THE PRE-EMINENCE OF ST. PETER
50 New Testament Proofs
By Dove Armstrong
The Catholic doctrine of the papacy is biblically based and is
derived from the evident primacy of St. Peter among the apostles.
Like all Christian doctrine, it has undergone development through
the centuries, but it has not departed from the essential
components which already existed in the leadership and
prerogatives of St. Peter. These were given to him by our Lord
Jesus Christ, acknowledged by his contemporaries and accepted by
the early Church.
The biblical Petrine data is quite strong, and is inescapably
compelling. This is especially made clear with the assistance of
biblical commentaries. The evidence of Holy Scripture follows.
1. Matthew 16:18: "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell
shall not prevail against it."
The "rock" (Greek, "petra") referred to here is St. Peter himself,
not his faith or Jesus Christ. Christ appears here not as the
foundation, but as the architect who "builds." The Church is
built, not on confessions, but on confessors- living men (see, for
example, 1 Pt 2:5). Today, the overwhelming consensus of the great
majority of all biblical scholars and commentators is in favor of
the traditional Catholic understanding. Here St. Peter is spoken
of as the foundation-stone of the Church, making him head and
superior of the family of God-that is, the seed of the doctrine of
the papacy. Moreover, "Rock" embodies a metaphor applied to him by
Christ in a sense analogous to the suffering and despised Messiah
(see 1 Pt 2:4-8; Mt 21:42). Without a solid foundation a house
falls. St. Peter is the foundation, but not founder of the Church;
administrator, but not Lord of the Church. The Good Shepherd (Jn
10:11) gives us other shepherds as well (Eph 4:11).
2. Matthew 16:19: "And I will give unto thee the keys of the
kingdom of heaven."
The "power" of the keys has to do with ecclesiastical discipline
and administrative authority with regard to the requirements of
the faith, as in Isaiah 22:22 (see Is 9:6; Jb 12:14; Rv 3:7). From
this power flows the use of censures, excommunication, absolution,
baptismal discipline, the imposition of penances and legislative
powers. In the Old Testament, a steward, or prime minister, is a
man who is "over a: house" (Gn 41:40; 43:19; 44:4; 1 Kgs 4:6;
16:9; 18:3; 2 Kgs 10:5; 15:5; 18:18; Is 22:15, 20-21).
3. Matthew 16:19: "Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be
bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be
loosed in heaven."
"Binding" and "loosing" were technical rabbinical terms, which
meant to "forbid" and 'permit" with reference to the
interpretation of the law and, secondarily, to "condemn," "place
under the ban" or "acquit." Thus St. Peter and the popes are given
the authority to determine the rules for doctrine and life by
virtue of revelation and the Spirit's leading (see Jn 16:13), as
well as to demand obedience from the Church. "Binding and loosing"
represent the legislative and judicial powers of the papacy and
the bishops (Mt 18:17-18; Jn 20:23). St. Peter, however, is the
only apostle who receives these powers by name and in the
singular, making him pre-eminent.
4. Peter's name occurs first in all lists of apostles (see Mt
10:2; Mk 3:16; Lk 6:14; Acts 1:13). Matthew even calls him "the
first" (10:2). (Judas Iscariot is invariably mentioned last.)
5. Peter is almost without exception named first whenever he
appears with anyone else. In one example to the contrary,
Galatians 2:9, where he is listed after James and before John, he
is clearly pre-eminent in the entire context (see, for example,
6. Peter alone among the apostles receives a new name, "Rock,"
solemnly conferred (Jn 1:42; Mt 16:18).
7. Likewise, Peter is regarded by Jesus as the chief shepherd
after himself (Jn 21:15-17), singularly by name, and over the
universal Church, even though others have a similar but
subordinate role (Acts 20:28; 1 Pt 5:2).
8. Peter alone among the apostles is mentioned by name as having
been prayed for by Jesus Christ in order that his "faith fail not"
9. Peter alone among the apostles is exhorted by Jesus to
"strengthen your brethren" (Lk 22:32).
10. Peter first confesses Christ's divinity (Mt 16:16).
11. Peter alone is told that he has received divine knowledge by a
special revelation (Mt 16:17).
12. Peter is regarded by the Jews (Acts 4:1-13) as the leader and
spokesman of Christianity.
13. Peter is regarded by the common people in the same way (Acts
14. Jesus Christ uniquely associates himself and Peter in the
miracle of the tribute money (Mt 17:24-27).
15. Christ teaches from Peter's boat, and the miraculous catch of
fish follows (Lk 5:1-11): perhaps a metaphor for the pope as a
"fisher of men" (Mt 4:19).
16. Peter was the first apostle to set out for, and enter, the
empty tomb (Lk 24:12; Jn 20:6).
17. Peter is specified by an angel as the leader and
representative of the apostles (Mk 16:7).
18. Peter leads the apostles in fishing (Jn 21:2-3,11). The "bark"
(boat) of Peter has been regarded by Catholics as a figure of the
Church, with Peter at the helm.
19. Peter alone casts himself into the sea to come to Jesus (Jn
20. Peter's words are the first recorded and most important in the
Upper Room before Pentecost (Acts 1:15-22).
21. Peter takes the lead in calling for a replacement for Judas
22. Peter is the first person to speak (and only one recorded)
after Pentecost, so he was the first Christian to "preach the
Gospel" in the Church era (Acts 2:14-36).
23. Peter works the first miracle of the Church Age, healing a
lame man (Acts 3:6-12).
24. Peter utters the first anathema (Ananias and Sapphira)
emphatically affirmed by God (Acts 5:2-11).
25. Peter's shadow works miracles (Acts 5:15).
26. Peter is the first person after Christ to raise the dead (Acts
27. Cornelius is told by an angel to seek out Peter for
instruction in Christianity (Acts 10:1-6).
28. Peter is the first to receive the Gentiles, after a revelation
from God (Acts 10:9-48).
29. Peter instructs the other apostles on the catholicity
(universality) of the Church (Acts 11:5-17).
30. Peter is the object of the first divine interposition on
behalf of an individual in the Church Age (an angel delivers him
from prison-Acts 12:1-17).
31. The whole Church (strongly implied) prays for Peter "without
ceasing" when he is imprisoned (Acts 12:5).
32. Peter presides over and opens the first council of
Christianity, and lays down principles afterward accepted by it
33. Paul distinguishes the Lord's postresurrection appearances to
Peter from those to other apostles (1 Cor 15:4-5).
34. Peter is often spoken of as distinct among apostles (Mk 1:36;
Lk 9:28, 32; Acts 2:37; 5:29; 1 Cor 9:5).
35. Peter is often spokesman for the other apostles, especially at
climactic moments (Mk 8:29; Mt 18:21; Lk 9:5; 12:41; Jn 6:67).
36. Peter's name is always the first listed of the "inner circle"
of the disciples (Peter, James and John-Mt 17:1; 26:37, 40; Mk
37. Peter is often the central figure relating to Jesus in
dramatic Gospel scenes such as walking on the water (Mt 14:28-32;
Lk 5:1, Mk 10:28; Mt 17:24).
38. Peter is the first to recognize and refute heresy, in Simon
Magus (Acts 8:14-24).
39. Peter's name is mentioned more often than all the other
disciples put together: 191 times (162 as Peter or Simon Peter, 23
as Simon and 6 as Cephas). John is next in frequency with only 48
appearances, and Peter is present 50 percent of the time we find
John in the Bible. Archbishop Fulton Sheen reckoned that all the
other disciples combined were mentioned 130 times. If this is
correct, Peter is named a remarkable 60 percent of the time any
disciple is referred to.
40. Peter's proclamation at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41) contains a
fully authoritative interpretation of Scripture, a doctrinal
decision and a disciplinary decree concerning members of the
"House of Israel"-an example of "binding and loosing."
41. Peter was the first "charismatic," having judged
authoritatively the first instance of the gift of tongues as
genuine (Acts 2:14-21).
42. Peter is the first to preach Christian repentance and baptism
43. Peter (presumably) takes the lead in the first recorded mass
baptism (Acts 2:41).
44. Peter commanded the first Gentile Christians to be baptized
45. Peter was the first traveling missionary, and first exercised
what would now be called "visitation of the churches" (Acts 9:32-
38, 43). Paul preached at Damascus immediately after his
conversion (Acts 9:20), but had not traveled there for that
purpose (God changed his plans). His missionary journeys begin in
46. Paul went to Jerusalem specifically to see Peter for 15 days
at the beginning of his ministry (Gal 1:18), and was commissioned
by Peter, James and John (Gal 2:9) to preach to the Gentiles.
47. Peter acts, by strong implication, as the chief
bishop/shepherd of the Church (1 Pt 5:1), since he exhorts all the
other bishops, or "elders."
48. Peter interprets prophecy (2 Pt 1:16-21).
49. Peter corrects those who misuse Paul's writings (2 Pt 3:15-
50. Peter wrote his first epistle from Rome, according to most
scholars, as its bishop, and as the universal bishop (pope) of the
early Church. "Babylon" (1 Pt 5:13) is regarded as code for Rome.
In conclusion, it strains credulity to think that God would
present Peter with such prominence in the Bible without some
meaning and import for later Christian history-in particular,
Church government. The papacy is the most plausible (we believe
actual) fulfillment of this.
This article was taken from the January/February 1997 issue of
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