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Peter Was Not a Pope


Peter was not the first Pope. In fact, the papacy is a product of man’s design, not God’s.


  • Peter was not the first Pope. In fact, the papacy is a product of man’s design, not God’s. Peter was not even the outstanding leader of the apostles. He was a fisherman turned disciple and apostle by God’s grace. He even denied the Son of God during Jesus’ trial (Matthew 26.33-35, 69-75). He was a busybody about John’s ministry (John 21.15-22). Peter gave in to legalism during a trip to Antioch and Paul had to correct him (Galatians 2.11-14). Yet Peter was also the disciple who answered Jesus’ question, “But who do you [all] say that I am?” with “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).
  • Jesus responded to Peter’s correct statement by telling him, “And I also say to you that you are Peter” (petros, a stone or rock). This is nominative masculine singular; it refers to Peter. “And upon this rock (petra, a massive rock or rocky place, the form is dative feminine singular; it refers to Peter’s statement about Christ) I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18). Jesus was telling Peter that he was correct and that Jesus would build his church on himself (Jesus Christ), the doctrine of which was embodied in Peter’s statement “Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God.” Neither historically, linguistically, nor theologically did Jesus build his church upon Peter.
  • Because Peter answered correctly, Jesus told Peter “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19). Keys refer to authority and right to make decisions. This was an honor for Peter, apparently because he responded in faith to revelation about Jesus. Verse 19 has been taken in various ways. The understanding turns on what is meant by the “kingdom of heaven” in this context. There are really two choices. Either it refers to the apostolic ministry in the opening years of the church or it refers to the messianic kingdom promised in the Old Testament. Which ever interpretation one takes, the Roman Catholic Church has no basis for their doctrine of priesthood in this passage.
    • If, and this is doubtful, this refers to the opening years of the church, then “kingdom of heaven” is used here differently than the many others times in Matthew. Kingdom of heaven is used only in Matthew and is used 32 times in 31 verses. Jesus would then have meant that Peter would be the one to both formally and publicly open the kingdom of heaven, through preaching the gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit. Peter did this with the Jews in Acts 2.38-40, with the Samaritans in Acts 8.14-17, and with the Gentiles in Acts 10.34-36.
    • But if, in keeping with common usage in Matthew, Jesus meant Peter’s ministry in the future messianic kingdom, then it refers to authority that Jesus has just delegated to Peter for Peter to use when the kingdom comes to earth. Peter will rule subordinate to Jesus and David (Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23-24; 37:24-25; Hosea 3:5) and along with the other apostles to Israel (Matthew 19:25). This is the most consistent interpretative answer.
  • With regard to Peter’s authority over “binding and loosing,” we have the same two choices of interpretation—either this refers to the apostolic period of the church or to the future messianic kingdom. Which ever interpretation one takes, the Roman Catholic Church has no basis for their doctrine of priesthood in this passage.
    • If, and this is doubtful, this refers to the apostolic period, this statement was made to Peter (Matthew 16.19), then to all the disciples-apostles (Matthew 18.18). This authority refers to the apostles’ leadership and ruling authority during the apostolic period of the first century. Peter, for example, used the authority in Acts 3.6-9 with the lame man, “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” In Acts 5.1-11, Peter declared God’s judgment on Annanias and Sapphira. In Acts 10.43-48, Peter preached the gospel to Jews and Gentiles. Those who believed in Christ received the Holy Spirit. Peter recognized that God had forgiven them, and he ordered the believers to be baptized. This was not Peter forgiving sins; Peter declared to them what God had just done.  Paul, in Acts 13.28, makes it clear that God forgives sins for everyone who believes the gospel.  John, another apostle, quoted Jesus’ restrictive statement “and I [Jesus] have the keys of death and of Hades” (Revelation 1:18). John 20.23 is different from the two Matthew passages. John records that Jesus extended this authority to declaring the results of a person’s response to God’s terms for forgiveness of sins—those who believe in Jesus have been forgiven and those who disbelieve Jesus have not been forgiven. Peter himself stated that only God can forgive sins (Acts 5.30-31). This all is very plausible, but Jesus probably did not refer to the apostolic period.
    • If the context and usage of “kingdom of heaven” holds, and we have no reason to change the meaning here, then binding and loosing refer to Peter’s delegated authority in the messianic kingdom, not in the apostolic age. He will be carrying out leadership in the kingdom. See Matthew 19:27-28 where Jesus says that the disciples will have great authority in the coming kingdom. Note that Peter will not have original and determinate authority to bind and loose. The verbs “shall have been bound” and “shall have been loosed” are both perfect periphrastics. The verbs indicate that the action shall have already been decided upon in heaven. Peter will simply act and declare according to what has already been decided in heaven.
  • Returning to Roman Catholic theology, it also wrongly uses Luke 22.32 to support Peter’s authority by making this Scripture teach that Christ’s prayer for Peter guaranteed Peter’s infallibility. Their theology also applies this guarantee to those bishops who succeed Peter. From these biblical statements and tradition (religious and historical) the Roman Catholic Church builds its doctrine of the papacy. The Roman church is, of course, quite wrong. Peter later wrote that he was a fellow elder with other elders and so on equal footing with them (1 Peter 5.1). James was the leader of the Jerusalem church, not Peter (Acts 15.13-19).  Peter, when writing about the rock, the stone, the foundation, means Christ; all church believers are living stones of the building called the church (1 Peter 2.4-8; Acts 4.11-12).
  • After the church began, God appointed Peter as the apostle to the Jews (Galatians 2.7-9). God worked through Peter to build up and enlarge the church. God inspired Peter to write First and Second Peter; the gospel of Mark is possibly Peter’s gospel penned by Mark. While Peter may have spent some time in Rome, there is no evidence that he was ever a bishop of Rome.
  • In summary, Peter was an apostle, the apostle to the Jews (Galatians 2.7-9); God worked through him to help begin, build, and strengthen the church; Peter never thought of himself as the leading apostle, and he certainly was not the first Pope of the Roman Catholic Church nor was he infallible.
  • Some of the Roman Catholic proclamations and their dates are of interest: 1545-1563, the Council of Trent, which made the teachings of the Roman church into binding law, one of which was the denial of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone; 1870, papal infallibility; 1854, Mary’s immaculate conception; 1950, Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven at her death; 1962-1965, the Second Vatican Council reaffirmed the rulings of the Council of Trent; 1994, the Catechism of the Catholic Church officially restated for the first time in 400 years the traditional beliefs of the Roman Catholic church.

Last Update

Thursday, March 1, 2007