A close non-Catholic friend and I occasionally get into discussions about the Catholic faith. About a year ago, he asked me to look a booklet titled The Facts on Roman Catholicism by John Ankerberg and John Weldon. Ankerberg is a well-known Protestant Christian apologist who has a television ministry. Weldon is an author who collaborated with Ankerberg on a number of apologetic books.
A quick Internet search led me to Ankerberg's web page where I was able to purchase the 63-page booklet for five dollars. My friend expressed his preference for this tract because it presented the problems with Catholicism in a "charitable manner." I suspected I already knew basically what the booklet would say, but using it as a discussion tool seemed like a good way to further our dialogue.
As I read through the booklet, I began making notes and writing comments. Eventually, those gave birth to a 17 page reply to my friend in which I refuted all the half-truths and downright erroneous information contained in the booklet. Last week, my friend replied with a rather lengthy response of his own. It consisted of early 19th Century Protestant Scripture Commentaries by Adam Clarke and several others, most of which were directed at denying papal authority. My friend noted that these commentaries are well known and respected. What follows is a portion of my latest reply.
We can both present our evidence over and over again, but how do we get beyond this point in our discussion? We know we should be united in mind and purpose as the Bible tells us, but what happens when in all honesty and sincerity, we just disagree. How do we discern the truth? As a Catholic, I could look to Scripture and say we should take our disagreement to the Church (Matt 18: 15-18), because the Church is the pillar and bulwark of the truth.(1 Tim 3:15) We still have a problem because we cannot agree on what Scripture means by the Church.
I'm sure Adam Clarke's Commentaries are "well known and respected" -- in Evangelical circles. The problem is that, as a Methodist writer, his commentaries always come from a Protestant point of view. That is to say, his interpretation of Scripture will never support a Catholic position with which he disagrees. For example, let's take 1 Tim 3:15 which I cited above. A Catholic would say this verse means exactly what it says. Paul is referring to "the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." As Catholics, we believe Jesus, the Son of the living God, established an authoritative Church guided by the Holy Spirit to all truth (Matt 16: 13-19, John 16:13), and we can trace the Catholic Church to this origin. The Church is the pillar and bulwark of the truth. There is no mystery here. Since Clarke does not hold this position, he cannot interpret this passage literally, and must try to come up with other possibilities.
I found his commentary on 1 Tim 3:15 at http://www.godrules.net/library/clarke/clarke1tim3.htm I display them here just as they appear on the webpage. Regarding to what the "pillar and ground of the truth" refers, he says the following:
[The pillar and ground of the truth.] Never was there a greater variety of opinions on any portion of the sacred Scripture than has been on this and the following verse. Commentators and critics have given senses and meanings till there is no meaning to be seen. It would be almost impossible, after reading all that has been said on this passage, for any man to make up his own mind. To what, or to whom, does the pillar and ground of the truth refer?
1. Some say to Timothy, who is called the pillar, &c., because left there to support and defend the truth of God against false doctrines and false teachers; and is so called for the same reason that Peter, James, and John, are said to be pillars, i.e. supporters of the truth of God. Gal. ii. 9.
2. Others suppose that the pillar and ground of the truth is spoken of GOD; and that ov esti, who is, should be supplied as referring immediately to qeov, God, just before. By this mode of interpretation the passage will read thus: That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, WHO IS (ov esti) the pillar and ground of the truth. How God may be fitly termed the pillar and ground of truth, requires no explanation.
3. Others think that the words should be understood of the CHURCH of the living God; and in this case the feminine relative htiv esti, which is, must be repeated immediately after ekklhsia, the Church. The house of God is the Church of the living God; WHICH (Church) IS the pillar and ground of the truth. That is: The full revelation of God's truth is in the Christian Church. The great doctrines of that Church are the truth without error, metaphor, or figure. Formerly the truth was but partially revealed, much of it being shadowed with types, ceremonies, and comparatively dark prophecies; but now all is plain, and the full revelation given; and the foundation on which this truth rests are the grand facts detailed in the Gospel, especially those which concern the incarnation, miracles, passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, and the mission of the Holy Spirit.
4. Lastly, others refer the whole to to thv eusebeiav musthrion, the mystery of godliness; and translate the clause thus: The mystery of godliness is the pillar and ground of the truth; and, without controversy, a great thing. This gives a very good sense, but it is not much favoured by the arrangement of the words in the original.
The term Eisegesis refers to Biblical interpretation that is formed in accordance with preconceived beliefs, as opposed to Exegesis, the theological study of the true meaning of Scripture. Imagine how difficult it must be to form a Biblical interpretation without allowing one's personal beliefs to enter. I read all of the commentaries on Matthew 16 that you provided. I think any reasonable critic will see some eisegesis in the exegesis. It's a bit like having a little broken glass mixed in with your peanut butter. There may be spiritual nourishment here, but one must chew it carefully.
In all fairness, were I to try to write on Matthew 16, my commentary would be biased also, but not soley based on my own personal discernment. I have no Divinely-granted authority to speak for Jesus, but neither do these commentators. What they provide is their private interpretation. We know, however, that Jesus did give SOMEBODY the power to bind and loose in His absence. Those standing in opposition to that authority need to justify their position, and having already rejected the authority and the historical Tradition, these commentators have only their personal interpretation of Scripture to fall back on. That is a pretty safe place to be because they have no one to answer to but themselves.
The commentaries by Clarke, Matthew Henry, and Jamieson Fausset and Brown are all formed to deny any indication of Peter being the first prime minister of a singular, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Not only do they express their beliefs of what Matthew 16:18 means, they go out of their way to say what it does not mean, an admission of the commentary's Catholic target. Regarding the possibility of Peter being the Rock on which the Church was founded, Henry says, "Yet if it were so, this would not serve to support the pretensions of the Bishop of Rome; for Peter had no such headship as he claims, much less could he derive it to his successors, least of all to the Bishops of Rome, who, whether they are so in place or no, is a question, but that they are not so in the truth of Christianity, is past all question." Clarke says, "That Peter is not designed in our Lord's words must be evident to all who are not blinded by prejudice."
I ask, who here is REALLY blinded by prejudice and how can we know? What evidence do we have that Peter DID have headship, that he was the first Pope, and that there WERE successors? Most of the cited Protestant commentaries come from the 18th or 19th century when anti-catholic sentiment was running high. Why not look at commentaries from the first few centuries of Christianity written by those closest to the events of the day?
At this point, I cited excerpts from a number of early Christian writings. They date from as early as 170 A.D. to the 5th century, more than 1000 years before Luther. I divided them into three groups corresponding to the three objections mentioned above, those being that Peter had no primacy over the other disciples, that he was not the Rock on which the Church was founded by Christ, and lastly that Peter's headship was not passed on to successors. I won't list all of them here. They are too numerous. All of these quotations can be found at http://www.catholic.com/library/church_papacy.asp
What do these writings prove? They refute the contention that the Catholic Church somehow usurped power at a later time. They show the earliest Christians acknowledged the chair of Peter and his successors, in direct contrast to the contentions of the commentaries written some 1400 years later. They show earliest Christians were Catholic.