This paper is for one of the chapters I’m writing about why I converted to the Roman Catholic faith, and to help other Bible-believing Christians to come into the fulness of the faith (1 Cor. 1:10.) This chapter is far from done, as I intend to discuss Peter’s Tomb that rests right under St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome to demonstrate how we know that he was stationed and martyred in Rome and the Chronological list of Popes you can find in many Catholic publications, especially Bibles, that show the apostolic succession from St. Peter to the current Pope. However, I pretty much have the bases covered as far as Scripture goes. So here you are, the Biblical roots for the Primacy of the Pope:
I remember one of my initial questions when coming into the Catholic faith was, “Dude, what’s with the Pope?” I mean look at that guy, kissing people and blessing babies and such. Who does he think he is? It turns out that he is the successor of St. Peter of the gospels as the Vicar of Christ. A “vicar” is a representative, deputy, or someone acting in the place of someone else. Therefore, he is head of the whole Church on Earth as the Vicar of Christ. Have I lost you yet? To a non-Catholic Christian this sounds arrogant, blasphemous and even unnecessary. However, I wasn’t ready to write-off this Pontiff until I heard his case, and I was pleasantly surprised. I knew that in order for the office of the Pope to be valid, three things had to be true:
- There had to be a clear and distinct role given to St. Peter as the Vicar of Christ in the gospels.
- There had to be some record of St. Peter being stationed in Rome. After all, the Pope is the bishop of Rome.
- Finally, there had to be a clear apostolic succession from St. Peter to the current Pope.
Who is St. Peter?
I was pleased to find that all of these requirements were met, particularly in the person of St. Peter. We know from the gospels that Peter was very close to Jesus. He was one of the three to witness the transfiguration of our Lord on the Mount (Mark 9:1) the agony of our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:37.) Peter also spoke to Jesus on behalf of the Apostles on several occasions (Matt. 19:27 & John 6:69.) Jesus called Peter to walk on water with him in the midst of a storm (Matt. 14:22-33) and it was Peter who jumped out of a boat to meet Jesus on the shore after his resurrection (John 21:7.) Peter is always listed first amongst the Apostles when they are listed (Matt. 10:2) and Acts 1:15 records that “In those days, Peter stood up among the believers.” This is comforting and heart-warming indeed, for it shows that Jesus’ prayer for him in Luke 22:31-32 did not go unanswered. Jesus tells Peter, “Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” However, the verse that speaks most powerfully for the primacy of St. Peter is this one:
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 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.” –Matthew 16:18
The first time that this verse was brought to my attention by the Catholic community, I was absolutely astounded by it and didn’t know how I had overlooked it before. I noticed that as I brought it to the attention of Protestant evangelicals, they always tried to down-play St. Peter’s role by claiming Peter’s name means “pebble” or “little rock” and that Peter’s statement in verse 16 “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Is the actual “rock” on which Christ built his Church, rather than it being St. Peter himself. However, I could find no evidence to support this theory. There is no reason to suggest that Peter’s name means “little rock” or “pebble.” It simply means “rock” or “stone” and is a masculine variation of the Greek word “petra”, which also means rock or stone. Hence, this is the reason that we call the study of rocks “petrology.” Jesus even changed Peter’s name to Peter for this purpose. Peter’s name was Simon until Jesus changed it to Cephas, the Aramaic form of Peter, in John 1:42. This is why, just prior to Matthew 16:18, Jesus calls Peter “Simon, son of Jonah.” In Matthew 16:18, Jesus is literally changing Simon’s name to Peter!
Why the Name Change?
In Sacred Scripture, whenever God changes one’s name, it is because that person is being called to a higher state of recognition or purpose. We can see this in the examples of the patriarchs Abraham and Israel. In Genesis 17:5, God changes Abram’s name to Abraham because he was to become “the father of many nations.” In Genesis 32:29, God changes Jacob’s name to Israel, giving him the recognition that he had “struggled with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” So now that we know the intent behind changing one’s name, why would Jesus change Simon’s name to Cephas, or Peter in John 1:42 and Matthew 16:18? Well, this is what Jesus is telling us. “And I tell you that you are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my Church.” It’s a simple play-on-words! This makes Peter a special kind of representative of Christ who is the foundational rock, or more specifically “chief cornerstone” of the Church (Ephesians 2:20.) Jesus’ role in the Church is certainly far greater than that of Peter’s or the Pope’s, but we cannot ignore the great significance given to St. Peter by this passage. An apostle is an ambassador for Christ, a disciple is a student of Christ, a Christian is an imitator of Christ, but only St. Peter has been called “the rock” by which Christ laid the foundation for his Church.