“Where is the hierarchy in the Bible?”
It is important for Protestants to understand some basic facts. Contrary to the modern belief that the Bible is a “blueprint” or “textbook” which explains how a church should be structured, it is a product of the Catholic Church—a compilation of writings that reflect a structure that was already present. As such, the Bible had no reason to provide fine details of proper ecclesiology; however, proper ecclesiology is detectable. Shortly after Jesus’ resurrection, the Catholic Church wrote lots of letters. The Catholic Church discerned which of those letters were inspired. By the end of the fourth century (Councils of Hippo A.D. 393 and Carthage A.D. 397) the Catholic Church finalized the “table of contents” of the scriptures and called the entire body of writing “the Bible”. In other words, the Bible would not even exist if the pope and the hierarchy did not exist.
The Christian Church, with Christ as King and Mary as Queen, is a Davidic kingdom, complete with a prime minister (an office). The book of Isaiah provides the typology that would be perfected by Peter’s office.
Isaiah 22:20: And I will place on his [Eli’akim’s] shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.
Jesus refers to the office of prime minister when speaking to Peter–nearly quoting from Isaiah when describing Eli’akim’s stewardship. (For more about Peter as Rock, read my awesome essay here.)
Matthew 16:18: I will give you [Peter] the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
The steward of that office is a “father” to his people. The Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures from which Jesus and the apostles most often read and quoted, uses the word πατὴρ/patér for “father”—the etymological root of the Greek endearment word pappas (Latin = papas, which is rendered into modern English as “pope”).
Isaiah 22:21: …and he will be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.
That Church with the office of prime minister is perpetual.
Matthew 16:19: …you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.
The clergy has the authority to assign successors to perpetuate their authority into the future.
cf. Acts 1:20-26: Matthias assigned as an apostolic successor.
cf. 2 Timothy 1:6, 1:13-14, 2:1-2, 4:1-6: Timothy groomed as an apostolic successor.
The apostolic office is how Jesus promised to remain with his Church.
Luke 10:16: He who hears you hears me.
Matthew 28:20: I am with you always.
That Church is the pillar and ground of truth.
1 Timothy 3:15: …God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth.
Jesus creates an authoritative conduit—the apostolic office.
John 17:18: As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.
Obedience to the hierarchy’s teachings equals obedience to Jesus’ teachings, and such obedience is how Jesus intended for his Church to be unified.
John 17:20,21: I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one…
Those who accept that conduit accept Jesus.
John 13:20: Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives any one whom I send receives me; and he who receives me receives him who sent me.
Matthew 10:40: He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me.
The clergy has the authority to forgive sins in Jesus’ name in the manner that he chose.
John 20:21b-23: As the Father has sent me, even so I send you… If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
…in persona Christi (acting in the person of Christ).
2 Corinthians 2:10 Douay-Rheims Bible: …what I [Paul] have pardoned, if I have pardoned any thing, for your sakes have I done it in the person of Christ.
The oral tradition (teachings) of the apostolic office is binding.
1 Corinthians 11:2: I [Paul] commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions as I have delivered them to you.
1 Thessalonians 2:13: And when we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
…and is equally authoritative as to what they wrote (of what became NT scripture).
2 Thessalonians 2:15: So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.
2 Thessalonians 3:6: Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.
3 John 9,13-14: I have written something to the Church; but Diot’rephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge authority. …I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write… I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.
Centuries prior to the Bible’s compilation, and decades before the Gospel of John was written, Jesus spoke to specific people who would become the new clergy. It is to those men whom Jesus promised that the Helper, the Holy Spirit, would come.
John 14:16-18: And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth… you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you.
The hierarchy’s interpretation of its own book (the Bible) is accurate because…
John 14:26; 16:13a: But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. …When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.
Jesus was speaking to the Apostles who received Jesus’ authority to teach. Peter was singled out and was given Christ’s flock to Shepherd.
John 21:17: Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
Luke 22:31-32: Simon, Simon, Satan demanded to have you [Greek plural; "you all"], that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you [Greek singular; "you only"] that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.
The Greek word πρῶτος, as used by St. Matthew the evangelist when describing Peter, has a spectrum of meaning that includes: leading, most important, and chief.
Matthew 10:2: The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and…
Peter’s role presents a practical description of all his successors throughout history.
cf. Acts 1:13-26: Peter headed the meeting to appoint the first apostolic successor.
cf. Acts 2:14: Peter preached at Pentecost.
cf. Matthew 10:1-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16, Acts 1:13: Theological and literary status is always given to Peter.
cf. Acts 2:41: Peter received the first converts.
cf. Acts 3:6,7: Peter performed the first miracle after Pentecost.
cf. Acts 5:1-11: Peter presided over the first ecclesial punishment.
cf. Acts 8:21: Peter excommunicated the first heretic.
Peter was the first apostle to witness the risen Christ—juxtaposed with Paul being the last apostle to witness the risen Christ. Similarly, Peter was the first apostle to acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ, and Paul, again, was the last apostle to confess. It is clear to Catholic Christians of every generation, including Paul and his, that Peter was not a random member of the twelve. The evidence provides an ancient pre-Pauline formula and insight into the Sacred Tradition of the practicing Church.
cf. Matthew 18:21, cf. Mark 8:29, cf. John 6:69: Peter was the voice for the apostles.
cf. Acts 15:7-12: Peter presided over the first council.
The decisions of the councils are binding.
Acts 15:28-29: For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.
Acts 16:4: As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem.
The other apostles recognized Peter as their leader. In comparison to Peter’s position, Paul ranks his own as…
1 Corinthians 15:3-9 RSV: … “the least of the apostles” and Peter’s as “…[the first] then to the twelve.”
Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians, consisting of an internal, chiastic-like hierarchical theology of the office of apostle, reveal his own acceptance of Peter’s supremacy. Further texts, even within the Pauline corpus, reveal more than what could be construed, at least in an accusatory manner by Protestants, as mere Catholic theory. Paul’s actions admit that a supreme authority existed within the Church. By his own hand, we know that Paul traveled to Jerusalem, not to teach or exercise his authority as an equal, but to…
Galatians 1:18: “Meet Cephas.”
It is interesting to note that Paul’s Galatian audience had a foreknowledge of who Cephas was—again revealing the catholicity of Peter’s position; a position that existed prior to any New Testament text. Had Paul not defended his new position by appealing to his communion with Peter, the gospel that he was preaching may have been suspect of being a tradition of men. In context, Paul introduces his letter by establishing his authority by emphasizing his association with Peter—a practice that is internally present here in the New Testament, and externally portrayed by all the successors of the apostles (the bishops). In other words, communion with Peter proves…
Galatians 1:20: “Of which I am writing to you, I do not lie!”
After fourteen years, Paul again submitted his message to the leadership of the Church for approval—that he was not…
Galatians 2:2: “Running in vain.”
It is within this context, that Paul and Peter’s disagreement in Galatians 2:11 is shown to be a preview of how the papacy would operate throughout history—welcoming the consult of its bishops, and an acceptance by even the least of the apostles to recognize the supreme leadership of Christ’s Church.
And throughout history, that Church recognized that legitimate interpretations of the Bible were the responsibility of the Church that was given the Spirit of truth that would guide her into all truth.
cf. Acts 8:27-31: The apostolic office provides the proper interpretation of scripture.
2 Peter 1:20: First of all, you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation.”
The New Testament’s Pastoral Letters reveal the apostles’ intention to preserve the apostolic mission through the appointment of successors. Authority to appoint elders/priests was given from the top down.
Titus 1:5: This is why I left you in Crete, that you might amend what was defective, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.
Ensuring proper apostolic doctrine was a responsibility of properly chosen clergy, ordained by those in communion with Peter and by the laying on of hands.
1 Timothy 5:22: Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands (cf. 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6).
In sum, a select group of men were given offices by Jesus himself. A specific office was assigned to Peter. Peter’s role is perpetual. Those men within the hierarchy had authority, and chose to perpetuate their authority by assigning successors. Scripture offers no indication that such authority should ever cease or that succession should ever stop. The apostolic office was given the Spirit that would guide her into all truth. The decisions of those men are binding. The apostolic office is the visible teaching authority for the worldwide Church. Entrance into Holy Orders is limited to people who are properly chosen. Nowhere in scripture is there a demonstration of Protestant-styled clergy with Protestant-styled (self-grabbed) offices being taken. Nowhere in scripture is private interpretation that conflicts with the established hierarchy condoned. Proper interpretation of the Bible is the Church’s responsibility. Sacred Tradition is as authoritative as Sacred Scripture. In other words, “Bible Christians” are those who recognize that God intended a visible Church with Christ as King and with Peter’s successor as his prime minister–a papacy and a hierarchy. Ergo, Catholics are the true Bible Christians.
© 2012 Patrick Vandapool, all rights reserved