Jesus’ words about the keys of the Kingdom have had an enormous influence upon the entire history of the Christian Church. In a real sense Christendom today is divided into two major branches—Romanism and Protestantism—by divergent interpretations of Matthew 16:18, 19: “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.… And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Views of this Passage

The extravagant claims of the Roman Catholic church are based ultimately upon these two verses, and without them the whole dubious structure of Rome crumbles to dust. According to that view, Peter is said to be the personal possessor of the keys whereby men gain or are refused access to heaven. This has been taught so assiduously and for so long that even we ourselves sometimes refer to heaven as a place guarded by pearly gates, with Peter as the gatekeeper carrying the keys in his hands. This is a distinctly Roman Catholic picture. Moreover, the Roman church insists that this divine prerogative of Heavenly Gatekeeper has been transmitted to all those whom they call the “successors of Peter”—the bishops of Rome, the popes.

All of this we roundly reject, “for there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). However much our Lord may have loved and honored the big fisherman, Simon Peter, Jesus certainly did not abdicate his own prerogatives as only mediator and assign them to another.

What then may a conscientious Protestant make of these verses which have been so troublesome within the family of Christians? For one ...

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