Contrary to the claim of the Roman Catholic Church, Matthew 16:18-19 does not teach that Peter was the first bishop (pope) of Rome. Seven arguments against this claim are given.

2015. 3 pages.

7 Big Reasons Why Peter Was Never the “Bishop” of Rome, and the Pope the “Vicar” of Christ

The Roman Catholic Church claims that the first Bishop of Rome was the Apostle Peter himself. They base this on Jesus’ promise, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (Matt 16:18), and “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt 16:19).

But did Jesus really mean to say that he will build his church on the shoulders of Peter, and that he will give Peter the keys to heaven? Here are 7 reasons why this is pure nonsense:

1. There is absolutely nothing said in the New Testament that Peter was ever in the first-century church in Rome. The Roman church bases this claim solely on their so-called traditions. Peter’s audience in his first sermon in Acts 2 were Jews from all over the Roman empire, including those from Rome (Acts 2:10). Those Romans who believed then went back to their homes and started the church there. In fact, Peter was in Jerusalem from that Pentecost Sunday in A.D. 30 or 33 until he left Jerusalem about 44 A.D., more than 10 years later.1

Moreover, in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome about 57 A.D.—27 years (!) after the first believers went back home to Rome — he never mentioned that he or Peter had been there. And in all his greetings in his letter to the Romans, Paul did not mention the name of Peter even once. If Peter was the pastor there at that time, Paul would have surely greeted him first.

2. When Jesus addressed Peter, he was addressing him as the “spokesman” of the Twelve. Peter, being the most outspoken and impulsive among the Twelve, was always at the forefront of their conversations with Jesus. We know this when in verse 19, Jesus says to him, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” But two chapters later, Jesus repeats the same declaration verbatim, “Truly, 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” (Matt 18:18). And to whom was he talking to in Matthew 18? Obviously, he was talking to all the disciples, not only to Peter, because the “you” here is in plural form.

3. The “keys” are not given to Peter, but to all the apostles and all ministers who preach the true gospel. Jesus says, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9). Later, he also says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). In his address to the church in Philadelphia, Christ says he “has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens” (Rev 3:7). Because the Philadelphians were faithful to his word, Christ promised, “Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut”(Rev 3:8). And to all the ungodly, Christ has the keys to cast into Death and Hades (Rev 1:18).

If Jesus is the door to heaven, the key that opens and closes this door is the preaching of the true gospel, through which the one who hears and believes is saved, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). Because “[the gospel] is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16). Therefore, he is giving the “keys” to his apostles and thereafter, to the pastors and elders of his universal church.

4. The New Testament record tells us that Peter was not exalted above any of the other apostles. Immediately after this conversation, Jesus foretold his death, but Peter rashly vowed that this will never happen under his watch. Jesus then rebuked him very harshly, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me” (verse 23). In fact, the impulsive apostle was not true to his word, when in fear for his life, he denied Jesus three times. At the Jerusalem Council, Peter spoke about his work with the Gentiles, but it was not him, not even Paul, who presided over the great council; it was James (Acts 15:7, 13). And years after Peter witnessed to Gentiles (Acts 10), he refused to eat with Gentiles, and Paul rebuked him (Gal 2:11-15). Christ’s church was not built on the foundation of Peter, not even the Twelve. “The church’s one Foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord.”

5. Christ is the only Head of the Church (Ephesians 1:22-23; 5:23; Colossians 1:18). The church is under the rule and care of its one Mediator, Jesus Christ, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5). Since he ascended into heaven, Christ is present with his Church by his Word and Sacrament through his ministers and the illumination of the Holy Spirit.

6. Since Christ is the only Head of the Church, no man can ever be his “Vicar” on earth. And there are no other Apostles who followed after Peter and the other eleven Apostles. From the day of Pentecost, all the apostles started building the foundation of the church (Eph 2:20). Paul says that no other foundation except for Christ was laid by the apostles. Once this foundation has been laid, there is no more foundation work to be done — the work of the apostles is accomplished (1Cor 3:10-11). Therefore, there are no more Apostles after the first Twelve. In fact, all other people, except the Twelve, are disqualified to be Apostles, since the requirement is that he must have been an eyewitness of the risen Lord (Acts 1:22). Is there any Pope who had been an eyewitness of the risen Christ?

7. Therefore, the foundational rock that Jesus was talking about was Peter’s confession. Everyone who confesses Jesus in his work as Christ the Savior and in his identity as the Son of God, the second Person of the Triune God, would be saved. And everyone who comes to this saving faith will be living stones that will form the church (1 Pet 2:4-5). All others who deny this will not be admitted into heaven, but a key will open to them the gates of hell into which they will thrown.


  1. ^ All church history dates are estimates from the ESV Study Bible.

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