By Greg Litmer
The single, most powerful and influential person in the religious world today is the Pope. He reigns as head over the largest denomination in the world that worships Jesus. Catholics look to him as the infallible guide in all matters of religion. He claims to be “The Vicar of Jesus Christ” and the successor to Peter, the first Pope. In order to prove the authority of the pope, three things must be shown, essentially. Number one is that there was a papal office in the New Testament. Number two is that Peter was the first pope, and number three is that Peter had successors in that office. I do not believe that any of these can be proven; the Bible teaches that these things are not so, and that Jesus said they would not be so even before the church was established.
In Matthew 20, the mother of Zebedee’s children came to Jesus asking that her sons be given positions of authority and power in His kingdom. Jesus said, “Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant” (vs. 25-27). However, by believing in the pope, Catholics deny the very words of Jesus in the attempt to exalt Peter. They claim for Peter the position and the preeminence which Jesus said “shall not be” among His apostles and disciples. This passage shows that the office of the pope, the exaltation of one human being above others, is something neither taught nor intended by the Lord.
Catholics claim that Peter was the first pope, and that the office has been handed down by right of succession from his days to the present. They will usually base this assertion on three passages of scripture. We must note, however, that their main contentions are not based on the scriptures, but rather on secular history and tradition. The reason for this will be obvious after we view the scriptures.
The first is in Matthew 16:18, but let us begin with verse 13. There we read.
“When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elijah, and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And 1 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 it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind pn earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. “
Paying particularly close attention to verse 18, let us ask ourselves whether or not that passage teaches that Peter was first among the apostles, whether or not he was to be lord and ruler over the others, and whether or not he was the very foundation of the church of our Lord Jesus Christ? That is what the Catholic position says.
When Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church, “He simply was not talking about Peter. The word “Petros,” referring to Peter, simply means “a pebble or a stone, a small rock.” The word “Petra” was the word Jesus used referring to rock and it has a different meaning and a different gender altogether. Petra means “a solid mass of stone.” Vine explains it this way. He says that petros means a stone that might easily be moved, while petra shows a sure foundation, We can illustrate in this way:
The large granite mountain is the petra – a solid mass, immovable. The small rocks along the base of the mountain are the petros, easily picked up and carried.
The apostle Peter is like one of these little rocks at the foot of the mountain, but the “petra” or rock, on which Christ built the church was like that huge mass of granite. The rock on which the church was built was the truth that Peter had confessed back in verse 16, that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God.
That it was upon Christ Himself, and not Peter, that the church was built is clearly seen from Paul’s reference to the matter. He said in 1 Cor. 3:11, “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. ” Peter, himself, said that we are like living stones built upon Christ as the chief cornerstone in 1 Pet. 2:4-8.
The second passage often referred to by Catholics as they attempt to prove the supremacy of Peter is Luke 22:31-34. There we read.
“And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. And he said unto him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death. And he said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me. “
In this passage, Christ said to Peter “to strengthen thy brethren” and this is taken to mean that Peter was to be the strongest and most established on the group. But I think that it is clear that if the other apostles had been about to do the same thing that Peter was about to do, the Lord would have prayed for them in the same way that He prayed for Peter. Certainly, Jesus placed an obligation upon Peter, that he was to “strengthen thy brethren, ” but that is an obligation that rests upon every single Christian. Hebrews 10:24 tells us that we are to “consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works. ” Surely we have the same obligation to consider and strengthen our brethren. No special significance can be placed upon the instruction that the Lord gave Peter at that time as pertaining strictly to Peter in some special way, for it is demanded of all Christians in other places.
The third passage that is used in support of Peter’s papacy is found in John 21:15-17. After the resurrection of Jesus, some of the apostles and disciples had gone fishing, Peter included. They had worked all night and had not caught a thing. Then Jesus came and told them to cast the net on the right side of the boat. They did, and they caught so many fish that they were not able to pull them in. So they came into shore and began to eat. We pick up now in verse 15: “So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.” The Catholic position is that Jesus was saying, Peter, do you love me more than these other disciples love me? Others think that he was saying, Peter, do you love me more than the nets and the boats and the fish and the sea? I do not really think that it makes that much of a difference how you view that passage. Even if Jesus is saying, Peter, “Do you love me more than these other disciples do?” it still does not give Peter a superior position, as far as authority is concerned.
Three times the Lord asked Peter the question concerning his love for Him. And in verse 17 we see, “Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. ” After the questions, the Lord instructed Peter to feed His lambs, feed His sheep, and again, feed His sheep. Now the Catholic position is that those instructions the Lord gave Peter implies the primacy of Peter, that he, above all others, was given the task of “feeding” the flock. But when we read the New Testament, we find in Acts 20:28 that the elders were given the task of “feeding” the flock, as well as Peter was. Now Catholics will try to make a distinction between the feeding of the lambs and the feeding of the sheep. They will say that the “lambs” designate the flock (or the laity), while “sheep” designates bishops (they do not mean bishops as the Bible uses the term). But Jesus did not tell Peter to “feed the bishops” or to “feed the clergy.” He commanded him to feed the sheep, using the same terms that He used in John 10, and it is really the same commandment that Paul gave the Ephesian elders when he instructed them to take the oversight of the church, the flock.
Brethren and friends, the whole New Testament is filled with passages which contradict the idea that Peter was the pope. Cornelius, for example, in Acts 10, was told to stand up when he had fallen down at the feet of Peter. Peter said, “Stand up: I myself also am a man. ” Do the popes of today practice such? Not on your life. You come into the presence of the pope on bended knee in an attitude of worship. When I was a child being confirmed into the Catholic church, the confirmation was performed by a bishop, not even the pope. And we were told that if the bishop came up to us and extended his hand, we were to kneel and kiss the ring on his finger. Is this the attitude that Peter exhibited? No! The whole thing, including the office itself, was conceived in the minds of men. To Peter, the idea of one worshipping before him was repulsive.
There is another passage in the Bible which contradicts the idea of the popism of Peter. Turn to Gal. 2:11-14. There we read,
“But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles; but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?”
Now, if Peter was the pope, why was it necessary for Paul to withstand him to his face, and rebuke him for- his wrongful attitude toward the Gentiles? This was not merely some slip on Peter’s part; this involved the position of the Gentiles as far as the Gospel of Christ was concerned. Peter made a mistake, he was wrong. Will it be admitted by the Catholics that an infallible pope could have erred like this in a matter concerning doctrine?
Friends and brethren, the Bible simply does not teach us that there was to be an office of the pope. But, as we said in the beginning, the main Catholic position concerning the pope is not really biblically based; rather, it depends on tradition. The Catholics assume that the church in Rome was the center of Christianity and that it was such because Peter established the church there and made the headquarters of all Christianity there. The Catholics say that Peter sat as universal bishop of the church, in his headquarters in Rome, beginning in 43 A.D. They say that he continued there for 25 years in all, and that he was martyred by being crucified upside down in 68 A.D.
But there is nothing on which to base this claim. In fact, it is made with much evidence to the contrary:
(1) It is not stated anywhere in the scriptures that Peter was the Bishop of Rome. For that matter, it is not stated that he ever even set foot in Rome.
(2) In approximately 58 A.D., Paul wrote the epistle to the Roman congregation. In that letter, he sent salutations to 27 people in the congregation, whom he named by name. But Peter was neither named or greeted. He simply was not there.
(3) Around the same time, 58 – 65 A.D., Peter wrote his first epistle. No mention is made of Rome in this epistle, and Peter claims no superiority for himself or for the church at Rome. Is this characteristic of one who was recognized as the universal head of the church? Certainly not!
(4) Paul wrote many letters from his prison in Rome Philemon, Phillippians, Ephesians, and Colossians. He named many people in these letters, but not Peter! If Peter was in Rome, if he was indeed the pope at this very time, why did Paul completely ignore him in all of his references to the congregation in Rome.
(5) In the last days of his life, Paul wrote to Timothy saying, “only Luke is with me” (2 Tim. 4:11). Where was Peter? Did the Universal Bishop of the church, the Vicar of God on earth, the supreme and holy Father of the faithful, desert the aged Paul as his noble life began to come to a close? According to the Catholic position, he would have been in Rome at the time as the pope. Where was he?
Friends and brethren, the Catholic position concerning Peter being in Rome is not based on fact; it is pure conjecture. It is assumed in the face of much evidence to the contrary. The claim for the office of a pope simply has nothing upon which to rest.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 31, pp. 505-507
August 7, 1980