John Lollard (a pseudonym) has on his blog an article he believes challenges Catholic authority. I believe his premise is flawed, so let us look at this article (John's words in green) and my response to it:
|St. John Lateran, Peter's Seat|
The Catholic Trilemma of Matthew 23
I remember a few years ago, reading Matthew 23 and for the first time I noticed the introduction in verses 2-3. If you aren't familiar, Matthew 23 is a scathing polemic, delivered by Jesus, about the hypocrisy and immorality of the Pharisees. There are similar versions of this in Luke 11, that includes in the middle of this speech one of the scribes interrupts Jesus in protest that His rebukes on the Pharisees were insulting the scribes, too. Jesus' response is to launch off into a string of condemnations specifically on the scribes, too. But verses 2-2 reads thus:
“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach."
I remember reading this and thinking it was the single most obvious statement in the Bible I had yet to find specifically refuting the notion of papal primacy. What I've found is that the exact same texts that I find explicitly denouncing the idea of a papal seat are the exact same texts that Catholics actually USE to support their claims of a papal seat.
I am trying to figure out how you see Matthew 23:2-3 as contrary to the papacy. First off, it’s not the papacy in this context, it is “Moses’ seat” which would be a prefiguring of Peter’s seat. Secondly, Jesus does not denounce the office/seat of Moses - and in fact reinforces that office saying they must still do whatever they tell you to do - just don’t do what they do. At this point Moses’ seat truly is still in authority.
Here's how I see it. Catholics claim that Peter received a divine teaching authority from Jesus in Matthew 16:18,19 and that this teaching authority was handed down from Peter to the Bishop of Rome in an unbroken succession, such that the current pope sits on the seat of Peter and has divine authority to teach on issues of faith and morals. This (office of) pope has been handed down (by) an oral Tradition going all the way back to Christ's teachings to Peter and the Pope uses this in making binding statements.
OK, I’m with you so far...
Yet here we see that an identical office existed for the Pharisees, and those who sat in this office rejected the Messiah and ordered Peter and John to stop sharing the Gospel. So why trust the papacy if the identical Sanhedrim can be this wrong?
Well first off, you’re not quite comparing apples to apples here. The Sanhedrin, while it was authoritative for the Jewish people, was never given infallible authority to bind or loose whatsoever they chose on earth - and that would also be bound in heaven. That’s where infallibility comes into play - for nothing errant could possibly be so bound in heaven.
The way Catholics see it, is that Jesus is establishing that the Sanhedrim really does have an authoritative teaching that His followers must obey. This is a foreshadowing of the papacy, where this same position and power are given to Peter as an authoritative teacher to whom we must be obedient even when he acts like a hypocrite. We see that this position has always existed, first in Jerusalem and now in the Church.
True, to a point... a foreshadowing is not necessarily an equivocation, and in this case it most certainly is not.
Or at least that's as much as I can gather. I am open to corrections on the Catholic view of these verses.
I hope you can see where there is a difference here between the papacy and the Sanhedrin.
Let me then remark on the trilemma that we have. I call it that because the Catholic has set up three authorities who cannot all possibly be authoritative. These three on the scene are:
3) the scribes and Pharisees
At this point in the narrative, by a Catholic reckoning, Peter has already been declared the first Pope back in chapter 16, and thus is already established in the position of authority that the seat of Moses is a precursor for. Thus we should say that the scribes and Pharisees do not sit in Moses' seat because now Peter has taken that seat. Yet, by the Catholic reckoning, we also see that not only do the Pharisees also hold this position of authority at this point in the narrative, but Peter is subject to their authority (see v. 1 that this is addressed to the disciples and the crowds). This itself wouldn't be that big of a deal if Peter and the Pharisees do not directly contradict one another. In Acts 4, Peter and John are called before the Sanhedrim on account of preaching the Resurrection of Christ and are commanded by the Pharisees who sit in Moses' seat and to whom they must be obedient to stop preaching Jesus' Resurrection. Peter replies that he's going to do so anyway, because he must obey God and not men.
OK, I did not want to interrupt your train of thought, so let’s take this in order:
1) The Catholic Church has not set up three authorities. Jesus is our Authority, and He left St. Peter to be “in charge” as His Vicar.
2) The scribes and Pharisees are a thing of the past - though I suppose you’re comparing that to the Magisterium of the Church. If you refer to the Magisterium, the bishops - as a group - were given similar authority to St. Peter in Matthew 18:18, and again - by Jesus Himself, not some oral tradition after-the-fact.
3) St. Peter did not immediately receive the authority Jesus spoke of in Matthew 16:18-19, as Jesus was speaking of some point in the future when He would build His Church - it didn’t happen at that sitting. So, until this giving of the authority happened which we would surmise this happened at Pentecost, or as some like TheDen, may argue for the event of John 21:15-19 when Jesus tells Peter to "Feed My sheep" - either way the Sanhedrin was still holding the office of authority.
4) In Acts 4, Peter and John are still respecting that which preceded them, but the Jews did not accept the Messiah - Peter and John knew that the New Testament Church rested with them, not with the Jews who rejected their Messiah. They still respected their elders, but the time was nigh to move on, the Old Covenant had been fulfilled and the New Covenant is now in place.
More to the point, Peter declares Jesus is the Christ and the Pharisees declare that Jesus is not the Christ.
They cannot both be teaching authorities at the same time. So then who is?
If it is the Pharisees, then Peter is not the pope because the office of the papacy depends on an interpretation of an event that had already occurred by this point in time. If the teaching authority is still with the Pharisees on Moses' seat then it cannot be on Peter's seat.
If it is not the Pharisees, but in fact Peter is the teaching authority here, then how are we supposed to understand Jesus command to obey the scribes and Pharisees who sit in Moses' seat? The only way I can possibly see to take it, then considering that the Pharisees no longer have this power granted to Peter a little while ago, is that Jesus is being sarcastic and challenging the hubris of the Pharisees to dare claim to sit in the seat of Moses and claim to have binding oral traditions going back to Moses not found in Scripture, and to presume to require people to follow doctrines made by them and not God.
No, not quite. Again, at the time Jesus makes the statement to obey the Pharisees, they truly are still occupying that seat - but as of Pentecost, that authority moves to the New Testament Church. At that point Peter alone (per Matthew 16) or Peter with the rest of the Bishops (Matthew 18) now sit in that seat.
But that means that Israel was this whole time without an infallible teaching authority to bind and loose doctrines on them.
That means that Israel did not need such an institution in order to identify the Scriptures or to understand the Scriptures or make correct doctrine.
Actually, though there were recognized portions of Scripture - and even a couple “canons” of Scripture prior to the Christian Church - they (the Jews) had not finalized what they considered to be canonical - in fact “canonical” was not even part of their vocabulary and really still isn’t as their view of “Scripture” is not quite how Christians view “Scripture.” Christians see ALL of Scripture as “God breathed” and/or God’s Word - whereas Jews see different levels of inspiration. The Torah, the Books of Moses or Pentateuch (first 5 books of the Bible) they see on the same level as we see all of Scripture. Then comes the Prophets, and then to a lesser level comes the books of History and Poetry. God installed the Judges to govern His People, but they wanted a king - so God relented and let them have a king. It didn’t take long for the kingship to split the kingdom, but I digress.
After all, the Pharisees were correct about the prophecies of the Messiah and about the general Resurrection, even though these aren't always explicit in the text.
If they were truly “right” about the Messiah then they would not have rejected Him.
Then Protestants, too, it seems, do not need a binding teaching authority outside of Scripture, neither to know or understand Scripture, negating any need of an office of Pope.
If we want to say that Jesus is really affirming both the authority of Peter and the Pharisees at the same time, then we must make the absurd conclusion that Jesus isn't an authority either.
Maybe there are errors in this idea?
Love in Christ,