Still No Bible Verses Establishing the Papacy

Steve Ray (a supporter of the papacy) has a new post on his blog entitled, “Peter & the Papacy—Verses I Never Saw.” (link to post) Wanting to make sure I did not make the same mistake he made before he joined his present church, I eagerly opened the pdf document he provides at the link, to see what verses he had never seen, and which — according to his blog post “Verses Protestants tend to overlook or misunderstand about Peter and the Church.”

You may be surprised to learn that I was disappointed to find a three-page document composed mostly of illustrations. Allow me to summarize the content:

Page 1: Pictures of a supposed “Chair of Moses,” and the supposed “Chair of Peter” with some brief commentary about the illustrations and chairs.

Page 2: Exodus 18:13, brief commentary drawn from the Mishna, Matthew 23:2-3, a quotation from a book called, Peter, Keeper of the Keys, and a quotation alleged to be from Cyprian of Carthage.

Page 3: Pictures and brief commentary on the “ceremonial Chair of Peter” alleged to contain within it an actual chair Peter sat on.

That, in essence, is it.

Since there are only three verses in two passages, I’ll provide their full text below, together with commentary:

Matthew 23:1-3

1Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, 2Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: 3All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.

Steve Ray seems to mistakenly believe that this passage is speaking of a literal seat. I’m not sure if Steve actually believes that the stone chair he illustrates in his pdf is a Mosaic relic, but in any event, the more natural and proper understanding of the phrase “seat of Moses” is as a figure of speech. We can glean this several ways.

1. The context suggests that the fact that they “sit in Moses’ seat” is significant because it means that they are lawgivers. It’s not their physical location that’s significant, but their role.

2. We can recognize that “the seat of X” is a Hebrew idiom. This idiom can be marvelously well illustrated in the first verse of the first Psalm:

Psalm 1:1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

Notice the triple parallel: “walk in the counsel,” “stand in the way [i.e. path],” and “sit in the seat.” The idea is that the man is blessed who does not put himself in the same condition as the wicked. There’s no literal “sinners path” waiting to be discovered in Israel, in which the Israelites were forbidden to walk and no literal “scorner’s seat” waiting to be found in Israel either, in which the Psalmist was counseling that we not take our repose. Both of the latter two idioms present again the first point of the verse, that we should not do wickedness.

Again, we see the same idiom in the prophet Ezekiel, chapter twenty-eight.

Ezekiel 28:2 Son of man, say unto the prince of Tyrus, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Because thine heart is lifted up, and thou hast said, I am a God, I sit in the seat of God, in the midst of the seas; yet thou art a man, and not God, though thou set thine heart as the heart of God:

Undoubtedly, no one would think that we should be looking for a mid-sea throne that the prince of Tyrus claimed to have sat upon. Instead, we recognize that prince of Tyrus was making essentially a false claim of having God’s authority.

More amusing still would be a literal interpretation of the seat in Amos’ sixth chapter:

Amos 6:3 Ye that put far away the evil day, and cause the seat of violence to come near;

Even if someone looked for the prince of Tyrus’ mid-seas throne and a scorner’s chair, I doubt too many people would mistakenly think that Amos was complaining about someone rearranging the furniture, including an ominously named the “Seat of Violence.”

Finally, whether we want to take the following verse as literal or figurative, we can see from the usage in the Revelation of John the Apostle that the “seat” is a symbol of authority, which makes it handy for figures of speech:

Revelation 13:2 And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority.

On him He builds the Church, and to him He gives the command to feed the sheep; and although He assigns a like power to all the Apostles.

3. The third way we recognize that this is not a literal seat is that it is rather absurd to imagine all the scribes and Pharisees trying to squeeze into a single seat, even if Moses was rather rotund and needed a big chair.

Moving on from the issue of whether the chair in the verse is literal or not, we encounter the issue of whether the figure of speech has any relevance to “Peter and the Papacy.”

The answer, on its face, would appear to be no. Peter was not a scribe or a Pharisee. Peter did not sit in Moses’ seat either literally or figuratively (as far as we know). Furthermore, the scribes and Pharisees, though they had authority, were not only fallible but wicked hypocrites. While Peter certainly had sin (recall how Paul had to oppose Peter to Peter’s face) even after the Resurrection of our Lord, to describe Peter in the terms in which Jesus described the scribes and Pharisees would seem inappropriate. In short, there is no facial reason for there to be any connection between this verse and “Peter and the Papacy.”

The answer if we look at the pdf document Ray provides, becomes apparent. Ray wants to draw some sort of parallel between Moses’ seat and Peter’s seat. But, of course, Scripture nowhere mentions Peter having a seat!

Having examined the essential non-relevance of the verse taken from Matthew’s Gospel, let’s turn to the verse taken from the book of Exodus, the eighteenth chapter.

Exodus 18:13 And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses sat to judge the people: and the people stood by Moses from the morning unto the evening.

The Mishna commentary provided by Ray doesn’t shed any significant light as to why this verse was selected:

In the Mishna, we read that the Torah was given to Moses, and then passed on to Joshua and from Joshua to the Judges and the Judges to the Prophets, and the Prophets to the Great Assembly.

Given the obscurity of the reason for the selection, two possible reasons for the selection come to mind.

1. The verse demonstrates that Moses judged the people.

2. The verse demonstrates that Moses sat down (and/or that he did so while he judged the people).

As for the first point, Peter is not described as being a judge over the people of God in the way in which Moses was a judge over the people of Israel. He was not a civil leader, but a spiritual leader. On the rare occasions that we see Peter doing something like judging (participating in the Council of Jerusalem or condemning Ananias and Sapphira) the other apostles are also present, which destroys the parallel to the monarchy (rule by one) of Moses.

As for the second point, the fact of sitting itself is trivial. He did so while he judged simply as an accommodation to his human frailty. He was an old man, and it was hard for him to stand all day long.

If there is any idea that because he sat, he must have had a chair — we can easily dispel that notion. Recall that only a chapter before, Moses had wanted to sit, because it was difficult for him to keep standing with his staff raised.

Exodus 17:9-12

9And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: to morrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand. 10So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek: and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.

Note that in this passage, Moses did not sit on a chair, but on a convenient stone. Now, I suppose that if someone desperately wanted to defend the stone chair photo on Ray’s blog, someone could make up a story in which the stone that he had sat on got taken off the hill and then carved into a chair. There’s no Scriptural reason to think that. The Israelites were wandering in the wilderness on their way to Canaan. Having to transport a massive (think hundreds of pounds) stone chair would make little sense.

To be thorough, I thought I’d investigate the alleged quotation from Cyprian of Carthage (who died in the middle of the third century). Upon investigation, I discovered that the precise wording provided in Ray’s post shows up in eleven books, two of them Steve’s own, and most of them within the last 10 years (and a quick search of web pages turned about 50 more, similarly recent posting of this version). The one exception was W. A. Jurgens’ “The Faith of the Early Fathers,” published in 1970, the relevant quotation being found at Volume 1, page 220.

Jurgens, of course, is a scholar and consequently points out something that Steve conveniently ignores (or perhaps Steve doesn’t ignore it — he’s just unaware, which might be the case if Steve obtained the quotation third hand). There is a significant textual question with respect to the authentic reading of Cyprian’s writing here. Jurgens presents the issue as being “Cyprian’s first edition” and “Cyprian’s second edition,” the former corresponding to Ray’s citation, but the latter being significantly different.

Before I continue, I should provide you the version preferred that preeminent scholar of the patristics, Philip Schaff:

If any one consider and examine these things, there is no need for lengthened discussion and arguments. There is easy proof for faith in a short summary of the truth. The Lord speaks to Peter, [FN3106] saying, “I say 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 also in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” And again to the same He says, after His resurrection, “Feed my sheep.” And although to all the apostles, after His resurrection, He gives an equal power, and says, “As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you: Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they shall be remitted unto him; and whose soever sins ye retain, they shall be retained;” [FN3108] yet, that He might set forth unity, He arranged by His authority the origin of that unity, as beginning from one. Assuredly the rest of the apostles were also the same as was Peter, endowed with a like partnership both of honour and power; but the beginning proceeds from unity. [FN3110] Which one Church, also, the Holy Spirit in the Song of Songs designated in the person of our Lord, and says, “My dove, my spotless one, is but one. She is the only one of her mother, elect of her that bare her.” Does he who does not hold this unity of the Church think that he holds the faith? Does he who strives against and resists the Church [FN3112] trust that he is in the Church, when moreover the blessed Apostle Paul teaches the same thing, and sets forth the sacrament of unity, saying, “There is one body and one spirit, one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God?”

FN3106 [On the falsifying of the text by Romish editors, see Elucidation II.]

FN3108 John xxi. 15. [Here is interpolated]: “Upon him, being one, He builds His Church, and commits His sheep to be fed.”

FN3110 [Here is interpolated]: “And the primacy is given to Peter, that there might be shown one Church of Christ and one See; and they are all shepherds, and the Rock is one, which is fed by all the apostles with unanimous consent.” This passage, as well as the one a few lines before, is beyond all question spurious.

FN3112 [Here is interpolated]: “Who deserts the chair of Peter, upon whom the Church is founded.” This passage also is undoubtedly spurious.

(less significant footnotes obviously omitted)

Notice Schaff’s footnotes, and particularly what he identifies as “undoubtedly spurious.” In this case, the part that he identifies as “undoubtedly spurious” is exactly the part that would seem to prove most helpful to the “Peter and the Papacy” point that Ray is trying to make.

Schaff is not just blustering. In the “Elucidations II” mentioned above, Schaff provides some explanation:

This is but a specimen of the way in which Cyprian has been “doctored,” in order to bring him into a shape capable of being misinterpreted. But you will say where is the proof of such interpolations? The greatly celebrated Benedictine edition reads as the interpolated column does, and who would not credit Baluzius? Now note, Baluzius rejected these interpolations and others; but, dying (a.d. 1718) with his work unfinished, the completion of the task was assigned to a nameless monk, who confesses that he corrupted the work of Baluzius, or rather glories in the exploit. “Nay, further,” he says, “it was necessary to alter not a few things in the notes of Baluzius; and more would have been altered if it could have been done conveniently.” Yet the edition came forth, and passes as the genuine work of the erudite Baluzius himself.

(emphasis in Schaff)

Now, in fairness to Jurgens, more recent scholarship has produced a new theory for the textual variants seen between the version Schaff prefers and version cited from Jurgens. Jurgens suggests that the generally accepted theory is that both versions are Cyprians, but that the shorter version is Cyprian’s own revision of his work. That is to say, Cyprian originally included the so-called primacy additions and later removed them.

Even Jurgens, by no means a friend of the Reformation, acknowledges that in his view, “Cyprian, indeed, recognized that the Bishop of Rome held some kind of special and primatial position; but he had not thought of it as implying a universal jurisdiction.” (Jurgens, pp. 219-220 – Emphasis added by TurretinFan)

In short, even assuming that the textual variant issue should be resolved accordingly to the currently prevailing theory (and not according to that adopted by Schaff), one would think that it would be odd to fail to note the later editorial retraction of the “primacy additions” if one is going to quote from this translation. In short, the quotation is not very compelling evidence at all, to suggest that Cyprian shared Ray’s view of Peter, particularly given the scholarly commentary by both Jurgens and Schaff.

Finally, we may provide correction for his claim that the quotation he provides was “Written by St. Cyprian of Carthage in AD 258 ….” Cyprian of Carthage died in 258. The “first edition” according to Jurgen (and Ray’s own pamphlet is from 251) whereas the second edition was several years later, perhaps around 256.

In short, I think its fair to say that any reasonable review of Ray’s pamphlet suggests that he’s overlooking more verses now that he has allied himself to Rome than he claims he missed before that move. It’s fair to say that he relies on mistaken misreading of Scripture to suggest that the “seat of Moses” was a literal chair, and on a questionable quotation from Cyprian to suggest that since the third century people have held similar views to his. In short, its fair to say that his presentation is not the work of careful Biblical scholarship, but propaganda.