The Papacy and Mark’s Significant Omission
About six months before his death, Jesus was in northern Palestine, in the area of Caesarea Philippi. It was at this time that a conversation of some renown, between Christ and his disciples, took place. Matthew’s version of the narrative is as follows:
“Who do men say the Son of man is? And they said, Some say John the Baptist; some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. He said unto them, But who do you [plural] say that I am?
And Simon Peter answered and said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed are you, Simon Bar-jonah: for flesh and blood has not revealed it unto you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I also say unto you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give unto you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:13-19).
The last portion of this narrative has been emphasized by boldface type, the reason being that this, without doubt, is the most important text in Roman Catholic theology. It is this passage which allegedly constitutes the most substantial portion of scripture the Roman Church considers to be foundational to their dogma regarding the papacy.
A serious consideration of that text, together with related passages, will clearly demonstrate that there is no sound biblical argument in support of the doctrine of the primacy of Peter, his office as chief of the apostles, the head of the Church on earth, etc. These ideas were totally unknown in the first century.
But that is beside the point for the moment. The argument we wish to introduce is more subtle in nature.
In contrast to Matthew’s version of the Lord’s exchange with his disciples, there is Mark’s considerably abbreviated record.
“Who do men say that I am? And they told him, saying, John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but others, One of the prophets. And he asked them, But who do you say that I am? Peter answered and said unto him, You are the Christ” (Mark 8:27-29).
Note the remarkable difference in length. Mark’s version omits some eighty-one words (Greek text) that are found in Matthew’s account. And the significant thing is this: the deleted words are the very ones relied upon by the Roman church to support its cherished doctrine of Peter’s supremacy.
Some would see little importance to this difference, since it is a known fact that one Gospel writer may supplement what another has written, or else provide but a condensed version of the same general text. That is true, of course, but that is not the end of the story so far as this matter is concerned.
It is a well-known fact, almost universally conceded by biblical scholars, that Mark’s Gospel was written under the oversight of the apostle Peter! There is strong testimony from the ancient “church fathers” to this effect.
- Papias of Hierapolis, writing about A.D. 140, cites the apostle John as saying that "Mark, having become Peter’s interpreter, wrote accurately as many things as he remembered. . . " (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3.39).
- Justin Martyr (ca. A.D. 150) quoted from the Gospel of Mark and characterized the narrative as the “Memoirs of Peter” (Dialogue with Trypho, 106).
- A Latin prologue to Mark’s Gospel, composed about A.D. 160-180, says that “Mark. . . was the interpreter of Peter. After the death of Peter himself, he wrote down this same Gospel in the regions of Italy” (Anti-Marchonite Prologue, as replicated in Vincent Taylor’s, The Gospel According to St. Mark, New York: St. Martin’s, 1966, p. 3).
- Irenaeus (ca. A.D. 140-203) wrote: “Now after the death of these [Peter and Paul], Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself also transmitted to us in writing the things preached by Peter” (Against Heresies, 3.1.1).
- Eusebius (ca. A.D. 326) quoted Clement of Alexandria (ca. A.D. 195) to the effect that many of the early Christians urged Mark, as one who had been close to Peter for a long while, to “record his words” for the benefit of others, and that Mark did so (Ecclesiastical History, 6.14.6). Elsewhere Eusebius notes that Peter “ratified [Mark’s] writing for use in the churches” (2.15.2).
The historian also referred to the testimony of Origen (ca. A.D. 230), who contended that Mark penned his Gospel account “as Peter guided him” (6.25.5).
What Is the Point?
Now, what is the point we are making? Simply this.
When Peter heard the words from Jesus’ lips, as recorded by Matthew, “I say unto you, that you are Peter?,” had he attached to them the importance that Catholic clerics have evolved over the centuries past, and had the apostle guided Mark in the composition of his Gospel narrative, does anyone believe for one moment that this crucial text would have been omitted from Mark’s record? Does that sound credible? It absolutely does not. In this very circumstance there is a subtle suggestion that neither Peter, Mark, nor any other inspired first-century writer, entertained the mystical view entertained by the Catholic clergy. Clearly, Mark’s omission was by divine design!
The fact is, in neither of the epistles that came from Peter’s pen (1 Peter and 2 Peter) is there any suggestion that he was to be the successor of Christ, the head of the church, or “the bishop” of Rome. Actually, he humbly referred to himself simply as a “fellow-elder” (1 Peter 5:1), with no exalted stature whatever being indicated.