul believes he is on the same level as Peter and thus is worthy to rebuke him.

Philippians 4:3:

Clement is the supposed third successor to Peter. But he is only mentioned in the NT in passing here, with no special status alluded to. Clement was supposedly in office from 88-97 AD, so he would have been in power while the NT was still being written, so this slight mention is hard to understand. Even harder to understand is the complete lack of mention of the first two supposed successors to Peter (Linus, 67-76 AD and Anacletus, 76-88 AD).

Moreover, John the apostle lived into the 90s. So if the Catholic succession scenario were true, it would mean all three of these supposed successors to Peter had greater authority than John, who was not just an actual apostle, but according to Paul, one of the "pillars" of the Church (Gal 2:9).

2Peter 3:1f:

As Peter writes his last epistle, he knows he will soon die (1:14), but he does not direct his readers to any supposed soon to be appointed successor. Instead Peter tells them to "be mindful of" the already written down words of the prophets and apostles.

2Peter 3:14-16:

Peter directs his readers to the writings of Paul, placing them on the same level as the OT Scriptures. Again, he does not direct them to his supposed soon to be appointed successor.



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Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light

The above article originally appeared in the free Darkness to Light newsletter.
It was posted on this Web site July 1, 2010.

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Catholicism: The Scriptures

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