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Pope claim to be the successor of apostle Peter

If anyone, therefore, shall say that blessed Peter the Apostle was not appointed the Prince
of all the Apostles and the visible Head of the whole Church Militant; or that the same
directly and immediately received from the same our Lord Jesus Christ a primacy of
honor only, and not of true and proper jurisdiction: let him be anathema." - First Vatican
Council, session 4, chapter 1

"you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found
them to be false" - Revelation 2:2

Popes claim to be the successors of the apostle Peter, which supposedly gives them
authority over all Christians on earth. The New Testament doesn't say anything about
Peter having authority over the other apostles, Peter having successors with that same
authority, those successors being Roman bishops, etc. Aside from reading unverifiable
assumptions into passages like Matthew 16 and John 21, Catholic apologists appeal to the
writings of men who lived after the apostles.

But what if these post-apostolic men, the church fathers, didn't actually believe in the
doctrine of the papacy? If Catholic apologists must speculate in order to see a papacy in
the New Testament, and the church fathers don't teach the doctrine either, what reason is
there to accept the authority claims of the Roman Catholic Church? While Catholic
apologists can find more apparent evidence of an early papacy in the writings of the
church fathers than in the New Testament, even the church fathers' writings don't actually
support the doctrine.

The earliest post-apostolic writing from a church father, though often cited by Catholic
apologists as evidence of a papacy, actually denies Petrine supremacy. The author of this
letter, commonly referred to as First Clement, is unknown. The letter itself says that it's
from the Roman church, and it uses the plural "we" throughout. However, later writers
claimed that the letter was written by a man named Clement, who may have been a
disciple of the apostle Paul (Philippians 4:3), and he probably was one of the bishops of
the Roman church. (It seems that a monarchical episcopate hadn't arisen yet in Rome,
meaning that the Roman church was led by multiple bishops rather than one. Clement
may have been one of the multiple bishops leading the Roman church near the end of the
first century, when First Clement was written.) The reason why Catholic apologists cite
this letter as alleged evidence of a papacy is because it's a letter of advice to the
Corinthian church, telling it how it should resolve a dispute concerning its bishops. The
letter mentions nothing of a papacy, though, but instead is a letter of advice from one
sister church to another. Similar letters were written by other church leaders, such as
Ignatius' letter to Polycarp and Polycarp's letter to the Philippian church. It was common
practice for churches and church leaders to write to one another with advice, rebuke,
requests, etc. This wasn't something that only the Roman church did. Only by taking the
letter out of this context, and by reading assumptions into it, can it be portrayed as
evidence of a papacy.

Not only does First Clement not mention a papal office, but it even contradicts Roman
Catholic doctrine. It teaches salvation through faith alone, for example (chapter 32). In
regard to the papacy, First Clement comments on 1 Corinthians 1:12 in a way that
amounts to a denial of Petrine supremacy:

Truly, under the inspiration of the Spirit, he [Paul] wrote to you

concerning himself, and Cephas, and Apollos, because even then parties
had been formed among you. But that inclination for one above another
entailed less guilt upon you, inasmuch as your partialities were then shown
towards apostles, already of high reputation, and towards a man whom
they had approved [Apollos]. (47)

While some people may choose to interpret 1 Corinthians 1:12 differently than it's
interpreted above, what matters here is how First Clement interprets the passage. To
begin with, notice that First Clement shows no signs of viewing Peter as being above the
other apostles. Peter is referred to only as one of the apostles, not as a Pope. Even more
important, though, is First Clement's explanation of the sin the Corinthians had been
guilty of in 1 Corinthians 1:12. According to First Clement, they were guilty of showing
partiality toward apostles and Apollos, an associate of the apostles. Peter (Cephas) is
actually named in this passage. Obviously, the papacy is all about showing partiality
toward one of the apostles. First Clement accuses the Corinthians of sinning by showing
partiality among the apostles, a practice that the Roman Catholic Church actually
encourages today. It can be said that, in this sense, the Roman Catholic Church is
founded upon the sin of the Corinthians. Here we have a letter that allegedly was written
by one of the earliest Popes, and it accuses the Corinthians of sinning by showing
partiality among the apostles, including Peter. Combining this denial of Petrine
supremacy with the other contradictions of Roman Catholic doctrine in First Clement,
this letter actually hurts the case for an early papacy rather than helping it. The only
aspect of this letter that can be cited as support of a papacy is that it's a letter of advice
from the Roman church. Since such letters of advice were common, though (Ignatius'
letter to Polycarp, Polycarp's letter to the Philippians, etc.), and this letter actually
contradicts Roman Catholic doctrine in some ways, it can't rationally be viewed as
evidence of an early papacy.

Ignatius, whose writings are the earliest to advocate the monarchical episcopate (one
bishop ruling over each church), also poses problems for Roman Catholic claims about
the papacy. Though Ignatius' advocacy of the monarchical episcopate was one of the
important steps toward the Roman Catholic form of church government that would
eventually develop, his view of church government is actually much closer to
evangelicalism than Roman Catholicism. Ignatius viewed the bishop of each church as
the highest church office. He has no concept of a papal office that's above the office of
the bishop of the local church. On more than one occasion, Ignatius refers to Christ
Himself as the Bishop who is above the local bishop:

Remember in your prayers the Church in Syria, which now has God for its
shepherd, instead of me. Jesus Christ alone will oversee it, and your love
will also regard it. (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Romans, 9)

to Polycarp, Bishop of the Church of the Smyrnaeans, or rather, who has,

as his own bishop, God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ (The Epistle
of Ignatius to Polycarp)

Catholic apologists often refer to Ignatius' letter to the Romans as evidence of a papacy,
since Ignatius commends the Roman church for virtues such as love and generosity, he
refers to the Roman church teaching other churches, and he pleads with the Roman
church not to interfere with his martyrdom. All of these things may seem to be evidence
of a papacy, especially when quoted out of context. However, the context of these
comments, as well as other comments that are made in the letter, reveal that Ignatius had
no concept of a papacy.

Apparently, Ignatius wrote this letter to the Roman church, as well as letters to other
churches, while he was on his way to Rome to be martyred. The reason why he would
plead that the Roman church not interfere with his martyrdom is because it was in Rome
that he was going to be martyred, and the martyrdom could be appealed under the law.
Ignatius wanted to be martyred. He didn't want anybody to interfere with his martyrdom.
Obviously, papal authority would have nothing to do with the Roman church interfering
with Ignatius' martyrdom, since the Roman Empire wouldn't recognize any such
authority. In other words, Ignatius could have pleaded this way with any church, not just
the Roman church, but it was Rome where he was going to be martyred. If he was going
to be martyred in Ephesus, he could have pleaded with the Ephesian church not to
interfere with his martyrdom.

But why does Ignatius refer to the Roman church teaching other churches? Again, the
context is crucial. He's commending the Roman church for virtues such as love and
generosity, and he says that the Roman church teaches other churches in that context. As
we know from Paul's epistle to the Romans, the Roman church could be taught on
everything from doctrinal issues to morality. That's just what Paul did in his epistle.
Paul's letter to the Romans is one of the many early evidences against a papacy, since it
was written at a time when Peter allegedly was several years into his papacy. Why would
Paul write a letter of doctrinal and moral instruction to the Roman church if the Roman
church was being led at the time by Peter, and all Christians had to submit to that church?
The Catholic Church claims that the Roman church had jurisdictional primacy all along
(First Vatican Council, session 4, chapter 2; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 834).
Paul mentions many people in his letter to the Romans (Romans 1, Romans 16), but he
never mentions Peter, nor does he say anything about Petrine or Roman supremacy.
Obviously, Ignatius isn't saying that the Roman church can't under any circumstances be
taught by other churches. Ignatius himself gives some instruction to the Roman church:

The prince of this world would fain carry me away, and corrupt my
disposition towards God. Let none of you, therefore, who are in Rome
help him; rather be ye on my side, that is, on the side of God. Do not speak
of Jesus Christ, and yet set your desires on the world. Let not envy find a
dwelling-place among you; nor even should I, when present with you,
exhort you to it, be ye persuaded to listen to me, but rather give credit to
those things which I now write to you. (7)

Ignatius obviously didn't believe that the Roman church "taught others" in a sense of
papal supremacy. All that Ignatius is saying is that the Roman church is an example to
other churches because of virtues such as love and generosity. After hundreds of years of
Crusades, the Inquisition, papal wars, and the like, the Roman church has long since lost
any "primacy of love" it may have once had.

Although much of Ignatius' letter to the Romans can be quoted out of context as alleged
evidence of a papacy, some portions of this letter are possibly contrary to the claims of
the Roman Catholic Church. Ignatius opens the letter by referring to the Roman church,
which "presides in the place of the report of the Romans". It must be remembered that
"presides" is not the same as "resides". Ignatius is not referring to the location of the
Roman church. He's referring to the jurisdiction of the Roman church, and that
jurisdiction is regional, not worldwide. Later on in the letter, as quoted earlier, Ignatius
refers to his own church having Christ alone as its Bishop, since he was leaving it to be
martyred. Ignatius seems to have no concept of the Roman church having worldwide
jurisdiction, nor does he seem to have any concept of the bishop of Rome being the
bishop of his (Ignatius') church in Antioch. To Ignatius, the Roman church had only
regional authority, and could only offer love and prayers to his church in Antioch, not
any papal oversight.

It seems that there wasn't even a monarchical bishop in Rome at the time Ignatius wrote
this letter. First Clement, which was written by the Roman church near the end of the first
century, approvingly refers to multiple bishops in Corinth. Apparently, when Ignatius
wrote his letter to the Romans about 10 to 15 years later, there still wasn't a monarchical
episcopate in Rome. Though Ignatius mentions bishops and matters of church
government over and over again in his letters to other churches, he never mentions a
Roman bishop in his letter to the Romans. Most likely, the Roman church was still being
led by multiple bishops when Ignatius wrote to it.

As with First Clement, Ignatius' letter to the Romans can be portrayed as evidence of a
papacy only when quoted out of context. When the letter is taken as a whole, it actually
hurts the case for an early papacy rather than helping it. It can't be denied that Ignatius
discussed issues of church government often in his letters, yet he never mentioned a

Near the end of the second century, Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, wrote a letter to Victor,
bishop of Rome, which is one of the most conclusive denials of a papacy in all of early
church history. The letter is important because it not only shows Irenaeus denying the
concept of a papacy, but also reveals that many Eastern churches during the second
century, as well as the church father Polycarp, also didn't believe in a papacy. James
White explains:

Just now I cited Lightfoot, who mentioned in passing the next incident
used by Roman apologists to support their position, that being the action
on the part of Victor, bishop of Rome, in threatening the Eastern Churches
with excommunication if they did not bow to the Western method of
determining the date of the celebration of Easter, the famed
Quartodeciman controversy. Here we find the Eastern churches claiming
that their method of determining the date of the celebration of Easter was
Apostolic in origin. They refused to abandon this methodology, even when
Victor, the bishop of Rome (the monarchial episcopate having finally
emerged at Rome), threatened them with excommunication, a fact that in
and of itself shows that the Eastern Churches did not view Victor as the
head of the Church. But beyond this, we find Irenaeus, the great bishop of
Lyons, writing to Victor, in the name of the entire region of Gaul,
rebuking the rash actions of the Roman bishop, and calling him to
remembrance of what had been done by his predecessors. We read:

For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp to forego the

observance [in his own way], inasmuch as these things had been
always [so] observed by John the disciples of our Lord, and by
other apostles with whom he had been conversant; nor, on the
other hand, could Polycarp succeed in persuading Anicetus to keep
[the observance in his way], for he maintained that he was bound
to adhere to the usage of the presbyters who preceded him. And in
this state of affairs they held fellowship with each other; and
Anicetus conceded to Polycarp in the Church the celebration of
the Eucharist, by way of showing him respect; so that they parted
in peace one from the other, maintaining peace with the whole
Church, both those who did observe [this custom] and those who
did not. [ANF I:569]

One has well pointed out that if the tables had been turned, and it was
Irenaeus who had rashly threatened the Eastern churches with
excommunication, and Victor had written to him rebuking him and
counseling him to peace, that Victor's letter would surely be touted today
as evidence of Papal supremacy at this early date. Instead, we only find
the bishop of Rome trying to force the Eastern bishops to toe the line on
an issue on which, in fact, Victor was in the majority. Yet not only do we
not find the Eastern churches complying, but we find the Western bishop
Irenaeus, and those bishops with him, writing to Victor, counseling him to
back off of his impetuous course of action. I note in passing that Victor
failed in his attempt; the Eastern churches continued their means of
worship for years to come. (taken from an unpublished electronic file)

We see, then, that Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle John, along with many churches in
the East, saw themselves as under no obligation to obey the bishop of Rome. And a few
decades later, when Victor was bishop of Rome, we see Eastern churches still not
complying with the Roman church. Irenaeus and other Western bishops seem to think
that the Eastern churches have a right to do this.

Catholic apologists often try to salvage a papacy from this wreck by claiming that
Irenaeus was admitting to papal authority by directing his letter to the bishop of Rome, as
though that reveals that Irenaeus viewed Victor as the authority figure who could settle
this dispute. Eusebius tells us in his church history, though, that Irenaeus and the Western
bishops wrote to other churches as well. They didn't write only to the Roman church.

And there are some other aspects to this incident that James White doesn't mention in the
quote above. Before the portion of Irenaeus' letter that White quotes, Irenaeus writes:

And when the blessed Polycarp was sojourning in Rome in the time of
Anicetus, although a slight controversy had arisen among them as to
certain other points, they were at once well inclined towards each other
with regard to the matter in hand, not willing that any quarrel should arise
between them upon this head. (Fragments, 3)

Not only could Anicetus, the bishop of Rome at the time, not convince Polycarp to
change his stance on this particular issue, but Polycarp disagreed with the Roman bishop
on other issues as well. How can this be, if the Roman bishop was viewed as the Vicar of
Christ on earth, who had to be obeyed upon threat of loss of salvation, as the First
Vatican Council claimed? Although Polycarp and the bishop of Rome at the time
(Anicetus) disagreed peacefully, the truth remains that they disagreed. Even when the
Roman bishop tried to persuade Polycarp to change his stance, he didn't. Polycarp doesn't
seem to have viewed the bishop of Rome as the standard of orthodoxy, nor does Irenaeus
give us any indication that Polycarp disagreed with the Roman bishop on these issues
only because the Roman bishop allowed it. Catholic apologists often try to dismiss the
church fathers' disagreements with Catholic teaching by arguing that the Catholic Church
allowed disagreements at the time. But such an assertion is an assumption without
evidence. Where is the evidence that people like Polycarp, Polycrates, and Cyprian
disagreed with the bishops of Rome only because they were given permission to do so?
Not only is there no such evidence, but we even have evidence of people denying that the
Roman bishops had such authority.

Some comments Irenaeus makes earlier in his letter to Victor are even further at odds
with Catholic claims about church history. Notice what Irenaeus writes, and consider the

And the presbyters preceding Soter in the government of the Church

which thou dost now rule - I mean, Anicetus and Pius, Hyginus and
Telesphorus, and Sixtus - did neither themselves observe it after that
fashion, nor permit those with them to do so. Notwithstanding this, those
who did not keep the feast in this way were peacefully disposed towards
those who came to them from other dioceses in which it was so observed
(Fragments, 3)

To begin with, notice that these earlier Roman bishops are referred to by Irenaeus as
"presbyters", which suggests that the distinction between presbyters and bishops wasn't
yet complete. And as the quote above demonstrates, the Roman bishops (presbyters) only
had authority to enforce their views on "those with them", which didn't include churches
in other dioceses. It would be difficult to imagine a plainer denial of Roman and papal
supremacy. And don't forget that this doesn't just involve Irenaeus. This also
encompasses Polycarp, some Eastern churches of the middle of the second century, and
some Western and Eastern churches of the late second century. All of these people
apparently had no concept of papal and Roman supremacy, but instead denied it.

Perhaps a Catholic will argue that these Roman bishops could have commanded people in
other dioceses to obey them, but they chose not to. But if these Roman bishops didn't
want to impose on other dioceses, why did they impose on anybody? Irenaeus' phrase
"nor permit those with them to do so" suggests that these Roman bishops were willing to
impose their views on everybody they could. They didn't have the authority to do so in
every church, so they did so only locally. When Victor tried to get other churches to go
along with him, and he even threatened to break off fellowship with those who wouldn't
cooperate, he failed. The Catholic historian Klaus Schatz writes the following about this
dispute and a similar one that occurred in the next century:

Rome did not succeed in maintaining its position against the contrary
opinion and praxis of a significant portion of the Church. The two most
important controversies of this type were the disputes over the feast of
Easter and heretical baptism. Each marks a stage in Rome’s sense of
authority and at the same time reveals the initial resistance of other
churches to the Roman claim. (Papal Primacy [Collegeville, Minnesota:
The Liturgical Press, 1996], p. 11)

As devastating as the letter from Irenaeus to Victor is to the claims of Roman

Catholicism, Irenaeus remains one of the most often quoted church fathers when Catholic
apologists are arguing for an early papacy. Why is this?

In the third book of his treatise Against Heresies, Irenaeus refers to the Roman church
being doctrinally pure, along with the churches in Ephesus and Smyrna, and he
comments that all churches must agree with the Roman church for various reasons. The
reasons include the Roman church's apostolic origin and its location in the capital of the
empire. Not once does Irenaeus suggest that the Roman church has authority because of a
papacy or because of Divine appointment. He appeals to Rome for practical reasons. He
also contradicts Catholic claims about church history by saying that Linus was appointed
as bishop of Rome by the apostles (plural) while Peter was still alive. In listing a
succession of Roman bishops, as Irenaeus was doing, it would obviously be important to
mention that Peter was the first bishop of Rome, if he actually was. Yet, not only does
Irenaeus not say that, but his comments about Linus being the bishop of Rome while
Peter was still alive amount to a denial that Peter was bishop of Rome until his death.
According to later tradition, Peter served as bishop of Rome from 42 A.D. to 67 A.D.,
when he died as a martyr. Not only does Irenaeus have no concept of Peter being a bishop
of Rome, but other early sources also have no such concept. The idea that Peter had been
a bishop of Rome became popular in the fourth century, and was added to later copies of
Eusebius' church history, but the earliest evidence doesn't support this later claim. As the
New Testament, The Didache, and First Clement demonstrate, there wouldn't even have
been a monarchical episcopate for Peter to hold in Rome. The monarchical episcopate
doesn't seem to have developed in Rome until well into the second century.

This passage of Irenaeus in Against Heresies, which Catholics often quote, is interpreted
in numerous ways by scholars. There are difficulties in translating the text
( And even the
translations most favored by Catholic apologists say nothing about a papacy. Catholic
historian Robert Eno comments:
The context of Irenaeus' argument does not claim that the Roman Church
is literally unique, the only one of its class; rather, he argues that the
Roman Church is the outstanding example of its class, the class in
question being apostolic sees. While he chose to speak primarily of Rome
for brevity's sake, in fact, before finishing, he also referred to Ephesus and
Smyrna. (The Rise of the Papacy [Wilmington, Delaware: Michael
Glazier, 1990], p. 39)

Catholic scholar William La Due writes:

It is indeed understandable how this passage has baffled scholars for

centuries! Those who were wont to find in it a verification of the Roman
primacy were able to interpret it in that fashion. However, there is so
much ambiguity here that one has to be careful of over-reading the

Karl Baus' interpretation [that Irenaeus was not referring to a papacy]

seems to be the one that is more faithful to the text and does not presume
to read into it a meaning which might not be there. Hence, it neither
overstates nor understates Irenaeus' position. For him [Irenaeus], it is those
churches of apostolic foundation that have the greater claim to authentic
teaching and doctrine. Among those, Rome, with its two apostolic
founders, certainly holds an important place. However, all of the apostolic
churches enjoy what he terms "preeminent authority" in doctrinal matters.
(The Chair of Saint Peter [Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1999], p.

While Irenaeus does say in his Against Heresies that all churches must agree with the
Roman church for various practical reasons, he obviously didn't believe in a papacy, and
he didn't even believe in an absolute Roman supremacy. As his letter to Victor proves,
Irenaeus believed that the Roman church could err, and that it didn't always have to be
followed by other churches. There's a difference between appealing to the Roman church
as the best example of pure apostolic doctrine in a work intended to refute Gnosticism
(Against Heresies) and believing that the bishop of Rome is the ruler of every Christian
on earth throughout history. Irenaeus' comments about the Roman church in Against
Heresies are a snapshot, an appeal to the Roman church's doctrinal purity at that time.
Only by quoting some of his comments in Against Heresies out of context can Irenaeus
be portrayed as a believer in the papacy. We know why Irenaeus held a high view of the
Roman church. He tells us. He gives numerous reasons. And a papacy isn't one of them.

Before moving on to another church father, I want to ask some questions about Irenaeus
that we should be asking about all of these early sources. Why is it that Irenaeus wrote so
much material, yet Catholics have found only one small passage to point to as alleged
evidence that Irenaeus believed in the doctrine of the papacy? And why must they rely on
speculative and unlikely interpretations of that passage to even find a papacy in that one
place? If one man was viewed as the ruler of all Christians on earth, as an infallible
standard of orthodoxy, don't you think we would find references to such an authority
frequently and explicitly? Why don't we?

Not long after Irenaeus, an incident around the middle of the third century proves once
again that the earliest church leaders had no concept of a papacy. During a dispute about
baptism, Cyprian and dozens of other bishops met at the council of Carthage in 256 A.D.,
at which they said:

For neither does any of us set himself up as a bishop of bishops, nor by

tyrannical terror does any compel his colleague to the necessity of
obedience; since every bishop, according to the allowance of his liberty
and power, has his own proper right of judgment, and can no more be
judged by another than he himself can judge another. But let us all wait for
the judgment of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only one that has the
power both of preferring us in the government of His Church, and of
judging us in our conduct there. (proceedings of the council of Carthage)

Again, as with Irenaeus' letter to Victor, it would be hard to imagine a plainer denial of
the doctrine of the papacy. These bishops at the council of Carthage obviously didn't see
themselves as being governed by the Roman bishop or the Roman church. To the
contrary, one of their opponents during this controversy over heretical baptism was
Stephen, the bishop of Rome. Firmilian, a bishop of Cappadocia, wrote a letter to Cyprian
supporting him with these words:

I am justly indignant at such open and manifest folly in Stephen...And this

you of Africa may say in answer to Stephen, that on discovering the truth
you abandoned the error of custom. But we join custom to truth, and to the
custom of the Romans we oppose custom (Cyprian's Epistle 74:17, 74:19)
Firmilian, Cyprian, and dozens of other bishops involved in this dispute had no concept
of a papacy, but instead denied the concept. How can this be, if a papacy with universal
jurisdiction had been "ever understood by the Catholic Church", as the First Vatican
Council claimed (session 4, chapter 1)?

Though Peter eventually was viewed by many church fathers as the greatest of the
apostles, Paul is mentioned by the earliest church fathers much more than Peter. Paul's
prominent role in the New Testament era and among the earliest church fathers is
undeniable. This isn't conclusive evidence that there wasn't a papacy early on, but when
you add this to all of the explicit and subtle denials of Petrine supremacy in the New
Testament and the earliest church father writings (Luke 22:24, John 21:21-22, 1
Corinthians 1:12, 2 Corinthians 12:11, First Clement 47, Irenaeus' letter to Victor, etc.), it
adds more confirmation to the case against an early papacy.

The truth is that the apostles had equal authority. From the third century onward, it was
popular to refer to Peter as the greatest of the apostles, although not all church fathers
from the third century onward held that view. But even the third century church fathers
who did believe in some sort of Petrine supremacy saw Peter's supremacy as symbolic
rather than governmental (Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, etc.). Origen saw Peter as
representative of all Christians, who became "rocks" when they confessed Christ's
Divinity just as Peter did in Matthew 16:16. Cyprian saw Peter as representative of all
bishops. He specifically said that this did not make Peter superior to the other apostles in
power or rank. Many other church fathers held similar views.

What does it tell us when the New Testament and the earliest church fathers either didn't
mention or actually denied Petrine supremacy? And what does it tell us when the views
of Petrine supremacy that did eventually develop began by viewing Peter as supreme in a
non-jurisdictional way? It tells us that the papacy developed over time, as a tradition of
men (Matthew 15:9, Colossians 2:8), rather than being founded by Christ and the

To illustrate how easily the New Testament and church father writings can be
misrepresented in order to create the impression that there was an early papacy, I present
the following case for Paul being the first Pope. I'll use the same sorts of arguments
Catholics use to argue for a Petrine papacy.

In Acts 9:15, Christ Himself calls Paul "a chosen vessel", and mentions his special role in
bearing Christ's name before the world, both Jews and Gentiles. Doesn't bearing Christ's
name before the world sound like something a Pope would do? No other apostle is called
"chosen vessel". This is unique to Paul. Catholic apologists argue that since Matthew
16:18 might be referring to Peter as "this rock", and the passage is said in response only
to Peter, then this passage is evidence that Peter was the first Pope. I would argue, then,
that since Acts 9:15 refers to Paul as "chosen vessel", and this title isn't applied to any
other apostle, then this passage is evidence that Paul was the first Pope. If Catholic
apologists can quote Matthew 16:18, and expect the case to be settled there, then I, too,
could rest my case with Acts 9:15. But there's more!
Paul writes much more of the New Testament than any other apostle. In the book of Acts,
which mentions all of the apostles, Paul is the one who receives the most attention. Paul
exercises authority over Peter (Galatians 2:11), as well as the Roman church (epistle to
the Romans). By Catholic standards, this should be enough to prove that Paul was a Pope,
but let's go even further.

Paul writes:

"Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let
him walk. And thus I direct in all the churches." - 1 Corinthians 7:17

"Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure upon me of concern for all
the churches." - 2 Corinthians 11:28

What other evidence do you need? Paul refers to his authority over all the churches,
something no other apostle does. We can see Paul's primacy in other comments that are
made by or about him:

"according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men" - Romans 2:16

"I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children.
For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers;
for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. I exhort you therefore, be
imitators of me." - 1 Corinthians 4:14-16

"What do you desire? Shall I come to you with a rod or with love and a spirit of
gentleness?" - 1 Corinthians 4:21

"If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I
write to you are the Lord's commandment. But if anyone does not recognize this, he is
not recognized." - 1 Corinthians 14:37-38

"our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all
his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand,
which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures" - 2
Peter 3:15-16

We see in these passages that the gospel is "Paul's gospel", something that is never said
of any other apostle. Paul is the "father" of the Corinthians, which is evidence that he was
the Pope. Paul threatens to come to the Corinthians "with a rod", he calls his own
writings "the Lord's commandment", and he says that those who don't recognize him are
not themselves to be recognized. Obviously, Paul is a Pope exercising papal authority!

Peter had to subject himself to his Pope's rebuke in Galatians 2:11. In 2 Peter 3:15-16,
Peter had to admit that even he found his Pope's epistles to be hard to understand at
times. Obviously, Peter knew that his Pope's wisdom was greater than his own. We, like
Peter, should submit to the authority of the Pope.

And where does the Pope reside? In Ephesus, of course! We read in Acts 20:

"And from Miletus he [Paul] sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the
church....Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit
has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His
own blood." - Acts 20:17, 20:28

Here we see Pope Paul instructing the leaders of the Ephesian church, as his successors,
to shepherd the entire church of God. Unlike other leaders, who would only have
jurisdiction over individual local churches, the Ephesian successors of Paul would have
jurisdiction over the entire "church of God which He purchased with His own blood".
This proves that the bishops of Ephesus are to have universal jurisdiction. Here we once
again see evidence of the Pauline papacy, carried on through a succession of Ephesian

This papacy is confirmed by the earliest church fathers. They mention Paul much more
than Peter or any other apostle, and their comments about Paul are more exalted than
their comments about the other apostles. Ignatius writes in the introduction of his letter to
the Ephesian church:

to the Church which is at Ephesus, in Asia, deservedly most happy, being

blessed in the greatness and fulness of God the Father, and predestinated
before the beginning of time, that it should be always for an enduring and
unchangeable glory

As Ignatius explains, the Ephesian church is "deservedly most happy". This is because of
its primacy. Ephesus has the "greatness and fulness of God the Father", meaning that it
couldn't possibly be any more perfect than it already is. The Ephesian church is the
reservoir of sound doctrine. That the Ephesian church is "always for an enduring and
unchangeable glory" is confirmation that the traditions of the Ephesian church are to be
the Christian's rule of faith throughout history. If there ever are any disputes over
scripture interpretation, doctrine, church government, etc., Christians are to turn to the
"enduring and unchangeable glory" in Ephesus to find the answers.

Ignatius goes on to say:

As to my fellow-servant Burrhus, your deacon in regard to God and
blessed in all things, I beg that he may continue longer, both for your
honour and that of your bishop. (2)

Notice that a deacon of the Ephesian church is viewed as Ignatius' "fellow-servant", even
though Ignatius is a bishop, an office higher than the office of deacon. Why is this?
Because the Ephesian bishop is not Ignatius' equal! He's a superior. He's the Pope. This is
why Ignatius must "beg" the Ephesian church to allow this deacon to stay with him
longer. And Ignatius assures the Ephesian church that he's making this request for the
honor of their bishop, the Pope. Surely Ignatius was acknowledging the Ephesian
church's primacy and the supremacy of its bishop.

Ignatius also writes:

I do not issue orders to you, as if I were some great person. (3)

Ignatius knows that he can't issue orders to the Ephesian church. All he can do is follow
and obey. We would be wise to learn from his example by submitting to the supremacy
of the Ephesian church and the bishop of Ephesus.

Polycarp also acknowledges the supremacy of Pope Paul:

For neither I, nor any other such one, can come up to the wisdom of the
blessed and glorified Paul. (The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, 3)

We see, then, that the New Testament and the earliest church fathers teach a Pauline
papacy, with the bishops of Ephesus being the successors of Paul. And this evidence is
even more conclusive than the early evidence Catholic apologists can cite for a Petrine

Obviously, Paul wasn't really a Pope. And the Ephesian church didn't really have a
primacy or any successors of the apostle Paul in the sense of people who had just as
much authority as Paul had. What I've done is illustrate just how easy it is to abuse the
New Testament and the writings of the earliest church fathers in order to see in their
writings a doctrine that those people never really believed in. Though my case for a
Pauline papacy obviously isn't credible when all of the evidence is taken into
consideration, it's actually much stronger than the case for a Petrine papacy. Paul does
refer to himself watching over all the churches, for example, something that Peter never
did (1 Corinthians 4:17, 7:17, 2 Corinthians 11:28). However, it's obvious that we can't
assume that Paul was a Pope just because of statements like those. If there had really
been a papacy in the early church, we wouldn't have to read between the lines to find it.
The New Testament deals with issues of church government over and over again,
including repeated mentions of the offices of bishop (also known as elder, presbyter, and
overseer) and deacon. A papal office is never mentioned or even alluded to. To the
contrary, Christ and the apostles denied the concept that Peter had been established as the
ruler of the apostles (Luke 9:46, 22:24, John 21:21-22, 2 Corinthians 12:11). If one man
and his successors had been established as the rulers of all Christians on earth, his office
would be mentioned overtly in the New Testament. It would also be mentioned overtly in
early documents outside of the New Testament. It wouldn't be the sort of thing that would
go for centuries without ever being explicitly mentioned by anybody. Yet, that's just what
we see with the papacy.

Over the centuries, the Roman church grew in reputation and influence, eventually being
accepted in the West as a sort of mother church. It's undeniable that this authority wasn't
established by Christ and the apostles, but rather developed over time. Many people,
including church fathers like Cyprian and Augustine, parted ways with the Roman church
when they disagreed with it. The sort of absolute and unquestionable authority the Roman
Catholic Church has claimed to have in recent centuries wasn't known to the earliest

If the events of history had come down differently than they did, with Ephesus gaining
prominence rather than Rome, we might have seen people today bringing up the
arguments I used for a Pauline papacy and Ephesian primacy. In other words, what
Roman Catholics are doing today is reading a papacy back into the New Testament, even
though the New Testament doesn't really establish any such office. After the institution of
the papacy developed in Rome, followers of the Roman church began reading the
institution back into the writings of the apostles and other earlier Christian writers, as
though the institution had existed all along.

If there was no papacy in the early church, then how can the Roman Catholic Church
have the authority it claims to have today? Consider the warning of the apostle Paul:

"See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception,
according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world,
rather than according to Christ." - Colossians 2:8
"There is all the difference in the world between the attitude of Rome towards other
churches at the close of the first century, when the Romans as a community remonstrate
on terms of equality with the Corinthians on their irregularities, strong only in the
righteousness of their cause, and feeling as they had a right to feel, that these counsels of
peace were the dictation of the Holy Spirit, and its attitude at the close of the second
century, when Victor the bishop excommunicates the Churches of Asia Minor for
clinging to a usage in regard to the celebration of Easter which had been handed down to
them from the Apostles, and thus foments instead of healing dissensions....Even this
second stage has carried the power of Rome only a very small step in advance towards
the assumptions of a Hildebrand or an Innocent or a Boniface, or even of a Leo: but it is
nevertheless a decided step. The substitution of the bishop of Rome for the Church of
Rome is an all important point. The later Roman theory supposes that the Church of
Rome derives all its authority from the bishop of Rome, as the successor of S. Peter.
History inverts this relation and shows that, as a matter of fact, the power of the bishop of
Rome was built upon the power of the Church of Rome...this then was the original
primacy of Rome - a primacy not of the bishop but of the whole church, a primacy not of
official authority but of practical goodness, backed however by the prestige and the
advantages which were necessarily enjoyed by the church of the metropolis" - J.B.
Lightfoot (cited at