It was the late 1980s. Remember them? Yes, well, things were developing in the Roman Catholic apologetics arena. Benny Diaz, a former Roman Catholic, and one who was working with us in reference to Jehovah’s Witnesses, kept pushing me to study the claims of the Roman Catholic Church. He introduced me to Catholic Answers and the materials they were producing. I began encountering Roman Catholic apologists on line (via the pre-cursor to the Internet: the BBS [Bulletin Board System]). In fact, my first two books were on the subject of Roman Catholicism (everyone expected I would first write on Mormonism, for I had been working with LDS folks for much longer).
In those days Catholic Answers included Karl Keating, Patrick Madrid, and Gerry Matatics. Matatics was one of the two super-star converts (along with Scott Hahn). I distinctly remember a picture of Matatics in a Roman Catholic church, looking at the camera, with the words, “I’m the one who took your loved ones out of the Catholic Church.” In fact, as I wrote that, I decided to look, and I found the old, November 1990 This Rock magazine. The specific line is, “I’m the guy who lured your family and friends out of the Church”. Here’s the picture (Gerry has aged, but not nearly as much as I have!) BTW, later, I asked Gerry about his alleged “anti-Catholic” activities prior to his conversion: he wrote no books, did no debates, recorded no tapes, wrote no articles or tracts. Anyway, I was collecting debate tapes of Matatics running various local pastors around the gum-stump. Few gave him much of a fight, and Hahn’s papers, though at this time not overly well produced (often just photocopies of dot-matrix print outs…remember those?), presented arguments the vast majority of non-Catholics had never even heard before, let alone had the foggiest idea how to refute or answer. The “old guard” of evangelical “missionaries” to Roman Catholics were no match for the smooth, scholarly sounding arguments of this new movement in Roman Catholicism.
One of the arguments promoted by Hahn, and put into action by Matatics, involved the Papacy. The “power” of the new RC apologetics movement was its attempt to appear biblical. So, why not go to Matthew 16:18-19, but, instead of turning off the audience by making their eyes glaze over by referring to some early church writer they have never heard of, Hahn and Matatics would weave a biblical argument, referring their audience back to Isaiah 22:20-22. They would talk about the office of the “chief steward,” sort of like a “prime minister,” and how this passage from the Old Testament is fulfilled in the papacy and the successors of Peter. Now, of course, few had ever heard such a presentation, and it all sounded so biblical.
And so I started looking into the argument, and, of course, it did not take long to realize that Isaiah 22:20-22 is indeed cited in the New Testament: just not at Matthew 16. It is cited in Revelation 3:7:
And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this:
Now here you have the Lord Jesus speaking as the Lord of the Church, and the issue of the key (please note, not “keys” but “key”—the singular has Messianic ramifications that RC apologists tend to ignore; in fact, one such apologist in a debate at Boston College was heard to say, “key, keys, it doesn’t matter!”) of David is connected to His power and His Lordship. RC apologists want to use Isaiah 22:22 to establish succession, but here, long after Peter is dead and gone, Jesus still holds the key! It wasn’t given to Peter and hence to any successors at all. Now, I looked in vain for any reference to this passage in the writings or presentations I possessed from Hahn or Matatics. They simply didn’t address it.
Well, when I debated Matatics on the Papacy at the City of the Lord Catholic Community in Tempe, Arizona in December of 1990 (Hahn moderated the debate), he launched into the Isaiah 22:20-22 argument, and I was ready. When I fired back it became painfully obvious that he had never had anyone dispute the point before, and really had nothing to say in response. Hahn seemed embarrassed that his pet argument had been torched, and was visibly angry at the end of the debate, even stomping out of the room and leaving Matatics to face a rather large group of very happy Protestants (read “feeding frenzy”).
Now, why mention all this? Well, some folks are shocked that I’ve been engaged in this field that long, and they enjoy the history lesson. But in reference to my review of Dave Armstrong’s The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages that Confound Protestants, I note that Mr. Armstrong presented a grand total of two passages on the Papacy. Guess which two? Yes, Matthew 16:18-19 and Isaiah 22:20-22. Now, do I address this text in The Roman Catholic Controversy which Armstrong cites in his book? Yep, sure do. Page 249, endnote 18 (older Mounce font on the Greek):
I comment briefly on the novel attempt by Roman Catholic apologists to apply Isaiah chapter 22, and the key to the house of David, to Peter himself in Matthew chapter 16. Such an attempted connection is logically necessary for the Roman position, for there must be some effort made to establish succession in this passage, for Matthew’s words make no mention of it. Yet, upon what basis do we identify the keys (plural, Greek: klei’da”) of the kingdom of heaven, which are associated plainly with the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, with the key (singular, Greek: klei’n as cited in Rev. 3:7; some LXX manuscripts have “glory” instead of “key,” while other manuscripts have the singular form of the term “key” kleivdan. The Hebrew of Isaiah 22:22, x;Tep.m; is singular as well) of the house of David, which is Messianic in nature? And should we not instead accept the interpretation given by the Lord Jesus himself, when he cites Isaiah 22:22 of Himself in Revelation 3:7, “And to the angel of the church of Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this.” Jesus has, present tense (Greek: oJ e[cwn ), the key of David. He does not say that He gives this key to anyone else. Indeed, when we look at how the Lord introduces Himself in each of these letters, the descriptions set Him apart from all creatures. Should we not then reject such an obvious attempt at eisegesis, and instead stay with the plain meaning of Scripture? I pause only briefly to note that I am unaware of a single Father of the Christian faith in the first 700 years of the Christian era who ever connected Isaiah 22:22 with Matthew 16, and then applied this to Peter’s supposed successors. Few interpretational stretches are as devoid of patristic support as this one.
Likewise, did I deal with Matthew 16:18ff? Rather fully, in fact (pp. 115ff). And so here’s the rather obvious question: did Dave Armstrong feel it necessary, in publishing a book wherein he allegedly provides biblical passages that “confound” Protestants, to address any of the material right at his finger-tips in response to his own position? Did he respond to any of the argumentation in The Roman Catholic Controversy regarding either of the two passages he presents? No. Does he show any familiarity at all with the exchanges that have taken place in the recent past in debate over these very passages? No. Surface-level, simplistic presentations, fully refuted in The Roman Catholic Controversy, are presented without so much as an apology for not bothering to actually engage the current debates over these apologetic issues. This is why it is hard to take what Mr. Armstrong says seriously, for you can’t simply trot out a couple of biblical passages, ignore all that has been said about them, and go, “Aha! You’ve been confounded!” If the materials you yourself cite in your bibliography blow holes through your arguments, and this is clear to anyone who takes the time to read carefully, and you do not even try to respond, it seems rather obvious that you have not, in fact, provided a meaningful defense of your position.