Steve Ray (a Roman Catholic apologist and pilgrimage tour guide) has again provided an argument for the papacy via his blog (link to Ray’s blog). Ray’s argument for the paaccomes in the form of a reply to an objection based on the peg in Isaiah. Apparently, this was the “only issue” about Roman Catholicism that “unsettled … scripturally” one of the readers of Ray’s blog (according to the article Ray links to) and additionally it was a question raised by a caller to a radio show where Ray appeared.

If either that reader or that listener happens to find this blog, I’d suggest to him that this is a minor objection. There are many more serious issues with Catholicism that should leave him feeling unsettled scripturally: Rome’s views of justification, purgatory, indulgences, papal infallibility, transubstantiation, worship by use of images, veneration of relics, and many more come immediately to mind. In fact, the peg in Isaiah would be so far down the list of possible issues with Rome that I doubt I have ever raised this particular objection, though Ray claims that “I know because I used to propose this as well.”

In the discussion that follows, I will explain the context of the objection (typical misuse of Isaiah 22) and explain some better objections both grammatical (the pluralization of “keys” demonstrates that a different figure of speech is being used) and exegetical (Eliakim in Isaiah 22 points to Christ, as confirmed by Scripture). Additionally, I will explain the objection (since many readers may never have heard of it) and address both legitimate and illegitimate rebuttals to the objection. By the conclusion, the reader will have seen that although the objection posed is not a particularly strong one, and not one that we should favor, an exegetical understanding as to why such an objection is improper confirms that the position Ray advocates in essence attributes to his church what is properly ascribed only to Christ, for the government is on Christ’s shoulder. It is Christ upon whom, like an unbreakable pothook, we can safely hang all our hopes. It is by faith alone in Him alone, that we are saved.

First of all, since many of the readers may never have even heard of this objection, allow me to explain it and its relation to Rome’s claims. Probably most readers are familiar with Rome’s claim that the popes have a “power of the keys,” which they assert is a power of authority over the church. In an attempt to bolster this claim, reliance is usually placed on the use of the word “key” in Isaiah 22:22, in which Eliakim is prophesied to receive “the key of the house of David … upon his shoulder.”

There are many valid and important objections to this particular claim by Rome. For example, there is a difference between the “key” (singular) of Isaiah 22:22 and the “keys” (plural) of Matthew 16:19. In other words, even assuming that there is an idiomatic usage of “key,” in Isaiah 22:22, it is improper to apply that idiom to Matthew 16:19 because a different word is used. Since a different word is used, the idiom would be lost, unless the idiom were susceptible of pluralization (which does not seem to be Rome’s claim).

A second powerful objection is that the fulfillment of Isaiah 22:22 is found Revelation 3:7, at which point God claims for himself possession of the “key of the house of David.” In other words, (a) the key of the house of David has not been given to the apostles, and (b) it is more readily understood that this key was given to Jesus as the spiritual fulfillment of the prophecy.

In connection with the part (b) of the second objection, one might further make the “peg” objection that Mr. Ray references in the paper provided via his blog. In essence, the “peg” objection is based on the context of Isaiah 22:22:

Isaiah 22:20-25

20And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah: 21And I will clothe him with thy robe, and strengthen him with thy girdle, and I will commit thy government into his hand: and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. 22And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. 23And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to his father’s house. 24And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father’s house, the offspring and the issue, all vessels of small quantity, from the vessels of cups, even to all the vessels of flagons. 25In that day, saith the LORD of hosts, shall the nail that is fastened in the sure place be removed, and be cut down, and fall; and the burden that was upon it shall be cut off: for the LORD hath spoken it.

The “peg” objection points to the simile/analogy started in verse 23. The nail (or peg) is fastened in a sure place, and everything is hung on him. Up to this point, one might see how someone like Ray could say that this is fulfilled in his church or the papacy. For example, one might say that all of his church’s theology or all of the people of his church hang on the church. On the other hand, at verse 25, the nail is removed or cut off, and the burden that was on it, is cut off. That would seem to spell the end of the theology or the people of the church, if the peg/nail represents the church, or to an end of the papacy (if the nail represents the papacy), according to this objection.

There are some problems with this objection, one of which Steve Ray indirectly addresses, and another of which he overlooks. Before completing the objection properly, let’s examine Ray’s counter arguments.

Ray identifies what he views as “two different things.” The first is that, according to Ray, “it is a historical situation dealing with a real steward, having nothing to do with a ‘prophecy’ about Peter or a future kingdom of Christ.” I agree with Ray that Isaiah 22 has nothing to do with a prophecy about Peter or the kingdom of Christ. If, however, Ray wants to take this approach, he needs to limit himself to using the passage as providing an example of an idiom. If he takes that approach, the problem of the difference between “the key” (singular) in Isaiah 22 and “the keys” (plural) in Matthew 16:19 is something he has to face.

The second thing, which sounds a lot like the first thing, Ray describes as: “Isaiah 22 is historical situation in the kingdom of Judah. It is not a prophecy — it is history.” First of all, Ray’s not completely correct: it is prophecy and only prophecy. The events described had not yet happened when Isaiah prophesied them.

Nevertheless, as noted above, the physical and typological fulfillment was history by the time of Christ. That is to say, the physical and immediate fulfillment of the prophesy was in a man whose name was Eliakim. Eliakim, however, was a type (i.e. shadow) of Christ.

In order to understand how the relation between Eliakim and Christ works, one must also appreciate what the phrase “in that day” in verse 25 of Isaiah 22 means. The verse is a reference to the day in which Eliakim will be called. Recall that verse 20 states (with its preceding context):

Isaiah 22:15-20

15Thus saith the Lord GOD of hosts, Go, get thee unto this treasurer, even unto Shebna, which is over the house, and say, 16What hast thou here? and whom hast thou here, that thou hast hewed thee out a sepulchre here, as he that heweth him out a sepulchre on high, and that graveth an habitation for himself in a rock? 17Behold, the LORD will carry thee away with a mighty captivity, and will surely cover thee. 18He will surely violently turn and toss thee like a ball into a large country: there shalt thou die, and there the chariots of thy glory shall be the shame of thy lord’s house. 19And I will drive thee from thy station, and from thy state shall he pull thee down. 20And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah:

As you can see the prophecy is against Shebna. It is in the day of Shebna’s demise that Eliakim will be called. Shebna will be out, and Eliakim will be in.

With that in mind, verse 25 about the nail being removed from its sure place is a reference to Shebna, not Eliakim. Shebna will be pulled out, and Eliakim will be placed in the sure place.

Thus, part of the objection (as written by Ray’s reader) is wrong. If Eliakim pictured the papacy, it would not be the case that the papacy will be cut off. On the other hand, Ray specifically denies that the passage is a prophecy of the papacy.

Christ is the nail in the sure place, that will never be removed. He took the place of the shadows and types the preceded him: both the Old Testament priesthood and the Old Testament monarchy.

Although, as noted above, Ray states that the passage is not about the papacy, nevertheless Ray goes on to suggest a number of parallels, as well as disputing the explanation above about how Shebna, not Eliakim, is the removed peg.

With respect to the explanation, Ray quotes from the “Jerome Bible Commentary” and the “Word Biblical Commentary,” which suggest that verse 25 relates to the downfall of Eliakim. One might point out that other Roman Catholic sources, such as Haydocks’s “Catholic Bible Commentary,” (1859 ed.) agree with the explanation I’ve provided above, in that verse 25 refers to Shebna (“Sobna” in Haydock’s transliteration).

Matthew Henry (whom Ray quotes only with respect to the identification between Eliakim and Jesus) similarly identifies verse 25 with Shebna’s demise, and so does John Gill. Like Haydock’s commentary, both Henry’s and Gill’s commentaries are on the entire Bible. Likewise, Calvin (who wrote commentary on most of the Bible) agrees that verse 25 refers to Shebna, not Eliakim.

Thus, as Joseph Addison Alexander reports in his commentary on Isaiah, “Most writers, therefore, seem to be agreed, that the twenty-fifth verse relates to Shebna, and that the Prophet, after likening Eliakim to a nail fastened in a sure place, tacitly applies the same comparison to Shebna.” Surely, there are exceptions (Alexander notes some of them in his work, and today we might even include the noted E. J. Young in their ranks), and Ray seems to have latched onto a couple of the exceptions. After all, even John Wesley (who also provided notes on virtually the whole Bible) agrees that verse 25 refers to Shebna.

Having established that Ray actually relies on the weaker exegesis of the text, we can turn to the parallelisms he attempts to make, despite his acknowledgment that the verse is not a prophecy of the papacy.

He states that the comparison between Eliakim and Peter is fair, “Because King Jesus is planning and establishing his new eternal kingdom. What was the model? What every Jew knew, their own history in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.”

There are two counter-points to be noted here.

First, Jesus kingdom is primarily a heavenly kingdom. Jesus himself declared:

John 18:36 Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.

Second, although there is an earthly administration of the kingdom of God, and though the church of God is that administration, the key of the house of David is fulfilled in Christ, not Peter, as discussed above and confirmed in Revelation 3:7.

Ray goes even further to suggest that “keys” (Ray overlooks the problem that the text says “key” not “keys”) were a sign not only of delegated royal authority but successive authority. Of course, the passage does not mention that the authority is successive, and given that Christ is the one who posses the key referenced, and given that his reign is eternal, there is no need for succession.

Indeed, part of the glory of Christ is his avoidance of the Old Testament successions: both the succession of kings, and as well the succession of priests:

Hebrews 10:11-12

11And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: 12But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;

But Ray’s comments are not a total loss. He notes that if the prophecy is about the future, “I would see it as a warning that the Jewish kingdom, economy and official offices would all fail God — and they did.” They did not fail God, but they did fulfill their purpose and come to a completion.

Even in this, Ray seems to misunderstand the literary use of the nail/peg in Isaiah 22, for he states: “The tent (maybe the “church” of the Old Testament) eventually falls to be replaced by a new tent with a more sure peg.” Of course, the nail in the Scriptural metaphor is a hook for hanging pots, pans, and the like, not a tent peg (although the same Hebrew word describes both concepts).

What is truly shocking, though, is that Ray goes on to deny Jesus the role of the more sure peg, mocking Matthew Henry’s correct identification of Jesus as Eliakim — the sure peg, while ignoring (as noted above) Henry’s explanation regarding the nail of verse 25.

Ray even goes so far as to claim that the papacy has never failed. Yet one need only to turn to the Council of Constance (1414-18) to see a failure of the papacy that had to be fixed by a council. It even went so far as to declare itself to be: “legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit, constituting a general council and representing the Catholic church militant, it has power immediately from Christ; and that everyone of whatever state or dignity, even papal, is bound to obey it in those matters which pertain to the faith, the eradication of the said schism and the general reform of the said church of God in head and members.” (This declaration was naturally never endorsed by the popes.)

Likewise, another example of the failure of the papacy can be seen in the Rule of the Harlots (aka Pornocracy) that existed from 904-964. Yet a further example can be seen in Gregory the Seventh who obtained the papacy in 1073 by gross simony, and the list of papal failures would not need to end there.

Instead of placing our trust in an institution that cannot escape corruption at the highest level, we need to trust the incorruptible Word of God, the declarations of God himself in the pages of the Holy Scriptures. For it is by the Scriptures that we are led into all truth, and it is by the Scriptures that we are able to detect and refute false teachers, whether purporting to be prophets or popes.

Peter himself failed — he was a man. But as he wrote under inspiration:

1 Peter 1:24-25

24For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: 25But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.

So then, the peg/nail objection is not the best way (and is probably not a particularly good way) to address the abuse of Isaiah 22 by folks like Steve Ray, but we can see that there abundant reasons to reject such abuse of the text by resorting to Tota Scriptura (All of Scripture).


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