Is the Office of the Pope Justified by the Bible? by Owen D. Olbricht

Is the Office and Election of the Pope Justified by the Bible?

      Many people in the world have learned about Francis, the new Pope, who has been elected by the College of Cardinals as head of the Catholic Church.  The question to be asked is, “Can the office and the election of a Pope be justified by Bible teaching?” The following is an effort to answer that question from the Bible prospective.

Four Violations of Jesus’ Teaching

     Do the lives of the men who have become Pope fall under the condemnation Jesus gave the scribes Pharisees for doing the following?  Note:

  • They wear clothing to distinguish themselves as religious leaders (Matthew 23:5).
  • They seek the places of renown so that they could be honored (Matthew 23:6).
  • They desire greetings in the market places and synagogues that gave them special recognition (Matthew 23:7).
  • They use exalting titles when referring those who are leaders among His followers (Matthew 23:8-9).

     The word “pope” developed from the Greek pappa, and means papa or father. The Bible teaches that there is “one God and Father of all, who is above all” (Ephesians 4:4; also 1 Corinthians 8:6). Since there is only one “Father” who is God, the Pope cannot be that Father. Jesus condemns anyone who is called father as a religious title. “Do not call anyone on earth your father, for One is your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9).

     None of the apostles, prophets, church leaders, or any other followers of Jesus was called “his holiness” or wore titles such as “Holy Father” and “Most Holy Revered Father.”

     The word “holy” means set apart in the sense of not engaging in the unholy practices of the world.  We are to seek to be holy (1 Peter 1:16), but God alone possesses a perfect goodness or holiness.

     Jesus wanted a rich young ruler who called him “good” to realize the implications of addressing Him as good, by telling him, “No one is good but One, that is, God” (Matthew 19:17). If he called Jesus good then he must realize that Jesus is God. God alone should be called, “Most holy” for no one has attained that degree of holiness.

     The reason for these four scathing condemnations is that Jesus wants His followers to treat each other as brothers and sisters in Christ (Matthew 23:8; Galatians 3:28) by humbly associating with each other (Matthew 23:12) without exalting one above the other.

Head of the Church

     The Pope is honored as head of the Catholic Church, and he is such, but he is not head of the church of Christ.  Paul wrote that God, “gave Him [Jesus] head over all things to the church” (Ephesians 1:22). “And He [Jesus] is head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18).

     The Pope was not voted to be the infallible head of the church, when he spoke from the papal chair (ex cathedra), until 1870.  Were the Popes fallible before 1870 when the College of Cardinals voted him to be infallible?

     The one body of Christ (Ephesians 4:4; Colossians 1:18), the church, obeys Jesus as the one head over the church (Ephesians 5:23, 24), which is His flock (Acts 20:28) that listens to Him and follows Him (John 10:27). They will not listen to voice of others (John 10:5).

Pomp and Show

     The elaborate Pope-mobile, expensive and special clothing, special ring, high class living quarters and spacious offices, and people bowing to him and kissing his ring is an earthly show that is not portrayed in the lives of Jesus and early church leaders.

Consider Jesus:

  • He became poor to make many rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).
  • He was raised by a poor family that offered two turtledoves or pigeons at His birth (Luke 2:24).
  • He had no income, and was supported by others (Luke 8:3).
  • He owned no place of His own where He could lay His head (Luke 9:58).
  • He associated with tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 9:10).
  • He was without food at times, for He and His disciples had none when He fed the 5,000 and 4,000 men plus women and children (Matthew 14:14-21; 15:30-38).
  • He did not have money to pay the temple tax of about one day’s wages (Matthew 17:24-27).
  • He had no animal of His own to ride, so He borrowed a colt (Matthew 21:2-7).
  • He stayed at night on the Mount of Olives instead of inns or homes (Luke 21:37, 38).
  • He was buried in another man’s tomb, for He did not have His own (Matthew 27:59-60).

Consider the Apostles:

  • Peter and John had no silver and gold (Acts 3:6).
  • Paul lived in want and lacked many comforts of life as he served Jesus (2 Corinthians 6:4, 5; 11:23-27).

     The lavish lifestyle, public veneration, and special earthly material amenities of the Pope would have been an embarrassment to Jesus and His followers, as well as to John the Baptist (Matthew 3:4).

Church Built on Peter

     Jesus did not say to Peter, “On you Peter (Greek petros, masculine) I will build my church, but on this rock (Greek tautai petra, feminine) I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). The church is built on Jesus, the rock (Greek petra) the only true foundation, and there is no other (1 Corinthians 3:11).

     The Greek word rock, petra, is used in reference to Jesus (Matthew 16:18; Romans 9:33; 1 Corinthians 10:4; 1 Peter 2:8) and to His teaching (Matthew 7:24, 25; Luke 6:48), but never to Peter.  The petra was a large foundation rock on which a house could be built (Matthew 7:24-25; Luke 6:48) and could be large enough for a tomb carved out a rock that two or more people could enter (Mark 16:1-5; Luke 24:3; John 20:6, 8).

     Even if Jesus meant the church would be built on Peter, and the keys to bind and loose would be his, that would not prove Peter was given the papal office.  Jesus did not say:

  • The church would be built exclusively on Peter. Using another figure, Paul taught that the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20). Peter was just one of the twelve stones in the foundation (Revelation 21:14).
  • The keys for binding and loosing would be exclusively Peter’s. Peter was just one of twelve apostles Jesus promised the authority to bind and loose (Matthew 18:18).
  • Peter would be the head of the church. Jesus is the sole head of the church (Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18, 24) and the one Shepherd (John 10:16), who is the chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4).

Peter in the Early Church

     Another way to determine if the church was built exclusively on Peter is to consider the practice of the early church.

     Peter is not mentioned one time in the New Testament as being the head of the church. No statement or implication is found in Scripture that someone would replace Peter as head of the church when he died.

     The Catholic Church lists Linus (67-79 AD) as the next Pope after Peter. The question should be asked, “Who chose him and why would he be chosen instead of the apostle John, who had apostolic authority and who lived around 30 years after Peter died?”

     The early church did not ask Peter to decide one important doctrinal matter by himself.  Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem to an assembly of apostles and elders to find out if the Gentile Christians must be circumcised in order to be saved (Acts 15:1).

     In the meeting, Peter gave his input after much discussion but did not decide what action to take (Acts 15:6-11).  The assembly accepted the judgment of James, Jesus’ brother (Acts 15:13-21; Galatians 1:19), while the decision was made through the help of the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:22, 28).  The letter with the decision was not sent in Peter’s name as the Vicar of Christ, but in the name of the apostles and elders (Acts 15:23).

     Peter was considered one of the three pillars in the church (James, Cephas [Peter; John 1:41-42], and John), but not the only pillar (Galatians 2:9). According to Greek listing, James might have been considered the most prominent for he is listed first, then Peter.

     When Peter erred from the truth of the gospel and led others into error, including Barnabas, Paul corrected Peter to his face (Galatians 2:11-14). Surely, if Peter was the infallible head of the church, he would not lead others astray.

     The commission of Peter was to the circumcised, the Jews, and Paul’s to the uncircumcised, the Gentiles (Galatians 2:7-9; Romans 11:13). Paul’s commission included a larger segment of world than that of Peter.

     Peter did not refer to himself with a special important religious title (1 Peter 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1), neither did any other New Testament writer (Matthew 4:18; Mark 3:16; Luke 5:8; John 6:68; Acts 1:13; Galatians 2:11).

     Peter did not accept reverence from Cornelius, but told him, “Stand up; for I myself am also a man” (Acts 10:26). Paul objected by saying, “We also are men with the same nature as you” (Acts 14:15). The Pope allows others to bow before him and kiss his ring.

     Peter considered himself a fellow elder, not the chief elder or shepherd, but referred to Jesus as the chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:1, 4).

     Jesus gave Peter the responsibility of feeding His sheep (John 21:16), but He neither indicated that Peter was the only one to feed His sheep nor that he was to feed all the His sheep.  Elders were instructed to feed their own individual flock, the church (Acts 20:17, 28), and no other flocks.

     Peter was a married man with a mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14-15) and a wife (1 Corinthians 9:5), and also was an elder (1 Peter 5:1), which office he could hold only if he had a wife (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6). According to the teaching of the Catholic Church, Peter would not be qualified for the office of an elder or bishop, much less the Pope, the chief leader in the church.

     Jesus did not single out Peter as the most important follower but treated him as one of the apostles, or as one of the inner circle with James and John at various times (Matthew 17:1; Mark 9:2; 14:33; Luke 8:51; 9:28).

     Paul wrote instructions concerning the doctrine, work, organization, and nature of the church.  In Peter’s two short books that are a very small portion of the New Testament, he did not discuss these topics as did Paul in his 14 books, which include about one half of the New Testament.  If Peter was a Pope, it seems strange that he did not write more instructions for the church than did Paul or other writers.

     James, Jesus’ brother, seems to have been as much a respected leader as Peter, and perhaps more so. Peter reported to him (Acts 12:17); James gave the judgment concerning the Gentiles that was accepted (Acts 15:13); he is singled out as the one Paul went to see among the leaders in the church in Jerusalem (Acts 21:18); and he is considered one of the pillars in the church along with Peter and John (Galatians 2:9, 12).

     Only Jesus, not Peter, was recognized as the foundation and Head of the church (1 Corinthians 3:11; Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18).

Conclusion

     Peter was a most highly respected apostle of Jesus. He was not given a place of authority above the other apostles, but was one of them on which the church of Christ is built (Ephesians 2:20).

     He is to be respected along with the other inspired apostles and prophets of the New Testament, but not to be honored above them.

     Jesus is the only foundation and head of the church of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18).   All glory and honor must be given to Him (Philippians 2:9-11), and not to any other man, including the Pope.