Crossfunction: 2012

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Who has the "power of the keys"?

A question from a reader...

My quick question after reading your article “Answering objections against Peter and the Keys” is:

Why did you not mention Matthew 18:18 in your reply to ‘Jesus spoke to Peter as a representative of all believers. Therefore, Jesus gave the "keys of the kingdom of heaven" to all believers, not just Peter.’

Matthew 18:18 seems to me an evidence that the right or responsibility of using the keys, if not the keys themselves, is given to all the disciples or all those present in the group at that time.

My interest in the history of interpreting the number of the keys as “two” led to your article, which I enjoyed reading. Thanks.

Dear S,

Thank You for writing to me with Your kind words and Your question.

You asked why, in Matthew 18:18, did I not mention that this verse shows that the “right or responsibility” of the “keys” is promised to all believers, not just Peter.

To understand Matthew 18:18 we must also understood Matthew 16:18, where Jesus promises the “keys” to Peter ( The keys represent authority, and in this context they represent authority to govern the Church. In the presence of the apostles Jesus speaks directly to Peter, in the second person singular form of speech, and promises to give Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven, as well as the power to bind and loose.

Matthew 18:18 does not actually mention the keys. The context of this verse is set by the preceding text, especially verses 15-17, where Jesus affirms the definitive authority of “the church” in settling controversies and maintaining unity among believers. Individual believers do not have the authority to settle a matter for the whole Church, but numerous Bible passages attribute this sort of authority to the Church’s leaders: specifically, the apostles. It is in this context that Jesus says “the disciples” have the power to bind and loose. But they don’t each have this power on their own, to use as they see fit. They have it only so long as they are united to the one who holds the keys of authority: Peter. Therefore the power to bind and loose is essentially an apostolic power, but it can be exercised only in union with Peter and his successors.

Later, in John 21:15-17, in the presence of the disciples, Jesus specifically commands Peter to “Feed My lambs! …Feed My lambs! …Feed My sheep!”. This makes very clear that Jesus had singled out Peter for a unique role among his brother apostles. Peter was to be like a shepherd to the apostles and to all believers: caring for them, and guiding them. This is why Jesus gave solely to Peter and his successors the keys of authority by which they would rule the Church.

All believers share in that authority, in a subordinate way, when we unite ourselves to the spirit of Christ and maintain brotherly unity with the apostles, especially Peter and his successors.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

How do we know which books comprise the Old Testament?

The following letter is a response to a great question I received recently. If the author gives me permission, I'll reprint his note here. Until then, here's my response on his question about whether the canon of the Old Testament is established upon Church teaching authority, or on the basis that the Jews received it and discerned it before the birth of Jesus...


Hi, M,

Thank You for Your thoughtful letter! You raised a really interesting question. Here are a few thoughts in response…

Let me try to summarize Your line of thinking: The Church has authority to identify the canon of the New Testament, which God entrusted to the Church. But God entrusted the Old Testament to the Jews, and with it the authority to distinguish its canon. Therefore we must look to the Jews for a definition of the Old Testament canon. In this note, I’ll refer to this idea as the “Jewish canon theory”.

At first glance the theory certainly does make some sense. But let’s see whether some of its implications make sense.

If God gave the Church authority to discern the canon of the New Testament, it is because He gave the Church the mission and authority to interpret its contents. After all, You can’t reliably interpret a document if You’re unsure of the text it contains. Christians have differences of opinion on how the authority to interpret that text ultimately is exercised. Some will say that the individual believer, guided by the Holy Spirit, is his own final authority in interpreting Scripture. Others say they recognize yet another level of higher authority: the bishops and pope, guided by the Holy Spirit. But in any case, most if not all Christians agree that God gave the Church authority to interpret the New Testament, and that this implies the Church also has the power to declare which books authentically belong in the New Testament.

This authority to interpret the New Testament is necessary for the Church to carry out her mission to proclaim accurately what God has revealed. But God has revealed Himself not only through the New Testament but also the Old. For example, to preach about Christ, the Church must be able to preach about the Law and the Prophets. It must be able to interpret the Ten Commandments; the significance of circumcision and the Sabbath and how they apply to our lives today; and much more. If the Church lacks this power to interpret and preach the Old Testament, it can not have the ability to interpret and preach the New.

If it lacks this authority to interpret the Old, then the Church has only two plausible alternatives: to claim that nobody at all can interpret the Old Testament; or, to accept as definitive Jewish tradition, which offers guidance on the canon but also denies that Jesus is the Christ. Neither of these options really is plausible, as they both imply the Church –and all Christians- are ultimately unable to interpret the revelation of God, and unable to know or claim that Jesus is the Messiah.

But according to the argument You suggested, M… what if we say that the Church DOES have the authority to interpret the Old Testament, but that its canon –its list of constituent books- depend not on Church authority, but on the fact that the canon was determined prior to the foundation of the Church? That would recognize that Christians have authority to interpret all of Scripture, without having to depend on the Church to tell us which books belong to the Old Testament canon. Well, that only takes us full circle to the beginning of the discussion, and there’s no sense repeating the same things said above. In a nutshell, if the Church has authority to interpret Scripture, it must have the authority to determine the canon of Scripture: all of Scripture. It’s all or nothing.

Besides, there are other thorny problems posed by the “Jewish canon” theory. Here are a few examples:

The theory relies on Your claim that the “Canon of the OT was settled in Jesus' day already”. Yet it wasn’t. In around the year 95 A.D., a rabbinical synod convened at Jamnia in an attempt to definitively clarify the canon of the Jewish Scriptures. The rabbis were deeply concerned that Christians were using various New and Old Testament scriptures to defend and promote their belief in Jesus Christ. Many Christians and Palestinian Jews at the time were widely using the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, which had been in circulation for more than a century before Jesus was born. This translation included some writings that prompted controversy among the rabbis partly because of their use by early Christian apologists, and partly because of disputes about the language, time, or place of origin of the writings. The rabbis at Jamnia adopted certain criteria for determining the canonicity of the Scriptures, including these requirements:

1) conformance to the Pentateuch;
2) authorship no later than the time of Esdras;
3) language must be Hebrew;
4) place of composition must be Palestine.

As You can see, these criteria are arguably arbitrary, and in any case depend on the authority of Jewish teachers who were reacting to the perceived threat of a spreading Christianity, and rest on the presumption that there in fact is no “New Testament”. Historical evidence clearly shows, in fact:

  • there was no universal agreement on the Old Testament canon at the time Jesus founded His Church;
  • the Septuagint contains all the Old Testament texts that have always been recognized as canonical by the Catholic Church;
  • the “Jamnia criteria” for determining the canonicity of Scripture doesn’t exclude only the deuterocanonical books recognized by the Catholic Church. It also excludes the entire New Testament! The Jewish teaching on the canon deliberately excludes the New Testament.
  • You mentioned Josephus. Did You know that he “ascribed divine inspiration to the Jewish translators” of the Septuagint? (
  • Did You know that approximately two-thirds of the New Testament’s quotations from the Old Testament come from the Septuagint, and that Jesus quoted from the Septuagint? (

M, my friend, You have to consider whether, in the age of the Church, You as a Christian can attribute binding teaching authority to Jewish doctrine on the canon when that doctrine is at odds with Christian doctrine. If Jesus gave to Peter and his successors the absolute power to “bind and loose”, how can the Jews possibly have retained authority over the canon of Scripture? I do not mean to minimize in any way the teaching authority the Jews had prior to the Church. But with the founding of the Church that authority has passed into different hands.

Even in our time, there is not universal agreement among Christians on the canon of Scripture. Ultimately, You have to take someone’s word for it, because God did not directly reveal what the canon includes. From my point of view, the Catholic teaching on the canon is the most trustworthy, largely because it has not changed for 20 centuries, and because the Church has been unwavering in its claim that it received from Jesus through the apostles the authority to make that determination. Who are You going to believe?

I’d welcome Your thoughts on this!

God bless You!

John Robin.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Numbers 20: Moses and the misery of law without mercy

1 And the people of Israel, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh; and Miriam died there, and was buried there. 2 Now there was no water for the congregation; and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. 3 And the people contended with Moses, and said, "Would that we had died when our brethren died before the LORD! 4 Why have you brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? 5 And why have you made us come up out of Egypt, to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain, or figs, or vines, or pomegranates; and there is no water to drink." 6 Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the door of the tent of meeting, and fell on their faces. And the glory of the LORD appeared to them, 7 and the LORD said to Moses, 8 "Take the rod, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water; so you shall bring water out of the rock for them; so you shall give drink to the congregation and their cattle." 9 And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him. 10 And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, "Hear now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?" 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his rod twice; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their cattle. 12 And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not believe in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them. 13 These are the waters of Mer'ibah, where the people of Israel contended with the LORD, and he showed himself holy among them... 23 And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron at Mount Hor, on the border of the land of Edom, 24 "Aaron shall be gathered to his people; for he shall not enter the land which I have given to the people of Israel, because you rebelled against my command at the waters of Mer'ibah. "

Numbers 20:1-13,23-24 RSV
This passage reminds me of the incident back in Exodus 4:24-26, in which we are told that God almost killed Moses, apparently because Moses had failed to circumcise his son. In that case circumcision, the rite of initiation into the Old Covenant, was at the heart of the matter. This time, the peoples' thirst for water and their anger toward Moses drive Moses and Aaron to present themselves to God, Who promises to miraculously provide water from a rock. But Moses does not seem to mediate God's gift as God desired. He does not speak to the rock, nor does he explain to the people the merciful character of God's gift. Rather, he invokes God's gift in a violent display of anger and condemnation. The people perhaps deserved rebuke for their weakness of faith, but God's mercy was obscured by Moses' rash words (cf. Psalm 106:32-33). Aaron is silent but apparently complicit in Moses' actions.

This incident cost both of them the privilege of entering into the promised land. But even in this punishment God's mercy is not lacking. He reveals to Moses and Aaron exactly why they are to be punished, giving them the knowledge and opportunity to repent in the time left to them.