The Jewish Roots of the Papacy: Part Two

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One of the most common objections to the Catholic faith concerns the papacy. Critics say that the papacy is nowhere to be found in history or scripture. Actually, the role of the pope is very prominent in scripture and Judeo-Christian history. This article will continue our discussion of the Jewish roots of the papacy.

Tracing It Back

It is understandable to think that the papacy isn’t scriptural because the word “pope” isn’t in the bible. One could easily make that conclusion on the surface. To truly understand the word “pope”, we need to look at its etymology. This will help us determine whether or not the papacy is actually biblical.

What does “pope” mean? It is derived from the Latin word papae which means “father”. Isaiah 22 contains a passage of prophecy directly related to the pope. Isaiah 22:21 says “I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your sash on him, and will commit your authority to his hand. And he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.”

In this passage from Isaiah, the royal steward is referred to as a father and was known for keeping watch over the king’s entire house. Part One of this series covered in detail how the papacy is directly linked to the office of royal steward.

Abraham is a Type of St. Peter

The Old Testament often foreshadows much that is in the new covenant. Many Old Testament biblical figures prefigure someone who appears or holds a key role in the New Testament. One example of this is the priest and king Melchizedek. Genesis 14 describes Melchizedek as bringing out bread and wine and blessing Abraham after a battle. This is a clear foreshadowing of Christ ushering in the new covenant through the Eucharist and fulfilling the role of priest, king, and prophet. Psalm 110:4 and Hebrews 7:21 both make it clear that this biblical figure was a type of Christ.

Other Old Testament figures foreshadow people in the New Testament as well. Abraham prefigures St. Peter. Abraham is known as the rock of the old covenant (Isaiah 51:1), and Peter is the rock of the new covenant (John 1:42, Matthew 16:18). Abraham is a shepherd (Genesis 13:8), while Peter is a New Testament spiritual shepherd (John 21:17). God makes Abraham a father over his house (Genesis 15:5) and Christ makes Peter a father over His house as the royal steward (Matthew 16:18-19), as has been noted.

A Closer Look at Melchizedek

Genesis 14 reveals something interesting that helps us interpret the new covenant. We know that Melchizedek is a type of Christ, and Abraham is a type of Peter. Genesis 14:19-20 is an interesting passage that bears striking resemblance to a passage from the New Testament. The passage says “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

This passage bears much resemblance to the blessing Jesus bestows upon Peter in Matthew 16:17-19. Both Christ and Melchizedek bless Abraham and Peter by name. In addition, they both mention the authority of possessing the power of heaven and earth, and the promise that their enemies will not prevail. The blessing that Melchizedek bestowed upon Abraham is an image of Christ appointing his royal steward, but more importantly, it is a foreshadowing of Peter’s confession of the Messiah’s identity.

The Seat of Moses

In Matthew 23:2-3, Jesus acknowledged a valid line of authoritative teachers in addition to the written Torah itself. He tells the disciples to listen to those who sit on the seat of Moses but not to act as they do. The fact that Jesus mentioned the “seat of Moses” here for the first time in the New Testament tells us that this was a commonly known tradition for the Jews, and just as authoritative, although not written down previously. Therefore, the New Testament acknowledges a valid line of authority outside of the Old Testament scriptures and teachers that is binding on the apostles.

Though the Scribes and Pharisees held legitimate authority in Israel, Jesus makes it clear that they aren’t perfect in their personal lives. This is important for the new authority He was to bestow on Peter. The term “ex-cathedra” is derived from the Greek word kathedra, meaning a chair or seat. The pope speaks infallibly from the chair of Peter in regards to matters of faith and morals. When Jesus gives that authority to Peter – the source of infallibility – it doesn’t mean that the exercise of the authority requires personal perfection.

Matthew 23 translates two interesting words in Greek during Jesus’ description of the authority of the seat of Moses. Verse 4 says they “bind”. Later, in verse 15 Christ says that the scribes “shut Heaven” to those who want to enter. The language of binding and loosing, opening and closing bears an undeniable resemblance to Matthew 16.

The Temple Stone

In both paganism and Judaism, temples for worship were built on large foundation stones. For the Jews, this large rock was called the Eben Shetiya (foundation stone). The stone was in the very center of the temple, and the Ark of the Covenant rested upon it. The Mishnah also reveals that when the Ark was taken, this stone remained in its place. “After the Ark was taken away, a stone remained there from the time of the early prophets and it was called ‘Shetiyah’. It was higher than the ground by three fingerbreadths” (Mishnah, Yoma Day of Atonement 5:2).

The Ark of the old Covenant foreshadows Jesus and His birth in a beautiful and mysterious way. If Jesus is the Ark and Peter is the Rock, then there should be New Testament evidence that Peter will stand in Jesus’ place on earth until He returns. Such evidence can be found in John 21:15-19 where, before His Ascension, Jesus tells Peter to feed His sheep.

In Conclusion

When Catholics hear objections about the biblical or historical roots of the papacy, these challenges can be answered. If we read the scriptures through the traditions of ancient Judaism, it becomes plain that the role of the papacy had been foreshadowed in scripture and history for a very long time. 1 Peter 3:15 instructs us to honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; we must always make our defense of the Church with gentleness and respect. Studying the historical roots of our faith can help guide us in evangelical discussions.

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1 thought on “The Jewish Roots of the Papacy: Part Two”

  1. That was an excellent, informative, well written and I believe divinely inspired essay. I plan on printing it out, keeping it and meditating on it for all of Lent. There is so much to unpack in your essay. Great job, thank you and God bless you.

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