Did Jesus Give Peter the Papacy?

This is part of a series on Roman Catholicism. See this index.

I’ve written in the past on the logical difficulties with the papacy. The Catholic Church uses fallacious reasoning to justify itself.[1] Doctrine is produced by papal authority. Those doctrines are defended by appeals to papal authority. Papal authority is defended by papal authority. Even the doctrines themselves are used to defend papal authority.[2]

The fallacious reasoning is only broken when the Catholic cites the papacy’s carte blanche authority as it originates with Peter from Jesus. So did Jesus give Peter and his successors the right to create doctrine that did not exist in the Torah and that Jesus did not institute? Let’s examine the Peter as the foundation of the church, looking at CatholicBridge.com’s article on the topic.

The Pope and Priesthood

Jesus told Peter and the disciples they would bind and loose.[3] Matthew 16:18 uses a singular you and Matthew 18:18 uses a plural you. Is this the framework for pope and priests? It can hardly be shown from the plurality of a pronoun that the command implies any structure at all. Pronouns don’t carry that sort of weighted meaning. They are just pronouns.

Grammatically, these are all perfectly acceptable alternatives: (1) only Peter and the disciples are priests, but Peter is high priest; (2) only the disciples, including Peter, are priests; (3) The first, but with chosen successors; (4) The second, but with chosen successors; (5) all believers are priests, but Peter is the high priest; (6) all believers are priests, but Peter is high priest, along with chosen successors; or (7) all believers are priests.

The legitimacy of Catholic authority hinges exclusively on the third option. If Matthew 16:18 appoints Peter as the foundation, why then did the disciples not know who would be the greatest among them (Matthew 18, Luke 9:46-47)? Jesus clarified, not by saying “Peter”, but by saying that they would all have the power to bind and loose, emphasizing that multiple persons were required for agreement.

The last option is the correct one. We know this, ironically, from 1 Peter 2:4-9:[4]

“(4) As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— (5) you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. […] (9) But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (NIV)”

Peter was the first of many living stones upon which Jesus’ church was built.

Peter: Popular Leader

Peter is mentioned 152 times in scripture, more than any other apostle. He was a spokesman and leader both before and after Jesus’ death and resurrection. What does this unambiguously tell us? That he was a popular and influential leader. Claiming that this gives him special authority is a fallacious appeal to popularity/celebrity.

Peter is often named as the first apostle.[6] He was the first person Jesus told about this role.[3] Does this mean he is more important than the others? No. As we saw above, Peter was the first of many living stones upon which Jesus’ church was and is built.

Peter’s popularity and leadership led a number of Jews in the early church astray (Galatians 2). Paul confronted Peter and set him straight.

Because the Bible does not make the primacy of Peter explicit, the traditions of the church must be appealed to in the form of apostolic succession.

Apostolic Succession

The article states the following:

“Recently a Reformed Baptist named Bill Webster tried to deny the irrefutable concensus among the Fathers of the Church the Peter is the Rock and that his office was established by Christ and passed on to successors until this day.”

This is logically fallacious circular reasoning: the Church Fathers, the Apostles and their successors, unanimously agree that the Apostles established their office. If we first accept the authority of these successors, then we can accept the claim that they have that authority. This is irrefutable only to the extent that all circular reasoning is self-validating. We are correct to reject such reasoning as unpersuasive.

Ironically the author quotes Tertullian (220 AD) who believed that, while Peter was the first stone upon which the church was built, Jesus gave that responsibility to Peter and Peter alone. Regardless, the testimony of ancient writings (160AD or later) doesn’t resolve the difficulty. Indeed, the rise of Roman Catholicism pushed out these alternate viewpoints. Evidence of this forced indoctrination does not make the Catholic doctrine more palatable.

On a more practical level, we can’t possibly know the identify of all the apostolic successors. Jesus gave all of his disciples (and their successors) the power to bind and loose, so only having the succession for the Apostle Peter is a serious theological problem. It would put the lie to Jesus’ promise of succession for all the disciples. Indeed there are a number of Christian denominations that claim apostolic succession[5], and the Catholic Church does not recognize these claims. If it does recognize them, it does so by saying that they are under the authority of Peter’s succession, revoking its authority to bind and loose.


The article attempts to resolve some of these difficulties by making the claim that Jesus is the TRUE rock and Peter (and his successors) are the VICARIOUS rock. Jesus is spiritual while Peter (and his successors) are the physical. While such an explanation passes the bare minimum requirement of plausibility, it does no more. It doesn’t even imply consecutive succession. Moreover, it works just fine to say that all believers represent Jesus in the physical.

There is no doubt that Peter was given a responsibility to shepherd the newly formed church. But this was not, and cannot be, exclusive.


The Catholic claims that the Bible sets up a priesthood with Peter and his direct sequential successors as its head is not founded upon the words of Jesus but upon fallacious reasoning. This is especially clear in the concept of apostolic succession.

In a future post, I will discuss in greater detail the problems with treating Matthew 16:18 as the foundation for the papacy.

[1] Notice how Father Hyde self-justifies church structure without requiring any biblical evidence. We can know Christ and be saved exclusively through the sacraments produced from authority (i.e. Church, Apostles, and successors). It is logically fallacious: (1) Circular reasoning: we know the authority is valid because the sacraments lead to Christ and salvation; (2) Contradiction: we need a Bible to show that the authority is valid; or (3) Appeal to authority: the church has authority from God.

[2] The doctrine of papal infallibility is circularly defined. See Father Hyde’s sacramental self-justification above as well.

[3] Binding and loosing is a rabbinic role claimed by the Pharisees. When Jesus told his disciples that they would bind and loose, he was appointing them as his successors. For a discussion of binding and loosing and why it does not conform to the Catholic view espoused here, see this article.

[4] 1 Timothy 2:5 states that Christ is the only mediator, that is priest, separating God and man. Hebrews 4:14-16 states that Jesus is our High Priest.

[5] Given the nature of exponential expansion, those undocumented successors are likely related to every believer in existence, as Jesus never gave any instruction that only a single successor be named for each disciple. Indeed, Jesus was succeeded by 11 (12 if you include Judas’ replacement).

[6] The article falsely claims that he is always first, but in Galatians 2:9, he is listed between James (brother of Jesus), and John. It was James that made final judgment in a church dispute, not Peter (Acts 15), and only after Paul convinced him (Galatians 2). The article probably means being mentioned first in the Gospels, but this is an incredibly arbitrary distinction.

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