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The New Testament's Denial of the Papacy

Jason Engwer

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Also See

The Role Of Peter   Fallibility of Papal Infallibility   The History of The Papacy  

The Fraudulent Papacy   Were the Early Christians Roman Catholics?



The New Testament's Denial of the Papacy

 Five Historical Realities That are Against an Early Papacy

 Did Eusebius say Peter lived And Worked in Rome?


The New Testament's Denial of the Papacy
Jason Engwer

"Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so." - Acts 17:11

The Roman Catholic Church claims that a papacy with universal jurisdiction has existed since the time of Peter, and that it was recognized as such by the Christian church at that time. The First Vatican Council claimed in chapter 1 of session 4 (emphasis mine):

    We therefore teach and declare that, according to the testimony of the Gospel, the primacy of jurisdiction over the universal Church of God was immediately and directly promised and given to blessed Peter the Apostle by Christ the Lord....

    At open variance with this clear doctrine of Holy Scripture as it has been ever understood by the Catholic Church are the perverse opinions of those who, while they distort the form of government established by Christ the Lord in his Church, deny that Peter in his single person, preferably to all the other Apostles, whether taken separately or together, was endowed by Christ with a true and proper primacy of jurisdiction; or of those who assert that the same primacy was not bestowed immediately and directly upon blessed Peter himself, but upon the Church, and through the Church on Peter as her minister. [See What The Bible Says About The Role of Peter]

These claims of the Roman Catholic Church don't leave much room for development. If a papacy with universal jurisdiction has existed since the time of Peter and has been "ever understood" as such by the Catholic Church, then development can't be cited to explain widespread absence of the doctrine and widespread contradictions of it in the early centuries of church history. And if the First Vatican Council is wrong about this subject, then why should we trust the other claims of the First Vatican Council? Or the Second Vatican Council?

While Peter is mentioned a lot in the gospels and in the earliest chapters of Acts, often this is because he's the most outspoken and the most rash of the disciples (Matthew 16:16, Matthew 16:22, Matthew 18:21, Matthew 26:33, Mark 9:5, John 18:10). This is why Peter received so much attention from Jesus (Matthew 16:23, Luke 22:31-34, John 18:11, John 21:15-17). From the second half of Acts forward, however, Paul is mentioned much more than Peter. Paul ends up writing much more of the New Testament than Peter does, and the earliest church fathers (Ignatius, Polycarp, etc.) speak more of Paul than they do of Peter, and they make statements about Paul that are more exalted than what they say about Peter. Paul, by far, receives the most attention early on, even though Peter became more popular among many of the church fathers who wrote from the third century onward.

Did the apostles have any concept of Peter being their ruler? No (Luke 9:46, Luke 22:24, 1 Corinthians 12:28, 2 Corinthians 12:11, Galatians 1:1, 2:6-9).

Did Jesus think that Peter was a shepherd in the sense that he would oversee the other apostles? Apparently not. To the contrary, He tells Peter that John's future is none of his (Peter's) concern (John 21:21-22).

The apostles are repeatedly portrayed as being at the same level of authority (Matthew 19:28, 1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 2:20, Revelation 21:14). During the doctrinal dispute in Acts 15, Peter's testimony is heard (Acts 15:7-11), but doesn't settle the dispute. James has the last word (Acts 15:13-21), and his terminology is incorporated into the letter that's sent out (Acts 15:23-29). The letter mentions "the apostles and the brethren who are elders", but says nothing of papal authority. Also See The Role of Peter

Did the apostles view the Roman church as some sort of mother church that had supreme authority? No. To the contrary, Paul writes a letter of doctrinal and moral instruction to the Roman church. In his letter to the Romans and in his letters written from prison in Rome, Paul never mentions a papacy, nor does he even mention Peter in association with the Roman church. Paul refers to himself instructing and caring for all of the churches (1 Corinthians 4:17, 7:17, 2 Corinthians 11:28), something he surely couldn't have done if he didn't have authority over the Roman church. Paul writes about church government over and over again (1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 4:11-12, etc.), but never mentions a papacy. To the contrary, he refers to apostles as the highest authority (1 Corinthians 12:28), with no mention of a Pope who is above the authority of the apostles generally.

Peter himself seems to have had no concept of a papacy. He refers to his authority as an apostle (1 Peter 1:1, 2 Peter 1:1) and an eyewitness to Christ's earthly ministry (1 Peter 5:1, 2 Peter 1:16), but never as a Pope. Although he had just as much apostolic authority as the other apostles, Peter referred to his governmental authority as nothing more than that of a "fellow elder" (1 Peter 5:1). When Peter was nearing death, he said that he was leaving behind written documents in order for people to be able to remember what he had taught (2 Peter 1:13-15, 3:1-2). He doesn't say anything about leaving behind a successor, much less a Roman bishop with papal authority.

Obviously, there was no papacy during the time of the apostles, contrary to the claims of the Roman Catholic Church. And it isn't a matter of a papacy not being mentioned just because there was never any occasion for it to be mentioned. If there was a papacy during the time of the apostles, there would have been many contexts in which mentioning it would have been appropriate (Luke 22:24, John 21:22, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, 2 Peter 1:13-15, 3:1-2, etc.). Yet, a papacy is never mentioned. It's even contradicted by Paul's references to his equality with and independence from the other apostles, for example (Galatians 1-2, etc.). Even if the doctrine of the papacy wasn't contradicted by the New Testament, its absence would be enough to make the claims of the Catholic Church untenable.

The truth is that the papacy is an institution that took hundreds of years to come into being. Catholic apologists try to force a post-apostolic institution into the writings of the apostles (Colossians 2:8). To see a papacy in the New Testament, the Catholic apologist must:

    1.) rely on speculative interpretations of passages like Matthew 16:18-19 and Luke 22:32 (Where do any of these passages mention papal authority or successors?)

    2.) dismiss the absence of any mention of a papacy in dozens of passages that specifically address church government (Ephesians 4, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, etc.)

    3.) dismiss passages that contradict the doctrine of the papacy (Paul having authority over all the churches, Paul asserting his equality with and independence from the other apostles, etc.)

    4.) assume that unique things said or done by or about Peter are evidence that he was a Pope, while denying any papal implications when something unique is said or done by or about another apostle

Basically, the Catholic apologist reads something between the lines that cannot be proven to be a part of the thinking of the writers of the New Testament. How credible is it, then, when the Catholic Church claims that the papacy is a "clear doctrine" of scripture that was "ever understood" by the Christian church? It's not credible at all. Considering that Purgatory, indulgences, the Immaculate Conception, and other speculative doctrines are founded upon the alleged authority of the Pope, the fact that the doctrine of the papacy is so speculative raises a question. Are Catholics more concerned with truth or with their own philosophical preference for there being an institution with all of the authority that the Catholic Church claims to have?


Five Historical Realities That are Against an Early Papacy
Jason Engwer

According to the First Vatican Council and other authoritative Catholic sources, a papacy with universal jurisdiction has existed and been "ever understood" by the Christian church since the time of Peter (http://members.aol.com/jasonte2/jasonte1.htm).

However, the following five facts of history make this claim of the Catholic Church untenable:

1. There are no explicit references to a papacy in the earliest centuries of Christianity. Catholic apologists often suggest that a papacy is alluded to in Matthew 16, John 21, First Clement, Against Heresies, and other early documents, but all of these documents can reasonably be interpreted in non-papal ways. There are explicit references to the church offices of bishop and deacon, as well as doctrines such as Christ's deity, the Trinity, and the eucharist, but there aren't any explicit references to a papacy.

2. Many of the words and actions of the earliest Christians contradict the concept of a papacy. The disciples repeatedly argued about who was the greatest among them, even after the words of Matthew 16:18-19 were spoken (Luke 22:24). The disciples don't seem to have had any concept of Peter having been established as their ruler. Paul wrote about apostles (plural), not a Pope, being the highest order in the church (1 Corinthians 12:28). He also wrote that, in terms of apostolic authority, he was in no way inferior to any other apostle (2 Corinthians 12:11). Many events in early post-apostolic church history, such as Polycarp's disagreements with the Roman bishop Anicetus and Cyprian's disagreements with the Roman bishop Stephen, also contradict the concept of a papacy (http://members.aol.com/jasonte2/denials.htm).

3. The earliest non-Christian sources who commented on Christianity said nothing about a papacy. Though Pliny the Younger, Celsus, Lucian, and other early non-Christian sources wrote about the eucharist, Christ's deity, and other Christian doctrines, they didn't say anything about a papacy. If one man was viewed as the ruler of all Christians on earth, the "Vicar of Christ" and "Bishop of bishops", he would have been an ideal object of criticism. None of the earliest non-Christian sources seem to have any concept of a papacy, though.

4. The earliest interpretations of the scripture passages most often cited in favor of a papacy are all non-papal. Tertullian (On Modesty, 21) writes that Peter was the "rock" of Matthew 16:18 in the sense that he played a major role in founding the Christian church. He identifies the usage of the "keys" of Matthew 16:19 not as papal authority, but as the preaching of the gospel and the exercising of church discipline. Origen (Commentary on Matthew, 10-11) writes that everybody who confesses the faith Peter confessed in Matthew 16:18 is also a "rock". He emphasizes that Matthew 16:18 doesn't apply only to Peter, and he says nothing about this passage applying in any exclusive way to the bishops of Rome. Cyprian (Epistle 26) writes that all bishops, not just the bishop of Rome, are the successors of Peter, so that Matthew 16:18 applies to all of them. The Apostolical Constitutions (6:5) refers to Luke 22:32 as a passage about the faith of all Christians, and says nothing of a papacy or of this passage referring to papal infallibility. Cyril of Alexandria, John Chrysostom, Augustine, and other church fathers also interpreted Matthew 16, Luke 22, and John 21 in non-Roman-Catholic ways. Some church fathers even applied multiple interpretations to these passages of scripture, but the earliest church fathers never applied the Roman Catholic interpretations to these passages.

5. Men like Clement of Alexandria (The Stromata), Cyprian (On the Unity of the Church), and Augustine (Sermons) wrote entire treatises relating to church government and Christian doctrine without mentioning a papacy. Offices such as bishop and deacon are mentioned over and over again, councils are discussed, and the authority of scripture is referred to again and again, yet nobody in the earliest centuries of Christianity writes about papal authority. There are treatises instructing Christians on how to interpret scripture, explaining how to view doctrines like the incarnation and the Trinity, and encouraging Christians to obey bishops and other church leaders. There are no treatises devoted to a papal office, though, nor is a papacy even mentioned. For example, the influential bishop of Carthage, Cyprian, wrote a treatise on church government and unity (On the Unity of the Church) that not only doesn't mention a papacy, but even contradicts the concept.

In light of these five realities of history, the Roman Catholic Church's claims about the papacy are historically untenable. Catholics are encouraged to believe in transubstantiation, Purgatory, indulgences, the Immaculate Conception, and other doctrines because of papal authority, yet that authority is without foundation.zzz


Eusebius and Church History

Catholic Apologists will say that Eusebius, in his "Church History" relates how Peter went to Rome, established a church there with Paul, and lived and worked there over a twenty year period. Although we may accept it as certain that he did visit Rome, and that he met his death there, it is no less certain that he did not reach there until late in the reign of Nero.

Upon the historic truth of Peter's visit to Rome... Although we may accept it as certain that he did visit Rome, and that he met his death there, it is no less certain that he did not reach there until late in the reign of Nero. The tradition that he was for twenty-five years bishop of Rome is first recorded by Jerome (de vir. ill. c. 1), and since his time has been almost universally accepted in the Roman Catholic Church, though in recent years many more candid scholars of that communion acknowledge that so long an episcopate there is a fiction.

The tradition undoubtedly took its rise from the statement of Justin Martyr that Simon Magus came to Rome during the reign of Claudius. Tradition, in the time of Eusebius, commonly connected the Roman visits of Simon and of Peter; and consequently Eusebius, accepting the earlier date for Simon's arrival in Rome, quite naturally assumed also the same date for Peter's arrival there, although Justin does not mention Peter in connection with Simon in the passage which Eusebius quotes. The assumption that Peter took up his residence in Rome during the reign of Claudius contradicts all that we know of Peter's later life from the New Testament and from other early writers. In 44 a.d. he was in Jerusalem (according to Acts xii. 3); in 51 he was again there (according to Acts xv.); and a little later in Antioch (according to Gal. i. 11 sq.). Moreover, at some time during his life he labored in various provinces in Asia Minor, as we learn from his first epistle, and probably wrote that epistle from Babylon on the Euphrates (see chap. 15, note 7). At any rate, he cannot have been in Rome when Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans (57 or 58 a.d.), for no mention is made of him among the brethren to whom greetings are sent. Nor can he have been there when Paul wrote from Rome during his captivity (61 or 62 to 63 or 64 a.d.). We have, in fact, no trace of him in Rome, except the extra-Biblical but well-founded tradition (see chap. 25, note 7) that he met his death there. We may assume, then, that he did not reach Rome at any rate until shortly before his death; that is, shortly before the summer of 64 a.d.

Neither Paul nor Peter founded the Roman church in the strict sense, for there was a congregation of believers there even before Paul came to Rome, as his Epistle to the Romans shows, and Peter cannot have reached there until some time after Paul.

According to an ancient tradition, Peter was crucified upon the hill of Janiculum, near the Vatican, where the Church of San Pietro in Montorio now stands, and the hole in which his cross stood is still shown to the trustful visitor. A more probable tradition makes the scene of execution the Vatican hill, where Nero's circus was, and where the persecution took place. Baronius makes the whole ridge on the right bank of the Tiber one hill, and thus reconciles the two traditions. In the fourth century the remains of Peter were transferred from the Catacombs of San Sebastiano (where they are said to have been interred in 258 a.d.) to the Basilica of St. Peter, which occupied the sight of the present basilica on the Vatican. (The Church History of Eusebius. www.ccel.org)


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