This is the best readable and understandable essay on this subject that I have read. As you will see I have other posts on this subject from different perspectives but they all have a common core of what the scriptures say about this subject. It states succinctly the biblical scriptures that apply and what they really mean and how the Catholic Church has decided to interpret them without any historical evidence to back up there claims that Peter was the First Pope. By RaymondTheBrave
Peter did not describe himself as being a high and mighty Pope, with authority over the entire Church. Rather, he called himself “a servant.” (2 Peter 1:1) According to Strong’s Concordance, the word means, “a slave.” Peter also referred to himself as a fellow “elder.” (1 Peter 5:1)
Rather than claiming special authority for himself, Peter said that all believers are a “royal priesthood.” He said,
“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9, emphasis added)
In the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John confirmed Peter’s statement that all true believers are priests. (Revelation 1:5-6; 5:9-10; 20:6) (Catholic Bibles refer to the Book of Revelation as “The Apocalypse.”)
Peter (supposedly the first Pope) prohibited the attitudes and practices that have been prevalent in the papacy. He said that leaders must not act like lords (people with rank, power, and special privileges) and they must not seek wealth (“filthy lucre”). Peter described himself as being an elder, like the other elders. He said,
“The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:1-3, emphasis added)
How does Peter, as portrayed in the Bible, compare with the Pope? Peter was a humble fisherman. The Pope is a monarch who sits on a throne. When he celebrates a Pontifical Mass, the Pope enters the sanctuary seated in a portable throne that is carried on the shoulders of uniformed men. As head of the Catholic Church, the Pope controls immense wealth, with widespread investments around the world. The wealth of the Vatican is amazing.
Catholic theologians claim that Jesus built the Roman Catholic Church on the Apostle Peter. They base this on Matthew 16:18, where Jesus told Peter: “And I say unto thee, That thou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Does the rock on which the church is built represent Peter? Or does it represent Jesus Christ? Peter himself called Jesus the rock. He said,
“If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. To whom coming, as unto aliving stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious.” (1 Peter 2:3-4, emphasis added)
The Apostle Paul also called Jesus the Rock. He said,
“Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” (1 Corinthians10:1-4, emphasis added)
William Webster compiled quotations from the writings of fifty Church fathers and theologians (from the third century to the eighth century) about the Rock of Matthew 16:18. They all said that the Rock was Jesus Christ—not Peter. They also said that the Church was built upon Peter’s confession of faith—“Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16). Not on Peter.1
In Matthew 16:19, Jesus told Peter, “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Was this giving special power and authority to Peter? Not at all, because two chapters later, Jesus gave the same authority to all of the apostles. He told all of them,
“Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18)
He also gave all of the apostles the authority to remit sins. As we will see later, this remission of sins comes by “proclaiming forgiveness to those who believe in Christ.”
“Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. (John 20:23)
Dr. Joe Mizzi was a Roman Catholic before he converted and became an Evangelical Christian. He summarizes the situation as follows,
“While it is true that Christ did confer authority on Peter, it is also true that this authority was not unique to Peter, nor was it supreme over the other apostles and the entire church. The power of the keys was granted to the whole church to be exercised in the forgiveness of sins. The apostle Peter was the first to open the way of salvation by the preaching of the gospel, first to the Jews at Pentecost and later on to the Gentiles at Cornelius’ house. The church continues to exercise that authority through the gospel, proclaiming forgiveness to those who believe in Christ, and withholding forgiveness to unbelievers. The church is also duty bound to discipline obstinate sinful members; she also enjoys the happy privilege to restore penitents to full fellowship. Such was the interpretation of the power of the keys by the Church Fathers.” 2 (Emphasis added.)
According to Catholic doctrine, Peter was a Pope, which means that he had “supreme, full, immediate and universal” power and authority over the Church.3 But did Peter act like he was in charge of the early Church? And does the Book of Acts show Peter as having outstanding prominence?
The Book of Acts describes a controversy about whether or not gentile converts to Christianity should be required to be circumcised and to follow the Jewish dietary laws. Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem to confer with the apostles about it. (Acts 15:2-4) Peter and other people spoke. (Acts 15:7-13) Following a period of silence, James (not Peter) made the final decision in the matter. He called it a “sentence.” According to Strong’s Concordance, the word means a judicial sentence, a decree, or a judgment. The Bible says,
“And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me… Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.” (Acts 15:13, 19- 20, emphasis added)
This is the last mention of Peter in the Book of Acts, which is the history of the early Church up until a few years before Peter’s death. If Peter was “the first Pope,” and the officially recognized head of the Church, would we not expect that the Biblical history of the early Church would have said more about him?
The Book of Acts says nothing about Peter being in authority over the whole Church. In addition, it shows no connection between Peter and Rome.
Acts 28:14-15 tells how Paul met with the “brethren” in Rome, but it makes no mention of Peter. As we shall see, when Paul met with Peter in Jerusalem, Peter was identified by name.
Acts 2:14 and Acts 8:14 say that Peter was in Jerusalem. Acts 9:36-43 says that Peter went to Joppa, which is near Jerusalem. In chapter 10 of the Book of Acts, Peter is still in Joppa. Acts 11:2 says that Peter returned to Jerusalem.
Joppa is about 30 miles from Jerusalem. If the Book of Acts records this much detail about Peter’s visit to a nearby town, wouldn’t it tell us if Peter went all the way to Rome? Particularly since it does tell us that Paul went to Rome.
Acts 15:1-20 tells how Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem to meet with the “apostles and elders” of Jerusalem. Peter is identified as being one of the apostles of Jerusalem. The Bible says,
“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 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.
And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter. And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.” (Acts 15:1-7, emphasis added)
In the Book of Galatians, the Apostle Paul identified Peter as being an apostle in Jerusalem. He said,
“Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.” (Galatians 1:18-19, emphasis added)
The Book of Romans was written by the Apostle Paul. He addressed it to “all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints…” (Romans 1:7, emphasis added) In Romans16:1-15, Paul greeted 26 people by name. He never mentioned Peter. If Peter was the leader of the Church in Rome, then why didn’t Paul mention him?
Paul wrote five letters from a Roman prison (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 2 Timothy, and Philemon). He never mentioned Peter. The man who stayed with Paul in Rome, to help him and encourage him, was Luke—not Peter. (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11)
Paul only mentioned Peter in one of his epistles. In Galatians 1:18-19, Paul said that he went to Jerusalem to see Peter and James. In Galatians 2:8, Paul said that he preached to the gentiles and Peter preached to the Jews (the “circumcision”).
If Peter preached to the Jews, then he belonged in Jerusalem, where the Jews were—not in Rome, where the gentiles were.
In Galatians 2:11-15, Paul recounted how he publicly rebuked Peter, because Peter had become so intimidated by the Judaizers that he “walked not uprightly.” Evidently, Paul’s public correction of Peter did not cause a problem between them. Peter loved and respected Paul as a brother. He exhorted the Church to heed Paul’s wisdom. Peter said:
“And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things…” (2 Peter 3:15-16a, emphasis added)
In the next chapter, you will read about some popes. Please compare their behavior, attitude, and demeanor with that of Peter. If you were Peter, would you want to say that these men represent you?
Legends and Traditions
When I was in school, I was taught that, as a boy, George Washington chopped down a cherry tree and confessed his transgression to his father saying, “I cannot tell a lie.”
Parson Weems’ biography of George Washington is the source of that story. According to modern historians, the cherry tree event never happened. I was quite surprised to hear that because I had never questioned the story.
Articles on the Internet say that Parson Weems created the cherry tree legend some time between 1800 and 1809. But perhaps Parson Weems wasn’t deliberately deceiving people. Perhaps he was simply passing on a story that he believed to be true. Either way, modern biographers of George Washington say that the cherry tree episode never really happened.4
If we hear a story repeated often enough, then we tend to believe it. The idea of questioning it becomes almost unthinkable because the story is so familiar and so widely accepted.
I believe that something similar has happened with the Catholic Church’s stories about Peter. These traditions have been repeated so often that many people never question them.
1. William Webster, “The Patristic Exegesis of the Rock of Matthew 16:18.” (A compilation of quotations from Church fathers and theologians, spanning the third to the eighth centuries.) (This has a lot of information. My print-out is 43 pages long.) (Accessed 10/7/08) www.christiantruth.com/fathersmt16.html
2. Joe Mizzi, “The Power of the Keys.” (Accessed 10/7/08) http://www.justforcatholics.org/a46.htm
3. Code of Canon Law, Canon 331, op. cit.
4. “The Moral Washington: Construction of a Legend (1800-1920s).” (Accessed 10/7/08) http://xroads.virginia.edu/~cap/gw/gwmoral.html
“Parson Weems,” Wikipedia. (Accessed 10/7/08) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parson_Weems