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Catholic Culture News

The Pre-Eminence of St. Peter: 50 New Testament Proofs

by Dave Armstrong

Descriptive Title

50 New Testament Proofs


Dave Armstrong, a convert to Catholicism from Protestantism, gives fifty New Testament references to demonstrate the primacy of St. Peter among all the apostles. Some examples are: Christ's habit of singling Peter out and praying especially for him, Peter's leadership at the Council of Jerusalem, and his authority over the other Apostles. Peter's name is found 191 times in the Gospels; even St. John is only mentioned 48 times! In short, Christ clearly gave Peter the distinct role of being the first Pope to lead the Church.

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The Catholic Answer



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Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, January/February 1997


50 New Testament Proofs

By Dave 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, 1:18-19; 2:7-8).

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" (Lk 22:32).

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 2:37-41; 5:15).

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 21:7).

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 (Acts 1:22).

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 9:40).

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 (Acts 15:7-11).

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 5:37; 14:37).

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 (Acts 2:38).

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 (Acts 10:44-48).

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 Acts 13:2.

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 3:15-16).

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.

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