Was Peter Really our First Pope?

Before jumping into the below study, I would like to give some background and I would like to give credit where credit is due.

Over the years, one of the most common objections I have heard about the Catholic Church was to the office of the Papacy. Questions or comments such as:

Like most Catholics I knew, I didn't know the reason why we had a Pope, and I certainly didn't have the knowledge to support it.

When I began my study in the field of apologetics, one of the first topics that interested me was the Papacy. I soon found that I was able to make a well-reasoned explanation as to why the Catholic Church is different from the various Christian communities that do not follow the Pope.

I remember specifically the occasion when Pope Benedict XVI stepped down and the Church found itself in a position that it hadn't been in for approximately 700 years, a living Pope resigning. Traditionally the office of the Papacy is for life, and this event had a lot of people asking questions, Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Right after this event, while the election of a new Pope was in the news, a close friend of mine was stopped while she was in a grocery store. Having been recognized as being a Catholic, because she was wearing a crucifix, she was pressed with questions and had to fend off attacks by this stranger about the Catholic institution of the Pope. She found that she wasn't well prepared for this confrontation. Afterward she asked me to help her come to a better understanding of the authority of the Papacy, something that she had grown up with, but never really learned about. Together, we embarked on a study, beginning with what I had already learned and then seeking more. I learned a great deal while doing this study.

My sources of information began to expand too. Over the past few years, I have become a regular listener to the Catholic Answers Live radio show. I listen to their staff and guest apologists on a regular basis. Some of my favorites frequently answer questions about the institution of the Papacy. Apologists such as Jimmy Akin, Steve Ray and Tim Staples, to name a few of the regulars. I regularly take notes on their answers to questions on various topics. As my knowledge has grown, I have become a "go-to" answer man among my friends. In my own journey of discovery, I read books such as Upon This Rock, by Steve Ray, and I listened to talks on the subject, for example, "The Shocking Truth About the Pope and the Bible" by Tim Staples, and his companion work, "The Shocking Truth about the Pope and the Church Fathers." I found many amazing in-depth works looking at the support for the office of the Vicar of Christ in the Bible. Not only is it just in the Bible, it is woven throughout the fabric of the New Testament, and its earliest roots are in the Old Testament. My work of study that I present below draws a lot from what I learned from Jimmy Akin, Steve Ray and especially from Tim Staples' work. But let me say this: there is so much that I can't include here. If I even paraphrased all the material that I've read or heard, my study below could be two to three times as long as it is.

If the topic interests you, support your local Catholic bookstore, and ask for these two talks by Tim Staples or for Steve Ray's book. You won't be disappointed.

The Primacy of Peter
And the Office of the Papacy

These are some of the points people have raised to with regard to Peter:

Or can we?

As a Catholic Evangelist and Apologist, these are all objections that I have heard many times from non-Catholics who do not believe in the fundamental role of Peter as the first leader of the Church. Some question the role of the Pope today as successor to Peter in that office.

As Catholics we believe that Jesus created a Church, a visible Church here on earth, with structure and authority, a Church that would last until the end of the age, and Jesus would be with His Church for all time. Jesus also set Peter as the head of that Church. Jesus used language to indicate that this was an office, more important than and well beyond the man himself. An office that would ensure that Jesus' people would have a leader that they could turn to for guidance, to settle conflicts on issues of faith and morals, and to lead us into the future.

A fundamental difference between Protestants and Catholics, this belief is well supported in the Bible. However, since many Christians build their articles of faith one verse at a time, the source of this belief is all too lost on them. As you read the Bible, you build a case for the whole of Christianity. While there are important concepts that are supported by a single verse or a single passage, Christianity is fleshed out by putting together the various passages from all of scripture to build an entire structure. The leadership of the Church is well supported in the Bible. In fact, you see the structure as it is built up throughout the four Gospels and the book of Acts, brick by solid brick. Once you've seen it, you can't un-see it. And if you want to argue against it, you have to counter-argue against dozens of different building blocks supporting the very foundation of the Church Jesus gave us.

Let's look first in the Gospels.

Peter in the Gospels

Mt 14:23-31
23 After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. 24 Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. 25 During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. "It is a ghost," they said, and they cried out in fear. 27 At once [Jesus] spoke to them, "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid." 28 Peter said to him in reply, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." 29 He said, "Come." Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" 31 Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"

Mt 14:23-31 Peter walks on water. The disciples are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. A storm comes up and Jesus comes to them walking on the water.

There is a lot that we can take from this text, but starting with a simple plain text reading, we see Jesus supernaturally empowering to do what no man has done before - walk on water. He supplies supernatural power to St. Peter. When St. Peter's faith falters, Jesus stretches out his hand and keeps St. Peter from going under.

Jesus will never let St. Peter fall. St. Peter is to be the one who will shepherd the people of God. Not on the basis of his own works or his own abilities, but based on the power of Christ.

Mt 17:24-27
24 When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and said, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?" 25 "Yes," he said. When he came into the house, before he had time to speak, Jesus asked him, "What is your opinion, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax? From their subjects or from foreigners?" 26 When he said, "From foreigners," Jesus said to him, "Then the subjects are exempt. 27 But that we may not offend them, go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and for you."

In Mt 17:24-27 the tax collectors approach St. Peter -- They know which disciple is in charge, who spoke for Jesus. They ask him: "Doesn't your Teacher pay the temple tax?" When Peter goes to Jesus, Jesus guides him, but that we may not offend them, go to the sea, drop in a hook. The first fish you catch you will find a coin, worth two times the temple tax. Enough to pay for both of us.

Why didn't they just pay the tax out of their funds? Jesus often made lessons and examples larger than life so that they would make a point and be remembered. Jesus commands and empowers St. Peter to pay the tax for the both of them. Remember this when we talk later about Jesus promising to communicate his authority to St Peter via the keys in Mt 16. St. Peter is acting as leader on Jesus' behalf (in a miraculous fashion).

Further we see outsiders recognizing his role.

St Peter supernaturally is able not only to pay his own taxes, but also pays Jesus' taxes in the place of Jesus. Isn't that the role of the Vicar of Christ - to represent and act in the place of Christ?

Mt 18:15-18
15 "If your brother sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. 16 If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that 'every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.' 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. 18 Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

In Mt 18:15-18 Jesus tells us to: Take it to the Church.

He gives us instructions to follow if we have a conflict with someone. First he tells us to go to that person. If it requires escalation, then to take two or three others. If it needs further escalation, then to take it to the church. And finally, if they don't listen to the Church, to let him be to you as a Gentile or a tax collector.

Then he further goes on to give the Apostles in unity the power to bind or loose. In context, in the prior passage of Mt 18:6-8 Jesus makes it clear that they are dealing with serious matters. You may recall that He refers to:

6 "Whoever causes one of these little ones* who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 8 If your hand or foot causes you to sin,* cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life maimed or crippled than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into eternal fire."

We also see that it is Jesus' plan to uproot the old leadership and replace them with new leadership. God gave his authority to the Church.

In Mt 5:1-14 Jesus chastises the Pharisees - they made void the commandment of God by their tradition (v6). They claim the children's responsibility to take care of their parents could be dispensed with if they gave a gift to the temple.

In verse 8 Jesus says: You Hypocrites. Well did Isiah prophesy…

In verses 13-14 He says "every plant which my father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone, they are blind guides."

God established the old covenant, but the old covenant itself prophesied that there would be a change of priesthood.

In Heb 7:11-12 we are told: If perfection had been obtainable though Levitical priesthood for under it the people received the law. What further need would there be for another priesthood?

In Mt 16:6-12: Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Be aware of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.)

In Mt 21: 33-45 in the parable of the house holder we see:

The house holder builds and lends it out to tenants to tend the grapes and produce the wine.

At harvest time the house holder sent several servants. The tenants beat and killed a servant sent to collect.

The house holder sent his son and they killed his son.

When Jesus asked the Jews what he should do, the chief priests and elders said put them to death and give the vineyard to someone else.

In verse 43 Jesus says, Therefore I tell you the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.

In verse 45, When the chief priests and Pharisees heard him, they immediately perceived he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him.

In Mt 23:1-2 Jesus indicates old covenant hierarchy authority. He says: Do whatever they tell you, but not according to their work. This is a very strong expression of their authority, it is not limited. It is including oral tradition - everything they teach.

Contrast this with Mt 16 where Jesus communicates this authority to Peter: Whatever you bind on earth has the authority of heaven.

Luke 20:9-19, which is a parallel to Matthew, also speaks of the coming change of hierarchy.

9 Then he proceeded to tell the people this parable: "[A] man planted a vineyard, leased it to tenant farmers, and then went on a journey for a long time. 10 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenant farmers to receive some of the produce of the vineyard. But they beat the servant and sent him away empty-handed. 11 So he proceeded to send another servant, but him also they beat and insulted and sent away empty-handed. 12 Then he proceeded to send a third, but this one too they wounded and threw out. 13 The owner of the vineyard said, 'What shall I do? I shall send my beloved son; maybe they will respect him.' 14 But when the tenant farmers saw him they said to one another, 'This is the heir. Let us kill him that the inheritance may become ours.' 15 So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and put those tenant farmers to death and turn over the vineyard to others." When the people heard this, they exclaimed, "Let it not be so!" 17 But he looked at them and asked, "What then does this scripture passage mean: 'The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone'? 18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be dashed to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls." 19 The scribes and chief priests sought to lay their hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people, for they knew that he had addressed this parable to them.

In Mt 10:40 Jesus says: He who receives you receives me. The Church receives the authority of Jesus. The church of the new covenant speaks with the authority of Jesus Christ. Later in Mt 18 all the apostles are included in the communication of this authority.

In Mt 16:15-19 Jesus firmly establishes His Church and sets Peter as its head: 15 Jesus said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" 16 Simon Peter said in reply, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." 17 Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. 18 And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

Jesus was promising to communicate a unique authority to St Peter. All 12 Apostles are present, but Jesus singles out St. Peter.

This passage is critical, and while many Catholics haven't made the above connections in the numerous passages discussed above, they will often refer to this text in Matthew 16. This passage is most important in the establishment of the Church and its leadership. So critical in fact that the interpretation of this passage is most often attacked by non-Catholic Christians. Consider the following points. Perhaps you have heard or even made the same arguments:

Many non-Catholics teach that there is a definite distinction in Greek text between the two rocks. Petros vs. Petra. There are two different meanings, Petros small insignificant rock vs. Petra a massive boulder. The first rock would refer to Peter and the second rock would refer to Jesus. This argument concludes that Jesus didn't build his church on St. Peter but upon himself.

The Catholic response is that this argument does not hold up to scrutiny. Petros and Petra are simply masculine and feminine forms of the same word with the same root in the Koine Greek of the New Testament. Both words mean rock. The difference is not there and this is a fiction.

The word Petra is a feminine noun and had never been used as a name before. It would have been improper to call Peter - Petra. It would be the equivalent of calling a male Michelle in English. I would ask you to show me one place in scripture where Petros is used to mean small rock. This is a Protestant tradition that does not exist in scripture.

We have evidence that the Gospel of Matthew was originally written in Aramaic as well as in Greek. St. Papiaus and St. Iraenaeus recounted the existence of an original Aramaic version.

But in either case, Jesus would not have spoken this discourse in Greek. He would have spoken this in Aramaic. In Aramaic this distinction did not exist. We further have John 1:42 demonstrating that Jesus named Peter in Aramaic. Consider also this: If Jesus meant small stone, there are ways of saying small stone that could have been used. There are several words that could have been used to denote a small rock. Petra and lithos are most commonly used and can be used interchangeably. But context determines the meaning. (Notice the irony that Petra, previously argued to mean large rock, can also mean small stone.)

In this case, both dust and pebbles use the word Petra.

So the claim that Petra always means massive rock is just not valid.

The writer also had the option of using the word Lithos: There are examples of lithos meaning both large and small rocks.

In Mt 28:2 the large stone used to seal the tomb of Christ - Lithos was used here.

In Mt 21:42-44 Christ refers to himself as a stone - using Lithos - massive boulder.

However, in Mt 4:3 the devil tempts our Lord to turn these rocks into bread. Here the word used, Lithos, means small rocks.

In Jn 10:31 Jews pick up Lithoid to stone Jesus. Lithos again means small rocks.

In 1 Pt 2:5 Peter uses Lithoi to describe the believers of Christ building up the church of Christ.

The only word never used in the Koine Greek of the New Testament to mean small rock is Petros. Petros is uniquely used to describe St. Peter.

Even Protestant scholars have agreed. D.A. Carson said: The underlying Aramaic is used and Cepha was used in both cases. (The Expositors Bible Commentary.)

Another Protestant scholar, Craig Keener, on page 90 of the IVP Bible background commentary of the New Testament writes, "In Greek here they referring to Petros and Petra were cognate terms that were used interchangeably in this period."

This distinction didn't exist since ancient Greek at least four centuries earlier, and even then it was only used in poetry.

John Calvin writes: I grant that in Greek that Peter - Petros and stone - Petra mean the same thing.

Dr. Gerhardt Kittle writes in his Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, "The obvious pun that has made its way into the Greek Text is impossible to differentiate… Petros = Cefas = Petra." Kittle says: "Petros himself is Petra, not just his faith or his confession." The reformers' belief that Jesus is referring to the faith of Peter is quite inconceivable. For there is not reference here to the faith of Peter. Rather the parallelism of thou art rock and on this rock I will build shows that the second rock can only be Peter, to whom he has given the name rock. To this extent Roman Catholic exegesis is right and all Protestant attempts to evade this interpretation are to be rejected."

There is a third word that Matthew could have used, cephos. (say-phos) It is used in Revelation 2:17 as a small stone: "Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the victor I shall give some of the hidden manna; I shall also give a white amulet upon which is inscribed a new name, which no one knows except the one who receives it." Unlike Petra and Lithos, Cephos always means small stone.

Jesus refers to You/Peter seven times. Jesus is conferring on Peter a unique authority.

Simon's name change to Peter

When God calls people to new and significant callings, He sometimes changes their name. Their new names reveal something of their new life.

A parallel with Abraham in Is 51:1-2 Listen to me, you who pursue justice, who seek the Lord; look to the rock from which you were hewn, to the quarry from which you were taken 2 Look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth; Though he was but one when I called him, I blessed him and made him many.

Jesus makes St. Peter a true father over the household of Faith.

The Keys - a connection to Isaiah

In Mt 16 there is a very important reference to keys. Jewish people were well versed in the Old Testament.

In Is 22:15-24 God informs a wicked prime minister that his days are numbered and He will replace him. In verse 22, he has the key of the house of David. Except for the Queen Mother, there was no higher authority in the kingdom. He basically wielded the authority of the King.

I will clothe him in your robe, I will confer him with your authority and he shall be a father to the inhabitants and to the house of Judah. I will place the Key of the house of David on his shoulder and what he opens, no one will shut, and what he shuts, no one will open. Joseph had a similar office under Pharaoh. The same phrase "over my house" is used in Gen 41:40, Pharaoh speaking to Joseph:

You shall be in charge of my household, and all my people will obey your command. Only in respect to the throne will I outrank you.

There isn't much in the Old Testament about the prime minister, but it was mentioned in

We find the most detailed reference in Is 22.

Further, Jesus quotes this text in Rev 3:7

"To the angel of the church in Philadelphia, write this: "The holy one, the true, who holds the key of David, who opens and no one shall close, who closes and no one shall open."

Jesus quotes Isaiah 22. This was a prophecy concerning Christ and the coming of the new covenant Kingdom of God.

So the reference we find in Mt 16 to the keys indicates that Jesus is making Peter the master of the palace with the authority of the King behind him. The master of the palace, the prime minister, held the key to the kingdom and acted with the authority of the king in the Old Testament. We know from our New Testament theology that the Old Testament types are a shadow compared to the new covenant substance in the New Testament. Heb 10:1 All the Old Testament types were merely shadows.

Who is the King of Kings? Jesus is. So who is his prime minister?

Grammar analysis: You are Peter - the Rock

The author uses the demonstrative adjective with a noun proceeded by the word "and". This normally refers back to the noun preceding the word "and".

He could have said, You are Peter BUT on this other rock I will build my church. He would have to explain what the other rock was.

The text is clear - you are rock and on this rock…

Other objections

Jesus is called Rock in 1 Cor 10:4. And in 1 Cor 3:11 St. Paul says - No other foundation can man lay except that which has been laid, Jesus Christ.

However, in Eph 2:20 and Rev 21:14 Apostles are referred to as foundation.

In Psalms 18:31 and in 1 Samuel 2:2 God alone is the rock.

Yet in Isaiah 51:1-2 Abraham is called the rock.

Conclusion: God freely chooses to delegate his authority in varying degrees to members of The People of God in order to accomplish His governance and His authority on earth. This is the reason that the apostles can be called the foundation in Eph 2:20 and Rev 21:14 and not create a contradiction.

Because Christ the foundation makes the apostles the visible foundation on the earth.

Sure, it would be easier if Jesus ruled directly. But God has willed that his ministers participate in the prophetic, priestly, and kingly ministry of Christ himself. They do not usurp it nor do they take away from it. In fact they establish it on the earth.

Peter's faith

There is another objection: It's not Peter but Peter's faith that Jesus is referring to.

According to the teaching of the Catholic Church, this is partly right.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) Paragraph 424 states: We believe that on the rock of this faith, Christ built his church. But this is only one level of meaning. The error lies in excluding St Peter.

CCC 552 says that both interpretations are true as long as you don't make them mutually exclusive.

Christ assures his church of victory over the powers of death.

Because of his faith he confessed, Peter will remain the unshakable rock of the church.

Luke 5: The Barque of Peter

In Luke 5, the multitudes are pressing in on Jesus and He steps out into a boat. He chooses St. Peter's boat.

Jesus uses the barque of Peter to proclaim the Gospel. He steps out of the boat and tells Peter to go fishing. In Lk 5:4-5 after fishing all night, Peter catches nothing. Jesus sends him back out and Peter complies and brings in a huge catch.

Look at how deep the symbolism goes:

  • Jesus is in the boat proclaiming the good news.
  • Jesus steps out.
  • Peter steps in.
  • Peter catches many fish in miraculous fashion.
  • As Luke continues, in verse 8, St. Peter falls to his knees because he realizes this is something big. Then in verse 10 Jesus tells Peter that henceforth he will be catching men.

    Luke 22: Jesus prays for Peter so Peter can strengthen his brothers

    In Luke 22:28-32 Jesus tells Peter, Satan has demanded to sift all of you and that he is praying specifically for Peter.

    (Speaking to all 12) 28 It is you who have stood by me in my trials; 29 and I confer a kingdom on you, just as my Father has conferred one on me, 30 that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom; and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 31 "Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you (plural) like wheat, 32 but I have prayed that your (singular) own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers."

    Jesus tells all: Satan wants to destroy all of you, but I'm only praying for Peter.

    It would seem that the apostles should be shocked, but they are not. They understand their roles. In modern terms, they are members of Parliament, and Peter is the Prime Minister.

    The apostles understood that to leave Peter would be to leave Jesus, and to stay with Peter is to stay with Jesus and be strengthened by Jesus through Peter.

    Feed My Sheep

    In John 21:1-14 (After the resurrection) Jesus calls upon Peter to Shepherd his flock.

    1 After this, Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. He revealed himself in this way. 2 Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee's sons, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We also will come with you." So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, "Children, have you caught anything to eat?" They answered him, "No." 6 So he said to them, "Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something." So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish. 7 So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord." When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea. 8 The other disciples came in the boat, for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards, dragging the net with the fish. 9 When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish you just caught." 11 So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, "Come, have breakfast." And none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they realized it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead.

    John recognizes Jesus first. But he defers to Peter, instead of yelling out to all he tells Peter. Peter goes ashore and then pulls in the nets, bringing in 153 large fish. It doesn't specify the weight, but a 30-inch largemouth bass is almost 20 lbs. So estimating these fish at just 5-10 lbs each it would be in the neighborhood of 1,000-1,500 pounds or more. The passage says Peter brought it in by himself, and the nets don't tear, again hinting at an extreme weight. Like the time that Peter took the coin from the fish's mouth, there's more going on here than just the plain text reading. The many fish represent the many countries of the world, and Peter, a fisher of men, is to bring them together.

    Then Jesus says to Peter three times, Do you love me, feed my sheep/lambs.

    When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." 16 He then said to him a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep." 17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." [Jesus] said to him, "Feed my sheep."

    Three times Jesus presses Peter, perhaps as a reminder that Peter, in his human weakness, denied Jesus 3 times. But what we don't see here is lost in translation. In the Greek, Jesus escalates the level of love each time. He presses Peter each time harder than the time before. Do you love me as a friend? Do you love me as a brother? Do you love me above all else? And each time, as Peter answers yes, Jesus tells him to take care of his flock, the Body of Christ, the Church here on earth.

    Peter in the Acts of the Apostles

    St. Luke was a companion to St. Paul as he traveled and brought the Church to the Gentiles. It makes sense then that most see St. Paul as the focal point of the Book of Acts. However, even though most of The Acts of the Apostles is from the perspective of St. Paul, almost half of the book reiterates again and again the leadership of St. Peter.

    Further, it has been said by many Christian communities, if you want to see how a Church is set up, read the Acts of the Apostles. As we will see, the book of Acts is a very Catholic book.

    Acts 1 On the matter of replacing Judas

    Acts 1:15-26
    15 During those days Peter stood up in the midst of the brothers (there was a group of about one hundred and twenty persons in the one place). He said, 16 "My brothers, the scripture had to be fulfilled which the holy Spirit spoke beforehand through the mouth of David, concerning Judas, who was the guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was numbered among us and was allotted a share in this ministry. 18 He bought a parcel of land with the wages of his iniquity, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle, and all his insides spilled out. 19 This became known to everyone who lived in Jerusalem, so that the parcel of land was called in their language 'Akeldama,' that is, Field of Blood. 20 For it is written in the Book of Psalms: 'Let his encampment become desolate, and may no one dwell in it.' And: 'May another take his office.' 21 Therefore, it is necessary that one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to his resurrection." 23 So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, "You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this apostolic ministry from which Judas turned away to go to his own place." 26 Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the eleven apostles.

    Catholics follow a tradition that we call Apostolic Succession. Each of our bishops can trace his ordination all the way back to one of the original Apostles. Each Apostle held an office that was considered to be greater than the man. While the man would hold the office until his death or until he made the decision that he could not fulfill his duties, the office would continue and be filled by a successor. This also applies to the office held by Peter, the shepherd of the shepherds. Every Pope follows in a line of succession that can be traced all the way back to St. Peter himself. And it all starts right here in Acts chapter 1.

    Acts 2 First sermon, 3,000 baptized

    Acts 2:14-41
    14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them, "You who are Jews, indeed all of you staying in Jerusalem. Let this be known to you, and listen to my words… 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day.

    In Acts chapter 2 it is Peter that takes the lead among the Apostles speaking to the crowds.

    Acts 3 Peter Listed First and Peter's First Miracle

    Acts 3:10 Peter is listed first
    1 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple area for the three o'clock hour of prayer. Acts 3:2-10 Peter Works a Miracle on a crippled man lying outside the temple

    6 Peter said, "I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, [rise and] walk." 7 Then Peter took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles grew strong. 8 He leaped up, stood, and walked around, and went into the temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God.

    In Acts chapter 3 Peter is listed first. Peter takes the lead, and Peter does a miracle.

    Acts 4 Baptized 5,000

    Acts 4:4-22
    4 But many of those who heard the word came to believe and (the) number of men grew to [about] five thousand. 8 Then Peter, filled with the holy Spirit, answered them, "Leaders of the people and elders: 9 If we are being examined today about a good deed done to a cripple, namely, by what means he was saved, 10 then all of you and all the people of Israel should know that it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead; in his name this man stands before you healed. 11 He is 'the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.' 12 There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved."

    Acts chapter 4 is a continuation of chapter 3. We pick up with Peter baptizing 5,000. Then Peter and John are arrested. Peter speaks for both of them.

    Acts 5 Many Activites of Peter

    Acts 6 and 7 The Story of the Deacons

    Acts 8 Peter Confirms New Converts and Peter Pronounces Judgment on Simon the Sorcerer

    In Acts 8:14-17 Peter is leading when he and St. John confirm the new converts in Sumaria because of the evangelistic efforts of St. Phillip.

    In 8:18-23 Peter pronounces judgment on Simon the Sorcerer, who wanted to buy the power to convey the Holy Spirit.

    Acts 9 Peter is Making Rounds of the Church and Performs Miracles

    Acts 9:32 "… as Peter was passing through every region he went down to the holy ones living in Lydda." Peter is making pastoral rounds to all of the church. He is the shepherd of the whole world.

    9:33-34 Peter heals Aeneas.

    9:40-43 Peter raises Tabitha from the dead in Joppa, another Apostolic first.

    Acts 10 and 11 Peter's Vision About the Gentiles

    In Acts 10:9-16 Peter receives a vision from God to allow the Gentiles to be baptized and enjoy full membership in the church. This was a big move. In the first century the Jewish people looked down on the Gentiles.

    Acts 11:1-18 Peter is confronted about eating with the Gentiles, and he explains the vision God has given him.

    Acts 11:18 After the apostles heard Peter declare what God had done they were silent.

    St. Peter speaks, and the question is settled.

    Acts 12 Peter is Arrested

    In Acts 12:4 St. Peter arrested.

    Acts 12:5 The entire Church goes to 'round the clock prayer for him. This is not recorded when any of the other Apostles were arrested. Why? Because when the head of a fledgling church struggling for its existence is thrown in jail, everybody starts praying.

    Acts 13 and 14 St. Paul's first missionary journey. St. Luke is a companion of St. Paul.

    Acts 15 The first Church Council in Jerusalem.

    In Acts 15:7-12 Peter declares the truth and then the whole assembly falls silent. The issue is settled.

    Other Notes

    There are four places in the Bible where all the Apostles are listed. Every time Peter is listed first:

    Mt 10:2
    2 The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus; 4 Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him.

    Mk 3:16
    16 [he appointed the twelve:] Simon, whom he named Peter; 17 James, son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James, whom he named Boanerges, that is, sons of thunder; 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus; Thaddeus, Simon the Cananean, 19 and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him.

    Lk 6:13
    13 When day came, he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named apostles: 14 Simon, whom he named Peter,* and his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, 15 Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called a Zealot,* 16 and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

    Acts 1:13
    13 When they entered the city they went to the upper room where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.

    In every one, Peter is first and Judas is last. (Judas isn't listed in Acts). In oriental tradition, position in the list is relative to position and honor. There is some variation in overall order in the lists, but Peter is always first.

    In St. Matthew's list (Mt 10:2) Peter is called the first Apostle, but he wasn't the first Apostle chronologically. See John 1:37-41. Andrew believed Jesus was the messiah first, and went back and told his brother Peter about Jesus. Andrew was first chronologically.

    The Greek uses the word Protos, meaning chief or superior or first in rank.

    This word is also used several other times:

    Elsewhere when referring to multiple Apostles, Peter is given a special place apart from the other Apostles:

    1 Cor 9:5
    Do we not have the right to take along a Christian wife, as do the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?

    Mk 1:36
    36 Simon and those who were with him pursued him

    Mk 16:7
    But go and tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.'

    Lk 9:32
    Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.

    There is only one example of an exception: Gal 2:9. James and Cephas and John.

    The first time, he went to confer with Peter (surely there were others there, too), then the second time, after Peter established his See in Antioch, Paul lists James first in Jerusalem.

    James is listed first only this once. This is about an event taking place in Jerusalem and at the time James was the first bishop of Jerusalem. According to Eusebius Ecclesiastical History, in that context it is normal to give the local bishop a distinct honor. (Later we would come to call these local areas under a bishop a diocese.)

    Peter is referenced or named more than six times as often as any of the other Apostles. There is a strong deference toward Peter over the other Apostles. After Jesus, Peter has the primary supporting role in the New Testament.

    God has a plan for our salvation. This is a plan that started with Adam. Then, still small, it is planted as a promise to Abraham, a covenant. As we move through the Old Testament, we can see that the plan expands and grows as the people grow. God gives the people leaders, prophets, kings, prime ministers, priests and so on to help the people live as God's People.

    What we have examined above here today shows us that in His plan, God established one of these roles, master of the palace. It is second only to the king in authority, scope and power. Then we see that Jesus selected 12 Apostles, ministers so-to-speak, to spread and adminster His Church. Jesus gave his Church structure and authority, and he placed this authority with the Apostles. Jesus focused special attention on Peter, making him the leader of the 12 Apostles, a Prime Minister in this government analogy. Using language that would be clearly recognizable, naming Peter the rock and referencing the keys, he gave Peter this special role and authority. Jesus later reiterated it praying for Peter to strengthen the others, and specifically commanding him to shepherd the others. We further see Peter acting in this role as leader, and others recognizing and accepting his leadership. And finally, we see that the Apostles recognized their role as an office that was expected continue on after them. They expected that the office was to be filled by someone to take their place. This would include the office of their leader. The role of the leader was also to be passed down from generation to generation.

    Today, there are many titles used to describe the office of the leader. But the name most commonly known in English is the Pope. Roughly translated having roots in both Latin and Greek, it comes from father or papa. Peter wasn't called Pope by John or James or Paul, or the writers of scripture, because it is a name or title that came later, as language developed and changed over the centuries. But they respected his role. So, while you won't see the title Pope in the Bible, the meaning is there, from beginning to end.

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