Peter Vs. the Papacy

By Wayne Jackson

There is a sense in which it is a distressful thing to be forced to throw the floodlight upon the religious error of one’s friends. No spiritually sensitive person enjoys seeing others offended. But there is a guiding principle that must ever prevail in religious matters. As Paul once expressed it: “So then am I become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Gal. 4:16).

This brings me to an issue about which some of my Roman Catholic friends are rather adamant. These sincere folks believe that the apostle Peter was the original pontiff, the earthly “head” of the primitive church. Here is the testimony of one of their scholars, who writes with the official endorsement of the Church. Donald Attwater declares that Peter was “the first pope and bishop of Rome, prince of the Apostles, vicar of Jesus Christ, and human foundation of the Church” (A Catholic Dictionary, New York: Macmillan, 1961, p. 380).

There are a number of ways to refute this grandiose claim, but in this brief discussion, we will limit our study to the testimony of Peter himself. We are confident that two significant points will be sufficient to negate the Roman assertions on behalf of the Lord’s apostle.

First, if the Catholic claims for Peter’s primacy were valid, one would expect to discover at least some indication of this dogma to be revealed in the apostle’s personal writings. There is not a phrase, either in First or Second Peter, that even comes close to the claim cited above.

Second, there are, in fact, subtle suggestions in these documents that indicate quite the contrary. Note some of the points that shed light on this issue.

  1. In the salutations of these documents, Peter designates himself simply as an apostle and/or servant of Christ. No august titles are employed (1 Pet. 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:1), as in the case of the modern pontiff. Rather, Peter’s phraseology is identical to the sort of terminology that Paul uses to introduce himself in some of his letters (Rom. 1:1; Tit. 1:1).
  2. In alluding to the church’s foundation, Peter characterizes Jesus as the “chief corner stone” (1 Pet. 2:6-7). Strangely, he neglected to mention that he is the “human foundation.”
  3. The apostle referred to himself merely as a “fellow-elder” (1 Pet. 5:1), an expression which would hardly be used of one who occupied the role as “head of the church on earth.” Peter Davids notes that there is a deliberate avoidance of those “exalted titles,” which began to be used in the second century (The First Epistle of Peter, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990, p. 176).
  4. In this very context Peter forbids any elder to be “lording it” over the church (1 Pet. 5:3). The Greek term (katakurieuo) has as intensive force, conveying the sense of one who acts as a master or lord over others. As an elder, Peter repudiated this disposition; and yet, it is the very type of action to which the pope arrogates himself.

    Thomas Newton quotes the following description of the pope that has been historically adopted regarding the “pontiff”:


    “Our Lord God the pope; another God upon earth, king of kings, and lord of lords. The same is the dominion of God and the pope. To believe that our Lord God the pope might not decree, as he decreed, it were a matter of heresy. The power of the pope is greater than all created power, and extends itself to things celestial, terrestrial, and infernal. The pope doeth whatsoever he listeth [wills], even things unlawful, and is more than God” (Dissertations on the Prophecies, London: B. Blake, Bell-Yard, Temple-Bar, 1831, p. 456).

    Note this quotation from an apologist of the Catholic system.

    “…in matters of jurisdiction [the pope] enjoys supreme, universal and immediate jurisdiction over the whole Church and every member of it. This supremacy is not given by the cardinals who elect him, but immediately by God. The Pope is the Church’s supreme and infallible teacher, its supreme legislator, and its supreme judge” (Bertrand Conway, The Question Box, San Francisco: Catholic Truth Society, 1929, p. 158).

    To those who have but a minimal knowledge of the New Testament, these quotations should reveal how deeply into religious digression the Roman Church has dredged itself.

Across the centuries of ecclesiastical history, multiplied thousands of Catholics have abandoned that apostate system to enjoy the freshness of pure, primitive Christianity. May their modern Roman kinsmen be constrained to do likewise.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.