Was Peter the first Pope?
According to the theory of "Apostolic succession" those who succeed Peter become the inheritors of his universal authority. It is claimed that Peter was the first Bishop of Rome until his death. Those who succeed to the bishopric of Rome are the rightful heirs of Peter and therefore inherit the universal jurisdiction of the whole Christian church.
Pope Innocent III (13th century) said, "I have obtained from Peter the mitre for my priesthood and the crown for my royalty; he has made me vicar of Him upon whose vesture is written 'King of Kings and Lord of Lords'..." Similar sentiments were expressed by Pope John VI in his first encyclical of 1964.
In the bull of Pope Innocent IV (1243-1254) he said, "Our Lord Jesus Christ..committed to the blessed Peter and his successors the reins of the empire, both earthly and celestial, as is indicated by the plurality of the keys. The vicar of Christ [the Pope] has received the power to exercise his jurisdiction by the one over the earth for temporal things, by the other in heaven for spiritual things."
There is no evidence, however, that Peter was in Rome during any of the time covered by the history of the canonical Scriptures. He may have suffered martyrdom at Rome, but the tradition of a 25-year episcopate can hardly be maintained. The traditional dates are from AD41 to AD66. However, in:
- AD44 he was imprisoned in Jerusalem (Acts 12)
- AD52 he was at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15)
- AD53 Paul joined him in Antioch (Galatians 2)
- AD58 Paul wrote to the Romans but does not mention Peter! In Romans 1:11 Paul wants to impart special gifts - why would he have to, if Peter as Pope was already there? In Romans 1:15 Paul is ready to preach at Rome - why would he need to, if Peter was already there as Pope? In the letter, Paul sends greetings to 27 persons, but none to Peter.
- AD61 Paul is conveyed as a
prisoner to Rome, and certain brethren go to meet him, but not
Whilst in Rome Paul writes to the Galatians and mentions Peter, but not as being there or as having been Pontiff there for 20 years.
The epistles to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon were all written from Rome, but while others are mentioned as sending messages from, or as being associated with, Paul, Peter is never mentioned.
Paul's last letter, 2 Timothy, was also written in Rome. He says,
"...No man stood with me, but all men forsook me" (2 Timothy 4:16)
If Peter was Bishop of Rome, he enjoyed an immunity which was not accorded to Paul and is guilty of having forsaken the apostle.
In 2 Timothy 4:11, written from Rome immediately before his martyrdom, Paul says, "Only Luke is with me."
From this evidence we can conclude that Peter was not in Rome during the period claimed and was certainly not acting as the first Pope!
That there was no idea of pre-eminence for Peter in the words of Matthew 16:19 is seen from the fact that the disciples later questioned Jesus as to whom was to be greatest in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 18:1). If Jesus' words had been intended to mean that Peter was appointed Pope, there would have been no need to ask this question - it was clear to the disciples that the words did not bear that meaning, otherwise Jesus would have drawn their attention to the fact that they did not need to strive for superiority, as he had already made the appointment of Peter!