Reply to Hays’ “Catholicism” #20

Reply to Hays’ “Catholicism” #20 May 30, 2023

St. Peter the Rock; Hades; Peter & the Keys; Peter’s Betrayal & Jesus’ Prayer for His Faith; One Church vs. Denominationalism; Baptism in Acts 

The late Steve Hays (1959-2020) was a Calvinist (and anti-Catholic) apologist, who was very active on his blog, called Triablogue (now continued by Jason Engwer). His 695-page self-published book, Catholicism a collection of articles from his site — has graciously been made available for free. On 9 September 2006, Hays was quite — almost extraordinarily — charitable towards me. He wrote then:

I don’t think I’ve ever accused him of being a traitor or apostate or infidel. . . . I have nothing to say, one way or the other, regarding his state of grace. But his sincerity is unquestionable. I also don’t dislike him. . . . I don’t think there’s anything malicious about Armstrong—unlike some people who come to mind. In addition, I don’t think I’ve ever said he was unintelligent. For the record, it’s obvious that Armstrong has a quick, nimble mind. 

Two-and-a-half years later, starting in April 2009 and up through December 2011 (in the following quotations) his opinion radically changed, and he claimed that I have “an evil character,” am “actually evil,” “ego-maniac, narcissist,” “idolater,” “self-idolater,” “hack who pretends to be a professional apologist,” given to “chicanery,” one who doesn’t “do any real research,” “a stalwart enemy of the faith . . .  no better than [the atheists] Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens,” with an intent to “destroy faith in God’s word,” “schizophrenic,” “emotionally unhinged,” one who “doesn’t trust in the merit of Christ alone for salvation,” “has no peace of mind,” “a bipolar solipsist,” “split-personality,” and a “bad” man. He wasn’t one to mince words! See more gory details.

I feel no need whatsoever to reciprocate these silly and sinful insults. I just wanted the record to be known. I’ve always maintained that Hays was a very intelligent man, but habitually a sophist in methodology; sincere and well-meaning, but tragically and systematically wrong and misguided regarding Catholicism. That’s what I’m addressing, not the state of his heart and soul (let alone his eternal destiny). It’s a theological discussion. This is one of many planned critiques of his book (see my reasons why I decided to do this). Rather than list them all here, interested readers are directed to the “Steve Hays” section of my Anti-Catholicism web page, where they will all be listed. My Bible citations are from the RSV. Steve’s words will be in blue.


[Chapter 7: Hermeneutics]

Catholic prooftexts

Matthew 16:18-19 “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. [19] I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

This is the classic prooftext for the papacy. 1. Let’s begin with some programmatic questions: i) What does the “rock” refer to? [p. 315]

Peter, according to many of the most eminent Protestant exegetes and reference sources (a remarkable number!), including New Bible Dictionary, Word Studies in the New Testament (Marvin Vincent), Wycliffe Bible Commentary, New Bible Commentary, Anchor Bible (William F. Albright and C. S. Mann), Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (R. T. France), Expositor’s Bible Commentary (D. A. Carson), Eerdmans Bible Commentary, Henry Alford, Herman N. Ridderbos, Albert Barnes, David Hill, M. Eugene Boring, William Hendriksen, John A. Broadus, Carl Friedrich Keil, Gerhard Kittel, Oscar Cullmann, Peake’s Commentary, Gerhard Maier, J. Knox Chamblin, Craig L. Blomberg, William E. McCumber, Donald A. Hagner,  Philip Schaff, Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: The Gospel According to Matthew, vol. 8, The Layman’s Bible Commentary, Encyclopaedia Britannica (1985; article by D. W. O’Connor, a Protestant), Robert McAfee Brown, and Richard Baumann. For much more on this, see:

Primacy of St. Peter Verified by Protestant Scholars [1994]

The Papacy and Infallibility: Keys of the Kingdom [9-16-93; rev. May 1996]

Protestant Scholars on Matthew 16:16-19 (Nicholas Hardesty) [9-4-06]

ii) Does Hades refer to the realm of the dead or the realm of the demonic? [p. 315]

The former, by definition, as Protestant commentators such as Ellicott’s CommentaryJamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary, Meyer’s NT Commentary, and Vincent’s Word Studies hold. To my knowledge (I might be wrong), neither the devil nor the demons are ever said to be in Hades (Sheol), or associated with it. Hades is not hell.

Now I propose answer my own questions: i) Caesarea Philippi is situated on a rocky terrace at the base of Mt. Hermon. As such, it’s natural to suppose the rocky metaphor was suggested by the immediate surroundings. Jesus was standing on rocky ground, and standing in the shadow of Mt. Hermon, at the time he made his statement. This may also goes to a difference between the written word and the spoken word. Consider
the demonstrative pronoun: “this”. In that setting, it’s easy to imagine him pointing to an actual rocky object. “I will build my church on this!”–accompanied by an illustrative gesture. The repetition of “rock” may well include a reference to Simon, but the double reference may also include a reference to the rocky surroundings. Indeed, that may be primary. [pp. 315-316]

It is indeed a double reference. Jesus chose this spot because of that. I featured it on the cover of my book, Footsteps that Echo Forever: My Holy Land Pilgrimage (2014). But to make the physical rock facade primary is absurd. No commentator I have ever  seen (if I recall correctly) has made such an argument. It’s desperate eisegesis. R. T. France (one of the most renowned Protestant exegetes of our time) wrote:

Jesus now sums up Peter’s significance in a name, Peter . . . The word-play, and the whole structure of the passage, demands that this verse is every bit as much Jesus’ declaration about Peter as v.16 was Peter’s declaration about Jesus . . . It is to Peter, not to his confession, that the rock metaphor is applied . . . (in Leon Morris, General Editor., Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press/Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1985, vol. 1: Matthew, R. T. France, 254, 256.)

D. A. Carson, another highly respected Protestant exegete, observed:

[I]f it were not for Protestant reactions against extremes of Roman Catholic interpretation, it is doubtful whether many would have taken ‘rock’ to be anything or anyone other than Peter . . . In this passage Jesus is the builder of the church and it would be a strange mixture of metaphors that also sees him within the same clauses as its foundation . . .” (in Frank E. Gaebelein, General Editor, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1984, vol. 8: Matthew, Mark, Luke [Matthew: D. A. Carson], 368)

“Rock” is probably a double entendre, both for Peter and especially the emblematic location. [p. 316]

Well, now, Hays has stumbled upon the truth (it happens occasionally in his analyses of Catholicism). Whaddya know!

“Rocky” is a pun in honor of Peter’s insightful confession, [p. 316]

I prefer R. T. France’s take:

It describes not so much Peter’s character (he did not prove to be `rock-like’ in terms of stability or reliability), but his function, as the foundation-stone of Jesus’ church. (Ibid.)

but what the church is built on is what the location symbolizes. [p. 316]

It provides a visualization of “rock” which was applied to Peter as the foundation, or first leader of the Church. Moreover, the location provided a double metaphor, insofar as it used to be an area of worship of the Greek god Pan. The Greeks thought the cave at the rock’s base was the entrance to the underworld (Hades; which the NT used as the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Sheol). Hence, Jesus said, “the powers of death [Hades in Greek] shall not prevail against it.”  The Church was not built upon Hades or the worship of Pan. Hays’ take is simply ludicrous. It’s special pleading and sophistry in order to avoid the clear Petrine and papal implications of the passage (that even many Protestant commentators at least partially concede is the case).

In Revelation, the Netherworld is subdivided into a realm of the dead (Rev 20:13-14) and a realm of the demonic (9:1-11; . . . 17:8). [p. 316]

Revelation 9:1-11 and 17:8, according to the usual Protestant interpretation, are referring to hell or the Lake of Fire, not Hades (e.g., Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary: “the bottomless pit—Greek, ‘the pit of the abyss’; the orifice of the hell where Satan and his demons dwell”); so this is an eschatological category mistake by Hays.

If we mentally flesh it out, the reader should visualize both heaven and hades as gated locations. [p. 316]

That may sound fine and dandy, until we actually search for “gates of heaven” or “heavenly gates” or a proximity of the words “heaven” and “gates” in the Bible and discover that none of these ever appear (in the RSV). Thus, Hays is shown to be indulging in mere extrabiblical speculation with no scriptural grounding. Odd for a Protestant to do, isn’t it?

Given the associations with heathen idolatry, I think hades more likely connotes the realm of the demonic in this evocative setting. [p. 316]

It was the netherworld (Hades), not hell. The analogy isn’t exact. NT Greek sought to use the closest concept in Greek to Sheol, and that was clearly Hades. But I searched “demon” and “devil” and “Satan” and “evil spirits” in the Bible, in conjunction with “Hades” and “Sheol,” and couldn’t discover any association. So once again, Hays indulges in wild, biblically unsubstantiated, arbitrary extrabiblical speculation.

Catholic apologists typically allege that v19 is an allusion to Isa 22:22, then imports the entire Isaian context into v19. [p. 316]

Not just Catholic apologists; also many reputable Protestant exegetes, such as W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann, Roland de Vaux, Craig S. Keener, M. Eugene Boring, The Interpreter’s Bible, S. T. Lachs, R. T. France, Ralph Earle (Beacon Bible Commentary), J. Jeremias, F. F. Bruce, Oscar Cullman, New Bible Dictionary, T.W. Manson, Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary, Adam Clarke’s Commentary, Martin Luther, New Bible Commentary. For the quotes and documentation for all these men, see: No Papacy in the NT? Think Again (vs. Jason Engwer). With Special Emphasis on the Protestant Exegesis of “The keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19) [8-1-22] and Protestant Scholars on Matthew 16:16-19 (Nicholas Hardesty) [9-4-06].

F. F. Bruce, perhaps the most famous and well-regarded of the above group, wrote:

The keys of a royal or noble establishment were entrusted to the chief steward or majordomo; he carried them on his shoulder in earlier times, and there they served as a badge of the authority entrusted to him. About 700 B.C. an oracle from God announced that this authority in the royal palace in Jerusalem was to be conferred on a man called Eliakim . . . . (Isaiah 22:22). So in the new community which Jesus was about to build, Peter would be, so to speak, chief steward. (The Hard Sayings of Jesus [Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity, 1983], 143-144)

On pages 317-318, Hays cites two Protestant scholars who think Peter isn’t the “Rock” that Jesus referred to: John Nolland and Robert Gundry. I have cited thirty scholars or reference works above. If anyone notices that Hays cited 28 or more scholars who think the way he thinks about the “Rock” passage, please let me know.

Luke 22:31-32 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, [32] but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.”

Peter is singled out, not because he outranks the other disciples, but because he will betray Jesus. The prayer anticipates his denial. Jesus prays for Peter’s restoration in advance of his betrayal. [p. 319]

I see. Well, Jesus also said about the disciples as a group (John was the only exception):

Matthew 26:31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night; for it is written, `I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ (cf. Mk 14:27)

John 16:32 The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, every man to his home, and will leave me alone; . . .

According to Hays’ reasoning above, Jesus would have had to pray for all the disciples (save John), who would “fall away” and be “scattered” and “leave” Him “alone” when He was led away to His trial and passion and crucifixion. But He only prays for Peter (and I believe this is the only time the NT shows Him praying individually for a disciple, by name). We believe He did because Peter was the Rock, and he had to repent in order to fulfill his duties as the first leader and pope of the new Christian Church that Jesus built upon him. The “strengthen your brethren” implies (or is at the very least consistent with) this leadership. In other words, Peter was so important that the NT made it a point to show how Jesus prayed for him to have the strength to perform his ministry.

As a matter of faith, Peter’s faith did fail. He lost his nerve and publicly renounced Jesus. That’s a paradigmatic act of infidelity. [p. 319]

Protestants love to highlight Peter’s betrayal, so they can put him down. They also love the passage where Paul rebukes him for hypocrisy, for the same reason. Anything to “knock him down a rung . . .” I have noted elsewhere that Peter’s failure of “nerve” that even Hays alludes to was quite temporary. The whole thing probably lasted only five or ten minutes. He got scared when he was questioned, thinking he, too, would be killed, and made three denials. The cock crowed and then he immediately repented.

Paul on the other hand, consented to St. Stephen’s stoning (Acts 8:1), and was “ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3) and was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1) and “made havoc in Jerusalem” (Acts 9:21). Paul himself says that “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women” (Acts 22:4) and “I formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him” (1 Tim 1:13).

We don’t know exactly how long this went on, but it appears to be some significant length of time, and certainly more than Peter’s ten or so minutes of fear and betrayal. Paul repented too (almost forced to by Jesus), but my point is that, if we are to bash Peter endlessly for his sin, how about a little fair-mindedness and keeping in mind how terribly Paul sinned: so much so that he called himself “the foremost of sinners” (1 Tim 1:15)?

It’s striking that the NT never says there is “one church”. [p. 320]

The phrases “the church” (Acts 8:3; 9:31; 12:1, 5; 1 Cor 5:12; 6:4; 12:28; Eph 1:22; 3:10, 21; 5:23-25, 27, 29, 32; Phil 3:6; Col 1:18, 24) and “my church” (Mt 16:18) and “the church of God” (Acts 20:28; 1 Cor 10:32; 11:22; 15:9; Gal 1:13) and “the church of the living God” (1 Tim 3:15) and “Body of Christ” (1 Cor 12:27;  Eph 4:12) certainly all strongly imply this.

Finally, the Paul uses the “body” as a metaphor for the church. And he says there is “one body.” That’s the closest you get to a “one church” formula in the NT. If there’s one body, and the body is a synonym for the church, doesn’t that mean there’s one church? In a sense. However, this is a flexible metaphor which Paul uses to illustrate diversity as well as unity or unicity. He alternates between the one and the many. [p. 320]

Hays tries to reduce the impact of “one body” (Rom 12:4-5; 1 Cor 10:17; 12:12-13, 20; Col 3:15). But different parts of one body is a completely different concept from different bodies (hundreds, thousands of them, as it were). Hays tries to make a foolish argument that the biblical, Pauline, “diversity in unity” in the Body of Christ, the Church, is the equivalent of the division, discord, and acrimony that Paul repeatedly condemns, and which prevails in the contradictory, relativistic, and chaotic mess of Protestant denominationalism and sectarianism. The NT teaching on unity is the following:

In John 17:22 Jesus prays that the disciples would be “one, as we are one.” And in John 17:23, He desires that they (and us) be “completely one” (NRSV). KJV, NKJV: “perfect in one.” RSV, NEB, REB: “perfectly one.” NIV: “complete unity.” NASB: “perfected in unity.” Now, it is pretty difficult to maintain that this entails no doctrinal agreement (and “perfect” agreement at that). And, reflecting on John 17:22, I don’t think the Father and the Son differ on how one is saved, on the true nature of the Eucharist or the Church, etc. So how can Protestants claim this “perfect” oneness, “as we [the Holy Trinity] are one”? Or even any remote approximation?

Paul commands: “mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine ye have learned; and avoid them.” (Rom 16:17). In 1 Corinthians 1:10, he desires “no divisions,” and that Christians should be “perfectly joined together “in the same mind.” No one can say this is simply a “warm fuzzy” love and mutual recognition. Paul goes on to condemn mere “contentions” in 1:11, and asks in 1:13: “Is Christ divided?”

In 1 Corinthians 3:3, Paul says that whatever group has “strife and divisions” are “carnal, and walk as men.” In 1 Corinthians 11:18-19 he seems to equate “divisions” and “heresies.” He calls for “no schism” in 1 Corinthians 12:25, etc., etc. (cf. Rom 13:13; 2 Cor 12:20; Phil 2:2; Titus 3:9; Jas 3:16; 1 Tim 6:3-5; 2 Pet 2:1). What more evidence is needed to be convinced that denominationalism and sectarianism is a sin? Yet Protestants blithely go on in the teeth of these biblical warnings and injunctions, seemingly oblivious to the possible consequences (see, e.g., Gal 5:19-21).

John 20:22-23 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. [23] If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

[I]t doesn’t explicitly show us how that was understood and implemented in the church. For that our best source is the Book of Acts. It’s not that the disciples personally absolve sin. Indeed, you don’t find that in Acts. Rather, they provide the means for the remission of sin by evangelizing the lost. [p. 321]

We do know how it was “implemented”: from the Book of Acts. Evangelism is part of it, certainly. But if we want a concrete, sacramental act that brings about forgiveness, it’s baptism:

Acts 2:38-41 And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. [39] For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.” [40] And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” [41] So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

This is a very full, substantive passage. It has baptismal regeneration, which is taught in 13 other NT passages also; it refers to receiving the Holy Spirit as a result of this baptism (no bald symbolism here!); it says that folks could “save” themselves (strongly implied, by baptism), and that baptism was the means of entrance into the Christian Church. Peter reiterates the same message of his sermon on Pentecost, in his first epistle: “Baptism, . . . saves you” (1 Pet 3:21).

[Peter] speaks with no more or less authority at the “council” [of Acts 15] than Paul and Barnabas. [p. 322]

I wonder why, then, Paul’s words there weren’t even recorded; only summarized (Acts 15:12)? Peter’s words — after “much debate” (Acts 15:7) are recorded (Acts 15:7-11). After he spoke, “the assembly kept silence” (15:12), and there was no more division (at least none noted in the text). James then speaks, but basically just reiterates what Peter said (“Simon has related . . .”: 15:14).


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Photo credit: The Whore of Babylon (workshop of Lucas Cranach): colorized illustration from Martin Luther’s 1534 translation of the Bible [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


Summary: The late Steve Hays was a Calvinist and anti-Catholic writer and apologist. This is one of my many critiques of Hays’ “Catholicism”: a 695-page self-published volume.

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