Was Peter the First Pope?
Thanks for your question. The short answer is "No." Let's look at this issue.
Briefly, the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) teaches that the Apostle Peter was the first pope, upon whom God chose to build his church. The RCC holds that Peter became the first bishop of Rome. They teach that God passed Peter's apostolic authority to those who later filled his seat ("apostolic succession"). They claim to be able to trace this unbroken chain of popes back to Saint Peter. In addition, the RCC teaches that Peter, and the others that followed him, are infallible when addressing issues ex cathedra. They claim this is a negative assurance that protects against teaching false doctrine. This is how the pope (and the bishops in union with him) can lead the church without error.
However, the Bible does not teach the RCC side of this issue. Some brief notes are enough to disprove this false teaching of the RCC:
- (1) While Peter, who was married (Matt 8:14; 1 Cor. 9:5), was certainly a leader in the NT church (Eph 2:19-20), nowhere in Scripture does it claim that he held primacy over the other Apostles. And nowhere in Peter's two books did he claim such authority.
- (2) The Apostle Paul (and the other apostles too, Jas 5:14-15, etc.) exhibited authority in the NT church (2 Cor 13:10: Tit 2:15; 3:10-11), including church disciple (1 Cor 5:1-13; esp. 1 Cor 5:4; Matt 18:15-20).
- (3) Scripture does not teach that the first bishop of Rome, or any other bishop in Rome, is to have primacy over God's church.
- (4) While the RCC teaches that the church existed in the OT their unbroken chain of popes allegedly only goes back to Peter, not Adam? As of 2017, the OT still covers centuries more time than the NT does. If a pope is so important for the perseverance of a God's church, how could God have left his church 1000s of years without one? See "The Old/New Testament Church" and "Pre-Apostolic Succession ???" below.
- (5) As to infallibility, there has only been one infallible man - the Lord Jesus Christ (Isa 53:9; John 19:4; 2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 1:18-19; 2:22: Heb 4:15). The Scripture teaches that all of us sin (1 John 1:8-10; Rom 3:23). The Apostle Paul even corrected the Apostle Peter on his doctrine at one point in the NT church's development (Gal 2:11-21). More importantly, even Jesus had to correct Peter (Matt 16:23; John 21:20-22).
While it is remarkable that the term ex cathedra is not even in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), two known ex cathedra statements that have been made regard Mary's Immaculate Conception, made by Pius IX in 1854, and of her Assumption into heaven, made by Pius XII in 1950. Various popes and councils declared that non-Catholics cannot be saved. More than forty years after his death, Pope Honorius I, who held the papacy from 625 to his death in 638, was anathematized. How can someone who is capable of speaking infallibly be declared a heretic? Pope John Paul II apologized to the world for over 100 atrocities committed by the church over the last centuries - including slavery, the murder of Jan Hus, the violation of woman's rights, the Crusades, and Catholic sexual abuse of children, etc. While the apologies are commendable, how could a church with the absolute power of ex cathedra be involved in so many sins? For other examples of doctrinal error within the RCC see "Praying the Rosary?," "Can Catholics be Saved?," and "Are all Protestants going to Hell (Catholic Dogma)? " below.
Christians are suppose to compare the teachings of others with Scripture alone (Psa 19:7-8; 119:160; Prov 30:5; Matt 5:18; John 17:17). The Apostle Peter even agrees writing, "And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (2 Pet 1:19-21).
To battle against error, false theology, etc. the Apostle Paul did not commend Christians to Rome, but to God (Acts 20:28-32). Scripture, not man, is our infallible measuring stick (2 Tim 3:16-17; cf. Acts 17:10-12). Peter himself even points us all to the true Shepherd and Overseer of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Pet 2:25).
- (6) Peter was told to strengthen other brethren (Luke 22:31-32) and to feed God's sheep (John 21:15-19). Peter accomplished this through the Lord's grace and forgiveness and he wrote two letters besides other teaching. However, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul wrote the other 25 books of the NT. They fed and strengthened God's flock too.
- (7) Peter would never have accepted such a distinction (Acts 10:25-26). He knew that all the apostles would sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt 19:28).
- (8) While the Lord has always provided servant leadership for his church (elders, Gk. presbyteros [1 Tim 3:1-11; Tit 1:6-9] and deacons, Gk., diakonos [1 Tim 3:12-13]), Jesus is the only head of the church (Eph. 1:22-23; Col.1:18-19). Jesus is the immovable Rock (Deut 32:4; Psa 18:2; 1 Cor 10:4) who will build his church upon the rock (Gk., petra, Matt 16:18). Peter is a detached stone (shifting, rolling, or insecure stone, Gk., petros, John 1:42). Peter and Paul both understood Jesus as "the chief cornerstone" (Acts 4:11; Eph. 2:20; 1 Pet 2:6).
So, "NO?" Peter was not the first pope. This RCC teaching is man-made, not from Scripture.
Related Topics:The Old/New Testament Church
Pre-Apostolic Succession ???
Praying the Rosary?
Can Catholics be Saved?
Are all Protestants going to Hell (Catholic Dogma)?
Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).