SPIRITUAL DARKNESS IN THE MIDDLE AGES #7
WAS PETER THE FIRST POPE?
by Ralph Woodrow
STANDING AT THE head of the Roman Catholic church is the
Pope of Rome. This man - according to Catholic doctrine is the
earthly head of the church and successor of the apostle Peter.
According to this belief, Christ appointed Peter as the first
Pope, who in turn went to Rome and served in this capacity for
twenty-five years. Beginning with Peter, the Catholic church
claims a succession of Popes which has continued to this day.
This is a very important part of Roman Catholic doctrine. But do
the scriptures teach that Christ ordained ONE man to be above all
others in his church? Can we find any scriptural authority for
the office of a Pope, a supreme pontiff? Did the early Christians
recognize Peter as such?
To the contrary, the scriptures clearly show there was to be
an equality among the members of the church and that CHRIST "is
the head of the church" (Eph.5:23), not the Pope!
James and John once came to Jesus asking if one of them
might sit on his right hand and the other on his left in the
kingdom. (In Eastern kingdoms, the two principal ministers of
state, ranking next in authority to the king, hold these
positions.) If the Roman Catholic claim is true, it seems that
Jesus would have explained that he had given the place on his
right to Peter and did not intend to create any position on the
left! But to the contrary, here was the answer of Jesus: "Ye know
that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and
they that are great exercise dominion upon them, but it shall not
be so among you" (Mk.10:35-43).
In this statement, Jesus plainly said that none of them was
to be a ruler over the others. Instead, he taught an equality
clearly denying the principles that are involved in having a
Pope ruling over the church as the Bishop of bishops!
Jesus further taught the concept of equality by warning the
disciples against using flattering titles such as "father" (the
word "pope" means father), Rabbi, or Master. "For one is your
Master, even Christ", he said, "and all ye are brethren" (Matt.
23:4-10). The idea that one of them was to be exalted to the
position of pope is at utter variance with this passage.
But Roman Catholics are taught that Peter was given such a
superior position that the entire church was built upon him! The
verse that is used to support this claim is Matthew 16: 18: "And
I say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will
build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against
If we take this verse in its setting, however, we can see
that the church was not built on Peter, but on CHRIST. In the
verses just before, Jesus asked the disciples who men were saying
that he was. Some said he was John the Baptist, some Elijah;
others thought he was Jeremiah or one of the prophets. Then Jesus
asked: "But whom say ye that I am?" To this, Peter replied: "Thou
art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Then it was that
Jesus said, "Thou art Peter (petros - a stone, a rock), and upon
this rock (petra - a mass of rock-the great foundation rock of
tru th that Peter had just expressed) I will build my church."
The rock upon which the true church was to be built was connected
with Peter's statement "Thou art the Christ" - and so the true
foundation upon which the church was built was Christ himself,
Peter himself declared that Christ was the foundation rock
(1 Peter 2:4-8). He spoke of Christ as "the stone which was set
at naught of you builders ... neither is there salvation in any
other" (Acts 4:11,12). The church was built on Christ. He is the
true foundation and there is no other foundation: "For other
foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus
Christ" (1 Cor.3:11).
When Jesus spoke of building his church upon a rock, the
disciples did not take this to mean he was exalting Peter to be
their Pope, for two chapters later they asked Jesus a question
about who was the GREATEST (Matt.18:1). If Jesus had taught that
Peter was the one upon whom the church was to be built - if this
verse proved that Peter was to be the Pope - the disciples would
have automatically known who was the greatest among them!
Actually, it was not until the time of Calixtus, who was
bishop of Rome from 218 to 223, that Matthew 16:18 was used in an
attempt to prove the church was built on Peter and that the
bishop of Rome was his successor.
If we take a close look at Peter in the Scriptures, it
becomes apparent that Peter was not a pope at all!
1. Peter was married. The fact that Peter was a married man does
not harmonize with the Catholic position that a Pope is to be
unmarried. The Scriptures tell us that Peter's wife's mother was
healed of a fever (Matt.8:14). Of course there couldn't be a
"Peter's wife's mother" if Peter didn't have a wife! Even years
later Paul made a statement which shows that the apostles had
wives - including Cephas (1 Cor.9:5). Cephas was Peter's Aramaic
2. Peter would not allow men to bow down to him. When Peter came
into 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 10:25,26). This was quite different from
what a Pope might have said, for men do bow before the Pope.
3. Peter did not place tradition on a level with the word of God.
To the contrary, Peter had little faith in "traditions from your
fathers" (1 Peter 1:18). His sermon on the day of Pentecost was
filled with the Word, not traditions of men. When the people
asked what they should do to get right with God, Peter did not
tell them to have a little water poured or sprinkled on them.
Instead, he said: "Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the
name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall
receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38).
4. Peter was not a Pope, for he wore no crown. Peter himself
explained that when the chief shepherd shall appear, then shall
we "receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away" (1 Peter 5:4).
Since Christ has not yet appeared again, the crown that the Pope
wears is not one bestowed upon him by Christ. In short, Peter
never acted like a Pope, never dressed like a Pope, never spoke
like a Pope, never wrote like a Pope, and people did not approach
him as a Pope!
In all probability, in the very early days of the church,
Peter did take the most prominent position among the apostles. It
was Peter who preached the first sermon after the outpouring of
the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and 3,000 were added to the Lord.
Later, it was Peter who first took the gospel to the Gentiles.
Whenever we find a list of the twelve apostles in the Bible,
Peter's name is always mentioned first (Matt.10:2; Mk.3:16; Lk.
6:14; Acts 1:13). But none of this - not by any stretch of the
imagination - would indicate that Peter was the Pope or universal
Bishop of bishops!
While Peter apparently did take the most outstanding role of
the apostles at the very beginning, later, PAUL seems to have had
the most outstanding ministry. As a writer of the New Testament,
for example, Paul wrote 100 chapters with 2,325 verses, while
Peter only wrote 8 chapters with 166 verses.
Paul spoke of Peter, James, and John as pillars in the
Christian church (Gal.2:9)., Nevertheless, he could say, "In
NOTHING am I behind the very chiefest apostles" (2 Cor.12:11).
But if Peter had been the supreme pontiff, the Pope, then
certainly Paul would have been somewhat behind him. In Galatians
2:11, we read that Paul gave a rebuke to Peter "because he was to
be blamed", wording which seems strange if Peter was regarded as
an "infallible" Pope!
Paul was called "the apostle of the Gentiles" (Romans
11:13), whereas Peter's ministry was primarily to the Jews (Gal.
2:7-9). This fact - in itself - would seem sufficient to show
Peter was not bishop of ROME, for Rome was a Gentile city (cf.
Acts 18:2). All of this is indeed highly significant when we
consider that the entire framework of Roman Catholicism is based
on the claim that Peter was Rome's first bishop!
There is no proof, Biblically speaking, that Peter ever went
near Rome! The New Testament tells us he went to Antioch,
Samaria, Joppa, Caesarea, and other places, but not Rome! This is
a strange omission, especially since Rome was considered the most
important city in the world!
The Catholic Encyclopedia (article, "Peter") points out that
a tradition appeared as early as the third century for the belief
that Peter was bishop of Rome for twenty-five years - these years
being (as Jerome believed) from 42 A.D. until 67 A. D. But this
viewpoint is not without distinct problems. About the year 44,
Peter was in the council at Jerusalem (Acts 15). About 53, Paul
joined him in Antioch (Gal 2:11). About 58, Paul wrote his letter
to the Christians at Rome in which he sent greetings to
twenty-seven persons, but never mentioned Peter. Imagine a
missionary writing to a church, greeting twenty-seven of the
members by name, but never mentioning the pastor!
The accompanying photograph shows a statue, supposedly of
Peter, that is located in St.Peter's at Rome. I have witnessed
long lines of people waiting to pass before it and kiss its foot.
To be continued with "Papal Origin of Papal Office"