Was Peter The First Pope?

8 09 2011

The Catholic Catechism states, “When Christ instituted the Twelve, “he constituted [them] in the form of a college or permanent assembly, at the head of which he placed Peter, chosen from among them.” Just as “by the Lord’s institution, St. Peter and the rest of the apostles constitute a single apostolic college, so in like fashion the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are related with and united to one another.”

881 The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the “rock” of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock. “The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles united to its head.” This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church’s very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope.

882 The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.”  “For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.”

     Are these claims true? Was Peter the first Pope and is the Pope the true vicar of Christ, leader of the Church on earth? Well I want to examine the above statement in light of Scripture. Let’s start with their claim that when Christ instituted His apostles He “constituted [them] in the form of a college or permanent assembly.” This is no where stated in Scripture, and in fact other apostles beside the twelve are mentioned in Scripture. Barnabas(Acts 14:14)  Paul(2 Timothy 1:1) Matthias( Acts 1:26) Apollos(1 Corinthians 4:6-9) James the brother of Jesus(Galatians 1:19) Judas(Acts 15:22) and Silas(Acts 15:22). To say that Jesus formed the twelve into a college that would have successors in future generations and be permanantly leading the church is taught only in Romans doctrine not in Holy Scripture. There were many apostles that shared in the authority that the twelve had including others that may or may not have been apostles such as Erastus, Timothy, Titus, Junia, and Andronicus.

     They say that when Jesus instituted the apostles “at the head of which he placed Peter.” Did Jesus really place Peter as the head of the apostles? Well Romans doctrine says yes but Scripture has not spoken. What does Scripture say? Jesus did tell Peter to strengthen his brethren(Luke 22:32) but this is a far cry from saying “your the leader.” When Saul is converted and tries to join the other apostles it says they are ALL afraid of him(Acts 9:36) and I find it strange that God did not reveal to Peter if he was head of the church that a new apostle was joining them and that it was the great persecutor. In fact only Barnabas has discernment enough to accept him. When the Lord had one apostle spared from martyrdom and live to see the and record in Scripture the second coming He chose John not Peter.

     When God chose one apostle to pen most of the New Testament and almost all the instructions for doctrine and living He chose Paul not Peter who as pope would have been the one to declare church dogma and practices. When a council was held to discuss what should be expected of Gentile converts although Peter was present James sat over the council and gave the deciding declaration(Acts 15: 1-20) Peter as pope would have been ruler over the entire church yet Paul is called the apostle to the Gentiles( Romans 11:13) Paul even exerts authority over the Roman church in Romans 1:5-6, and 16:7 even though Peter as pope would have been the Bishop of Rome. 

        Paul mentioned Peter but never gave him any special title. Paul was appointed an apostle and Peter had no say. Paul wrote 13 or 14 epistles with 2023 verses, Peter the “supreme pontiff, vicar of Christ and head of the church” wrote only 2 epistles with 166 verses. Paul not Peter oulined the offices of the church and made no mention of the papacy. In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul claimed he was behind the chiefest apostles in nothing. In Galatians 2 Paul rebuked Peter with no reference to Peter’s supremecy in faith and morals. In fact in Galatians 2:9 Paul talked of those who seemed to be pillars in the church and mentions James, Cephas, and John, thus giving Peter no primacy.

     “The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the “rock” of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock.” Is this statement true? Well once again let’s look to the Scriptures. They take this from Matthew 16:13-19 but it makes no mention in that passage of Peter being put as shepherd over the whole church. Jesus did call him “Petros” which means small stone, but Jesus said upon this “Petra” meaning bedrock, He would build His church. He was not saying that He would build it upon Peter but upon the confession Peter made that He was the Christ, Son of the living God. Peter did not even see himself as being the foundation of the church. Peter said in 1 Peter 2:5-8 that believers are all small stones that are made into a temple of God with Jesus not Peter as the chief cornerstone. Paul did not see Peter as the foundation of the church for he said in 1 Corinthians 3:11 that Christ is the cornerstone upon which the church is built.

     Is the Bishop of Rome really Peter’s successor? Well first of all we have no real evidence Peter was the Bishop of Rome. When Paul wrote his letter to the Roman church he made no mention of Peter or greeting to Peter, and when Paul was in Rome in Acts 28 we see no mention of Peter coming to see him. Augustine said of Peter, “He had not the primacy over the disciples but among the disciples. His primacy among the disciples was the same as that of Stephen among the deacons” (Ibid., p. 176).  Irenaeus and Eusebius wrote that Peter ordained Linus, and Tertullian states that he ordained Clement.The Catholic Church states that these were Peter’s successors. How could they be his successor while he was still alive?

     It is important to realize that not only was Peter not known as the head of the church but the Bishop of Rome was not considered to be the head of the church until the 6th or 7th century. Prior to that the church had been growing increasingly corrupt until in the 6th or 7th Century men were ready to declare a human as the head of the church. The Patriarchs of Alexandria assumed the title of pope long before the Bishop of Rome took it. The term pope was first used in a letter from the Bishop of Rome to Pope Heraclas of Alexandria. Pope Gregory wrote, “First, anyone who would use such a title would have fallen into pride, equal to the anti-Christ. He wrote: “I say it without the least hesitation, whoever calls himself the universal bishop, or desires this title, is by his pride, the precursor of anti-Christ, because he thus attempts to raise himself above the others. The error into which he falls springs from pride equal to that of anti-Christ; for as that wicked one wished to be regarded as exalted above other men, like a god, so likewise whoever would call himself sole bishop exalteth himself above others” He wrote this in response to his concern that the Patriarch of Constantinople, St. John the Faster, had accepted the title of Ecumenical (or Universal) Patriarch. He condemned any such title.

     Gregory believed that such a title would be perilous to the Church. “It cannot be denied that if any one bishop be called universal, all the Church crumbles if that universal one fall.” He refused the title for himself because he believed that he was equal with and not superior to his fellow Patriarchs. He wrote to the Bishop of Alexandria these words: “Your Holiness has been at pains to tell us that in addressing certain persons you no longer give them certain titles that have no better origin than pride, using this phrase regarding me, ‘as you have commanded me.’ I pray you let me never again hear this word command; for I know who I am and who you are. By your position you are my brethren; by your virtue you are my fathers. I have, therefore, not commanded; I have only been careful to point out things which seemed to me useful. Still I do not find that Your Holiness has perfectly remembered what I particularly wished to impress on your memory; for I said that you should no more give that title to me than to others; and lo! in the superscription of your letter, you gave to me, who have proscribed them, the vainglorious titles of Universal and Pope. May your sweet holiness do so no more in the future. I beseech you; for you take from yourself what you give excess to another. I do not esteem that an honor which causes my brethren to lose their own dignity. My honor is that of the whole Church. My honor is the unshakable firmness of my brethren. I consider myself truly honored when no one is denied the honor due to them. If Your Holiness calls me Universal Pope, you deny that you are yourself what I should be altogether. God forbid! Far from us be words that puff up vanity and wound charity”

     It is interesting to understand that even some very illustrious Roman Catholic theologians today recognize that the Papacy as it now exists is of late origin. W. DeVries admits, “…throughout the first ten centuries Rome never claimed to have been granted its preferred position of jurisdiction as an explicit privilege” (Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism by Methodios Fouyas, p. 70). Avery Dulles considers the development of the Papacy to be an historical accident. “The strong centralization in modern Catholicism is due to historical accident. It has been shaped in part by the homogeneous culture of medieval Europe and by the dominance of Rome, with its rich heritage of classical culture and legal organization” (Models of the Church by Avery Dulles, p. 200). 

          Martin Luther while still a catholic priest in 1521 said, “Unless I am convinced by the testimonies of Scripture or evident reason (for I do not believe either Pope or councils alone, since it is certain that they have both erred frequently and contradicted themselves)…I neither can nor wish to revoke anything.” “No enlightened Catholic holds the pope’s infallibility to be an article of faith. I do not; and none of my brethren, that I know of do.” (This was said by Bishop John Purcell in the Campbell-Purcell Debate on the Roman Catholic Religion in 1837. Before the decree of papal infallibility.) “Therefore, to resume, I establish: (1) That Jesus has given to His apostles the same power that He gave to St. Peter. (2) That the apostles never recognized in St. Peter the vicar of Jesus Christ and the infallible doctor of the church. (3) That St. Peter never thought of being pope, and never acted as if he were pope…I conclude victoriously, with history, with reason, with logic, with good sense, and with a Christian conscience, that Jesus Christ did not confer any supremacy on St. Peter and that the bishops of Rome did not become sovereigns of the church, but only confiscating one by one all the rights of the episcopate.” (This, along with many arguments against papal infallibility, was said by Bishop Joseph Strossmayer in his speech before the Vatican Council in 1870).

    “It has now become quite clear that the conception of continuity, authority, infallibility of the Church and the Church’s teaching, on which there has not been sufficient reflection, has led the Catholic Church into a dangerous tight corner.” (This, alone with other doubts regarding papal infallibility, was said by Hans Kung, a prominent Catholic theologian, in his book, “Infallibility, An Inquiry,” 1971). In the books of men, the following titles are commonly used with reference to a man: “Pope,” “Holy Father,” “Vicar of Christ,” “Sovereign Pontiff.” All of these are titles that rightly belong only to the Lord Jesus Christ and to God the Father. There is not a single instance in the Scriptures where any of the above titles are applied to a man. The term, “Holy Father” is used only once in the entire Bible, and it is used by Jesus in addressing God the Father. (John 17:11)

     The Pope is said to be the Vicar of Christ. The term Vicar means one serving in place of or as a substitute for. In fact all priests are known as “alter Christus” which means “another Christ. Only one verse in the Bible mentions this, “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.” 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4

    “According to the will of Christ, all its members profess the same faith, have the same worship and Sacraments, and are united under the one and same visible head, the Pope.” (Father Smith Instructs Jackson, by John F. Noll and Lester J. Fallon, p. 42) Scripture declares, “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.” (Colossians 1:18) Eph. 5:23-25 shows that Christ is the only head of the church. “Let wives be subject to their husbands as to the Lord; because a husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is head of the Church, being himself savior of the body. But just as the Church is subject to Christ, so also let the wives be to their husbands in all things.” Consequently, the wife is subject to her husband as the church is to Christ. Just as the wife is subject to only one head–her husband, the church is subject to only one head–Christ. Just as the husband does not send a substitute to rule over his wife, Christ does not authorize a substitute to rule over His bride, the church.

     One of the greatest arguments against the primacy of Peter is the fact that the apostles had an argument among themselves as to which of them should be the greatest in Luke 22:24-26. This text shows that the apostles had no knowledge of Peter having primacy among them. The Lord settled the argument, not by stating that He had already made Peter head, but by declaring that the Gentiles have their heads, “But not so with you.” Thus, Jesus very plainly taught that no one would occupy any such place as a Benefactor (or Pope) to exercise authority over the others. The Church was never intended to be an institutional government that is ruled with worldly power.

Written By: Rick Garland


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