The Papacy

Joseph and his Brothers

Many Protestant polemicists insist that the papacy is an invention of the medieval Roman Church. Not only is this claim ridiculous, as the early Church witness has repeatedly confirmed, but it has been shown to be demonstrably false from the New Testament itself. Indeed, Catholics have a firm foundation for the belief in the papacy from New Testament times, and we can claim a very long lineage from the Old Testament as well. Indeed, as early as Genesis itself, there is a foreshadow of the Petrine office.

In Genesis, we learn of Jacob (Israel) and his twelve sons who would later be known as the ancestors of the 12 tribes of Israel. The Church in the New Testament, of course, is the "new Israel" (Cf. Romans 11:26, Gal. 6:16). In the New Testament, we find a veiled parallel to Jacob and his twelve sons in Christ and his twelve Apostles. Instead of a biological lineage, however, we find a lineage of based on God's election. The first similarity between Joseph and Peter, therefore, is that they both belonged to a patriarchal community of twelve men with a "father/teacher" figure.

In the Old Testament, not only was Joseph loved more than the other brothers (Cf. Genesis 37:3), he assumed the position of prime minister in Pharoah's kingdom (Cf. Genesis 41). This represents a very rough parallel to Peter assuming the role of prime minister within the New Testament Church, as it was to Peter alone that the keys to the Kingdom of heaven were conferred (Cf. Isaiah 22:15-25, Matt 16:19). While it is true that Pharoah's kingdom in Egypt can hardly be compared to the Church, Israel and his sons moved there from the land of Canaan (Cf. Genesis 46). This means that Joseph's prime ministerial role extended beyond Egypt to include Israel as well. The second similarity between the Joseph and Peter, therefore, is that both of them played a prime ministerial role within their respective communities.

In Genesis's description of the twelve sons of Jacob, Jacob's description of Joseph is indeed noteworthy:

Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall: The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him: But his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob; (from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel) Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb: The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren. (Genesis 49:22-26)

Now, compare the above passage to the Petrine passage in Matthew:

Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:17-19)

Both passages are set within the midst of a conflict in which both Joseph and Peter are assured of eventual victory by God over the forces of evil. In both passages, there are a number of similarities. First, divine assistance and blessings are conferred on both Peter and Joseph primarily and exclusively without explicit regard for the other brothers. Second, Joseph is described as receiving a "crown" on his head and being "separate" from his brethren. This is the same picture that is painted of Peter in the New Testament (Cf. John 21:15-18, Luke 22:31). It is Peter alone who receives the keys to the kingdom and therefore assumes a "princely role" within the Church. This makes him "separate from his brethren" as well. Third, in the New Testament, Peter is shown to be the chief shepherd (Cf. John 21:15-18) and rock (Cf. John 1:42, Matt 16:18). In the Genesis account above, Joseph is also mentioned as being associated with God, the ultimate shepherd and rock. Since it is God who is supporting Joseph and making his hands "strong", the underlying message is that Joseph assumes the properties of his source. In other words, Joseph is a type of stone or rock. As Peter is supported by God who is the ultimate "rock and shepherd", Joseph is as well.

John Pacheco
The Catholic Legate
December 12, 2006