Apologetics for the Masses - Issue #162

Bible Christian Society

General Comments

I’m back…finally. The early reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.

I was hoping to get this newsletter out last week, but in my role as Director of the Pro-Life Office for our diocese, I was in the final stages of coordinating a trip for 115 high school students and their chaperones to Washington, D.C. on buses for the March for Life. That took me out of my normal game plan for most of the last two weeks, but it was an awesome trip! Anyway, that task is done so it’s time to get back to normal.

New video out on YouTube in the “Questions Protestants Can’t Answer” series, so please check it out when you get the chance: Here’s the link:


This week will continue the debate I started some weeks ago with Thomas Thrasher of the Campbellite Church of Christ on whether or not Peter was the first Pope.

You can read my first affirmative by going to the “Newsletter” page of our website (www.biblechristiansociety.com) and clicking on Issue #160. Mr. Thrasher’s 1st Negative is below, followed by my 2nd Affirmative. I hope you enjoy…


Debate: Was Peter the 1st Pope?

First Affirmative – John Martignoni

(see www.biblechristiansociety.com; "Newsletter" page; Issue #160)


First Negative – Thomas Thrasher

It is always a privilege, and also a grave responsibility, to participate in a discussion of God’s word. My pleasure is increased because I consider Mr. Martignoni to be a knowledgeable and honest man. Nevertheless, I am convinced he is mistaken on the subject we have agreed to discuss. Rather than spending additional time on introductory matters, however, I will proceed immediately to my response to his affirmation. Since I consider Mr. Martignoni a friend, and also for conciseness, I will refer to him as “John” in my articles.

John confesses, “I obviously cannot offer a piece of definitive evidence” proving “that Peter was the first pope.” This is quite an admission! Therefore, it is “obvious” that whatever “evidence” he introduced in his affirmative is not definitive and does not prove his proposition!

John said, “We do have evidence Peter was indeed the first pope, the first head of the Church” (Note: Bold print in this article is my emphasis, TNT). However, he admits that pope “apparently became a distinctive title for the Bishop of Rome … sometime in the third or fourth century.” The truth is that the Scriptures never state that Peter (or anyone else) was the pope! If my friend had a Bible verse supporting his claim, I’m sure he would have produced it.

Furthermore, John’s assertion that “Peter was … the first head of the Church” is absolutely false! The Bible tells us that Jesus “is the head of his body, the Church” (Colossians 1:18. Scripture quotations are from The New Testament, Authorized Catholic Edition, 1963, unless otherwise stated). Jesus is “head over all the Church, which indeed is his body” (Ephesians 1:23). “Christ is the head of the Church” (Ephesians 5:23). The Bible declares Jesus as head, yet my friend says, “Peter was … the first head”!

Questions: What Bible verse states that Peter was the first head of the church and what year did he officially become “the first pope” and “the first head”? If Peter was “the first pope,” what men (or women) succeeded Peter? Since the entire list is probably quite long, please list the names and dates for the 2nd-10th popes.

John said, “I will use both Scripture and historical documents in my arguments.” However, the Scriptures do not teach his proposition that “the apostle Peter was the first Pope of the Roman Catholic Church,” for they never mention a “Pope” or “the Roman Catholic Church”! In fact, the Scriptures never mention many things associated with the Roman Catholic Church: Pope, Cardinal, Archbishop, Mass, Lent, Rosary, Purgatory, Extreme Unction, Holy Water, Limbo, Immaculate Conception, Assumption of Mary, and many other concepts.

Let’s review John’s efforts to support his proposition from the Bible. He said, “Any time the 12 Apostles are listed, Peter’s name tops the list.” Does Peter’s name being listed first prove that Peter was “the first Pope”? If so, what about Galatians 2:9?—“James and Cephas and John, who were considered the pillars.” Does this verse show that by this time James had become the Pope, since his name is listed before Peter’s? 1 Corinthians 1:12 states, “Each of you says, I am of Paul, or I am of Apollos, or I am of Cephas, or I am of Christ.” Cephas (Peter) is mentioned, but he is mentioned after Paul and Apollos! 1 Corinthians 3:22 states: “For all things are yours, whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas.” Since Cephas’ name does not “top the list,” I suppose he was no longer the Pope! 1 Corinthians 9:5 states: “Have we not a right to take about with us a woman, a sister, as do the other apostles, and the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?” Peter is mentioned last! Obviously, John’s argument is without merit.

Furthermore, John said, “Peter’s name is mentioned some 160-170 times in the New Testament.… If Peter does not hold primacy amongst the Apostles, … why is he getting so much press?” If the number of times an apostle’s name is mentioned proves he is Pope, then it seems the apostle Paul was Pope instead of Peter. According to my count, the apostle Paul (or Saul, Acts 13:9) is mentioned by name more than 190 times in the New Testament—more times than Peter (assuming John’s count is accurate). Paul’s name is mentioned many more times than Peter’s after the beginning of the church on Pentecost (Acts 2).

John argues, “It was Peter and Peter alone to whom Christ gave the keys of the Kingdom.” All of the apostles were given the same commission (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16). However, Matthew 16:19 refers to Peter’s role in being the first to preach to the Jews (Acts 2) and to the Gentiles (Acts 10). The other apostles had the same authority to bind and loose as Peter did: “Whatever you [plural] bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven; and whatever you [plural] loose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven” (Matthew 18:18). The context of Matthew 16:13-20 is not discussing who Peter is nor his position, but who Jesus is and His position. It does not exalt Peter, but Jesus. Jesus does not confess Peter; Peter confesses Jesus. The verse is not saying Peter is the rock on which the church is built, but rather it contrasts Peter’s name (petros, masculine—“a detached stone or boulder”) to the rock on which the church would be built (petra, feminine—“a mass of rock”). The church was not built on Peter: “For other foundation no one can lay, but that which has been laid, which is Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 3:11). Remember that Jesus is referred to using the term “Rock” (1 Corinthians 10:4; Romans 9:33; 1 Peter 2:8).

My friend observes that Peter’s name was changed. How does he know that? Because he can read that in the Bible (John 1:42). However, he cannot read in the Bible that Simon was called Cephas (“a stone”) because he was to be the first Pope! Incidentally, was John aware of the fact that Jesus gave James and John the surname “Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17)?

John notes that Jesus told Peter to “feed my sheep.” True. However, several others were also instructed “to feed the church of God” (Acts 20:28, KJV) and “feed the flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2, KJV). Does John think those people were also popes?  John alleges that Jesus appointed “Peter as shepherd of the flock in His absence.” However, Jesus Himself said, “There shall be one fold and one shepherd” (John 10:16). Jesus is the only shepherd over the whole church)—no provision for a Pope over the “one fold”! Furthermore, the Lord said, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). If the Pope is a shepherd over the whole church, then he is not a “good” one, because Jesus Christ is the good shepherd! The apostle Peter identified Jesus as “the chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4, ASV).

My friend wrote: “The 1st half of the Acts of the Apostles is all about Peter.” This is inaccurate at best. For example, Acts 6 is about the selection of seven men, including Stephen and Philip. Chapter 7 records Stephen’s defense before the Jewish council. Chapter 8 focuses on Philip’s preaching. Chapter 9 focuses on the conversion of Saul. Chapters 13 and 14 describe the preaching journey of Paul and Barnabas. The first half of Acts tells us about much of Peter’s work; however, it is quite an exaggeration to contend that it “is all about Peter”! Even if it were, that wouldn’t prove he was Pope!

According to my count, Paul is named 121 times in the last half of Acts, while Peter is named only twice! Does this prove that Paul became Pope in the second half of Acts? If Peter’s frequent mention in the first half argues that he was Pope, then why doesn’t Paul’s vastly more frequent mention in the second half argue for his being Pope during that time?
John alleged that “Peter … was made the Prime Minister of God’s kingdom.” Where does God’s word say that? Just another pure assertion.

John listed several things “in Scripture” that he claims point “to the fact that Peter was indeed the head of the Apostles”; however, not one of them confirms that Peter was “the first Pope” or “the first head” of the church! Additionally, my friend failed to include several interesting incidents from the life of Peter in his list: Jesus rebuked Peter’s lack of faith (Matthew 14:25-31); Peter contradicted the Lord (Matthew 16:21-22); Jesus said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan, thou art a scandal to me; for thou dost not mind the things of God, but those of men" (Matthew 16:21-23); Peter denied Jesus three times, even with curses and swearing (Matthew 26:69-75); Peter was hypocritical, “not walking uprightly according to the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:11-14). The various recorded events from Peter’s life are not evidence that he was ever a Pope!
My friend asks, “What about historical evidence for the primacy of Peter?” He then offers quotations from Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Cyprian of Carthage, concluding, “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.” 

Personally, I must reject anyone’s opinion when that opinion conflicts with the Scriptures. For example, if they alleged that “Peter was indeed the first head of the early Church,” then they were wrong! As already proven from the Bible, Jesus was the head of the church, not Peter (Ephesians 1:23; 5:23; Colossians 1:18). Remember, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Questions: Do you agree with everything written by “early Christian writers”? Did each of the four men you quoted write by inspiration, guided by the Holy Spirit as Bible writers were?

John devoted considerable attention to “whether Peter was ever in Rome or not?” This may be a matter of concern for some people; however, it matters little to me. The simple truth is that, if he was in Rome at some point, such would not ake him Pope! The apostle Paul was in Rome for two years (Acts 28:16, 30). Does that prove he was Pope?

John claims “there is one verse in Scripture that seems to suggest he was indeed in Rome… 1 Peter 5:13.” This verse mentions Babylon, not Rome, but John says, “Babylon is considered by many to be a code-word for Rome.” Not very compelling evidence, is it? My friend even confesses, “That is not by any means conclusive evidence from Scripture.”
Consequently, in the absence of any Biblical evidence, John appeals “to the historical record.”  He cites statements from Ignatius of Antioch, Caius, Dionysius of Corinth, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria. Suppose these uninspired writers were correct and that Peter spent some time in Rome. Does that prove that Peter was Pope? Several of the quotations given also mention Paul’s presence in Rome (of course, that fact is confirmed by the inspired Scriptures). Since Paul was in Rome, that proves he was Pope, according to my opponent’s line of argumentation!

Finally, the primacy of Peter, that he was the first pope, and that he was the first head of the church were ideas unknown to the apostles themselves. At the so-called Last Supper, “there arose also a dispute among them, which of them was reputed to be the greatest” (Luke 22:24). The Lord could have put that to rest quickly by telling them it was Peter, but He didn’t. In fact, He taught them it was “not so” among them that one would “exercise authority” over the others (:25-26). The Lord missed an excellent opportunity to identify Peter as “the head” of the church!
To summarize, my friend has not given any evidence to confirm that Peter was, in fact, “the first pope.” I look forward to the continuation of this discussion.


2nd Affirmative: John Martignoni

Mr. Thrasher’s response can be summed up in this manner: “When I read the Bible I see that it says Christ is the head of the Church, therefore, John and the Roman Catholic Church are wrong.”  Essentially, the only “proof” he offers, is his limited and very fallible interpretation of the Bible.    

There are problems, though, with the conclusion drawn from his private, fallible  interpretation.  Chief among those being that Catholics agree that Christ is the head of the Church.  Yes, Jesus Christ was, is, and always will be the head of the Church.  No one has, nor ever will, replace Him.  Christ being the head of the Church, however, in no way conflicts with the statement that Peter is also the head of the Church.    

And, Mr. Thrasher, just to be clear, when a Catholic says Peter was the “first” head of the Church, the “first” Pope, we are essentially saying two things: 1) That Peter was the head of the Church with, in, and through Christ, not instead of Christ.  Peter shepherded the Church with the authority given to him by Jesus Christ Himself; and, 2) Peter assumed his role as the earthly head of the Church after the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven.  So, we are using the word “first” in the context of the first after Christ ascended bodily into Heaven.  

But, “How can this be,” you might ask, “you cannot have two heads of the Church.  Either Jesus is the head of the Church, as you admit, or Peter is the head, it cannot be both!”  Ah, but it can.  “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?”  In Matthew 23:9, we see that we “have one Father.” One!  Yet, the Bible also speaks of many fathers (e.g., Mt 1:2-16; Mk 1:20; Lk 15:20; Jn 4:53; Acts 16:1; Eph 5:31).  How can this be? The Bible says there is only one Father, yet the Bible says there is more than one father.  Which is it, Mr. Thrasher?

Matthew 23:8 says we only have one teacher.  One!  Yet, the Bible speaks of more than one teacher (e.g., 1 Cor 12:28; Acts 5:34; Acts 13:1; Eph 4:11; 1 Tim 2:7).  How can this be? The Bible says there is only one teacher, yet the Bible says there is more than one teacher.  Which is it, Mr. Thrasher?  

The Bible says there is no other foundation than Jesus Christ (1 Cor 3:11).  None!  Yet, the Bible tells us the household of God, the Church, is built upon the foundation of the Apostles and the Prophets (Eph 2:20).  How can this be?  The Bible says there is only one foundation, yet the Bible says there is more than one foundation.  Which is it Mr. Thrasher?

In all these instances, Mr. Thrasher’s scriptural logic, which stems from his private fallible interpretation of Scripture, causes him a problem.  His “logic” turns all of the above examples into either-or situations, which necessarily forces contradictions on the Bible.  Well, we know the Bible cannot contradict itself, therefore, something must be wrong with Mr. Thrasher’s logic.

Catholics, however, realize that these are both-and situations and that there are no contradictions here.  So, yes, God is our only Father, but Abraham was also father (Lk 16:24; Rom 4:11).  Yes, God is our only teacher, but there are teachers in the Church (1 Cor 12:28).  Yes, Jesus is our only foundation, but the Apostles and Prophets are also the foundation (Eph 2:20).  In just the same way, Jesus is the only Head of the Church, but Peter, too, is head of the Church.  

If Mr. Thrasher wishes to claim that Peter cannot be the head of the Church because Jesus is the one and only head of the Church, then he needs to explain how God can be our one and only Father, yet Abraham is also a father.  He needs to explain how God is our one and only teacher; yet there are teachers, plural, in the Church.  He needs to explain how Jesus is our one and only foundation, yet the Apostles and Prophets are also the foundation.

Now, let’s look at some of the specifics of Mr. Thrasher’s arguments.  He said “the Scriptures never state that Peter…was the pope!”  Indeed, the Scriptures do not use the word “pope.”  But, does Mr. Thrasher not call his Scriptures, “the Bible?”  Yet, nowhere does that word appear in the Bible.  It seems he holds Catholics to a standard that he does not hold himself to.  

Mr. Thrasher asks: “What year did [Peter] officially become ‘the first pope’…and If Peter was ‘the first pope,’ what men (or women) succeeded Peter?”  And he wants the names and dates of the “2nd – 10th popes.”  Well, here they are (no women):

    Peter (30-67)
    Linus (67-76)
    Anacletus (76-88)
    Clement I (88-97)
    Evaristus (97-105)
    Alexander I (105-115)
    Sixtus I (115-125)
    Telesphorus (125-136)
    Hyginus (136-140)
    Pius I (140-155)

I ask Mr. Thrasher: Can you give me the name of a single preaching elder of your Campbellite Church of Christ from the 1st century and one from the 2nd century?  How about the 3rd century?  The 4th?  5th?  I can give Mr. Thrasher the complete lists of popes from Peter down to the current pope.  2000 years of popes.  Historical evidence.  Can he give me the names of the “elders” who laid hands on the “elders” who currently oversee his church?  What about the names of the elders who ordained those elders?  And the elders who ordained them?  And so on back to the Apostles? If not, how does he know anyone in his church has the authority to lay on hands?  

He can’t!  In fact, Mr. Thrasher’s Campbellite Church of Christ has no evidence for its existence before the 19th century.  But, I digress.  Back to Mr. Thrasher’s other arguments.

One of the evidences I presented for Peter as the first pope, was that in every list of the 12 Apostles, Peter’s name is always first.  Mr. Thrasher responds by citing Galatians 2:9, where Peter is not named first.  Two points: 1) That was not a list of the 12 Apostles, so my argument stands; and 2) James, at that time, was Bishop of Jerusalem, where Paul was, so it was entirely proper to mention his name before Peter’s in that circumstance.  Mr. Thrasher also fails to note that, in Galatians 1, Paul goes to Jerusalem to see who?  Peter.  Why would Paul go to Peter?  Because he knew that Peter was the head of the Church.

Mr. Thrasher asks if Paul’s name being mentioned more than Peter’s in the last half of Acts “proves” Paul “became Pope in the second half of Acts?”  Two points: 1) I did not offer that fact about Peter’s name being mentioned more than the other Twelve combined as “proof,” of Peter being the pope, but as evidence; and 2) the proposition being debated is about the “first” pope, not the 2nd, so Mr. Thrasher’s argument is irrelevant.  Paul could not have been the “first” head of the Church since the Church existed for years before he converted.

I contended in my first affirmative that the 1st half of the Acts of the Apostles was “all about Peter.”  Mr. Thrasher says that is “inaccurate at best.”  Really?  Acts 1: Peter decides that Judas should be replaced.  Acts 2: Peter speaks to the crowds at Pentecost and converts thousands.  Acts 3: Peter heals a lame man and again addresses the crowds.  Acts 4: Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, addresses the Jewish rulers, priests, and scribes.  Acts 5: Peter speaks the death sentence upon Ananias and Sapphira.  Acts 8: Peter rebukes Simon.  Acts 9: Saul’s conversion; Peter raises the dead and heals the paralyzed.  Acts 10: Peter, at God’s direct command, opens the door to the Gentiles.  Acts 11: The Judaizers came to Peter to complain.  Acts 12: Peter is arrested and saved by an angel.  Acts 15: Peter decides the issue at the Council of Jerusalem, and after he finishes speaking, “all the assembly kept silence.”

There is no doubt that Peter is the main actor in the 1st half of the Acts of the Apostles, which does indeed provide evidence for Peter being the first head of the Church, the first Pope.  Does Paul become the main actor in the 2nd half of Acts?  Indeed.  But, so what? That has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not Peter was the first pope.  Does it point to Paul being a very, very important leader in the early Church?  Absolutely.  Just so Peter’s exploits being the main focus of the first half of Acts points to him being a very, very important leader of the Church.  Evidence.

Mr. Thrasher denies that when Jesus told Peter to feed and tend the lambs and the sheep (John 21:15-17) that He was appointing Peter as shepherd of the flock.  He cites two other verses, Acts 20:28 and 1 Ptr 5:2, where others are told to “feed” the church of God and flock of God, respectively, and asks if I think “those people were also popes?”  No, Mr. Thrasher, I do not.  But, it is very clear, is it not, Mr. Thrasher, that those charged with feeding the flock had authority over those they were told to feed? They were bishops, or overseers, of their flocks.

In Acts 20:28, who is it being told to “feed the church?”  Those who have been given authority over the flock in their area – the overseers (bishops).  In 1 Ptr 5:2, who is it that is told to “feed the flock of God?”  Those who have been given charge of, or oversight over, the flock in their area.  

So, if Paul (Acts 20) and Peter (1 Ptr 5) recognize that those who feed the flock are those who are the overseers of their particular flock, why doesn’t Mr. Thrasher recognize that fact when it comes to Peter?  Jesus tells Peter to “Feed My lambs,” “Tend My sheep,” and “Feed My sheep.”  If the overseers mentioned in Acts 20 and 1 Ptr 5 have authority over their local flocks, then it is apparent that the act of feeding the sheep comes with the authority to do so.  And, since Jesus is telling Peter to feed His flock, He is thereby giving Peter authority over His flock…the flock that is His Church.  Scripture speaks very plainly that Jesus is appointing Peter the shepherd of His flock and Mr. Thrasher basically says, “Unh-unhh.”  

And, what was Mr. Thrasher’s response to the historical evidence presented for Peter being the first pope?  “I reject anyone’s opinion when that opinion conflicts with the Scriptures.”  The problem is, though, the “opinions” of those early Christians don’t conflict with the Scriptures.  They conflict with Mr. Thrasher’s “opinion”…with his private, fallible interpretations…of the Scriptures.  Is Mr. Thrasher possibly declaring his interpretations of Scripture to be infallible?  

When once debating one of Mr. Thrasher’s co-religionists, Pat Donahue, I asked, “Who wrote the Gospel of Mark, and how do you know?”  His response: “I know because of the witness of the early Christians.”  Does Mr. Thrasher reject that statement of one of his preaching elders?  Or, is it okay for the Campbellite Church of Christ to appeal to the “witness of the early Christians,” but when the Catholic Church of Christ does it, these same witnesses are simply rejected outright?

This is a very important point.  Mr. Thrasher, how do you know who wrote the Gospel of Mark?  Is it by the witness of the early Christians as Mr. Donahue stated?  And, if so, why then do you reject the witness of these same early Christians in regard to Peter being the first head of the Church?  

Mr. Thrasher is not one of those who argues Peter was never in Rome, so it is not necessary to argue that point any further. 

I close by summarizing the actual evidence offered by Mr. Thrasher to “prove” Peter was not the first pope:   



In Conclusion

Very early heads-up, but I will be speaking at the “Defending the Faith” Conference at the Franciscan University of Steubenville the weekend of July 29/30. If you’re trying to figure out what to do for a vacation this summer, that conference is a very good option to consider.

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Apologetics for the Masses