Was Peter Really The First Pope?

Was Peter Really The First Pope?


Before we answer this historical question, students of the Bible and church history, should be encouraged to ask, why would certain “ecclesiastical parties” want everyone to give an affirmative yes to this question? Because if this can be substantiated and unequivocally be found in Scripture, then it might give the pope of Rome his dictatorial and tyrannical authority, which he has enjoyed for many centuries, even though it is very difficult to find early Christians even discussing the “primacy of Peter,” let alone an alleged unbroken Apostolic chain to the incumbent pope of the day.  

Yet amazingly, Gregory the Great (590-604 AD) rejected outright the title of “pope,” but his successor, Boniface II, cherished it (Catholic Encyclopaedia, Vol. II, pg. 660.)

Pope Damasus (366-384 AD) was the first to call himself pope (Catholic Encyclopaedia, Vol. IV, pg. 614.)

The same encyclopaedia makes the non-biblical claim that the pope is “lord of heaven, earth and hell” (Vol. VI, pg. 48.)

Rome also adheres to a strange eastern religious view, which seems to border on the lines of reincarnation, for it states that Peter’s spirit somehow speaks through living popes, and it was Leo I (449AD) who first introduced this view into the Catholic church (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. III, pg. 744.)

Holy Scripture

If there’s one verse a Catholic can cite off the top of their head, it will always be Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 16, and here it is from the Catholic Douay-Rheims Bible:

“And I say to thee: That thou art Peter [petros]; and upon this rock [petra] I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

(Rome believes that there are Aramaic and Hebrew manuscripts for the New Testament. However, if this is true, then they are as elusive as Iraq’s weapon of mass destruction, for no scholar, religious or secular, has ever found one fragment. Some may also be interested to learn that the meaning of the Aramaic word for Peter (Cephas) is sand. Not the best foundation to build upon. Matthew 7:26, 27.)

Now on the surface it all appears rather simple. The Lord makes Peter the church on which He will build on. But when one reads the whole Bible, problems soon occur. First, the Greek word for Peter is petros, meaning a small stone. Second the Greek word for rock is petra, meaning a large stone.

Please also note that in John 1:42, Jesus calls Peter “a” stone. Not “the” stone. The term “the” stone is given to Jesus alone by Peter himself in Acts 4:11. And not only does Peter twice in the NT call Jesus “the” stone or “rock,” but Martha practically echoes the same words of Peter from Matthew 16, in John 11:27: “Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.” So both Peter and Martha affirm that Jesus is the Rock.

So it would appear that a careful play on words has just taken place. Jesus is not making Peter the church/rock, but rather He is the Rock Himself, with Peter being a small stone – one of many. We also learn that Jesus has to be the Rock, when we read Matthew 7:24;1 Pet. 2:4-9.

The Apostle John, who outlived all the apostles, never mentions “pope” Peter’s death, burial or even “succession.”

Church “fathers” such as Irenaeus, Polycarp, Origen, Cyprian, Jerome, Hilary and Ambrose, never acknowledged or taught that Peter was the first Pope (A Handbook On The Papacy, Bishop William Kerr, pgs. 48, 49.)

James and John were given special places of position with Jesus in the future Kingdom, yet Peter wasn’t consulted once nor did Jesus refer them to him. We also read in John’s Gospel, how certain Greeks went to Philip to have him introduce them to Jesus. Philip then went to Andrew (not Peter) to speak with Jesus. And at the end of this Gospel, Peter is rebuked by Jesus again, but this time for asking what John’s future fate would be. If anybody is to be considered as “Papal” material, it would not be Peter (a man who tried to kill Malchus; deny Jesus three times and preach a false gospel in Gal. 2, but Paul the Apostle. Yet even he was more modest and humble then most modern day preachers are, whether Protestant or Catholic.

Quotes From The “Fathers” And Others

Origen: “But if you think that the whole Church was built by God upon Peter alone, what would you say about John, the son of thunder, or each of the apostles? Or shall we venture to say that the gates of hell shall not prevail against Peter but shall prevail against the other apostles and those that are perfect? Are not the words in question ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’ and ‘upon this rock I will build my Church’ said in the case of all and each of them?” (Com. in Matthew, xvi, 18 Migne, pg. 13:1000.)

Cyprian: “Certainly the rest of the apostles were what Peter was, endued with an equal fellowship of dignity and power” (De Unitate, 4).

Jerome: “But you say that the Church is founded upon Peter although the same thing is done in another place upon all the apostles, and all receive the kingdom of heaven, and the solidity of the Church is established equally upon all, nevertheless among the twelve one is therefore chosen that by the appointment of a head an occasion of dissension may be taken away” (Adv. Jovianum, 1:26 Migne P.L. 23:258.)

Chrysostom: “This is, upon the rock of the confession.” Paul was equal in honour to Peter (Hom. Liv. in Matthew xvi. 2.)


Cyril of Alexandria: “Calling, I suppose, nothing else the rock, in allusion to his name, but the immovable and firm faith of the disciple on which the Church of Christ is founded and established” (De SS. Trinitate, dial. iv P.G. 75:856.)


St. Hilary: “Upon this rock of the confession is the building up of the Church…..This faith is the foundation of the Church” (De Trinitate vi, 36. P.L. 10:186-7.)


St. Ambrose: “Faith in then the foundation of the Church, for not the human person of St. Peter but of faith is it said that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (De Incarn., v. 34, P.L. 16:827.)


Cyprian: “To all the apostles after His resurrection He gives equal power and says, ‘As the Father sent Me so I send you.” (De Unitate, 4.)


Cyril would also say, much to the horror of today’s Catholic apologists:


[Peter and James]: “Were of equal rank with each other as apostles” (Ad. Nest, pg. 77:112.)


[Peter & Paul were]: “The presidents of the Churches” (Catech. vi, 15, pg. 33:561.)


Chrysostom echoes Cyril and would give Paul the much-deserved credit that today’s Catholic Church often denies him:


[Paul was] ” The teacher of the word, the planter of the Church. If therefore he receives a greater crown than the apostles and be greater then they, it is manifest that he shall enjoy the highest honour and pre-eminence” (Hom. viii, pg. 48:772.)


“Where Paul was, there also was Christ. He is the light of the Church, the foundation of the faith, the pillar and ground of the truth” (Hom i in Rom. xvi, pg. 51:191.)


[Paul was]: “The apostle of the world” (Hom. xxi in Ep. I ad Cor, pg. 61:171.)


[Paul]: “He had the care not of one household but also of cities and of peoples and of nations and of the whole world” (Hom. xxv in Ep. Ii ad Cor, pg. 61: 571.)


[Paul was]: “The chief and leader of the choir of the saints” (Hom. xxxii in Rom. xvi, pg. 60:678.)


Augustine would also add the following:


“When apostle is said, if it be not expressed what apostle, none is understood save Paul” (Contra duas Ep. Pelag., iii, 3. P. L. 44:589.)


Here we have two Jesuits with their views on this. The first was Juan Maldonatus who said the following:


“There are among ancient authors some who interpret ‘on this rock,’ that ‘on this rock’ or ‘on this confession of faith in which thou hast called Me the Son of the living God,’ as Hilary, Gregory Nyseen, Chrysostom, and Cyril of Alexandria. St. Augustine, going still further away from the true sense, interprets ‘on this rock’ that is ‘on myself Christ, because Christ was the rock.'” (Catholic Encyclopaedia, Vol. ix, pg. 567.)


Now we turn to John McKenzie:


“The position of Peter in the apostolic group was one of pre-eminence; this is a commonplace in Catholic theology, and it has within recent years been set forth very clearly by the Protestant scholar, Oscar Cullmann. It is also beyond dispute that to call Peter the “Pope” of the apostolic college is to imply a position of which the New Testament knows nothing. Here again the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles of Paul are our best witnesses; in these Peter appears as a leader, but not endowed with supreme jurisdiction. We cannot define the position of Peter exactly in any of the terms which we use; and the New Testament has left his position undefined in its own language. The thesis of the primacy is weakened if one attempts to find in Peter the jurisdiction which has long been exercised by the Roman Pontiff for some 1700 years. This is a long time, and it takes one back very near to the apostolic Church; but Peter lacks that position in the New Testament which he ought to have if he or anyone else thought of him as Pope” (The Power and the Wisdom: An Interpretation of the New Testament, 1965, pgs. 179, 80.)


With the rather interesting quotes from above, may we now cite one more interesting statement taken from pope Gregory I:


[Paul] “Obtained the principate OF THE WHOLE CHURCH” (In 1 Reg., lib. iv, cv. 28. P. L. 79: 303.)


“Pope Boniface VIII in his Bull Unam Sanctum, cites John xxi. 17 as authorising HIS SUPREMACY NOT ONLY OVER THE CHURCH BUT OVER KINGS” (Kerr, pg. 55.)


To show that the “fathers” were far from united on Peter’s “supremacy” we discover, for example, that Irenaeus taught that Linus was in fact the first bishop of Rome.


Irenaeus’ view was the most popular one and subsequently was ratified by the apostolic constitution in 270AD (Peter De Rosa,Vicar’s Of Christ.)


Yet Chrysostom believed:


[That John] “is the pillar of the churches throughout the world, who hath the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Hom. i in Joan, pg. 59:480.)

[John and Peter received] “the charge of the world” (Hom. i in Joan, pg. 59:25.)


So for an overview of how the “fathers” universally understood this doctrine to be, please see the following breakdown, taken from Kerr:


  • Forty-four for it meaning the faith Peter confessed. 
  • Sixteen for it being Christ Himself. 
  • And eight for it [being] all the apostles. 


Kerr then goes on to quote Catholic Archbishop Kenrick:


“From this it follows either that no argument at all, or a feeble one, can be drawn in proof of the primacy of Peter from the words on this rock will I build my church. If we ought to follow the greater number of the fathers on this question then certainly it is to be held that we should understand by the rock the faith professed by Peter and not Peter professing the faith” (pg. 47,48.)


If only more bishops in Rome were as honest as this, how different their church and the world would be!


The title and fable that Peter was the first pope, with all its lavish sacraments and power, has slowly and gradually been woven into Vatican history over the centuries.


I would also refer the reader to a verse that most Catholic apologists conveniently miss, when trying to propagate their false notion that Peter was in Rome with Paul:


“And so I have made it my aim to preach the gospel, NOT WHERE CHRIST WAS NAMED, lest I should build on ANOTHER MAN’S FOUNDATION” (Rom. 15:20.)


It is quite clear from the above Scripture that Paul would not and did not visit and lay a foundation to a new or existing church, if an apostle or evangelist had already been there.


I would also point the reader to the 1 Peter 5:13, written around 66AD, the year Peter died:


“The church that is at BABYLON, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son.”


(The Catholic Church likes to say that Babylon is the code name for Rome. Yet when Bible believers point out to them Babylon is listed again in Rev. 17 – the whore of Rome – they quickly dismiss this by claiming that this is ancient Rome. However, that won’t do! John the apostle who had travelled far with the Gospel, when shown this beast by the angel in Revelation 17:6, looked at it with “great admiration.” Why would he have admired it, if he had lived under Roman occupation ALL OF HIS LIFE?)


So the reader is presented with three options:


1. Peter died in Jerusalem?


2. He died in Babylon?


3. Or he went to Rome and died there? This of course being the most unlikely and difficult to prove, for Scripture is silent on this.


Please also note that the following “fathers” such as Cyprian, Origen, Cyril, Hilary, Jerome, Ambrose and Augustine, never acknowledged that the keys the Lord gave Peter in Matthew 16:19 would be successive.


The early Church understood this commission to be solely for Peter alone; and subsequently no transfer of power or authority was ever practised in the early church. However, when taking a broader look at Scripture, one should understand that all the disciples, and especially the apostle Paul, were also given the keys/authority to present the Kingdom of God to a lost world. And this commission has been given to all believers, vicariously; for all believers, according to the apostles Peter and John, are royal priests (1 Pet. 2 9; Rev. 1:6.)


It must also be stated that all the church councils from Nicaea (4th century) to Constance (15th century) affirmed that Christ and Christ ALONE was the Foundation and the Rock to which the church rests.


So to recap whom the Rock is: the Foundation/Church is Christ (Acts 4:11,12); He is also the Rock that Paul taught (1 Cor. 3:11; 10:4); and Peter later affirmed this himself (1 Pet. 2:6, 7); David trusted in the ROCK (Ps. 18:2); Christ is the express image of God (Heb. 1:3); There is only one GOD (Deut. 6:4); Jesus affirms this (Mark 12: 29); Christ states unequivocally that He is the Lord God (John 8:58.) Therefore David trusted in one God-Jesus Christ. Peter trusted in one God-Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ’s Church is His body, and only those that are in Him and trusting in Him, will be saved (John 1:12; Eph. 4:30.)


The reader may be interested to know that Peter only wrote two epistles, which contained 8 chapters and 166 verses. (Some Catholic “scholars” even doubt he wrote the second epistle.)  Yet Paul wrote 13 epistles, possibly 14 (that being Hebrews) and his chapters total 87, with 2,023 verses.


If Peter was the first pope, why is it that Paul dominates the New Testament with his writings? Why is it that James, the Lord’s half brother, is mentioned before Peter in superiority in Galatians 2:9? Why did Paul have to rebuke Peter in front of the entire church? Why isn’t Peter the first to see the resurrected Christ? Why is it that he doesn’t close the churches first meeting in Acts 15, but James does?


Also when we read through the book of Acts, we notice the following and very important facts:


“Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost. (8:14,15)


Here the church sent Peter and John. Peter didn’t send himself.


“But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus” (9:27.)


Again the apostles are spoken of as a group, not one person in total command.


“Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also.” (12:1-3)


Interesting to note that James, the brother of John-they were also both given new names by Jesus in Mark 3:17-was chosen BEFORE Peter to be killed. If Peter was “supreme” why not go for him first?


“But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, Go shew these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into another place.” (12:17)


Upon Peter’s escape from prison he calls for James and then the brethren to be made aware of his safety. James was clearly the main leader in Jerusalem.


“And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they [the church] determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.


And being brought on their way by the CHURCH, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren.” (15:1,2)


Here is the first church conference in Scripture and we note how the church sent Paul and Barnabas on their way. They didn’t go up on their own authority. They were sent.

May I leave the reader with these wise words from a former Jesuit George Tyrrell:

“Sooner of later the historical lie of the Papacy must be realised by every educated Roman” (Life, Vol II, pg. 383.)

JGB, April 2004 Updated, September 2010 (All Rights Reserved)