For I demand, whence it is that we learn that the church cannot err in consigning the canon of scripture? They answer, that it is governed by the Holy Spirit (for so the council of Trent assumes of itself), and therefore cannot err in its judgments and decrees. I confess indeed that, if it be always governed by the Holy Spirit so as that, in every question, the Spirit affords it the light of truth, it cannot err. But whence do we know that it is always so governed? They answer that Christ hath promised this. Be it so. But where, I pray, hath he promised it? Readily, and without delay, they produce many sentences of scripture which they are always wont to have in their mouths, such as these: "I will be with you always, even to the end of the world." Matth. xxviii. 20. "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I will be in the midst of you." Matth. xviii. 20." I will send to you the Comforter from the Father." John xv. 26. "Who, when he is come, will lead you into all truth." Johnxvi. 13. I recognise here the most lucid and certain testimonies of scripture. But now from hence it follows not that the authority of scripture depends upon the church; but, contrariwise, that the authority of the church depends on scripture. Surely it is a notable circle in which this argument revolves! They say that they give authority to the scripture and canonical books in respect of us; and yet they confess that all their authority is derived from scripture. For if they rely upon the testimonies and sentences of these books, when they require us to believe in them; then it is plain that these books, which lend them credit, had greater authority in themselves, and were of themselves authentic.1
Some Catholics, such as John Salza, have attempted to avoid this vicious circle by countering that such an appeal to Scripture is spiral, not circular:
When Catholics explain that we believe in the Bible on the authority of the Catholic Church, Protestants accuse us of circular reasoning. They say we get this information from the Bible and so the Bible, not the Church, is the final authority. This argument, while clever, is incorrect. The Catholic argument is what we would call spiral, not circular. First, the Catholic approaches the Scriptures as historical books only, but not inspired. Based on the historical evidence, the Catholic establishes the Scriptures are authentic and accurate documents. Second, the historically accurate Scriptures reveal that Jesus established an infallible Church based on texts like Matthew 16:18 and 1 Timothy 3:15. Third, this infallible Church has determined which Scriptures are inspired and which ones are not. Based on the authority of the infallible Church, the Catholic believes in the inspired Scriptures. This is the only logical and rational approach to accepting the inspiration of the Scriptures, and this is John Salza with Relevant Answers.2
As I understand it, Salza wants to move from demonstrating the Scriptures as historically accurate to demonstrating that these Scriptures attest to an infallible Magisterium. We then turn to this Magisterium to know that the Scriptures are inspired:
historically accurate Scriptures --> infallible Magisterium --> inspired Scriptures
Salza's reply is interesting, but there are a number of problems:
i) There's nothing intrinsic to historical cases for the historical accuracy of Scripture that limits such an appeal to Catholics only; Protestants are free to make the same historical case as well.
ii) Apropos, the move from historical accuracy to inspiration is exceptionally short. The difficult components of any external demonstration of inspiration are in establishing the historical accuracy of the New Testament documents. But once that is accomplished, it is a much simpler matter to move from the historical fact of the Resurrection, which establishes Jesus as God, to the ministry of the Holy Spirit, which gives inspiration to the Scriptures. If the Magisterium isn't needed to demonstrate the much harder case of historical accuracy, it's hardly required to demonstrate the much easier case of inspiration.
iii) I don't even know how, in principle, you can divorce historical accuracy from inspiration. A good deal of the data contained in Scripture cannot be both accurate and uninspired, e.g. various prophecies, knowledge impossible to discern in any natural method (what someone or some group was thinking in their hearts at one time or another), what God was doing, thinking or intending, etc. And some data, even if they are knowable through natural methods, carry a certain theological significance that could not be accurately known (as truth) by the authors of Scripture without inspiration.
This is also why there is generally a correlation between denying historical accuracy and denying inspiration. The two go hand-in-hand.
iv) How can Salza establish the Scriptures as authentic and accurate documents if we need the Magisterium to interpret those very documents for us? If the Scriptures are unclear or difficult to understand, as Catholics often assert, this would apply whether or not they were inspired.
v) If we can properly interpret all of the passages required to make a case for the historicity of Scripture (e.g. the Resurrection being supported by 1 Corinthians 15) before we establish the Magisterium as authoritative, why do we need the Magisterium to properly interpret all of Scripture once we learn that it is inspired? If we were competent enough to interpret the Scriptures before we discovered their historical accuracy, we should be competent enough to interpret them afterward.
vi) His appeal to Matthew 16:18 and 1 Timothy 3:15 is dubious (see here for a short, but devastating critique of appealing to 1 Timothy 3:15; the comments section also contains links to discussions of Matthew 16:18).3 So even if the circularity is avoided by this argument, the Scriptures still do not establish an infallible, authoritative Catholic Magisterium.
1. William Whitaker, Disputations on Holy Scripture (Cambridge: Parker Society, 1894; reprint, Orlando: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2005), 334-335.
2. John Salza, "Relevant Answers Transcripts," Scripture Catholic. http://www.scripturecatholic.com/rradiotran.html (accessed July 19, 2010).
3. Steve Hays also writes on Matthew 16:18:
A direct appeal to Mt 16:18 greatly obscures the number of steps that have to be interpolated in order to get us from Peter to the papacy. Let’s jot down just a few of these intervening steps:
a) The promise of Mt 16:18 has reference to “Peter.”
b) The promise of Mt 16:18 has “exclusive” reference to Peter.
c) The promise of Mt 16:18 has reference to a Petrine “office.”
d) This office is “perpetual”
e) Peter resided in “Rome”
f) Peter was the “bishop” of Rome
g) Peter was the “first” bishop of Rome
h) There was only “one” bishop at a time
i) Peter was not a bishop “anywhere else.”
j) Peter “ordained” a successor
k) This ceremony “transferred” his official prerogatives to a successor.
l) The succession has remained “unbroken” up to the present day.
Lets go back and review each of these twelve separate steps:
(a) V18 may not even refer to Peter. “We can see that ‘Petros’ is not the “petra’ on which Jesus will build his church…In accord with 7:24, which Matthew quotes here, the ‘petra’ consists of Jesus’ teaching, i.e., the law of Christ. ‘This rock’ no longer poses the problem that ‘this’ is ill suits an address to Peter in which he is the rock. For that meaning the text would have read more naturally ‘on you.’ Instead, the demonstrative echoes 7:24; i.e., ‘this rock’ echoes ‘these my words.’ Only Matthew put the demonstrative with Jesus words, which the rock stood for in the following parable (7:24-27). His reusing it in 16:18 points away from Peter to those same words as the foundation of the church…Matthew’s Jesus will build only on the firm bedrock of his law (cf. 5:19-20; 28:19), not on the loose stone Peter. Also, we no longer need to explain away the association of the church’s foundation with Christ rather than Peter in Mt 21:42,” R. Gundry, Matthew (Eerdmans 1994), 334.
(b) Is falsified by the power-sharing arrangement in Mt 18:17-18 & Jn 20:23.
(c) The conception of a Petrine office is borrowed from Roman bureaucratic categories (officium) and read back into this verse. The original promise is indexed to the person of Peter. There is no textual assertion or implication whatsoever to the effect that the promise is separable from the person of Peter.
(d) In 16:18, perpetuity is attributed to the Church, and not to a church office.
(e) There is some evidence that Peter paid a visit to Rome (cf. 1 Pet 5:13). There is some evidence that Peter also paid a visit to Corinth (cf. 1 Cor 1:12; 9:5).
(f) This commits a category mistake. An Apostle is not a bishop. Apostleship is a vocation, not an office, analogous to the prophetic calling. Or, if you prefer, it’s an extraordinary rather than ordinary office.
(g) The original Church of Rome was probably organized by Messianic Jews like Priscilla and Aquilla (cf. Acts 18:2; Rom 16:3). It wasn’t founded by Peter. Rather, it consisted of a number of house-churches (e.g. Rom 16; Hebrews) of Jewish or Gentile membership—or mixed company.
(h) NT polity was plural rather than monarchal. The Catholic claim is predicated on a strategic shift from a plurality of bishops (pastors/elders) presiding over a single (local) church—which was the NT model—to a single bishop presiding over a plurality of churches. And even after you go from (i) oligarchic to (ii) monarchal prelacy, you must then continue from monarchal prelacy to (iii) Roman primacy, from Roman primacy to (iv) papal primacy, and from papal primacy to (v) papal infallibility. So step (h) really breaks down into separate steps—none of which enjoys the slightest exegetical support.
(j) Peter also presided over the Diocese of Pontus-Bithynia (1 Pet 1:1). And according to tradition, Antioch was also a Petrine See (Apostolic Constitutions 7:46.).
(j)-(k) This suffers from at least three objections:
i) These assumptions are devoid of exegetical support. There is no internal warrant for the proposition that Peter ordained any successors.
ii) Even if he had, there is no exegetical evidence that the imposition of hands is identical with Holy Orders.
iii) Even if we went along with that identification, Popes are elected to papal office, they are not ordained to papal office. There is no separate or special sacrament of papal orders as over against priestly orders. If Peter ordained a candidate, that would just make him a pastor (or priest, if you prefer), not a Pope.
(l) This cannot be verified. What is more, events like the Great Schism falsify it in practice, if not in principle.
These are not petty objections. In order to get from Peter to the modern papacy you have to establish every exegetical and historical link in the chain. To my knowledge, I haven’t said anything here that a contemporary Catholic scholar or theologian would necessarily deny. They would simply fallback on a Newmanesque principle of dogmatic development to justify their position. But other issues aside, this admits that there is no straight-line deduction from Mt 16:18 to the papacy. What we have is, at best, a chain of possible inferences. It only takes one broken link anywhere up or down the line to destroy the argument. Moreover, only the very first link has any apparent hook in Mt 16:18. Except for (v), all the rest depend on tradition and dogma. Their traditional support is thin and equivocal while the dogmatic appeal is self-serving.
The prerogatives ascribed to Peter in 16:19 (”binding and loosing” are likewise conferred on the Apostles generally in 18:18. The image of the “keys” (v19a) is used for Peter only, but this is a figure of speech—while the power signified by the keys was already unpacked by the “binding and loosing” language, so that no distinctively Petrine prerogative remains in the original promise. In other words, the “keys” do not refer to a separate prerogative that is distinctive to Peter. That confuses the metaphor with its literal referent.
Regarding Isa 22:22—as E.J. Young has noted,
“This office is not made hereditary. God promises the key to Eliakim but not to his descendants. The office continues, but soon loses its exalted character. It was Eliakim the son of Hilkiah who was exalted, and not the office itself. Eliakim had all the power of a “Rabshakeh,” [the chief of drinking], and in him the Assyrian might recognize a man who could act for the theocracy…Whether Eliakim actually was guilty of nepotism or not, we are expressly told that at the time (”in that day” when they hang all the glory of his father’s house upon him he will be removed. Apparently the usefulness of the office itself will have been exhausted…The usefulness of Eliakim’s exalted position was at an end: were it to continue as it was under Eliakim it would not be for the welfare of the kingdom; its end therefore must come,” the Book of Isaiah (Eerdmans 1982), 116-18.
More generally, every argument for Petrine primacy is an argument against papal primacy since the more that Catholicism plays up the unique authority of Peter, as over against the Apostolic college, the less his prerogatives are transferable to a line of successors. There’s a basic tension between the exclusivity of his office vis-à-vis the Apostolate and the inclusivity of his office vis-à-vis the Episcopate.