An Initial Review of Some Problems in the Newly Published Book,

Jesus, Peter & the Keys

Cover of 'Jesus, Peter and the Keys'

By Scott Butler, Norman Dahlgren, and David Hess

It has been a long time coming. I’ve been hearing about this book for quite literally years. It finally made its appearance at the end of 1996, to the cheers of such individuals as Dr. Scott Hahn, Dr. Mitchell Pacwa, and Patrick Madrid-quite a spectrum of the Roman Catholic apologetics community. I knew the book was coming, because I have had frequent contact with one of the authors, Scott Butler. He had been speaking about the project for years, and I had seen a lot of the information in type-written format as early as 1994, and had heard much of it presented in a debate I did against Butler and his colleague, Robert Sungenis (who is cited as the books “Greek expert” many times) in February of 1995 at Boston College.

I won’t go into a lot of detail regarding my interactions with Scott Butler over the years. Let’s suffice it to say that he was involved in my very first debate (against then-Catholic Answers staff apologist, Gerry Matatics, in Long Beach, August, 1990). He and Catholic Answers got into a fight over who would have rights to the video of the debate, and as a result, the debate was never offered by CA. A few years later, when I traveled to Toledo, Ohio, to debate Dr. Art Sippo (a debate arranged through the offices of Patrick Madrid of CA), another incident took place illustrating the strain that existed between CA and Butler. When I entered the auditorium, I found a video crew setting up their equipment. Shortly thereafter Patrick Madrid came in, and was noticeably surprised at the presence of the videographers. He asked them who had paid for them to come. “Scott Butler” they replied. Madrid disappeared, came back about fifteen minutes later, having called CA and talked to Karl Keating, and asked the men to leave. Ironically, CA has later disavowed any sponsorship of that debate, and Butler, not to be outdone, flew Rob Zins into Toledo just a few weeks later to debate the same opponent on the same topic, only this time, since he was paying, the video folks got to stay! As a result, I am wondering how Karl Keating and James Akin will respond to this newly published work.

Until I read a recent e-mail message from Patrick Madrid endorsing the book (which I read the day before my copy arrived in the mail), I was unaware that anyone but Scott Butler was involved in writing the book. Consistently Butler had spoken of it as “my book,” and had never mentioned “co-authors.” The only indication I had received of any assistance was the mention of some folks who, to use Butler’s words, “work for me” doing some research and translation. I am unfamiliar with Norman Dahlgren, other than to understand he is a public school teacher. David Hess has contacted me recently by e-mail, and seems to be a pleasant correspondent. Hess has indicated that he is a Byzantine Catholic rather than a Roman Catholic. It is my understanding, however, that the group to which he belongs is still in subjection to the Roman Pontiff, and accepts claims to Papal Infallibility and universal jurisdiction.

Initial Appearance

To any person unfamiliar with New Testament theology, backgrounds, Greek, and early church history, this book seems to be impressive. It is well type-set, with only a few typographical errors here and there. The lay-out is quite readable, and though at times it seems to chase after some rabbit trails that are not overly relevant, by and large it communicates its message with sufficient clarity.

It should be remembered that the issue of Papal authority and infallibility is the single most important epistemological concern in the debate between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Once a person has accepted the need for an infallible interpreter, an infallible Church, an infallible authority outside of Scripture, the rest will fall in place with time. Butler and his co-authors recognize this. Their goal is transparent: the conversion of Protestants to Roman Catholicism. This is not an attempt at “ecumenical dialogue.” Indeed, Butler has made it quite clear in times past that the only reason that exists for so-called “ecumenical dialogue” is to bring Protestants back to “Mother Church.” He well knows Rome’s position cannot, by definition, change. Hence, dialogue is meant only to convert Protestants, not to bring anyone to a “greater understanding” of some other position. Indeed, my greatest criticism of Scott Butler as a writer or debater is just this: he has no concern whatsoever for either accurately knowing, or accurately representing, the “other side.” Unfortunately, this tendency comes through loud and clear in Jesus, Peter & the Keys.

Butler’s work is intended to be used to “push” Protestants over the precipice into the arms of Rome. Hence, there is a strong effort to make it look like Protestant scholars are in fact supportive of the viewpoint being presented. Citations are multiplied (often out of context, or lacking very necessary caveats) from well-known Protestant scholars so that it looks like the authors have done their homework, and that anyone who disagrees is really out of step with even the majority of Protestant scholarship. As a result, the book makes it seem like there are only a few marginal, right-wing radicals out there who haven’t come to the same conclusion: Peter is the rock of Matthew 16, Peter is the first Pope, and this has always been the Christian faith. Disagree with this, we are led to believe, and you are simply flying in the face of reality itself.

The Deeper Reality

Unfortunately, initial appearances are very often misleading. I could wish that there would be voices raised from the Roman Catholic side questioning the validity of the arguments and conclusions of this book, but I learned a while back not to expect such things. As long as it tends toward the promotion of the Papacy and the Mother Church, it is deemed “useful.” Scott Hahn’s words, “this veritable compendium is simply staggering,” is itself a staggering claim, in light of the simple fact that the book fails, badly, in three major areas:

  • It presents the most strained and biased exegesis of the New Testament, engaging in tremendously unbalanced interpretation of the text, syntax, and grammar, all the while either ignoring, or giving shallow replies to, the mountain of evidence that can be cited against the position it takes.
  • It falls into the “Peter Syndrome” over and over again: that being the tendency on the part of Roman Catholics to interpret all of the Bible (including the Old Testament) as well as all of Church History in the light of modern Petrine claims on the part of Rome. The result of this is that any mention of Peter, be it in the NT, or in the writings of an early Father, is automatically transferred in the thought and conclusions of the writer to the person of the Bishop of Rome. Despite the fact that there is no logical or historical reason to make such a huge leap, Butler, Sungenis, Madrid, Matatics, Hahn, and just about every other Roman Catholic apologist known to this writer, has fallen victim of the Peter Syndrome. I made this point in my debate against Butler and Sungenis (see our catalog for the tapes of this debate).
  • Its use of patristic sources is tremendously biased, quite surface-level, and shows no familiarity with the actual writings of the Fathers themselves, but rather a familiarity with secondary sources (most notably, the compilation of William A. Jurgens-a source referred to constantly and often uncritically by Roman apologists). While at least some attempt has been made to respond to some of the criticisms that can be raised by the student of history, most of the strongest arguments and counter-citations are ignored.

It is my intention to provide more in-depth analysis of these problem areas in future articles. But for summary purposes, let us provide one example of each of the above errors.

Strained New Testament Exegesis

Jesus, Peter & the Keys attempts to present a “scholarly” air through the citation of numerous Protestant sources. The problem is, most of these citations do not fully appreciate the issues at hand, and do not fairly acknowledge the full positions of the scholars cited. Important points are often based upon a very strained and stretched exegesis of the text (Sungenis’ comments on Acts 15, the use of such terms as echgeomai, egw krinw, and sigaw, for example, would fall in this category, and will be treated much more fully in another article). But one glowing example of the kind of argumentation that fills Jesus, Peter & the Keys is found on pp. 158-159, where Dr. D.A. Carson is cited with reference to Matthew 23. A little background is necessary. Matthew 23 is often used by Roman Catholic apologists as a basis for asserting that Jesus bowed before “oral tradition,” in this case tradition passed down through the Jewish hierarchy. David Palm, another convert to Catholicism (who has endorsed this work as well) points to Tractate Aboth in the Mishnah as an example of the Jewish claim that their traditions were passed down orally from Moses. In this he is correct, but this proves too much, as this would include such traditions as the Corban rule, which the Lord Jesus specifically attacked. Be that as it may, in a 1993 type-written work, copyrighted by “S. Butler, N. Dahlgren, & D. Hess,” we find the following comments about Matthew 23:2-3:

To what are they morally bound here? To the seat of Moses, which Christ passes to Peter. The seat of authority and interpretation is in the seat of Moses, which was assumed by Jesus Christ and passed on to Peter, the rock, until the end of time.

Little is changed in the new book, which follows the typewritten materials I have had in my possession for nearly four years:

161 To what are Christians morally bound in Matthew 23:1-3? Christians are bound to the magisterial seat of Moses, which Christ passes singly to Peter and corporately to Peter and the Apostles acting together. The seat of authority and interpretation symbolically is in the seat of Moses, which was assumed by Jesus Christ and passed on to Peter and the Apostles until the end of time. Evidence exists that the Popes know of this potent symbol of authority. (p. 159)

Let’s look closely at this example, as it is quite revealing as to the technique and methodology used throughout the book.

Immediately preceding the claim put forward in question 161 on page 159, Dr. D.A. Carson is quoted in the following form:

“These leaders [of Matthew 23:1-31] ‘sit in Moses’ seat.’ E. L. Sukenik (Ancient Synagogues in Palestine and Greece [London: OUP, 1934], pp.57-61) has shown that synagogues had a stone seat at the front where the authoritative teacher, usually a grammateus (‘teacher of the law’), sat. Moreover, ‘to sit on X’s seat’ often means ‘to succeed X’ (Exod. 11:5; 12:29; 1 Kings 1:35, 46; 2:12; 16:11; 2 Kings 15:12; Ps 132:12; cf. Jos. Antiq. VII, 353[xiv.5]; XVIII, 2[i.1]. This would imply that the ‘teachers of the law’ are Moses’ legal successors, possessing all his authority—a view the scribes themselves held (M Sanhedrin 11:3; cf. Ecclus 45:15-17; M Aboth 1:1; M Yebamoth 2:4; 9:3).

“The astounding authority conceded ‘the teachers of the law and the Pharisees’ in [Matthew 23] v.2 becomes explicit in v.3. Even if the emphasis in v.3 falls at the end, where Jesus denounces the Jewish leaders’ hypocrisy, the beginning of the verse gives them full authority in all they teach, even if they do not live up to it. Panta hosa (‘everything’) is a strong expression and cannot be limited to ‘that teaching of the law that is in Jesus’ view a faithful interpretation of it’; they cover everything the leaders teach, including the oral tradition as well (Garland, pp. 48f.; contr Allen; Plummer; Schlatter; Stonehouse, Witness of Matthew, pp 196f.; and others). Nor does the test say their authority rests in their roles but not in their doctrine; on the contrary, v.3 affirms their doctrine but condemns their practice.” D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 8 (Matthew, Mark, Luke), (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 471-472 [additional editors include Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. of Trinity Divinity School; Bruce K. Waltke of Regent College; James Montgomery Boice, Pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Merrill C. Tenney of Wheaton College].


Two items about this citation. First, it seems obvious that our authors are keying upon the statements regarding the teachers of the law being Moses’ legal successors as well as the phrase “oral traditions.” On its face, separated from its context, it seems to lend at least some credence to the position being presented. Of course, nothing in the quote can quite prepare one for the giant leap in the conclusion we have cited, but that is another issue. Secondly, note the proliferation of unnecessary names in the citation under “additional editors.” What is the purpose for this, if not to “pad” the impression that the authors’ viewpoint is in line with “mainstream” evangelical scholarship?

The main problem with the citation of Carson is that it is not representative of his conclusions about the passage. It is a wonderful example of selecting only what you wish to quote so as to promote your own idea, while ignoring the conclusions drawn from the data by the author you are citing. If you continue on in reading Carson, he says:

The only way to make sense of the text is to follow Jeremias (Theology p. 210) and see in vv. 2-3 an instance of biting irony, bordering on sarcasm. This position is self-consistent and does not weaken the strong statements in vv. 2-3. Moreover it is strengthened by the verb ekastithen (“sit”) in v. 3. The aorist is not normally translated as a present. In response many point out that the same aorist verb is used in Mark 16:19; Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; Revelation 3:21—all of which refer to Jesus as still sitting. But that misses the point. The emphasis in each of these instances is not that Jesus is still sitting, though that is doubtless presupposed, but on the fact that as a result of his triumph he sat down. The aorist does not require that the action be at one point in time; it is the context that in each of these instances presupposes it. Moreover the gnomic aorist in the indicative mood (which is how NIV’s “sit” takes the Greek in v.2) is so rare in the NT that it should not be our first option. But if vv. 2-3a are ironic, then the aorist can have its natural force: the teachers of the law and the Pharisees sat down in Moses’ seat (cf. NASB’s “have seated themselves,” which may be overtranslated but has the right idea). The Jewish religious leaders have “presumed” to sit in Moses’ seat (so Adalbert Merx, Das Evangelium Matthaeus [Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1902]; Moulton, Prolegomena, p. 458; Zahn). It is, of course, of no help to say that such a translation must be followed in v. 3a by “therefore, pay not attention to what they say” (contra Plummer; Banks, Jesus, p. 175; Garland, p. 48); for v. 3a continues the irony. . . .Thus the first two elements are ironic, and the last two reveal in reverse order the painful futility of following the teachers of the law. Jesus warns the crowds and his disciples in the sharpest way possible. The reluctance of many scholars to admit that vv. 2-3 are biting irony overlooks the tone of much of this chapter (e.g., vv. 23-28) and superb parallels elsewhere in the NT (e.g., 1 Cor 4:8a, 10).


Citing Carson’s conclusion that Jesus is using biting irony to attack the Jewish leaders, and that he is in fact stating that they “have seated themselves” in the seat of Moses but do not, in fact, belong there, but are presumptuously arrogating the position to themselves, would take the focus off of what our authors want people to believe about Matthew 23. The Lord Jesus is not introducing an extra-Scriptural, infallible authority by making mention of the popular concept of Moses’ seat, anymore than He was establishing the canonicity of the Apocrypha by making reference to a celebration related to events recorded therein. Carson’s interpretation, in point of fact, completely undercuts the common usage of the passage by Roman apologists, both with reference to “oral tradition” as well as here in our current work, the idea of a seat of infallible interpretive authority being passed on through Christ to Peter. Obviously, Carson has no such concept in his thinking, and would never accept the use of his words in support of such a thesis. In any case, admitting that Carson believes the passage under consideration to be an example of “biting irony” removes its worth to our Roman Catholic apologists, yet, by leaving out the very conclusion Carson makes, they avoid this problem.

Of course, the entire concept presented by our authors goes far beyond anything supportable by the text itself. If one believes in sola scriptura rather than sola ecclesia, one will allow the text to define itself. In this case, we discover that at the very most, the Lord Jesus is seen here to be counseling against the overthrow of the synagogue worship at this particular point in time. Is anyone going to argue that Paul should have submitted himself to the Jews in Acts 19:8-9, for example, so as to stop preaching the Gospel? Of course not. Why, then, do Roman Catholics have to utilize passages such as these to lay a foundation for such a fundamental doctrine as papal authority? Because the Bible knows nothing of such a concept to begin with, and hence they are left with nothing but eisegesis.

First, where does the passage speak of the “magisterial seat of Moses”? It doesn’t. This is interpolation and anachronism, coming from the desire to find in this passage a foreshadowing of the “magisterial” claims of Rome. Where does the passage say Christ controls this seat, or can pass this seat to anyone else, or even desires to do so? It doesn’t. Where does the passage say anything about Peter at all? It doesn’t. Where does it speak of Peter or the other Apostles receiving this “seat”? It doesn’t. Where does the New Testament speak of such a thing? It doesn’t anywhere else, including in those passages that one would expect to see speaking of such issues of authority (such as the Pastoral epistles). Indeed, I would like to challenge our authors: where did anyone in the first five hundred years of the Church make the connection they make here? The earliest example they can give is from a Pope arguing in his own cause (hardly a representative view of the entire church), and that in the middle of the ninth century! A scan of the 38 volumes of the Eerdman’s set of Church Fathers reveals only five citations of the passage, and not one of them is in any way related to the bishop of Rome. Quite simply, the conclusions presented in question 161 of this book are wishful thinking, both from an exegetical standpoint, as well as an historical one.


The Peter Syndrome

Throughout Jesus, Peter & the Keys, Butler, Dahlgren, and Hess fall headlong into the Peter Syndrome over and over and over again. I first coined this phrase when defining one of the common errors made by Roman Catholic apologists in my debate against Robert Sungenis and Scott Butler at Boston College in 1995. Here is how I defined this error that day:

Error #2: “The Peter Syndrome.” This refers to the propensity on the part of many Roman Catholic apologists to find any statement about Peter in the writings of an early Father and apply this to the Bishop of Rome. There are many exalted statements made about Peter by men such as Cyprian or Chrysostom. However, it does not follow that these statements about Peter have anything at all to do with the bishop of Rome. The Roman apologist must demonstrate that for such statements to be meaningful that the Father under discussion believed that the bishop of Rome alone is the sole, unique successor of Peter, so that any such exalted language about Peter is to be applied in that Father’s thinking to the bishop of Rome alone. If such a basis is not provided, references to Peter are irrelevant.

One even finds the Peter Syndrome infecting the exegesis of our authors of biblical passages as well. This is easily understood: our authors belong to religious systems that demand they believe certain things about Peter and Peter’s alleged successors. These systems claim extra-scriptural authority, and hence, it is hardly surprising to find that people who hold to such systems do not practice sola scriptura, and hence do not engage in fair exegesis of the text itself. Instead, since they hold to sola ecclesia (the idea that the Church alone has supreme and final authority, which is illustrated so clearly by Rome’s claim to define the canon of Scripture as well as the interpretation thereof, and to define the extent, and meaning, of “Tradition” as well, leaving her as the sole functional authority), they will find in the text exactly what the ecclesia tells them to find.

Examples of the Peter Syndrome are to be found on almost every page of the work. Citations are often given that only speak to an exalted view of Peter in a particular Father, and no attempt is made at all to connect the citation to the bishop of Rome. The fact that the cathedra Petri (chair of Peter) in Cyprian and other North African Fathers specifically referred to the entire bishopric of the Church, so that Cyprian viewed all bishops as fulfilling Matthew 16:18 (not just the bishop of Rome), is seemingly not understood by our writers. Passages from Fathers are listed under such grand titles as “Primacy of the Pope and the Roman Church” that have nothing whatsoever to do with either the Papacy or the Roman Church. Citations are given without any thought of accurately representing the entire thought of that writer on a particular topic. For example, the first citation provided under the chapter title just mentioned is from Origen. Here is how it reads:

“Peter, the Prince of the Apostles.” (Origen, In Lucarn, Horn. xvii. torn. iii. p.953), and “More honour than the rest.” (Origen, Tom. xxxii in Joann. n. 5 tom. iii. p.413), both in Charles E B. Allnatt, ed., Cathedra Petri–The Titles and Prerogatives of St. Peter, (London: Burns & Oates, 1879), 48.

Here we have a single phrase, “Peter, the Prince of the Apostles,” isolated from any meaningful context, placed under the rubric of the primacy of the Pope. This is not meaningful historical research or writing, it is pure rhetoric driven by faith in a system that demands the writers see these historical sources in a particular fashion. The other phrase, “more honor than the rest,” is likewise not provided to us with any meaningful context. Do our authors really think that Origen believed as they believe about the bishop of Rome? In the 600 books written by him in his lifetime, they can only come up with a few phrases about the subject, and even then, they can’t provide any meaningful bridge between a high view of Peter and the bishop of Rome as the Pope? Such seems to be the case, for the second citation from Origen they give isn’t even quoting Origen, but someone talking about Origen:

[Origen] on the words in Matt. xvii. 26 [27] he remarks, that the disciples’ considered that this was a very great favour to Peter on the part of Jesus, as having adjudged him greater than the other disciples.”‘ (Origen, Tom. xiii. in Matt. n. 14, tom. iii. p.588), in Charles F. B. Allnatt, ed., Cathedra Petri-The Titles and Prerogatives of St Peter, (London: Burns & Oates, 1879), 48.

Why our writers cited this passage is beyond me: they give the original, inside a quotation from Lindsay, on page 144. Possibly they did so because as they give the conclusion of the citation on page 145, we read from Linday, “Whether Origen’s reasoning is sound may be a question. . . .” Even their own sources question Origen’s interpretation of the passage!

The final citation from Origen is taken from a compilation of sources (i.e., another quote-book) that I have found to be far less reliable and trustworthy than even Jurgens: The Faith of Catholics compiled by Berington and Kirk. I was given this work a number of years ago by a Traditionalist, and have had occasion to refer to it many times. Unfortunately, my edition is a single volume edition, and I cannot locate the single sentence cited in my source. But from all of Origen’s writings, the most our authors can manage in support of the primacy of the Pope is: “There is one baptism, and one Holy Ghost, and one Church, founded by Christ our Lord upon Peter, for (or from) an original and principle of unity.” And finally, “To the seven children there is evidently conjoined their mother, the origin and root, which afterwards bare seven churches, herself having been founded first and alone, by the voice of the Lord, upon Peter.” What are these citations supposed to mean, seriously? In their context, was Origen speaking about papal prerogatives? What does “founded upon Peter” mean? Given the sources used (secondary), it’s hard to find out.

Earlier in the book (pp. 218-220), citations from Origen are given in a collection allegedly designed to tell us how the early Fathers interpreted Matthew 16. Unfortunately, the real character of the research that went into this book is plainly seen by the sources used. Over and over again we find Allnatt being used as the primary source of patristic materials in Jesus, Peter & the Keys. He is cited for five of the seven quotes on Origen, Berington and Kirk providing the other two (i.e., not a single original source work used). Yet, even at this, we find that the single longest, plainest passage on the topic is nowhere to be found in the “presentation” of Origen’s “view.” Instead, we have to turn to William Webster’s fine work, Peter and the Rock, to find out what Origen had to say about Matthew 16 specifically. Webster provides the citation Origen’s commentary on Matthew as follows (pp. 29-30):

And if we too have said like Peter, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,’ not as if flesh and blood had revealed it unto us, but by the light from the Father in heaven having shone in our heart, we become a Peter, and to us there might be said by the Word, ‘Thou art Peter, ‘etc. For a rock is every disciple of Christ of whom those drank who drank of the spiritual rock which followed them, and upon every such rock is built every word of the Church, and the polity in accordance with it; for in each of the perfect, who have the combination of words and deeds and thoughts which fill up the blessedness, is the church built by God.

But if you suppose that upon the one Peter only the whole church is built by God, what would you say about John the son of thunder or each one of the Apostles? Shall we otherwise dare to say, that against Peter in particular the gates of Hades shall not prevail, but that they shall prevail against the other Apostles and the perfect? Does not the saying previously made, ‘The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it,’ hold in regard to all and in the case of each of them? And also the saying, ‘Upon this rock I will build My Church?’ Are the keys of the kingdom of heaven given by the Lord to Peter only, and will no other of the blessed receive them? But if this promise, ‘I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven,’ be common to others, how shall not all things previously spoken of, and the things which are subjoined as having been addressed to Peter, be common to them?

‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ If any one says this to Him…he will obtain the things that were spoken according to the letter of the Gospel to that Peter, but, as the spirit of the Gospel teaches to every one who becomes such as that Peter was. For all bear the surname ‘rock’ who are the imitators of Christ, that is, of the spiritual rock which followed those who are being saved, that they may drink from it the spiritual draught. But these bear the surname of rock just as Christ does. But also as members of Christ deriving their surname from Him they are called Christians, and from the rock, Peters…And to all such the saying of the Savior might be spoken, ‘Thou art Peter’ etc., down to the words, ‘prevail against it. ‘But what is the it? Is it the rock upon which Christ builds the Church, or is it the Church? For the phrase is ambiguous. Or is it as if the rock and the Church were one and the same? This I think to be true; for neither against the rock on which Christ builds His Church, nor against the Church will the gates of Hades prevail. Now, if the gates of Hades prevail against any one, such an one cannot be a rock upon which the Christ builds the Church, nor the Church built by Jesus upon the rock.


Use of Patristic Sources

I have been informed by Scott Butler that his next “tome” (this is the term he used to describe the current work, and the upcoming one) will be on the patristic evidence. I can only hope that between now and then he takes the time to learn the early Fathers in their original contexts. What I mean is this: if a person is forced to learn the Fathers in their full context, outside of the battle ground of “apologetics,” one has a much firmer foundation upon which to stand in interpreting their statements about any one particular issue. The sources used by the authors of Jesus, Peter & the Keys indicate that their study of the Fathers has been limited primarily to secondary collections, like Jurgens, rather than to full collections, either in the original tongues, or in English. Nothing in the book suggests that any of the authors have lectured on Church History in general. Why is this important? Because it is easy to import very unbalanced contexts into the Fathers if you are not familiar with them in a more general way. If all you know of the Fathers is derived from reading biased collections in “quote books,” you won’t have any chance of fairly representing them on any one particular topic.

Jesus, Peter & the Keys provides us with a glaring example of how the “Peter Syndrome” can cause one to develop massive blind spots when it comes to historical data. One of the great problems that has faced Roman Catholic apologists over the centuries is found in the 6th Canon of the Council of Nicaea. This canon specifically limits the prerogatives of the bishop of Rome: an action utterly contrary to Roman claims of universal jurisdiction. To the honest or unbiased student of history, this canon tells us that three centuries into the Christian era the bishop of Rome held a high position in the Church’s view. However, it was a limited position, one commensurate with the political and geographical factors that gave rise to the prominence first of the church at Rome, and eventually to the bishop of the Church itself. At this time the transition from the importance of the church to the bishop is taking place, but the church still holds the primary position. In any case, there is no Papacy functioning in the modern sense at all, despite all of Vatican I’s claims to the contrary, and it is plain that the Christian Church as a whole sees no need for a monarchial leader in the bishop of Rome.

Many centuries after the Council of Nicaea, long after the rise of the Papacy into prominence (and just before its fall into the Pornocracy), supporters of this institution began the process of changing history through the use of forgeries. Documents like the famous Donation of Constantine began to circulate. The very fact that men had to create such documents tells us something very important: the belief they wished to substantiate in history could not be substantiated any other way. That is, if people had always believed in the Papacy as it was developing in later centuries, there would be no need to create forgeries to make it look otherwise. One of the forgeries that can be traced to this period involves an expansion in the canons that were passed at the Council of Nicaea. Originally the council passed twenty canons, including the famous 6th canon. Yet, centuries later, other collections began to appear. There is no question that these other canons are forgeries-fakes. Yet, amazingly enough, Scott Butler and his co-authors cite from these forgeries in an attempt to substantiate their position! They are not alone here, and in fact, as the quotation below shows, they at least admitted that these canons are not part of the “generally accepted” list. I have heard other apologists, such as Tim Staples, quote Canon 39 of the Arabic canons as if it were a part of the original Council of Nicaea, a tremendously dishonest thing to do. On page 308 of Jesus, Peter & the Keys, we find the following:


(From the Arabic Canons of the Council of Nicaea):

“[CANON XXXIX] Of the care and power which a Patriarch has over the bishops and archbishops of his patriarchate; and of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome over all.

“Let the patriarch consider what things are done by the archbishops and bishops in their provinces; and if he shall find anything done by them otherwise than it should be, let him change it, and order it, as seemeth him fit; for he is the father of all, and they are his sons. And although the archbishop be among the bishop as an elder brother, who hath the care of his brethren, and to whom they owe obedience because he is over them; yet the patriarch is to all those who are under this power, just as he who holds the seat of Rome, is the head and prince of all patriarchs; inasmuch as he is first, as was Peter, to whom power is given over all Christian princes, and over all their peoples, as he who is the Vicar of Christ our Lord over all peoples and over the whole Christian Church, and whoever shall contradict this, is excommunicated by the Synod. [While not a part of the generally accepted canons of the Council of Nic€a, these canons promulgated from the Eastern Church give a mind’s eye view of the thinking of Eastern Christianity.]” Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers–The Seven Ecumenical Councils, vol.14, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 48.


The reader should note a few things. First, in the interest of charity, we will assume that the placement of the closing quotation is a simple error: the material enclosed in the brackets which states, “While not a part of the generally accepted canons of the Council of Nicaea, these canons promulgated from the Eastern Church gives a mind’s eye view of the thinking of Eastern Christianity” is not a part of what is found in Schaff and Wace. It is, instead, the editorial comment of the authors of Jesus, Peter & the Keys. We only note that such a statement flies in the face of the Eastern Church’s resistance of Papal claims over the centuries. We also note that the authors did not include the footnote attached to the canon in the source they themselves use: “I have translated the whole canon literally; the reader will judge of its antiquity.” It should be noted that in context, the author is indicating that the canon is not ancient.

But much more importantly is what the citation of such a source tells us about the mindset of the authors and their drive to find anything in history that seems to be supportive of their claims. Allegiance to Papal authority seems to create a blind spot in this area. It seems rather obvious, to those who are not committed to such an allegiance, that the quotation of forgeries that date from half a millennium after the fact is hardly helpful to one’s cause, but is, in fact, detrimental. But to those who seek any positive mention of Peter or Rome, it fits the bill, despite its lack of historical credibility. The Peter Syndrome functions in full here, for if one has to include materials with no more historical basis than the Donation of Constantine in one’s work, it seems clear that the real sources of real history do not provide much in the way of meaningful support for one’s thesis. For those interested in the issue of the Arabic canons, we provide, appended to the end of this article, an entire discussion of the subject, taken from the very same source (Schaff and Wace) used in Jesus, Peter & the Keys.

It is striking to note, however how the book handles a far more relevant and important historical fact, that being the 28th canon of the Council of Chalcedon. Note the words of this ecumenical council:

Following in all things the decisions of the holy Fathers, and acknowledging the canon, which has been just read…we also do enact and decree the same things concerning the privileges of the most holy Church of Constantinople, which is New Rome. For the Fathers rightly granted privileges to the throne of old Rome, because it was the royal city. And the One Hundred and Fifty most religious Bishops, actuated by the same consideration, gave equal privileges to the most holy throne of New Rome, justly judging that the city which is honored with the Sovereignty and the Senate, and enjoys equal privileges with the old imperial Rome, should in ecclesiastical matters also be magnified as she is, and rank next after her.

Note that here we have the real view of “Eastern Christianity” as expressed in a Council of the Church. This appears in the records centuries before the Arabic canons. We know who promulgated this canon (we don’t know who created the Arabic canons). Yet, Jesus, Peter & the Keys does everything it can to down-play the canon from Chalcedon, while presenting the Arabic canons as being relevant! Such an action shows that this book is not, as Patrick Madrid has said (citation below), an evenhanded or complete iteration of historical facts. It is anything but. Note the contrast in the following chart:


28th Canon of ChalcedonArabic Canons
Promulgated by a recognized CouncilUnknown origin
A.D. 451Unknown date—eighth century?
Downplayed by JP&tKPresented as relevant by JP&tK


In Conclusion

I have read a number of messages, written by Roman Catholic apologists, attacking William Webster’s book, Peter and the Rock. None have been very specific or pointed. All have generally attempted to do little more than throw mud. There seems to be an inherent belief amongst Roman Catholic apologists that to be Protestant is to be ignorant of Church history. Didn’t Newman say that very thing? For example, Patrick Madrid wrote the following concerning this issue:

I’m familiar with these works, especially Rivington’s (he was a convert from Anglicanism, his dad was the archbishop of Caturbury) and Webster’s. Rivington’s book is well done in its goal of presenting a comprehensive survey of the patristic texts on this subject. Webster’s book, on the other hand, is a mishmash of pseudo historical “research,” highly tendentious, and superficial. But since any reader’s opinion of a book is largley (sic) subjective, I suggest anyone interested compare the two and see what they think.

But there’s an even more up-to-date work on the and biblical patristic evidence that bears on the papacy. “Jesus, Peter, & the Keys,” is a newly-released 430-page work co-authored by Dave Hess, Norm Dahlgren, and Scott Butler. I recommend this book to any Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant who’s interested in a calm, evenhanded and *complete* iteration of the biblical and patristic evidence.

One is forced to wonder, if in fact this book is a “complete” iteration of the biblical and patristic evidence, or is in fact a “veritable compendium,” as Hahn puts it, at the lack of substance that marks the grand claims of Rome. I can personally state that yet again I have been confirmed in my acceptance of the biblical view of authority, Scriptural sufficiency, and resultant rejection of Roman claims, by my examination of the “facts” that are put forward in this work. As the Lord prospers and allows, we will be providing even more in-depth responses to particular issues raised in this, and other, works in the near future.


Regarding the Arabic Canons of Nicaea:


Let us see first what is the testimony of those Greek and Latin authors who lived about the time of the Council, concerning the number.

a. The first to be consulted among the Greek authors is the learned Theodoret, who lived about a century after the Council of Nicaea. He says, in his History of the Church: “After the condemnation of the Arians, the bishops assembled once more, and decreed twenty canons on ecclesiastical discipline.”

b. Twenty years later, Gelasius, Bishop of Cyzicus, after much research into the most ancient documents, wrote a history of the Nicene council Gelasius also says expressly that the Council decreed twenty canons; and, what is more important, he gives the original text of these canons exactly in the same order, and according to the tenor which we find elsewhere.

c. Rufinus is more ancient than these two historians. He was born near the period when the Council of Nicaea was held, and about half a century after he wrote his celebrated history of the Church, in which he inserted a Latin translation of the Nicene canons. Rufinus also knew only of these twenty canons; but as he has divided the sixth and the eighth into two parts, he has given twenty-two canons, which are exactly the same as the twenty furnished by the other historians.

d. The famous discussion between the African bishops and the Bishop of Rome, on the subject of appeals to Rome, gives us a very important testimony on the true number of the Nicene canons. The presbyter Apiarius of Sicca in Africa, having been deposed for many crimes, appealed to Rome. Pope Zosimus (417-418) took the appeal into consideration, sent legates to Africa; and to prove that he had the right to act thus, he quoted a canon of the Council of Nicaea, containing these words: “When a bishop thinks he has been unjustly deposed by his colleagues he may appeal to Rome, and the Roman bishop shall have the business decided by judices in partibus.” The canon quoted by the Pope does not belong to the Council of Nicea, as he affirmed; it was the fifth canon of the Council of Sardica (the seventh in the Latin version). What explains the error of Zosimus is that in the ancient copies the canons of Nicaea and Sardica are written consecutively, with the same figures, and under the common title of canons of the Council of Nicaea; and Zosimus might optima fide fall into an error-which he shared with Greek authors, his contemporaries, who also mixed the canons of Nicea with those of Sardica. The African bishops, not finding the canon quoted by the Pope either in their Greek or in their Latin copies, in vain consulted also the copy which Bishop Cecilian, who had himself been present at the Council of Nicaea, had brought to Carthage. The legates of the Pope then declared that they did not rely upon these copies, and they agreed to send to Alexandria and to Constantinople to ask the patriarchs of these two cities for authentic copies of the canons of the Council of Nicaea. The African bishops desired in their turn that Pope Boniface should take the same step (Pope Zosimus had died meanwhile in 418)-that he should ask for copies from the Archbishops of Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch. Cyril of Alexandria and Atticus of Constantinople, indeed, sent exact and faithful copies of the Creed and canons of Nicaea; and two learned men of Constantinople, Theilo and Thearistus, even translated these canons into Latin. Their translation has been preserved to us in the acts of the sixth Council of Carthage, and it contains only the twenty ordinary canons. It might be thought at first sight that it contained twenty-one canons; but on closer consideration we see, as Hardoum has proved, that this twenty-first article is nothing but an historical notice appended to the Nicene canons by the Fathers of Carthage. It is conceived in these terms: “After the bishops had decreed these rules at Nicea, and after the holy Council had decided what was the ancient rule for the celebration of Easter, peace and unity of faith were re-established between the East and the West. This is what we (the African bishops) have thought it right to add according to the history of the Church.’

The bishops of Africa dispatched to Pope Boniface the copies which had been sent to them from Alexandria and Constantinople, in the month of November 419; and subsequently in their letters to Celestine I (423432), successor to Boniface, they appealed to the text of these documents.

e. All the ancient collections of canons, either in Latin or Greek, composed in the fourth, or quite certainly at least in the fifth century, agree in giving only these twenty canons to Nicea. The most ancient of these collections were made in the Greek Church, and in the course of time a very great number of copies of them were written. Many of these copies have descended to us; many libraries possess copies; thus Montfaucon enumerates several in his Bibliotheca Coisliniana. Fabricius makes a similar catalogue of the copies in his Bibliotheca Graeca to those found in the libraries of Turin, Florence, Venice, Oxford, Moscow, etc.; and he adds that these copies also contain the so-called apostolic canons, and those of the most ancient councils. The French bishop John Tilius presented to Paris, in 1540, a MS. of one of these Greek collections as it existed in the ninth century. It contains exactly our twenty canons of Nicea, besides the so-called apostolic canons, those of Ancyra, etc. Elias Elunger published a new edition at Wittenberg in 1614, using a second MS. which was found at Augsburg; but the Roman collection of the Councils had before given in 1608, the Greek text of the twenty canons of Nicea. This text of the Roman editors, with the exception of some insignificant variations, was exactly the same as that of the edition of Tilius. Neither the learned Jesuit Sirmond nor his coadjutors have mentioned what manuscripts were consulted in preparing this edition; probably they were manuscripts drawn from several libraries, and particularly from that of the Vatican. The text of this Roman edition passed into all the following collections, even into those of Hardoum and Mansi while Justell in his Bibliotheca juris Canonici and Beveridge in his Synodicon (both of the eighteenth century), give a somewhat different text, also collated from MSS., and very similar to the text given by Tilius. Bruns, in his recent Bibliotheca Ecclesiastica, compares the two texts. Now all these Greek MSS. consulted at such different times, and by all these editors, acknowledge only twenty canons of Nicea, and always the same twenty which we possess.

The Latin collections of the canons of the Councils also give the same result-for example, the most ancient and the most remarkable of all, the Prisca, and that of Dionvsius the Less, which was collected about the year 500. The testimony of this latter collection is the more important for the number twenty, as Dionysius refers to the Graeca auctoritas.

f. Among the later Eastern witnesses we may further mention Photius, Zonaras and Balsamon. Photius, in his Collection of the Canons, and in his Nomocanon, as well as the two other writers in their commentaries upon the canons of the ancient Councils, quote only and know only twenty canons of Nicea, and always those which we possess.

g. The Latin canonists of the Middle Ages also acknowledge only these twenty canons of Nic€a. We have proof of this in the celebrated Spanish collection, which is generally but erroneously attributed to St. Isidore (it was composed at the commencement of the seventh century), and in that of Adrian (so called because it was offered to Charles the Great by Pope Adrian I). The celebrated Hincmar, Archbishop of Rheims, the first canonist of the ninth century, in his turn attributes only twenty canons to the Council of Nicea, and even the pseudo-Isidore assigns it no more.

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