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The Pope (4)

Victor M. Eskew


            In our last article, we looked at some of the reasons the Catholic Church believes Peter was the first pope.  These reasons were taken from Matthew 16:18-19.  In this article, we will look at another argument they use to assert the supremacy of Peter among the apostles.  After answering that argument, we will consider some other reasons Peter could not have been the first pope.

            An argument used to teach that Peter was the first pope is centered upon the lists of the apostles we find in the Bible.  It is argued that since Peter always heads the lists he must have been the “first” among the apostles.  There are four complete lists of the apostles.  They are found in Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:13-19, Luke 6:12-16, and Acts 1:13-14, and Peter is the first on each one of these lists.  However, in the book of Galatians, Paul gives us a brief list of important figures in the church at Jerusalem.  It is interesting that Peter does not head that list.  Paul writes:  “And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.”  Only three of the apostles are mentioned.  Peter is not first.  He is listed second.  If he were really the pope of the church, surely Paul would have recognized that and honored him as the pope by listing him first. 

            While we are discussing Paul’s association with Peter, let’s look at two other things that refute the idea that Peter was the pope.  One of these things involves Paul’s perception of Peter.  He did not see Peter as being over him.  Instead, he viewed Peter as an equal.  Peter was the apostle to the Jews while Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles.  Paul even said that those who were “somewhat” in the church in Jerusalem understood this as well.  “But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; (for he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles.)” 

The second thing that refutes the teaching that Peter was the first pope springs from the equality just noted that existed between Peter and Paul.  On one occasion, Peter committed a sin.  Paul tells us that before some Jews came to Antioch, Peter “did eat with the Gentiles.”  This was not a sin.  God had accepted the Gentiles into the kingdom of God.  Jews and Gentiles could have and should have had fellowship with one another.  However, when the Jews come from Jerusalem, Peter “withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision” (Gal. 2:12).  Peter’s sin caused others to sin likewise, including Barnabas (Gal. 2:13).  When this happened, Paul said that he withstood Peter “to the face, because he was to be blamed” (Gal. 2:11).  If Peter had been the pope of the church, Paul would not have rebuked Peter.  What person has the right or authority to rebuke the supposed “Father on earth”?  Paul knew Peter was an apostle just as he was.  He held no sway or authority over all.  When Peter sinned, he needed to be rebuked just like all need to be rebuked when they transgress the will of God.

A major evidence that Peter was not the first pope is the fact that he was a married man.  There are two texts in the Bible that reveal this to us.  Matthew 8:14 plainly tells us of “his wife’s mother.”  “And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house, he saw his wife’s mother laid, and sick of a fever.”  The other passage is also plain if a person understands the qualifications of an elder.  In I Peter 5:1, Peter writes:  “The elders which are among you I exhort, whom am also an elder…”  Peter acknowledges that he was an elder.  This means that he fulfilled the qualifications of an elder.  One of the qualifications was that he had to be “the husband of one wife” (I Tim. 3:2).  It is interesting that the Catholic Church makes a big deal out of Peter’s being the pope, but if he were living today he could not be the pope. 

Previously, we learned that Paul did not elevate Peter to the position of a pope.  He looked at Peter as his equal.  The same was true of all of the apostles.  In Matthew 18:1, the disciples came to Jesus with a question.  They asked:  “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  This question comes after the events of Matthew 16.  Why would they ask such a question if Jesus had already established Peter as the Pontiff of the church?  Jesus’ answer did not establish Peter as the Vicar of Christ.  “And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.  Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:2-4).  Jesus missed a perfect opportunity to affirm that Peter was the pope on this occasion.  He could easily have said:  “I have already told you that Peter is the greatest.”  He did not because this was not the case.  Greatness is not found in a position.  Greatness is found in humility and servitude.

Another passage that proves Peter was not the pope is found in I Corinthians 3.  The church at Corinth was severely divided over several issues.  One of them involved the individuals who had baptized them into Christ.  “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ” (I Cor. 1:12).  If Peter had been the pope, those who had been baptized of him would certainly have had bragging rights.  However, this was not the case at all.  Paul made it clear that it did not matter who had baptized them.  “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?  I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.  So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase” (I Cor. 3:5-7).  Peter’s name was included in the list of those over whom the church was arguing.  Paul, therefore, said of Peter that he is not anything.  Would this have been said if Peter were the pope?  Surely not!  

Lastly, there are two things that Peter never did that indicate that he was not the pope.  First, he never referred to himself as the pope.  Peter wrote two epistles to Christians of the first century.  In both of them, he called himself “an apostle of Christ” (I Pet. 1:1; II Pet. 1:1).  Second, Peter never allowed himself to be worshipped.  On one occasion, a man attempted to worship Peter.  Peter’s reaction was quick and telling.  “And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him.  But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man” (Acts 10:25-26).  The occasion of this action is as important as the action itself.  Peter had come to the house of Cornelius in order to use the keys of the kingdom.  The Catholic Church affirms that this is one of the proofs of Peter’s being the pope.  Surely, Peter would allow this lowly Gentile to bow at his feet and kiss his toe.  Surely, he would allow this heathen man to praise and adore him since he was about to allow him access into the kingdom.  The pope of today would allow it.  But, Peter did not.  Peter knew he was not the pope.  He made it clear to Cornelius that he was just a man.

Dear readers, Peter was not the pope of the first century church.  He was a preacher and an apostle.  More importantly, he was a servant of Jesus Christ.  The church did not need Peter to be the head of the church.  The church had a head.  That head was Jesus Christ.  He alone has the preeminence over the body of Christ.  “And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23).