Peter and the papacy

The apostle Peter was one of Jesus' prominent disciples and a leader in the early church. The teaching of the Roman Catholic Church is that Peter was the first bishop of Rome, or pope, and that he had special authority over the church. This teaching is not generally accepted by other Christian denominations.

One of the arguments used to support this view comes from Matthew 16:19

Matthew 16 19

In Matthew 16:19 Jesus gives Peter the "keys of the Kingdom of Heaven". This verse occurs in the context of Peter's Confession of the Christ. It is however controversial verse because there are a great variety of views about the meaning of this verse. The Roman Catholic view is that by giving Peter the keys, Jesus is giving Peter special, and unique authority over the church, and to dispense forgivenss. Tradition holds that Peter travelled to Rome and was the first bishop of Rome, and so today's Pope holds those same keys to the Kingdom of Heaven through the process of Apostolic Succession. For this view to be accepted, a number of prerequesites must be met

  • This interpretation of the passage must be considered true
  • Peter must be accepted as the first bishop of Rome
  • The doctrine of Apostolic Succession must be believed

An alternative interpretation of the passage, common among Protestants, is that when Jesus gave Peter the keys, it meant that it would be Peter who would, in a sense, unlock the door of the Kingdom of Heaven (or the spread of the gosple) to non-Jews (Gentiles). This view holds that the words of Jesus were fulfilled in Peter in the book of Acts. In Acts 1:8 Jesus reveals that his disciples will be his witnesses to Judea (that is, the Jews), Samaria (that is, the Samaritans) and to the ends of the earth (that is, Gentiles, or non-Jews). In Acts, we see Peter being present when the Holy Spirit comes to the Jews at Pentecost (in Acts 2), to the Samaritans (in Acts 8) and to Cornelius and the Gentiles (in Acts 10).



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