Home > Denominations and Religions
Several religious groups teach as fundamental doctrine that Peter was the first earthly head and Chief Shepherd (pastor) of the church, and modern church leaders are his successors. Others claim that the Papacy is the foundation of the church. Consider this quotation:
In this study we want to see what the Bible says about this doctrine. If it is true, as important as it is, we will surely find it in the Bible.
We have no personal ill-will toward any, nor do we want to misrepresent anyone. But we do urge people to seek for truth with an open mind. "Put your own selves to the test, whether you are in the faith; prove yourselves" (2 Corinthians 13:5). To do this we must "study the Scriptures every day to see whether these things are so" (Acts 17:11). No one should fear to examine his beliefs according to the Bible.
(Note: all Scripture quotations will be from the St. Joseph New Catholic Edition of the Holy Bible - Confraternity Edition. All other quotations are from officially recognized Roman Catholic sources.)
Obviously Peter could be Pope only if Jesus authorized the existence of that office. So let us consider what Jesus' word says.
The Bible specifically names several offices in the church and describes the work and qualifications of those who hold that office.
|Apostles||Eph. 4:11; Matt. 10:2-4;
2 Cor. 12:11,12
|Elders or Bishops||Phil. 1:1; Acts 14:23;
|1 Tim. 3:1-7;
1 Peter 5:1-3
|Deacons||Phil. 1:1||1 Tim. 3:8-13||Acts 6:1-6|
The Bible contains several passages where the office of Pope ought to be mentioned, if it existed. Ephesians 4:11,12 and 1 Corinthians 12:28 list various officers and workers in the church, but the office of Pope is not mentioned. Why not?
Paul wrote several letters to and from Rome, naming many people there (Rom. 16; Col. 4:7-14; 2 Tim. 4:9-22; Philem. 23,24). If Peter was Pope in Rome, surely Paul would have mentioned him. But Paul mentions neither Peter nor anyone else as being Pope.
Who can imagine someone today writing official letters to or from the church in Rome, listing the officers of the Catholic Church, giving all this information about the work and qualifications of lesser officers, but never mentioning the Pope? If the office of Pope was established by Jesus, why does the New Testament fail to mention it?
The Pope is believed to be the head of the church, but note:
Ephesians 1:22,23 - Jesus is head over all things to the church (cf. Col. 1:18). What is there left for a Pope to be head of?
Ephesians 5:22-24 - A husband is head of his wife as Jesus is head of the church. But for a wife to submit to two husbands is adultery (Rom. 7:2,3). So for the church to submit to two heads (Jesus and the Pope) would be spiritual adultery.
Matthew 28:18-20 - Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth. He is the one lawgiver (James 4:12). To claim that the Pope may issue religious laws is to deny the unique power of Jesus.
The Bible plainly states that Jesus is Head of the church. He is the one Lord in the one body (church). There cannot be two Lords any more than there could be two Gods (Eph. 4:4-6). Bishops (even from Rome) are forbidden to lord it over the flock (1 Peter 5:1-3).
"The primacy of St. Peter was ... an essential part of Christ's church, the rock on which it was built ... The House of God will always need its foundation" (The Question Box, Bertrand Conway, 1929 Edition, pp. 153,154).
Hence, the authority of Popes is said to be the foundation of the Catholic Church. But the Bible says:
1 Corinthians 3:11 - There can be no foundation other than Jesus.
1 Peter. 2:3-8 - Peter himself taught that Jesus is the chief cornerstone on which the church is built. [Cf. Acts 4:10-12.]
Matthew 16:13-18 - This passage is often used to try to prove Peter is the foundation of the church (Catechism, p. 56; Question Box, p. 146). But the passages already studied prove that Jesus, not Peter or the Pope, is the foundation of the church. Matthew 16. actually confirms this truth.
The context (v13,15,16) is not discussing who Peter is nor what his position is, but who Jesus is and what His position is. The passage does not exalt Peter; it exalts Jesus. Jesus does not confess Peter; Peter confesses Jesus.
The verse is not saying Peter is the rock on which the church is built, but rather it contrasts Peter's name (Greek PETROS, masculine - a piece of rock) to the rock on which the church would be built (Greek PETRA, feminine - a solid ledge of rock).
Jesus often compared Himself to inanimate objects - a temple (John 2:18-22), a door (John 10:7), a vine (John 15:1-11). Here He compares Himself to a rock, a name often used for Deity in the Old Testament (Psa. 31:3; 71:3; 89:26ff; 18:2f,32f).
The foundation of the church is not Peter. It is the truth that Peter had just confessed - that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God (v16). This is confirmed by the context and by other Scriptures. To say Peter is the foundation would be to put a man in the place of Deity!
Consider some great sins in the life of Peter.
* Immediately after talking about the foundation of the church, Christ rebuked Peter saying: "Get behind me, satan, thou art a scandal to me; for thou dost not mind the things of God, but those of men" (Matthew 16:21-23).
* Peter denied Jesus 3 times, even with curses and swearing (Matthew 26:69-75).
* Jesus rebuked Peter's lack of faith (Matthew 14:22-31).
* Peter was hypocritical and disobeyed the gospel (Galatians 2:11ff).
Now consider sins in the lives of Catholic Popes.
The following facts have been gleaned from the Catholic Dictionary and the Catholic Encyclopedia (at www.newadvent.org/cathen/).
* At least 4 Popes are admitted to have had illegitimate children.
* At least 5 Popes were sons of priests, including at least one (maybe two) Popes who were sons of other Popes! (Some of these priests may have been married but left their families to become priests.)
* At least 6 Popes were excommunicated or condemned as heretics, including one Pope who was excommunicated twice and two Popes who excommunicated one another!
Who can believe that Christ's church is founded on an office occupied by such men as these? Imagine Jesus' church supposedly going through long periods of time in which nobody really knows who was the real head of the church! How much better to accept the plain Bible teaching that the church is founded on the sinless, Divine Son of God!
"The Vatican Council defines as an article of faith that ... Christ 'conferred upon Peter alone the jurisdiction of Chief Pastor [shepherd] and Ruler over all the flock'" (Question Box, p. 147).
John 10:11,14 - Jesus is the Good Shepherd. We should not follow strangers (v1,5,8-13; cf. Ezek. 34:23; 37:24; Psa. 23).
1 Peter 5:4 - Peter himself spoke of the Prince Shepherd (the footnote in the Catholic Bible says, "the Greek reads, 'the chief Shepherd'"). This Shepherd will come to reward the faithful, clearly referring to Jesus' second coming (2 Tim. 4:8; Apoc. 2:10; 22:12; Matt. 25:31-46; etc.)
Hebrews 13:20 - Jesus is the Great Shepherd.
The Catholic Bible says Jesus is the Chief or Great Shepherd, but the Catholic council declared, as an article of faith, that this position belongs to "Peter alone"!
Some say this proves Peter was the Chief Shepherd (Question Box, pp. 147,148; Catechism, p. 56).
But all the apostles were told to feed the sheep in the sense of teaching them (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15,16) and caring for them (2 Cor. 11:28). Bishops were also told to feed the flock (1 Pet. 5:1-3; Acts 20:28). Are all these other people Popes too?
Jesus' statement was not intended to exalt Peter to authority over the other apostles, but simply to restore him to the apostleship from which he had fallen. Peter had denied Jesus three times (John 18:15-18,25-27). So Jesus had him confess his love three times, and then restored him to the responsibility that all the apostles would share.
There is no passage, here or elsewhere, which calls Peter the Chief Shepherd or which states He has authority over the other apostles.
The basic error of the doctrine of Papal authority is that it exalts man to the place of God. God said that His Divine Son is head, foundation, and chief shepherd for the church. No mere man is ever given such positions. To exalt a man to these positions is blasphemous.
Since there is no evidence that the office of Pope even existed in the early church, obviously neither Peter nor anyone else could hold the office. But let us confirm our conclusions by looking at the Bible teaching specifically about Peter to see if he acted like a Pope.
But notice what God says:
Why would apostles need guidance from a Pope if they were guided directly by the Spirit? Paul expressly stated that his teaching was not based on anything learned from man but on direct revelation from Jesus - Galatians 1:11,12,16,17; 2:6-9,11-14.
Some claim that Jesus, in Matthew 16:19, gave exclusively to Peter the power to bind and loose, but Matthew 18:18 shows that others also had the same power.
John 20:22,23 - All apostles had power to forgive or retain sins, but only as guided by the Holy Spirit. No apostle could originate laws but could only reveal the laws God made. They did this by revealing and preaching the gospel. If men obey, their sins are forgiven; if not, their sins are retained - Rom. 1:16; Mark 16:15,16; Acts 2:36-41; etc.
The gospel was the "keys" or authority by which apostles opened the door for men to enter the church. Peter was the first to preach to Jews (Acts 2) and to Gentiles (Acts 10), but all apostles had authority to preach the gospel. No passage anywhere says the other apostles submitted to Peter's authority.
All apostles were ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). If Peter had authority over all apostles, Paul would have been behind him, but Paul denies this.
There is no proof Peter had authority over other apostles, but much proof shows the others had all that Peter had.
Matthew 8:14 - Jesus healed the mother of Peter's wife.
1 Corinthians 9:5 - Peter (Cephas) continued to have a wife (woman) after the church began. The footnote in the St. Joseph New Catholic Edition of the Bible adds, "There is no question of a right to marry. The Apostles had that right...." This expressly included Peter.
1 Peter 5:1-3 - Peter was an elder or bishop, and bishops were married (Titus 1:5,6; 1 Timothy 3:2). The footnote on 1 Tim. 3:2 in the St. Joseph New Catholic Edition says: "...priestly celibacy as a law is of later ecclesiastical institution." In other words, Peter and all first-century bishops had the right to be married. The law against such marriages was made by the Catholic church after the Bible was complete.
Hebrews 13:4; 1 Timothy 4:1-3 - Marriage is honorable for all people. That includes apostles and all church officials. To teach that certain people may not marry is a doctrine of apostasy.
The Catholic doctrine of celibacy would eliminate from serving as Pope the very man they say was the first Pope! The doctrine of celibacy is expressly stated in the Scriptures to be heresy.
Acts 10:25,26 - Peter forbade Cornelius to worship him or to bow before him. Peter's reason was that he was a man. Are not modern Popes men too? Why should modern Popes accept that which Peter refused?
The Bible never allows anyone to bow to any man as an act of honor for his religious office (Matt. 4:10; Apoc. 22:8,9). Yet modern Popes allow and expect this.
Peter is never called "Pope," "Chief Pastor," "Prince of the Apostles," "Head of the Church," "Ruler of the Church," "Supreme Pontiff," etc. He was called simply an apostle and servant (1 Peter 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1) and fellow-presbyter (1 Peter 5:1).
Some argue that Peter avoided these titles because he was humble and modest. But if he was the first Pope, why don't modern Popes imitate his humility and modesty?! The fact is that Peter refused such titles because Jesus forbade it.
Matthew 23:9 expressly forbids calling any man "father" as a title of religious honor. Yet the word "Pope" originally meant "Father" (Catholic Dictionary, p. 667). Modern popes and priests wear the very title that Jesus forbade!
Clearly, if the apostle Peter were alive today, he would never be accepted as Pope. Yet Catholics claim he was their very first Pope!
Those who claim Peter was Pope are responsible to prove their claim is valid. We have already examined their use of Matt. 16:18 and John 21:15ff. Now consider some other passages they cite:
Some actually claim this proves Peter was Pope (Question Box, p. 147). But other people besides Peter strengthened or confirmed brethren (Acts 18:23; 14:21f; 15:32,41). Were these people all Popes too?
Jesus prayed for other apostles and disciples besides Peter (John 17:9,11,15,20). Did that make them all Popes?
The next verses in Luke 22 (v33,34) show that Jesus did not pray for Peter to exalt him as Pope, but for just the opposite reason. Jesus knew Peter was about to deny Him!
This includes the choosing of Matthias (Acts 1:15-26), preaching on Pentecost (Acts 2), healing a lame man (Acts 3,4), the death of Ananias & Sapphira (Acts 5), preaching to the first Gentiles (Acts 10), etc. Some claim this proves he was Pope (Question Box, p. 148).
But Paul was at least as dominant in Acts 13-28 as Peter was in Acts 1-12. Was Paul Pope too?
Peter was truly an important man, just as Paul was. In all groups some people are more outspoken than others, and this was surely Peter's case. But none of these passages say or imply he was Pope or head of the church. The fact a man is able to speak well does not prove he has authority over others.
It is claimed that he spoke first and he settled the issue (Question Box, pp. 148, 152).
However, Paul and Barnabas were sent to the meeting to speak to the apostles and presbyters (v2) - no distinctions were made among the apostles. If Peter was the head, why doesn't it say they went to confer with "the Pope, the apostles, and the presbyters"?
Peter did not speak first. There had been long debate before he spoke (v7). And his speech did not settle the issue. People kept silent after he spoke only so they could listen to other speakers (v12)! The final course of action was suggested by James (v13,19ff). And the whole procedure was directed by the Holy Spirit (v28), which led all apostles as we have already shown.
But in the following lists, he is not named first: Gal. 2:9; 1 Cor. 1:12; 3:22; John 1:44. Does this prove the people listed before Peter had authority over him? Being first in a list does not prove one is a Pope.
The lists where Peter is named first clearly state the office to which he was appointed - like other men, he was chosen to be an apostle (Luke 6:13-16; Matt. 10:2ff). If Peter was chosen to the office of Pope, why is this never stated anywhere?
But Jesus gave a special name to James and John (Mark 3:16,17). And God gave special names to Abraham and Sarah (Gen. 17:5,15), Jacob (Gen. 32:28f), and others. Were all these people Popes too?
Be honest now. Isn't this weak and flimsy evidence on which to base such a major doctrine? The Bible clearly identifies the work and position in the church of Jesus, apostles, bishops, etc. If the office of Pope is really the foundation of the church, why don't we have clear Scriptural evidence for it?
Both we and Catholics deny that Paul was ever a Pope, but if we used the kind of reasoning that is used to "prove" Peter to be Pope, we could make a better case that Paul was Pope.
* Paul was not married (1 Corinthians 7).
* Acts talks about Paul more than about Peter.
* Paul rebuked Peter (Galatians 2:11-14); nowhere in Scripture did Peter rebuke Paul.
* Paul cared for all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:28).
* Paul was not behind any apostle (2 Corinthians 11:5; 12:11). Peter never made such a claim for himself.
* Paul wrote 3/4 of the New Testament books. Peter wrote only 2 little ones.
* Peter cited Paul's letters as authority (2 Peter 3:15,16), but Paul never cited Peter's letters as authority.
* Scripture expressly tells us Paul was in Rome, but never says Peter was there.
* Paul's labors exceeded those of other apostles (2 Corinthians 11:23).
Now if, despite all these facts, we properly conclude that Paul was not a Pope, then surely we can see that the evidence offered for Peter as Pope is equally unconvincing.
The Catholic Church tries to prove it is the true church by tracing a succession of Popes back to Peter. It is claimed that Peter was the chief apostle and that Popes are his successors as head of the church. However, we have shown that Jesus' church had no office of Pope, nor did Peter serve as Pope. Further, we have quoted Catholic books that admit there were times when no one knows who was Pope, so how can they know the succession? There can be no valid succession of Popes.
But let us confirm this conclusion by considering other Bible teaching specifically regarding the issue of succession. Note that God warns about false apostles (2 Corinthians 11:13-15; Apoc. 2:2). Are modern Popes true apostles or false apostles?
Surely such a major doctrine must be taught in the Bible, but where is it? Those who believe it must prove it, but they cannot.
Question Box defends the doctrine on pp. 153-156. But the only proof given is a statement from the Vatican Council, followed by three pages of quotations from uninspired men. There is not one reference to any Bible passage! Why not? Because the doctrine is not in the Bible.
Apostles had to be eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ.
Peter and all apostles were eyewitnesses (Acts 2:32; 3:15; 4:33; 5:32; 10:39-41; 1 Cor. 15:4-8).
Acts 1:21,22 - The replacement of Judas is the only Bible case in which an apostle was replaced. The replacement had to be an eyewitness.
Paul was an eyewitness (1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:8; Acts 22:14,15; 26:16). He was a witness "last of all" and "out of due time" (Jesus' appeared to him exceptionally late).
Serving as an eyewitness was part of the calling of an apostle. Have all Popes seen Christ? If they have, then Paul was not last of all and was not exceptional. But if Popes have not seen Christ, then they do not have the qualifications required to succeed the apostles!
Apostles did miracles to confirm their apostleship.
Peter and other apostles raised the dead and instantly, totally healed all kinds of diseases (Acts 3:1-10; 9:32-42; 5:12-16; 13:6-12).
2 Corinthians 12:12 - These were the "signs of an apostle." Their miracles proved they were from God (Mark 16:20; Acts 14:3; Hebrews 2:3,4; John 4:48; etc.). Do modern Popes do these signs? If not, why accept them as successors of Peter?
Apostles could impart miraculous powers to others.
Acts 8:14-19; 19:1-7; Romans 1:8-11 - Peter and other apostles bestowed miraculous gifts by laying their hands on others. This is the only sense in which apostles passed power on to others. But those who received gifts in this way (such as Philip) did not become apostles and could not, in turn, pass the power on to others. Only Paul and the original apostles had this power (Acts 8:5-18).
Hence, apostles could impart spiritual gifts, but they had no successors who could do likewise, and nothing else about their position was imparted to others. Apostles lived on earth only one generation!
Do modern Popes impart miraculous powers to others? If not, how could they become successors of Peter or the apostles, and how could they make other people successors?
Apostles taught by direct guidance of the Spirit.
Peter and other apostles had this power (Matthew 10:19,20; John 16:13; Ephesians 3:3-5; 1 Corinthians 14:37).
Jude 3 - By this power they delivered the true faith to God's people once. It was not to be repeatedly delivered, just as Christ was not to be repeatedly sacrificed (cf. Heb. 9:26,28; 10:10; 7:26,27; 1 Pet. 3:18). All truth was delivered in the first century and recorded in the Scriptures (John 16:13; 2 Peter 1:3; Acts 20:20,27; 2 Tim. 3:16,17).
When the delivery of the truth was complete ("perfect"), the gifts of direct revelation ceased - 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 (cf. James 1:25). No one today is directly guided by the Holy Spirit as apostles were, hence no one can be a true successor of the apostles.
Though the Catholic church claims that Popes are successors of Peter and the apostles, yet they openly admit the following:
It is argued that these powers are not essential to the office of Pope. But read again the passages cited above and you will see that these powers were essential to the office of apostles. If Popes do not have these powers, how can they be successors of the apostles?
Modern Popes cannot be successors of apostles because they are not eyewitnesses of Christ, they do not possess miraculous powers, they cannot impart such powers to others, and they are not directly guided by the Spirit. They possess none of the unique qualifications of apostles!
How then does a man become Pope today? He is chosen by a body of men called Cardinals. Yet the Catholic Dictionary admits: "For a long time there was no such thing as a cardinal bishop..." It claims the first such men were named in 304 AD. Finally, a council in 1059 AD "decreed that Popes should henceforth be elected on the judgment of the six cardinal bishops..." (p. 118).
The Catholic Church claims that the succession of Popes is a chain that connects the modern church to the first-century church. But Popes were unknown in the Bible, Peter was not a Pope, modern Popes have none of the essential qualifications of the apostles they are supposed to succeed, and it is admitted that there are times at which no one knows who was Pope. Furthermore, the men who select the Pope were unknown in the Bible and in history for centuries after the church began. And the modern means of selecting Popes was not determined until a millennium after the church began! The whole "chain" is missing! And this is the evidence used to prove that the Catholic Church is the true church!
The duties of apostles were accomplished for all time by the original apostles. The work of apostles does not need to continue on earth.
The apostles wrote what the Spirit revealed to them (1 Cor. 14:37; Eph. 3:3-5; 2 Pet. 3:15,16; etc.).
These writings completely reveal all good works, everything we need to know to please God (2 Tim. 3:16,17; 2 Peter 1:3; John 16:13; Acts 20:20,27).
The miracles of the first century, recorded in the Bible, confirm that the message was from God (John 20:30,31; 1 Cor. 15:4-8; note John 8:17,18; Matt. 18:16).
The Scriptures can be understood by all who study diligently with an open mind (2 Tim. 3:16,17; Mark 7:14; Acts 17:11; 1 Cor. 14:33; Eph. 3:3-5).
God now preserves the Scriptures for all generations (1 Peter 1:22-25; 2 John 2; 2 Peter 1:12-15; 3:1).
People displease God when they follow teachings that differ from the gospel (Gal. 1:8,9; 2 John 9-11).
The apostles' work on earth was completed in the first century and was recorded in the Bible, just like the work of Jesus was. We do not need successors to the apostles living on earth today for the same reasons that we do not need successors to Jesus living on earth today. The work of the apostles is now accomplished by the Scriptures they wrote.
We have seen that the Catholic succession is a "chain" which is missing essentially all its links. Consider also the following points:
2 Timothy 4:2-4 - People would turn away from truth and would turn aside to fables.
1 Timothy 4:1-3 - They would depart from the faith and would require people to abstain from marriage and from certain kinds of foods. Catholicism has practiced both of these false doctrines.
Acts 20:28-30 - Bishops would teach error and lead people astray (Matt. 15:14; 7:15-23; Gal. 1:6-10; 2 John 9-11).
Note: If the bishops went into error, tracing a succession of them would not identify the true church! Yet in this study, we have identified several major points on which the Catholic hierarchy teaches error.
God has preserved the gospel as the seed by which the church is reproduced (1 Peter 1:22-25; Luke 8:11). This seed produces today just what it did in the first century (Galatians 6:7). People who obey it are born again into God's true family, the church (Acts 2:38,47; Galatians 3:26,27; Romans 1:16).
But when people persist in following doctrines different from the gospel, they go into apostasy. To determine whether a religious group is the true church of Christ, we must compare its doctrine and practice to the New Testament (Acts 17:11; Matthew 7:15- 23; Galatians 1:8,9; 2 John 9-11). If it has gone into apostasy, it cannot be Jesus' church.
We seek to help, not hurt, all who read this material. We urge you to study the Scriptures for yourself to see if these things are so (Acts 17:11). If you find you have been in error, please contact those who gave you this booklet. They will gladly help you find Jesus' true church.
Copyright 1998, David E. Pratte
Local churches and individuals may, within limits, distribute this Bible study guide for free, but not for sale. Web sites may link to this page but not reproduce it. For details click here for our copyright guidelines.
This material is available if you wish to purchase it in printed form. For a complete list of prices and other titles available, visit Light to My Path Publications.
The Church and Worship
Catholicism in Light of Scripture
Divine Authority vs. Human Authority
Tradition as Religious Authority
Mary's Glory, Power, and Honor
Preservation of the Bible
Should Babies Be Baptized?
Transubstantiation: The Elements in Communion
Original Sin and Inherited Depravity
The Bible vs. Denominational Creeds
Can We Understand the Bible?
Observance of Religious Holy Days
How Can You Find & Identify Jesus' Church?
|Bible Courses, Commentaries, Class Books | Blog | Contact Us|
|Audio Bible study recordings | Bible Articles by Email|
Links from other web sites to this page or to our
home page are welcome and encouraged:
www.gospelway.com The Gospel Way: Free Bible Study Online Materials & Guides
Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.