Could Peter Have Been Pope?
Copyright 2002, David A. Duncan

For Peter to have been a Pope, he would have to have been given authority which is superior to the other Apostles, and specifically authority over the other Apostles. The arguments most often given to demonstrate this is the case include:

Peter in the Foundation

Matthew 16:18 says "(NKJV) ""And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it."

Much has been written on the arguments for and against the "rock" being Peter. While some argue that the "rock" could not have been Peter because the gender is different, the evidence for this argument is not substantial. Often it is argued that Petros means a small stone, while Petra means a large rock. Vine's is usually referred to:

Petra denotes a mass of rock, as distinct from petros, a detached stone or boulder that might be thrown or easily moved.

Actually, Petros (Peter) and Petra (rock) are of the same greek root with Petros being masculine and Petra being feminine. Greek Lexicons such as Harold K. Moulton make no such distinction of meaning based on gender (page 323):

petra "a rock", crags, clefts, stony ground

petros "a stone"; in NT the greek rendering of the surname Cephas, given to the apostle Simon, and having, therefore, the same sense as petra.

Without conceding the point, if one accepts that Peter is the "rock" spoken of by Jesus, the ramifications should be considered. First of all, it should be considered what the scriptures have to say about the foundation of the church.

First and foremost, Christ is spoken of as the foundation of the church: (1 Cor 3:11 NKJV) "For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ." However, it is also clear that this did not exclude the apostles: (Eph 2:20 NKJV) "having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone," The reconciliation of these two is that Jesus is the "corner-stone" of the foundation, on which the rest of the foundation depends: (Acts 4:11 NKJV) ""This is the 'stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.'" Now, since the cornerstone is not the complete foundation (albeit the most important part), this figure is consistent throughout the scriptures. That the apostles (including Peter) were part of the foundation is undeniable and plainly stated in Eph. 2:20. From these passages it is apparent that if Peter is the "rock" on which the church is built, it is not Peter who occupies the principle portion of the foundation, but Christ himself, and Peter is placed along with the Apostles and Prophets. Peter's place is not a place of preeminence over the other apostles, but a place along side of the others.

In what way were the apostles the "foundation" of the church? Barnes comments on this passage: "The doctrines which they taught are the basis on which the church rests … That is, the doctrines of Divine revelation whether communicated by prophets or apostles were laid at the foundation of the Christian Church. … the traditions of men have no authority in the church … nothing is to be regarded as a fundamental part of the Christian system, or as binding on the conscience which cannot be found in the 'prophets and apostles'" This concept agrees with what Paul says: (1 Cor 3:10 NKJV) "According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it." It is not to be understood that Paul laid "himself" here, but rather that his teachings (inspired of God) were the foundation. When Eph. 2:20 speaks of the "foundation of the apostles and prophets", a figure of speech was used which is common, that the "apostles and prophets" represented what these men taught as inspired of God. When today a political campaign is built on a political candidate, we understand that the campaign is built not on the man himself, but what he represents in ideals and actions.

Barnes comments (pg 76): "Some have supposed that the word ROCK refers to Peter's confession. Others have thought that he referred to himself. Another interpretation is that the word rock refers to Peter himself. This is the obvious meaning of the passage; and had it not been that the church of Rome has abused it, and applied it to what was never intended, no other would have been sought for, … Upon thee I will build it. Thou shalt be highly honoured; thou shalt be first in making known the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles … Peter had thus the honour of laying the foundation of the church among the Jews and Gentiles. … But Jesus did not mean, as the Roman Catholics say he did, to exalt Peter to supreme authority above all the other apostles, or to say that he was the only one on whom he would rear his church."

Peter and the Keys

Since it is evident that Peter was not the only foundation, by only part of the foundation along with all the apostles, was the message to Peter about the "keys of the kingdom" a distinctive and exclusive role for him alone? The stated purpose of the keys of the kingdom was that of authority to bind and loose (Mat 16:19 NKJV) ""And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."" This is only a valid argument for higher authority if it can be demonstrated that this was an authority which was not given to the other apostles. In later verses in Matthew, Jesus stated this principle again, but not for Peter only, but to all of the apostles. (Mat 18:18 NKJV) ""Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." While Jesus does not use the term "keys of the kingdom", he references the same authority that the keys represent using the same phrases as he used earlier with Peter in Matthew 16:19. With no distinction made in authority between Peter and the other apostles, then again there is no justification for ascribing higher authority to Peter.

Peter and "First"s

This third argument is the weakest of the arguments, and requires implying something that is not stated. Being first in a list, first to preach to Jews and Gentiles, may be a valid argument for a position of honor, but does not imply any increased authority. It should be pointed out that even the argument for Peter being the first to preach to the Jews is not defensible. While Acts does record what Peter said rather than the others, Peter was not the only one who spoke, nor is it recorded that he was the first: "…they were all filled with the Holy Spirit …", "everyone heard them speak in his own language." -- indicating that the event of being filled with the Holy Spirit and teaching was something experienced by all of the apostles. Peter did "raise his voice" so that he could be heard to make the speech recorded, but it was evident that they were all already "teaching" -- "But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, …"

With the same logic (used to argue that Peter was more prominent and therefore had greater authority), one could argue that since James stood up and made the decisive speech at the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:13) that he was more prominent and therefore must have had greater authority. All such arguments are illogical.


Peter could not have been a pope since he was never granted authority over the other apostles. Neither is this type of authority granted anywhere in the scriptures to any man. The only head of the church is Jesus Christ himself:

(Eph 1:22-23 NKJV) "And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, {23} which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all."

From Cyprian, Third Book, Elucidations:


Launoi, the eminent Gallican, found but seventeen of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church (among whom he reckons “Fathers” down to the twelfth century) who understand St. Peter to be “the rock,” and he cites forty of the contrary opinion. Yet of the “seventeen,” most of them speak only rhetorically, and with justifiable freedom. I have often done the same myself, on the principle which the same apostle applies to all Christians: “Ye also as lively stones,” etc. But it is quite noteworthy that the Council of Trent itself momentarily adopts the prevailing patristic and therefore the Catholic interpretation, speaking of the Nicene Creed: “In quo omnes qui fidem Christi profitentur necessario conveniunt, ac fundamentum firmum et unicum, contra quod portae inferi nunquam praevalebunt (Matthew 16:18).” Thus, the faith of Peter is confessed the only foundation, in a direct exposition of the text so often quoted with another intent. In spite of all this, the Creed of Pius IV was enjoined as soon as that council closed; and every member of the late Vatican Council was made to profess the same verbally before any other business was undertaken. Now, even this spurious creed forced them to swear concerning the Holy Scriptures,” I will never take and interpret them otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.” Obviously, according to this rule, there is no Catholic doctrine on the subject; much less any Catholic teaching to the effect that the modern bishops of Rome are “the rock,” as really as St. Peter himself.