A Laymen’s Commentary on the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope: Refutation of Roman Arguments

22] But they cite against us certain passages, namely, Matt. 16:18f : Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church; also: I will give unto thee the keys; also John 21:15: Feed My sheep, and some others. But since this entire controversy has been fully and accurately treated elsewhere in the books of our theologians, and everything cannot be reviewed in this place, we refer to those writings, and wish them to be regarded as repeated. Yet we shall reply briefly concerning the interpretation [of the passages quoted].

Now Melancthon will go on to refute the papists arguments.  These arguments hinge on two passages of Scripture. The first, is the confession of St. Peter in the Gospel of St. Matthew (Matthew 16:13-20). The second, is the restoration of St. Peter after his denial of Christ in the Gospel of St. John (John 21:1-19). Both of these tests are the primary sedes doctrinae (seat of doctrine) for the pope’s claims of primacy.

23] In all these passages Peter is the representative of the entire assembly of apostles [and does not speak for himself alone, but for all the apostles], as appears from the text itself. For Christ asks not Peter alone, but says: Whom do ye say that I am? And what is here said [to Peter alone] in the singular number: I will give unto thee the keys; and whatsoever thou shalt bind, etc., is elsewhere expressed [to their entire number], in the plural Matt. 18:18: Whatsoever ye shall bind, etc. And in John 20:23: Whosesoever sins ye remit, etc. These words testify that the keys are given alike to all the apostles and that all the apostles are alike sent forth [to preach].

24] In addition to this, it is necessary to acknowledge that the keys belong not to the person of one particular man, but to the Church, as many most clear and firm arguments testify. For Christ, speaking concerning the keys adds, Matt. 18:19: If two or three of you shall agree on earth, etc. Therefore he grants the keys principally and immediately to the Church, just as also for this reason the Church has principally the right of calling. [For just as the promise of the Gospel belongs certainly and immediately to the entire Church, so the keys belong immediately to the entire Church, because the keys are nothing else than the office whereby this promise is communicated to every one who desires it, just as it is actually manifest that the Church has the power to ordain ministers of the Church. And Christ speaks in these words: Whatsoever ye shall bind, etc., and indicates to whom He has given the keys, namely, to the Church: Where two or three are gathered together in My name. Likewise Christ gives supreme and final jurisdiction to the Church, when He says: Tell it unto the Church.]

Therefore it is necessary that in these passages Peter is the representative of the entire assembly of the apostles, and for this reason they do not accord to Peter any prerogative or superiority, or lordship [which he had, or was to have had, in preference to the other apostles].

First, with regards to the Keys.  It is clear that Peter in Matthew 16 is speaking for all the apostles and therefore the Church.  While the Keys may be given singularly here, they are given generally elsewhere in Matthew 18:15-20 and John 20:19-23. We can see in both of these passages that the gift given specifically to Peter in Matthew 16 is given to all the apostles.  Thus the Keys really were not just specifically to Peter, but rather to the Church at large as represented by Peter who was being her spokesman.

Likewise in Matthew 18, ultimate authority is given to the Church, not to Peter specifically. If the pope was the ultimate authority, the Matthew 18 involvement of the Church at large in excommunication would make no sense. Thus it can be seen just from this that Peter is not Lord of the Church but rather just her spokesman.

25] However, as to the declaration: Upon this rock I will build My Church, certainly the Church has not been built upon the authority of man, but upon the ministry of the confession which Peter made, in which he proclaims that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. He accordingly addresses him as a minister: Upon this rock, i.e., upon this ministry. [Therefore he addresses him as a minister of this office in which this confession and doctrine is to be in operation and says: Upon this rock, i.e., this preaching and ministry.]

26] Furthermore, the ministry of the New Testament is not bound to places and persons as the Levitical ministry, but it is dispersed throughout the whole world, and is there where God gives His gifts, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers; neither does this ministry avail on account of the authority of any person, but on account of the Word given by Christ. 27] [Nor does the person of a teacher add anything to this word and office; it matters not who is preaching and teaching it; if there are hearts who receive and cling to it, to them it is done as they hear and believe.] And in this way, not as referring to the person of Peter, most of the holy Fathers, as Origen, Cyprian, Augustine, 28] Hilary, and Bede, interpret this passage: Upon this rock. Chrysostom says thus: “Upon this rock,” not upon Peter. For He built His Church not upon man, but upon the faith of Peter. But what was his faith? “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Hilary says: To Peter the Father revealed that he should say, “Thou art the Son of the living God.” 29] Therefore the building of the Church is upon this rock of confession; this faith is the foundation of the Church.

It is also clear that what is meant by “on this Rock I will build My Church” is the confession of Peter and not Peter himself.  It is on the preaching and confession of Christ that His church is to be built. The Church Fathers also interpreted this passage the same way.  You can tell from the Greek what is meant. Petros refers to Peter, Petra refers to his confession of faith. 

Furthermore we are no longer under the Levitical codes which had a hereditary High Priest and specific location for worship.  Rather the Gospel has freed us and made Christ our High Priest and everywhere acceptable for worship. The Church is now no longer tied to a specific person or place. It is this faith that is the foundation of the Church. Namely faith in Christ, not the person of Peter. (Romans 10, Ephesians 4:1-16)

30] And as to that which is said John 21:15ff : Feed My sheep, and, Lovest thou Me more than these? it does not as yet follow hence that a peculiar superiority was given Peter. He bids him “feed,” i.e., teach the Word [the Gospel], or rule the Church with the Word [the Gospel], which Peter has in common with the other apostles.

As to the passage in the Gospel of John that they cite, Christ here is restoring Peter after his denial of Him on the night He was betrayed. Christ is not giving him some special authority or call.  Christ tells Peter to feed His sheep, which is what He tells the other apostles to do as well.

31] The second article is still clearer, that Christ gave to the apostles only spiritual power, i.e., the command to teach the Gospel, to announce the forgiveness of sins, to administer the Sacraments, to excommunicate the godless without bodily force [by the Word], and that He did not give the power of the sword, or the right to establish, occupy or confer kingdoms of the world [to set up or depose kings]. For Christ says, Matt. 28:19. 20: Go ye, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; also John 20:21: As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.

Now, it is manifest that Christ was not sent to bear the sword or possess a worldly kingdom [rule in a worldly fashion], as He Himself says, John 18:36: My kingdom is not of this world. And Paul says, 2 Cor. 1:24: Not for that we have dominion over your faith; and 2 Cor. 10:4: The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, etc.

The issue about temporal power is also easily dismissed.  Christ gives His apostles spiritual power. He relegates temporal power to the state (Romans 13). Christ called the Church to preach and teach not to rule (John 18:28-19:16, Matthew 28:18-20, 2 Corinthians 1:12-2:4, 2 Corinthians 10). It is obvious from clear Scripture the church is not to have temporal authority but rather only has spiritual authority.

An additional passage that was cited for the bearing of both swords by the pope is Luke 22:35-38. While not mentioned here, it was popular in the Middle Ages. This passage was horribly eisegeted in the Middle Ages to make it appear that the two swords which the disciples have represent both the temporal sword and the spiritual sword. Naturally a clear reading of the text shows that the disciples only had two actual swords, an accident of history not some deep allegorical point about the authority of the church. In fact later on that very night Christ castigates them for using their swords (Luke 22:47-53).

Thus it is clear that all the claims the Pope makes are not supported by the Scriptures he cites. There is no leg for him to rest his authority. Even worse though are the abuses that he has wrought in his office, for if he was acting as vicar of Christ you would expect him to follow Christ’s example. However as Melancthon will discuss next, that is not the case.

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