Monday, April 30, 2012

"Questions for a Roman Apologist" - Peter's Primacy

Saint Peter and The Keys
in stained glass.
This will be the first in a series of basic apologetic responses (possibly as many as 28) to some of what I have experienced in the lively world of online apologetics. An arena that can be a cross between debate club and pro wrestling, where Christian charity sometimes, unfortunately, gets left at the door. The impetus of this response was the document, Questions for a Roman Apologist, posted by Pastor Miguel Jurna of the First Baptist Church of Olivehurst in Olivehurst, California, I will attempt to present a Catholic response and where necessary correction the context of his questions. The first question I'll address is:

Q: Where does the Bible say that one man is the head of all churches?

A: First of all we can look to Simon Bar-Jonah's name change as a significant sign of his importance among the Apostles. Let's look at several other examples of biblical name changes were there is a deliberately expressed symbolism: Abram becomes Abraham, "father of a multitude"; Sarai becomes Sarah, "princess"; and Jacob becomes Israel, "prince of God". Finally, Simon becomes Peter, the "rock". I believe it can be safely argued that in most, if not all, biblical name changes, God is making a point about the individual in question: commemorating their spiritual
potential or achievement, and/or His blessing upon them. In Peter's case, it is hard to ignore or explain away the fact that the first thing Christ said to him when Andrew introduced them was that he would be called "Cephas". In Matthew 16:17-18, Christ again tells Peter of his name change but also tells him why, his spiritual potential if you will, that he will be the rock on which Christ builds His Church.

The second argument for Peter being the "one man" is found immediately thereafter in Matthew 16:19, where Christ tells Peter,

"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."
The disciples would have understood instantly the symbolism of the keys of the kingdom for it was based in the Davidic Kingdom as illustrated in Isaiah 22:15-25. The Bible teaches that this Kingdom, which Jesus restored, includes a Prime Minister, one who holds "the key of the house of David," who is given "power," who is "as a father" to the citizens of the kingdom. Eliakim would be that father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and would be given the key symbolizing that power, the very same power that was clearly given to Peter in Matthew 16. Did Christ give the keys to anyone else? Who was plainly the chief Apostle throughout the whole of the New Testament?

Thirdly, in Luke 22:31-32 Christ tells Peter,

"Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you* like wheat, but I have prayed for you** that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren."
* υμας personal pronoun - second person accusative plural humas hoo-mas': you (as the objective of  a verb or preposition) -- ye, you (+ -ward), your (+ own).
σου personal pronoun - second person genitive singular sou soo: of thee, thy -- home, thee, thine (own), thou, thy.

The significance of these verses should not be lost in translation. Christ tells him that Satan has demanded "you". The you in verse 31 is plural in the Greek, signifying that He is speaking of all the Apostles. Then in verse 32 He tells him that He has prayed for "you", this time it's in the singular signifying Peter alone. Ironically, for my KJV-Only friends, the King James version retains the meaning of the original Greek showing Christ prayed for Peter specifically.

Next, you have John 21:15-19, where Christ tells Peter he is to lead His flock,

"When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." A second time he said to him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go." (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, 'Follow me.' "
This threefold confession of Peter is meant to counteract his earlier threefold denial of Christ and specifically assign him the role of chief shepherd of Christ's flock. How can this be read in any other way?

In addition to these proofs, you have the practical examples of Peter's leadership/primacy throughout the New Testament, to include: Mark 16:7, where an angel was sent to tell Peter of the Resurrection; Luke 24:34, where the risen Christ first appeared to Peter; Acts 1:13-26, where Peter headed the meeting that elected Mathias to replace Judas; Acts 2:14, where Peter led the Apostles in preaching on Pentacost; Acts 2:41, where he received the first converts; Acts 2:6-7, where he performed the first miracle after Pentacost; Acts 5:1-11, where he inflicted the first punishment on Ananias and Saphira; Acts 8:21, where he excommunicated the first heretic, Simon Magnus; Acts 10:44-46, where he received the revelation to admit Gentiles into the Church; Acts 15, The Council of Jerusalem, where Peter led the Council and pronounced his first dogmatic decision; and Galatians 1:18, where after his conversion St. Paul comes to submit himself to the chief Apostle.

Lastly, I find the phrasing of the question troublesome. To say, " man is head of all churches" implies that the writer believes in the correctness of multiple "churches" as a norm.
Where is that in the Bible? Is that what Jesus taught? No, Jesus prayed for our UNITY in John 17, just as St. Paul did in Ephesians 4,
"I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all." (emphasis added)
All of this through Scripture alone. The case is even stronger when you consider what the early Church believed and taught about Peter. But we'll stick to Scripture for now. Pax.

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All Bible quotations are from the Revised Standard Version.



  1. Doing some research last night for another post, I came across this five-part series on the Primacy of Peter by Joe Heschmeyer of the Shameless Popery Blog. I dare say it is infinitely more thorough than my humble attempt and definitely worth the read.

  2. Craig - if I was in your place, the first thing I would have said, is that the question itself is wrong 'Q: Where does the Bible say that one man is the head of all churches?"
    It is entirely un-biblical - especially for my friends who claim to be "Sola Scriptura". Christ did not speak of building multiple Churches. He said "I will build my Church". Even St Paul attests to this when he says "There is one body" Eph 4:4. Again St Paul would fight vehemently (at least in his writings as we can determine) when people started speaking of division between Apollos and him.

  3. Excellent point, Dominic! I sort of went that way in the second to last paragraph. UNITY...of the ONE Church... ;-)


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