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Keys of the Kingdom Quotes

These quotes explain the meaning of the keys of the Kingdom that were given to Peter in Matthew 16. They are important in reference to the Roman Catholic Church's claim to "papal primacy," the idea that the pope has "full, supreme, and universal authority" over all Christians and that he is "shepherd over the whole Church" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 881-2).

I think you will see below that the keys of the Kingdom are said to belong to "all churches akin to Peter" and even to all Christians so that they can fight the devil. Thus, I ask you not to assume that because Peter is mentioned, the bishop of Rome (the pope) is in mind. The reason that the Roman Catholic Church is able to make use of so many quotes from the early church fathers is because they count on you to assume that when Peter is mentioned, the bishop of Rome is in the writer's mind. This is not true, and there is no better list of quotes to prove that than the list below.


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Irenaeus, c. AD 185

This next quote is an argument by Irenaeus against the gnostics, who argued that the God of the Old Testament was not the Father of Jesus Christ. I am including the quote only because the "key of David" is mentioned. Roman Catholic apologists argue that this key of David is the same as the keys of the Kingdom given by Jesus to Peter (e.g., Dr. Scott Hahn on the Papacy).

 But in all things nothing has been kept back [from Jesus], and for this reason the same person is the Judge of the living and the dead, "having the key of David. He shall open, and no man shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open." [Rev. 3:7]. For no one was able, either in heaven or in earth, or under the earth, to open the book of the Father, or to behold him, with the exception of the Lamb who was slain, and who redeemed us with his own blood, receiving power over all things from the same God who made all things by the Word, and adorned them by Wisdom, when the "Word was made flesh" [Jn. 1:14], that even as the Word of God had the sovereignty in the heavens, so also might he have the sovereignty in earth. (Against Heresies, IV:20:2).

Tertullian, AD 190-210

What man, then, of sound mind can possibly suppose that [the apostles] were ignorant of anything? The Lord ordained them to be teachers. He watched over them ... in their attendance, in their discipleship, in their society. When they were alone, he used to expound all things which were obscure to them, telling them that ot them it was given to know those mysteries [Matt. 13:11] that it was not permitted for the people to understand. Was anything withheld from the knowledge of Peter, who is called "the rock on which the church should be built" and who also obtained the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven with the power of loosing and binding in heaven and one earth? [Matt. 16:18-19]. Again, was anything concealed from John, the Lord's most beloved disciple, who used to lean on his breast [Jn. 21:20]and to whom alone the Lord pointed Judas out as traitor [Jn. 13:25-26], and whom he commended to Mary as a son in his own stead? [Jn. 19:26]. (Prescription Against Heretics 22)

For though you think heaven still shut, remember that the Lord left here to Peter and through him to the Church, the keys of it, which every one who has been here put to the question, and also made confession, will carry with him. ("Scorpiace" 10)

This next quote from Tertullian was written as a Montanist and in opposition to the catholic, apostolic churches. Montanists agreed with the catholic churches on all doctrines except that they had added stricter new regulations based on what they called "new prophecy." Believing that the church had matured, they claimed that the Holy Spirit was issuing new regulations through a prophet name Montanus. These included forbidding a second marriage to widowed spouses and forbidding re-entrance to the church to those who had committed major sins such as murder or adultery. The following is Tertullian's argument that the promises given to Peter in Matthew 16 were passed on to spiritual men—like Montanus, of course—rather than to all churches "akin to Peter."

This is a long quote, and it is somewhat difficult to follow. For our purposes, the important thing is that Tertullian says the churches applied Peter's gifts and powers to all churches, not just to Rome. He also gives examples of the use of the keys and the power to bind and loose.

One more important note is that Tertullion points out that the Lord used a singular 'you" in addressing Peter in Matthem 16:18-19. As a result I left "thee" in his quotation of that Scripture. Many of us think that "thou" and "thee" are holy words used to address God, but they are not. They are singular words used to address one individual you. In King James English, "you" means more than one person; "thou" means just on person. This is why Tertullian makes a point about "thee" in Matthew 16.

"But," you say, "the Church has the power of forgiving sins." This I acknowledge and adjudge [i.e., rule on as a judge would] more. I have the Paraclete [i.e., the Holy Spirit] himself in the persons of the new prophets [the Montanists], saying, "The Church has the power to forgive sins, but I will not do it, lest they commit others in addition." ... I now inquire into your opinion. From what source do you usurp this right to "the Church"? If it is because the Lord said to Peter, "Upon this rock will I build my Church," "To thee have I given the keys of the heavenly kingdom," or "Whatever thou shalt have bound or loosed in earth shall be bound or loosed in the heavens" [Matt. 16:18-19], then you therefore presume that the power of binding and loosing has come down to you; that is, to every church akin to Peter. What sort of man are you, subverting and wholly change the obvious intention of the Lord, who conferred this personally upon Peter? "On thee," he say, "will I build my Church," and "I will give to thee the keys," not to the Church; and, "Whatsoever thou shalt have loosed or bound," not what "they" shall have loosed or bound. For this in addition is what the result teaches: in [Peter] himself the Church was reared; that is, through [Peter] himself; [Peter] himself put the key to use. You see which [key]: "Men of Israel, let what I say sink into your ears. Jesus the Nazarene, a man destined by God for you" and so forth [Acts 2:22ff]. [Peter] himself, therefore, was the first to unbar, in Christ's baptism, the entrance into the heavenly kingdom, in which are loosed the sins that were once bound and those which have been loosed are bound, in accordance with true salvation. He bound Ananias with the bond of death [Acts 5:3-5], and the weak in his feet he absolved from his defect of health [Acts 3:2-7]. Moreover, in that dispute about the observance or non-observance of the Law, Peter was the first of all to be endued with the Spirit ... to say, "And now why are you tempting the Lord concerning the imposition upon the brethren of a yoke which neither we nor our fathers were able to support? But, however, through the grace of Jesus we believe that we shall be saved in the same way as they" [Acts 15:7-11]. This sentence both "loosed" those parts of the law which were abandoned and bound those which were reserved. ("On Fasting" 21)

Hippolytus, AD 220-235

For [the Lord] was himself the perfect Seal, and the Church is the key: "He who opens, and no one shuts and shuts and no one opens" [Rev. 3:7] as John says. And again, he says, "And I saw, on the right hand of him that sat on the throne, a book written within and without, sealed with seven seals. And I saw an angel proclaiming with a loud voice, 'Who is worthy to open the book and to loose its seals?'" and so forth. ("The Interpretation by Hippolytus, bishop of Rome, of the visions of Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, taken in conjunciton," ch. 20)

The following quote is included among the possible spurious works of Hippolytus in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5. The fact that it might not be a legitimate quote does not matter because this quote adds nothing to what we would know otherwise. It does tell us Peter was considered the rock, which is disputed between Catholics and Protestants, but we would know that from other quotes It does not tell us Peter's qualifications were passed on to the bishop of Rome, despite the fact that he himself had claim to that title.. (Historically, Rome regards him as an "antipope," a rival bishop to Urban and Pontian from 222 to 235.) So this is interesting, but it is possibly spurious and adds nothing to the other pre-Nicene quotes.

And the apostles, who speak of God, in establishing the truth of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, have each of them indicated the appearance of these abominable and ruin-working men [i.e., heretics in general, but referring here specifically to the gnostic heresy] and have openly announced their lawless deeds. First of all, Peter, the rock of the faith, whom Christ our God called blessed, the teacher of the Church, the first disciple, he who has the keys of the kingdom, has instructed us to this effect: "Know this first, children, that there shall come in the last days scoffers walking after their own lusts. And there shall be false teachers among you, who secretly shall bring in destructive heresies" [2 Pet. 3:3; 1:1]. After him, John the theologian and the beloved of Christ, in harmony with him, cries, "The children of the devil are apparent, and even now are there many antichrists, but go not after them. Believe not every spirit because many false prophets have gone out into the world" [1 Jn. 3:10; 2:18; 4:1]. And then Jude, the brother of James, speaks similarly: "In the last times there shall be mockers, walking after their own ungodly lusts ..." [Jude 18]. You have observed the concord of the theologians and apostles and the harmony of their doctrine. ("A discourse by the most blessed Hippolytus, bishop and martyr, on the end of the world, and on Antichrist, and on the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ," ch. 11)

Origen,  AD 220-254

And perhaps what Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" [Matt. 16:16], if we say it like Peter--not by flesh and blood revealing it to us, but by the light from the Father in heaven shining in our heart--we too become as Peter, being pronounced blessed as he was. For the reason he was pronounced blessed apply also to us, by reason of the fact that flesh and blood have not revealed to us with regard to Jesus--that he is the Christ, the Son of the living God--but the Father in heaven ... that our citizenship may be in heaven. (Commentary on Matthew, Bk. 12, ch. 10)

If we too have said like Peter, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God," not as if flesh and blood had revealed it to us, but by light from the Father in heaven having shone in our heart, we become a Peter, and to us there might be said by the Word, "You are Peter ... " [Matt. 16:18] For a Peter is every disciple of Christ of whom those drank who drank of the spiritual rock which followed them [1 Cor. 10:4]. Upon every such rock is built every word of the Church, and the society in accordance with it, for in each of the perfect--who have the combination of words, deeds, and thoughts which fill up the blessedness, is the Church build by God. But if you suppose that upon that one Peter only the whole Church is built by God, what would you say about John, the Son of Thunder, or each one of the apostles? Shall we dare to say that against Peter in particular the gates of Hades shall not prevail, but that they shall prevail against the other apostles and the perfect? Does not the saying previously made, "The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it," [Matt. 16:18] hold in regard to all and in the case of each of them? And also the saying, "Upon this rock I will build my Church"? [Matt. 16:18]. Are the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven given by the Lord to Peter only, and will no other of the blessed receive them? But if this promise, "I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven" [Matt. 16:19], be common to the others, how shall all the things previously spoken of and the things which are subjoined as having been addressed to Peter not be common to them? For in this place these words seem to be addressed as to Peter only ... but in the Gospel of John, after the Savior had given the Holy Spirit to the disciples by breathing on them, he said, "Receive the Holy Spirit," etc. (Commentary on Matthew, Bk. 12, chs. 10 & 11)

I include the following quote even though I do not agree with Origen on any of this. Despite this odd take on Matthew 16, it does establish that Origen did not think the keys of the Kingdom belonged to Peter alone, much less to the bishop of Rome, who never comes up in these passages.

If anyone says ["You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God"--Matt. 16:16] to him, not by flesh and blood revealing it to him, but through the Father in heaven, he will obtain the things that were spoken according to the letter of the Gospel to that Peter but, as the Spirit of the Gospel teaches, to everyone who becomes such as Peter was. For all bear the surname of "Rock" who are the imitators of Christ, that is, of the spiritual rock which followed those who are being saved so that they may drink from it the spiritual draught [1 Cor. 10:4]. ... But the members of Christ, deriving their surname from him, they are called Christians, and from the Rock, Peters. Taking occasion from these things you will say that the righteous bear the surname of Christ who is righteousness, and the wise [bear the surname] of Christ who is Wisdom [1 Cor. 1:30]. And so in regard to all his other names, you will apply them by way of surname to the saint and to all such sayings of the Savior ... (Commentary on Matthew, Bk. 12, ch. 11)

Now I conceive heaven to have been shut against the ungodly and those who bear the image of the earthly and to have been opened to the righteous and those adorned with the image of the heavenly. For to the former, being below and still dwelling in the flesh, the better things are closed, since they cannot understand them and have neither power nor will to see their beauty, looking down as they do and not striving to look up. But to the excellent, or those who have their commonwealth in heaven [Php. 3:20] he opens, with the key of David, the things in heavenly places and discloses them to their view. He makes all clear to them by riding on his horse. These words also have their meaning; the horse is white because it is the nature of higher knowledge to be clear and white and full of light. On the white horse sits the One who is called Faithful, seated more firmly, and so to speak more royally, on words which cannot be set aside, words which run sharply and more swiftly than any horse. (Commentary on John, Bk. 2, ch. 4)

Cyprian, AD 249-258

The modern Catholic Church loves to quote Cyprian in defense of the primacy of the pope, They neglect, however, to note these two very important points:

  • Cyprian provides a lot of quotes on Peter. It is important to note that Cyprian considered all bishops to be the heirs of Peter in unity. This can be seen in the first quote from Cyprian below. Historian Louis Berkhof writes, "Cyprian ... regarded the bishops, chosen by the Lord himself, as the real successors of the apostles" (The History of Christian Doctrines. 1937. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. p. 288.) You can decide from the quotes below whether you agree with him, though I think the first quote below speak quite clearly to the issue.
  • It is even more important to note that Cyprian led the Council of Carthage, in which 87 north African bishops specifically rejected Stephen's (bishop of Rome at the time) claim to have authority over them (Christian Classics Ethereal Library. n.d. "The Seventh Council of Carthage Under Cyprian." Retrieved February 23, 2017 from

I urge you to consider these two points as you read the following quotes.

Our Lord, whose precepts and admonitions we ought to observe, describing the honor of a bishop and the order of his Church, speaks in the Gospel and says to Peter, "I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give to you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" [Matt. 16:18-19]. From there, through the changes of times and successions, the ordering of bishops and the plan of the Church flow onwards, so that the Church is founded upon the bishops, and every act of the Church is controlled by these same rulers. Since this, then, is founded on the divine law, I marvel that some, with daring temerity, have chosen to write to me as if they wrote in the name of the Church, when the Church is established in the bishop, the clergy, and all who stand fast in the faith. ("Cyprian to the Lapsed." Epistle XXVI in The Ante-Nicene Fathers vol. V.)

While earlier writers like Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Hippolytus wrote against the gnostics, Cyprian wrote against the Novatians. Novatian split the church in Rome for the second time in 30 years, making himself bishop in opposition to Cornelius and Stephen during the 250's. Oddly enough, (Pope?) Stephen wanted to accept the baptism of Novatian's sect. He would receive those who returned to the duly elected bishop (Cornelius) and his successor (Stephen himself). When they returned, the church would lay hands on the repentant Novatian but would not rebaptize him. Cyprian was strenuously opposed to this, and he fought Stephen tooth and nail, arguing that the Novatians could not possibly have a valid baptism. He demanded they be rebaptized. Much of his writing is against the Novatian sect, which spread and continued through the fourth century before slowly disappearing. Eventually the churches would side with Stephen.

The Lord cries aloud, that whosoever thirsts should come and drink of the rivers of living water that flowed out of his bosom [Jn. 6:37-38]. To where is he to come who thirsts? Shall he come to the heretics, where there is no fountain and river of living water at all or to the Church which is one and is founded upon one [Peter]who has received the keys of it by the Lord's voice? It is she who holds who holds and possesses alone all the power of her spouse [Jesus] and Lord. In her we [all the bishops] preside; for her honor and unity we fight; her grace, as well as her glory, we defend with faithful devotedness. ("To Jubaianus, Concerning the Rebaptism of Heretics." Epistle LXXII, par. 11, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers vol. V.)

There is easy proof for faith in a short summary of the truth. The Lord speaks to Peter, saying, "I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give to you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven [Matt. 16:18-19]. And again, to the same one, he says after his resurrection, "Feed my sheep" [Jn. 21:15]. And although after his resurrection, he gives to all the apostles an equal power and says, "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you; receive the Holy Spirit. Whoever's sins you remit, they shall be remitted to him, and whoever's sins you retain, they shall be retained" [Jn. 22:21], yet, so that he might set forth unity, he arranged by his authority the origin of that unity, as beginning from one. Assuredly the rest of the apostles were also the same as Peter, endowed with a like partnership both of honor and power, but the beginning proceeds from unity. ("On the Unity of the Church" 4)

And this unity we ought firmly to hold and assert, especially those of us that are bishops who preside in the Church, that we may also prove the episcopate itself to be one and undivided. Let no one deceive the brotherhood by a falsehood; let no one corrupt the truth of the faith by deceitful falsehoods. The episcopate is one, each part of which is held by each one for the whole. ("On the Unity of the Church" 5)

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