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Does Isaiah 22 Prove the Papacy?

Whatever you (sing.) bind on earth will be bound in heaven (Matthew 16:19)

In a recent email, a Protestant inquirer, investigating the claims of Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, brought up Isaiah chapter 22 which seems to support the Roman Catholic papacy.  He wrote:

I feel drawn to Catholicism again. However, I will remain realistic about Catholicism’s current situation and crisis: post-Vatican II Catholicism is a mess. While I sympathize with the traditionalists, I don’t wish to affiliate myself with a radical fringe of zealots who appear at times to lack the central Catholic virtue of charity. However, I simply can’t explain away the papacy. Although your explanation of the “Rock” passage was quite convincing, the Latins would claim that whether or not the rock refers to Peter’s confession or his personage, the promise of the keys of the kingdom established a monarchical papacy centered around the Petrine see of Rome. They claim that this imagery also bears an unmistakable connotation of authority and the office of vicarship and they highlight the similarities between the passage in the Gospel of St. Matthew and the book of Isaiah, chapter 22. (Emphasis added.)


My Response

Jesus’ Promise to Peter

In Matthew 16, one of the more important passages in the Bible, Peter makes the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the long awaited Messiah.  In response, Jesus declares him blessed, gives him a new name “Peter,” and bestows on him the power of the keys.

18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19; NIV, emphasis added.)

This passage has been one of the most highly contested in the Bible.  Roman Catholic apologists have used it to assert papal supremacy, and Protestants have responded with counter-arguments.  One longstanding issue was what Jesus intended when he bestowed on Simon the new name “Peter” and what he meant when he declared that upon “this rock” he (Christ) would build his church.  More recently, the keys have become a matter of debate.


Scott Hahn’s Discovery

One of the challenges of understanding Jesus’ promise to give Peter the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” (τὰς κλεῖδας τῆς βασιλείας τῶν οὐρανῶν) is what exactly the keys referred to.  Scott Hahn argues that Isaiah 22 gives an important clue for understanding Christ’s promise to Peter in Matthew 16.

20 In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah. 21 I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the people of Judah. 22 I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. (Isaiah 22:20-22; NIV, emphasis added.)

For Scott Hahn, Christ giving Peter the keys was comparable to the king bestowing the keys on his vizier.  The vizier in ancient Israel was the second in command much like the way in today’s White House the second most important person is the Chief of Staff, not the Vice President.  Because only one vizier serves the king Hahn proceeded to reason that this supports the monarchical understanding of the papacy.


Isaiah 22 in the Historical Context

The prophetic oracle in Isaiah 22 was given to two viziers to King Hezekiah: Shebna (v. 15) and Eliakim (v. 20).  For both men the message is one of judgment: Shebna will be thrown away (v. 17) and Eliakim will be like a peg in the wall sheared off (v. 25).  For more historical background on the two men and their relationship to King Hezekiah, one should read Isaiah 36-37 and 2 Kings 18.

Being clothed with a robe and sash, and given a chariot were part of the ceremonial vesting of the vizier before he took office.  A similar vesting ceremony can be found in Genesis 41:41-43 in which Pharaoh gave Joseph his signet ring, dressed him in fine linen, put a gold chain around his neck, and gave him a chariot to ride in.  No mention of a key is made but the similarities are clear.  A similar vesting ceremony is hinted at in the book of Esther (Esther 3:1, 6:7-10, 8:2, 10:3).  Mention is made of a royal robe, a chariot, and a signet ring, but not of a key.  Thus, a comparative analysis of ancient Near Eastern political practices from Egypt during the Hyksos pharaohs 1720 to 1550 BC, the Judaean kingdom circa 700 BC, to the Persian kingdom circa 400 BC shows common elements in the installation of the vizier but the bestowal of a key seems to be a practice confined to Israel.  The phrase – what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open – is a poetic way of saying that as vizier Eliakim would have the final say, that is, no one could reverse his decisions.


What do the Keys Refer to?

The paucity of references to “keys” in the Bible makes for a challenging exegetical question.  There are two Old Testament references: Isaiah 22:22 and Judges 3:25.  There are six New Testament references: Matthew 16:19, Luke 11:52, and Revelation 1:18, 3:7, 9:1, and 20:1.  The word “key” has a range of meaning.  Judges 3:25 refers to a literal, physical key to the Moabite king Eglon’s private chamber.  In Luke 11:52 Jesus used “key to knowledge” to refer to the Jewish rabbis’ teaching authority, i.e., to interpret and apply the Torah.  Key can refer to power over something, e.g., Jesus’ victory over death and Hades (Revelation 1:18), an angel having the power to open the Abyss (Revelation 9:1), and Archangel Michael named as the angel having the key to the Abyss (Revelation 20:1).


Do Isaiah 22 and Matthew 16 Line Up?

The validity of Scott Hahn’s pro-papacy apologia rest on the two passages being parallel to each other.  But do they line up?  A closer examination shows that while there are some parallels between the two, there also exist divergences.  Christ’s promise to Peter has two elements:

  •  The keys of the kingdom of heaven, and
  • The power to forgive sins.

Isaiah’s prophecy to Eliakim has two elements:

  • The keys to the house of David, and
  • The power to make final decisions.

The first element shows a rough similarity.  The keys of the house of David bestowed on Eliakim in Isaiah 22 can be viewed as a prophetic type that is fulfilled when Christ bestowed the keys of the kingdom of heaven on Peter in Matthew 16.  When we compare the second element, the power of the keys, we find a divergence.  What Jesus gave to Peter was not so much administrative but priestly authority, the power to grant absolution.  Scott Hahn can make a typological argument – the first element: the keys of the house of David are equivalent to the keys of the kingdom of heaven, but to assert that the second element: the power to open and close doors are equivalent to the power of binding and loosing is something of a stretch.

It should be noted that the Orthodox Study Bible (OSB) has a different reading for Isaiah 22:22:

I will give him the glory of David, and he shall rule, and no one will oppose him. (OSB)

This difference reflects the fact that where, for example, the New International Version (NIV) relies on the Hebrew Masoretic text, the OSB uses the Greek Septuagint.  I checked my copy of the Septuagint found no mention of the Greek word for key (κλεὶς).  For Orthodox Christians, this is worth noting as Orthodoxy gives the Greek Septuagint priority over the Hebrew Masoretic text.  In other words, if Hahn were to apply Isaiah 22:22 from the Septuagint to Matthew 16:19 to justify the monarchical papacy, he wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.


Isaiah 22 Fulfilled in Revelation 3:7

The New Testament is the Old Testament fulfilled.  Jesus claimed that he came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17).  So where do we find the New Testament fulfillment of Isaiah 22?  I argue that the fulfillment of Isaiah 22:22 is found in Revelation 3:7.  Let’s compare the two passages with bold fonts for the first element (the key) and italics for the second element (the power of the keys).  Isaiah 22:22 reads:

I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. (NIV)

Revelation 3:7 reads:

These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. (NIV)

Where Matthew 16 provides a rough parallel to Isaiah 22, a much closer fit can be found in Revelation 3:7.  The first and second elements in both passages parallel each other.  So, if one wants to argue for a New Testament fulfillment of Isaiah 22 the best place to look is in Revelation 3, not in Matthew 16.

How does Isaiah 22 inform our reading of Revelation 3?  The answer is simple and straightforward.  Isaiah 22 provides some useful cultural information but nothing like a magic decoder ring.  In Isaiah 22 the key was a symbol of authority and the language about shutting and opening meant having irreversible authority.  So in Revelation 3:7, when Jesus says he holds the key of David he is asserting his being the Messiah who has supreme authority.  The power of the keys can also refer to Christ’s sovereignty over history.  The power of the keys in Revelation 3:7 lays the foundation to verse 8: “See, I have placed before you, an open door that no one can shut.”  Jesus has given the church in Philadelphia an “open door,” an opportunity of some sort.  This understanding of the power of the keys is much more straightforward than Scott Hahn’s convoluted attempt to make the keys stand for the monarchical papacy.  What we have here is an attempt to force a round peg into a square hole.  It can be done, but the peg is going be damaged in the process.


Whatever you (plural) bind on earth will be bound in heaven (Matt. 18:18)


The Power of the Keys Given to the Apostles

In Matthew 16:19, Jesus noted that with the keys came the power to bind and to loose.  “To bind and loose” is a rabbinic term for rabbis’ authority to declare things permitted or forbidden.  Where in Judaism Moses was the Lawgiver and the Jewish rabbis had the authority to bind and loose members of the Jewish community, Jesus as the Inaugurator of the New Covenant bestowed covenantal authority upon his Disciples to “bind and loose” over the New Covenant Community – the Church.  The Orthodox Study Bible notes for Matthew 18:18-20 has this to say about “binding and loosing”:

The authority to bind and loose sins is given to the apostles and transmitted to the bishops and presbyters they ordained.  This authority is given for the sake of the salvation of the sinner.  The sinner, “seeing that he is not only cast of out of the Church, but that the bond of his sin will remain in Heaven, he may turn and become gentle” (JohnChr). (Emphasis in original.)


Exegetical Red Herring

To focus on the word “key” detracts from the main thrust of Jesus’ promise to Peter, the power to bind and loose, i.e., the authority to absolve sins.  The critical exegetical question here is whether the power to bind and loose that Christ bestowed on Peter in Matthew 16:19 was to one single person (which would support the monarchical model favored by Roman Catholics) or to the Twelve (which would support the conciliar model favored by Orthodoxy).  If we ask whether the “you” in Matthew 16:19 is in the singular (σοι) or plural form (ὑμῖν), the answer is the former.  So, if one makes “key” the focus of one’s investigation, then the evidence will point to the monarchical understanding.  However, if we focus on the power to bind and loose, we find evidence of more than one person being granted this power.  Matthew 18:17-18 shows the same power of binding and loosing given to a collective group.  The pairing of binding “δήσῃς” and loosing “λύσῃς” in Matthew 16:19 have their parallel in Matthew 18:18: binding “δήσητε” and loosing “λύσητε.”  Significantly, the two verbs in Matthew 18:18 are in the second person plural which supports the Orthodox conciliar understanding of ecclesial authority.  The difference between the second person singular and plural is evident to one reading the King James Version which uses “thy,” “thee” and “thou” to indicate second person singular and “you,” “ye,” and “your” to indicate second person plural.

15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.  16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.  17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.  18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (KJV)

However, a reader of the NIV will not be able to spot the shifts in number due to the NIV’s usage of the modern “you” which includes both the singular and the plural under the same word form which necessitated my inserting [plural] into the excerpt below.  [More recent NIV translations usage of gender inclusive language, e.g., “your brother and sister,” forced the translators to render “him” as “them” muddying the waters even further!  Perhaps the NIV translators should consider using the Southern y’all in the next edition.]

15 If your brother sins against you, go and point out his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won him over. 16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If he still refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. 18 I tell you the truth, whatever you [plural] bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you [plural] loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (NIV)

Since Matthew’s Gospel was written for a Jewish audience it comes as no surprise that we find Jesus using the Hebraic expression of binding and loosing.  This means that to locate similar passages elsewhere it helps not just to look for formal (word-for-word) equivalent but also for dynamic (meaning-for-meaning) equivalent.  A parallel passage can be found in John’s Gospel in one of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances.  In John 20:21-23 we read:

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you [plural] forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you [plural] do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Here Jesus is speaking not to Peter alone but to Peter and the Disciples.  John, writing to a non-Jewish audience, refrained from using Hebraisms and instead has Jesus talking plainly about bestowing upon the Disciples the power to forgive sins.  Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament entry for κλεὶς (kleis) (vol. III pp. 752-753) likewise notes the parallel between Matthew 18:18 and John 20:23.  What is important to note here is that John used the second person plural endings for the verb “forgive” (ἀφῆτε) in verse 23.  One might expect that Jesus would bestow this authority exclusively to Peter but here he gives it to the Disciples.  Jesus breathing on the Disciples indicates that the power to forgive sins is not so much a juridical power but more of a prophetic charisma that results from union with the Risen Christ.  This charismatic and conciliar understanding of the power to “bind and loose” is much closer to Orthodoxy than to Roman Catholicism with its papal monarchy and legalistic ethos.

While it might be asserted, as Scott Hahn did, that the situation in Matthew 18:15-18 is like the king’s cabinet with the Prime Minister having the final say, this is projecting the modern parliament onto the ancient Church through reasoning by analogy.  What is striking is what Scripture does not say: (1) in Matthew 16:19 Jesus did not give the power of the keys exclusively to Peter and (2) Jesus did not subordinate the authority of the Twelve to Peter in either Matthew 18:18 or John 20:23.  This leaves Prof. Hahn’s Prime Minister/Cabinet analogy more a conjecture than a reasoned argument.

Furthermore, if the parliamentary model holds true then we would see Peter having the final say at the Jerusalem Council.  However, it was James the bishop of Jerusalem who said: “It is my judgment” and instructing the Council “we should write to them.” (Acts 15:19-20)  To argue that James was merely echoing Peter’s views is to argue from silence.  Similarly, we would expect the First Ecumenical Council (Nicea I, 325) to have been presided over by the bishop of Rome or his representative.  In fact, Nicea I was presided over by Emperor Constantine or Bishop Hosius of Cordova (Spain) (NPNF 2nd Series Vol. 14 p. xiii).  Pope Sylvester had sent two legates to the Council, but they did not preside over it. To sum up, the empirical, historical evidence does not agree with the pro-papacy argument.  One gets the sense that pro-papacy apologists are trying to force the messiness of church history into their neat model of the monarchical papacy.



The pro-papacy argument using Isaiah 22:22 to explain Matthew 16:19 would be persuasive if there exists a strong parallel between the two passages.  However, the stronger parallel is in Revelation 3:7.  Another weakness is that the pro-papacy argument focuses on the keys, not on the power that go with the keys.  When we look at the power that comes with the keys we find a divergence.  Where Matthew 16:19 refers to the power to bind and loose, Isaiah 22 refers to opening and closing doors.  This means that the crucial cross-passage for Matthew 16:19 would be Matthew 18:18 in which Jesus spoke about the power to bind and loose, not Isaiah 22 which spoke of a different kind of power.  In Matthew 18 Jesus used the second person plural to describe the power to bind and loose.  This means that power of the keys that Jesus gave to Peter in Matthew 16:19 is given to the other Apostles as well in Matthew 18:18.  This undercuts the argument for the Roman papacy and supports Orthodoxy’s conciliar understanding of the Church.

Matthew 18 has greater relevance for understanding Matthew 16 than Isaiah 22.  The Isaiah 22 passage is much further removed in terms of time and genre, whereas Matthew 18 has the same source (Jesus) and is in the same book as Matthew 16.  Matthew 18:18 can be seen as a follow up and expansion on Matthew 16:19.  Scott Hahn’s pro-papacy argument derived from applying Isaiah 22 to Matthew 16 is to put it bluntly a stretch.  It suffers from gaps in its logic (focusing on the similarity in the keys while ignoring the dissimilarity with respect to the power of the keys) and it fails to take into account two superior sources for understanding Matthew 16:19, Matthew 18:18 and John 20:23.  To sum up, the attempt to prove a pro-papacy position through Isaiah 22 has serious flaws and therefore not convincing.   While this article refutes the pro-papacy argument, it does not let Protestants off the hook.  The power of the keys point to the bestowing of covenantal authority to the Church for the liturgy, sacraments like confession, and the bishops’ teaching authority.  This bestowing of covenantal authority which began with the Twelve continues to the present day in the Orthodox Church through its episcopacy.


Protestants’ Vulnerability

The goal of this article has been to convince Protestants who take the Bible seriously and who feel compelled by Scott Hahn’s pro-papacy argument from Isaiah 22 that there is another way of reading Matthew 16:19 that is faithful to Scripture, consistent with church history, and does not rely on convoluted arguments.  Many Protestants and Evangelicals know little about church history and have been brought up to uncritically accept anti-Catholic propaganda.  This makes them vulnerable to Roman Catholic apologetics, especially with respect to the papacy.  Former Protestants like Scott Hahn who know their Bible backwards and forwards, trained in theology, knowledgeable in church history, and well versed in patristics make formidable opponents.  The challenge for Protestants is to develop a Protestant approach to the Petrine primacy that takes into account the biblical and historical evidences.  As a former Protestant who earned his M.A. in church history from one of Evangelicalism’s leading seminary, I would say that doing this would be very difficult to pull off.  However, there is an alternative to surrendering to the Roman papacy and that is to embrace Ancient Church that exists today in Orthodoxy.  Orthodoxy recognizes the bishop of Rome as the first among equals but rejects the claim to papal supremacy.  It affirms the conciliar nature of the Church but rejects the monarchical papacy.

Robert Arakaki


Recommended Reading

Does Combining Isaiah 22 With Matthew 16 Lead Us To A Papacy?”  Triablogue

Scott Hahn on the PapacyCatholic-Page

Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament κλεὶς (kleis) Vol. III pp. 744-753.



  1. John Burnham

    Really good article, Mr. Arakaki! I very much appreciate the time and effort you’ve put into this to draw a reasonable and balanced conclusion.

    In view to analogies and coinciding meanings, I see one between Ephesians 2:19-22 and Revelation 21:9-27. Since we’re on the subject of the Roman Catholic Papacy, I think it’s important to take note that Saints Paul, James, and John did not write about Peter in any of their epistles using terms describing him as having a unique authority apart from and above their own as Apostles. Likewise, Saint Peter did not write about himself as having a special authority over the other Apostles, as being superior to them in any way, or that he was Christ’s visible head of the Church, standing in Jesus’s place; i.e., the Vicar of Christ on earth, to use a well-known Catholic medieval description.

    In getting back to my analogy between Ephesians 2:19-22 and Revelation 21:9-27, it is clear that the subject is the Church of Christ herself. What I gather from these two passages is the equality among the Apostles. Particularly in Revelation’s description of “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Rev. 21:9), we see that no one Apostle’s name is greater than any of the others. Likewise, Jesus, in Saint Luke’s Gospel and elsewhere, states that each one of the Apostles will be sitting upon thrones, judging the 12 tribes of Israel. Nowhere in Scripture, especially in the New Testament, is there a mention of Saint Peter having a throne exalted above the other Apostles. Having said that, I am more than sure that many of the titles and beliefs touching on the RC doctrines defending and bolstering up the Papacy are actually only applicable to our Lord Jesus Christ – please correct me if I am wrong :0)

    In essence, Orthodox ecclesiology is an unbroken continuum of the primordial ecclesiology that was lived out among the Apostles while they were together in Jerusalem and then witnessed by their epistles. We see that the Bishops (of whatever rank or title) of the Orthodox Church have continued to maintain this Apostolic ecclesiology. What really seems to separate Roman Catholicism from Orthodoxy is its overemphasis on the papacy itself, to the point of subsuming the entire episcopate into itself and rendering the bishops as mere vicars of the Pope, who himself is but the Vicar of Christ on earth. As far as I have been able to understand the problems that afflict Roman Catholicism, they all take root in Rome’s rather troublesome, if not outright disturbing, ecclesiology.

  2. Noa Napoleon

    Mahalo nui Mr. Arakaki, may I ask you to explain how Isaiah 22 …”provides some useful cultural information” ? Reading your response to Hahn, there seems to be a narrow focus on the the subject of the erroneous claim to Petrine papcy, which I appreciate. I’m sure you are able to speak to the way the Church must have had to define Emperor Constantine’s authority theologically. It was his belief (taught to him by the bishops maybe?), that “distinction is drawn between the imperial authority and the priesthood, the former being concerned with human affairs and the latter with things divine”…etc. Where can one find Orthodox teaching about this “Imperial authority?” What can you share from the Orthodox point of view regarding the cultural implication of Protestants wanting to return to Orthodoxy as they perceive lay within the “monarchical papacy” or Petrine papacy as you’ve defined it? I’m slightly familiar with so called reconstruction theology which tries to explain the cultural meanings and implications of getting this wrong, ie. minimizing the meaning and mission of the church. I’m sure you find this amusing to here protestants challenging narrow minded Catholics to be more Orthodox in their view of the scope of the mission given to the church By Christ.

    • Robert Arakaki

      Aloha Noa!

      The cultural information Isaiah 22 provides for Revelation consists of: (1) the keys symbolize Jesus’ authority, (2) “of David” refers to Jesus as the Second David, i.e., the Messiah, and (3) shutting and opening are Hebraisms that referr to Jesus’ supreme authority. All this may seem obvious to you, but try to have in mind the reader who has none of this background knowledge.

      Your question about Emperor Constantine’s rule and what the early Church leaders taught about the exercise of political authority is a good one. So far as I know there isn’t that much written in the Byzantine tradition about political ethics. The Latin tradition has Augustine of Hippo’s City of God. I don’t think there was an explicit political theory taught by the early bishops. Constantine’s embrace of Christianity, I’m sure, was a surprise to many Christians and to Constantine as well. The story goes that it was a sign in the sky that precipitated this momentous turn in Roman history. From what I can tell Emperor Constantine and the bishops improvised their way into the new world order in which the Church would be a public institution.

      The quote you mentioned sounds like Emperor Justinian. You could do further research on what else Emperor Justinian articulated about how Christians are to exercise political authority. You might want to read Fr. Michael Butler’s article: “Orthodoxy, Church, and State.” You also might want to look up Vigan Guroian’s writings. Bottom line, it looks like the amount of literature on Orthodox political theory is pretty scarce. If there were something major out there, I’m sure I would know about it. You might be interested in Despina Stratoudaki White’s The Patriarch and the Prince, a letter written by Patriarch Photios to Khan Boris of Bulgaria.

      I think it is worth noting that John Calvin touched on the reform of society in the closing chapter of his Institutes. It is also a game changer that set the Reformed tradition from the rest of Protestantism. Martin Luther stressed the preaching of God’s Word from the pulpit without (so far as I know) the clergy seeking to influence the political leaders. Then there is the Anabaptist paradigm that rejects political power and the Anglican paradigm which is the polar opposite – the official state church. One thing that strikes me is how pro-active the Reformed tradition has been in its attempts to reform society along certain ideological lines. This gives Reformed Christianity a certain revolutionary quality to it. Modern revolutionaries start with an ideological template then seek to impose it on society through the instrumentality of the state.

      Actually, I’m encouraged when Protestants draw on Orthodoxy to challenge Roman Catholics. This means that they see value in the Orthodox Tradition and are open to learning from Orthodoxy. You might want to read my article “An Orthodox Critique of the Cultural/Dominion Mandate.”


      • Noa Napoleon

        Aloha Robert!

        Thanks a ton for the kokua on my question. I was able to read your article “An Orthodox Critique of the Cultural Mandate,” and really appreciate the overview you offer. I also relish the opportunity to correspond with you and learn more about “the Ancient paths”, those traditions passed to us through unbroken apostolic authority!

        Its been a long journey for me trying to gain some understanding on how the church defined “juridical power “(lawful use of the law) . But drawing from the “whole Council of God” this question seems to hings on whether or not God requires nations to arrange civil laws by Biblical standards or not. Orthodox Christian blogger David Dunn, in an article “Orthodoxy without Empire: The problem of symphonia” writes….”One of the things I argued in my dissertation was that symphonia in the Byzantine Empire was actually the church’s attempt to apply the “eschatological imperative” at the heart of Jesus’ preaching of the kingdom to a new, imperial context.” His question was about APPLYING symphonia theology to modernity. I’m sure he sources all of this.

        On your article dealing with “the Cultural mandate” I’d like to make one observation on your over-all critique. It seems to me a bit unfair to measure the totality of what reconstruction theology offers by evaluating only the one passage in Genesis and focusing only on what the recons say it affirms. I can form dominion theology from scripture by observing the flow of history from Adam to Noah, Abraham to Moses, Moses to Jesus, Jesus to his Church, the Church to the nations etc. Its interesting that Faithful Jews who lived in expectation of the Messiah had culture in mind and relied on numerous passages describing in various terms the “restoration of all things” I’m sure you know them. For now I’m leaning on the theory that just because the church once shared “all things in common” as a rule during that early period it did not mean this was the ideal to strive for or the some total of what the Orthodox Christian response to Emperor tyranny would be. In that moment in time the church of God was under instruction not to expect reform but to prepare for tribulation but nor had the faithful given up on the full meaning of the resurrection either. So much here to sort out but just one small interesting point to compare. Apostle Paul questions the integrity of saints …”Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?” This no more means Christians should never step foot in a court of law (non-Orthodox Court), than it should imply that just because the early church never tries to violently resist Rome (or reform it from the inside), that it could never envision a time when with God’s help they could reform it. The Puritans and early American settlers seemed to have organized civil and criminal laws well enough to gain dominion in America until John Locke and the enlightenment entered the picture. Perhaps you might revisit reconstruction movement and pen a more thorough critique?

        • Robert Arakaki

          Aloha Noa,

          I could have critiqued other aspects of Reconstructionism, but that would have made the article way too long! What I did was take one important biblical passage and examine the Reconstructionist reading of it. I think that approach serves its purpose for a blog article. You are welcome to write up your own thoughts about how Christians should approach politics and send it to me. Send the paper as an attachment via the “Contact.”


  3. David P

    Your mention that “Orthodoxy gives the Greek Septuagint priority over the Hebrew Masoretic text” caught my attention, as I’ve often wondered how to handle cases where the reading of the Septuagint differs significantly from that of the Masoretic text (such as Isaiah 53). I thought I read/heard during my conversion that both are considered “inspired”, but I’m not sure how accurate this is or how it works in practice. Could you explain more what you meant by this statement, or even another source that explains it more? Thanks!

    • Robert Arakaki


      Good question! When the New Testament was being written, the Apostles quoted from the Septuagint version of the Old Testament. For this reason, the Orthodox Church gives priority to the Septuagint. It makes sense that both the Septuagint and the Masoretic text are divinely inspired. How to reconcile the textual differences poses some interesting questions. If you want to know more about how Orthodoxy approaches this challenges I suggest you contact the faculty at an Orthodox seminary.

      You might want to read Gabe Martini’s article: “Liturgical Hermeneutics and the Meaning of Scripture.” Reading it made me conscious of how modern and Western your question is. This is not to say that your question is wrong or inappropriate, but that it approaches the Bible in a manner quite different from the way Orthodoxy has historically read Scripture. And, don’t forget that when discussing the Septuagint and the Masoretic text, we must also include the Dead Sea Scrolls. Please see Timothy Michael Law’s article “Why Should We Care About the Septuagint?” I found an official church website article “The Septuagint vs. the Masoretic Text” published by the Serbian Orthodox Church. There’s a lot of articles out there. I also came across Eric Jobe’s article “The Masoretic Hebrew vs. the Septuagint Part 3: Variations and How they Happened.


      • yan

        All great thoughts, IMO! Cdl Ratzinger also thinks that the translation of the OT into the Septuagint was a process involving divine inspiration. I just read about that for the first time recently in his book Jesus of Nazareth. I thought he was the first one to suggest this idea. Apparently not!

        • Scott Mc.

          I would add that the evidence from Qumran (Dead Sea scrolls) demonstrates that the LXX translation was based on a older Hebrew text of the Tanak (OT) than the later Masoretic Text. The Masoretes, doing their work after Jesus and the emergence of his Church, appear to have differed from the LXX in some areas that would specifically undercut some Christian claims about Jesus. All more reasons to give some tentative precedence to the Septuagint.

  4. Dana Ames

    Aloha Robert,

    I may have suggested this before (or not – I don’t remember). You and your correspondent might be interested in the book “Church, Papacy and Schism (3rd ed.) by Philip Sherrard. It gives an overview of the differences in understanding what the Church is between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. This was very helpful reading for me after I came to Orthodoxy, having been raised Catholic (and spending +25 years as an Evangelical in between). Sherrard’s “The Greek East and the Latin West” (not to be confused with A. Louth’s book of the same title) is broader but also helpfully discusses the differences between the two in terms of how each understood the role of the Emperor, and the Emperor’s relationship to the Church.


    • Robert Arakaki

      Mahalo for the book suggestions!

  5. cynthia

    Justinian and Theodora applied church teaching to the human trafficking problem of the day and in other areas critics like Procopius thought he went to far with church and state. This is not just a problem with protestants in the US but Catholics and Orthodox in other periods of history.

  6. Jacob

    Dead Sea Scrolls – http://dssenglishbible.com/scroll1QIsaa.htm
    Latin Vulgate – http://www.drbo.org/chapter/27022.htm
    Peshitta – http://www.peshitta.org/pdf/ot/Isaiah.pdf
    Armenian – http://www.arak29.am/bible_28E/tIs_22.htm
    Brenton’s Septuagint – http://biblehub.com/sep/isaiah/22.htm
    All above ‘apostolic’ translations including DSS mention the key in Isaiah 22, Brenton’s Septuagint translation has it as well.

  7. yan

    Great article. I am a Catholic. I don’t think Hahn’s interpretation of Isaiah 22 is anything but exactly what you have characterized it to be: trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.

    I also think there is a lot to be said for the Orthodox understanding of Church government, and you make many other excellent points here.

    I still think Peter is “head of the Church” in some sense though. I don’t see how you great around these 4 things: 1-Christ’s particular focus on Peter in relation to the rest of the apostles; 2-the clear demonstration in Acts of Peter’s exercise of authority, which is acknowledged by all; 3-the evidence of the fathers that Rome holds the “presidency in love” over the other churches; and 4-the legitimacy with which most Christian churches viewed most of the early exercise of this authority.

    Is all that enough to justify every Roman claim about the authority, manner of exercise, and scope of the papacy? I would say, certainly not. Some re-thinking on the part of Catholics needs to be done here.

    At the same time, the Orthodox also need to re-think some of the Roman developments in regard to the papacy. It is a fact that all Christian doctrine and dogma has undergone development through the millenia as Christians have pondered revelation in light of the historical circumstances in which the people of God found themselves. It would be ridiculous to insist that, of all of Christian revelation, only the doctrine about the authority of Peter should have not undergone any development.

    Peace to all…

    • Robert Arakaki


      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! I’m glad you found the article helpful. I agree that the bishop of Rome has an important role in the historic episcopacy. The Pentarchy — the five patriarchates of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem — suffered a major loss with Rome’s departure in 1054. For reunion to take place, the bishop of Rome would need to repudiate the unilateral insertion of the Filioque into the Nicene Creed and order the removal the Filioque from all Masses and other prayer services under his jurisdiction. Until that takes place, all talk about of reunion will be premature. While there has been development of doctrine, the fact remains that Roman Catholicism has left its patristic roots and morphed into a distinctly different theological system, and with the Novus Ordo Mass created a novel liturgy. In spite the differences between Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy, I do believe that we can have warm, cordial neighborly relations.


      • offGridJack

        I too am an RCC and I really appreciated Yan’s points he made..Christ leaving authority in the hands of a council without a final authority to dispense a final reckoning doesnt sound to me like a good plan..so I go along with the parlamentary structure concept.. What CEO or owner of a thriving business , apon leaving the organization for an extended length of time, would throw the ‘shop keys’ to a group and hope for the best.. NO WAY.. especially after they had already argued about who was the greatest..He would choose the absolute best among them all and transfer His authority to that singular one, yet involving the others also to have weight in decisions as they were before He left.. Eastern Orthodoxy has simply re-raised that original argument they had amongst themselves..who’s the greatest.. so the answer is, who will be the best servant to the others..

        • Robert Arakaki

          The article was an examination of how to understand a certain passage in the Bible. Your attempt to apply management theory to ecclesiology is questionable. It would be much better for us to look to the patristic consensus and to Seven Ecumenical Councils for the appropriate form of church polity.


  8. Ivan

    I am an orthodox and I agree with Hahn argument the power of Keys sas given only to St. Peter,while the power to bind and loose to everybody. Right. But. The power to bind and to loose is not connected to the Keys, it is another power common to all Apostles. Keys, which are given only to Peter, the do open doors and close them and NOT bind and loose. How can you bind or loose with a key? So ,the power of the Keys which belongs to Jesus was given to the protos of the Twelve – to the Peter. And all the Fathers, both Latin and Greek nave always place the Peter in a special position. I was surprised when I finally realised it. So what shall we do? Recognize the Peter office first. And heal the schism with Rome.

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