James White and "Jesus, Peter & the Keys"
by David Palm 

(This is an essay of mine, originally posted on the Internet 13 June 1997, that used to be hosted on another Web site. I'm reposting it here, since I think that some of the arguments presented below are still worthwhile.) 

James White has provided on his Web site a lengthy critique of the latest book-length work on the papacy, Jesus, Peter & the Keys: A Scriptural Handbook on the Papacy by Scott Butler, Norman Dahlgren, and David Hess (Santa Barbara: Queenship, 1996; henceforth JP&K). Although I find the book very helpful and I heartily recommend it, this essay is not intended to be a vindication of JP&K per se. Rather, it is a response to some more general arguments thrown out by White in his critique (see "Reply to Butler, Dahlgren, and Hess") and in other of his writings and debates. In the background the reader should keep in mind many of the general criticisms that White levels against Catholic apologists, including selective and unbalanced citation of the evidence, ignoring evidence that runs against one’s position, spotty treatments of centrally important topics, and anachronistic argumentation. [It is not easy to label concisely the different interpretations of Matt 16:18 without prejudice. For this paper, I will speak of the interpretation in which "this rock" is taken as Peter’s confession as the "confessional interpretation" and that in which "this rock" refers to the person of Peter as the "personal interpretation."] In his critique of JP&K, White questions the authors’ labelling as "traditional" the personal interpretation of Matt 16:18. "Unless our authors are wanting to redefine ‘traditional’ to merely ‘Roman,’ they need to deal with the conclusions of Döllinger, in his work The Pope and the Council." Now as a side note, The Pope and the Council was originally written under the pseudonym "Janus". Although it has been widely attributed to Döllinger, Scott Butler has pointed out to me that there is reason to question this, most notably because Döllinger's own works are cited and refuted in The Pope and the Council (see pp. 74, 78, and 86 in the 1870 English translation published by Roberts Brothers). Although it is possible that Döllinger would attempt to deflect suspicion from himself by criticizing his own previous work, it seems clumsy and improbable. All this aside, White approvingly cites "Janus":

Of all the Fathers who interpret these passages in the Gospels (Matt 16:18, John 21:17), not a single one applies them to the Roman bishops as Peter’s successors. How many Fathers have busied themselves with these texts, yet not one of them whose commentaries we possess—Origen, Chrysostom, Hilary, Augustine, Cyril, Theodoret, and those whose interpretations are collected in catenas—has dropped the faintest hint that the primacy of Rome is the consequence of the commission and promise to Peter!

For ease of refutation, "Janus" (and by extension, Mr. White) has packaged his argument in the form of a universal negative. One need bring just one counter-example and his assertion is proved false. But the authors of JP&K have supplied far more than just one example. Following is a list of the Fathers cited in JP&K, saying what "Janus" and White claim they never said (page number in parentheses): St. Jerome (247), St. Augustine (249, 250, 296), St. Ambrose (292-3; possibly), St. Peter Chrysologus (259), Stephen of Dora (271-2), St. Maximus the Confessor (273), Theodore the Studite (278-9), Sergius of Cyprus (352-3), and Alcuin (357). If silence gives consent then we may point to the Fathers of the Council of Ephesus (258), who offered no protest when the papal legates read out this statement at the council: 

 There is no doubt, and in fact has been known in all ages, that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince and head of the Apostles, pillar of the faith, and the foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of the human race, and that to him was given the power of loosing and binding sins: who down even to to-day and forever both lives and judges in his successors. The holy and most blessed Pope Coelestine, according to due order, is his successor and holds his place (JP&K, 258).

Of course, we should not forget to mention the Eastern bishops who wrote to Pope Symmachus (342) or the 250 Eastern bishops who signed the Formula of Pope Hormisdas (268; the authors of JP&K cite Döllinger to the effect that this number eventually climbed to 2500 Eastern signatories). And all of this ignores the early Popes themselves who are, by anyone’s standards, considered Fathers of the Church and who add their witness to this choir: Damasus (238), St. Siricius (239), St. Zosimus (253-4), St. Celestine (255), St. Leo (261-4), St. Felix (266), St. Gelasius (267), St. Hormisdas (268), Pelagius II (269, 348), St. Gregory the Great (270-1), St. Simplicius (301), and St. Agatho (276).

So unless Mr. White wants to redefine "Church Father" to mean only those who cannot be cited in support of the papacy—a question-begging position to be sure—then some major modifications to his thesis are in order. And of course this bald assertion does not account for the fact that even those Fathers for whom explicit evidence is lacking for this particular application of the Petrine Scripture texts very often spoke of and deferred to the authority of the Roman bishops in ways that defy Protestant categories (see, e.g. Theodoret’s testimony in JP&K, 332-3 and Luke Rivington on Cyril of Alexandria in The Primitive Church and the See of Peter, London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1894, 305-28). Finally, in addition to being wrong on this point, "Janus" and White also argue from silence, an intrinsically weak position, whereas the authors of JP&K have brought considerable explicit and implicit evidence to the table. The fact that Mr. White still cites The Pope and the Council in the face of all of this counter-evidence which runs directly against their position leaves us with the disturbing question: Did James White actually read all of Jesus, Peter and the Keys before responding to it? But beyond all this, our authors are not alone in speaking of this as the "traditional" interpretation. Even Protestant scholars recognize that the personal interpretation of Matt 16:18 adopted and defended by JP&K is indeed the obvious and traditional one: 

Though in the past some authorities have considered that the term "rock" refers to Jesus himself or to Peter’s faith, the consensus of the great majority of scholars today is that the most obvious and traditional understanding should be construed, namely, that rock refers to the person of Peter (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1985 ed., s.v. "Papacy" by D. W. O’Connor).

And while chiding our authors for speaking of the Petrine equation as the "traditional" interpretation, Mr. White flatly labels the personal interpretation as "Roman Catholic exegesis" or the product of "Roman theology." Perhaps Catholic apologists should take him at his word and without further argument simply claim for our own all of the Church Fathers who support this exegesis. For JP&K cites no less than three dozen Fathers of the Church and other early Christian writers who agree with the interpretation that Peter is the Rock on which the Church is built. If they are all guilty of "Roman Catholic exegesis" and their conclusions flow from "Roman theology" then it seems only logical that they were all Roman Catholics. I am certainly happy with that conclusion and thank Mr. White for helping us reach it. But what Mr. White is really trying to emphasize is that there were different interpretations adopted by various Church Fathers. Many Fathers do say that "this rock" of Matt 16:18 is Peter’s confession. For White and others (such as William Webster, in his lop-sided Peter and the Rock) this is a telling point against the personal interpretation. Indeed, Martin Luther used this tactic in his dispute with Eck. But "when Luther insisted upon this interpretation, Eck, the papal champion replied . . . that no one denied it" (J. T. Shotwell and L. Ropes Loomis, eds. The See of Peter, Columbia University Press, 1991, 24n22). Eck’s answer to Luther is the correct one for any Catholic apologist. There is no need to deny that the Fathers spoke of this passage in several ways (indeed, the new Catechism of the Catholic Church also does so), for a careful analysis of that phenomenon ends up supporting the Catholic claim that the personal interpretation is primary:

The orthodox Catholic view has been the simple and literal one,—that the rock was Peter (Kepha in both cases). But it was also held by some of the Fathers that it was the confession which Peter made—"thou art Christ, the son of the living God"—which was the corner-stone of the Church, since upon that belief the new religion was in reality based. This view was especially seized upon by the Fathers who were disputing with the bishop of Rome or with the heretics who denied the orthodox statement of Christ’s divinity. Peter’s confession, ratified so emphatically by Jesus, was the strongest text they had. In course of time, however, as the creed was settled, the literal meaning became the common one, exalting the "fisherman’s chair" above the other apostolic foundations as the historical embodiment of Christ’s promise. This was not seriously challenged until the Protestant theologians found the text, as commonly accepted, a stumbling block in their denial of papal claims (Shotwell, The See of Peter, 24).

Thus the interpretation which understands "this rock" to refer to Peter’s confession is, in the history of exegesis, a polemical device and not a straightforward, unbiased reading of the text. This establishes it as a secondary interpretation, which ultimately must derive its validity (or lack thereof) from an underlying literal or primary exegesis of the text. Most modern biblical scholarship is concerned only with the literal meaning of the text (in technical terms the "grammatico-historical" meaning) whereas the Fathers were prone to find additional, "spiritual" meanings in the text of Scripture. [It is important to note, however, that even for the Fathers the literal meaning was always primary and any secondary meanings must flow from it.]

Suffice it to say that White, along with most evangelical Protestants, frequently scoffs at the secondary interpretations of the Fathers, indicating that for him the grammatico-historical approach is the only valid one. And yet in this instance he adopts what is, in the history of exegesis and the opinion of the vast majority even of Protestant scholars, a spiritual and secondary interpretation of Matt 16:18. Then too, apologists such as White and Webster present evidence almost exclusively from a subset of Fathers who support the confessional interpretation. But in doing so they do their readers two disservices. They ignore the massive (indeed, one is tempted to call it unanimous) testimony in support of the personal interpretation of the text which equates Peter and the rock. And they don’t normally tell their readers that the very same Fathers who are cited in support of the confessional exegesis explicitly support the personal interpretation as well. Now to modern Protestants—who reject the notion that a text may have other spiritual meanings besides the grammatico-historical one—finding certain Fathers supporting the confessional interpretation of Matt 16:18 seems to exclude other interpretations. But unless these apologists are content not only to set the Fathers in opposition to each other, but even to pit a given Father against himself, they must offer some additional explanation for the ubiquitous occurrence of the personal interpretation alongside the occasional use of the confessional interpretation. To ignore this is to read modern standards of exegesis back into the patristic period. Here, it seems to me, James White is doing precisely what he castigates Catholics for, namely, applying modern categories to ancient texts (see Answers to Catholic Claims, 112ff.). The Catholic apologist, on the other hand, readily agrees that certain Fathers hold to the confessional interpretation. But he notes that this is almost always in harmony with (not set against) the personal interpretation, as evidenced by the fact that the same Fathers can personally support both views without contradiction.

Interestingly, the Protestant New Bible Commentary upholds the personal interpretation of Matt 16:18 while capturing exactly the relationship between the two views in the minds of the Fathers and subsequent Catholics: "Some interpreters have . . . referred to Jesus as the rock here, but the context is against this. Nor is it likely that Peter’s faith or Peter’s confession is meant. It is undoubtedly Peter himself who is to be the rock, but Peter confessing, faithful and obedient" (D. Guthrie, et al. eds. The New Bible Commentary. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), 837; emphasis mine). [It is probably a weakness of JP&K that it does not interact much with the Fathers’ propensity to find several meanings in this text. Its presentation of the patristic evidence—while certainly providing a much needed balance to badly skewed and misleading works such as Webster’s Peter and the Rock—could itself be charged with a certain unbalance.] So the Catholic can certainly say that in some secondary sense the "rock" of Matt 16:18 is Peter’s confession, but, as a literal exegesis of the text and the history of interpretation shows, this is never divorced from specific promises made to Peter himself.

The "Peter Syndrome"? 

One of White’s major objections to JP&K and indeed to Catholic apologetics in general is what he calls the "Peter Syndrome." White claims that the entire gamut of the most prominent Catholic apologists has fallen prey to this malady: 

 [JP&K] 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.

Now JP&K is, by its authors’ own admission, a source-book: detailed analysis and scholarly synthesis is largely left to others. I do think that in some sense the presentation of JP&K is lop-sided; on the other hand, when taken together with such unbalanced works as William Webster’s Peter and the Rock or White’s Answers to Catholic Claims it presents much-needed balancing information. Overall it is best (as I hope I’ve done here) to acknowledge evidence that appears to run contrary to one’s position, explain it, and thus nullify the claim that one is ignoring it.

That having been said, however, I reject the claim that the panoply of Catholic apologists have been struck down by the dreaded "Peter Syndrome." Any complex theological edifice (including distinctively Protestant ones, such as sola Scriptura) must be built up a brick at a time. And it is a very legitimate technique to call upon "hostile witnesses" in support of some points of one’s case; this happens in courtrooms throughout the world every single day. Now White grouses, for example, when Catholics use citations from Protestant scholars to support their case. "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." It is a fact that White’s own understanding of Matt 16:18 is out of step with the majority of modern Protestant scholarship; it would be helpful if he would simply admit this, even if it does not effect his position. But the authors of JP&K have simply tried to establish that the majority of Protestant scholars now agree with Catholics on the placement of the first few bricks in the case for the papacy. Of course these Protestants don’t follow us all the way down the path; if they did, they would be Catholics. That should be so obvious to the reader as to obviate explicit mention. The same principle of building a case a piece at a time lies behind the use of citations from the Fathers to illustrate the role of Peter in the New Testament. White claims that,

The Roman apologist must demonstrate that [sic] 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.

Perhaps Catholic apologists need to be more explicit about the way in which they are building their case, but White’s criticism that they use every individual nugget of evidence as stand-alone proof of the full-blown system is simply false. Patristic citations concerning St. Peter are far from irrelevant. It may be that certain Fathers did not apply their particular interpretation of Petrine Scripture texts to support ongoing papal prerogatives, although this is at best an argument from silence and often their other words or actions indicate that they admitted papal authority to an extent that would be anathema to the Protestant. But that aside, their testimony on the meaning of Gospel texts such as Matt 16:18-19 and John 21:15-17, even as they relate strictly to Peter, forms a legitimate plank in a full-orbed apology. My own progression of thought is perhaps not atypical of those who come ultimately to embrace the Catholic doctrine of the papacy.

Long before I had any inkling of becoming Catholic I came to embrace the current majority report among Protestant scholars, namely, that "this rock" of Matt 16:18 refers to the person of Peter and that he is the foundation on which Christ would build His Church. I was challenged later, by those same scholars and by Catholic apologists, to see from the use of Isa 22:22 in Matt 16:19, that our Lord, as the son of David and new King of Israel, reestablished the office of "steward" or "one who is over the house" (in modern parlance, the prime minister). He gives that office to Peter, as symbolized by the "keys of the kingdom." This establishes that in principle there is nothing antithetical between the supreme Lordship of Jesus Christ and a mortal man serving as His "vicar" on earth. Succession of this office eventually became altogether reasonable to me given (1) that the office was a successive one in the Old Testament economy, (2) that the promise of the Lord to "build my Church" did not pertain only to the New Testament Church, so there is a future thrust right in the text—this text, then, appears more as a prophecy than as an exclusive promise to Peter, (3) that if the Kingdom would last till the end of time, and the King would certainly be enthroned until the end of time, then there is no good reason to suppose that the newly established office of prime minister would cease after the death of Peter, (4) that the Lord in parables speaks of stewards who are placed "over the house" until His Parousia (see e.g. Matt 24:45ff.), (5) that the papacy represents the logical "historical embodiment of Christ’s promise" to Peter, (6) that the covenant people of God have always had this kind of earthly, patriachal headship and there is no good reason to suppose that will end in the New Covenant, (7) that if the leadership of the New Testament Church was constituted this way then there is no good reason to suppose that the Church’s fundamental structure would change radically when the Apostles died, (8) that the early Church had a lively understanding of the direct succession of its leadership from the Apostles in general, (9) that in the aggregate the Church, in its belief and practice, early and continuously, ascribed to the bishops of Rome as the successors of Peter the same sort of overseeing authority that was indeed promised in the New Testament itself, (10) that the need for such an office certainly did not cease in the first century with the death of Peter. So it is illegitimate to say that Catholics don’t give arguments, both biblical and patristic, for both the existence of the office or its continuity throughout the Church age. Certainly there is considerable evidence presented in JP&K in support of all these theses.

But for James White it is all or nothing; he gives no quarter when it comes to arguments on the papacy. And frankly, from the purely pragmatic view of preserving his tradition in the face of Catholic challenges, there is a certain necessity to his position. One thing the authors of JP&K establish, definitively in my opinion, is that Peter was constituted by Christ as the prime minister of His Kingdom and the chief pastor of the universal Church. And they also show that the work of a significant number of conservative Protestant scholars (e.g. D. A. Carson, W. F. Albright, R. T. France, F. F. Bruce, et al.) supports this conclusion. The issue of succession aside, it is a significant breach in the historic Protestant position to find, in both Scripture and the testimony of the Fathers, that a mere mortal can hold such a position in Christ’s Church at all! In centuries past the only possible label for a man in such a position would be Antichrist; now they find this office in the pages of the Sacred Text, in the very source on which they claim to model their own communions. For Protestants who go along with the majority report on the exegesis of Matt 16:18, there can be no more appeal to the "independent local congregation" or some other provincial model of Church government as "apostolic," since the apostolic Church itself had this mortal man at its head, appointed by our Lord as the prime minister of the Kingdom. There can be no more claim that having a universal pastor, an earthly head of the Church, violates the exclusive prerogatives of Christ, since it was our Lord Himself who established just such a position in the New Testament Church. In principle, then, there can be no objection to the office of the papacy and at best the Protestant is left arguing that this was a merely temporary arrangement in the Church. He argues a negative position of discontinuity in the face of much positive evidence for continuity and this rear-guard position becomes increasingly weak in light of a mass of evidence. That is the slippery slope down which many of us have slid and which White, rightly from his vantage point, seeks to block entirely by denying even those first few planks which the preponderance of Christian scholarship now affirms.

This is why biblical and patristic evidence concerning St. Peter is important, even if in some sources there is no explicit connection made to the ongoing prerogatives of the bishops of Rome. And in my opinion, anyone who can read JP&K and still contend that the biblical and patristic data on the role of Peter in the Church exclude his position as universal pastor and "vicar" of Christ is simply not being honest with the evidence. Now of course, succession of this office is another matter and Catholics have never said otherwise. It is often asserted even by those Protestants who agree that Jesus conferred this lofty office on Peter that there is no basis in the Scriptural text at all for the idea of this being an ongoing office. As I have shown above, Catholics do indeed point to indications in Scripture and the early Church that the office is ongoing. But this is not enough for our Protestant brethren. Only an explicit command in Scripture will do. But frankly, there has not been nearly enough self-reflection on the part of Protestants on just how they determine the ongoing applicability of other texts of Scripture. For example, the vast majority of Protestant denominations continue to practice the Lord’s Supper. But where is the explicit Scripture text telling them that they should do this? There is none. When one turns, for example, to the Evangelical theologian Millard Erickson for his view of why the Lord’s Supper has application throughout the Church age, he argues in a fashion remarkably similar to my own arguments above for papal succession. First, Erickson notes the Lord’s command to the Apostles to "do this in remembrance of me" (Christian Theology, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), 1110). But according to the way Protestant apologists counter various Catholic arguments this doesn’t prove anything, since this was said only to the Apostles. Next he says:

We must add to these considerations the practice of the church. Evidently, believers celebrated the Lord’s Supper from a very early time. Certainly it was already being observed by the church at the time of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (c. A.D. 55). This was easily within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses, who would have been a check upon the authenticity of Paul’s report of Jesus’ words. It would seem, then, that the command to repeat the sacrament goes back to Jesus (Ibid.).

Now just because one local congregation with direct ties to apostolic instruction celebrated the Lord’s Supper, this does not prove that any other congregation should or that it would extend beyond the time of the Apostles. And I could argue, in a similar fashion, that the idea of the supremacy of Peter and his successors goes back to the Apostles and hence to Jesus, since the same church at Corinth, when disturbed by a local schism, appealed to Clement, the bishop of Rome, who himself is widely acknowledged to be a direct witness of the Apostolic teaching. [Here, if I anticipate Mr. White’s reply, he will insist that there was no monarchical episcopate at Rome at this time, so Clement could not have been the bishop of Rome. A full-blown look at this newfangled theory is forthcoming. Suffice it to say for now that it is an argument exclusively from silence, in the face of considerable positive historical testimony to the contrary. One wonders how Evangelicals will shore up their own ramparts with respect to traditional authorship and dating of the New Testament books after they have worked so hard to impeach all of the pertinent historical witnesses on other grounds.]

Finally, Erickson asks, "We also need to ask what the point of the Last Supper would have been had there been no command to repeat it" (Ibid.). And similarly, Catholics ask what point there would be to reestablish the office of "steward" or prime minister if it would only last for a single generation. Certainly the need for such an office did not disappear. So we see that the arguments that evangelical Protestants use to establish the Lord’s Supper as a normative feature of the Church age are the very same kinds of arguments used by Catholics to establish the ongoing nature of papacy. I suggest that it is a double standard to accept their general validity in one context and deny them completely in another.

The same criteria can be applied to a host of other issues in Scripture: the sacrament of baptism, the notion that public revelation ceased with the death of the last Apostle, the washing of feet, speaking in tongues, head coverings for women (which St. Paul says were used in all the New Testament churches; 1 Cor 11:16), women speaking in Church, the greeting "with a holy kiss." Take 1 Tim 2:8-9 as an example: "I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; also that women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire." On what basis do most Protestants ignore or spiritualize this? How is it, in the face of a Scripture passage so direct and straightforward, that most Presbyterians or Lutherans will look at you like you’re a nut if you raise your hands in prayer in their congregation, or that all Protestant women don’t immediately thrown away their wedding rings and pearl necklaces? In fact, using the same hermeneutical principles used by Protestants to deny the papacy, one could just as easily deny the ongoing validity of the Great Commission. It was, after all, delivered exclusively to the Apostles, with no hint in the context of Matt 28:18-20 or Acts 1:8 that Jesus’ words applied to anybody else. And one could argue that the testimony of the New Testament itself, if taken at face value, shows that this commission was fulfilled by the Apostles (see e.g. Rom 1:8; 10:18; Col 1:6, 23) and thus no longer applies to succeeding generations of Christians. There are no explicit texts of Scripture saying whether these doctrines or practices are or are not ongoing and normative for the Church age. And of course there is no Scripture support at all for the boundaries of the canon or the authorship of the anonymous books of the Bible; here the testimony and practice of the post-apostolic Church is by itself sufficient for Protestants (even, strangely enough, after having been attacked as being corrupted by numerous Catholic leanings).

The Catholic, on the other hand, readily acknowledges his reliance on Tradition and the authority of the Church to decide these things and so argues consistently across the board. So, circling back around to our central topic, on what basis is the idea of succession of the papal office denied by Protestants? Certainly not simply because there is no explicit Scripture text to that effect. For there are plenty of implicit pointers and on other matters implicit texts—or even no text at all—are sufficient for Protestants. Certainly not because there is no evidence for the supremacy of the successors of St. Peter in the belief and practice of the early Church, for Catholics have shown again and again—most recently in JP&K—that such belief and practice existed from the very beginning. For the Protestant there is no objective basis on which to deny this; it is maintained only by clinging to artificial distinctions, created to maintain a man-made tradition in opposition to Catholic claims.


 (1) It is troubling to see White again and again reject as impossible arguments which even conservative Protestant scholars see as plausible and even convincing. For example, he summarily dismisses as ridiculous the argument which points to an Aramaic substratum behind our present Greek text, which in turn nullifies completely any appeal to the distinction between petros and petra in the Greek, since the word would be kepha in both places. The authors of JP&K present significant patristic evidence to support the existence of just such a written source, from which our present Greek text was in some way derived (363-373). This evidence White simply dismisses out of hand, dubbing the existence of a Semitic original "mythical." [Now that he has trashed the credibility of the only historical sources on which belief in the traditional authorship is based, one wonders how White would counter a modernist scholar seeking to deny Matthean authorship of our present Greek text.] But White misses the fact that an Aramaic or Hebrew text is not an essential facet of the argument. As even prominent Protestant scholars acknowledge, there are Semitisms in the Greek text of Matthew which indicate that these words of Jesus were first delivered in Aramaic.

[T]he great antiquity and the Palestinian origin of the section may today be considered beyond question. This is shown by the quite Semitic linguistic character of this section. On this point, in fact, almost all scholars are united, whether they accept or reject genuineness (O. Cullmann, Peter: Disciple—Apostle—Martyr. trans. F. V. Filson (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1953), 185).

Elsewhere, Cullmann points not only to the pun—"You are Rock, and on this rock. . ." indicating that both words were the same when originally uttered, thus, "You are Kepha, and on this kepha. . ."—but also to such Semitisms as the designation of Peter as bar-yônâ, the expression "flesh and blood" to mean "men," and the characteristically Semitic phrase "bind and loose" as evidence that this section was originally uttered in Aramaic (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 6:106). So, while White is certainly free to argue against the idea of a Semitic original, he cannot claim that this view is a product of Catholic bias, nor that this observation is so shaky that only the ignorant would accept its validity. The appeal to a Semitic original behind Matt 16:18 is only one piece of a full-orbed exegesis and apology but it is certainly a legitimate one, based on evidence in the Greek text of the New Testament as well as significant patristic evidence.

(2) White has complained much of evidence misleadingly presented in Catholic works. But then we encounter some strange argumentation from him, such as this reponse to JP&K’s citations from Origen concerning the primacy of Peter:

In the 600 books written by [Origen] in his lifetime, [the authors of JP&K] 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?

But, speaking of a misleading presentation of evidence, we might ask first just how many of these 600 books to which the authors of JP&K were supposed to refer have survived to the present day? The answer is, a relative handful! And how many of the few surviving works have as their subject matter anything that would remotely call for a mention of the prerogatives of St. Peter or the papacy? A still smaller subset of those. It seems as if Mr. White would know all this; but for whatever reason he builds an argument on the alleged silence of works long since lost and then points to this manufactured silence as evidence that our authors have a weak case. But in fact, the evidence they do cite from Origen clearly enlists him as a proponent of the personal interpretation of Matt 16:18 and that is all the authors claim.

(3) Often White focuses on peripheral issues rather than going to the heart of the matter. An example would be his treatment of the Arabic "Canons of Nicea." In the course of an approximately 18 page critique of JP&K, White spends approximately six of them discussing this tangential point. He will claim, I think, that he was using this example to make a larger point about the proper use of evidence. But in fact, the authors of JP&K are quite measured in their presentation of this evidence, careful to point out that the canons are not original but noting that they give, "a mind’s eye view of the thinking of Eastern Christianity" at the time of their composition. White tries to make much of the existence of forged or glossed documents like these Arabic canons, claiming that the only reason anybody would create such documents is that they are desperate for evidence to support an intrinsically worthless case. But this assertion flies in the face of the evidence even of the transmission of the Bible, in which glosses to or modifications of the text were made for very pious, albeit misguided, reasons. Indeed, these glosses, modifications, and commentaries often do precisely what the authors of JP&K say they do, namely, give us some insight into the personal theology of those making the changes. And, if White is correct, then what does that say about the Protestant forgery of an alleged discourse by Bishop John Strossmayer at the First Vatican Council? Should we conclude that the Protestant case against papal infallibility is so bad that it requires that a bogus speech be placed in the mouth of a Catholic bishop?

The simple fact is that the papal prerogatives can be established by numerous authentic patristic sources, Eastern and Western, long before any false decretals or canons appeared on the scene; these questionable documents have never formed any central part of the Catholic response to Protestants. JP&K put no significant weight on the Arabic canons, nor does any other book written in support of the papacy. Why, then, does White spend so much time trying to refute them, even reproducing several pages from Schaff’s Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers to prove that the Arabic canons are not original, something already admitted in the text of JP&K! His discourse on such a peripheral point leaves the central thesis of JP&K untouched.

[Scott Butler informs me that the material he presented from the Arabic "Canons of Nicea" is also found, almost verbatim, in the ancient Armenian and Chaldean Nomocanons, the official collections of canon law for those ancient churches. These represent two more independent and Eastern witnesses to the pervasiveness of the perspective that the bishop of Rome, as Peter’s successor, holds the primacy in the early Church. He intends to present this evidence formally in the follow-up volume to JP&K.] (4) But in reply to the assertion of our authors that these Arabic canons give us a glimpse of certain Eastern attitudes towards the papacy, White carts out the 28th canon of the Council of Chalcedon, as if this canon alone puts the lie to the Catholic position. [William Webster also makes much of the 28th canon of Chalcedon in his Peter and the Rock, and presents his information in the same unbalanced manner as White.] But there are a significant number of oversights in the presentation of this canon by these Protestant apologists. For example, White fails to tell his readers that the 28th canon was passed by a rump session of bishops after the main body (totaling 520 bishops) had dispersed. All of the Western bishops had already quit the council and the diminutive group that remained purposely misled the papal legates concerning the nature of its deliberations. The canon received only 192 signatures, slightly more than a third of the total attendance of the council. When the legates found out what this band had done, they immediately denounced the proceeding as hopelessly irregular and the canon itself as contrary to the canons of the Council of Nicea. The motivation for this action on the part of the Easterns was exclusively political, seeking to solidify the melding of Church and State, and exhibited the kind of political ambition—to the denigration of spiritual truths—that Protestants ordinarily loathe. White also fails to tell his readers about the letter written by the council fathers of Chalcedon entreating Pope St. Leo the Great to ratify and approve what they had done:

And we further inform you that we have decided on other things also for the good management and stability of church matters, being persuaded that your holiness will accept and ratify them, when you are told. . . . Accordingly vouchsafe most holy and blessed father to accept as your own wish, and as conducing to good government the things which we have resolved on for the removal of all confusion and the confirmation of church order. . . . Accordingly, we entreat you, honour our decision by your assent, and as we have yielded to the head our agreement on things honourable, so may the head also fulfil for the children what is fitting. . . . But that you may know that we have done nothing for favour or in hatred, but as being guided by the Divine Will, we have made known to you the whole scope of our proceedings to strengthen our position and to ratify and establish what we have done (Ep. xcviii; cited from NPNF 2:12:72-3)

They speak of Pope Leo’s relationship to themselves, "of whom you were, chief, as the head to the members, showing your goodwill in the person of those who represented you" (Ibid.). They portray the Pope as "the head," compared to their own status as "children" and speak of him as their "most holy and blessed father." They also speak of him as their "guide in all that is good" and as one who specially embodies the ongoing ministry of St. Peter: 

And this golden chain leading down from the Author of the command to us, you yourself have stedfastly preserved, being set as the mouthpiece unto all of the blessed Peter, and imparting the blessedness of his Faith unto all. Whence we too, wisely taking you as our guide in all that is good, have shown to the sons of the Church their inheritance of Truth . . . . (Ibid.)


 Gone is any notion that the Roman bishop’s position in the Church is strictly honorary or political. As Philip Hughes points out,

The bishops, in this letter, have dropped the language about the imperial importance of the new city, and about recognition of the pope’s primacy as related to the like importance of Rome. It is to him as primate because Peter’s successor that they address their plea—the one sure concrete reality beneath their wealth of insinuating compliment (The Church in Crisis: A History of the General Councils, 325-1870, Garden City: Doubleday, 1961, 90).

After a masterful survey of the evidence, Luke Rivington summarizes well this testimony of the council fathers of Chalcedon concerning the position of the Bishop of Rome: 

If insincerely used, they testify to the necessity under which these bishops found themselves, of crouching at the feet of a master in order to gain the object of their desires. If used in sincerity, they are the testimony of witnesses, naturally the most unwilling, to the position of headship which the East recognised in the occupant of the See of Peter. We cannot claim for [the authors of the 28th canon] the authority of the council, for these men were not the council; but we are compelled to see in these terms the strongest possible evidence that the idea of the connection between Rome and St. Peter, and of such a consequent ‘headship’ of Rome over Constantinople that the latter could not arrange its own relations with other sees in the East without the acquiescence of Rome—we are compelled, I say, to acknowledge that this was so deeply rooted in the mind of the Eastern Church that it was simply useless to ignore it, and that the only thing to be done was to admit it plainly and to win the adhesion of Rome to their projected canon (Primitive Church, 455). [See Rivington’s complete treatment, The Byzantine Plot, on this Web page and that of Philip Hughes in The Church in Crisis, 85-92]

White also does not tell his readers that it was precisely on the authority of papal prerogatives that the 28th canon was nullified by Pope St. Leo the Great, who says of the canon, "we dismiss as without legal effect. . . . By the authority of the blessed apostle Peter we quash it utterly by a general sentence" (cited by Hughes, Crisis, 91). Nor does he tell them that no less a witness than the Patriarch of Constantinople, Anatolius, submitted to St. Leo’s censure of the canon and affirmed the Pope’s authority to approve (or disapprove) not just the 28th canon but the entire council proceedings: 

All the force and confirmation of what was thus done was reserved for the authority of your Blessedness [Cum et sic gestorum vis omnis et confirmatio auctoritati vestræ beatitudinis fuerit reservata] (Ep. cxxxii.c.4; cited in Rivington).


 Or, as Hughes so well paraphrases, "All this is so much hot air until you choose to ratify it!" (Crisis, 92). This affair concerning the 28th canon of Chalcedon might be compared, roughly, to 192 U.S. congressmen meeting in secret session after hours and hammering out a bill directly contradicting the current laws of the U.S., which they then send off to the President who absolutely refuses his signature; yet centuries down the road, some fractious groups continue to trumpet the validity of the action and point to it as representative of the official law of the United States. It is simply bizarre for White (and Webster) to insist that the highly irregular and abherent 28th canon of Chalcedon somehow represents the authentic mind of the ancient Church.


Never in his critique or other writings does White address the significant evidence brought by the authors of JP&K from Eastern sources in support of the papacy; he simply asserts over and over that there was opposition from other Eastern leaders, something never denied by Catholic apologists. Never does he address the massive testimony from the Fathers supporting the personal interpretation of Matt 16:18 or the exegesis of John 21:15ff. that sees Peter as the earthly chief shepherd of the universal Church; he only quotes counter-examples in which they held different views, something not only acknowledged by Catholic apologists but neatly harmonized within an understanding of patristic methods of exegesis. In all I believe that he leaves the central thesis of JP&K, and indeed of the Catholic position in general, untouched. In one final note, I have to disagree with my fellow Catholic apologist, Patrick Madrid, who, as cited by White, says that JP&K is a "complete iteration of the biblical and patristic evidence." As helpful as it is, I don’t think the book is complete by a long shot; there’s an enormous amount of additional material that can be brought to bear to illuminate this topic and much more that can be brought to refute the most common Protestant or Eastern Orthodox objections. This is no slight to the authors of the book; one can only put so much between two covers. JP&K is a very useful compendium of source material, but the Protestant apologist should be aware that there is a lot more where that came from.