Roman Catholicism – “Primacy of Peter”

Investigate with us the primary claim of perhaps the largest group of professed followers of Christ in the world -- the Roman Catholic Church. Catholicism is more than a religion -- it has political entity. The Vatican is a small political entity. Vatican City is a papal state within Rome. It was established in 1929 and includes the papal palace and “St. Peter’s Church.” It consists of an area of about one-sixth of a mile square and has a population of a little over a thousand people.

One of the claims made by Catholicism is that of being the one true church. Most people think of her as the “oldest church in the world,” or even the original church. There is nothing wrong with claiming to be the “one true church.” Proving it is another matter. Just here Catholicism relies on only one source of authority -- Church Tradition. Taking the Bible alone makes impossible the task of proving Catholic claims. In fact, as we shall see, the Bible actually conflicts with Catholic doctrines and practices.

The “Primacy of Peter” is such a cardinal doctrine in Catholicism that those who deny it are cursed. A document called Vatican, Constit., Pastor aeternus, cap. i: De apostolici primatus in Beato Petro instutione: one reads, “If then anyone should say that St. Peter the Apostle was not appointed by Christ to be the chief of all the Apostles and the visible head of the Church militant, or that he received from our Lord Jesus Christ a Primacy of honor only and not, immediately and directly, a Primacy of real and true jurisdiction: let him be anathema.” (Taken from The Catholic Catechism, Peter Cardinal Gasparri, page 298.) Anathema means cursed.

This claim is drawn from only one biblical source. That is Matt. 16:18-19. The Lord’s words are, “And I say to you that you are Peter and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not over power it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

This statement came near the end of the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. He gathered His disciples together and promised them that He would very soon build His Church. The entire context of Matthew 16:13-18 reads: “When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in Heaven. And I say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Professor A. Carr, author of the commentary on Matthew in the Cambridge Greek New Testament series, aptly said, “On these words mainly rest the enormous pretensions of the Roman pontiff.” It is not only pretentious, it is also very serious and pertinent, for this is the Catholic claim to exclusiveness.

One Catholic author confirms this by saying, “Down the long vista of time He sees the radiant picture of His eternal Church. Peter’s confession gives Him the occasion to designate Simon and none other as the rock of His Church and to found His imperishable Church upon this imperishable rock. This church will never perish, since it will always be a Church founded on a rock. There will always be a living Peter, whose faith will confirm his brethren...So every successive generation of the disciples will have, like the first generation, its living Peter, its rock, which will enable it to triumph over all the assimilators of the gates of hell.” (The Spirit of Catholicism, Karl Adam, Macmillan Co., N.Y. pages 105-106).

It is a question every serious Bible student must face. The seriousness of it is seen in the following statement from the pen of James Cardinal Gibbons, taken from his work called, The Faith of our Fathers, page 82. He wrote, “Jesus, our Lord, founded but one Church, which He was pleased to build on Peter. Therefore, any church that does not recognize Peter as its foundation stone is not the Church of Christ, and therefore cannot stand, for it is not the work of God. This is plain.”

It certainly becomes plain to those who cannot accept the primacy of Peter as the first in a long line of succession of Popes in Catholicism. No one denies the right of any group to claim that they are the one and only Church of Christ, but to base such a claim on the grounds on which Catholicism has rested its case is truly patently wrong. It obligates each of us to search the Scriptures diligently to understand what is meant. If, upon an honest investigation of the Scriptures, we find that the claim made by Catholicism is false, then the entire structure of the Catholic religion crumbles.

That Peter could not be the foundation “rock” on which the church was to be established is demonstrably clear. Paul did not believe in the primacy of Peter, for he wrote to the church at Corinth and said, “For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. According to the grace of God which is given to me as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which Is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:9- 11). Not only did Paul limit the foundation of the church to Christ, he mentioned Peter only in the same level of importance with himself and Apollos. If Paul is right, and he is, there is no other foundation upon which anyone who follows Christ will dare to build.

Those who build on the foundation of Peter, cannot be the church Jesus promised and which Paul established through preaching Christ, and Him crucified. Even Peter, himself, objected to being regarded as the foundation of the church. He wrote, “Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, “Behold I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner” (1 Pet. 2:6-8). To affirm that Peter is the rock is to deny that Christ is the rock on which the church is built. Peter, therefore denied that he was himself the foundation, or the rock that the church rests on.

Paul pictured the church of Christ in Ephesus as resting secure on “the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ, himself being the chief corner stone” (Eph. 2:20). Picture mentally, a great temple firmly founded on a solid rock with radiance and glory all about it, and you may begin to comprehend the church built by Christ through apostolic teaching. The teaching “of the apostles and prophets” is teaching they did as they built the church being directed by the Lord. This is the rock Jesus promised as a secure foundation for His church. It is the deity of the Son of the living God, and not Peter. Peter confessed this great fact and so must every accountable being who builds on the rock, the solid rock and foundation of life.(See Luke 6:46-49). The good old song says it so beautifully:

“Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee. Let the water and the blood, from thy wounded side which flowed. Be of sin, the double cure, save from wrath and make me pure.”

Further proof denying that Peter was ever “pope” in Rome is found in Paul’s letter to the church established in that ancient city. Paul wrote the letter to the Romans around 58 A.D. He took pains to mention twenty seven specific names of brethren -- but not Peter. Surely, had Peter occupied the “papal throne” as the visible head of the Church on earth, Paul would have greeted him first – but he didn’t.

Paul was imprisoned in Rome and wrote several letters while incarcerated. He wrote four letters to various local churches in Asia and not one time did he mention Peter. If Peter had really been head of the church does it sound reasonable that Paul would have so studiously ignored him? Paul wrote several individuals from Rome. In his last letter to Timothy he mentioned several who had forsaken him and then specifically said, “Only Luke is with me” (2 Tim. 6:11). Where do you suppose Peter was?

The truth is simple -- Peter was not the first pope -- Jesus did not intend that Peter be either the Rock on which the church was established or that he should be the head of it in any sense. The idea that any one of the apostles should be elevated above the others is clearly false. Jesus taught them, “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven” (Matt. 23:8-9).

There are numerous false doctrines taught by Catholicism. In another study possibly we will take them up one by one, but when the fundamental assumption Catholicism rests on is shown to be fallacious, the entire structure crumbles. It is like laying the axe to the root of the tree. The Rock is Christ -- not Peter (I Corinthians 10:4).

If you have any question at all about this topic, or if you would like extra study materials on it, contact us.

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