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Through the years many have taken in hand the effort to address whether or not there is biblical sanction to the papacy as taught by the Roman Catholic Church. I recently located an article where such an effort was made to justify its biblical origin. The effort by the Catholic writer is an effort to address two myths on the topic, the first, Call No Man Father, is here on this blog.

According to Catholic.com (September 21):

According to Scripture, Christ founded a visible Church that would never go out of existence and had authority to teach and discipline believers (see Matt. 16:18­19, 18:17). St. Paul tells us this Church is “the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) and it was built on “the foundation of the apostles” (Eph. 2:20). Paul also tells us the Church would have a hierarchy composed of deacons (1 Tim. 2:8­13); presbyters, from where we get the English word priest (1 Tim. 5:17); and bishops (1 Tim. 3:1­7). Paul even instructed one of these bishops, Titus, to appoint priests on the island of Crete (Titus 1:5).

RT – In Matthew 16:13-19, the Lord told the disciples that He would build His church, the “gates of Hades” will not (and would not) in any way overcome it. Nothing belonging to Satan can overcome that which belongs to God. Jesus said nothing about this being a “visible” church; He only identified it as the “called out” (that is the meaning of the Greek word that gives us our English word “church”). The Cambridge Greek Commentary on Matthew 16:18 says this with regard to the Greek word, “From the analogy of the corresponding Hebrew word, ἐκκλησία [ekklēsia] in a Christian sense may be defined as the congregation of the faithful throughout the world, united under Christ as their Head.” Thus, the “church” refers to the people, not any kind of building or, in particular, a hierarchal institutional organization located in a specific place (such as in Rome).

It is true that the Lord’s church is the pillar and ground of truth, but the only truth conveyed by the church (that is, the saints within the Lord’s body) are the very words of God. It is also true that Paul taught that the church was (is) built on the foundation of the apostles, but not the apostles only; it also included the prophets, with Jesus being the cornerstone. What is the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20)? The foundation is not in relation to the men themselves, but to that which they taught. Adam Clarke wrote, “the ground plan, specification, and principle on which it was builded [sic], the doctrine taught by the prophets in the Old Testament, and the apostles in the New” (notes on Ephesians 2:20, e-sword). In this case, one can even include the prophets in a New Testament context (Ephesians 4:11).

The apostle Paul wrote, “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22, KJV).

In the very next chapter of Ephesians, Paul told the church that one can learn by reading what he wrote (3:4), “How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Ephesians 3:3-5).

What about the idea of a hierarchy in the church? Is it true than in Ephesians 4:11-16, Paul teaches such a thing? In the Roman Catholic Church, the hierarchy of the church flows from the top down. It begins with the pope, moves to the Cardinals, archbishop, bishops, priests and then deacons. While this is the face of the church, they claim it is more along the line of bishops (which they say are the successors of the apostles), priests, then deacons. The word bishop is familiar to us in the religious community. The word has been around for a long time; it is a word used in the Bible, especially well-known in the older English translations (such as the King James Version). Though used in the Bible, as used by the Catholic Church it is not biblical in organization at all. For instance, the bishop is over a diocese, a geographical area (called a district) wherein there are a number of churches, administered by a single bishop. In the Bible the word bishop is not used in this sort of way at all.

The word priest comes from the word presbyter, we are told. In the United State Catholic Catechism for Adults, we read, “With the bishop, priests form a presbyteral (priestly) community and assume with him the pastoral mission for a particular parish” (266). Moreover, with regard to the word priest, the Catholic Church looks upon there being two different orders of a priesthood. There is a ministerial priesthood and a common priesthood (265). In Scripture there is no such distinction.

The biblical reference made to deacons had to have been a typo, for it is wrong. It is not 1 Timothy 2:8-13, but 3:8-13 (no real criticism here because it is easy to type a number, but think of another). In any case, Paul does speak of deacons, but very little is revealed in the New Testament concerning them. We learn in Paul’s opening remark to the church at Philippi that there were two categories of workers relative to the work of the church; these were not mere administrative offices. Paul addressed his words to the Philippian saints (the church), but he opens, “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons” (Philippians 1:1, KJV).

Let us give some consideration to the remark relative to the words “priests” and “presbyters.” According to the author of the article, the word “presbyter” gives us our English word “priest.” This is justified, we are told, by Paul’s reference in 1 Timothy 5:17. “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.” The English word “elder” is the Greek word presbuteros (presbyter). Notice the English word “priest” is not found in the verse. Notice, also, Webster’s definition, “In the primitive christian church, an elder; a person somewhat advanced in age, who had authority in the church, and whose duty was to feed the flock over which the Holy Spirit had made him overseer.” The word or idea of “priest” is not found in this definition. Again, take special note of this entry from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “The word ‘presbyter’ has been contracted by later ecclesiastical usage into the title ‘priest,’ although in the New Testament they are by no means identical, but on the contrary are often explicitly distinguished (Mark 14:43; Acts 23:14)” (italics added, RT).

What conclusion can be drawn from this? The word “priest” as used in the Roman Catholic Church is non-biblical. It is ecclesiastical in a man-made tradition, but it is non-biblical. What is biblical is that each Christian in the Lord’s church is a priest. Peter writes, “you yourselves, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood and to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:5, 9, NET).

That “presbyters” are not “priests” in the Bible is clear from the evidence. What are presbyters then? In Acts 20, the apostle Paul was heading toward Rome; as he journeyed he stopped at Miletus, and from there he called for the elders of the church at Ephesus to meet with him while he was stopped (Acts 20:17). The word “elders” in Acts 20:17 is “presbuteros.” A. T. Robertson said with regard to this, “The ‘elders’ are not ‘apostles’ but are ‘bishops’ (cf. Phil. 1:1) and with ‘deacons’ constitute the two classes of officers in the early churches.”

Note the association between two different English words: bishop and elder. An elder is a bishop. This is confirmed within the same context. In Acts 20:28, Paul gave an exhortation to the elders, the ones he called to him in 20:17, to “[p]ay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (ESV). Notice the word “overseer.” The English word overseer comes a Greek word (episkopos) that also gives us our word “bishop.” Thus, Paul called for the elders of the church (v. 17), who are also identified as overseers or bishops (v. 28). Thus, an elder (presbuteros) is an overseer or bishop (episkopos). The elders of the local church are overseers or bishops, and the Holy Spirit appointed more than one in each local church (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5; Phil. 1:1).

When Paul wrote to Titus, he wrote for Titus (who is not called a bishop or priest) to appoint elders in every city on the island of Crete. He was not to appoint priests in the Roman Catholic Church tradition.