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Was Peter the First Pope?

Was Peter the first Pope? In the following excerpt from Tony Dupree’s eBook Differences Between Protestant and Catholic: My Search for the Biblical Path, Tony explores the Catholic belief that Peter was the first Roman pope in light of what the New Testament teaches. 

I believed that the Pope was the head of the Church and that Peter, the first Pope, was appointed by Jesus himself. Peter was the rock upon which Christ’s Church was built. I believed that Peter resided in Rome during most of his ministry and was consequently the first Bishop of Rome, and that this line has been unbroken to this day. I also believed that the Pope, when speaking concerning Church doctrine “ex cathedra” was infallible.

I remember very well the scripture passage where our Lord appointed Peter the head of the Church. This was one of the few Bible verses which the Sisters made us memorize.

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18, RSV)

The name Peter means “rock.” So, this means that Christ built his church on the “rock” known as Peter. This seems plain enough. As I stated earlier, one of the accusations I always charged against non-Catholic Bible study was that scriptures were taken out of context and ideas were formed without a full understanding and exploration of the subject. I have since often found the opposite to be true. But you be the judge.


“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”


Just prior to our Lord’s words in verse 18, we find Jesus asking his disciples,

“Who do men say that the Son of man is? And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter and on this rock . . .’” (Matthew 16:13-18).

But what is the rock? Peter or his statement that Jesus is the Christ? Let’s explore this.

The Greek word for Peter is Petros. It is masculine in gender and means a detached stone, a pebble, or a stone easily thrown or moved. Petra is a feminine Greek word meaning a massive rock or ledge. It is an immovable foundation. Our Lord said, “You are Petros, and on this petra, I will build my church.” Who is the foundation of the church: Peter? Christ? Or the confession that Jesus is the Christ? Thoughtful Christians disagree, but here are a couple things we can all agree on. First, Peter was indeed instrumental in orchestrating at least a couple monumental kingdom events (such as preaching the sermon at Pentecost and baptizing the first Gentile Christian). Second, although Peter is called a rock in Matthew 16, Scripture usually has a different rock in mind when discussing the church’s actual foundation.


Was Peter the first Pope? “Although Peter is called a rock in Matthew 16, Scripture usually has a different rock in mind when discussing the church’s actual foundation.”


Jesus was referred to as a “rock” in the Old Testament passages of Isaiah 8:14, Isaiah 28:16 and Psalm 118:22. Consider the New Testament scriptures concerning the “rock” as the foundation of Christ’s church:

“For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11, RSV)

“. . . For they drank from the supernatural Rock [petra] which followed them, and the Rock [petra] was Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:4, RSV)

“. . . as Christ is the head of the church . . . .” (Ephesians 5:23, RSV)

He is the head of the body, the church . . . .” (Colossians 1:18, RSV)

“. . . built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone . . . .” (Ephesians 2:20, RSV)

Look at what Peter himself wrote:

“Come to him, to that living stone . . . .” (1 Peter 2:4)

“. . . the very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner, and “A stone that will make men stumble, a rock [petra] that will make them fall . . . .” (1 Peter 2:7-8, RSV)


Was Peter the first Pope? “Come to him, to that living stone.”


In addition to these scriptures, we have additional writings of Peter, Paul, and the history of the book of Acts to help us search God’s truth. How did Peter’s contemporary brothers regard him: fellow servant of God or infallible head of the church? An interesting story is recorded in Mark 10:35-45. This was after Peter had supposedly been named Pope. The scene is Jesus with the twelve. James and John asked him for the two highest places of honor in his kingdom. “And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant . . . “ (verse 41). This would be a strange request if James and John understood Peter to be the Pope.

A study of the conference at Jerusalem (described in the 15th chapter of Acts) also provides insight into Peter’s position. A council was convened to resolve a doctrinal issue concerning the need for circumcision. Note the following verses:

“The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate . . .” (Acts 15:6-7, RSV)

Peter was there. Why not just ask him? Peter, Paul and Barnabas all spoke on the issue.

“After they finished speaking, James replied, ‘Brethren, listen to me.‘” (Acts 15:13, RSV)

James was apparently presiding over the meeting (you’d think it would have been Peter if he were the Pope).

(James speaking) “Therefore my judgment is . . .” (Acts 15:19, RSV)


“The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate. . . .”


After James’s decision, a letter was sent to the Gentiles in Antioch pronouncing the council’s position. It was not signed by the Pope but was addressed as follows:

“. . .The brethren, both the apostles and the elders, to the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch . . .” (Acts 15:23, RSV)

Again, Acts 16:4 states “the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem,” not the decisions reached by the Pope. After Peter baptized Cornelius (the first Gentile Christian, Acts 10), he was met with much criticism by the brethren in Jerusalem. He was required to explain his actions. But who would dare criticize the Pope concerning spiritual matters? These early Christians had an incredible amount of arrogance if Peter was in fact their Pope.

Paul also had a particularly interesting encounter with Peter which he recorded in his Galatian letter. Paul, writing to the Galatian church, relates his trip to the Jerusalem conference (Acts 15). Paul declares:

“. . . those reputed to be something (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those I say, who were of repute added nothing to me . . .” (Galatians 2:6, RSV)

Paul identifies these men “reputed to be something” in verse 9: James, John and Cephas (another name for Peter). What? Peter, the Pope, could add nothing to Paul? God shows no partiality? Doesn’t this description make you wonder about the Catholic teaching of the Papacy?


“Those reputed to be something (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those I say, who were of repute added nothing to me.”


Paul saw Peter as his partner in the work of spreading the gospel, not as his Pope.

“. . . I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised . . . .” (Galatians 2:7, RSV)

Paul never regarded Peter, or anyone else, as superior to him. Paul says:

“I think that I am not in the least inferior to theses superlative apostles. Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not in knowledge. . .” (2 Corinthians 11:5-6, RSV)

“. . . for I was not at all inferior to these superlative apostles, even though I am nothing.” (2 Corinthians 12:11, RSV)

In fact, when Peter came to Antioch, Paul openly confronted him:

“But when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch I opposed him face to face, because he stood condemned.” (Galatians 2:11, RSV)


“But when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch I opposed him face to face, because he stood condemned.”


This confrontation was on a matter of faith. Did Paul oppose the Vicar of Christ, the Head of the Church, the infallible Pope, appointed by Christ himself? No. He opposed Peter, his partner in the gospel and fellow servant of God. It seems Paul knew nothing of a Pope, and neither did the first century church of Jesus Christ.

But how did Peter consider his position? After all, he spent three years with Jesus. It was to him that Jesus said, “You are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). The New Testament scriptures contain two letters from Peter. In closing this article, you decide if these passages sound like the writings of someone who believed himself to be Pope.

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ . . .” (1 Peter 1:1, RSV)

“Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ . . .” (2 Peter 1:1, RSV)

“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder. . .” (1 Peter 5:1, RSV)

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