What is the Eliakim-Peter Typology claim?
The Eliakim-Peter typology is a now popular interpretation of Isaiah 22:15-24 that involves constructing a multi-faceted, complex typological relationship between it and two New Testament passages (Matthew 16:18-19 and Revelation 3:7). The interpretation attempts to correlate various Biblical and cultural concepts, words, and phrases from those passages. In recent years, it has become perhaps the most popular apologetic defense of the papacy. I will examine the particulars of the “interpretation” in a subsequent post but for the sake of simplicity, the current discussion is mostly focused on tracing the origin of the claim that Eliakim in Isaiah 22 prefigured Peter in Matthew 16 (and the papacy). I will also examine the recent developments in, and popularity of the claim.
It has only been in recent years that the relationship between these Biblical passages has been primarily expressed as typology. The next post will examine the scattered pieces of parallelism and textual allusion that gave birth to the modern philosophical expansion, as well as the forgotten history, Biblical ignorance, and political agendas that provide necessary context for understanding it’s development. As I have found and will present, the parallel that many now see between Eliakim and Peter, originated in the Roman Catholic counter-Reformation of the 16th century, essentially vanished for a few centuries, then was reappeared a few decades ago in the United States.
Pondering the origin of an elusive interpretation
Truth Unites is an excellent YouTube channel, run by Dr. Gavin Ortlund, the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Ojai in Ojai, California. Pastor Ortlund covers a wide range of apologetic, historical, and theological topics, and aims to maintain irenic dialogue. He engages with many across the ecumenical spectrum and does so in a way that is rooted in strong and honest conviction but is also open, humble and gracious to those of different persuasions. He has an obvious gift for “sharing the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), with welcoming humility, an open ear, and compassion. He also exhibits uncommon patience in working through challenging topics with opponents. I do not know Dr. Ortlund personally but in the interest of transparency, his views on Scripture, theology, and history, seem to very closely align with my own. Nevertheless, I think many who hold differing viewpoints would appreciate and learn from his work and I heartily recommend checking out his channel.
As with anyone that is willing to engage others on social media and dialogue so publicly, Dr. Ortlund attracts critics, especially on thorny issues with zealous opponents. One of his recent videos entitled: “Response to Criticism of my Case Against the Papacy” was a response to a range of such critics. A segment of that video, dealing with a now popular defense of the papacy, prompted this post. In it, Dr. Ortlund addresses a claimed typological relationship between Eliakim, a steward in the Davidic household/monarchy, who is mentioned in Isaiah 22:15-24 and Peter in Matthew 16:19. In the video, Dr. Ortlund states: “There is no historical precedent for this argument. I have scoured through the [church] fathers…I don’t know of any church father who says Peter is the new Eliakim as an argument unto the papacy.”
Another prominent apologist who has encountered and contended with the “Eliakim as Peter” claim, especially in public debates going back to the early 1990’s is James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries. While I greatly appreciate Dr. White’s ministry (he’s a gifted expositor of the Word and tremendously knowledgeable historian), he can be a bit more abrasive than Dr. Ortlund. I have a strong tolerance for Dr. White’s cantankerous style. He’s been subjected to many harsh attacks in his decades of public ministry, while defending the faith in some very hostile forums. Besides, he’s an aging Scotsman! Regardless of your opinion of him, he has contributed immensely to the defense of the faith. Dr. White has recently spoken about the same Eliakim-Peter claim and made a similar statement as Dr. Ortlund. In a recent video he said: “I would like to know who the first person in church history was, who ever made a connection between Isaiah 22 and the papacy. I’ve been asking this question for decades. I don’t know of anyone in the first millennium. It’s not the teaching of the early church fathers. It’s not [even] the teaching of…Roman bishops.”
My own intrigue
The claimed link between Eliakim and Peter is one that has gained a lot of traction in recent years (really, during the Catholic Answers era) and one that intrigued me enough when I encountered it that I began to research it’s history and collect as much material on it as I could find. The history of the claim is quite obscure and tracing it has consumed dozens of hours of my time over many months. About a year and a half ago, I even obtained a library card (who does that anymore?) to a local university library to get access to a Bible commentary published in the 1970’s. It was miraculous they even had the commentary. The date stamps in the front suggested I was the first person to check the book out this century. What’s more, it’s a small, secular university, located in one of the most socially liberal (Christianity isn’t very popular there) towns in my area. I was surprised they had any Bible commentary in their stacks.
Anyway, after hearing these two prominent pastors and apologists, both of whom are as experienced and knowledgeable as any I’ve encountered, mention the historical obscurity of the Eliakim-Peter typology claim, I figured it might be helpful to publish what I’ve found. I’m sure there is more to be found and I hope this encourages others to search further and share what they find.
Some current perspective
The chart below is from Google Trends. It shows search results for “Isaiah 22:22” since 2004 (unfortunately that’s as far back as it goes). The values are worldwide searches, relative to the highest point on the chart (i.e. not based on absolute numbers). A value of 100 is peak popularity. The “Note” about 2/3 of the way across explains that Google made an improvement to their data collection in January of 2016. That may explain the initial increase but take note of two other things that are visually apparent: 1) the trend line has gradually increased in recent years; and 2) there is a sharper increase around October/November of 2019. There is also a spike in late 2017. I can only guess something was published by a popular apologetics source around that time.
In addition to search term trends, search results illustrate the newness of this claim — even more so. At the time I am writing this, I ran a Google search for “eliakim peter typology” and returned 36,100 results. Adjusting the search to cover the time period January 1, 1990 – June 13, 2010 (excluding the last 10 years), only 54 results were returned and the majority of them were unrelated. In the first search, the top result was a YouTube video scheduled 17 days out on the Intellectual Conservatism channel, by Suan Sonna (Suan is discussed below). Not surprisingly, the scheduled video (or live show?) is entitled: Refuting Popular Objections to the Peter-Eliakim Typology.
Having casually followed Roman Catholic (RC) news and some popular YouTube channels of RC apologists for a few years, I believe I can offer some plausible explanations for these trends. One significant factor is the rise to stardom of Roman Catholic lay apologist Suan Sonna, mentioned above. Suan is one of the latest “Baptist converts” to be paraded on the apologetic stage. According to his Catholic Answers profile, he is a philosophy student (undergrad?). He also runs the Intellectual Conservatism YouTube channel, which he started in October 2019. It now has almost 8,000 subscribers. The video from Dr. Ortlund mentioned at the beginning of this post stems from a dialogue he had with Suan on the papacy. Suan is clearly very intelligent, charismatic, and persuasive. He’s described the Eliakim-Peter link as his “bread and butter” topic and has philosophically woven together a tapestry of ideas in support of the typological claim that surpasses anyone before him. As I understand, he’s now working to extend his Peter/pope promotional message to include a typological fulfilling of Peter as the “new” Joshua. Suan has rocketed to prominence in lay RC apologetics in only a few years and I believe he’s only been a “confirmed” Roman Catholic for about two years.
I have no intention of disparaging Suan. He seems like a nice and sincere guy. Whether someone so young and new to the scene is supplementing or supplanting centuries of wisdom that God has nurtured through His faithful, and uncovering truths in God’s Word regarding the supreme, human head of Christ’s church — truths that apparently lay dormant and unnoticed until the 16th century, then went dormant again for four more centuries, is for you to decide. I tend to be skeptical of persuasive philosophies and “conversions” that are more about perceived beauty, happiness, historical nostalgia, richness in ritual, and audacious truth claims. Messages that prop up mortal men, require a PhD to understand or untangle the origins of, and that take centuries of accumulation to construct, don’t stand very high next to genuine testimonies of redemption by those delivered from sin and suffering, through the Gospel of grace, in my book. Search for a pure and holy “church” and you’ll likely convince yourself you found it. Search for a pure and Holy God and you’ll find yourself on your face in repentance. The later doesn’t increase the subscriber count.
The second factor I’d suggest contributed to the sudden uptick in popularity of the Eliakim-Peter typology (a roughly threefold increase since 2010, using search trends as an indicator) is the COVID-19 pandemic. Why? Quite simply, isolation. I am blessed to be part of a faith family that is large, active, close, committed, well-led, and that really never missed a beat during the pandemic. We did go virtual for a short time but my in-person fellowship with other believers actually increased during the pandemic. Early on, my interest in church history grew and led me to take an in-person graduate course. My family is in a small group that continued meeting, regularly. I met with a group of men for breakfast on Saturday mornings, often digging into God’s Word, challenging and learning from each other. I grew closer to and sought council from pastors and more mature men of the faith — men of 1 Timothy 3:1-13 character, whom I greatly respect, as my knowledge of Scripture and history grew. My interest in church history has led me not just to study on my own but seek out and contact scholars and authors (most aren’t YouTube stars) all over the world, in order to ask questions about their work. Shockingly, they almost always respond. In our faith family, most of our close friends chose fellowship over face masks, YouTube, and Zoom and it was incredibly edifying.
None of this is to be critical of those who had legitimate concerns about health risks and I’m not intending to downplay the challenges the COVID pandemic presented, it’s only to say that I noticed a stark contrast during that time between those who continued in tangible fellowship (Hebrews 10:25) and those who retreated (necessarily or otherwise) in isolation to their study and/or embraced the virtual tutelage of YouTubers. The later were more apt to adapt to an isolated life, with a virtual window serving as a barrier to a nurturing, accountability-fostering fellowship. In the interest of brevity, I won’t belabor this point and just throw it out as a hypothesis, perhaps one I’ll write more on in the future but I do think people develop “itching ears” in isolation and the accountability that close fellowship with other believers offers, protects us from being swayed by persuasive philosophies and charismatic “teachers” of the traditions of men. Just consider the impact of the televangelist movement of the 1980’s. See Proverbs 18:1-2, Colossians 2:8, 1 Timothy 1:6, and 2 Timothy 4:3 for Biblical perspective on this.
Official teaching or fringe thinking?
Before diving into the origins of the Eliakim-Peter typology, I think it’s useful to have a quick look to see if it appears anywhere in official RC sources. The name of Eliakim is never mentioned on the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (Google and onsite search, which does include some external sources but nothing related). As far as I can tell, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (searchable here) never mentions Eliakim or even Isaiah 22. In searching the Vatican website, I only found a single mention of Eliakim on the entire site. It’s in a homily from Pope Benedict XVI in June of 2012, so it appears that discussion of Peter and Eliakim together in official Catholic circles is both scarce and recent. Here is a paragraph from the homily:
“Let us move on now to the symbol of the keys, which we heard about in the Gospel. It echoes the oracle of the prophet Isaiah concerning the steward Eliakim, of whom it was said: “And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open” (Is 22:22). The key represents authority over the house of David. And in the Gospel there is another saying of Jesus addressed to the scribes and the Pharisees, whom the Lord reproaches for shutting off the kingdom of heaven from people (cf. Mt 23:13). This saying also helps us to understand the promise made to Peter: to him, inasmuch as he is the faithful steward of Christ’s message, it belongs to open the gate of the Kingdom of Heaven, and to judge whether to admit or to refuse (cf. Rev 3:7). Hence the two images – that of the keys and that of binding and loosing – express similar meanings which reinforce one another. The expression “binding and loosing” forms part of rabbinical language and refers on the one hand to doctrinal decisions, and on the other hand to disciplinary power, that is, the faculty to impose and to lift excommunication. The parallelism “on earth … in the heavens” guarantees that Peter’s decisions in the exercise of this ecclesial function are valid in the eyes of God.”BENEDICT XVI, Vatican Basilica Friday, 29 June 2012
There are a few things I’ve highlighted for discussion and some general observations:
- While there is a strong sense in which Pope Benedict correlates Isaiah 22:22 and Matthew 16:18-19, he does NOT use typology here or suggest that Eliakim pre-figures Peter. With the use of the word “echo” he seems to view one passage as a parallel, “helpful for understanding” the other — not even an allusion made by Christ (I’ll address the difference in another post).
- He alludes to Revelation 3:7 but incorporates his own language and ideas that are not exegetical. The idea regarding “to judge whether to admit or refuse” is not present in the passage. Such a tactic is common: attach language or ideas to a passage that aren’t present in the text so you can more easily correlate it with something else. Obviously “open and shut” are terms that easily relate to admitting/denying entry but it’s eisegesis, nonetheless. Open and shut are not used in that context, indeed nowhere in Revelation 3. Rather alarmingly, his use of this phrase seems to put Peter squarely in the place of Christ, implying that Peter will be the judge granting or denying entrance into heaven.The pope may have had the “Pearly gates” in mind, which is an informal name for the gateway to Heaven that stems from an early medieval interpretation identifying Peter with a figure in … Continue reading
- Interestingly, in Revelation 3:8, the Lord Jesus (who holds the key of David), in addressing the church in Philadelphia, says: “for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name (emphasis added).” One claim proponents of the newfangled Eliakim-Peter typology make is that the “key of David” was delegated to Peter 35-60 years earlier (the date of Matthew, relative to Revelation) as one of the “keys to the kingdom of heaven” (it’s unclear when, exactly since Matthew 16:19 is future tense and keys aren’t given to Peter there, a common misconception). Anyway, it would be rather ironic if Jesus were addressing the church in Philadelphia as those who “have not denied [His] name” after having delegated the key in question to the apostle who denied him, three times. But as we’ll see, the appearance of the Eliakim-Peter link in modern apologetics was initially absent acknowledgement of Revelation 3:7. Even now, you won’t find any claimants that discuss the context of Revelation chapter 3, they only draw on the wording of verse 7, in isolation.
- In discussing “the promise made to Peter,” Pope Benedict says: “…inasmuch as he is the faithful steward of Christ’s message.” I actually agree with the pope on this point. “Inasmuch as he is faithful…” would be consistent with numerous passages of Scripture that relate to teachers/stewards of Christ’s message (the Gospel — see 1 Timothy 3:1-13, James 3:1, 1 Corinthians 5:12, e.g.) — nowhere does Scripture even imply that leaders command blind obedience by virtue of an office, irrespective of their “faithful stewardship.” What else is interesting is the pope discusses Peter as a “steward of Christ’s message,” not a steward of the church, which advocates of the Eliakim-Peter typology equate with “the house of David.”
- Pope Benedict is historically misinformed in his understanding of “binding and loosing.” It does “form part of rabbinical language” but Rabbinic Judaism as we know it, didn’t exist in Jesus’ day. It was forming at that time but doesn’t really come to be until long after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, when sects like the Essenes and Sadducees vanish, leaving a vacuum in which the Pharisees craft Jewish religion into what we now know as Rabbinic Judaism. The term “Rabbi” (which the Pharisees and Scribes “loved to be called” — see: Matthew 23:6-7, though we have no Scriptural account of it being used as a title for them) is only used as a form of address for two people in all of Scripture: John the Baptist (John 3:26) and Jesus (Matthew 26:25, 26:49, Mark 9:5, 11:21, John 1:39, 1:49, 3:2, 4:31, 6:25, 9:2, and 11:8).
The Pharisees and Scribes of Jesus’ day did not have the same understanding of “doctrinal decisions” as we have today. Doctrine is complicated and would take too long to discuss but suffice it to say the concept as we think of it doesn’t appear in Judaism for centuries after Christ. Excommunication has ancient parallels but Rabbinic Judaism only begins to adopt a formal equivalent of our modern understanding in the Talmudic period (3rd to the 6th centuries). This is long after the Mishnaic age when “binding and loosing” originated. The procedural discipline Jesus taught in Matthew 18 had no precedent in ancient Jewish culture, as far as I know. Regardless of the parallels and particulars, though, Mishnaic era “binding and loosing” had nothing to do with excommunication. Pope Benedict is off on that point, by a few hundred years. Over the centuries, understanding of the term came to mean whatever anyone wielding authority wanted it to mean.
The 1990’s bring a cure for theological amnesia
The first breakthrough I had in tracing the history of the Eliakim-Peter claim was when I found what I believe to be the first archived web page to mention it. It is apparently a transcript of a talk given by Scott Hahn, a former Presbyterian who converted to Roman Catholicism in 1987. Dr. Hahn’s affiliation with Catholic Answers goes back a long time. He’s a popular speaker, author, and academic whose books and talks have attracted many “Protestants” (I’d guess mostly young, nominal ones) who were disillusioned with the faith of their upbringing, to “swim the Tiber” or take the road “home to Rome.” Dr. Hahn’s style tends toward sensationalistic and I think it probably evokes an emotional response in many. The “hook” seems to get set when impressionable listeners/readers feel they can’t reconcile their family faith with the carefully curated church history they are presented. To be sure, modern American Protestantism suffers many ills and it’s rare to find Protestants that are historically informed and grounded in their faith, not that the former is necessary but it helps. Many of our own traditions of men have evolved and become routine, familiar, and distant from our roots (thankfully, we don’t consider any of them irreformable). The swim to Rome quickly becomes inevitable for the vulnerable, many of whom have never experienced the Redeeming power of the Gospel, in my estimation.
People get uneasy when they don’t have answers to questions and either can’t get them from people they trust or the leader they seek is absent, in their mind. It’s like the ancient Israelites in Exodus 32:1. Nowadays, books and videos take the place of the golden calf, filling the void they perceive when they don’t recognize our real and ever-present God. They multiply teachers for themselves (2 Timothy 4:3) who offer logical sounding answers and dive in the Tiber, regardless of how historically outlandish, uninformed, and inaccurate the claims presented are. Submission of one’s will to the Lord is not natural and it’s exceedingly challenging in a culture where individual liberty is so prized. Likewise, the notion of trusting, waiting, and relying on the Holy Spirit for understanding, is not only offensive to our human nature, but it doesn’t fit well with our modern American predisposition towards instant gratification. So many are simply not well-equipped or rooted in faith and succumb to the human tendency to follow men. These people need the “cut to the heart (Acts 2:37),” redemption-from-sin, death-to-life message of Scripture and the good news of the Gospel of grace, not Scott Hahn or a pope. Alter calls, seeker-sensitive entertainment, and feel-good sinners’ prayers offering easy believism set the stage for those riding the waves of the Tiber and many have bought a ticket on a boat that is really an Isaiah 22 bandwagon.
At any rate, the web page with Scott Hahn’s talk was archived in November of 2001 but it dates to at least October 1999 as there is an older page on the now defunct site that linked to the transcript. In the talk, Hahn states the following when recommending resources to his audience: “if you will permit me, I’ll recommend a tape that I made sitting at a desk about a year ago, up in my study in Jolliet, Illinois, before we moved to Steubenville.” Hahn’s CV is online and it lists 1990 as the year he started as a Professor at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. In the list of resources he recommended to his audience, one that was notably missing is his first book Rome Sweet Home, which was published in 1993. All these details suggest the talk was probably given in his first year as a professor, probably in mid-to-late 1990.
Below is a recording of a podcast from James White in 2001, now hosted on sermonaudio.com, in which he reviews one of Scott Hahn’s early books. It’s worth listening to the entire podcast as it gives a lot of insight into Dr. Hahn’s sensationalism, outlandish claims, and problematic handling of Scripture and history. If you’re only interested in the portion where Dr. White recalls Isaiah 22:22 first coming up in a debate in December 1990, it’s around the 13:00 mark.
Based on the information here, it seems the transcript I found is very likely that of the taped talk James White recalls having listened to many years earlier. As I mentioned previously, I don’t intend to dissect particulars of the Eliakim-Peter claim in this post but there are a few things I want to point out as I finish this section:
- There are two very telling statements in the transcript:
- “I do not find hardly any Catholic defenders of the faith these days with awareness of [the Isaiah 22/Eliakim link]…It was the point that the defenders of the Catholic faith in the 16th and 17th Centuries were very aware of, but for some reason amnesia has set in upon many defenders and interpreters not aware of how crucial this particular passage is“ and;
- “I had never heard of it before until I discovered it on my own and then found it in all these other people” (there’s no mention of who the other people are).
- The Isaiah 22/Matthew 16 link, as discussed by Scott Hahn back in 1990 was NOT described as typology and had some differing explanatory elements from what you hear today. In fact, he spoke of Jesus as “borrowing a phrase from Isaiah 22” (similar to the pope’s language but this is closer to textual allusion). This may sound like a minor point but it’s crucial in seeing how this whole thing has snowballed since Hahn reintroduced it to history. The Catholic Answers philosophers have been hard at work in recent years, imagining all sorts of clever explanations for the hermeneutic dilemmas associated with sound interpretation of Scripture and history, relative to Isaiah 22. Today, there are all sorts of wise-sounding answers that tickle the ears of the unsuspecting. The talking points are all in order and what they hear is a masterfully drawn out, flowing typology. Of course, the devil is always in the details.
- It appears, both from the transcript, and from Dr. White’s 2001 podcast, that back in 1990 when Scott Hahn first resurrected this claim, he had NO IDEA that Revelation 3:7 was a direct parallel/allusion to Isaiah 22:22. That’s quite remarkable but in fairness to Dr. Hahn, understandable. While it eludes even the imagination of those under the age of about 45 today, the ability to read the Bible on a computer screen, much less search for text by keyword (e.g. “key”) didn’t exist when Scott Hahn dredged Eliakim-as-Peter from the recesses of counter-Reformation polemics. The cross-reference was certainly in many bibles, and commentaries surely cited it, but don’t we all gloss over cross-references, unless we’re engaged in a serious study of something? What’s more problematic, is the obvious zealousness with which the claim was sensationalized, packaged, and propagated, to mislead unsuspecting masses, without ANY exegetical or historical analysis. These things don’t matter when your goal is to win a debate and prove the legitimacy of the papacy at all costs. In fact, it sounds like Hahn was the MODERATOR of the debate, which would suggest he may have surreptitiously funneled this Eliakim-Peter link to Dr. White’s opponent during said opponents preparation.
There you have it, the main reason the Eliakim-Peter link is so obscure. It seems to vanish between the 17th and late 20th centuries, laying dormant and waiting for Dr. Scott Hahn to come along, rediscover it, and cure the curious case of theological amnesia that had plagued RC “defenders and interpreters” for 400 years. In the next post, we’ll track down just exactly who those interpreters and theologians of the 16th century were, but let’s first take a look at one of the rhetorical linchpins in Dr. Hahn’s sensational revelation from 1990…
Support from one of the greatest Protestant Biblical scholars of the century?
In apologetics, it’s common for proponents of a position to collect quotes from scholars, theologians, and other apologists on the opposing side. Clearly, the intent is to use perceived agreement on parts or even the whole of a position, to bolster one’s case. I’ve done it myself, see my post on Cyprian and early Roman primacy. Building a case like this can be useful, insightful, and effective, but it can also be dishonest and/or deceptive (e.g. if someone is misquoted, misrepresented, or taken out of context), even when the author/speaker does so in ignorance. The later, whether it was intentional or not, characterizes the “rhetorical linchpin” to which I referred. The following appears in Scott Hahn’s transcript from 1990:
“One of the greatest Protestant Biblical scholars of the century supports this — W. F. Albright, in his Anchor Bible Commentary on Matthew. I opened it up. I was surprised to see, “Peter as the Rock will be the foundation of the future community, the church. Jesus here uses Aramaic and so only the Aramaic word which would serve His purpose. In view of the background in verse 19, one must dismiss as confessional interpretation any attempt to see this rock as the faith or the confession of Peter.” In other words, Professor Albright is admitting as a Protestant that there is a bias in Protestant anti-Catholic interpreters who try to make Jesus’ reference to the rock point only to Peter’s faith or confession. “To deny the pre-eminent position of Peter,” Albright says, “among the disciples or in the early Christian community is a denial of the evidence. The interest in Peter’s failures and vacillations does not detract from this pre-eminence, rather it emphasizes it. Had Peter been a lesser figure, his behavior would have been of far less consequence. Precisely because Peter is pre-eminent and is the foundation stone of the Church that his mistakes are in a sense so important, but his mistakes never correspond to his teachings as the Prince of the Apostles.” We will see.”
Albright goes on in his commentary to speak about the keys of the kingdom that Jesus entrusted to Peter. Here’s what he says, “Isaiah 22, verse 15, undoubtedly lies behind this saying of Jesus. The keys are the symbol of authority and Father Roland DeVoe rightly sees here the same authority vested in the vicar, the master of the house, the chamberlain of the royal household in ancient Israel. In Isaiah 22 Eliakim is described as having the same authority.”
Now let’s just stop here and ask, “What is he talking about?” I think it’s simple. Albright is saying that Jesus in giving to Peter not only a new name, Rock, but in entrusting to Simon the keys of the kingdom, He is borrowing a phrase from Isaiah 22. He’s quoting a verse in the Old Testament that was extremely well known. This, for me, was the breakthrough. This discovery was the most important discovery of all. Let’s go back to Isaiah 22 and see what Jesus was doing when He entrusted to Peter the keys of the kingdom.”Dr. Scott Hahn
There’s more that Hahn quoted and drew from the referenced commentary on Matthew but these first few paragraphs will suffice for this discussion. Let’s look at the commentary cited, it’s authorship, and one of Hahn’s initial conclusions.
Locating the Anchor Bible Commentary (ABC) on Matthew
Thank the Lord libraries with dusty shelves still exist and haven’t tossed all their books that haven’t been touched in decades…
The commentary referenced was part of a series that is now known as the Anchor Yale Bible Commentary Series (AYBC). It is a massive (now over 115 volumes) set of commentaries that was first produced in the 1960’s and 1970’s. It appears to have been out of print for some time, then acquired by Yale University Press in 2007. They began updating volumes, adding new titles, and republishing in 2008.
Getting my hands on the Matthew commentary took a while. I initially tried to locate an electronic copy, to no avail. Both Accordance and Logos have every book of the New Testament available, expect Matthew, due to a “rights issue.” I then reached out to pastors I know that have extensive (and older) libraries, with no luck. Finally, after searching for hours online, I found a local university library that had the commentary. Even locating that wasn’t exactly straightforward as they didn’t have it cataloged with “Anchor” in the title. The name of the commentary in their catalog was simply Matthew and knowing the publisher and date is what helped me find the record. Once I had it located, COVID protocols and not being a student at the university, wreaked havoc with getting a card and checking the book out, but I persevered and finally had the book in hand, after a few months!
The first thing to note about the AYBC series is that it has “contributions from distinguished authors around the world, representing Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim traditions,” a distinction that carries over from the original ABC series. Hmm…Dr. Hahn kind of made it sound like W.F. Albright was a Protestant Scholar, writing a Protestant commentary, and rebuking other Protestants, when he said Albright was: “admitting as a Protestant that there is a bias in Protestant anti-Catholic interpreters who try to make Jesus’ reference to the rock point only to Peter’s faith or confession” — this was my first clue that something was off.
What does the commentary say and who wrote it?
The commentary never uses terms like “bias” or “anti-Catholic,” though it does say: “Isa xxii 15 ff. undoubtedly lies behind this saying” with regard to Matthew 16:19. But before we congratulate Dr. Hahn on finding someone in the modern era who recognized a relationship between Isaiah 22:22 and Matthew 16:19 (and one of the greatest Protestant Biblical scholars of the century, no less!), let’s dig a little deeper…
William F. Albright was an accomplished and respected biblical scholar. At the time the Anchor Bible Commentary was originally compiled, he was widely known for his pioneering work with the Dead Sea Scrolls, but his areas of expertise and research contributions were in Biblical archaeology, philology, and ceramics. He was not a theologian and while he was certainly qualified to contribute to such a work, he was likely chosen as the editor of the series for name recognition. Did you catch that? He was the editor of the commentary, not it’s author. So who wrote it?
The commentary was written by Father Christopher Stephen Mann who was an Anglo-Catholic priest and ordained in the of the Church of England in 1940. Later, Mann was a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD from 1965-1968 (where he likely met Albright), then Dean of the Ecumenical Institute at St. Mary’s Seminary (America’s oldest Roman Catholic Seminary) from 1969-1983, as well as chairman of the Diocese of Maryland’s Ecumenical Task Force from 1979-1983. He was also a convicted child abuser.
Finding that information on Father Mann hit close to home for me. I grew up outside of Baltimore and attended an Episcopalian school for a year, at the age of 13. It was the only year I ever attended a private school and it was a strange experience. A few months into the school year, the Headmaster, Father William Thompson, was arrested and later convicted on very similar child abuse and pornography charges, as C.S. Mann. Apparently the Baltimore Episcopal diocese in the 1970’s and 1980’s was a hotbed of priestly sexual abuse. Oddly, it also seems to have been a hotbed of near-Catholic Episcopalians, as there were mass defections in the diocese to Roman Catholicism, years later. To add one more bit of “close to home” irony, the chapel tied to the school I attended and where Father Thompson served, is also the place I knelt to pray with another priest (a good one) years before, telling him “I wanted to know Jesus.” We were not Episcopalian, never attended that church, and had no idea about the school, at that time. It would be a series of events involving the death of my father and my mother’s remarriage that led to me attending the school for a year, in the same place where a sovereign God had caused me to be reborn and brought out of death, into life. But let’s get back to Eliakim and Peter…
The commentary was written by a near-Catholic child abuser but what role did the editor(s) play?
I don’t know much about the publishing industry but I imagined with 90+ volumes in the ABC series, Albright probably played more of an administrative role than that of a hands-on editor. Reading the preface to the commentary on Matthew seemed to confirm this:
“…At a time when the Anchor Bible was still supposed to consist of concise, one-volume paperbacks, the editors invited Professor W. D. Davies to prepare commentaries on Matthew and Mark. He accepted, but pressure of other work kept delaying him until he finally decided—presumably because of the steadily increasing length of the published contributions that he would have to give up the assignment. We were greatly disappointed, but fortunately Dr. C. S. Mann of London and Baltimore had just finished collaborating with the senior editor on the unfinished commentary on Acts left by the late lamented Johannes Munck. We agreed to collaborate on the Matthew commentary.
We owe special thanks to the junior editor, Professor David Noel Freedman, for reading the manuscript and pointing out weaknesses in the original treatment.
We owe a deep debt of gratitude to Dr. Leona Running, of Andrews University, Michigan, for much invaluable help at various stages of the preparation of this work, and not least in the final editing of the typescript…”W.F.A. and C.S.MAlbright, William Foxwell, and Mann, Christopher Stephen. Matthew. (United States, Doubleday, 1995).
With junior and final editors, the man who was “one of the greatest Protestant Biblical scholars of the century” probably did very little, if any, hands-on editing. Professor David Noel Freedman was a Jewish convert, turned Presbyterian Minister, and Dr. Leona Running was an accomplished but also liberal, feminist Seventh-Day Adventist scholar. To be sure, the team that brought us the original Anchor Bible Commentary on Matthew was an eclectic bunch. I’m not sure how well the team represented Protestant theology or perspectives on the book of Matthew but it sure doesn’t seem as though Dr. Hahn’s sensational claim is all that accurate.
Is that all? It’s still a great Protestant commentary, right?
The screenshot below (click to enlarge) is of the actual text of the Anchor Bible Commentary that Dr. Scott Hahn referenced. It’s from the edition printed in 1971. It’s impossible to confirm it’s the same edition Dr. Hahn saw in ~1990 and I’m not sure if there were any subsequent editions with edits but there are a few other things worth mentioning:
- Rolland de Vaux, who was cited by the author of the commentary (Mann), was a French Dominican (Roman Catholic) priest, and one who probably commands a great deal more respect than Mann. It’s unclear exactly what Mann is attributing to de Vaux. With the sentence break, it may be that de Vaux had merely commented on “keys” being a symbol of authority in ancient Israel. If that’s the case, it is Mann who draws the parallel to Eliakim in Isaiah 22.
- The content of this commentary is FAR from the more elaborate Peter-as-Prime-Minister story that Scott Hahn outlines in his talk. There is no suggestion of Peter being a “type” of Eliakim, it’s only a discussion of parallel concepts due to the mention of keys. This is significant because it demonstrates accretions in the development of the typology. As I said earlier in this post: the Catholic Answers philosophers have been hard at work in recent years.
- You may notice a rather significant error in the commentary. In Isaiah 22, it was Shebna who was ousted to make way for Eliakim. Hilkiah was the high priest (who had a son named Eliakim) who found the “lost book of the law” in 2 Kings 22:8. How ironic! A modern, pop-Roman Catholic apologist, digging for morsels in Scripture, commentary, and history, to try to prove the legitimacy of the papacy, and he may have inadvertently missed an erroneous mention of an Old Testament high priest who’s best known for something that has obvious echoes of the Protestant Reformation. Whether that’s how it happened with Dr. Hahn or not, it’s fair to ask, how well did the author of this commentary even know the passage in Isaiah 22 to which he refers? Did Hahn not recognize this error, either?
- As is consistent with the mentions of Isaiah 22 when it first re-emerged in the 1990’s, the obvious, direct allusion to the passage in Revelation 3:7 is not mentioned.
This has been a longer post than I anticipated but I hope a few things are clear:
- The elaborate typological interpretation of Isaiah 22 and Eliakim as a prototype of Peter in Matthew 16 is a recent apologetic construct. It has seen a number of philosophical evolutions in the last few decades. For example, you only have to go back a few years and it’s nearly impossible to find RC apologists who even mention Revelation 3:7 when discussing Isaiah 22:22. That clearly demonstrates there is nothing exegetical behind the claim. Catholic Answers now has an article that attempts to address Revelation 3:7 but the page has only been online since 2020 (at least that’s when it was first archived).
- Interest in the Eliakim-Peter claim has increased dramatically in recent years, even coinciding with the COVID pandemic. Whether there’s legitimate correlation or not (I believe Biblical wisdom suggests there may be), people need to understand just how recently the bandwagon drifting on the waves of the Tiber was set afloat.
- There is near-zero witness to this claim in official Roman Catholic sources. For something as contested and foundational to the Roman religion as the papacy, one would expect it’s supposed “prefiguration” in the Old Testament to have been noticed by someone before the 16th century and maintain by the establishment but the claim essentially vanished for four centuries (more on this in the next post).
- When Dr. Scott Hahn reintroduced the Eliakim-Peter claim in the early 1990’s, it was riddled with faulty information, sensational statements, and historical obscurity. Support from one of the “greatest Protestant scholars of the century” wasn’t at all what it was cracked up to be and it appears Dr. Hahn may have even colluded with a debater in a debate that he moderated to “drop” this as an apologetic bomb on an opponent.
|↑1||The pope may have had the “Pearly gates” in mind, which is an informal name for the gateway to Heaven that stems from an early medieval interpretation identifying Peter with a figure in Germanic mythology who was the porter of heaven. See: Ferguson, Everett. The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today. (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. 1996, p. 53).|
|↑2||Albright, William Foxwell, and Mann, Christopher Stephen. Matthew. (United States, Doubleday, 1995).|