When news broke earlier this week that Pope Benedict XVI was stepping down from leading the Catholic Church, I felt compelled to write a blog explaining what Catholics believe about the Pope and why. This blog contains the Protestant perspective.
Protestants believe the Bible reveals a different picture of the Apostle Peter than Catholics claim. While Protestants agree with Catholics that Peter had an integral role in the early church, they believe there is no scriptural evidence that supports the belief that Peter had supreme authority over the rest of the Apostles or the early church. For example…
- When speaking of the “pillars” of the church, Paul mentions three men: James, Peter, and John (see Galatians 2:9). In Greek, the order that words appear in a sentence is a big deal, so Peter’s name appearing 2nd and not 1st on the list is significant.
- When reading the text of Acts 15 highlighting events at the Council at Jerusalem (49 A.D.) it seems clear that although Peter made an important speech, it was James who both spoke last and passed judgment on the issue (see Acts 15:13-21). Therefore, it appears that James – not Peter – was the leader of that church council.
In addition, Protestants question the accuracy of the early church historical documents claiming Peter served as the bishop (the Pope) of Rome from 42-67 A.D. because it does not square with the biblical evidence. For example… If Peter held such a prominent position during these years, why didn’t Paul either address his letter to the Romans (written in 57 A.D.) directly to Peter himself, like he did with his letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon? Or at the very least why didn’t Paul reference Peter in his letter to the Roman church? In fact, Paul greets 26 people at the end of his letter and Peter is not mentioned at all (see Romans 16:1-16). Neither does Paul refer to Peter in his letters to the Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, nor Philemon, all written from a Roman prison in 60 A.D., all written while Peter was supposedly the Pope of Rome. Other food for thought… If Peter was the head (the Pope) of the early church as Catholics claim, why did he only write two books of the Bible while the Apostle Paul wrote the majority of the New Testament, 13 books in all?
About Matthew 16:13-20 — the text where Catholics believe Jesus made Peter into the Pope — Protestants have a different interpretation. The context of Matthew 16:13-20 is not ultimately about Peter…it is about Jesus. The passage begins with Jesus asking a question about His identity. It reaches its climax with Peter declaring that Jesus is the Messiah (i.e., the Christ, the anointed one). It ends with Jesus ordering His disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Messiah. Therefore when Jesus spoke to Peter and said “on this rock I will build my church,” Protestants believe the rock is not Peter but Peter’s declaration: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” In other words, the truth that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” would be the solid rock upon which the Christian faith would stand.
While Catholics and Protestants will forever debate what Jesus meant in Matthew 16:13-20, other passages of the Bible imply Peter did not have any more of a special place in the foundation of the church than the other eleven Apostles. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes, “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:19-20). As Norman Geisler, President of Southern Evangelical Seminary, writes, “Two things are clear from this: all the apostles – not just Peter – are the foundation of the church, and the only one who was given a place of uniqueness or prominence was Christ.” Finally, in Peter’s own words he considers himself equal among other leaders of the church and not as God’s deputized representative , “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder…” (1 Peter 5:1)
So that is an overview of the Protestant perspective when it comes to the Pope.
Before I conclude this blog, I want to encourage my Protestant brothers and sisters to pray that the Holy Spirit leads the Catholic Church in the selection of the next Pope. After all, regardless of whether or not you agree with the Catholic theology surrounding the Pope, he is the leader of one billion Catholics around the world, and he still carries a megaphone in pop culture when it comes to the Christian faith and practice. So let’s be praying.
***Please join us this Sunday at The Eastside Vineyard Church. My sermon is titled “Blinded by Sight” (based on Matthew 20:29-34) and will focus on some of my favorite topics to preach on: healing and the supernatural. February 17. 10:30am. More info at tevchurch.org***