March 13, 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected spiritual leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. As he assumed the new name, Pope Francis, the Vatican reported him to be the 266th direct line successor to the first pope, the Apostle Peter.
Pervasive biblical misinterpretation established this religious myth of Peter and the Pope.
Now, after nearly three years at the helm of the Catholic Church, nine out of 10 Catholics responding to a survey from the Pew Research Center say they are very positive toward Pope Francis. Meanwhile, 65% of all Americans see Pope Francis in a favorable light. Perhaps that explains the nearly non-stop television coverage received by the pope during his visit to the United States in September of 2015. While the pope was in America, the U.S. Press Corps reported enthusiastically about the pope’s visit, his address before a joint session of Congress, and the over-all meaning of his sojourn to America. Interestingly, although there was plenty of analysis on the pope’s congressional speech, much speculation on the nature of talks between the pope and the president, and a lot of reporting on the pope’s common touches, there was not a single question raised regarding claims made by the Vatican on behalf of the papal office, or the present office holder.
For example, there was no discussion as to whether the Apostle Peter was the first pope. And, where was the analysis of the question, “Did Jesus build the Christian Church upon Peter?” Nor, was there any debate as to the legitimacy of the assertion there is an unbroken line of succession from Peter to Pope Francis. Does the Bible support these teachings?
One of the greatest religious myths may well be that Jesus appointed Peter head and foundation of the church. The idea springs from a misunderstanding of Matthew 16:18,19: “ you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Jesus said He would build His church upon “this rock.” Was that Peter? Never.
The word Jesus used was translated petra, which in the Greek language of the New Testament means a rock. Meanwhile, He called Simon, Petros, which is the Greek word for stone. Without other texts, we might be confused into believing the church had been built on the rock, Peter. However, Romans 9:33, 1Corinthians 10:4, and 1Peter 2:8 clearly establish that Christ is the Rock, not Peter.
Was Peter the first pope and was he in charge of the Church? Nothing in Scripture says so. In fact, the first use of the term was not until the 12th century A.D. Taken from the Latin word, papa, the literal meaning of pope is papa.2 Even if he wasn’t pope, wasn’t Peter in charge of the church? In Galatians chapter two, Paul states that in Antioch he had to rebuke Peter because of his apparent bigotry directed at Gentile believers. If Peter had been the head of the Church, it would have been very unlikely that Paul would have confronted him in such a public manner.
Ok, but didn’t Jesus give Peter the keys of the kingdom and declare whatever Peter would bind on earth would be bound in heaven? Yes, but what were the keys of the kingdom? Luke 11:52 tells us that God’s Word, the Bible, contains the keys to the kingdom. So, acquisition of knowledge regarding God’s love for mankind, and salvation through Jesus are the keys of the kingdom. Were the keys given exclusively to Peter? Not according to Jesus. In John 17:14, praying to His Father, Jesus said, “I have given them your word. . .” It was not to one, alone, that the keys were given. All who seek them have access to the keys of knowledge contained in God’s Word.
But, the authority to bind and loose belongs to Peter, right? The Bible says, no. In Matthew 18:18 Jesus tells all of His followers that whatever we bind or loose on earth will be bound or loosed in Heaven.
William Cogan, writing in A Catechism for Adults3 raises an interesting point:
Question: Does Jesus require us to follow the Pope in matters of religion?
Answer: Yes, because obedience and loyalty to the Pope are among the chief requirements of the Lord’s plan for unity in His church.
It is true that God requires unity in His Church. Equally true is the fact that the Vicar of Christ is the unifying factor in church unity. However, the Vicar of Christ is not based in Rome. John chapters 14 and 16 inform us of that the One who helps, guides, and convicts us of sin is the Holy Spirit.
No matter where the media places its attention, as believers in God we must always be focused on God’s Word.
1BBC World News, March 14, 2013
3A Catechism for Adults, by William Cogan, 1975 ed., pp. 55,56)..