Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 20, 1949
NUMBER 24, PAGE 3,6c

Examining The Proof Texts

Franklin T. Puckett

In order to prove the authority of the pope, not only must it be shown that (1) there was a papal office, and that (2) Peter was the first pope, but also (3) that Peter had successors in that office. Concerning any position corresponding to a papal office, not only does the Bible teach that it is not so; but Jesus Christ said even before the establishment of the church that it should not be so.

When he mother of Zebedee's children came to Christ, asking that her sons might be given places of authority and power in the kingdom, Jesus said, "Ye know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Not so shall it be among you, but whosoever would become great among you shall be your minister; and whosoever would be first among you shall be your servant." (Matt. 20: 25, 26). Yet this is the very thing that Catholics deny in their efforts to exalt Peter. They claim for Peter the position and the preeminence which Jesus said "shall not be" among his disciples. This one passage of scripture alone ought to be sufficient to show that the office of pope, the exaltation of one human being above all others, is something neither taught nor intended by the Lord.

Was Peter Ever Pope?

Catholics claim that Peter was the first pope, and that the office has been handed down by right of succession from his days to the present. Their scriptural arguments for this are usually made from three passages of the New Testament: Matthew 16:18, Luke 22:31-34, and John 21:15-19. Their main contentions, of course, are not even connected with the scripture, but are drawn from secular history.

Matthew 16:18. "And I also say unto thee that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." Does this passage teach that Peter was "first" among the apostles? That he was to be lord and ruler over the others? That he was the very foundation of the church of the Lord? Such is the contention of Catholics. For instance, in their Catechism the question is raised, "In what simple way can we distinguish the true church?" And the answer is, "Where Peter is, there is the church."

When Jesus Christ said, "upon this rock I will build my church," he was certainly not talking about Peter. The word "petros" simply means a stone, a pebble, or a small rock. But the word used by Jesus was not "petros" at all; it was a different word, in a different gender, and with a different meaning. Christ used the word "petra", which means a solid mass of stone, or a huge ledge. Just a few miles out of Atlanta, Stone Mountain rears its granite bulk into the skies. Some years ago men started to carve a memorial to the southern Confederacy from the side of that mountain. Chunks and slivers of rock were chipped off, and fell down to the base of the mountain. The apostle Peter is like one of these little chips of rock lying at the foot of the mountain; but the "rock" the "petra" on which Christ built the church was like the huge mass of granite, weighing uncounted millions of tons. That huge rock on which the church was built was the truth that Peter confessed; that Jesus was indeed he very Son of God himself.

That it was upon Christ himself and not Peter that the church was builded is clearly seen from Paul's reference to the matter. He declares, "For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ." (I Cor. 3:11). And even Peter says that we, as living stones, are built up on Christ as the chief cornerstone. (I Pet. 2:4-8).

Luke 22:31-34. "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan asked to have you, that he might sift you as wheat; but I made supplication for thee, that thy faith fail not; and do thou, when once thou has turned again, establish thy brethren. Because Christ told him to "strengthen thy brethren," Catholics suppose that this means Peter was to be the strongest and most outstanding of the group. But it is quite clear that had any other of the apostles been in the same position that Peter was, the Lord would have prayed for them as he did for Peter. The obligation placed upon Peter, that he "strengthen thy brethren" is one that rests upon every Christian, No special significance or importance can be attached to the idea that that instruction came to Peter at that time. For elsewhere in the New Testament it is enjoined upon all believers.

John 21:15-19. After the resurrection of the Lord, the disciples had gone fishing. They had toiled all night, but had taken nothing; Jesus appeared to them and told them to cast the net on the right side. When they did, the catch was so large that they were not able to draw it in. When they had come ashore and had eaten, "Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of John, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee." Catholics think that means, "Lovest thou me more than these other disciples love me." But the grammatical construction of the sentence not only does not teach that, but will not even allow that idea. That would require that the pronoun "these" be in the nominative case as the subject of the verb "love." But the pronoun is not in the nominative case. Obviously, the question means "Lovest thou me more than thou lovest these things to which you have returned after my crucifixion."

Three times the Lord asked Peter the question concerning his love for him. And "Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee." After each question the Lord instructed Peter to "feed" his sheep, or his lambs. Catholics say that that implies the primacy of Peter, that he, above all others, was given the task of "feeding" the flock. But even a casual reading of the New Testament will reveal that not only to Peter, but to all the elders of the church, was given the task of "feeding" the flock." (Acts 20:28). Catholics try to make a distinction between "feeding the lambs" and "feeding the sheep." They say that "lambs" designates the flock, but "sheep" designates the bishops. But compare this interpretation with the 10th chapter of John, and it at once becomes ridiculous. Christ did not tell Peter to "feed my bishops" or "feed my clergy." He commanded him to feed the sheep—exactly the same commandment that Paul gave the Ephesian elders when he was instructing them how to take the oversight of the church, the flock.

Contrary Passages

The New Testament is filled with passages which contradict the idea of the papacy of Peter. Cornelius, for example, was told to stand up when he had prostrated himself at the feet of Peter. Do the popes today follow such a practice? Do they not, on the contrary, require that you come into their presence in an attitude of worship and on bended knee. If the pope wants especially to honor one, he may extend the hand or the foot to be kissed. Did Peter do such with Cornelius? The very idea is repulsive.

When Paul wrote the Roman epistle is it not more than strange that he made no mention of Peter at all if Peter was then the Pope in Rome. More than two dozen members of the Roman congregation are named. Why this omission of Peter? In Luke's account of Paul's voyage to Rome there is no indication at all that Peter was pope in Rome when Paul reached the city. If he was, why did he not welcome Paul to Rome? Why did he not console and comfort him when all others "forsook" him, Further, if Peter was pope, why was it necessary for Paul to withstand him to his face, and condemn him for his wrongful attitude toward the Gentiles? This was not merely a matter of weakness on Peter's part; the whole doctrinal position of the admission of Gentiles to the gospel of Christ was involved. But Peter was wrong. He made a mistake; and Paul condemned him for it. Will any Catholic admit that an "infallible" pope could have erred so grievously?