Apologetics for the Masses - Issue #160

Bible Christian Society

General Comments

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In this issue I am going to start a formal debate with Thomas N. Thrasher on the question of whether or not Peter was the 1st Pope. Mr. Thrasher is a member of the Church of Christ. Below are the rules of engagement:

Agreement for Debate:

1. Proposition: The apostle Peter was the first Pope of the Roman Catholic Church.

Affirm: John Martignoni

Deny: Thomas N. Thrasher

2. Each of the participants will write five e-mail articles on the proposition. The participants will alternate e-mail articles, beginning with the affirmative.

3. No article will exceed 2000 words, as counted by standard word processing software. No new arguments may be introduced in the final negative article.

4. Either participant will have the right to publish the debate in book form or on the internet, as long as it is published in its entirety.

5. The participants will conduct themselves as gentlemen.

So, let the games begin…


First affirmative: John Martignoni
My task is to argue the affirmative of the proposition: “The apostle Peter was the first Pope of the Roman Catholic Church.” I am not going to try to “prove” that Peter was the first pope, because I obviously cannot offer a piece of definitive evidence that would be accepted by  all that “proves,” beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Peter was the first pope.  After all, we have ample photographic evidence and multitudes of firsthand accounts of the Holocaust, yet there are still those that do not believe the Holocaust occurred.   
So, no “proof” is offered that Peter was the first pope, merely evidence for that fact. And, the fact of the matter is, we do have evidence Peter was indeed the first pope, the first head of the Church, while we have little to no evidence that he was not.
Before presenting the evidence that Peter was the first pope, however, I should explain exactly what is meant by the word, “pope.”  “Pope” is the title given to the leader of the Catholic Church.  The word “pope” is the English version of the Latin “papa” from Greek “pappas,” which means “father.”  The title pope (papa) was once used in a broader way than we use it now.  In the Eastern Church it was generally used for all priests, while in the Western Church the term seems to have been generally restricted to bishops. It apparently became a distinctive title for the Bishop of Rome (the leader of the Catholic Church) at sometime in the third or fourth century.
So, was Peter called, “Pope Peter?”  Maybe, but at that time other bishops were probably called “pope,” or “papa,” as well.  So, this is not a debate as to whether or not Peter was called by the title of “pope,” but rather a debate on whether or not Peter was the first head of the Catholic Church. 
The arguments that I have previously seen from various quarters against Peter being the first head of the Church generally follow two main themes, either: 1) They deny that Peter was the chief of the Apostles and, therefore, was never head of the Church in Rome or anywhere else; or 2) They deny that Peter was ever in Rome, thus he was never the Bishop of Rome, thus he was never the “Pope,” and thus he did not pass on his authority to the next Bishop of Rome.  So, I will argue in the affirmative with these two lines of dissent in mind, and I will use both Scripture and historical documents in my arguments. 
Peter as the head of the Apostles.  Does the Bible present any evidence to support the Catholic Church’s claim to this effect?  Indeed it does.  Let’s start with the simple fact that any time the 12 Apostles are listed, Peter’s name tops the list (Matt. 10:1-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16, and Acts 1:13).  Also, Peter’s name is mentioned some 160-170 times in the New Testament.  All the other Apostles combined are only mentioned about 95 times. If Peter does not hold primacy amongst the Apostles, why is he listed first and why is he getting so much press?
But, beyond that, who was the only Apostle to receive the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven from Jesus Christ Himself?  Was it Paul?  No.  Was it John?  No.  Andrew?  No.  It was Peter and Peter alone to whom Christ gave the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven: “I will give you [Peter] the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven…” (Matt 16:19). 
Why is this significant? It’s significant because keys are the symbol of authority and power.  Peter alone is given this symbol of authority.  And it is also significant in light of Isaiah 22:20-22.  We see that Jesus was using the identical language in Matthew 16 that Isaiah uses.  In this passage from Isaiah, the Lord is talking to Shebna, who is the king’s prime minister, he is over the king’s household, “In that day I will call my servant Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah, and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your girdle on him, and will commit your authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.  And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.”
The passing on of authority is symbolized by the key of the house of David.  Eliakim will be over the house of David: he shall open and none shall shut; he shall shut and none shall open.  In Matt 16:19, Peter, and Peter alone, is given the keys.  Peter, and Peter alone, is tapped, by God, as the prime minister of the new house of David, which is the Church.  Whatever he binds (shuts) on earth shall be bound in Heaven and whatever he looses (opens) on earth shall be loosed in Heaven. 
Also, Peter has his named changed from Simon to Peter (which means rock).  Peter is the only one of the Twelve to have his name changed, which is always a significant event in Scripture.  Then, in John 21:15-17, Jesus tells Peter to, “Feed My lambs,” “Tend My sheep,” and “Feed My sheep.”  Who is it that feeds the lambs, tends the sheep, and feeds the sheep?  The shepherd!  Jesus, knowing that He is to soon ascend into Heaven, is appointing Peter as shepherd of the flock in His absence.  Did Christ say these words to any other Apostle?  No.
What else in Scripture points to the fact that Peter was indeed the head of the Apostles?  Well, Peter received a special revelation from the Father to know that Jesus was the Christ (Matt 16:16-17); Peter walked on water (Matt 14:28-29); Peter generally spoke for the Apostles as a whole (Matt 16:16, Matt. 18:21, Luke 12:41, John 6:68-69), and when it came time to pay the temple tax, who was it that Jesus, through a miracle, paid the temple tax for?  He paid it for Himself and Peter (Matt 17:24-27), but not for any other Apostle.    In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter is always the first to act.  The 1st half of the Acts of the Apostles is all about Peter.  Peter was the one who commanded that Judas be replaced (Acts 1:15); it was Peter who spoke to the crowds on Pentecost (Acts 2:14); it was Peter to whom God told Cornelius to send men (Acts 10:5); it was Peter to whom God gave the revelation to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10:9-21); it was Peter who meted out the judgment to Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11); and it was Peter who settled the debate at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:7-12).
In Luke 22:31-32, Jesus says, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you [the Apostles] that he might sift you [the Apostles] like wheat, but I have prayed for you [Peter] that your faith may not fail; and when you [Peter] have turned again, strengthen your brethren.” Jesus prays that Peter’s faith may not fail so that he may strengthen his brethren.  Jesus did not pray that John’s faith or James’ faith or Bartholomew’s faith may not fail and for them to strengthen their brethren, it was for Peter alone that Jesus prayed.  Why did Jesus just pray for Peter here? 
Over and over again, we see Peter in a position of primacy.  Peter, because of the power of the keys, was indeed put into a position of primacy over the other Apostles and over the Church as a whole.  He was made the Prime Minister of God’s kingdom.
In other words, there is ample evidence, from Scripture, for the primacy of Peter among the Apostles and in the Church.  Now, what about historical evidence for the primacy of Peter? 
Tertullian (ca 213 A.D.), “Peter alone [among the Apostles] do I find married, and through mention of his mother-in-law.  I presume he was a monogamist; for the Church, built upon him…”  The Church is built upon Peter.
St. Clement of Alexandria (ca 200 A.D.), “On hearing these words, the blessed Peter, the chosen, the pre-eminent, the first among the disciples, for whom alone with Himself the Savior paid the tribute…”
Origen (ca 230 A.D.), “Peter, upon whom is built the Church of Christ, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail…”
St. Cyprian of Carthage (ca 251 A.D.), “On him [Peter] He builds the Church and to him He gives the command to feed the sheep; and although He assigns a like power to all the Apostles, yet He founded a single chair, and He established by His own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity.  Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was, but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair.  So, too, all are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all the Apostles in single-minded accord.  If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he deserts the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?”
These are just a few quotes from early Christian writers that attest to the primacy of Peter in the Church…that Peter was indeed the first head of the early Church. 
Now, what about the question of whether Peter was ever in Rome or not?  First, what does Scripture say?  Well, not much.  However, there is one verse in Scripture that seems to suggest he was indeed in Rome.  That verse is 1 Peter 5:13, “She [the Church] who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark.”  Babylon is considered by many to be a code-word for Rome.  So, there is evidence, from the Bible, that Peter was indeed in Rome.  Now, that is not by any means conclusive evidence from Scripture, but nowhere does Scripture say, “Peter was never in Rome.”  So, using Scripture alone, there is one verse that seems to indicate Peter was in Rome, and none that say Peter was never in Rome.
Now, let’s turn to the historical record.  Do we have any historical accounts of Peter being in Rome?  Indeed we do.
Ignatius of Antioch (110 A.D.), “Not as Peter and Paul did, do I command you. They were apostles, and I am a convict," (Letter to the Romans).
Caius, Presbyter of Rome, (ca. 205 A.D.), “It is recorded that Paul was beheaded in Rome itself, and Peter, likewise, was crucified, during the reign [of Nero].  The account is confirmed by the names of Peter and Paul over the cemeteries there, which remain to the present time.”
St. Dionysius of Corinth (ca. 170 A.D.), “You have also, by your very admonition, brought together the planting that was made by Peter and Paul at Rome and at Corinth…”
St. Irenaeus (ca. 190 A.D.), “Matthew also issued among the Hebrews a written Gospel in their own language, while Peter and Paul were evangelizing in Rome and laying the foundation of the Church.”
Tertullian (ca. 200 A.D.), “But if you are near to Italy, you have Rome, whence also our authority derives.  How happy is that Church, on which Apostles poured out their whole doctrine along with their blood, where Peter endured a passion like that of the Lord…”
St. Clement of Alexandria (ca. 200 A.D.), “When Peter preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit…”
To summarize, I have given evidence from Scripture and from history for both the primacy of Peter in the Church and among the Apostles, and for the presence of Peter in Rome.  Peter was indeed the first head (pope) of the Catholic Church.

In Conclusion

Depending on the timing of Mr. Thrasher’s response, I’ll continue with the debate in the next newsletter.

I hope all of you are having a happy and holy Advent Season.

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Apologetics for the Masses