Updated: Jan 1, 2021
By Luke Lancaster
The famous passage in Scripture where Jesus gives Peter the “keys of the kingdom” in Matthew 16:19 has been expanded upon by Protestant Bible scholars. They say it means that Peter is the Chief Steward of the Church, which, they do not seem to realize, means that Peter was the Pope! They see Matt. 16 as connecting to a passage in Isaiah 22, where the “key of David” is spoken of.
In Isaiah 22:22, it says, “And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David.”
Bible commentators note that the “key” of the Davidic Kingdom in the Old Testament was held by the second most powerful person in the Kingdom. He literally carries large keys over his shoulder to open the palace. He was designated by the king to be in charge. The role he played was one like a Prime Minister (think Margaret Thatcher). These scholars see Jesus in Matt. 16 taking the idea of Prime Minister in the Davidic Kingdom and applying it to His own Kingdom: The Kingdom of Heaven!
This is the idea of the Papacy, where the Pope is the second most powerful person in the Kingdom. He is the “Prime” Minister above the other Ministers (bishops).
Check out these five authors:
1. F. F. Bruce
Famous Bible scholar F. F. Bruce asks the question why Jesus gave the “keys of the kingdom” to Peter,
“An what about the ‘keys of the kingdom’? The keys of a royal or noble establishment were entrusted to the chief steward [prime minister] or majordomo; he carried them on his shoulder in earlier times, and there they served as a badge of the authority entrusted to him…(Isaiah 22:22). So in the new community which Jesus was about to build, Peter would be, so to speak, chief steward.”
See more in F. F. Bruce, The Hard Sayings of Jesus, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1983), 143-144.
2. W. F. Albright & C. S. Mann
Famous Protestant scholars W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann say that, when Jesus gives Peter the “keys of the kingdom,” that,
“Isaiah xxii 15 ff. undoubtedly lies behind this saying. The keys are the symbol of authority…”
See more in W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann, The Anchor Bible: Matthew, (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971), 196.
3. M. Eugene Boring
Bible scholar M. Eugene Boring says that,
“Peter’s role as holder of the keys is fulfilled now, on earth, as chief teacher of the church…The keeper of the keys has authority within the house as administrator and teacher (cf. Isa. 22:20-25, which may have influenced Matthew here).”
See more in M. Eugene Boring, “Matthew,” in Pheme Perkins and others, eds., The New Interpreter’s Bible. Vol. 8, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 346.
4. Oscar Cullmann
Biblical scholar Oscar Cullmann has this to say about Is. 22 and Matt. 16,
“Just as in Isaiah 22:22 the Lord lays the keys of the house of David on the shoulders of his servant Eliakim, so Jesus commits to Peter the keys of his house, the Kingdom of Heaven, and thereby installs him as administrator of the house.”
See more in Oscar Cullmann, Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr, trans. Floyd V. Filson, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1953), 203.
5. R. T. France
Famous Bible commentator R. T. France has this to say,
“In that case Peter’s ‘power of the keys’ declared in 16:19 is not so much that of the doorkeeper…but that of the steward (as in Is. 22:22, generally regarded as the Old Testament background to the metaphor of keys here), whose keys of office enable him to regulate the affairs of the household.”
See more in R. T. France, Matthew: Evangelist and Teacher, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1989), 247.
Now, it is important to note that these scholars were not Catholic. They did not take the extra step to say that Peter’s successors continued the office of Prime Minister or Chief Steward. However, they are good proofs for us! To learn more about this topic, see the book, “Jesus, Peter & the Keys,” by Butler, Dahlgren, and Hess.