Since God delivered man from the Dark Ages, a debate has raged among Catholics and Protestants concerning the one true church, and the foundation upon which it is built. For centuries, the Catholic Church has maintained that Jesus Christ founded His church upon the apostle Peter, and that the papacy represents an "unbroken" line of apostolic succession from Peter to the present day. Supposedly, all those who do not submit to the authority of Peter (i.e. the popes) are in rebellion against Christ and God. Even today, this belief keeps many Catholics bound in the Catholic faith.
The debate begins in Matthew chapter 16 where Jesus said, "… 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 unto
him, 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. And I will give unto thee the keys of
the kingdom of heaven …"
This is how it reads to us in English, but in Greek (the original language of the New Testament) the words for rock are more specific. It reads:
"And I (Jesus) say unto thee, That thou
art petros, and upon this petra I will build
my church …"
The Scofield Study Bible explains it this way: "In Greek there is a play upon words in this statement: 'Thou art Peter [petros, a stone], and on this rock [petra, a massive rock] I will build my church.' It is upon Christ Himself that the Church is built." (Scofield Study Bible, 1998 Edition, pg. 1206)
In his epistle, the apostle Peter describes this concept of Christ as the "Living Stone" and believers "as living stones" built upon Him:
"… the Lord is gracious. To whom coming,
as unto a living stone … chosen of God …
Ye also, as living stones, are built up a
spiritual house … by Jesus Christ."
(1 Peter 2:3-5)
Throughout the Bible, the concept of "the Rock" has always referred to God, and to Christ. The apostle Paul clearly defined the "Rock" that gave water to the children of Israel in the days of Moses:
"… they drank of that spiritual Rock that
followed them: and that Rock was Christ."
(1 Corinthians 10:4)
In the Psalms, David continually wrote of the Rock, not as if it represented a man, but clearly as a representation of God:
"The Lord is my rock, and my fortress,
and my deliverer; my God, my strength,
in whom I will trust …" (Psalm 18:2)
"For who is God save the Lord? Or who is
a rock save our God? (Psalm 18:31)
Furthermore, David makes it clear that God only is the true Rock in whom we should put our trust for salvation:
"Truly my soul waited upon God: from
him cometh my salvation. He only is my
rock and my salvation …" (Ps. 62:1-2)
"My soul, wait thou only upon God; for
my expectation is from him. He only is
my rock and my salvation …" (Ps. 62:5-6)
Along these lines, Paul makes it clear in his letter to the Corinthians as he talks about "God's building" (i.e. the church, 1 Cor. 3:9) that the only foundation is Jesus Himself and there can be no other:
"For other foundation can no man lay
than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ."
(1 Cor. 3:11)
This was the understanding of the early Christians, and there is no record either in the Bible or in early church history that Peter was considered the "infallible" head of the Christian church. Yet, the question remains: Why did Jesus say what He did to Peter, and give him "the keys of the kingdom of heaven"?
Author, Dave Hunt explains that "Peter was given the special privilege of presenting the gospel first to the Jews (Acts 2:14-41) and then to the Gentiles (Acts 10:34-48) …" (Source: Dave Hunt, A Woman Rides the Beast, pg. 149). This view makes sense since Peter "officially" introduced the gospel to the Jewish people on the day of Pentecost, and then did the same for the Gentiles at the house of Cornelius (see Hunt's Scripture references). As such, we could say that it was given to Peter to open the doors to the kingdom of heaven for all nations; but beyond that, he was not given any special authority above that of the other disciples.
When the church debated the issue of whether or not Gentiles should be circumcised at the first council in Jerusalem, Peter gave an exhortation (Acts 15:7-11), but it was James who gave the final judgment on how they should proceed and instruct the Gentile churches (Acts 15:13, 19). Peter was later intimidated by James, which caused him to separate himself from the Gentiles, for which he was confronted and reproved by Paul (see Galatians 2:11-14). When this happened, Peter did not claim some special authority, or suggest that Paul had no right to reprove him. In contrast, consider this statement from Pope Innocent III concerning papal authority:
"Every cleric must obey the Pope, even
if he commands what is evil; for no one may
judge the Pope." (Innocent III, 1198-1216)
Even in today's Code of Canon Law may be found this statement:
"There is neither appeal nor recourse against
a decision or decree of the Roman Pontiff."
(The Code of Canon Law, 1985, Canons 1404,
1405, and 333, pp. 951, 271)
Many popes have made ridiculous claims to authority, even above the authority of Peter:
"It is evident that the popes can neither be
bound nor unbound by any earthly power, nor
even by that of the apostle [Peter], if he should
return upon the earth; since Constantine the
Great has recognized that the pontiffs held the
place of God upon earth, the divinity not being
able to be judged by any living man. We are,
then, infallible, and whatever may be our acts,
we are not accountable for them but to ourselves."
(Pope Nicholas I, 858-67)
The reference to Constantine the Great is very important, because Constantine was the first real pope and true founder of the Roman Catholic Church. As Caesar of Rome he bore the title Pontifex Maximus (i.e. the pontiff – this meant he was the head of the pagan priesthood); yet when he made himself the head of the Christian church, he gave himself the title Vicarius Christi, the Vicar of Christ. These titles can be traced directly to Constantine himself, and are held by the pope today. Yet they have nothing to do with Peter, and everything to do with Constantine.
Furthermore, Catholic historian, Ignaz von Dollinger admits that the early church did not view Peter as "the rock" upon which the church was built, or that he had the sort of authority claimed by the popes:
"Of all the Fathers who interpret these passages in the
Gospels (Matthew 16:18; John 21:17), not a single one
applies them to the Roman bishops as Peter's successors.
How many Fathers have busied themselves with these
texts, yet not one of them whose commentaries we
possess – Origen, Chrysostom, Hilary, Augustine, Cyril,
Theodoret, and those who interpretations are collected
in catenas – has dropped the faintest hint that the primacy
of Rome is the consequence of the commission and
promise to Peter!
Not one of them has explained the rock or foundation
on which Christ would build His Church as the office
given to Peter to be transmitted to his successors, but
they understood by it either Christ Himself, or Peter's
confession of faith in Christ; often both together." (J.H.
Ignaz von Dollinger, The Pope and the Council, pg. 74)
Another Catholic historian, Peter De Rosa, furthers the argument:
"It may jolt them [Catholics] to hear that the great
Fathers of the church saw no connection between it
[Matthew 16:18] and the pope. Not one of them
applies 'Thou art Peter' to anyone but Peter. One
after another they analyse it: Cyprian, Origen, Cyril,
Hilary, Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine. They are not
Not one of them calls the bishop of Rome a
Rock or applies to him specifically the promise
of the Keys. This is as staggering to Catholics
as if they were to find no mention in the
Fathers of the Holy Spirit or the resurrection
of the dead …
For the Fathers, it is Peter's faith – or the Lord
in whom Peter has faith – which is called the
Rock, not Peter. All the Councils of the church
from Nicaea in the fourth century to Constance
in the fifteenth agree that Christ himself is the
only foundation of the church, that is, the Rock
on which the church rests." (Peter De Rosa,
Vicars of Christ: The Dark Side of the Papacy,
Dave Hunt continues the argument, explaining why the authority that Jesus gave to Peter is not just limited to Peter:
"When Christ gave Peter 'the keys of the kingdom of
heaven' (Matthew 16:19), He explained what that meant:
'Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound
in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth
shall be loosed in heaven.' That same promise was
renewed to all of the disciples in Matthew 18:18, as
it was in John 20:23, with the special application there
to forgiveness of sins …. Clearly the keys of binding
and loosing and remitting or retaining sins were given
to all, not just to Peter." (Dave Hunt, A Woman Rides
the Beast, p. 148)
By Chris Pinto