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The Catholic Church teaches that Peter was the first pope and that papal succession continued down through history to the present day. However, neither the Orthodox nor the Protestant churches recognize this.

So, what are the biblical arguments (Protestant or Orthodox) against the papacy and papal succession?

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This essentially breaks down to: What is the biblical arguments for Protestantism/Sola Scriptura. This question may be too broad. –  Richard Nov 29 '11 at 14:54
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The lack of a papacy doesn't seem to mandate Sola Scriptura. The Orthodox church likely looks to tradition as well, but with a papacy. I do think answers can be sufficiently focused. –  Narnian Nov 29 '11 at 15:07
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The lack of papacy does not mandate Sola Scriptura, but Sola Scriptura mandates the lack of papacy. –  Eric Nov 29 '11 at 15:27
    
Right, it's not a two-way street there. So, "What's the biblical basis for Sola Scriptura." will answer this question, but not necessarily the other way around. –  Richard Nov 29 '11 at 15:38
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@Richard However, there could be biblical arguments specifically against the notion of the papacy and Peter being the first pope. Those arguments are distinct from the ideas in favor of Sola Scriptura, although there are implications that are intertwined. –  Narnian Nov 29 '11 at 15:43

8 Answers 8

up vote 7 down vote accepted

This is a huge question. I am going to attempt to summarize this as succinctly as possible--distilled to a potent brew.

  • Sola Scriptura

    According to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, there is no higher authority than the Bible--not tradition, not other people's opinion or beliefs. Therefore, the pope, as simply a human, cannot stand up against the authority of the Bible, as God-breathed

    Sola Scriptura is supported by 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Cor. 2:13, Romans 3:2 (among others), which shows that the Bible was divinely inspired. Because of this, we can trust the Bible to be the absolute truth (above all human knowledge).

    Side note: Martin Luther wrote a simple layman armed with Scripture is greater than the mightiest pope without it

  • Priesthood of All Believers

    The doctrine of the priesthood of all believers states that we are all priests and do not need to go to a human mediator in order to reach God.

    1 Timothy 2:5 shows that there is only one mediator between God and man. This shows us that we don't need priests (or bishops, archbishops, or popes) to intercede for us.

    Furthermore, Hebrews 4:14 (among others) shows that Jesus is our high priest. As such, we need no one else to offer prayers on behalf of the nation. The pope, by comparison, is attempting to act as High Priest, like the High Priest in Judaism--to go before God on behalf of all Christians.

Those are the two big ones I can think off of the top of my head. Obviously, each one of those goes much deeper than what I gave here. Also, there are probably more big ticket items and a bunch of smaller ones. But each of these has more support and many more arguments that can be used to dispute the papacy.

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If I get around to it, I might try to summarize this section from Wikipedia as well, for the aspect of apostolic succession of the papacy. –  Richard Nov 29 '11 at 22:49
    
The argument from 1 Tim 2:5 is weak, because no Christian can say to another "I have no need of you" (1 Cor 12:21). Besides, Paul asks his fellow Christians to intercede for him (Eph 6:19) and James asks elders to be called to pray for the sick and the sick man's sins being forgiven through the prayers of the elders. (James 5:14-15) –  LoveTheFaith May 27 '12 at 17:45
    
It should be noted that "priesthood of believers" is an equivocation. "Priest" as a Church office is etymologically (and historically, and spiritually) derived from the word, "presbyteros" (which is what priests are called in many Latin documents). "Presbyteros" means "elder." On the other hand "priesthood of believers" and "priest of the order of Melchizedek" is rendered with the word, "sacerdos" in Latin. (May the polyglots forgive this, but) the Pope is sacerdos, deaconai, presbyteros, episcopai (priest, deacon, elder, bishop). You and I are also sacerdos (priests). –  Ignatius Theophorus Jan 13 '13 at 2:12
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@LoveTheFaith Richard didn't say that Christians don't need other Christians - only that Christians do not need another high priest because we already have a high priest in Jesus. Your Ephesians reference is a non sequitur; Paul asks for people to pray for him. That does not mean that those people have the authority to set doctrine over the entire body of Christians around the world. –  Jeff May 21 at 1:37

This is a broad question, but in many ways, it boils down to the antecedent of "this" in Matthew 16:18. After Peter tells Jesus, "You are the Christ," Jesus answers something like:

"And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (English Standard Version)

The question is, what is this rock? Is it Peter or his confession?

Obviously, Protestants tend to favor the "confession" interpretation, and emphasize our equality before God.

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Is this widely held? Because it seems plain to me that the rock is Peter, given the name Peter comes from the Greek word Petra which means "rock", and Jesus was using a bit of a play on words there. –  Ben Richards Nov 30 '11 at 8:00
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@sidran32 There's an article about that and the words that Jesus actually used when he said this: carm.org/is-peter-the-rock. Peter comes from the masculine "petros" and Jesus used the feminine "petra". "You are Petros and on this petra ..." –  Shathur Nov 30 '11 at 13:58
    
Ah I see. Thanks for clarifying that. –  Ben Richards Dec 7 '11 at 5:58
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The Petros/petra argument doesn't hold, because Jesus spoke Aramaic and not Greek. In Aramaic, Jesus said "Cephas" which means "rock". Please see John 1:42. See also catholic.com/tracts/peter-the-rock "Petros" is a masculine rendering of the feminine "petra". –  LoveTheFaith May 27 '12 at 17:52
    
@Shathur I would suggest that you should get your apologetics from people other than carm.org. Many of their arguments are, well, faulty. One argument they use is "Mary birthed siblings for Jesus because Psalm 69 says 'mother's sons'" while ignoring the fact that the psalm also talks about the guilt and folly of the psalmist... dubious. –  Ignatius Theophorus Jan 13 '13 at 1:56

One of the greatest arguments against the primacy of Peter is the fact that the apostles had an argument among themselves as to which of them should be the greatest.

"Now there arose a dispute among them, which of them was reputed to be the greatest. But he said to them, 'The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and they who exercise authority over them are called Benefactors. But not so with you. On the contrary, let him who is greatest among you become as the youngest, and him who is chief as the servant'."
Luke 22:24-26

The very fact that the apostles had an argument among themselves shows they did not understand that Peter was to be prince. Also, the occasion of the argument was the night of the betrayal--the last night of the Lord's earthly ministry--and yet the apostles still did not understand that Christ had given Peter a position of primacy.

The Lord settled the argument, not by stating that He had already made Peter head, but by declaring that the Gentiles have their heads, "But not so with you." Thus, Jesus very plainly taught that no one would occupy any such place as a Benefactor (or Pope) to exercise authority over the others.

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Welcome to the site. We are glad you decided to participate. Please see What this site is about and How this site is different to help you learn how the site works. I hope to see you post again soon. I also edited your post. Click edit to see the changes and the relevant note. –  fredsbend Dec 7 at 21:50

When the first recorded controversy emerged in early Church (circumcision) Peter was wrong. He was corrected by Council of Jerusalem then. So we clearly see, that Pope cannot be infailible.

You can read about it in Acts 15 1-31 and it is also mentioned in Galatians 2, 11-14

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Hi, Zefciu. This is an interesting point, but would you mind to edit your answer and add a scriptural reference for those of us who don't know off the top of our heads where this controversy is recorded? (If you don't already have a preferred site, you can find multiple translations of the Bible online at biblegateway.com.) –  Mason Wheeler May 27 '12 at 13:18

My answer on this would be to refer to Tertullian on the subject. Tertullian was, of course, a Catholic who lived in the time when the doctrine that the power of the keys is inherited by the bishops from Peter was being developed by certain bishops in North Africa. He objected strenuously to it, writing his treatise De Pudicitia (i.e. On Modesty) against it.

On Modesty, Chapter 21, from Claesson’s translation (which can be found at the page on De Pudicitia at tertullian.org):

If it is because Our Lord has said to St. Peter, "Upon this rock I will build my church...and I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven" or "and whatsoever thou shalt bind or loose on earth, shall be bound and loosed in heaven," is it for this reason that you presume the power to bind and loose had transfered to you, i.e. to every church with some connection with St.Peter? But how is it possible that you are destroying, and altering the evident intention of Our Lord, who is giving this right alone to St.Peter and in person. "Upon thee" he says "I will build my church," and "I will give unto thee the keys" not unto the church, "and whatsoever thou shalt bind or thou shalt loose," not that which they shall bind nor they shall loose. For that we can learn even by the events. On him himself the church is erected, that is to say by him, he himself consecrated the keys of faith, because he said, "Ye men of Israel, hear these words, Jesus of Nasareth, a man approved of God among you" and what follows [i.e. his sermon in Acts 2]. He himself finally opened first of all the gate to the kingdom of Heaven in the baptism in Christ and by the baptism are loosened the sins, earlier bound and are bound those which never were loosened according to the true salvation...

The idea is clearly that the power of the keys was something to be used once, in opening the kingdom. And that Peter's sermon in Acts 2 was the turning of the keys. There Peter bound the sins of all who reject repentance and/or baptism, and loosed the sins of all who will repent and be baptized.

In this sense Peter's primacy was limited to being the one to open the kingdom, to first preach the terms of entry into the church, and not a primacy allowing him to make up doctrine.

Notice Tertullian's emphasis on the non-transferability of the power of the keys: it belonged to Peter alone and does not pass on to anyone else. There's certainly no intimation in scripture that the keys were something to be passed down to successors.

This sort of primacy also has nothing to do with being a "pope," a concept fund nowhere in scripture at all.

(I will add I originally posted this answer to What is the biblical basis for the argument against the Catholic teaching on the primacy of Peter? but moved it over here because the OP there believed it would fit better here.)

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And you already have +1 upvote! –  FMS Sep 23 at 6:11

One of the problems with Peter specifically being pope is that the scriptures say he was an apostle to the Jews (see Galatians 2:7). If anybody was going to be pope it would have been Paul (called to be an apostle to the gentiles). And for another thing Paul wrote more of the New Testament than any other author. To complicate things further it was Paul who rebuked Peter(see Galatians 2:11-14). And finally if there is any notion that Paul was somehow not operating in correct authority, Peter implies Paul's writings are scripture in 2 Peter 3:16

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In simple English, the belief of papal succession includes with it the power of appointing all ‘true officers’ of the ‘true church’. In other words, in practice it is simply the Roman Catholic means of doctrinally excluding all other Christian churches. More to the point it makes any persons personal salvation outside her physical ordained network- 'doubtful to none'. 'Doubtful' if they are not properly introduced to Catholic authority, 'none' if they are and yet adamantly reject it, like most Protestant teachers and pastors.


Note: To post an answer that respects current Roman Catholic beliefs, I actually had to have something critical clarified in my own mind. I raised this post to really understand the ultimate impact of belief in papal succession: Do Catholics officially recognize Protestants as Christians?

I have not encountered ‘the’ biblical argument against papal succession but I have run across several versions. The points of argument that have made the biggest impact for me as a Protestant are:

  • There is no biblical argument for papal succession anywhere to be found in the Bible. Any attempts that Catholicism tries to make for an argument seems to be blatant dishonest use of the scripture.

  • The implication of papal succession is that by it, it denies faith in 'Christ alone' as sufficient for salvation. This is actually a rejection of Christ and his only catholic church invisible.

Often the biggest argument against something is that there is no supporting argument for it. The scripture gives tradition no real respect, for it affirms that it was by the tradition of the church that the Jews found reason to reject Christ. This argument, absence of teaching denies its truth, is only reasonable when the subject has significant impact on church life and would essentially imply God was irresponsible not to inform his children of such an essential matter through scripture. Scripture is what confirms if any tradition should be upheld or condemned. As papal succession is such an important doctrine, which the actual salvation of souls does depend, and which is possibly the most central teaching of Catholicism, has absolutely no mention of in the scripture, immediately points to its obvious and most critical error. It is from this ground that many Protestant theologians think of the Catholic external organization as a systematic form of an anti-Christ, if not the anti- Christ for its chief aim is at replacing Christ with a visible church and transferring the authority of Christ to the Pope.

This one point for most Protestants actually ends the investigation and is sufficient for its full dismissal with full prejudice. However, there are some further points that may be considered from the biblical context.

Leaving the obvious error of this teaching we turn to God's word for what is a Christian:

  • The single definition within the scripture that determines if a visible person should be considered part of the invisible church, is their sincere confession of faith in 'Christ alone' for the forgiveness of their sins. There visible membership to a church organization counts is merely dust on the scales.

because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13, ESV)

Under the error of papal succession the scripture is grossly and blasphemously perverted into saying, 'whoever believes in Christ...and [put your idol here]. The idol in this case is respect of the physical organization of the papacy. With the second idol, post initiation, as possibly the worship of Mary.

A man's own personal faith directly in Christ and not directly Christ’s ministers or institutions, is the basis of all genuine faith in God. Therefore faith in Christ has the implication of putting all believers under a duty of condemning anyone who preaches a different faith, that is 'faith AND' [put your idol here]. Even if it if an apostle, Pope, or even an angel of God:

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8-9, ESV)

Therefore the authority of the Apostles was not physically held by them so that they could pass it on, rather their authority was in proclaiming Christ AND NOTHING. If they, Peter, Paul, or whoever no longer preached this, they were to be absolutely condemned.

The result with respect to papal succession was the reformation largely lead by Martin Luther. This is how the invisible church was restored to the authority of Christ under his word.

It is on the foundational doctrine of Christ, that he will build his church upon himself as the rock, not upon the pope and his pretenders, which Peter’s confession is to be understood. Peter's faith in Christ alone, just as any believers was a 'little rock' upon which all believers are built into the temple of God. This temple is built on this precise gospel teaching that was laid by the Apostles. It here that Protestants and Catholics divide as far as the east of from the west. Papal succession seizes on the potential confusion that the English translation of this Greek sentence and tries to create an idol out of Peter which will an anchor and protect all their pretended authority over every other Christian body of believers.

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Matthew 23:9: "And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven."

Clearly that doesn't leave much room for a pope, which of course comes from the Italian word for father. Since the role of pope is thus ruled out, the question of succession of popes is not to be found in the Bible.

It is strange that the phrase is apostolic succession, when what is really meant is papal succession. Apostolic succession should simply mean that christian leaders raise leaders to replace them, with the numbers growing as the flock increases.

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Do you call your own father "dad?" Do you call doctors "doctor" (it means teacher)? Do you address people as "Mister" (it means master)? –  Ignatius Theophorus Jan 13 '13 at 1:59
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But, even those aside, your quote has nothing to do with the question. It is speaking of the impropriety of a title and not about the succession itself. If the Pope's title were "king of the wicker people" that would have nothing to do with his place as holder of keys to the Kingdom of heaven nor his unique position of being able to open doors which none may close and close doors which none may open. –  Ignatius Theophorus Jan 13 '13 at 2:02
    
Further, papal succession is a subset of apostolic succession (which refers to the fact that all bishops share in the role of teaching and propagating doctrine). Read up on the history of the bishopric and you will learn that. –  Ignatius Theophorus Jan 13 '13 at 2:04
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Even as a non-Catholic who things the papal succession is un-biblical, I would suggest that this is a weak argument and that this Scripture text is not directly related in a way that would make it a primary proof text. –  Caleb Jan 13 '13 at 8:13
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You can read commentary by Calvin and others on this verse here: ccel.org/study/Matthew_23%3A9 . I agree with Calvin that one has to look at what Christ meant by this verse. The entire paragraph that Christ spoke was criticizing those who elevate themselves above other men. "And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled; and whosoever shall humble himself shall be exalted." While it's great when popes are humble, very often they are not. –  jcohen79 Jan 13 '13 at 8:41

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