Was Peter the First Pope?

The Catholic belief that apostle Peter was the first pope from which a “dynastic succession” of popes have descended is challengeable on many levels. Here, I will be presenting proofs that Peter was not a pope and the absence of such an office in the New Testament.

I. Peter was a family man. He wasn’t a celibate, unmarried pope. “And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house, he saw his wife’s mother laid, and sick of fever” (Matt. 8:14).

The statement of Paul the apostle later indicates that the apostles – including Peter (Cephas in Aramaic) were married. “Don’t we have the right to take our wives along with us like the other apostles, the Lord’s brothers, and Cephas do?” (1Cor. 9:5).

II. Peter didn’t allow men to bow to him or kiss his feet. When he came to his house, “Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him. But Peter took him up saying, stand up; I myself am a man” (Acts 10:25-6).

Compare this with what the pope is:

“The whole life of such a man [the pope], from the moment when he is placed on the altar to receive the first homage by the kissing of his feet, will be an unbroken chain of adulations” (J. H. Ignaz von Dollinger, The Pope and the Council, London 1869, p. 337).

III. Peter didn’t place traditions on the same level with the Word of God. On the contrary, he had little faith in “traditions from your fathers” (1Pet. 1:18).

In his sermon at Pentecost, he upheld the authority of Scripture – not a recital men’s traditions – and without a single mention of “an infallible church” in Rome (Acts 2:14-39).

IV. It takes a very ridiculous interpolation to take Jesus’ statements to Peter “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18) and use it to support the papal office or papal succession.

God Himself is the “Rock” of our salvation all through the Old Testament (Deut. 32:3, 4, Ps. 62:1, 2). In fact, the Bible declares that God is the only Rock: “For who is God besides the Lord ? And who is the Rock except our God?”
(Ps. 18:31).

The New Testament says that Jesus Christ is the Rock upon which the church is built, and being God and one with the Father, He is the only Rock.

The rock upon which the “wise man built his house” was not Peter but Christ and His teachings (Matt. 7:24-29). Paul also called Christ “the chief cornerstone” of the church (Eph. 2:20). Therefore, “this rock” in that Matthew passage refers to Christ. In fact, it is Christ’s church – not “St. Peter’s church.”

V. Matthew 16:19 where Christ gave Peter “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” that whatsoever is bound/loosed on earth is bound/loosed in heaven is also frequently quoted as “proof” of a Petrine office.

But this very promise of binding was extended to all of the disciples two chapters later – not to Peter alone (Mt. 18:18). Though he was given the special privilege of presenting the gospel first to the Jews and the Gentiles (Acts 2:14; 10:34-48), Peter had no special authority.

VI. Modern Rome apologists have linked the statement about “the key of the house of David” in Isaiah 22:20-22 to the words of Jesus in Revelation 3:7 with Peter in Matthew 16:19. This is a desperate attempt to force the papal office into the Bible.

I want to first point your attention to the fact that, in that Revelation 3:7 – long after Peter’s death – Jesus still holds the key of David! The reason is this: there is a difference between the “key of David” (singular) in Isaiah 22 and Revelation 3 and the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” (plural) in Matthew 16.

The former refers to the Messianic lineage of Christ while the latter is associated with the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Since Jesus cites this Isaiah 22 as applying to Himself and didn’t say He gives this key to anyone else, we must reject the attempt by Catholic apologists to read their falsehood into Scripture.

Peter Cullman has aptly pointed out that:

“He who proceeds without prejudice, on the basis of exegesis and only on this basis cannot seriously conclude that Jesus here [Matt 16:18-19] had in mind the succession of Peter … On exegetical grounds we must say that the passage does not contain a single word concerning the succession of Peter” (Peter, Disciple, Apostle and Martyr, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1953, p. 207)

VII. Roman Catholic leaders also claim that Christ’s word to Peter in John 21:15-17 “Feed my lambs…my sheep” gave Peter the unique authority to function as a Pope.

On the contrary, Peter himself applied this command to all elders: “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof…” (1 Pet. 5:2).

Paul also applied the same to the Ephesian elders:

“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God” (Acts 20:28).

Paul didn’t say, “As Peter is the Chief Shepherd you act as under-shepherds of God’s flock.” The passage in no way sets Peter apart as the ‘prince of the Apostles’.

VIII. Nothing in the words of the Lord Jesus hint at the idea of Peter being “the Vicar of Christ” or the Pope.

When James and John came to Jesus requesting to sit at His right and left in His kingdom, He didn’t grant their request (Mark 10:35-39).

If one of those seats had already been given to Peter as pope, He would have told them one already belonged to Peter, in fact, they wouldn’t have asked Him at all because they would have known.

In Luke 22:24:30, the apostles got into an argument on who was the greatest among them. Now, if the disciples understood the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:18 to establish Peter as the foundation of the Church, the pope, then there would have been no need to argue on the matter.

The Lord would have simply rebuked the remaining disciples and inform them that He had already chosen Peter as the first pope, the head of the church, but we didn’t hear this, rather He said such authoritarianism of the Gentiles must not be known among Believers.

He speaks instead of conferring a kingdom upon all of them – not Peter alone – so that they can “sit on thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel.”

IX. Peter never addressed himself as the pope or the “Bishop of bishops.” In his epistles, he exhorted equals, not command subordinates: “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder” (1Peter 5:1).

He didn’t attach exalted ecclesiastical position or power to himself, but rather introduces himself as “a witness of the sufferings of Christ” along with other apostles who were “eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2Peter 1:16).

X. When the apostles gathered in Jerusalem around 45-50 A.D. as described in Acts 15:4-29, the meeting was actually convened on Paul’s initiative, not Peter’s.

Peter’s statement during the meeting was not even doctrinal, it was simply a summation of his experience in preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles. But it was James who drew on the Scriptures and argued from a doctrinal point of view. He said:

“It is my judgement, therefore that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles…” (vs. 19).

He made the final declaration. If Peter was the pope, he would have taken precedence in that meeting and issue a decree ex-cathedra.

XI. The idea of Peter being a Bishop of bishops in Rome is historically false. Paul was the one called “the apostle of the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:13) and Rome was then a Gentile city. Peter on the other hand had his ministry primarily to the Jews (Gal. 2:7-9).

Although church tradition says Peter was crucified in Rome, he is never credited with establishing a church there.

Paul mentions over 27 people by name in his letter to the Romans (chapter 16) and did not the name of Peter. This would have been strange if Peter was the Pope of Rome. That would be like a missionary greeting 27 church members by name and omitting the head bishop or pastor!

The theory of Peter being the first pope developed gradually as the popes took over from the Roman emperors.

The New Catholic Encyclopedia (1:696) declares “…the scarcity of documents leaves much that is obscure about the early development of the episcopate.”

Jesuit scholar and former professor of theology at Notre Dame, John Mckenzie stated that: “Historical evidence does not exist for the entire chain of succession of church authority” (The Roman Catholic Church, New York, 1969, p. 4).

XII. Peter was not a pope for he wore no crown. All through the many centuries, the popes wore crowns and claimed to have power over heaven, hell and the mythical purgatory.

But Peter himself explained that when the Chief Shepherd appears, then shall we “receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Pet 5:4).

Since Jesus the Chief Shepherd has not yet appeared again, the crowns worn by many of the popes weren’t bestowed upon them by Christ in the first place.

XIII. Jesus Christ is the Head of the invisible church which consists of all believers. “He is the head of the body the church” and He must “have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18). The fruit of the popes all through history opposes those of Christ. As a Catholic author agrees:

“Only seven hundred years after Peter died, the popes had become obsessed with power and possessions. Peter’s [alleged] successors [became] not the servants but the masters of the world. They…dress in purple like Nero and call themselves Pontifex Maximus.” (Peter de Rosa, Vicars of Christ: The Dark Side of the Papacy, Crown Publishers, 1988, 35).

When one reads the New Testament as a whole, in its own context, language and historical setting (something which is quite impossible for a faithful Catholic), one cannot come up with an idea of a papacy conferred upon Peter by Jesus Christ.

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