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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Is the Bible the Ultimate Authority?

Don Stewart :: Did Jesus Give Peter the Unique Authority to Speak for Him? (Papal Authority)

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Did Jesus Give Peter the Unique Authority to Speak for Him? (Papal Authority)

Is the Bible the Ultimate Source of Authority – Question 5

One of the crucial issues which divide Protestants and Roman Catholics, with respect to ultimate authority, concerns the question of the office of the Bishop of Rome, or the papacy. It is absolutely essential that we understand the various claims that are made and what is at stake. Consequently, we will look at the claims of Roman Catholicism, and what they must be able to prove from the Bible to establish their case for the existence of the office of the papacy. We will then consider their biblical arguments as well as the Protestant response.

The Claims of Roman Catholicism

The Roman Catholic Church believes that Holy Scripture plus holy tradition are the two sources of divine revelation which God has given to humanity. Furthermore, these two sources can only be properly interpreted by God’s voice on the earth; the Roman church. Therefore, if anyone wishes to know God’s mind on a particular subject he or she needs to look at the Roman Catholic Church for the infallible interpretation of Scripture and tradition.

At the head of the church is the office of the bishop of Rome, or the Pope. The job of interpreting God’s Word accurately has been entrusted solely to the Pope as well as those bishops who are in communion with him. The Roman Church accepts as foundational that Jesus Christ gave special authority to one of His chosen apostles; Simon Peter. This authority has been passed on to others. The present Pope is in a continuous line of successors that goes back to Peter. Today, he is God’s unique spokesmen on the earth. Therefore, if Christians want to hear the voice of God, they must listen to the Pope. He has the authority of Christ and the jurisdiction over all believers. This office will exist until Christ Himself returns. This is the Roman Catholic position.

If the Pope is the pastor of all Christians, then it is important that we know this. Furthermore, the Roman Catholic Church claims that this position is the historic view of the church. In other words, it has been constantly held from the time of Christ. Furthermore, anyone who denies the office and jurisdiction of the pope is placed under a divine curse. This briefly sums up the claims and issues regarding the papacy.

The Bible Must Give the Answer to This Question

To find the solution to this question, we must go to the Bible. Protestants and Roman Catholics both agree that the Bible is God’s authoritative Word to the human race. We have this in common. Consequently, we should look at what it says concerning this issue. We will find that it has much to tell us. Church history, the decisions of church councils, and the decrees of popes do not enter into this discussion. The Bible must give us the answer. Does it teach that Peter was to have the place of honor and jurisdiction over the entire church? Is this a clear doctrine of Scripture as Rome claims? Does Scripture support their claim?

What Roman Catholics Have to Prove from Scripture

Since the Bible is authoritative for both Catholics and Protestants, there are a number of points that Roman Catholics must prove from Scripture for the doctrine of the papacy to be true. First, there must be proof from the Scripture that Jesus Christ intended to establish such an office as the papacy. This is primary. Unless this can be demonstrated, the idea of the papacy is an unbiblical concept and should be rejected.

Furthermore, it is not enough to establish such an office as the papacy exists. Next, it must be proven that Christ intended that this particular office was first given to Peter and to him alone. It must be shown that while he was living, he had jurisdiction over all of the apostles as well as all believers in Jesus. In addition, Peter must have died in the office of the Bishop of Rome. After his death, a successor would have to be appointed to carry on the work of Christ. This successor would have to have had the same authority as Peter.

All of these things must be proven by the Scripture for the doctrine of the papacy to be accepted. Otherwise, it should be rejected. Therefore, we can sum up what they must prove in two simple points: First, Christ invested Peter with unique authority that was not personal to Peter and this authority has been passed on to others until the present time. Both of these points must be established by Scripture.

So, we ask the following questions: Did Peter have a position of superiority over the other apostles? Was he given jurisdiction over others? If so, then was this authority to be passed down to his successors? What does the evidence say?

We will first examine the Roman Catholic case from Scripture for the primacy of Peter among the apostles and then the Protestant response to this idea. The evidence is as follows:

The Case for the Authority of Peter

Roman Catholicism does appeal to the Bible to support the idea that Peter was given unique authority by Christ. Their biblical case usually contains the following arguments:

1. Peter Is Always Mentioned First in Every List of Jesus’ Apostles

Peter is mentioned first in every list of Jesus’ apostles and is marked for special attention in Matthew’s list. Matthew writes:

Now these are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (called Peter)... (Matthew 10:2 NET)

This has led many to believe that Peter had special supremacy as an apostle of the Lord. There must be some reason as to why he is always mentioned first.

2. Peter Is Singled Out from the Rest of the Disciples

There is also the fact that in the relating of the appearances of Jesus after His death, Peter is singled out from the other apostles. In fact, Paul made it clear that Peter was the first apostle to whom Jesus appeared. He wrote:

He appeared to Cephas. Next he appeared to the twelve apostles... (1 Corinthians 15:5 God’s Word)

On the day of Jesus’ resurrection, His disciples said the following to the two people who had unknowingly walked with Jesus on the Road to Emmaus:

They were saying, “The Lord has really come back to life and has appeared to Simon.” (Luke 24:34 God’s Word)

Again, Peter is singled out as the first apostle to whom Jesus appeared. This is a further indication of his importance among the disciples of Jesus.

Indeed, before Jesus was about to die, he singled out Peter again. He told Peter and him alone that He would pray for him and his faith. Jesus said:

“Simon, Simon, pay attention! Satan has demanded to have you all, to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 21:31-32 NET)

In addition, Peter was told to strengthen the other believers. This is another indication that Peter was to be the leader over all the other disciples of Jesus.

3. Jesus Changed Peter’s Name

We also find that Jesus changed the name of Peter. Originally, he was called Cephas. Jesus changed it to Peter; the rock:

Andrew brought Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked at Simon and said, “You are Simon, son of John. Your name will be Cephas” (which means “Peter”). (John 1:42 HCSB)

The change of Peter’s name indicates his special position in the church. He would be the rock upon which the church was to be built.

4. The Church Was Built upon Peter

The clearest statement of Peter’s authority was made by Jesus Himself. Jesus solemnly said that it was upon the rock of Peter that He would build His church. We read of this in Matthew’s gospel. It says:

Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:16-18 ESV)

Peter was the man whom Jesus chose to build His church upon. Nothing could stop this; not even the gates of Hell. Here we are told that Christ chose to build His Church upon Peter, the rock.

Since the Roman Church sees Peter as the foundation upon which the church was built, there can be no true church without a foundation built upon him. The Roman Church concludes that it is the only legitimate church, since it alone can trace its lineage back to Peter.

5. Peter Was to Feed the Sheep

In the Gospel of John, Jesus singled out Peter to be the one person to feed the sheep of Christ. The Bible records the incident as follows:

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17 NIV)

Here we find that Jesus set Peter apart from the other disciples. He was to feed Jesus’ sheep. Peter fulfilled this task by becoming the first bishop of Rome and the leader of the visible church.

6. Peter Was Given the Keys to the Kingdom

There is more. After Jesus told Peter that the church would be built upon him, Peter was then given the keys to the kingdom of heaven by Jesus. We read about this in Matthew’s gospel where Jesus said the following to Peter:

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 16:19 NIV)

The translation, God’s Word, puts it this way:

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you imprison, God will imprison. And whatever you set free, God will set free. (Matthew 16:19 God’s Word)

The “you” in this verse is singular; it must refer to Peter. Thus, Peter is given special authority by Jesus Christ. The Roman Catholic Church sees this as a promise of papal infallibility. Peter, and those who succeed him, would speak authoritatively and infallibly in this special office.

Indeed, we do find Peter exercising special authority on a number of monumental occasions in the history of the church. They are as follows:

7. Peter Commanded That a Replacement Was Needed for Judas (Acts 1)

After Christ ascended into heaven, but before the Holy Spirit came down upon believers in a special way on the Day of Pentecost, Peter stood up and told the other disciples that a replacement was needed for the traitor Judas. Here we find him exercising his authority over the other believers.

8. Peter Preached the First Sermon of the Christian Church (Acts 2)

Peter preached the first sermon of the Christian church on the Day of Pentecost. He is the one who first proclaimed the message of the risen Christ to the world. He had the honor of telling the world, for the first time, that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead.

9. Peter Opened the Door of the Gospel to the Samaritans (Acts 8)

When the Samaritans, half-Jews, half-Gentiles, received the gospel, it was Peter who confirmed that they were one in Christ. He laid hands upon these new believers and they received the Holy Spirit. Again, his authority is demonstrated by the fact of him going to Samaria to assure these Samaritans that they were part of the New Testament church.

10. Peter Was the First to Offer the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10)

Peter was also the first to offer the good news to the non-Jews, or Gentiles. He is the one whom the Lord sent to the Gentile centurion Cornelius to let him know about the offer of forgiveness of sin through Jesus Christ.

Thus, we find that Peter was the only person who was at each of these great events in the early church. Therefore, the evidence is clear that Peter is the one who was granted the unique authority of Christ.

From the clear statements of Jesus, as well as from the testimony of the Book of Acts, we find Peter having been promised unique authority by the Lord, and then exercising this authority by bringing the message of Jesus to the three different groups of human beings; Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles. It is obvious that the Lord marked out Peter with special privileges.

11. First Peter Was Written from Babylon (Which Is Rome)

As far as Peter being in Rome to accept his rightful position as bishop of that city, we find that the first letter of Peter was written from Babylon. It reads as follows:

Your sister church in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings; and so does my son Mark. (1 Peter 5:13 NRSV)

This is understood to be a reference to Rome. In fact, the New Living Translation, which is a Protestant Bible translation, not a Roman Catholic translation, translates Babylon as Rome in this verse. It says:

Your sister church here in Rome sends you greetings, and so does my son Mark. (1 Peter 5:13 NLT)

This is a clear indication that Peter was the leader of the Church in Rome.

12. The Fact That Judas Was Replaced Shows That the Office of Apostle Will Continue

There is also the evidence for the continuation of apostles, or leaders in the church, apart from the Twelve. After Judas’ death, it was necessary to replace him. Peter himself said:

For it is written in the Book of Psalms: Let his dwelling become desolate; let no one live in it; and Let someone else take his position. Therefore, from among the men who have accompanied us during the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us-- beginning from the baptism of John until the day He was taken up from us--from among these, it is necessary that one become a witness with us of His resurrection. So they proposed two: Joseph, called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed, “You, Lord, know the hearts of all; show which of these two You have chosen.” (Acts 1:20-24 HCSB)

The fact that one of the apostles had to be replaced shows that their office would continue. This sets the stage for individuals to be the successors of Peter as Bishop of Rome and the head of the Christian church.

This Is the Roman Position from Scripture

This sums up the biblical case for the Roman Catholic doctrine of the papacy. If the papacy is infallible, in the sense which the Roman Church claims, then any commands issued by the office must be obeyed without question.

Since the Bible is acknowledged by Roman Catholics and Protestants as God’s divinely authoritative Word, the Scripture must be the place where answers to these questions are found. If Peter was commissioned by Christ, then there should be evidence of this commission in God’s Word.

Therefore, the doctrine of the office of the papacy must stand or fall on what the Bible has to say. No other sources, whether it is church tradition, church history, church councils, or the decrees of the popes, have anything authoritative to say on this important question. The Bible alone must give us the answer.

The Necessity of Testing the Claims of Roman Catholicism

Before we give a reply to the claims of the Roman Church with respect to the authority that was given to Peter, we must emphasize that we are responding to their claims. In other words, Romanism has made these claims, and we are answering them from Scripture. Consequently, the Protestant answer should not be seen being some type of attack on Romanism, or as being anti-Roman Catholic. Since they have made these monumental claims, we have a duty to respond to them.

In fact, we would be neglecting our duty if we did not respond to the claims that the Roman Church makes. The Bible gives a number of commands about testing truth claims. Paul wrote:

But test all things. Hold on to what is good... (1 Thessalonians 5:21 HCSB)

John wrote about the necessity of testing the spirits. He said:

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1 HCSB)

Jesus Himself warned about people falsely speaking in His name, or His authority:

Not everyone who calls me their Lord will get into the kingdom of heaven. Only the ones who obey my Father in heaven will get in. On the day of judgment many will call me their Lord. They will say, “We preached in your name, and in your name we forced out demons and worked many miracles.” But I will tell them, “I will have nothing to do with you! Get out of my sight, you evil people!” (Matthew 7:21-23 CEV)

He also told us to be aware of false prophets. Matthew records Jesus saying the following:

Watch out for false prophets! They dress up like sheep, but inside they are wolves who have come to attack you. You can tell what they are by what they do. No one picks grapes or figs from thornbushes. A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit. Every tree that produces bad fruit will be chopped down and burned. You can tell who the false prophets are by their deeds. (Matthew 7:15-20 CEV)

Consequently, with these warnings from the New Testament, it is vital that we test all spiritual claims that are made; especially from those who maintain they possess the supreme authority of Jesus Christ.

Response to the Arguments That Peter Was Given Unique Authority

While the Roman Catholic Church believes and teaches that Peter had unique authority over the other apostles, the biblical evidence does not back this up. In fact, Scripture contradicts all of the main Roman Catholic arguments for the supremacy of Peter. There is no evidence that he ever held the office of the Bishop of Rome or that he was the head of the Christian church. None whatsoever!

The following points should be made with respect to the idea of Peter’s unique authority in the church:

1. Peter’s Preeminence Is Nowhere Stated by Jesus

To begin with, Peter is indeed prominent among the apostles. He was a leader among the twelve. There is no denying this. However, Peter’s preeminence over the other apostles was nowhere stated by Jesus Christ. While Christ gave Peter the authority to open the door of the gospel to the Jews and Gentiles, there is no statement, or inference, by Jesus that Peter had some type of authority over the other apostles. As the first of the apostles to confess Jesus as the Messiah, He was given the privilege of being the first to tell the Jews and the Gentiles of Jesus’ identity and mission. Beyond that, Peter was not granted any special authority by His Lord.

While it is sometimes argued that Jesus gave Peter some type of preeminence by changing his name, there is really nothing to this argument. Jesus also changed the names of other disciples; James and John. Mark writes:

He [Jesus] appointed twelve: To Simon he gave the name Peter; to James and his brother John, the sons of Zebedee, he gave the name Boanerges (that is, “sons of thunder”). (Mark 3:16-17 NET)

Consequently, the giving of a nickname or the changing of the name of one of the disciples is no sign of superiority over the others.

2. Peter Never Claimed to Be Preeminent over the Apostles

Not only did Jesus not give any type of preeminence to Peter, nowhere do we find Peter himself claiming preeminence over the other apostles of Jesus. In the two letters that he wrote that have become part of the New Testament, we find nothing in them remotely resembling a claim to his special authority over other believers.

Peter Claimed to Be Equal to the Apostles, He Was Not over Them

Peter himself declared that his position was no more than an equal to the other apostles. He wrote the following:

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed.. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:1 ESV)

The Holman Christian Standard Bible puts it this way:

Therefore, as a fellow elder and witness to the sufferings of the Messiah, and also a participant in the glory about to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you. (1 Peter 5:1 HCSB)

Here, Peter calls himself a “witness” and “fellow elder.” He was one of many; he was not in a unique class by himself.

In his first letter to believers, Peter called himself a “slave and an apostle:”

Simeon Peter, a slave and an apostle of Jesus Christ: To those who have obtained a faith of equal privilege with ours through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:1 HCSB)

There is nothing here to indicate that he believed himself to have a superior position over the other apostles.

Jesus Is the Head of the Church

To Peter, Jesus was the Chief Shepherd of the church while he was one of the “fellow elders.” Peter himself wrote:

And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:14 HCSB)

If there is one thing which stands out in the New Testament, it is that Jesus is the Head of the Church. The church is portrayed as a flock of sheep with Jesus as the chief shepherd. Jesus Himself said that there is only one shepherd; Him. We read Jesus saying the following:

And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (John 10:16 ESV)

Jesus, not Peter, is the leader of the church. Jesus claimed this for Himself and Peter acknowledged His claim.

3. Peter Refused to Be Treated Differently than Anyone Else

We also find that Peter refused to be treated any differently than other people. When the Gentile centurion Cornelius attempted to worship Peter, it was Peter himself that stopped him. We read of this in the Book of Acts:

So when Peter came in, Cornelius met him, fell at his feet, and worshiped him. But Peter helped him up, saying, “Stand up, I too am only a man.” (Acts 10:25-26 NET)

Peter did not expect any special treatment from humans; he was only a mere man.

4. Peter Never Mentions Anything about the Papacy in His Last Letter

In Peter’s second letter, when he knew he was about to die, he told his readers he wanted to leave them with some important truths of the faith:

I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. (2 Peter 1:13-15 ESV)

Interestingly, in Second Peter there is no command to follow his successors, no hint that he viewed himself as the leader of the church, no statement that he was the bishop of Rome. Why, in this dying declaration of Peter are all of these things absent?

5. Peter Contradicted the Roman Catholic Position on the Subject of Sacred Tradition

There is something else that should be mentioned. Peter himself taught that Christ has given us everything that we need that pertains to life and godliness. He wrote:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence. (2 Peter 1:2-3 ESV)

This is in contradiction to the claims of Rome that Scripture is somehow incomplete. If at the time Peter wrote this letter, Jesus Christ had already given believers everything that they need, what therefore is the point of two thousand years of so-called holy tradition which the Roman Church adds to the Scripture? According to Peter’s own statement such holy tradition is unnecessary.

6. Peter Was Never Treated as Being Preeminent by the Other Apostles

There is still more. As we examine the New Testament, we find that Peter is never considered to be preeminent by the remaining members of the Twelve Apostles. Nothing in their spoken words, or in their writings, gives the slightest hint that he had any type of authority over them.

7. Peter Did Not Lead the Council of Jerusalem

There were a number of opportunities where Peter’s leadership could have been acknowledged by these men. The best example of this is the council of Jerusalem whose meeting is recorded in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts. If Peter was the acknowledged leader of the church, then we would expect that he would have presided over this important meeting. Yet, he did not. In this meeting, he is treated the same as the rest of the leaders that spoke; he had no special position among the group.

8. Paul Never Mentioned Peter as the Leader of the Church

Furthermore, when the Apostle Paul wrote his various letters about the nature of the church, the position of Peter as leader was never addressed. This is incomprehensible if he was the head of the church.

In fact, when Paul wrote to the Galatians, he said that Peter had been given a special ministry to the Jews, while he, Paul, had been given a special ministry to the Gentiles. He wrote:

On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter was for the circumcised. For He who was at work with Peter in the apostleship to the circumcised was also at work with me among the Gentiles. When James, Cephas, and John, recognized as pillars, acknowledged the grace that had been given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to me and Barnabas, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. (Galatians 2:7-9 HCSB)

Peter and Paul each had a special calling. There was a division of authority; not the authority of merely one individual.

In addition, Paul said that he was not inferior to the chiefest of apostles:

I have become a fool. You yourselves forced me to do it, for I should have been commended by you. For I lack nothing in comparison to those “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. (2 Corinthians 12:11 NET)

Paul considered himself inferior to no one; this includes Peter.

9. Paul Said the Churches Were His Concern

The care and concern of the churches was the responsibility of Paul, not Peter. Paul also wrote to the Corinthians:

Apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxious concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:28 NET)

Paul did not seem to think that the care and concern of the churches belonged to Peter alone.

Therefore, the claims for Peter’s papal authority do not make any sense in light of the New Testament evidence; it does not recognize Peter as any type of leader in the church. If his authoritative position as leader of God’s people was part of the essential makeup of the church, then why is it never mentioned even once in the New Testament?

10. There Is No Evidence That the Papal Office Existed

There is still more. We find no evidence whatsoever that the Papal office even existed in the church; let alone that Peter was the first Pope. Indeed, nowhere in the writings of John, Jude, James, Hebrews, or Peter himself do we find the slightest hint of such an office. When Paul lists the various offices of the church in 1 Corinthians 12:28-30 and in Ephesians 4:11-16, the Papacy is never even mentioned. He wrote to the Corinthians:

And God has placed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, gifts of healing, helps, gifts of leadership, different kinds of tongues. Not all are apostles, are they? Not all are prophets, are they? Not all are teachers, are they? Not all perform miracles, do they? Not all have gifts of healing, do they? Not all speak in tongues, do they? Not all interpret, do they? (1 Corinthians 12:28-30 NET)

If such an important office existed, then we should expect that it would not only be mentioned, it would be emphasized. Yet it is never brought up by any of the writers. This is incredible if such a crucial office actually existed. Obviously, it did not.

Furthermore, there is no evidence that Peter was the Bishop of Rome in the modern sense of the term “bishop.” That is, he was not the overseer of all believers. For that matter, the office of Bishop, in its modern sense of overseer, did not exist in New Testament times.

11. Jesus Said All the Apostles Had Equal Authority

While Jesus had the chance to put in place some sort of leadership structure among His apostles, He did not. In fact, He clearly stated that the apostles had the same level of authority—none was considered above the other.

Jesus said the following to all of the apostles:

Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:18 ESV)

The word “you” here is in the plural; it is not referring to one particular person. All of them were given the unique authority of the Lord because of their personal relationship with Him.

In an answer to a question by Peter, Jesus said that each of the twelve apostles would rule in His kingdom:

Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matthew 19:27-28 ESV)

Again, we do not find Jesus singling out Peter for special privileges. He will sit on a throne as will the other members of the “Twelve;” there was no special throne for Peter.

Jesus also answered the question as to who would be the greatest among the apostles. Luke records the following episode:

A dispute also started among them over which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. So Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ Not so with you; instead the one who is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is seated at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is seated at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. “You are the ones who have remained with me in my trials. Thus I grant to you a kingdom, just as my Father granted to me, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Luke 22:24-30 NET)

In His answer, Jesus gave equal authority to all of the apostles; none of them were singled out for special treatment.

There is something else which should be considered. Why did the disciples even ask the question if Jesus had already established Peter as the authority? Obviously, they did not understand Jesus’ statement about the rock, as recorded in Matthew 16, as referring to Peter as the head of the church. If Peter’s authority had been established at that time, then Jesus would have rebuked them for later asking the question. Instead we find Jesus rebuking all of them for wanting some type of preeminence. He then said each of them would have a position of authority; not just Peter.

12. Paul Felt Free to Publicly Rebuke Peter

The attitude of Paul toward Peter is unexplainable in light of the papal claims. We find that Paul publicly rebuked Peter face-to-face. He records the following episode in the Book of Galatians:

But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him publicly, speaking strongly against what he was doing, for it was very wrong. When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians, who don’t bother with circumcision. But afterward, when some Jewish friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore because he was afraid of what these legalists would say. Then the other Jewish Christians followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was influenced to join them in their hypocrisy. When I saw that they were not following the truth of the Good News, I said to Peter in front of all the others, “Since you, a Jew by birth, have discarded the Jewish laws and are living like a Gentile, why are you trying to make these Gentiles obey the Jewish laws you abandoned?” (Galatians 2:11-14 NLT)

Paul certainly did not assume that Peter was some sort of supreme authority in the church. Paul called Peter’s behavior hypocritical because his behavior was not according to the teachings of Jesus. This would not be possible if Paul assumed Peter was the supreme leader in the church who spoke infallibly on spiritual matters. Indeed, in his own letter, Peter spoke glowingly of the wisdom of Paul:

Think of our Lord’s patience as an opportunity [for us] to be saved. This is what our dear brother Paul wrote to you about, using the wisdom God gave him. He talks about this subject in all his letters. Some things in his letters are hard to understand. Ignorant people and people who aren’t sure of what they believe distort what Paul says in his letters the same way they distort the rest of the Scriptures. These people will be destroyed... (2 Peter 3:15-16 God’s Word)

Peter did not have any problem with Paul’s authority; the man who publicly rebuked him.

13. Peter Is Listed Behind James

Roman Catholics argue that Peter’s authority is shown by the fact that he is first on every list of the apostles. However, if one is considering the evidence of New Testament lists, Paul listed Peter behind James, the Lord’s brother. We read of this in Galatians where Paul wrote:

And when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. (Galatians 2:9 ESV)

This certainly shows that Paul did not consider Peter above James. In addition, while Peter is mentioned behind James and ahead of John, they are all called pillars of the church. This shows that Paul assumed that all three of them were among the leaders of the church, not just Peter. Again, there is no singling Peter out for any type of special authority.

With respect to the listing of the names of the apostles in the four gospels, while Peter was always listed first, he was the first among equals. He never held a position of priority over the others.

14. Paul’s Apostolic Mission Was Not Dependent upon Peter

Paul himself made it clear that his apostolic mission was not dependent upon the authority of Peter or any other apostle. His authority was directly given by God. He wrote the following to the Galatians:

For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:11-12 NRSV)

There is no mention of Peter in the commission that Paul was given. In fact, Paul himself tells us that he only spent fifteen days with Peter in the first seventeen years of his ministry! He wrote the following to the Galatians:

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and get information from him, and I stayed with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. It was from the Lord and from Him alone; there was no human authority behind it... Then after fourteen years I went up to Jerusalem again with Barnabas, taking Titus along too... (Galatians 1:18-19, 2:1 NET)

Obviously, Paul did not believe that his ministry was somehow directed by, or dependent upon, the words of Peter.

15. Peter Was Sent to Samaria, He Did Not Do the Sending

When Samaria had received the word of God, the church sent out Peter and John to go down and lay hands upon the people. We read the following in the Book of Acts:

When the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had welcomed God’s message, they sent Peter and John to them. After they went down there, they prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:14-15 HCSB)

Peter was the one sent; he was not the one doing the sending. The authority of the one sending is always greater than the one sent. Someone had authority greater than Peter in order to send him to Samaria.

16. Peter Did Not Preside Over the Council of Jerusalem

There was an early council that convened in the city of Jerusalem to decide the relationship of Gentiles to the church. While Peter attended this conference, he did not preside over it. At the council of Jerusalem, after Peter, among others, had spoken, James said the following to the assembled leaders:

Brothers, listen to me!... Therefore, in my judgment, we should not cause difficulties for those who turn to God from among the Gentiles... (Acts 15:13,19 HCSB)

If Peter were the supreme authority in the church, then these words of James would not make any sense. Yet, as we read this account in the Book of Acts, the decision of the assembled leaders was to follow the verdict of James. As this incident is recorded for us, we find that Peter was the fourth from the last to speak. He addressed the group as a fellow apostle; not as the one in charge. It is obvious that he was not the leader at this council.

Whether or not James was actually presiding over the meeting can be debated. He may have been reflecting the consensus of all who attended rather than making the decision on his own. From the context, it seems that he was speaking for the entire group because they made the decision. The Bible says:

Then the apostles, the spiritual leaders, and the whole church decided to choose some of their men to send with Paul and Barnabas to the city of Antioch. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, who were leaders among the believers.... The Holy Spirit and we have agreed not to place any additional burdens on you. Do only what is necessary. (Acts 15:22, 28 God’s Word)

It was the entire leadership that decided the issue; not merely Peter. Indeed, when a letter was written to the churches to inform them of the decision of these church leaders, it was at the suggestion of James that this letter was composed. In fact, after the council of Jerusalem, Peter is never heard of again in the Book of Acts.

If Anyone, James Seems to Have Been the Leader of the Early Church

It is possible that James, the Lord’s brother, was in a position of leadership in the early church. It was his verdict at the council of Jerusalem that was followed by the other leaders.

Furthermore, when Peter was supernaturally freed from prison, he told the ones praying for him to tell James and the brothers what had happened. The Bible records it as follows:

But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Tell these things to James and to the brothers.” Then he departed and went to another place. (Acts 12:17 ESV)

Again, James is singled out for a position of authority. If there was one person in authority, it would seemingly have been James. However, we cannot be certain that even he had authority over the others. There may have been other reasons as to why he was singled out. We simply do not have enough information to make any firm judgment.

In this passage, we also have the next to the last mention of Peter in the Book of Acts. The text says he “went to another place.” He is no longer a major player in the Book of Acts. The only other time he is mentioned in the Book of Acts is at the council of Jerusalem. After that time, he disappears from its pages.

From reading the Book of Acts, it becomes clear that the Apostle Paul became a central figure in the church from that time onward. The remainder of the Book of Acts is about his ministry and how he, not Peter, got to the city of Rome. Peter disappears from the scene.

We can also note that the Apostle John was a key leader in the church. He was given the honor of writing the last book of the New Testament; the Book of Revelation. Thus, while Peter was indeed a leader of the early church, he was not the only leader.

17. The Choice of Matthias to Replace Judas Argues Against Apostolic Succession

While some Romanists look at the choice of Matthias to replace Judas as an indication that the apostles had successors, the opposite is true. To be a member of the apostolic circle, a person had to have certain credentials. Among these credentials was seeing the risen Christ. Peter himself said:

“Thus one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time the Lord Jesus associated with us, beginning from the baptism by John until the day he was taken up from us?one of these must become a witness of his resurrection together with us.” (Acts 1:21-22 NET)

The qualifications of an apostle included being with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry through the time He came back from the dead. Obviously, nobody, apart from those living at Jesus’ time, could meet these qualifications.

18. The Rock upon which Jesus Would Build the Church Was Not Necessarily Peter

The key passage used by the Roman Catholic Church for Peter’s authority is Matthew 16:13-20. The Roman Church says that the obvious meaning of the passage is that Peter was given the position of primacy over the other apostles. Yet, as we shall see, this is simply not the case.

For one thing, the main question that Jesus asked was who people said that He was! He was certainly not asking whom the people thought Peter was. The thrust of the passage is the identity of Jesus, not Peter.

In addition, in the parallel passages in Mark and Luke, the statement about Peter and the rock is not included! John’s gospel does not even mention this incident. If these words of Jesus have the profound meaning that Rome says that it has, then it is strange that the “rock statement” is found in only one of the four gospels.

Who or What Was the Rock?

Furthermore, when Jesus told Peter that He would build His church on “this rock,” He was not necessarily referring to Peter. There are various ways in which Jesus’ statement can be understood. They are as follows:

Option 1: Peter Was the Rock

Many people consider that Peter himself is the rock upon which Christ will build His church. The following arguments have been put forward for this view:

First, Jesus spoke in Aramaic to Peter. This language has no separate word for big rock or small rock. Therefore, when Jesus said that He would build His church upon this rock, He was referring to Peter whom He had previously named “rock.”

The context also has to be considered. It makes more sense in the context to assume the rock refers to Peter rather than to something else or someone else. Jesus was responding to Peter’s confession to Him being the Messiah. He then told Peter that he was called a rock, and on this rock, namely Peter, Jesus would build His church. Thus, the most natural way to understand Jesus’ words is in reference to Peter. Therefore, Peter is the rock on whom the church was built.


With respect to Jesus speaking in Aramaic, let us remember that Matthew is written in Greek and not in Aramaic. There is no guarantee that Jesus spoke Aramaic on this occasion. To the contrary, many scholars are becoming persuaded that Greek was the main language that Jesus used. Whatever the case may be, the section before us is written in Greek. So any determination of the meaning of the word “rock” has to be made from the Greek text. We should not make our own interpretation of this passage based upon some unknown, non-existent, Aramaic original. We must deal with the text as it stands.

In the Greek text, there is a play on words. Jesus gave Peter the name of petros or “Rocky.” This word has the idea of a small rock or stone which could be thrown at ones enemies. However, Jesus says He will build His church upon a petra. This word means a large boulder, or an immovable ledge of rock. These two Greek words are never used interchangeably. Peter, therefore, is not necessarily the rock upon which Jesus will build His church. Thus, it does not inevitably follow from the word-play that ‘this rock’ must be Peter. The best we can say is that it may refer to him.

As we look at the New Testament, we find similar “rock” metaphors which are applied to other apostles. For example, Paul called James, Peter and John “pillars.” He wrote:

In fact, James, Peter, and John, who were known as pillars of the church, recognized the gift God had given me, and they accepted Barnabas and me as their co-workers. (Galatians 2:9 NLT)

When Paul wrote to the Ephesians, he said that the church was built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, but with Jesus Christ being the cornerstone:

You are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Christ Jesus himself is the cornerstone. (Ephesians 2:20 God’s Word)

In the Book of Revelation, we find another example of this; the foundation stones of the heavenly city have the name of the twelve apostles:

The wall of the city had 12 foundations. The 12 names of the 12 apostles of the lamb were written on them. (Revelation 21:14 God’s Word)

Therefore, the rock, or foundation, metaphor is applied to all of the apostles elsewhere in the New Testament; not merely to Peter. Consequently, if Peter is meant by the rock, then he is not the exclusive foundation of the church. He is representative of the other apostles, for the twelvefold foundation of the church is found in other passages.

Furthermore, we find these same words are spoken to the rest of the Twelve in Matthew 18:18. Jesus said:

I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven. (Matthew 18:18 NET)

In this context, the “you” is plural. The authority was given to all the apostles. Thus, Peter is not the unique foundation of the church. On the contrary, it is Jesus Christ who is the foundation. Paul wrote:

And God put all things under Christ’s feet and he gave him to the church as head over all things. Now the church is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:22-23 NET)

The church is the body of Christ, and a body can have only one head, not two. Christ is the head of the church.

Therefore, the rock, or foundation, of the church is more likely the confession of Peter, representing the apostles, that Jesus is the Christ. It was this message which they spread to the world. The doctrine of the Apostles became normative for the true church. Peter’s role is the spokesman for the disciples. Often, he represented the disciples, but never was given the position of having authority over them.

There is something else. Even if it is addressed to Peter, the words are addressed to Peter as an individual. It is not in his capacity as the bishop of Rome or to any successors which he might have. These words were personally addressed to Peter.

There is one other thing. If Peter were the ‘rock,’ upon which Jesus was to build the church, we would more naturally expect the Lord to speak of him in the third person to the other disciples. In other words, Jesus would tell them that he, Peter, is the rock on which He would build His church. However, the text has Jesus addressing Peter and not the other apostles.

Consequently, even if Jesus was referring to Peter as an individual, there is no reason to suppose that he was to head the church in the same way the Roman Church assumes.

Option 2: Peter’s Confession Was the Rock

While many people believe that Peter was the rock that Jesus would build His church upon, this interpretation has not always been the most popular. Indeed, from the writings which have survived from those in the early church, we find that the great majority of writers did not understand this passage to refer to Peter himself.

Instead, it was held that it was Peter’s confession, that Jesus was the Christ, which was the rock on which the church was built. In the context of the Gospel of Matthew, Peter confessed Jesus to be the promised Messiah. He was the first of Jesus’ disciples to make this confession public. The “rock” upon which the church is built is the truth that Jesus is the Christ or the Messiah.

Option 3: Jesus Was the Rock

There are some who reject both of these views. They say that neither Peter, nor his confession, was the rock Jesus was referring to. The rock is Jesus Himself. Indeed, the Apostle Paul would later write how Jesus Christ is the only foundation of the church:

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians. 3:11 NRSV)

Jesus is the rock; not Peter, nor His confession. Therefore, when Jesus said upon this rock I will build my church, He probably made some gesture pointing to Himself rather than referring to Peter.

Option 4: the Rock of Jesus’ Teachings

There is another view that sees the rock as a reference to Jesus’ teachings. When Jesus ended the Sermon on the Mount, the Bible says He compared His teachings to a rock?a sure foundation. Jesus said:

Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. (Matthew 7:24 NET)

It is, therefore, upon the sure foundations of the teachings of Jesus that the church will be built.

Whichever option one chooses for this famous statement of Jesus, it certainly does not follow that Peter was to be the first leader of the Christian church, or that his authority would somehow be passed on.

There is also one other thing we must mention. How could Christ name Peter the head of the church in one moment and then the next moment say that Peter is speaking the words of Satan? Immediately after the “rock” statement, we have this incident recorded:

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:21-23 NIV)

Jesus’ immediate rebuke of Peter is certainly inconsistent with the idea that He had just named Peter as the future leader of the church. Indeed, Peter showed his fallibility. After he confessed Christ as the Messiah, he tried to stop Jesus from fulfilling the reason He came to earth; to die on the cross. Peter believed he had the authority to rebuke Jesus. Jesus set him straight.

19. Peter Was Singled Out Because He Needed Pastoral Care

Peter is indeed singled out a number of times in the gospels. However, it is usually because he needed some type of pastoral care. In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus tells Peter that Satan has wished to sift him as wheat. He said:

Simon, Simon, pay attention! Satan has demanded to have you all, to sift you like wheat. (Luke 22:31 NET)

Like John 21:15-17, where Jesus tells Peter to feed His sheep, this passage shows Peter needed pastoral care. He needed the encouragement from Jesus that he would not be abandoned as he abandoned Jesus. In fact, Peter was told that he would be restored by Jesus and then Peter, in turn, would strengthen his fellow disciples who also would abandon Jesus.

Therefore, this passage, like John 21:15-17, is restorative in nature. The fallen disciple, Peter, would be able to strengthen the other fallen disciples. He would be a prime example of God’s grace. There is nothing that even remotely suggests his primacy over the other disciples.

Indeed, when Jesus told Peter to strengthen his brothers, he was not giving him sole authority to him. The same terminology is used of Paul and Barnabas in the Book of Acts. It says:

They strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “We must enter the kingdom of God through many persecutions.” (Acts 14:22 NET)

Paul and Barnabas, as leaders, strengthened the other believers. Furthermore, two other disciples, Judas and Silas have this same terminology used of them. Therefore, the fact that Jesus told Peter to strengthen the other disciples does not set him apart from the others. Therefore, this passage in Luke is about the restoration of Peter after his sin; not about his authority or jurisdiction.

A Number of Things Would Have to Be Proven for the Roman Catholic Doctrine to Be True

Even if it were somehow possible to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Peter was preeminent among the apostles, as well as the spiritual leader of all believers, and the rock upon which the church was built, there would still be the issue of a successor. For the Roman Catholic doctrine of the papacy to be true, a number of things would have to be proven to be true from the Bible. They are as follows:

1. It Would Have to Be Proven That Peter Was the Supreme Authority

First, it would have to be established that Peter was given the role of supreme authority among all Christians by Christ Himself. Jesus must have intended to make Peter the leader of all believers. Without this, the doctrine of the primacy of Peter is refuted. Yet, as we have seen, there is no evidence of this whatsoever.

2. Peter Had Some Sort of Infallibility

Next, Peter would have to have had some sort of spiritual infallibility to speak for Christ. He would have to have been given a unique ability to speak infallibly on these issues. Yet, we find that Paul publicly rebuked Peter for moving away from the Gentiles to eat together with Jewish believers. This is hardly consistent with some sort of spiritual infallibility. We also find that Peter never claimed such spiritual infallibility, and the believers did not treat Him as though he were infallible.

3. He Was the First Bishop of Rome: the Leader of All Christians

It would also have to be demonstrated that Peter was the first Bishop, or overseer, at the Church in Rome. Also Christ must have intended Peter to die in the position of Bishop of Rome, or leader of the church. While it is possible Peter did go to Rome after being freed from imprisonment in Jerusalem, there is nothing about this mentioned in the New Testament. In fact, we find Peter in the city of Jerusalem four years after his release from prison. He was one of the leaders at the council of Jerusalem. If he had gone to Rome in the interim, he certainly did not return to Jerusalem as Bishop of Rome and leader of the church.

There is some evidence from the Church Fathers that Peter was in Rome later in his life. They said that he was martyred by Caesar Nero between the years A.D. 64 and A.D. 67. Yet, this does not mean that he was the Bishop of the Church of Rome or that he spent a considerable amount of time in that city.

4. He Would Have an Authorized Successor

Even if all of these things could be proven, there would still be the issue of a successor for Peter. There would have to be some evidence that Peter had an authorized successor. Christ Himself would have to authorize a successor for the position that Peter held. Again, no evidence exists for a successor to any of the twelve apostles.

5. His Privileges Were to Be Passed Down

Not only would Peter have to have a successor, this successor would have to have the same privileges and authority that Peter possessed. Yet, no provision is made for this in Scripture.

6. His Successor Would Be the Bishop of Rome

In addition, this successor would have to be the Bishop of Rome; he could not have been the leader of any other Christian congregation.

However, nowhere in the New Testament do we find that Rome was the center of authority for the early believers, or that the Bishop of Rome has some sort of preeminence over other believers. Indeed, in the early years of the church, Jerusalem was the place where the apostles ministered from. Add to this the idea of bishop, in the modern sense of the term, is not found anywhere in the New Testament.

7. Any Successor Would Have His Infallibility

Finally, this successor would have to have the same infallible ability as Peter is alleged to have had in spiritual matters. As is the case with these other points, there is nothing whatsoever in Scripture that testifies to this.

All of These Would Have to Be True for Rome to Make Its Case

All of these points have to be established as fact for the Roman position to be true. Their claims have to be clearly set out in Scripture. It is not enough to say that these claims are likely true, or probably true. Yet, as we have seen, none of them can be proven and several of them are actually disproved from the testimony of Scripture. We can add the following:

There Is No Evidence That the Apostles Had Successors

As we have already mentioned, the Scriptures themselves speak against the apostles having any successors. One of the credentials of an apostle is that they must have seen the risen Lord. We read the following necessary requirements for a replacement for Judas in the Book of Acts:

He must be one of the men who accompanied Jesus with us the entire time that the Lord Jesus was among us. This person must have been with us from the time that John was baptizing people to the day that Jesus was taken from us. (Acts 1:21-22 God’s Word)

Paul wrote to the Corinthians about his authority as an apostle. His evidence? He had seen the risen Christ. He said:

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? (1 Corinthians 9:1 ESV)

Therefore, an apostle had to have personally seen the risen Christ. This would limit the apostolic number to those living at the time of Christ.

There Is No Irrefutable Evidence That Peter Was in Rome

There is no irrefutable evidence that Peter was ever in Rome; certainly no biblical evidence. While some later traditions suggest that Peter had been in Rome from his miraculous escape from prison, around A.D. 42, until A.D. 67 when he was executed, this does not fit the facts. We know that he was in Jerusalem attending the apostolic council (Acts 15) about A.D. 49.

Some people alleged that Peter, who was then the Bishop of Rome, went back to the Holy Land for the Jerusalem council as recorded in Acts 15. After this time he went to Antioch, and then returned to his position as leader of the church in Rome. Yet there is no New Testament evidence of this.

It is also interesting to note that 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, we find that Peter is still in Joppa. Acts 11:2 then says that Peter returned to Jerusalem. Now 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 we expect it to tell us if Peter went all the way to Rome? Particularly since it does inform us that Paul went to Rome. Since it records Peter going to Joppa, if he had gone to Rome, one would think that this would be recorded. Yet, nothing is said.

Around the year A.D. 56, the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church at Rome. In his letter to the Romans, Paul greets twenty-seven people by name (Romans 16:1-23). However, Peter is not among them. This is odd if Peter, whom Paul knew personally, was in Rome as the head of the church. It is not very credible to assume that if Peter had been in Rome, especially as its bishop, Paul would have ignored him entirely. When Paul met Peter in Jerusalem (Acts 15), Peter is mentioned by name, but there is no mention of Peter by Paul in his letter to the Romans.

There is more. Paul wrote the following in his introduction to the letter to the Romans:

To everyone in Rome whom God loves and has called to be his holy people. Good will and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are yours! (Romans 1:7 God’s Word)

Paul’s letter was addressed to all the beloved of God in Rome. Yet, there is no mention of Peter.

In addition, if Peter had been in Rome as the bishop, why did Paul write the following to the church at Rome?

For I want very much to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you. (Romans 1:11 HCSB)

Why could Paul offer these people something that Peter, the Bishop of Rome, and head of the church, could not? Couldn’t Peter have done this work? This verse alone seemingly makes it clear that Peter was not in Rome at that time as the leader of the church. Otherwise, they would not have needed Paul’s ministry.

There is still more. Paul made it clear to the Romans that he did not intend to build on the foundation of someone else. He wrote:

And in this way I desire to preach where Christ has not been named, so as not to build on another person’s foundation. (Romans 15:20 NET)

This being the case, it does not seem likely that Paul would write such a letter to the Romans, a major theological treatise, if Peter had already been the Bishop of Rome for about fourteen years.

Paul also said that he established the church in Rome according to the gospel which was given to him:

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that had been kept secret for long ages. (Romans 16:25 NET)

This was the gospel message which was given to Paul and by Paul; Peter is not mentioned.

Finally, when the Book of Acts records Paul’s arrival in Rome, Peter is never mentioned. This is incredible if he was in Rome as the head of the entire church. The absence of evidence speaks loud and clear; Peter was not in Rome during the time Paul was there.

Is Babylon Rome?

The reference made by Peter, as writing from Babylon, (First Peter 5:13) may indeed indicate that he was writing from the city of Rome. In fact, most scholars understand Babylon to be figurative of Rome in this context.

Roman Catholics, however, are inconsistent at this point. While they claim that Babylon symbolically refers to Rome in First Peter, they usually reject that Babylon is used figuratively of Rome in the Book of Revelation. However, Revelation is a book of symbols, while First Peter is not.

We can document their inconsistency as follows:

The Douay/Rheims Version, a Roman Catholic translation first published in 1582, has the following footnote at 1 Peter 5:13 in their 1941 edition: “Babylon figuratively Rome.”

Yet, when we find the same word “Babylon” in Revelation 14:8, the footnote reads in this manner:

“By Babylon may be very probably signified all the wicked in general, which God will punish and destroy after the short time of this mortal life: or it may signify every great city wherein enormous sins and abominations are daily committed; and that when the measure of its iniquities is full, the punishments due to its crimes are poured on it. It may also be some city of the description in the text that will exist and be destroyed, as here described, towards the end of the world.”

We can cite another example of their inconsistency. The Confraternity New Testament, published in 1941, has the following note at 1 Peter 5:13: “Babylon: Rome. A metaphor probably founded on Jewish usage.”

Yet, at Revelation 17:5, we read the following understanding of Babylon: “A mystery: the name [Babylon] is not literal but symbolical and its meaning will be revealed in due time.”

Thus, while Babylon symbolically refers to Rome in First Peter, the Roman Church does not believe it refers to literal Rome in the Book of Revelation. This is all the more important when we realize that the Babylon in the Book of Revelation is the center of all false religion and immorality.

Peter May Have Been in Literal Babylon

It is also possible, but not very likely, that Peter was in literal Babylon when he composed his letter. There were still some Jews living in Babylon at the time Peter wrote. However, there is no tradition that says Peter was ever in Babylon while there is tradition that says Peter was in Rome.

While there is no way that we can be certain of the location of Peter when he penned First Peter, Rome is probably the likely place. Protestants have no problem accepting the idea that Peter may have gone to Rome late in his life and was martyred there.

Even if Peter wrote from the city of Rome, it does not mean that he was settled there. Actually, there is the inference that Peter’s ministry was more of an itinerant apostle rather than being stationed in one place. Paul wrote the following to the Corinthians:

Don’t we have the right to be accompanied by a Christian wife, like the other apostles, the Lord’s brothers, and Cephas? (1 Corinthians 9:5 HCSB)

The idea of taking along a wife, or being accompanied by a wife, may suggest a ministry, like Paul’s, which was itinerant.

There is more. Paul’s trip to Rome is recorded in much detail in the Book of Acts (Acts 27-28). Yet, there is no mention of Peter. Indeed, when Paul was in prison in Rome in the 60’s of the first century, he wrote four letters known as the “prison epistles.” In three of them, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon, Paul sent greetings from fellow believers who were in Rome. While sometimes Paul named these believers, Peter was never mentioned. This would be odd if Peter was in Rome as its Bishop and head of the church. All of this indicates that the idea of Peter being in Rome for a number of years, as head of the church, has no biblical support whatever. What we can say for certain is that the Book of Acts, which traces the early history of the Christian church and the advance of the gospel to Rome, shows no connection between Peter and Rome.

Furthermore, when Paul was in Rome he wrote the following to Timothy:

At my first defense no one appeared in my support; instead they all deserted me—may they not be held accountable for it. (2 Timothy 4:16 NET)

Obviously Peter was not in Rome with Paul or else he had been there and had abandoned him! Whatever the case may be, we know that Peter was not in Rome when Paul wrote the prison epistles. Neither was he in Rome when Paul had his trial before Caesar. If he was the bishop of Rome, then why do we find his continued absence? If he was absent for long periods of time, why didn’t he write a letter to the Romans as Paul did? If he did write such a letter, then why didn’t the church preserve it? It would have been the primary document for the church, apart from the four gospels. Yet no such document exists.

The fact that the Scriptures are silent as to Peter being in Rome has profound implications. If God intended this man, the apostle to the Jews, to be the founder and bishop of the Church of Rome, which was predominately Gentile, one would think that the New Testament would give us at least some indication of this. This is especially true if there was to be such an office as the papacy whose succession would be dependent upon one man and associated with his being a resident of Rome. We would expect that his presence in Rome would have been established so clearly in the New Testament that there could be no question about it.

Yet just the opposite is true. There is no conclusive evidence from the New Testament that Peter was ever in Rome and certainly there is no evidence that he was the leader of the church there. Why the silence if he and his successors were to be the voice of Christ upon the earth?

Even If Peter Was in Rome, This Does Not Prove the Claims

Even if it can be established that Peter had been in Rome, as it is alleged, it still would not prove any of the claims the Roman Church makes. As we have already seen, many other things would also have to be true. While it is certainly possible that Peter visited Rome, or resided in it late in his life, this is not the same as assuming that he was head of the entire church which was headquartered in Rome. Of this, there is no evidence whatsoever. And even if he was the leader of the Roman Church for a few years, it still does not prove that Christ had intended to give him, as the Bishop of Rome, authority over all of the other churches.

Therefore, when we consider all the facts, we have no evidence that Roman Catholic doctrine of the papacy has any basis in Scripture.

Roman Catholic Sources Admit There Is No New Testament Evidence for Peter’s Primacy or Jurisdiction

Something else should be emphasized. Roman Catholic sources themselves admit there is no New Testament evidence for Peter’s primacy and jurisdiction over the other disciples. Even they have to admit that the New Testament does not give Peter the authority which they confer upon him. There is no evidence that Peter had any primacy or jurisdiction over other apostles. The argument for Peter’s authority has to come from after the New Testament era; a time when no one had the authority to speak authoritatively for Christ!

The One Who Would Represent Christ When He Left the World Was the Holy Spirit

Jesus promised that when He returned to heaven there would be One left behind to teach and guide the church—the Holy Spirit. He said the following on the night He was betrayed:

But when the Father sends the Counselor as my representative - and by the Counselor I mean the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I myself have told you. (John 14:26 NLT)

Jesus also made another promise about the Holy Spirit that John records. He said:

When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth. For He will not speak on His own, but He will speak whatever He hears. He will also declare to you what is to come. (John 16:13 HCSB)

This removes any idea that Peter was going to be the teaching authority of the church. God Himself, through the Person of the Holy Spirit, would be the Teacher of believers. It would not be through any fallible human being.

Therefore, to substitute any human being for the role of God the Holy Spirit is not only without any biblical support, it is actually blasphemous. How dare anyone remove God’s teaching authority through the Holy Spirit and replace it with the teaching of fallible human beings. Indeed, those who have held the office of Pope have demonstrated time after time their fallible nature by making decisions contrary to the clear teaching of the Word of God.

Peter Was Not the Last Apostle to Die

There is one last thing. Peter died before all of the other apostles. That means that his successor, Linus, according to the Roman Catholic Church, would have exercised authority over all the remaining living apostles, including John. We find this man mentioned only once in the New Testament:

Make every effort to come before winter. Eubulus greets you, as do Pudens, Linus, Claudia, and all the brothers. (2 Timothy 4:21 HCSB)

He is included in a list of people; not singled out as one who had any authority. Are we to believe that this man, who is only incidentally mentioned once in Scripture, would wield authority over someone like John, one of the original twelve, a man who wrote five books of the New Testament? This makes no sense whatsoever.

Conclusion: the Roman Catholic Doctrine of the Papacy Is Not Found in the New Testament

After looking at the totality of the evidence, we conclude that there is no scriptural support whatsoever that Jesus Christ intended that Peter was the infallible Bishop of Rome, the spiritual leader of all the Christians, and that upon his death he would have successors who would continue in his authority. Jesus never gave Peter that type of authority, Peter never recognized himself as the Pope, none of the apostles ever recognized him as the Pope, and there is not even one mention of the office of the papacy in all of Scripture. It is also an historical fact, that the Papacy was not established until several centuries after the time of Christ.

Therefore, there is absolutely nothing in Scripture that establishes the idea that one human being will be leader over the entire Christian church. Nothing. Bible-believing Protestants are adamant that past popes have contradicted the Bible. If this is the case, then one of these infallibilities must not be infallible; either the Bible or the Pope is in error. However, both cannot be infallible at the same time.

It is the Bible, the written Word of God, which is our final authority. It points beyond itself to the absolute authority of the living God. God exercises His authority in the churches through the Holy Scriptures. The Bible is complete, or sufficient, in that it contains everything the church needs to know in this world concerning the way of salvation and the proper way of serving Him. The office of the papacy is not necessary.

Summary – Question 5
Did Jesus Give Peter the Unique Authority to Speak for Him? (Papal Authority)

The Roman Catholic Church claims to be God’s exclusive voice upon the earth; it alone speaks for Jesus Christ. Among its claims, is that Jesus intended to confer unique authority upon one particular individual who would represent Him. This individual would occupy the office of Bishop of Rome. The first person in that position was Peter. It is also claimed that the entire church listened and obeyed what Peter said in his role as the head of the church.

This authority, which was first given to Peter, was supposedly passed on to successive individuals. Today, the present Pope, or the Bishop of Rome, is in the unbroken line of the successors of the office that was originally given to Peter.

This issue is of the utmost importance. If the Roman Catholic view is correct, then all believers in Christ must submit to the authority of the Bishop of Rome. Disobeying him would be the same as disobeying the Lord. Since no believer wants to disobey God, it is important that we understand whether or not we are to submit to the directives of the Roman Church and the papacy.

On the other hand, if the institution of the papacy is not found in Scripture, then the believer has no obligation to obey the commands of the Roman Church, or the present pope. As can be readily seen, these issues are primary. The truth or falsity of the Roman claim about the authority of the Bishop of Rome stands or falls upon the teaching of Scripture. Consequently, it is important that we discover exactly what the Scripture does say, and does not say, on this important issue.

For the Roman Catholic idea of the papacy to be true, a number of things would have to be proven. First, it would have to be established that Jesus intended to create such an office. Second, His intention would be that this office was to be held by the Bishop of the church at Rome. Third, Peter would have to have held this office by the specific intention of Christ. Fourth, this office was to be passed down in an unbroken line of successors until the return of Christ. Fifth, these successors would have the same infallible authority as Christ gave to Peter.

However, as the New Testament is carefully examined, there is no warrant for any of these things. Neither Christ, His apostles, or Peter himself, assumed that he had such authority over the other apostles and the rest of the Christian church. The human leadership of the early church, if there was such a thing, was seemingly held by James, the Lord’s brother, not by Peter.

Neither is there anything to the idea that the apostles had successors. Indeed, they had a unique ministry that, by definition, could not be passed down. Furthermore, there is no indication that the church at Rome was to be the center of God’s authority on the earth.

Therefore, the evidence is clear that the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Papacy is without any biblical support. This being the case, no one should be expected to believe what it teaches or submit to the authority of the Church of Rome, or to its leader, the Pope. Neither he, nor the Roman Church, has any God-given authority over Christians.

What Is the Roman Catholic Claim as to Where Ultimate Authority Resides? ← Prior Section
Do We Need an Infallible Interpreter to Properly Understand the Bible? Next Section →
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