Questions about Difficult Bible Verses: Romans 1:5—Does this verse support the Roman Catholic view that the true church of Christ is a visible church on earth today, viz. the Roman Catholic church?

 

Misinterpretation: Catholic dogma teaches that “the biblical proof of the visibility of the Church springs from the Divine institution of the hierarchy.” And “the teaching office [of the Roman Catholic church] demands from its incumbents the duty of obedience to the faith (Rom. 1, 5)” (Ott, 1960, 301–2). Is this text a proof that the true church is a visible church on earth today—namely, the Roman Catholic church? Some other sects use the same or similar reasoning

Correcting the Misinterpretation: The claim that the Roman Catholic church demands obedience as the true visible church is not supported by this text. The text states, “through him [Christ] we have received the grace of apostleship, to bring about obedience of faith.” Paul is speaking here about his apostleship (v. 1), not Peter’s, or Peter’s alleged successors, the Roman Catholic popes.

Further, to be an apostle in this authoritative sense, one had to be an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ (Acts 1:22; 1 Cor. 9:1; 15:5–8), which clearly disqualifies anyone after the first century. This would negate the claim that the “teaching office” of the Roman Catholic church is somehow implied here. The Church’s argument would have more force if they related their authority to Paul, rather than Peter. The added requirement of being a witness of Jesus’ earthly ministry (Acts 1:22) was pertinent only in regard to being one of the twelve apostles who have a special place in the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20), their very names being written on the foundation of the eternal city (Rev. 21:14) and their reigning with Christ on twelve thrones when he returns (Matt. 19:28). Paul was not one of the twelve and, hence, need not fulfil this requirement. However, he was an apostle (Gal. 1:1) who received direct revelation from God (Gal. 1:12). His apostolic authority compared with that of the twelve apostles (Gal. 1:17; 2:5–9) and he displayed the miraculous “signs of an apostle” (2 Cor. 12:12). But neither was Paul’s apostleship
transferable. Paul explicitly listed the appearance of the resurrected Christ to him as a prerequisite for being an apostle. He wrote, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” (1 Cor. 9:1). Likewise, he listed Jesus’ resurrection appearance to him along with that of the other apostles, saying, “After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also” (1 Cor. 15:7–8).

There were no more appearances of Christ to anyone after Paul to confirm apostleship in this special sense. None are listed on the official list of 1 Corinthians 15, and Paul describes himself as “last of all” among those personally visited and commissioned. The miraculous signs which confirmed an apostle are referred to as past events by a.d. 69 when the Book of Hebrews was written (Heb. 2:3–4). The Book of Jude, which was written after Paul’s death, refers to the apostles as having lived in the past (Jude 17). Jude said the faith he preached had been “once for all” handed down to us by them (v. 3).

The “signs of an apostle” (2 Cor. 12:12) included the ability to heal all diseases (Matt. 10:1), even incurable ones, immediately (cf. Acts 3:7), the power of exorcising demons immediately on command (Matt. 10:8; cf. Acts 16:18), authority to condemn with death those who lie to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1–11), and even the ability to perform resurrections from the dead (Matt. 10:8; cf. Acts 20:7–11). This excludes anyone alive today, including the Pope. No one possesses the power to perform these kinds of apostolic signs. But without these kinds of apostolic signs (cf. Heb. 2:3–4), there is no proof of apostolic authority. The authority of the New Testament apostles existed after their miracles had ceased, but only because these apostolic signs already had confirmed their apostolic authority, expressed in the abiding apostolic writings. But once these apostles so confirmed had died, there was no living apostolic authority. The only apostolic authority present today is the New Testament. Only New Testament writings were confirmed by apostolic signs, so only the New Testament contains this apostolic authority.[1]


[1] Geisler, N. L., & Rhodes, R. (1997). When cultists ask: a popular handbook on cultic misinterpretations (pp. 206–207). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

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