Roman Catholicism

The Question of Authority: Was Peter the First Pope?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
Scripture proves that he was not.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Today we continue a five-part series in response to a broadcast listener's question, "Can you summarize the key differences between Roman Catholic and Protestant teaching?"


In this series we're exploring five key distinctions between Roman Catholicism and authentic Biblical Christianity:

  1. Doctrine: Tradition vs. Scripture (read here)
  2. Authority: Church vs. Christ (read here)
  3. Salvation: Works vs. Faith (read here)
  4. Mediators: Many vs. One (read here)
  5. The True Church: Visible vs. Invisible (read here)

Yesterday we explored point one, the Christian's legitimate source of doctrine. Today we consider the question of the Christian's legitimate source of authority. We are quoting approved Vatican sources (which bear its claim of infallibility) versus the Word of God.

2. Authority: Church vs. Christ

How Roman Catholicism Establishes Authority

Resting upon human authority, Roman Catholicism claims that only the College of Cardinals ruled by the Pope has authority in matters of faith and morals, and by that authority Rome reserves the right to change its doctrines over time.

That the Church is infallible in her definitions on faith and morals is itself a Catholic dogma, which, although it was formulated ecumenically for the first time in the Vatican Council [1869-1870], had been explicitly taught long before...1

Having established the general doctrine of the Church's infallibility, we naturally proceed to ask what are the organs through which the voice of infallible authority makes itself heard. We have already seen that it is only in the episcopal body which has succeeded to the college of Apostles that infallible authority resides [i.e., the College of Cardinals], and that it is possible for the authority to be effectively exercised by this body, dispersed throughout the world, but united in bonds of communion with Peter's successor [i.e., the Pope], who is its visible head and center.2

Finally, it is objected that the acceptance of ecclesiastical infallibility is incompatible with the theory of [ongoing] doctrinal development which Catholics commonly admit. is impossible to frame any theory of development, consistent with Catholic principles, in which [human] authority is not recognized as a guiding and controlling factor.3

Apostolic succession is found [only] in the Catholic Church...none of the separated churches [e.g., Protestants] have any valid claim to it....In the third century the popes claim authority from the fact that they are St. Peter's successors, and no one objects to this claim, no one raises a counter-claim. No city boasts the tomb of the Apostle but Rome.4

How Biblical Christianity Establishes Authority

Resting upon Scripture alone, Biblical Christianity recognizes that the church's authority is founded upon Jesus Christ alone. Scripture itself refutes Rome's claims of continuing apostolic authority.

A. Peter is Not the "Rock"

Rome bases its claim of papal authority, and a continuing chain of apostolic authority, largely upon a demonstrably wrong interpretation of Matthew 16:13-19 -

When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" So they said, "Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

The Vatican teaches that when Jesus said, "this rock," He meant Peter. Therefore, Rome says, Peter is the rock on which the true church of Christ is built. Peter was to receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven, giving him the authority to make binding decrees. Rome therefore designates Peter as the first pope, bishop of Rome, and the chief authority in the church. Therefore, the Vatican says, anyone who does not submit to the Roman Church's authority opposes the one true representative of Christ on earth and his subordinates, and therefore opposes God.

However, Scripture makes it clear that Peter is not the "rock" to whom Jesus referred. Christ refers to Peter's name (petros, a stone or small rock, masculine noun), and says that "upon this rock" (petra, foundation stone or mass of stone, feminine noun) "I will build my church." Linguistically, the "rock" cannot be Peter himself, but rather his testimony, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Jesus' statement is a play on words: "Simon, you are petros, a small, moveable rock; and on this petra - this massive, un-moveable rock, your accurate testimony that I am the Christ, the Son of the living God - on this I will build my church. My church shall be be built upon Me."

B. Christ is the Rock

Furthermore, Rome's position is out of harmony with the rest of Scripture. Never in Scripture is any mere human being, group of individuals, or organization referred to as a true "rock". The Biblical personifications of "the rock" or "a rock" are always references to God and to Christ. For example:

How could one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, and the Lord had surrendered them? For their rock is not like our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges. (Deuteronomy 32:30-31)

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer...For who is God, except the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? God is my strength and power, and He makes my way perfect." (2 Samuel 22:2, 32-33)

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold....For who is God, except the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God?...The Lord lives! Blessed be my Rock! Let the God of my salvation be exalted. (Psalm 18:2, 31, 46. Similarly in Psalm 28:1, 31:2-3, 42:9, 61:2, 62:2, 62:6-7, 71:3, 78:35, 89:26, 92:15, 94:22, 95:1, and 144:1) have forgotten the God of your salvation, and have not been mindful of the Rock of your stronghold... (Isaiah 17:10)

Do not fear, nor be afraid; Have I not told you from that time, and declared it? You are My witnesses. Is there a God besides Me? Indeed there is no other Rock. (Isaiah 44:8)

Are You not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O Lord, You have appointed them for judgment; O Rock, You have marked them for correction. (Habakkuk 1:12)

But Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. As it is written: "Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame." (Romans 9:31-33)

...and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:4)

Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, "The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone," and "A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense." They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed. (1 Peter 2:7-8)

Scripture unequivocally states that Jesus Christ is the foundation upon which the true church is built, not Peter.

For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus. (1 Corinthians 3:11)

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen. Matthew 28:18-20

C. Peter Was Not Bishop of Rome

There is no evidence in the Bible to support the Roman Catholic claim that Peter was Bishop of Rome and therefore the first Pope. There is, in fact, considerable evidence to the contrary:

  • When Paul wrote his epistle to the Galatians (after 49 A.D.), in chapter two he mentions that he confronted Peter at Antioch when he exhibited hypocrisy concerning the Gospel. Peter's sin on the most basic element of Christian teaching - justification by faith alone, apart from the law - is not the sort of theological position one would expect from an allegedly infallible Pope.
  • When Paul wrote his letter to the church at Rome (about 56 A.D.) he greeted many members of the church there by name, but made no mention of Peter.
  • Years later, when Paul arrived in Rome as a prisoner, the brethren welcomed him (Acts 28) but there is no mention of Peter.
  • When Paul, while in Rome, wrote his prison epistles to the churches at Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, he included greetings from believers in Rome. In Colossians he mentions many believers in Rome by name. But in none of the three epistles is there any mention of Peter.
  • Near the end of his life (about 67 A.D.) Paul asked Timothy to come to him at Rome because "only Luke is with me" (2 Timothy 4:11). And he adds, "At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them" (4:16). If Peter was Bishop of Rome, not standing with Paul or ministering to him in his time of great need would have been serious derelictions of duty.
  • Peter makes no such claims for himself - the titles of Pope, Bishop of Rome, or any other distinction - in his own epistles. Rather, he says this: "The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder [sumpresbuteros, literally, "same elder" or "elder of the same classification"] and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away" (1 Peter 5:1-4).

D. Christ is True Bishop of Our Souls

"For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 'Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth'; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness - by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer [Greek episkopos, Bishop] of your souls" (1 Peter 2:21-25).

Next - Salvation: Works vs. Faith


1. The Catholic Encyclopedia, entry on "Infallibility" as viewed on December 10, 2009 at

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. The Catholic Encyclopedia, entry on "Apostolic Succession" as viewed on December 10, 2009 at


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