By Keith Thompson
Five components of papal primacy we will test
The five components comprising the Catholic doctrine of papal primacy we will be discussing are as follows: (1) the pope has universal jurisdiction over the church and thus has the right to be generally submitted to and perceived as supreme shepherd of all the faithful; (2) the pope gives infallible ex cathedra pronouncements on faith or morals, (3) he leads councils when present and ratifies them so that they become dogmatic; (4) he has universal authority on discipline and government of the church; and (5) he has the unique right to infallibly interpret Scripture for the church.
In regards to component (1) the Second General Council of Lyons in 1272 declared, “The Holy Roman Church possesses also the highest and full primacy and authority over the universal Catholic Church . . . received with fullness of power from the Lord himself in the person of Blessed Peter. . . . if any questions should arise regarding the faith, they must be decided by her judgement. . . . To her all the Churches are subject; their prelates gives obedience and reverence to her” (The Second General Council of Lyons (1274), quoted in Jacques Dupis, The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, [Alba House, 2001], p. 20). What is more, Vatican II proclaimed, “religious submission of will and of mind must be shown in a special way to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 25, ed. Walter M. Abbott, The Documents of Vatican II, [The America Press, 1966], p. 48). Concerning component (2) Vatican I declared, “when he speaks ex cathedra. . . . such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves . . . irreformable” (Vatican I, First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, Concerning the Infallible Teaching of the Roman Pontiff, Vincent McNabb, The Decrees of the Vatican Council, [Burns and Oats, 1907], pp. 46-47). On component (3) the 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church affirmed, “there is never an ecumenical council which is not confirmed or at least recognized as such by Peter’s successor” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, [Doubleday, 1994], par. 884, p. 255). And the First Vatican Council declared that, in the context of a council, there is no, “authority higher than that of the Roman Pontiff” (Vatican I, First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, 4th Session, Ch. 3, 1869-1870, edited by Re. Vincent McNabb, O.P. [Burns and Oates], 1907). Regarding component (4) Vatican I said all must “submit to this power by duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, and this is not only in matters concerning faith and morals, but also in those which regard the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world?” (Vatican I, bull Pastor Aeternus); and on (5) Pope Pius IV stated the following in bull Iniunctum Nobis: “I likewise accept Holy Scripture according to what sense which Holy Mother Church has held and does hold, whom it belongs to judge of the true meaning and interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures” (Pius IV, Iniunctum Nobis, (1564), quoted in Jacques Dupis, The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, [Alba House, 2001], pp.21-22). Also, on the same component, the 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church claims, “The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him" (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed., p. 35, par. 100). In our study of papal primacy we will demonstrate these essential components of the doctrine of papal primacy are contradicted by the biblical evidence.
The difference between Peter’s “salvation-historical-primacy” and papal primacy
Although Protestants reject the doctrine of papal primacy which is made up by the aforementioned five components, many affirm and do not deny that the apostle Peter had a very special prominence in the New Testament (i.e., a “salvation-historical-primacy”). This means we affirm he was the first one called by Jesus, listed first in most New Testament lists of the apostles, he often spoke for the apostles, his name is mentioned the most times out of any apostle in the New Testament, and he was a leading evangelist or preacher gaining many early converts. However, this does not mean that the Roman Catholic concept of papal primacy is true which again entails universal jurisdiction over every believer whereby he is submitted to and perceived as leader of the church, that he gives infallible ex cathedra statements on faith or morals, and that he has the unique ability to lead or ratify a council so that it is dogmatic, etc. Therefore, in this study one must keep an eye out for the erroneous common practice of modern Catholic apologists in this regard. That is, they prove Peter’s “salvation-historical-primacy” Protestants agree with and then just to the false and dishonest conclusion that this requires one believe papal primacy. That is a fallacy. To give one example, it would be fallacious for a Roman apologist to show that in the New Testament Peter is mentioned the most times by name out of all the apostles, and then to claim that this proves papal primacy. Since Peter’s name being listed most says absolutely nothing about Peter’s alleged supreme jurisdiction, making ex cathedra statements, ratifying councils, etc., it does nothing to prove the doctrine of papal primacy. Again, there is a difference between showing Peter had a primacy in the New Testament, and showing that he had a papal primacy.I will now provide evidence he did not have a papal primacy.
Peter is sent to preach in Samaria by the apostles in Acts 8:14
Peter is sent to preach in Samaria by the apostles in Acts 8:14
An interesting fact which shows how different the early church was compared to modern Roman Catholicism is how in Acts 8:14 the apostles exercise authority over Peter, thereby sending him and John to Samaria. The text reads:
"Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John" (Acts 8:14).
Protestant Reformer John Calvin noted,
"Being ordered by his colleagues to go with John into Samaria, he declines not, (Acts 8: 14.) The apostles, by sending him, declare that they by no means regard him as a superior, while he, by obeying and undertaking the embassy committed to him, confesses that he is associated with them, and has no authority over them" (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 4, Ch. 6, Section 7).
In his work Roman Catholicism the reformed scholar Loraine Boettner explains how different Peter’s example is here to the way in which modern popes conduct themselves:
"Imagine the pope today being sent by the cardinals or bishops on any such mission. It is well known that today the popes seldom if ever preach. They do issue statements, and they address select audiences which come to them. But they do not go out and preach the gospel as did Peter and the other apostles" (Loraine Boettner, Roman Catholicism, [Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co. 1962], p. 115).
The apostles selected candidates and prayed for replacement apostle in Acts 1:23-26
In Acts 1:19-26, because Judas had betrayed Jesus, the apostles needed a replacement. If papalism was affirmed by the apostles, we would expect Peter to give an infallible decision on this issue of church government since Vatican I gives the pope that authority (Vatican I, bull Pastor Aeternus). However, the Acts account reads,
"And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, ‘You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’ And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles" (Acts 1:23-26).
Instead of Peter acting as pope on this matter of church government, all of the apostles put forward the two. Then all of the apostles prayed to Christ for an answer. They did not look to Peter for an answer. Then they all casted lots to see who the new apostle would be. There is no hint of popery here. Richard N. Longenecker states:
"The fifth-century Western text in its reading estēsen (in line with a growing monarchial emphasis) understood that Peter 'proposed' the two candidates to succeed Judas. But by far the better reading is estēsan, 'they proposed,' most likely meaning by 'they' the eleven apostles together (note the occurrences of the pronoun 'us' with reference to the apostles in vv. 21-22)” (Richard N. Longenecker, Acts, [Zondervan, 1981], p. 265).
Early Jerusalem Christians criticizes Peter’s position on Gentiles in Acts 11:2-3
In Acts 11:1-18, specifically vv. 2-3, we see some strong evidence against the claim the early church viewed Peter being the universal leader of the church who was to be submitted to and perceived as such. The Jewish Christians in Acts 1 criticized Peter and held him accountable in such a way as to show a complete lack of knowledge of Peter’s supposed papal position:
"So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 'You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them'" (Acts 11:2-3).
With regard to the identity of those criticizing Peter in Acts 11 (i.e., the "circumcision party" as some render it), I. Howard Marshall noted,
“The RSV rendering here is misleading; the Greek phrase simply means ‘those belonging to the circumcision’, i.e. ‘those who were of Jewish birth’ (NEB). There is no suggestion that there was a definite ‘party’ in the church at this stage” (I. Howard Marshall, The Acts of the Apostles: An Introduction and Commentary, [Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1980], p. 195).
The German scholar Hans Conzelmann also affirms that the circumcision party in Acts 11:2-3 meant those belonging to the entire early Christian Jewish community in Jerusalem (Conzelmann, Die Apostelgeschichte, [HNT, 1963], p. 66). Likewise, in The New International Bible Commentary Based on the NIV Ernest H. Trenchard states that, “‘They that were of the circumcision’ (RV) is an alternative to the circumcised believers. Such a party was formed only following these discussions. These men asked why Peter had broken the rules of ordinary Jewish living (2, 3)” (Ernest H. Trenchard, Acts, The New International Bible Commentary Based on the NIV, ed. F. F. Bruce, [Zondervan, 1979], p. 1287).
The point is these early Jewish Christians in Jerusalem give evidence papal primacy was not a known doctrine in light of the fact that they criticized, censured, and held Peter accountable on a theological matter. If Peter had just been entrusted as supreme pastor and head with infallible unique primacy of jurisdiction over the whole world, we simply would not see things like this from the earliest followers of Christ in Jerusalem who were alive while Peter’s supposed papal endowment took place. You would expect these early Christians to bend the knee to Peter as prime leader of the church. But this is not how the early church operated. It wasn’t until Peter quoted Jesus as his authority and recalled visions in Acts 11:4-17 that these early Jews finally acquiesced to Peter’s position (Jesus' authority was determinate for the early Christians on this matter, not Peter's). These Jews did not submit to Peter’s teaching because they viewed him as the pope, but because he provided evidence for his position on Gentiles being accepted by God.
Does it really sound like the early Jerusalem church really had the following mindset of later Rome which Rome claims always existed?:
“religious submission of will and of mind must be shown in a special way to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 25, ed. Walter M. Abbott, The Documents of Vatican II, [The America Press, 1966], p. 48).
“To her [Peter's alleged Roman church] all the Churches are subject; their prelates gives obedience and reverence to her” (The Second General Council of Lyons (1274), quoted in Jacques Dupis, The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, [Alba House, 2001], p. 20).
Speaking on Acts 11:2-3, the commentator Adam Clarke noted,
"Contended with him - A manifest proof, this, that the primitive Church at Jerusalem (and no Church can ever deserve this name but the Jerusalem Church) had no conception of St. Peter’s supremacy, or of his being prince of the apostles. He is now called to account for his conduct, which they judged to be reprehensible; and which they would not have attempted to do had they believed him to be Christ’s vicar upon earth, and the infallible Head of the Church. But this absurd dream is everywhere refuted in the New Testament" (Adam Clarke, The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Volume 1, [J. Emory and B. Waugh for the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1831], p. 729).
This is devastating to Roman teaching. Orthodox scholar Abbe Guette similarly noted,
"In the same book, (11:2-3) we read that the faithful of the circumcision reproached Peter for mingling with the uncircumcised, and Peter excused himself by relating that he had obeyed an express order of God. Is this the mode in which a chief is ordinarily treated, or that one supreme would act in relation to subordinates?" (Abbe Guettee, The Papacy, [Blanco: New Sarov, 1866], p. 50).
Who led the Acts 15 Jerusalem Council?
Another important text in this study is Acts 15. The Jerusalem Council mentioned in that text is cited by both Protestants and Catholics to support and deny the papacy. If Peter was Pope this would be the perfect place to see him operating as such. We should expect those at the council to bow to Petrine leadership in light of viewing him as the one with primacy of jurisdiction regarding faith and morals. However, when we examine this council, we find evidence against the Roman doctrine. The key issue at the council was whether or not gentile Christians needed to be circumcised in order to be saved. Acts 15:1 supplies the context of the council:
"But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’" (Acts 15:1).
The apostles and elders therefore assembled to address this issue in council. It must be said that if Peter was the pope and had the authority to settle the issue infallibly with a decree, why did he not just do so? Why was a council even convened?
Catholic apologists will argue that at this council Peter gave the decision on circumcision and the other apostles merely agreed with his dogmatic pronouncement or ruling. Protestants, however, will assert that based on the text, James gives the final decision and leads the council, not Peter. Roman apologist Robert Sungenis lays out the Catholic case:
"You said that the missionaries did not come in Acts 15 to see Peter but the apostles and the elders. I would direct you to Acts 15 which says that in the first verses that they are in discussion and for the next verses from verses 1 to 11 Peter is addressing the council of Jerusalem and only he is speaking. And it was for the very purpose that the missionaries came to the council of Jerusalem to get a decision on whether gentiles needed to be circumcised. And Peter gave that decision that they don’t have to be circumcised. So I would ask you why you insist that they didn’t come to see Peter, they came to see the apostles and elders" (Papal Infallibility Debate, James White vs. Robert Sungenis, November, 2000)
Sungenis further argues:
"There is no decision from James about circumcision" (The Bodily Assumption of Mary Debate, James White vs. Robert Sungenis, September 10, 2010).
Although Peter does give his view on the matter first saying, “Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” in v. 10, with the crowd quiet, the issue was not over after Peter spoke. No one said: "the pope has spoken, we agree with Peter’s declaration since Christ gave him primacy and he settled the issue." Scripture nowhere itself says this is how the members viewed the council. After Peter gave his view, the council continued for a time and from verses 12-20 the listening crowd heard Paul and Barnabas as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles, with the apostle James then giving the final declarative ruling on the matter concluding the council with a judgment, thus exerting leadership over it. He states the following in v. 19 with respect to Gentiles:
"Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God" (Acts 15:19).
Geoffrey W. Bromiley lays out the Protestant view:
"As leader of the Jerusalem church and moderator of the Council, James, the brother of Jesus, summarized the salient points of the discussion, related it to prophetic declaration, and offered a final decision" (Geoffrey W. Bromiley, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: A-D, Vol. 1, [Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1979], pp. 201-202).
Contrary to the Catholic claims, the apostle James clearly did give a pronouncement or declarative ruling on the topic of circumcision (i.e., that the Gentiles should not be troubled by the law with respect to salvation). James ruled the council giving the final decision on the matter and concluding the council, not Peter. This totally refutes papal primacy which, if true, would have Peter as leader of the council who makes the final decision. With respect to the alleged rightful position of the pope at an ecumenical council, the First Vatican Council declared that there is no, “authority higher than that of the Roman Pontiff” (Vatican I, First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, 4th Session, Ch. 3, 1869-1870, edited by Re. Vincent McNabb, O.P. [Burns and Oates], 1907). Therefore, since the apostle James was above Peter here, papalism is proven to be untrue and ahistorical.
Indeed, in v. 19 James concludes the council by saying “I judge” or “I have reached a decision,” ἐγώ κρίνω (egō krinō) in the original Greek. This leads many theologians both Catholic and Protestant to conclude that James, and not Peter, led the council and gave the final decision. Just imagine what Rome would say if it were Peter instead of James who said “Therefore my judgement” etc., concluding the council. We would never hear the end of it from Rome. “Peter gave the final decision, Peter is the final judge” they would say. But since it is James and not Peter giving the final ruling, Roman apologists have to try to minimize or downplay this fact since it very clearly refutes Roman teaching.
For example, Roman Catholic apologist John Salza argues that the phrase egō krinō in Acts 15:19 only means “it is my opinion” as opposed to “it is my judgement". He states,
"The Greek phrase for “I judge” (egō krinō) simply means “it is my opinion.” It does not connote an authoritative decision, and certainly not in the context of an ecclesiastical declaration" (John Salza, The Biblical Basis for the Papacy, [Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 2007], p.152).
Salza then argues that when the Greek term for “I judge” (egō krinō) is used in other New Testament passages it is sometimes used to employ personal opinion and thus James is doing just that. However, no translation renders Acts 15:19 to say “it is my opinion.” Moreover, the very same Greek phrase used by James is used by God himself in Acts 7:7 which states, “And the nation to whom they shall be in bondage will I judge (egō krinō), said God: and after that shall they come forth, and serve me in this place.” Is that a fallible opinion? In agreement with respect to James being the one to give the ruling on circumcision and then making the final decision, Roman Catholic scholar Christopher M. Bellitto gives the following admission:
“James offered a ‘live and let live’ compromise, fundamentally saying that Gentile men need not be circumcised to be followers of Christ. . . . James listened to everybody and then made a decision: My brothers, listen to me. . . . Therefore I have reached the decision . . . Acts 15:13, 19” (Christopher M. Bellitto, The General Councils: A History of the Twenty-one General Councils from Nicaea to Vatican II, [Paulist Press, 2002], p. 6).
The scholarly committees who translated the NASB and NIV translated Acts 15:19 as “it is my judgement.” The scholars who translated the Roman Catholic NRSV also render it as “I have reached the decision,” not “it is my opinion.” And the Catholic New Jerusalem Bible translates it as “my verdict is.” Keith Mathison notes that the phrase egō krinō was, “often used in the judicial context of a courtroom” (Keith Mathison, The Shape of Sola Scriptura, [Canon Press, 2001], p. 198).
The language utilized by James in concluding this monumental council should be taken as an authoritative decision or ruling. In his work Either Jew or Gentile, Eugene Eung-Chun Park noted,
"The verb κρίνω in Acts 15:19 suggests that James has the authority to make the final deliberation, and the pronoun ἐγώ in the same sentence highlights the ruling prerogative of James as the chair of the council" (Eugene Eung-Chun Park, Either Jew or Gentile: Paul's Unfolding Theology of Inclusivity, [Westminster John Knox Press, 2003], p. 90 note 25).
In their work The brother of Jesus, Bruce Chilton and Jacob Neusner (who is not a Christian scholar, but a Jewish one) state,
"While Peter plays a leading role, it is James who sums up (15:13-21) and gives his judgement (ego krino, 15:19) which was accepted by the gathering of apostles and elders with the whole church (15:22). Thus, it is James who directs the outcome of this assembly. Acts records no debate concerning his judgement and there is no debate among contemporary scholarship concerning the leadership of James at this point" (Bruce Chilton, Jacob Neusner, The brother of Jesus: James the Just and his Mission, [Westminster John Knox Press, 2001], p. 32).
Interestingly Jacob Neusner is not only a formidable non-Christian scholar (thus eliminating any Catholic vs. Protestant bias), but he was said to be Pope Benedict XVI’s favorite Rabbi.
It is also germane to note that in concluding the council in Acts 15:20 James decided and declared that a letter would be written to the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia explaining the decision reached and offering instruction regarding the law. Peter did not make the decision or declaration to conclude the council or write the letter as he should have if he was the head. Notice also in Acts 15:23 that instead of Peter signing the letter, which would show that the supposed Vicar of Christ on earth was issuing an authoritative document to be obeyed by all who were under the universal bishop, the letter is instead from the Apostles and Elders. This is because the early church had no concept of papalism or papal primacy.
Clutching to their last resort, Roman apologists will sometimes say that no one at the council listening opposed Peter’s position or questioned him. Therefore, he was viewed as being the infallible pope. However, as Chilton and Neusner just stated, there is no evidence that anyone opposed or questioned James and his comments or decisions either. So this type of thing doesn’t prove popery. Therefore, after everything is assessed, it is certain that Peter was not functioning as the Pope at the council of Jerusalem. Instead he functioned as a fellow apostle because that is what he was. The Acts 15 council is no friend to Rome.
As one examines the writings of Paul, they are confronted with much evidence against Roman assertions about Peter and his alleged papal papacy.
Absence of the papal office in book of Romans
First, Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans around at A.D. 55- 60 give or take. However, Rome teaches that Peter was reigning as bishop of Rome during this period from about A.D. 42 to 67 give or take (even though there is no meaningful evidence for this, and there is meaningful evidence contradicting this). But what is interesting is that although Paul, in Romans, has many exhortations about Christians in Rome submitting to God (Romans 6:13), submitting to the Scriptures and doctrine (Romans 9:17-19), submitting to God’s righteousness (Romans 10:3), submitting to the government (Romans 13:1-3), and submitting to truth (Romans 2:8), he doesn’t have one single word to say to the Roman Christians about submitting to Peter’s supposed unique papal authority. Nor does Paul have even one word to say about making sure to submit to Peter’s supposed future papal successors, the bishops of Rome, in a unique way. Why would Paul not remind the Christians in Rome to submit to the Pope if he was keen on reminding them to submit to other valid authorities? There is no indication in the lengthy letter to the Romans that the papacy even existed.
Absence of papal office in 1 Corinthians 12:28 where church ministries/offices are outlined
When Paul outlined the church’s ministries and offices, the papal office is nowhere to be found. Why, it’s as if Paul knew nothing of the doctrine of the papacy. In 1 Corinthians 12:28 Paul stated,
"And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues" (1 Corinthians 12:28).
Had Paul believed what the modern Roman religion now teaches and stresses as a vital and binding doctrine regarding Peter’s alleged special office, Paul would certainly stress, at least once, that God appointed, in the Church, the supreme pope and his successors. If Romanism is true we would expect to find evidence of it in such passages where church offices are outlined, but we do not. Here the apostles are portrayed as equals in office. It’s interesting that in 1 Timothy 3 Paul discusses offices such as bishop and deacon, but here he nowhere talks about the office of the supposed pope either.
Peter entrusted with limited apostolic ministry to the Jews in Galatians 2:7-8
Although everyone agrees Peter had a ministry to the Gentiles and even opened the door of the kingdom for the gentiles early on for the first time by his preaching and evangelism in Acts, Paul viewed Peter as having an apostolic ministry to the Jews at the time of writing Galatians. This contradicts papalism as I will show below. Galatians 2:7-8 reads,
"On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles)" (Galatians 2:7-8).
Had Peter been universal bishop with authority over all believers shepherding or caring for all believers, Paul would not say Peter had a limited apostolic ministry to the Jews only at this time. Apostolic ministry involves supplying needs (2 Corinthians 9:12), testifying the gospel (Acts 20:24), and building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12). According to Paul, Peter’s role at the time of writing Galatians was building up the Jews, giving the gospel to them, and caring for them. This is quite different then how the 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the pope’s ministry. It states, “The Pope enjoys, by divine institution, ‘supreme, full, immediate, and universal power in the care of souls.’” (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, [DoubleDay, 1994], par. 937 p. 267).
Abbe Guette highlights another point on Galatians 2:7-8:
". . . we read in the Epistle to the Galatians, (2:7, 8, 9) that Paul ascribes to himself, among the Gentiles, the same power that Peter had among the Jews, and that he did not regard Peter as superior to James and John" (Abbe Guettee, The Papacy, [Blanco: New Sarov, 1866], p. 41).
In order to try to save face Roman Catholics will sometimes argue that Paul does show Peter’s primacy in this passage, Galatians 2:7-8, by isolating Peter as one entrusted to the Jews over the other apostles. Contrary to this assertion, however, Paul is not saying that only Peter was entrusted to the Jews or that Peter was the head shepherd over the Jews, but that since much of Galatians 1 and 2 involves Peter, for example Paul opposing Peter to his face regarding hypocrisy, and Paul meeting Peter and James in Galatians 1, Paul used Peter as an example of one entrusted to the Jews. But for Paul it is clear that James and the John were entrusted to the Jews just as equally as Peter was. This is clearly evidenced in the next verse:
". . . James and Cephas and John . . . we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised" (Galatians 2:9).
Commenting on the implications of Paul’s letters with respect to the papacy, Orthodox scholar Theodore Stylianopoulos argues that it seems Paul did not believe in the absolute primacy of Peter as Catholics now believe:
"There is in Paul no idea whatever of other apostolic figures, and certainly no notion of a single universal leader, possessing keys of authority and exercising supervision over his largely Gentile congregations, for whom Paul himself was leader and slave (2 Cor 4:5). . . As far as Paul is concerned, to the extent that a Petrine ministry was operative in the early years of the Church, it was a matter of commission to service and pastoral usefulness in a particular historical situation, and not a matter of permanent universal authority. . . " (Theodore Stylianopoulos, Concerning the Biblical Foundation of Primacy in (ed.) Walter Kasper, The Petrine Ministry: Catholics and Orthodox in Dialogue, [The Newman Press, 2006], pp. 54-55).
Paul’s Frequency Refutes the “Peter’s Frequency = Papacy” Argument
Many Romanists argue that Peter’s frequency in the gospels (e.g. him being listed first in lists of the apostles and his name being mentioned more times than any other apostle), gives evidence for his alleged papal primacy. As Catholic apologist Steve Ray falsely asserts,
"The names Peter, Simon, or Cephas are used 191 times in the New Testament. Except for Christ himself, no other person receives nearly as much attention as Simon Peter does through biblical references" (Steve Ray, Upon This Rock: St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early Church, [Ignatius Press, 1999], p. 23).
If frequency is a criterion for the papacy then had Peter been bestowed with a primacy of jurisdiction functioning as supreme leader of the church, why is it that the book of Acts, which is the account of God’s mighty work in the early church after Christ’s ascension, do we see more attention given to the apostle Paul than to the apostle Peter? Indeed, Acts grants to Peter special attention only from chapters 1-12 and once more in chapter 15. However, Paul is granted attention all through out and in between chapters 7-28. In point of fact, after Acts 15:11 there is no mention of Peter in any of the next 13 chapters! Instead, the focus shifts to Paul’s critical ministry. Moreover, Paul wrote 13 letters in the New Testament. That is more than anyone else. Peter only wrote 2 epistles and was the eyewitness behind one gospel (i.e., Mark). Therefore, if frequency is an argument for papal primacy then using that faulty logic, Paul must have been the supreme leader of the church as well. Peter is never said to be the all powerful leader of the church by anyone at any time in all of God’s written revelation.
Paul harshly rebuked Peter in Galatians 2:11-14
In Galatians 2 Paul rebuked the supposed pope, Peter, publicly to his face for hypocrisy and for not being in step with the truth of the Gospel. This rebuke by Paul was done in such a way that if it were mimicked in later centuries, the critic might be executed merely for challenging the Roman Pontiff! Galatians 2:11-14 states:
"But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?’” (Galatians 2:11-14).
In his work Evangelical Answers Eric Svendsen points out what many often overlook:
"Paul did not submissively address Peter as 'Holy Father,' 'Supreme Pastor,' or 'Vicar of Christ' and gently point out his mistake. Instead, he publicly censured him!" (Eric Svendsen, Evangelical Answers, [Reformation Press, 1999], p. 24).
Indeed, the way Paul rebuked Peter is somewhat similar to how people of later centuries have rebuked popes in later history. But in those cases it led to their murders. For example, Girolamo Savonarola, the 15th century Italian priest, had denounced what he perceived as Pope Alexander VI’s heinous sins and challenged the Roman leadership on certain issues at a time when politics were complicated for the Roman Pope. This resulted in Savonarola being excommunicated, charged, handed over to the secular authorities and burned at the stake. As church historian J.N.D. Kelly notes:
"In 1495 he [Pope Alexander VI] began his long duel with the preacher and reformer Girolamo Savonarola (1452-98) which, started with patience, ended in May 1498 with excommunication, examination under torture, and execution of the Florentine friar" (J.N.D. Kelly, Oxford Dictionary of Popes, Michael J. Walsh ed., 2nd ed. [New York: Oxford University, 2010], p. 256. Brackets mine).
Moreover, when Paul in Galatians 2:11-16 condemned and charged Peter with distorting the gospel, i.e., with heresy, this proves, if we assume Roman Catholic teaching for a minute, that Peter was not pope. For, in Catholicism if a pope becomes a heretic, he automatically loses his office and ceases being pope. The Roman church not only teaches that if a Pope becomes a heretic he ceases being Pope, but also that if anyone becomes a heretic, they cease being a member of the church. In Mystici Corporis Christi (# 23), June 29, 1943 Pope Pius XII declared:
“For not every sin, however grave it may be, is such as of its own nature to sever a man from the Body of the Church, as does schism or heresy or apostasy” (Claudia Carlen, The Papal Encyclicals, Vol. 4, (1939-1958), [The Pierian Press, 1990], p. 41).
The Roman Catholic Doctor, saint and Cardinal Robert Bellarmine likewise explained the Catholic teaching:
"A pope who is a manifest heretic automatically (per se) ceases to be pope and head, just as he ceases automatically to be a Christian and a member of the Church. Wherefore, he can be judged and punished by the Church. This is the teaching of all the ancient Fathers who teach that manifest heretics immediately lose all jurisdiction." (Robert Bellarmine, De Romano Pontifice quoted in John Harvey Treat, The Catholic Faith, [The Bishop Welles Brotherhood, 1888], p. 564)
Lastly, The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913 agreed,
“The pope himself, if notoriously guilty of heresy, would cease to be pope because he would cease to be a member of the Church.” (Charles George Herbermann, The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 7, [Universal Knowledge Foundation, 1913], p. 261.)
Although we would not say Peter ceased to be a member of the church, the main point is that according to Catholic teachings Peter was not the pope since he fell into heresy as is evidenced by Paul’s condemnation of him for distorting the gospel which is attested by his actions (and actions flow from the mind). Thus, the doctrine that Peter was pope is actually damaged by Catholicism’s own teachings.
Absence of the Papacy from the book of Revelation
The book of Revelation is the last book in the Bible. Interestingly, neither Peter, nor his supposed infallible successors in Rome are mentioned at all. Nor is Peter’s supposed role as pope of the church. This is true in spite of the fact that there is a lot of material in Revelation concerning the local churches, heresy and admonishments. This is quite odd if indeed Peter had absolute primacy of jurisdiction and if Peter’s supposed infallible successor in Rome was ruling the universal church with unique authority. In fact, in Revelation chapters 2 and 3, when the local churches are being severely admonished to obey the truth, not once are they told to submit to the bishop of Rome or any of his supposedly infallible decrees or judgements on faith or morals. If papalism was believed, why did John, being near the end of his life, not direct the early churches towards Peter’s supposed successor or reenforce the Roman Bishop’s authority over them? There are around 12,000 words in the King James version of this important late 1st century Christian document. Yet, there is not one word about the alleged supreme authority of the Roman pope? How could this be if papal primacy was an essential doctrine of the primitive church?