The literature of the Roman Catholic Church makes the claim that the apostle Peter was the original Pope, and the earthly “head” of the Church. Do the apostle's personal writings sustain this view? Read this week's Penpoints article for a discussion of this issue.
There is a sense in which it is a distressful thing to be forced to throw the floodlight upon the religious error of one's friends. No spiritually sensitive person enjoys seeing others offended. But there is a guiding principle that must ever prevail in religious matters. As Paul once expressed it: “So then am I become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Gal. 4:16).
This brings me to an issue about which some of my Roman Catholic friends are rather adamant. These sincere folks believe that the apostle Peter was the original pontiff, the earthly “head” of the primitive church. Here is the testimony of one of their scholars, who writes with the official endorsement of the Church. Donald Attwater declares that Peter was “the first pope and bishop of Rome, prince of the Apostles, vicar of Jesus Christ, and human foundation of the Church” (A Catholic Dictionary, New York: Macmillan, 1961, p. 380).
There are a number of ways to refute this grandiose claim, but in this brief discussion, we will limit our study to the testimony of Peter himself. We are confident that two significant points will be sufficient to negate the Roman assertions on behalf of the Lord's apostle.
First, if the Catholic claims for Peter's primacy were valid, one would expect to discover at least some indication of this dogma to be revealed in the apostle's personal writings. There is not a phrase, either in First or Second Peter, that even comes close to the claim cited above.
Second, there are, in fact, subtle suggestions in these documents that indicate quite the contrary. Note some of the points that shed light on this issue.
1. In the salutations of these documents, Peter designates himself simply as an apostle and/or servant of Christ. No august titles are employed (1 Pet. 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:1), as in the case of the modern pontiff. Rather, Peter's phraseology is identical to the sort of terminology that Paul uses to introduce himself in some of his letters (Rom. 1:1; Tit. 1:1).
Thomas Newton quotes the following description of the pope that has been historically adopted regarding the “pontiff”:
Note this quotation from an apologist of the Catholic system.
To those who have but a minimal knowledge of the New Testament, these quotations should reveal how deeply into religious digression the Roman Church has dredged itself.
Across the centuries of ecclesiastical history, multiplied thousands of Catholics have abandoned that apostate system to enjoy the freshness of pure, primitive Christianity. May their modern Roman kinsmen be constrained to do likewise.
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