Was Peter the First Pope?
With all of the recent news regarding the Catholic Church many have heard stated as fact by news media and others that Peter was the first pope. This is, of course, official Catholic doctrine. But what does the Bible say about Peter’s popehood? Is there one scripture that plainly declares that Peter was the first pope? There’s not one. In fact, the evidence in scripture is against Peter being the first pope. Let’s take a look at a few things in this regard.
Those who claim that Peter was the first pope state that Matthew 16:18 proves that Peter was given this title by Jesus himself. What does this verse say, “And I say also 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.” These say that Peter is the rock upon which Jesus was going to build his church. However, the rest of scripture state otherwise. Jesus said that He was the rock in Matthew 21:42, when he said, “The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes”. To this, Peter himself agreed! Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:6, “Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded.” Who is the chief corner stone? Peter or Jesus? It is Jesus. Inspired by the same Holy Spirit as Matthew, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:11 “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” The scriptures teach that Jesus was and is the foundation of the church, not Peter. Who then was the “rock” in Matthew 21:42? It was Jesus himself. It was upon the rock of Peter’s confession upon which Jesus would build His church, not upon Peter himself.
There are, however, other inconsistencies with the claim that Peter was the first pope. Peter, unlike the popes of our day, had a mother-in-law according to Matthew 8:14, Mark 1:30 and Luke 4:38. This meant that Peter (Cephas) was married. In 1 Corinthians 9:5, Paul calls our attention to this fact when he says, “Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?” This is entirely inconsistent with what the Catholic Church requires in a “pope” today. The Catholic Encyclopedia states, “Virginity is consequently the special prerogative of the Christian priesthood.” By and large, one must come up through the ranks of Catholic priesthood in order to become the pope. This would require celibacy for the pope. Too bad Peter didn’t know this.
Another inconsistency is that Peter didn’t allow anyone to bow down before him and worship him as those who fawn over the pope do today. In Acts 10:25,26 we have these words regarding Cornelius, “And when it came to pass that Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him. But Peter raised him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man.” The word “worship” in this verse refers as much to a position as to an attitude. It means to bow the knee toward or kiss toward another. The action of Cornelius’ bowing down to Peter was understood as an action of worship. Unlike the popes of modern day who accept such worship, Peter refused it. He told this man to stand up because he, Peter, was also a man. Strange behavior indeed, from a pope! Why don’t the popes of today follow Peter’s example in this regard, if he TRULY was the first pope. Hypocrisy comes to mind as at least one of the reasons. Another reason is simply that Peter wasn’t the first pope.
Perhaps the clincher is the situation in which Peter found himself at the church in Antioch. He had traveled there to visit and have fellowship with the brethren, but when his fellow Jews arrived, Peter stopped engaging in that fellowship and refused to eat with them. Paul called Peter down on this point. He states in Galatians 2:11 “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I resisted him to the face, because he stood condemned.” This is strange behavior toward someone who was the first pope. Didn’t Paul know about Peter’s elevated status? Didn’t Paul know that the pope is beyond reproach? Didn’t Paul know that the pope makes the doctrine of the church? Who among the Catholics today would so act toward the pope if he were found to be in sin? Not any of them would so act. Yet, Paul treats Peter not as if he were someone special, but as if he were merely a brother who needed correction.
The fact of such matters is that Peter was never the first pope. Peter was not so elevated above the other apostles as to have a greater measure of authority than any of the others. Peter was a leader, of that there is no doubt. Peter was also a shepherd, but acknowledged that there were others who were on equal footing with him in this role (1 Peter 5:1). The Catholic Church would have us believe that Peter was the chief Shepherd of the whole church. They say, ” The title pope, once used with far greater latitude (see below, section V), is at present employed solely to denote the Bishop of Rome, who, in virtue of his position as successor of St. Peter, is the chief pastor of the whole Church, the Vicar of Christ upon earth” (The Pope). They also state regarding John 21:15-17, “�here [Jesus] makes [Peter] the shepherd of God’s flock to take the place of Himself, the Good Shepherd.” But to Peter, there was but ONE Chief Shepherd and that was Jesus himself. He makes this abundantly clear in 1 Peter 5:4 where Peter says, “And when the chief Shepherd shall be manifested, ye shall receive the crown of glory that fadeth not away.” Again, the Catholic Church would do well to listen to their “first pope.” Yet, sadly, they do not.
The scriptures plainly teach that Peter held no such role of prominence for which the Catholic Church argues. They argue this not based upon the facts of the scriptures, but merely upon their own traditions. And the traditions of men never outweigh the word of God (Mark 7:13). In fact, traditions have no authority whatsoever when it comes to doctrinal matters (Mark 7:13). Only the scriptures can provide the man of God with everything that he needs for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16,17). Our plea is for unity, not based upon the traditions of men, but upon the authority of the word of God. If we take that as the standard, then we will avoid such folly as attempting to twist the scriptures into confirming Peter as the first pope.