For a few years, Dave Armstrong and I have had an ongoing discussion about doctrinal development. He recently posted another response to me on the subject ( Before I reply to the most significant portions of his article, I want to address a couple of less significant issues that keep coming up, both related to the sufficiency of my responses to Dave.

Near the beginning of his latest reply to me, he writes:


Jason has stated  that I didn't answer his last paper above, as if (by implication) this indicates my inability to do so, and the triumph of his arguments. Lest anyone think Jason's last paper cannot be refuted, I have decided to now do so. And just for the record (since Jason wants to play the game of "one-upsmanship"), it should be noted that he has never responded to my last installment in our three-round exchange / debate on development of doctrine, which was a rather vigorous and comprehensive critique of his ideas and methodology


I don't think there's any need for Dave to respond to everything I write against him. In a recent discussion we had on the Catholic message board at the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry web site, Dave claimed that he would respond to everything I wrote. Later in that same discussion, after he had failed to respond to some of what I had written, and he had ignored replies from other people to his earlier posts, Dave qualified his commitment to respond to everything by saying that he would respond only to everything he considered relevant and significant. He's followed this pattern many times. He criticizes other people for not responding to all that he's written, and he refers to how he follows "the Socratic method" of dialogue, how his responses are "vigorous", "comprehensive", etc. But when he doesn't want to respond to something somebody else has written, he claims that the incompleteness of his responses is acceptable. There have been many portions of my discussions with Dave that Dave hasn't interacted with. I don't claim that he should respond to everything. But I do think he's inconsistent in claiming to respond to everything or almost everything, then failing to do so. He's holding up a standard that not only is unreasonable in itself, but is also a standard that he himself fails to meet.

Dave's latest article also criticizes me for allegedly not interacting enough with his citations of scholars. At some points in his article, he gives lists of scholars he had cited, then he criticizes me for not interacting with those citations. But Dave didn't interact with all of the scholars I cited (D.A. Carson, Leon Morris, Robert Eno, Roger Beckwith, Michael O'Carroll, William La Due, Klaus Schatz, J.N.D. Kelly, Philip Schaff, F.F. Bruce, Raymond Brown, etc.). And, as I explained to Dave in an earlier article, I agree with a large portion of what he's cited from these scholars, so why would I interact with citations that I don't disagree with? I told Dave that I agree with him that there's a scholarly consensus that Peter is the rock of Matthew 16, and I said that I consider that interpretation a reasonable one, so why would Dave expect me to write responses to scholars who say that Peter is the rock? I've also said that I think Isaiah 22 is relevant to Matthew 16, though I disagree with some of the implications Dave draws from the relationship between those two passages. The Protestant scholars Dave cited, as well as many Roman Catholic scholars, also disagree with Dave's conclusions about how the two passages relate. If I agree with Dave that Matthew 16 should be interpreted in light of Isaiah 22, why should I post responses to scholars saying the same thing? In a previous article on the papacy, in the context of discussing 1 Peter 5:1, Dave cited some scholars regarding the Petrine authorship of 1 and 2 Peter. Since I never disputed Petrine authorship of either book, and 2 Peter isn't even relevant to what we were discussing regarding 1 Peter 5:1, why would I write responses to those scholars Dave cited? It's absurd for Dave to list these sources that I didn't interact with when Dave has failed to interact with so much of what I've cited and there's so much of what he's cited that I agree with. If Dave isn't going to interact with a citation I give from William La Due, for example, then why should I interact with a citation he gives from Norman Geisler? And if I agree with something he cites from Donald Guthrie or R.T. France, for example, why should I write a response to it?

I think Dave ought to be more reasonable in the standards he applies to other people, and he ought to be consistent with his own standards, whatever they may be. Now I want to move on to the more significant issues in Dave's latest article.


Personal Judgment


Dave writes:


That gets back to the radical logical circularity described above: who decides what the apostles taught? And on what grounds of authority?...

We are told, of course, that each person figures this out from the Bible (like the Bereans). And thus we are back to circularity and arbitrariness. If the choice boils down to the individual with his Bible vs. ancient councils filled with learned and holy bishops (people like St. Augustine and St. Athanasius), I would much rather believe in faith that the latter possessed the charism of infallibility than I would believe that Joe Q. Protestant carried such infallibility (given the endless contradictions in the various Protestant theologies)....

It's easy to look back in retrospect and pretend that all these thngs [Trinitarian doctrines] were clear in the Bible, so that councils were not necessary. But the historical fact remains that there were many disagreements and disputes, and they had to be settled. Councils and popes did that, not the Bible on its own.


How does Dave Armstrong know that Athanasius and Augustine were "holy"? That they were "learned"? That they participated in councils? How does he know what those councils taught? How does he know that Jesus is God? That Jesus founded a church? If Dave can arrive at such conclusions by means of personal examination of evidence, why can't Evangelicals arrive at other conclusions, such as what the canon of scripture is and what a passage of scripture means, in the same manner? If it's "circular and arbitrary" for "each person" to figure something out from a source of authority that people disagree about, then why isn't it "circular and arbitrary" for Dave to reach conclusions like the ones he mentions above? Many people disagree about who Jesus was, whether He founded a church, what that church is, etc. Even among those who think that particular meetings of bishops qualify as ecumenical councils, there's disagreement over what those councils taught. Among those who accept the doctrine of the papacy, there are disagreements over how to define papal infallibility and which papal teachings do and don't qualify as exercises of that infallibility and how to interpret those teachings. The fact that disagreements exist doesn't prove that we need an infallible source of authority on earth to further clarify the issue. Many people claim that Jesus isn't the Messiah. The problem isn't with the clarity of the evidence. The problem is with those people. The fact that abortion is popular doesn't prove that the evidence for the value of life in the womb is unclear. The fact that there are so many atheists, polytheists, and Moslems in the world doesn't prove that God has failed to make the truthfulness of Christianity clear enough. How clear would something have to be to qualify as clear enough? We don't have enough data to conclude that the Bible isn't clear enough to be a sufficient rule of faith.

Dave isn't consistent on this issue. Though there's been widespread consensus among professing Christians for hundreds of years regarding the Trinitarian view of God, the papacy continues to be a much more widely rejected doctrine. Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, and many other governmentally independent groups reject Dave's assertion that the Bible teaches the doctrine of the papacy, yet they all accept the Trinitarian interpretation of scripture. Trinitarian doctrine is less controversial than the papacy, yet Dave claims that past controversies over Trinitarian doctrine prove that those doctrines are unclear in scripture, that councils are needed to teach us about such things. But in response to my citation of the First Vatican Council saying that the papacy is a clear doctrine of scripture always understood by the Christian church, Dave wrote:


Indeed it is clear in Scripture.


If the more controversial nature of the doctrine of the papacy doesn't keep Dave from asserting that the doctrine is clear in scripture, why would the less controversial nature of the Trinitarian view of God lead him to conclude that the concept is unclear in scripture? Dave isn't being consistent.


The Trinity, the Canon, and Types of Development


In my discussions with Dave over the years, I've contrasted his more vague concept of doctrinal development with my more specific concept of it. The issue isn't whether we're to accept doctrinal development. The issue is how we define the difference between valid and invalid development. The issue is what type of development we accept. So, when Dave cites people like Vincent of Lerins, Thomas Aquinas, and Pope Pius IX making positive references to development of doctrine, he's not being specific enough. I can cite people like the Protestant historian Philip Schaff and the Evangelical apologist James White referring positively to doctrinal development. If such a wide variety of people believe in some form of development, we have to be specific in defining which form we accept. Therefore, when I cite Pope Pius IX saying that the Immaculate Conception is a doctrine always held and taught by the Christian church, and I cite the First Vatican Council saying that the universal jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome is a doctrine always held and understood by the Christian church, it's insufficient for Dave to respond by arguing that Pope Pius IX and the First Vatican Council believed in development of doctrine. I don't deny that they did. The problem, for Dave, is that the Pope and the council defined development differently than he does.

A closer consideration of one of the examples I cited might be helpful. Let's consider the Immaculate Conception. Dave tells us that Thomas Aquinas, Pope Pius IX, and he all accept doctrinal development. They do. However, Thomas Aquinas denied that Mary was immaculately conceived. Pope Pius IX, as I documented in an earlier response to Dave (, claimed that the Immaculate Conception is a doctrine always held, understood, and taught by the Christian church. Dave Armstrong believes in the Immaculate Conception, but thinks that it existed in seed form early on, to such an extent that some church fathers and other church leaders even contradicted the doctrine.

If we think of the Immaculate Conception as an oak tree, we can say that Dave Armstrong thinks there was an acorn in early church history. Pope Pius IX thought there was a grown oak tree. There may have been a new argument for the doctrine from time to time or a new title applied to Mary in order to reflect her immaculate conception, but the Immaculate Conception doctrine itself was always held, understood, and taught by the church. According to Pope Pius IX, the oak tree's branches may have grown to some extent, and there might be a new leaf here or there, but there was a grown oak tree early on, not an acorn. Thomas Aquinas believed that there was neither an acorn nor an oak tree. Rather, Aquinas saw an apple seed in early church history, not anything that would inevitably grow into the oak tree of the modern Roman Catholic view of Mary. While it's true that Dave Armstrong, Pope Pius IX, and Thomas Aquinas all believe in doctrinal development, they give us three mutually exclusive views of the nature of that development. One tells us that there was an acorn, another tells us that there was an oak tree, and the other tells us that there was neither. They can't all be correct. They're contradicting each other. How significant is it, then, to say that all three of them believed in doctrinal development, if they defined that development in such radically different ways?

While Roman Catholics like Pope Pius IX and Dave Armstrong contradict each other in how they define doctrinal development, they have something in common: sola ecclesia. Whatever the church teaches, as they define "church" and as they define "teach", that teaching must be apostolic. And Dave tells us that the apostolic origin of a doctrine can be so unclear that a ruling of the church is needed in order for us to know that it's apostolic:


The canon of the biblical books also developed and there is not a shred of evidence in the Bible itself for an authoritative list of books which were to be regarded as the Bible; not one iota. But that doesn't bother Jason at all. He accepts the canon even though such acceptance presupposes the binding authority of men's ecclesiastical councils: an authority every Protestant ostensibly denies as a fundamental principle and matter of their own Rule of Faith (sola Scriptura).

The Protestant can't appeal to Scripture itself as corroboration of the determination of the canon, so he must fall back strictly on Church authority....

It's easy to look back in retrospect and pretend that all these thngs [Trinitarian doctrines] were clear in the Bible, so that councils were not necessary. But the historical fact remains that there were many disagreements and disputes, and they had to be settled. Councils and popes did that, not the Bible on its own....

Where he [Jason] goes wrong is in denying the crucial, necessary role of councils...

Both aspects develop and both require human ecclesiastical judgments. There is no biblical evidence whatsoever for the list of biblical books


One wonders how Dave can claim to believe in the material sufficiency of scripture while, at the same time, saying that some of his beliefs have "no biblical evidence whatsoever" and that a council is "necessary" in order to know of those beliefs. The Roman Catholic version of the material sufficiency of scripture is just sola ecclesia under a different name. A doctrine can be absent from scripture, and it can be contradicted in post-Biblical tradition for hundreds of years, yet it's to be accepted as an apostolic teaching always held by the Christian church if the church teaches it at any point in history.

In previous responses to Dave, I've cited historical evidence for the Evangelical canon of scripture in articles and books by Glenn Miller, D.A. Carson, F.F. Bruce, Roger Beckwith, and others. We have extensive internal and external evidence for dating all of the New Testament documents to the first century, we have reason to believe that the names of the authors were part of the original documents, and we have reason to believe that pseudonymity was rejected by the early church. As the Anglican historian J.N.D. Kelly explains, the early post-apostolic church, in reaching a consensus on the canon, followed the principle of the primacy of apostolic authority that the New Testament itself teaches (1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 2:20):

"the criterion which ultimately came to prevail was apostolicity. Unless a book could be shown to come from the pen of an apostle, or at least to have the authority of an apostle behind it, it was peremptorily rejected, however edifying or popular with the faithful it might be." (Early Christian Doctrines [San Francisco, California: HarperCollins Publishers, 1978], p. 60)

We have reason to trust the judgment of the early church with regard to the canon without consulting any church council and without thinking that the early church had the infallibility and other characteristics the RCC claims for itself. As the Protestant historian F.F. Bruce explained, the councils that agreed with the Evangelical New Testament canon reflected a consensus that already existed rather than creating that consensus:

"The New Testament books did not become authoritative for the Church because they were formally included in a canonical list; on the contrary, the Church included them in her canon because she already regarded them as divinely inspired, recognizing their innate worth and generally apostolic authority, direct or indirect. The first ecclesiastical councils to classify the canonical books were both held in North Africa - at Hippo Regius in 393 and at Carthage in 397 - but what these councils did was not to impose something new upon the Christian communities but to codify what was already the general practice of those communities." (The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997], p. 27)

Similarly, the fact that councils taught doctrines such as the deity of Christ and that He has two wills doesn't prove that we wouldn't know of such doctrines without those councils. As Athanasius wrote concerning the Council of Nicaea:

"Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith's sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrines so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture" (De Synodis, 6)

Councils can help in explaining a doctrine to people, and can be used to discipline people who oppose the truth, but there's a difference between a council being helpful and a council being necessary. Dave's assertion that we need councils to teach us the Trinitarian view of God tells us more about Dave's insufficiency than it does about the alleged insufficiency of scripture. Dave shouldn't assume that his failure to see Biblical justification for the Trinity and the canon of scripture is a problem shared by all Evangelicals. If Evangelicals didn't think that the Nicene or Chalcedonian view of God was the inevitable conclusion to Biblical evidence, they would reject the pronouncements of those councils, much as Roman Catholics reject portions of the Council of Constantinople, canon 28 of Chalcedon, etc.

In previous responses to Dave, I've cited Biblical evidence for monotheism, the deity of the three Persons, the co-existence of the three Persons, the two wills of Christ, and other Trinitarian doctrines. I've also cited Biblical evidence for the Evangelical and patristic canonical criterion of apostolicity. I've cited articles and books that document the evidence for the Evangelical canon of scripture, evidence that isn't dependent on the infallibility of any church council, much less a Roman Catholic council. In a previous response to me (, Dave raises a series of objections against my argument for the canon, and the objections are a combination of the false, the misleading, and the inconclusive. His objections are addressed in books I've already cited, such as the work of Roger Beckwith that I mentioned in a previous article, as well as in other articles at my web site and elsewhere. The interested reader can compare Dave's assertions in the article linked above to the arguments at:

There was no ruling on the canon that's infallible by Roman Catholic standards prior to the Reformation. Both the Jewish Old Testament consensus and the Christian New Testament consensus arose apart from any allegedly infallible church ruling. Dave can refer to those canonical consensuses as "tradition" if he wants to, but such traditions (small "t") aren't equivalent to the Traditions (capital "T") of Roman Catholicism. When Roman Catholics speak of adding tradition to scripture, they're referring to the latter, not the former. Athanasius' 39th Festal Letter, in which he lists our 27-book New Testament canon, is outside of scripture, but it's also outside of the Roman Catholic rule of faith. No Catholic considers Athanasius' letter to be part of the infallible rule. Christians for more than a thousand years thought they could arrive at a reliable canon of scripture, and they expected themselves and other people to obey those scriptures, without any infallible church ruling on the subject. Evangelicals can do the same.

Dave tells us that he has evidence for the papacy comparable to the evidence for Trinitarianism and the canon of scripture:


The sort of trinitarian proofs we often see in Scriture, compared to the subtleties and complexities of Chalcedonian trinitarianism and Christology, are scarcely any different in essence and kind from Matthew 16 and the other indications of the papacy as compared to the fully-developed 1870 definition of papal infallibility. That was my analogy, and it has not been overcome.


Is he right?


The Papacy: Apple Seed, Acorn, or Oak Tree?


If we repeat my earlier analogy that I used with the Immaculate Conception, so that we view the doctrine of the papacy as an oak tree, what do we see in early church history? Do we see that oak tree, perhaps with some growth in its branches and a new leaf here or there, but still a grown oak tree? Do we see an acorn instead? Or is it more like an apple seed, something that wouldn't inevitably grow into an oak?

Dave has told us that he thinks it was an acorn. In his latest response to me, he makes more comments reflecting that view. He tells us that Jesus' disciples hadn't yet developed an understanding of the papacy in Luke 22:24. After I gave him examples of the earliest patristic interpreters of Matthew 16 contradicting his interpretation of the passage, Dave wrote:


But Catholics don't claim that all aspects of ecclesiology and the papacy were always held by the Christian church: only that the essential aspects (some only in kernel form originally) were passed down in the apostolic deposit and that they continued to be developed throughout history. Some Christians disagreed with them, just as some who claimed to be Christians have disagreed with the Trinity through the centuries. That doesn't make the thing itself less true....

We don't believe that individual fathers are infallible. The Catholic historical case for the papacy doesn't rest on the interpretation of Matthew 16, but rather, on how Peter was regarded when he was alive, and how his successors in Rome were regarded (and the real authority they exercised in point of fact). Not everyone "got" it. But that is never the case, so it is no issue at all. No one "got" all the books of the New Testament, either, till St. Athanasius first listed all of them in the year 367. That doesn't give Jason pause; why should differing interpretations of Matthew 16 do so?...

I rather prefer Jesus to Origen (assuming Jason is correct in his summary or Origen's views). Are we to believe that Origen is the supreme exegete of all time; not to be contradicted?...

He [Cyprian] was wrong, too, when he said that. So what?...

Even the three Fathers he lists as contradicting our view agree with it elsewhere. It is not inconceivable that one could hold to a double meaning (as St. Augustine often did): viz., that "Rock" referred to Peter and his faith. None of this poses any difficulty at all for the Catholic.


Since Dave seems to have not read or to have forgotten some things I've documented in prior responses to him, I'll repeat what I've said before. The issue is not whether these church fathers saw Peter as the rock of Matthew 16. Many of them did. As Dave has acknowledged, many non-Roman-Catholic scholars see Peter as the rock. That doesn't mean that they agree with Dave Armstrong's papal interpretation of the passage. People like Tertullian, Origen, and Cyprian viewed Peter as the rock, but interpreted Matthew 16 in a non-papal, sometimes even anti-papal, sense.

Though I didn't cite Augustine in the comments Dave was responding to above, since Augustine wasn't among the earliest interpreters of Matthew 16, I'll address him because of Dave mentioning him. I've corrected Dave on this subject in the past, but he apparently either didn't read what I wrote or forgot about it. Augustine didn't just say that the rock of Matthew 16 has a double meaning. Rather, he changed his view on the subject. Later in his life, he denied that Peter is the rock and said that Jesus is the rock instead. Replacing one view of the rock with another view is not equivalent to holding both views at the same time. Contrary to what Dave keeps erroneously asserting, Augustine did the former, not the latter.

Dave wants us to believe that there was an acorn form of the papacy in early church history, a form so unclear that not only were Jesus' disciples unaware of it at the time of the Last Supper (Luke 22:24), but the earliest patristic commentators on Matthew 16 were unaware of it as well and sometimes even contradicted it. Yet, as I documented in an earlier response to Dave (, the RCC has taught that the universal jurisdiction of Peter is a clear doctrine of scripture always understood by the Christian church. The First Vatican Council, in its fourth session, refers to the universal jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome as a doctrine "known to all ages". The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us:

"Indeed, 'from the incarnate Word's descent to us, all Christian churches everywhere have held and hold the great Church that is here [at Rome] to be their only basis and foundation since, according to the Savior's promise, the gates of hell have never prevailed against her.'" (834)

Even though I cited this passage from the Catechism in a previous response to Dave, he asks me for a citation of it in his latest response to me, as if I had never documented my claim. Now that I've documented it for him again, he'll probably tell us that there's no contradiction between what he's arguing and what the RCC teaches in documents such as the ones I've just cited again. Yet, Dave tells us that the papacy could be unknown to or contradicted by some church fathers, and that it may have gradually developed along the lines of the development of the New Testament canon. Once again, as we saw with the Immaculate Conception, the RCC tells us that there was an oak tree in early church history, but Dave Armstrong tells us there was an acorn.

In reality, there was neither. As with the Immaculate Conception, what we see in early church history with regard to the papacy is more like an apple seed. It's not an oak tree, nor is it an acorn that would inevitably grow into an oak. The Roman Catholic historian Klaus Schatz explains that there's a scholarly consensus regarding what the earliest Christians believed on this subject, and that consensus looks like an apple seed, not Dave Armstrong's acorn or the First Vatican Council's oak tree:

"There appears at the present time to be increasing consensus among Catholic and non-Catholic exegetes regarding the Petrine office in the New Testament….The further question whether there was any notion of an enduring office beyond Peter’s lifetime, if posed in purely historical terms, should probably be answered in the negative. That is, if we ask whether the historical Jesus, in commissioning Peter, expected him to have successors, or whether the author of the Gospel of Matthew, writing after Peter’s death, was aware that Peter and his commission survived in the leaders of the Roman community who succeeded him, the answer in both cases is probably 'no.'…If we ask in addition whether the primitive Church was aware, after Peter’s death, that his authority had passed to the next bishop of Rome, or in other words that the head of the community at Rome was now the successor of Peter, the Church’s rock and hence the subject of the promise in Matthew 16:18-19, the question, put in those terms, must certainly be given a negative answer....Rome did not succeed in maintaining its position against the contrary opinion and praxis of a significant portion of the Church. The two most important controversies of this type were the disputes over the feast of Easter and heretical baptism. Each marks a stage in Rome’s sense of authority and at the same time reveals the initial resistance of other churches to the Roman claim." (Papal Primacy [Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1996], pp. 1-2, 11)

Though this scholarly consensus Schatz describes is contrary to what Dave Armstrong is arguing, Dave claims that some elements of the scholarly consensus support his view that an acorn form of the papacy existed early on. He cites scholarly support for Peter being the rock and for interpreting Matthew 16 in light of Isaiah 22. But, as I've explained to Dave in previous responses, we can agree with him on such subjects without seeing a papacy in Matthew 16. Since Dave keeps repeating some of the same errors he made previously, and he still doesn't seem to have thought through some of his arguments, I want to address Matthew 16 in depth again.


Matthew 16


In Dave's list of 50 Biblical proofs of Petrine primacy and the papacy, the first three are arguments from Matthew 16. Concerning those three proofs, Dave writes:


All my other 47 proofs in my original list of 50 are supplementary; icing on the cake. The doctrine is proven from the first three proofs in and of themselves.


Elsewhere, Dave refers to "the 47 much-lesser proofs". Thus, I think it makes sense at this point to let our discussion of the other 47 proofs stand as it is and to narrow the focus to Matthew 16.

One of the most obvious problems with citing Matthew 16 to support the doctrine of the papacy is the fact that the passage says nothing of any successors to Peter, much less anything about those successors being exclusively Roman bishops. But Dave writes:


That is why Roman primacy began: because Peter's successor was the bishop in the location where he ended up and died....

If there was a leader of the Church in the beginning, it stands to reason that there would continue to be one, just as there was a first President when the laws of the United States were established at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Why have one President and then cease to have one thereafter and let the executive branch of government exist without a leader (or eliminate that branch altogether and stick with Congress -- heaven forbid!!!!!)?...

All the Catholic has to do from the Bible itself is show that a definite leadership of the Church was taught there. If it was, then all Christians are bound to that structure throughout time.


Many scholars, including some that Dave has cited, believe that Peter had a leadership role in founding the church, but that the leadership role either didn't need to be passed on to anybody else once the church had been founded or was passed on to some entity other than the bishop of Rome. To cite an example I gave Dave earlier, the Protestant historian Oscar Cullmann thought that James took up the leadership role after Peter. Dave's assertion that Peter would need to have a successor, and that the successor would be the bishop of the city where Peter died, is arbitrary and unproveable.

Anybody familiar with the Old Testament knows that God often changed the structure of leadership from generation to generation. Joshua served a significant historical purpose in leading Israel, but there was no unbroken succession of leaders with the same position as Joshua throughout Israel's history. During the Old Testament era, we see the people of God going from leadership by patriarchs to prophets to judges to kings, sometimes led by an individual, sometimes led by a group, etc. Paul had a unique role as the apostle to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:7-8), but nobody concludes that there must therefore be one bishop who succeeds Paul throughout church history as the bishop to the Gentiles. Paul could serve a unique historical role, and one of high significance, without there being any need of an unbroken chain of successors with the same role. The same is true of Peter. God could choose to have the church always led by one bishop with universal jurisdiction, but it isn't a logical necessity. What Dave needs, then, is evidence that God did establish such a succession of Popes. There is no such evidence in Matthew 16 or anywhere else in scripture.

Though Dave correctly points to Isaiah 22 as part of the background to Matthew 16, he's selective in his application of Isaiah 22. Not only does the passage say nothing of any unbroken succession of people throughout Israel's history who would have the authority of Eliakim, but the passage even refers to him "breaking off and falling" (Isaiah 22:25), and the key of David passed on to God Himself (Revelation 3:7), not another human successor.

Not only is there no evidence for a succession of Roman bishops having Peter's authority, but there's also no reason to conclude that Peter himself was a Pope. Dave has cited Protestant scholars referring to Peter being the rock of Matthew 16, Peter symbolizing Christian unity, Peter being pictured as a steward in Matthew 16, Peter being the leader of the disciples, etc. We can agree with such concepts, and I do agree with some of them, without concluding that Peter was a Pope.

Dave tells us:


It is straightforward exegesis. Scholarly commentary makes the officeholder of the keys unique. The chief steward or major-domo in the Old Testament was one man, not a committee of twelve.


Dave is wrong about the scholarship, and he's wrong about the Biblical evidence. Scholars such as D.A. Carson and R.T. France do refer to Peter being pictured as a steward in Matthew 16, along the lines of Eliakim in Isaiah 22, but they also go on to say that this doesn't lead to the conclusion that Peter had universal jurisdiction, and they explain that the imagery of Isaiah 22 is also used in other passages. In the process of commenting on Isaiah 22, the Protestant scholar F. Derek Kidner explains:

"This is the background of the commission to Peter (cf. Mt. 16:19) and to the church (Mt. 18:18) - with the warning against abuse implied above. Ultimate authority, however, is claimed, in these terms, for Christ Himself (cf. Rev. 3:7-8)." (New Bible Commentary, G.J. Wenham, et al., editors [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000], p. 647)

To the passages Kidner cites, we can add others, such as Matthew 23:13 and Luke 11:52. If one passage refers to one key, while another refers to two keys, and one passage refers to one person having the keys, while other passages refer to a group of people or God having the key or keys, and one passage refers to a more physical and earthly kingdom, while another refers to a more spiritual and Heavenly kingdom, what does that variety tell us? It tells us that the imagery is fluid, far more fluid than Dave's line of reasoning allows. Dave tells us that the background of Isaiah 22 requires that only one man have the authority that Jesus describes in Matthew 16, yet the imagery of Isaiah 22 is also used in Matthew 18, Matthew 23, and Luke 11, where more than one person is involved.

Dave acknowledges, apparently without realizing it, that the imagery is fluid. When Isaiah 22 refers to "breaking off and falling" (22:25), Dave doesn't apply that part of the passage to Peter and the bishops of Rome. Similarly, when Revelation 3:7 refers to Jesus holding the key of Isaiah 22, Dave doesn't conclude that Jesus is therefore a steward who can break off and fall, and that the bishop of Rome living at that time couldn't have also been a steward in the kingdom of God. If only one man can be the steward, and Jesus is the steward in Revelation 3, how can the bishop of Rome who was living at that time have also been the steward of the kingdom? Dave allows the imagery to be fluid at some points, but then arbitrarily claims that it must not be fluid at other points. One wonders what Dave does with the book of Revelation, where Jesus is referred to both as steward and as king (Revelation 3:7, 19:16). We also have to wonder what he makes of passages that refer to all Christians as priests (1 Peter 2:9, Revelation 1:6). If Dave can distinguish between the individual believer as a priest and the Roman Catholic office of priest, and he distinguishes between those two and the priesthood of Christ, why would he think that the imagery of a steward in Isaiah 22 would have to be so much less fluid? Perhaps because he's trying to place more weight on Matthew 16 than it can bear?

In all of these discussions of the relationship between Isaiah 22 and Matthew 16, Dave assumes that Jesus is the king, and that Peter is the steward. But how does he know that Jesus is the king? What if Jesus is above both the king and the steward in Matthew 16, just as God was above both of them in Isaiah 22? In Isaiah, God is the one who speaks of giving the key (Isaiah 22:15, 22:25). If we're to parallel the passages as rigidly as Dave sometimes wants us to, Jesus would be paralleled with God, not with the king. That would mean that the king in Matthew 16 is some earthly leader who is below God, but above Peter. In other words, Peter would rank second, not first, in the church. Who is the king above Peter, but below God? Perhaps Pope Paul? Of course, I don't think Paul was actually a Pope, but the Isaiah 22 imagery is so fluid and inconclusive that I could cite it to support a wide variety of conclusions. We could conclude, for example, that Peter wouldn't have an unbroken succession (Isaiah 22:25) or that Peter would be second in rank in the church on earth, with another human leader over him. The Isaiah 22 imagery does tell us that Peter is being given authority, and that the authority is highly significant, for example, but that imagery by itself doesn't tell us what the nature of the authority is. The same is true of Matthew 18, Matthew 23, Luke 11, and the other passages where the Isaiah 22 imagery is used. It's applied to everybody from the religious leaders of Israel to the disciples to God Himself. The imagery is far too fluid to be the proof of a papacy that Dave Armstrong claims it is. Whatever Dave thinks of Isaiah 22 itself, the imagery of that passage had come to be used in a wide variety of ways, in the New Testament and in other literature, by the time of Jesus' earthly ministry.

Concerning the fact that the keys of Matthew 16 aren't unique to Peter, Dave writes:


It is true that Jesus gave the other apostles the power to bind and loose, but that poses no problem whatever for the Catholic position. Peter's uniqueness in that regard was that Jesus said that to him as an individual, not as part of a collective. This is usually significant in the Hebraic, biblical outlook and worldview....

The fallacy and unsupported conclusion here is to assume that binding and loosing is the sum of what it meant to hold the keys. This is simply not true.


He also gives some analogies to illustrate his argument. He points out, for example, that if one baseball player is told that he'll be the pitcher and is given a glove, then other players are given gloves as well, we wouldn't conclude that all of the players were pitchers just because they all were given gloves. But such an analogy is fallacious. Peter is never told that he'll be the pitcher. The issue in dispute is whether his being given the glove as an individual is proof that he's the pitcher. It isn't.

When Dave tells us that it's wrong to think that "binding and loosing is the sum of what it meant to hold the keys", he's missing the point. Whatever the keys mean, the point is that Peter wasn't the only one who had them. If the keys involve more than binding and loosing, then all of the disciples had more than binding and loosing. The keys are at least used to bind and loose, and all of the disciples could bind and loose. As I've explained to Dave before, the structure of the passages mentioning keys (Isaiah 22:22, Matthew 16:19, Luke 11:52, Revelation 3:7, 20:1-7, etc.) shows that the actions mentioned after the key are the function of the key. The keys of the kingdom of Heaven in Matthew 16 are used to bind and loose on earth what's bound and loosed in Heaven. The binding and loosing are the function of the keys. Thus, when all of the disciples are said to bind and loose in Matthew 18, they accomplish that action by using the keys. If they have keys to bind and loose with, why should we think the keys are unique to Peter? It would be implausible to argue that they were binding and loosing without the keys, just as it would be implausible to argue that Jesus was unable to bind and loose in Revelation 1:18, since only keys are mentioned, without any mention of binding and loosing. If a person has a key, it logically follows that he has the function of the key as well. And if a person has the function of the key, it logically follows that he has the key. It would be absurd to argue that the other disciples don't have the keys in Matthew 18, since only the binding and loosing are mentioned. They wouldn't be able to bind and loose without the keys. Some of the key passages in scripture mention both the key and its function (Luke 11:52). Some mention only the key (Revelation 1:18). And some mention only the function (Matthew 23:13). Whether a passage mentions both the key and the function, only the key, or only the function, the same concept is being conveyed. Thus, the keys and binding and loosing of Matthew 16 were also possessed by the religious leaders of Israel (Matthew 23:13) and the other disciples (Matthew 18:18). They aren't unique to Peter. Later in this article, I'll be addressing the singling out of Peter in Matthew 16, but the keys themselves aren't proof of papal authority.

What about Peter being given the name "Peter" in addition to his original name "Simon"? Dave writes the following in criticism of my view on this subject:


It means nothing that God changed his name from Abram to Abraham (Genesis 17:5), just as it meant nothing that God changed Jacob's name to Israel (Gen 32:28).


That isn't what I've argued. The Eastern Orthodox, Presbyterians, Anglicans, and hundreds of millions of other people who don't see any papal implications in Peter's name don't argue that "it meant nothing". Rather, we argue that it doesn't necessarily have a papal meaning. We don't know why Jesus gave Simon a second name, just as we don't know why He gave James and John a second name (Mark 3:16-17). We don't even know whether Simon was given the new name because of what happened in Matthew 16. It's possible that the reverse occurred. Instead of Matthew 16 shaping Peter's name, Peter's name may have shaped Matthew 16. In other words, Jesus may have chosen the rock imagery because of a second name Peter had already been given for some other reason. Jesus mentions the new name long before Matthew 16 occurred (John 1:42), and so does Mark (Mark 3:16). Even if he was given the name because of what happened in Matthew 16, that wouldn't lead to the conclusion that he was a Pope. Many non-Roman-Catholics, such as some Protestant scholars Dave has cited, think that Peter had a unique leadership role, but wasn't a Pope. Peter wouldn't need an office of universal jurisdiction, much less successors with that authority, in order to be a rock on which the church was founded in a unique sense.

Aside from Peter's name, what about his serving as a foundation of the church? Dave writes:


If Peter was the Rock, as all these eminent scholars believe, then the argument is a straightforward logical one leading to the conclusion that Peter led the Church, because Jesus built His Church upon Peter....

Peter is the human cornerstone or earthly leader, as seen in Matthew 16:18.


Dave knows that Ephesians 2:20 refers to the church being built on all of the apostles, but he claims that the singling out of Peter in Matthew 16 proves that Peter is a foundation stone in a greater way. Again, I'll be addressing the issue of the singling out of Peter later in this article. But, for now, I want to address whether the reference to the church being built on Peter is itself proof of papal authority. It isn't. Paul distinguishes between the cornerstone and other stones in Ephesians 2:20. Jesus is the cornerstone. Peter isn't singled out. Similarly, the foundation imagery in Revelation 21:14 and the throne imagery in Matthew 19:28 don't set Peter apart. We know, from Ephesians 2:20 and the Greek language that existed at the time, that the authors of scripture had terminology they could have used if they wanted to portray Peter as being a different type of stone. They didn't use that terminology.

If Peter's name, his being a foundation of the church, and his possession of the keys don't lead to the doctrine of the papacy, what does? I think that, in the process of my discussions with Dave over the years, his Biblical argument for the papacy has been narrowed down to one thing: Peter being singled out in Matthew 16. Peter isn't the only foundation stone of the church, nor is he the only one who has the keys of the kingdom of Heaven. What Dave keeps returning to is the fact that Peter is singled out in Matthew 16. But does being singled out lead to the doctrine of the papacy? From a logical standpoint, no, it doesn't, nor does it follow from Biblical precedent. A person can be singled out because of jurisdictional primacy, but that isn't the only possible reason. A person can also be singled out because he singles himself out by starting a conversation, as we see with James and John in Mark 10:35-40. Dave has responded to this example by commenting:


This isn't analogous because Jesus doesn't give them a special name and say extraordinary things about them in particular.


Jesus did give James and John a second name (Mark 3:17). But the issue in this context is the singling out of people, not whether they're given a second name. There's nothing about being given a second name that logically leads to the conclusion of a papacy. But if the singling out of Peter in Matthew 16 proves a primacy of Peter, wouldn't the same be true of Mark 10 with regard to James and John? The context of Mark 10:35-40 is suffering. It would be ridiculous to conclude that James and John had a primacy of suffering because Jesus singled them out in a way in which He didn't single out the other apostles. What Jesus says to James and John in Mark 10:39 isn't said to the other apostles. But it would be ridiculous to conclude that James and John therefore had a primacy. Similarly, John 1:47-51 doesn't prove a primacy of Nathaniel, John 21:22 doesn't prove a primacy of John, Acts 9:15 doesn't prove a primacy of Paul, nor does Romans 2:16 or Galatians 2:20, etc. Being singled out can be a reference to primacy, but it need not be.

Even when one individual is set above others, we have to ask what the context is. John the Baptist is set above other people in Matthew 11:11, but nobody would conclude that he therefore had jurisdictional primacy. Similarly, even if we assume that the singling out of Peter sets him above other people, that primacy could be non-jurisdictional (chronological, symbolic, historical, etc.). Many church fathers and Eastern Orthodox and Protestant scholars believe in a non-jurisdictional primacy of Peter.

Peter refers to himself as an apostle (1 Peter 1:1, 2 Peter 1:1), an eyewitness of Jesus' earthly life (1 Peter 5:1, 2 Peter 1:16), and an elder (1 Peter 5:1). Those roles don't single him out. Peter does single himself out in Acts 15:7, however. And how does he single himself out? As a Pope? No, but as an evangelist who served a unique historical purpose. He needs no successors in that role.

A papacy did develop after the time of the apostles. Other doctrines developed as well, many of which Dave Armstrong rejects. We have reason to think Jesus and the apostles would want us to hold a Trinitarian view of God along the lines of what was taught by the early ecumenical councils (Matthew 3:16-17, 28:19, Jesus' manhood logically leads to conclusions such as that He has a human nature and a human will, etc.). We have reason to think that Jesus and the apostles would want us to accept the 27-book New Testament canon (historical evidence for the dating and authorship of each book, the Old Testament precedent of God's sovereignty over the canon, etc.). We have no reason to conclude, though, that Jesus and the apostles would want us to accept the doctrine of the papacy.

If Dave wants to argue that there are some Trinitarian doctrines and some elements of the canon that aren't supported by the historical evidence, then he's making an argument against the Trinity and the canon, not an argument for the papacy. To suggest, as Dave has, that the Trinitarian view of God and the canon are known to us by means of church councils, and couldn't be known otherwise, is illogical and historically ignorant. J.P. Holding is correct:

"Human beings will never agree unanimously on anything, even the canon of Scripture. Even today, many groups (such as the Mormons) seek to add to what has been written. This, of course, is their right; but the fact remains that the canon has been fixed, not by some 4th-century Church Council, but by the witness of history itself. As Metzger writes: 'the canon cannot be remade - for the simple reason that history cannot be remade.' (ibid., 275) The books that made it into the canon did so by means of 'survival of the fittest' - it was not a random drawing with all participants beginning on equal footing. The church did not create the canon, 'but came to recognize, accept, affirm, and confirm the self-authenticating quality of certain documents that imposed themselves as such upon the Church. If this fact is obscured, one comes into serious conflict not with dogma but with history.'(ibid., 286) We may freely learn from the non-canonical literature [MacD.FormCB, 257], and it may be that some of that literature contains authentic strands of teaching by Jesus. Nevertheless, we have our canon. We are each free to take it or leave it; and if it offend thee - take up scissors and paste, and make what thou considerest a better effort than others!" (

If Dave thinks there isn't sufficient evidence for the Trinitarian view of God and the canon of scripture unless we accept the infallibility of Popes or councils, then he can criticize Evangelicals for being inconsistent. But that doesn't give us any reason to accept the doctrine of the papacy. What it would give us reason to do is to reject the Trinitarian view of God and the 27-book New Testament canon in addition to rejecting the papacy. But the Evangelical view of God and the Evangelical canon of scripture aren't comparable to the papacy. The evidence logically leads to the first two, but not to the papacy.

The Trinitarian view of God is widely accepted across many denominational lines. So is the New Testament canon. The papacy isn't. To the contrary, long after Eusebius referred to each of the New Testament books being accepted by a majority of the churches, long after Athanasius listed the 27-book New Testament canon without any infallible council telling him what it was, we continue to find widespread rejection of the doctrine of the papacy. The Council of Constantinople was held without the bishop of Rome's consent, and was initially rejected in the West. The Council of Chalcedon passed its 28th canon, which is contrary to the doctrine of the papacy, despite the objections of the bishop of Rome. The Second Council of Constantinople claimed authority over the bishop of Rome and excommunicated him. During the Middle Ages, not only did the Eastern Orthodox and other groups reject the doctrine of the papacy, but even many people in the West denied that Popes had authority over councils. The papacy is absent early on, then gradually becomes popular in the West while being more widely and more consistently rejected in the East. The papacy is a divisive doctrine held by one denomination, while the Trinitarian view of God and the New Testament canon are hallmarks of the Christian faith, widely recognized and accepted for centuries across many denominational lines.

The RCC tells us that the oak tree of the doctrine of the papacy existed as an oak tree as early as the first century. But what we see in the historical record is more like an apple seed. Dave argues for a mediating position, one lower than what the RCC teaches, but higher than what Eastern Orthodox, Protestants, and most scholars believe. He tells us that there was no oak tree, but that there was an acorn. He cites Matthew 16 as the best evidence, by far, for that acorn. What is it in Matthew 16 that leads to such a conclusion?

Peter's name doesn't lead to the conclusion that he was a Pope. Being a foundation stone of the church isn't unique to him, nor is possessing the keys of the kingdom of Heaven. Nor is being singled out in Matthew 16 proof that he was a Pope. How can being singled out for non-papal attributes (being a foundation stone, having the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, etc.) lead to the conclusion that somebody is a Pope? If Peter's name, his role as a foundation stone, his possession of keys, and his being singled out don't lead to the conclusion that he and a succession of Roman bishops have universal jurisdiction, then what is it in Matthew 16 that does lead to that conclusion? Catholics can't combine these various elements of the passage, then claim that the cumulative weight proves a papacy. Combining a variety of insufficient arguments doesn't make for a sufficient argument. My list of proofs of a Pauline papacy is evidence of that fact. When the different elements of Matthew 16 are combined, even if we give them the most pro-papal interpretation possible, we're still left without any successors of Peter, let alone successors who are exclusively Roman bishops. If neither the individual elements of what's said in Matthew 16 nor the combining of those elements leads to a papacy, what does? There's nothing in the passage to justify the doctrine. And it's the foundation of Roman Catholicism.

If Matthew 16 isn't about a papacy, then what was happening in the events described in that passage? All of us can accept some sort of primacy of Peter. There's no evidence of a jurisdictional primacy, though. The evidence, in fact, suggests that he didn't have such authority. Paul probably wouldn't assert his equality with the other apostles (Galatians 2:6-8) and refer to Peter second as one of three reputed pillars of the church (Galatians 2:9) if Peter was viewed as a Pope. The disciples knew nothing of a papacy at the time of the Last Supper (Luke 22:24), Paul knew nothing of it when he wrote the book of Galatians, and the earliest interpreters of Matthew 16 among the church fathers not only don't see a papacy in the passage, but even advocate some anti-papal interpretations. However, Peter did at least have a primacy of chronology and unity, for example, much as the church father Cyprian described. Peter made the orthodox confession of Matthew 16:16 before any of the other disciples. Peter was often the first one to speak, sometimes correctly and sometimes incorrectly. In this instance, correctly. He had a unique role in the founding of the church (Acts 15:7). However, none of these things, nor any of the many other things that could be said about Peter's uniqueness and significance, logically lead to the conclusion that Peter was a Pope. They don't lead to the conclusion that a succession of Roman bishops are Popes either.

Just as Peter was unique and significant in many ways, so were other Biblical figures, including other apostles. My list of proofs of a Pauline papacy is an example. Dave makes much of the fact that Matthew 16 uses imagery of authority, such as a kingdom and keys, but many of the things said about Paul are also said in a context of authority. Not all authority is papal authority. Paul can be singled out in contexts of authority without being a Pope, and the same is true of Peter.

In closing this article, I want to return to the analogy of the apple seed, the acorn, and the oak tree. Dave Armstrong has rejected the teachings of his denomination by replacing the oak tree of the First Vatican Council with an acorn. I think I've shown that not only is there no oak in scripture or early post-apostolic church history, but there's also no acorn. I want to leave the reader with the following question. If God wanted a papacy to be the center of Christian orthodoxy, the foundation of the Christian church, do you think He would have left us with an acorn that is logically indistinguishable from an apple seed, one that the disciples (Luke 22:24), the apostle Paul (Galatians 2:6-9), church fathers, ecumenical councils, and hundreds of millions of Christians would mistake for an apple seed for nearly two thousand years?