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In Matthew 16:18–19, Jesus says:

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

This could be interpreted in two ways:

  1. Jesus is assigning power specifically to Simon (Peter) to lead the Church.
  2. Jesus is treating Simon simply as a representative of all the Disciples.

The Roman Catholic Church interprets this as the first case, thereby making Simon the first Pope.

That is not an unreasonable interpretation based on this scripture by itself.

However, in Matthew 18:18, Jesus says:

Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

This is basically the same statement, but in this verse, rather than "thee" and "thou" (singular), Jesus uses "ye" (plural), indicating that he is talking to all the Disciples, not specifically to Simon (corresponding the the original Greek pronouns). That implies that the second interpretation of 16:19 is the correct interpretation.

How does the Roman Catholic Church explain why they chose the first interpretation instead?

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How does the Catholic Church explain their interpretation of Matthew 16:19 (Simon Peter as the first Pope) in light of Matthew 18:18?

First of all, the classical Scriptural references that the Church uses to make it’s point about the primacy of St. Peter as head of the Church is Matthew 16:17-19, and John 21:15-17. Matthew 18:18 is not included. The Scriptural reference of Matthew 18:18 clearly addresses that apostolic body of Apostles as a group.

What is important hear to notice is the fact that Christ was directly talking to Peter in Matthew 16:17-19. The Church has always maintained the the phrasing of binding and loosening is directed to his Apostolic Primacy of authority over the Church.

The Prince of the Apostles had been given his power or authority (over the Church) first and prior to the other Apostles; the other Apostles together are a share of Apostolic powers (forgiving sins) to a lesser degree a little later on.

Many will disagree with this, but Peter is the Rock, instituted by Jesus for His Church!

He follows the the Scriptural references of Matthew 16:17-19 in question in English, Latin and Greek:

17 And Jesus answered him, Blessed art thou, Simon son of Jona; it is not flesh and blood, it is my Father in heaven that has revealed this to thee. 18 And I tell thee this in my turn, that thou art Peter, and it is upon this rock that I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it; 19 and I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

17 Respondens autem Jesus, dixit ei: Beatus es Simon Bar Jona: quia caro et sanguis non revelavit tibi, sed Pater meus, qui in cælis est. 18 Et ego dico tibi, quia tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram ædificabo Ecclesiam meam, et portæ inferi non prævalebunt adversus eam. 19 Et tibi dabo claves regni cælorum. Et quodcumque ligaveris super terram, erit ligatum et in cælis: et quodcumque solveris super terram, erit solutum et in cælis.

17 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῷ: μακάριος εἶ, Σίμων Βαριωνᾶ, ὅτι σὰρξ καὶ αἷμα οὐκ ἀπεκάλυψέν σοι ἀλλ' ὁ πατήρ μου ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς. 18 κἀγὼ δέ σοι λέγω ὅτι σὺ εἶ Πέτρος, καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν, καὶ πύλαι ᾅδου οὐ κατισχύσουσιν αὐτῆς. 19 δώσω σοι τὰς κλεῖδας τῆς βασιλείας τῶν οὐρανῶν, καὶ ὃ ἐὰν δήσῃς ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἔσται δεδεμένον ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς, καὶ ὃ ἐὰν λύσῃς ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἔσται λελυμένον ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς.

As for it’s interpretation by the Church, here is how the Catholic Encyclopedia explains it:

Institution of a supreme head by Christ

The proof that Christ constituted St. Peter head of His Church is found in the two famous Petrine texts, Matthew 16:17-19, and John 21:15-17.

Matthew 16:17-19

In Matthew 16:17-19, the office is solemnly promised to the Apostle. In response to his profession of faith in the Divine Nature of his Master, Christ thus addresses him:

Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.

“Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven." The prerogatives here promised are manifestly personal to Peter. His profession of faith was not made as has been sometimes asserted, in the name of the other Apostles. This is evident from the words of Christ. He pronounces on the Apostle, distinguishing him by his name Simon son of John, a peculiar and personal blessing, declaring that his knowledge regarding the Divine Sonship sprang from a special revelation granted to him by the Father (cf. Matthew 11:27).

"And I say to thee: That thou art Peter. . ." He further proceeds to recompense this confession of His Divinity by bestowing upon him a reward proper to himself:

Thou art Peter [Cepha, transliterated also Kipha] and upon this rock [Cepha] I will build my Church.

The word for Peter and for rock in the original Aramaic is one and the same; this renders it evident that the various attempts to explain the term "rock" as having reference not to Peter himself but to something else are misinterpretations. It is Peter who is the rock of the Church. The term ecclesia (ekklesia) here employed is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew qahal, the name which denoted the Hebrew nation viewed as God's Church.

"And upon this rock I will build my Church. . ." Here then Christ teaches plainly that in the future the Church will be the society of those who acknowledge Him, and that this Church will be built on Peter.

The expression presents no difficulty. In both the Old and New Testaments the Church is often spoken of under the metaphor of God's house (Numbers 12:7; Jeremiah 12:7; Hosea 8:1; 9:15; 1 Corinthians 3:9-17, Ephesians 2:20-2; 1 Timothy 3:5; Hebrews 3:5; 1 Peter 2:5). Peter is to be to the Church what the foundation is in regard to a house.

He is to be the principle of unity, of stability, and of increase. He is the principle of unity, since what is not joined to that foundation is no part of the Church; of stability, since it is the firmness of this foundation in virtue of which the Church remains unshaken by the storms which buffet her; of increase, since, if she grows, it is because new stones are laid on this foundation.

"And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." It is through her union with Peter, Christ continues, that the Church will prove the victor in her long contest with the Evil One:

The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

There can be but one explanation of this striking metaphor. The only manner in which a man can stand in such a relation to any corporate body is by possessing authority over it. The supreme head of a body, in dependence on whom all subordinate authorities hold their power, and he alone, can be said to be the principle of stability, unity, and increase. The promise acquires additional solemnity when we remember that both Old Testament prophecy (Isaiah 28:16) and Christ's own words (Matthew 7:24) had attributed this office of foundation of the Church to Himself. He is therefore assigning to Peter, of course in a secondary degree, a prerogative which is His own, and thereby associating the Apostle with Himself in an altogether singular manner.

"And whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven." Further the character and extent of the power thus bestowed are indicated. It is a power to "bind" and to "loose" — words which, as is shown below, denote the grant of legislative and judicial authority. And this power is granted in its fullest measure. Whatever Peter binds or looses on earth, his act will receive the Divine ratification.

Objections

The meaning of this passage does not seem to have been challenged by any writer until the rise of the sixteenth-century heresies. Since then a great variety of interpretations have been put forward by Protestant controversialists. These agree in little save in the rejection of the plain sense of Christ's words. Some Anglican controversy tends to the view that the reward promised to St. Peter consisted in the prominent part taken by him in the initial activities of the Church, but that he was never more than primus inter pares among the Apostles. It is manifest that this is quite insufficient as an explanation of the terms of Christ's promise.

As for Matthew 18:18 goes it is clear that Our Lord is talking to all the apostles and the power of forgiving sins. This is evidence by the verses just preceding this passage.

18 I promise you, all that you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and all that you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

18 Amen dico vobis, quæcumque alligaveritis super terram, erunt ligata et in cælo: et quæcumque solveritis super terram, erunt soluta et in cælo.

18 Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ὅσα ἐὰν δήσητε ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἔσται δεδεμένα ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ὅσα ἐὰν λύσητε ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἔσται λελυμένα ἐν οὐρανῷ.

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Q: How does the Catholic Church explain their interpretation of Matthew 16:19 (Simon Peter as the first Pope) in light of Matthew 18:18?

A: Peter is given this power singularly and prior to the other Apostles, though the Apostles together are given it later.

Rabanus Maurus

And by a remarkable distinction it was that the Lord Himself puts forward the lowliness of the humanity which He had taken upon Him, while His disciple shews us the excellence of His divine eternity. The gates of hell are the torments and promises of the persecutors. Also, the evil works of the unbelievers, and vain conversation, are gates of hell, because they show the path of destruction. For as with a zeal beyond the others he had confessed the King of heaven, he is deservedly entrusted more than the others with the keys of the heavenly kingdom, that it might be clear to all, that without that confession and faith none ought to enter the kingdom of heaven. By the keys of the kingdom He means discernment and power; power, by which he binds and looses; discernment, by which he separates the worthy from the unworthy. It follows, “And whatsoever thou shalt bind;” that is, whomsoever thou shalt judge unworthy of forgiveness while he lives, shall be judged unworthy with God; and “whatsoever thou shalt loose, "that is, whomsoever thou shalt judge worthy to be forgiven while he lives, shall obtain forgiveness of his sins from God. But this power of binding and loosing, though it seems given by the Lord to Peter alone, is indeed given also to the other Apostles, and is even now in the Bishops and Presbyters in every Church. But Peter received in a special manner the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and a supremacy of judicial power, that all the faithful throughout the world might understand that all who in any manner separate themselves from the unity of the faith, or from communion with him, such should neither be able to be loosed from the bonds of sin, nor to enter the gate of the heavenly kingdom.

Haydock

Whatsoever you shall bind The power of binding and loosing, which in a more eminent manner was promised to St. Peter, is here promised to the other apostles and their successors, bishops and priests. (Witham) The power of binding and loosing, conferred on St. Peter, excelled that granted to the other apostles, inasmuch as to St. Peter, who was head and pastor of the whole Church, was granted jurisdiction over the other apostles, while these received no power over each other, much less over St. Peter. (Tirinus) Priests receive a power not only to loose, but also to bind, as St. Ambrose writeth against the Novatians, who allowed the latter, but denied the former power to priests. (Lib. i. de poenit. chap. ii.) (Bristow)

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Matthew 16:19 refers to the power of keys granted to St. Peter, the first Pope. The power of keys includes his primacy and ability to forgive sins. Matthew 18:18 shows the power of forgiving sins given to the Apostles (and thus also to their successors).

Pohle-Preuss, The Sacraments: A Dogmatic Treatise (vol. 3): Penance, pt. 1 The Power of the Church to Forgive Sins, ch. 1 The Catholic Church Has the Power to Forgive Sins, §1 Proof from Sacred Scripture, art. 1 The Promise:

1. The Texts.—In the Gospel of St. Matthew Christ promises to grant His Church the power of forgiving sins. He makes this promise first to St. Peter alone (Matth. 16:19) and later to all the Apostles (Matth. 18:18).

In the latter passage the Apostles are promised the power of binding and loosing (potestas ligandi et solvendi), which virtually comprises that of forgiving sins.

St. Peter, in the former passage, is told that he is to receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven (potestas clavium), which is evidently a more comprehensive power even than that of forgiving sins.

After assuring St. Peter that he is the rock upon which the Church will be built, our Divine Saviour continues (Matth. 16:19): “And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven (claves regni cœlorum, τὰς κλεῖς τῆς βασιλείας τῶν οὐρανῶν). And whatsoever thou shalt bind (quodcunque ligaveris, ὃ ἐὰν δήσῃς) upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose (quodcunque solveris, ὃ ἐὰν λύσῃς) upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.”

Upon a later occasion Christ said to all His Apostles together (Matth. 18:18): “Amen, I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind (quaecunque alligaveritis, ὅσα ἐὰν δήσητε) upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose (quaecunque solveritis, ὅσα ἐὰν λύσητε) upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.”

Though these two texts are almost identical in terms, there is a vast difference between them. The power to bind and loose bestowed upon all the Apostles is not commensurate with the power of the keys conferred upon St. Peter alone. The power of the keys includes the primacy of the Holy See. However, this aspect of the matter does not concern us here. It belongs to fundamental theology or apologetics. We have simply to show that the power of forgiving sins is included in both texts.

The future tense of the verbs employed proves that we are dealing with a promise.

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  • "the Apostles (and the bishops descending from them) receive this power from the Pope" Matthew 18:18 makes it seem like they receive this power from Jesus... you know, considering how Jesus directly told them, to their face, exactly as He had done with Peter, "Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
    – Rajesh
    Apr 12 at 20:21
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    Rajesh has a good point here. Even the Church would agree that such authority comes from Christ. This question deals more with the primacy of St. Peter over the others rather than simply the ability to forgive sins which all the Apostles had.
    – Ken Graham
    Apr 12 at 21:18
  • @KenGraham "The power to bind and loose bestowed upon all the Apostles is not commensurate with the power of the keys conferred upon St. Peter alone. The power of the keys includes the primacy of the Holy See [and the ability to forgive sins]."
    – Geremia
    Apr 12 at 21:39
  • @Geremia I wasn't responding to that part. I was responding to, "the Apostles (and the bishops descending from them) receive this power from the Pope". This statement is clearly false, as shown by my comment.
    – Rajesh
    Apr 12 at 23:17
  • @Rajesh I see. I've edited my answer to keep it more on-topic (and not about the relation of bishops' jurisdiction to the pope).
    – Geremia
    Apr 13 at 0:15

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