Where does the Catholic Church get its authority?

To understand the authority granted to the Church by Jesus, we need first to understand the terminology of the office. The office of Pope is regental. This meaning he acts as a regent or steward of Christ. A steward is defined as an official who is appointed by the legal ruling monarch to represent him or her in a country and may have the mandate to govern it in his or her name. So, how do we know that it is an office of a steward that Jesus created with Peter? It has to do with the phrases and terminology that Jesus used. The authority is designated in Jewish culture as the “one who holds the keys.” We see this office referred to among those Davidic kings as vizier, regent, master of the palace, etc. In Isaiah 22, we see a description of the authority held by this office.

(Isaiah 22:15, 19-23) Thus says the Lord, the GOD of hosts: Up, go to that official, Shebna, master of the palace … I will thrust you [Shebna] from your office and pull you down from your station. On that day I will summon my servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah; I will clothe him with your robe, and gird him with your sash, and give over to him your authority. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open. I will fix him like a peg in a sure spot, to be a place of honor for his family"

There we see the authority transferred to Eliakim that includes the key of the House of David. This passage gives him the authority to speak on behalf of the Davidic king. We see Eliakim in action in 2 Kings 18. The Assyrian general calls for the king who sends out Eliakim to speak for him. How does this relate to Peter in the New Testament? In Matthew, Jesus uses the same terminology as Isaiah when granting the authority of stewardship to Peter.

(Matthew 16:18,19) And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

The parallels can be easily seen. In Isaiah, we see that Eliakim was granted “the key to the House of David,” and in Matthew, we see that Peter was given “the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” Also, in Isaiah, we see that “when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open” is synonymous with “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” So, it becomes clear that through Jesus’ words, He was granting Peter the authority to govern Christ’s kingdom on Earth, which is His Holy Church, and speak on His behalf.

The Greek usage of you in this passage is singular, thus giving Peter the authority, backed by heaven, to make decisions for the church. By saying this, Jesus fulfills almost verbatim the office of stewardship depicted in the Old Testament. Peter himself attests to the apostolic authority.

(2 Peter 1:18-19) We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain. Moreover, we possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

Here is another passage that attests to the hierarchy of the Church:

(Matthew 18:15-17) "If your brother sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.

Above, it shows that the Church is the final authority on matters.

Wouldn’t that authority have died with Peter?
Why would it? Peter was the leader of the Church. For that church to continue as Jesus said it would, the leadership could not die with Peter. The office of stewardship would have to have successors to continue as the Bible says it would.

(Ephesians 3:21) to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Above we see that the church will continue through all generations and not just die off with Peter. Here are verses that show evidence that offices may be succeeded in the church.

(Acts 1:20-26) For it is written in the Book of Psalms: ‘Let his encampment become desolate, and may no one dwell in it.’ And: ‘May another take his office.’ Therefore, it is necessary that one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to his resurrection." So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this apostolic ministry from which Judas turned away to go to his own place.” Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the eleven apostles.

Above, the congregation of the Church votes on a replacement of Judas, resulting in Matthias being voted into the office of the first twelve.

(1 Timothy 3:1) This saying is trustworthy: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task.

As we can see above, Jesus intended that the church he started with Peter continues through generation after generation until the end of time. Also, it has shown that other members can succeed the offices of the church. For more detail on apostolic succession, see the FAQ on Priesthood.

How can the Catholic Church be linked to Peter?
The link can be found by looking through historical records. Records have been kept of popes back to Peter. Here is a list.

Isn’t the Bible the sole authority for all Christians?
Let’s see what the Bible says about itself?

(2 Timothy 3:16-17 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

Does God inspire it? Yes. Useful? Yes. Sole and Highest authority? Nowhere in the Bible does it speak of itself as such. Instead.

(1 Timothy 3:15) But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth.

The Bible states that it is the Church that is the highest authority.

Paul likens scripture to a tool used for teaching. No scripture in the Bible supports the dogma of sola scriptura. Sola scriptura contradicts the teachings of the Bible as we can see in these verses:

(2 Thessalonians 2:15) Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.

(1 Corinthians 11:1-2) Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you.

In the above verses, we can see that Paul tells us to hold to the apostolic traditions of the church. Not only written tradition (scripture) but oral tradition as well.

(2 Thessalonians 3:6) We instruct you, brothers, in the name of (our) Lord Jesus Christ, to shun any brother who conducts himself in a disorderly way and not according to the tradition they received from us.

(2 Timothy 2:2) And what you heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well.

The two verses above are clear the apostles’ view on oral tradition and expected it to be carried on. It’s important to remember that during the first century, there was no New Testament scripture. The churches depended solely on oral instruction supported by an occasional letter. But nearly all the letters include a passage that states, “remember what you were taught.” The Christian Church was built on the oral tradition of the twelve apostles.

(Revelation 21:14) The wall of the city had twelve courses of stones as its foundation, on which were inscribed the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

A fellow Christian uses the following analogy in his religion class that I thought to be particularly useful in showing the shortcomings of sola scriptura:

  • “Imagine in 20 years you go to a high school reunion. When you begin to reminisce about your time in school, all you are allowed to do is to open your yearbook and look through it, read it. You can’t talk about anything but what is in your yearbook. You can’t talk about any of the activities that pictures bring to mind. You can’t rely on the memory of others to refresh your memory about some of the things you have forgotten. That eliminates a big part of your high school years.”

The Infallibility of the Church
Through our faith, we know that scripture is infallible and, therefore, an authority on our belief. However, the Church is also an authority, as I have shown above. Therefore, it also must be infallible in its doctrine. Scripture and the Church support each other as infallible and authoritative.

(John 14:26) The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name–he will teach you everything and remind you of all that (I) told you.

(John 16:13,14) But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.

(1 John 2:20) But you have the anointing that comes from the holy one, and you all have knowledge.

(1 John 2:27) As for you, the anointing that you received from him remains in you, so that you do not need anyone to teach you. But his anointing teaches you about everything and is true and not false; just as it taught you, remain in him.

Are you denouncing other Christian faiths then?
I don’t have to. The Bible speaks of those who do not acknowledge the authority of the Church.

(Luke 10:16) Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.

(1 John 4:6) We belong to God, and anyone who knows God listens to us, while anyone who does not belong to God refuses to hear us. This is how we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit.

(2 Timothy 4:3-4) For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths.

(1 John 2:18,19) Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that the antichrist was coming, so now many antichrists have appeared. Thus we know this is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were no