The Catholic Church uses, for example, the following NT passages in support of its teaching on the primacy of Peter:

What is the biblical basis that argues against these passages as supporting the Catholic teaching on the primacy of Peter, and what others argue against the aforementioned Catholic teaching?

Related: What are the biblical arguments against the papacy and papal succession?

Background: This question was prompted by the comments exchange following this bruisedreed's answer.

  • @davidbrainerd Answer perhaps better suited for the related question I have referenced.
    – user13992
    Sep 23, 2014 at 2:15
  • I "moved" it over there. Sep 23, 2014 at 3:12
  • So just to clarify, you are making a distinction between the primacy of Peter and the institution of the Papacy as a whole? As far as I'm aware, "Catholic teaching on the primacy of Peter" explicitly includes the Papacy. There may not be many Protestants that actually argue against Peter's personal 'primacy' (leadership) in the early church (especially on the grounds of the John passage you've cited) - either this question seems a bit of a straw man, or a duplicate of the linked question. Sep 23, 2014 at 6:10
  • @bruisedreed This question arose in our comments exchange to this answer of yours so yes this question is making a distinction between the primacy of Peter and the institution of the Papacy as a whole. Please see davidbrainerd comments above and the answer he moved. According to him, Tertullian said Peter had primacy but it was non-transferable so that's an argument against the papacy but not Peter's primacy.
    – user13992
    Sep 23, 2014 at 6:25
  • @bruisedreed (cont.) If there are no arguments, then that's an answer you may wish to post if you want.
    – user13992
    Sep 23, 2014 at 6:27

3 Answers 3


The term 'Primacy of Peter' is primarily a Catholic term and comes highly loaded - in it's normal usage, it is inextricably linked to and fundamentally inseparable from the institution of the Papacy. It is worth noting that the original meaning of Primate is:

one first in authority or rank (source, emphasis added)

While Protestants generally do not deny that Peter was a principal leader in the early church and that Christ specifically gave him responsibility to shepherd the flock, for them to use the term 'Primacy of Peter' to describe this - given the Catholic use of the term - would be highly unusual, and probably a signal that they are looking to leave their current church polity, and submit themselves to the authority of the Bishop of Rome.

The Protestant view regarding the limitations of Peter's role really does hinge on the interpretation of the Matthew passage. Clearly a 'Rock' on which the Church will be built carries immense significance. As important as Peter was in the life of the early church, he eventually died and his legacy in terms of contribution to scriptural canon and role in establishing, nurturing and leading the early churches, seems much on a par with James ("the just", author of the epistle that bears his name, the Bishop of Jerusalem according to tradition, the "brother" of the Lord, not to be confused with either of the two James who were amongst the 12 disciples) and the Apostle John, and significantly less than that left by the Apostle Paul. From this, (ie with the benefit of hindsight) it doesn't seem that the significant terminology of the 'Rock on which I will build my church' accurately describes Peter's personal effect and ministry towards the early church: If the Rock is so important, it either must be pointing beyond the man to the actual role he supposedly embodied (ie a papal system of some kind), or be about something else again.

The case that the latter option should be preferred, is quite strong in consideration of the principle 'scripture interprets scripture': ie if we examine all the scriptures that speak to ecclesiological issues, do we see such a pivotal role as a pope (or a one-of-a-kind primate in Peter) given an important emphais? The answer is an emphatic no!

I will not reproduce all relevant scriptures, but will refer to one of the most significant in terms of this particular argument:

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. - Ephesians 2:19-21 NIV

This is clearly taking about the church and it's establishment. In my view, the only way for someone to interpret this particular passage as being consistent with a papacy or even 'the Primacy of Peter' is to employ eisegesis to twist the scripture. On the other hand, if we use this passage to help interpret Matthew 16:18 particularly noting that the Prophets gave revelation concerning the Christ to come, while the Apostles bore witness to him and using 'Christ as cornerstone' as a key to guide us, the interpretation of the confession of Jesus as the Christ being what is referred to as the rock is eminently preferable. In fact, this is the only valid choice to be made if we are operating on the basis of harmonizing scripture.

A final scripture reference to refute the concept of a Primate as being compatible with biblical ecclesiology:

25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” - Matthew 20:25-28 NIV

As soon as you start naming someone as a 'Primate', you are transgressing this instruction, which is why the early Bishops of Rome were loathe to adopt the formula regarding their office that was used by later successors:

"I say it without the least hesitation, whoever calls himself the universal bishop, or desires this title, is, by his pride, the precursor of Antichrist, because he thus attempts to raise himself above the others. The error into which he falls springs from pride equal to that of Antichrist; for as that Wicked One wished to be regarded as exalted above other men, like a god, so likewise whoever would be called sole bishop exalteth himself above others....You know it, my brother; hath not the venerable Council of Chalcedon conferred the honorary title of 'universal' upon the bishops of this Apostolic See [Rome], whereof I am, by God's will, the servant? And yet none of us hath permitted this title to be given to him; none hath assumed this bold title, lest by assuming a special distinction in the dignity of the episcopate, we should seem to refuse it to all the brethren." - Pope Gregory 'the Great' - see related question.


What is the biblical basis for the argument against the Catholic teaching on the primacy of Peter?

Matthew 16:17-19 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. 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. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Much has been made of the "Peter" (petros -piece of rock) and "rock" (petra - massive rock). However, I see the rock as being the faith that Jesus was commending of Peter in the previous verse. We know from the Bible that no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draw him. I see Jesus referring to this faith that results from the Father's drawing as the massive rock.

An alternative translation of this verse is "You are Peter and on this the rock I shall be home building of me the out called."

The keys verse also benefits from a more accurate translation.

Matthew 16:19 I shall give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth , shall have been already bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth , shall have already been loosed in heaven . - Weust

It sounds like in the KJV that Peter is being given great powers to declare rules for heaven and earth. However, when a more correct interpretation is given to the verbs we see a picture of a great responsibility. We see this applied in Acts;

Acts 15:1321 And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.

Here James is exercising the power of binding and loosening. When faced with the conundrum of gentiles becoming Christian, he declares the rules that are to be followed are those for the gentile sojourners given in Leviticus.

There are many verses upon which a case can be built. Here is just one other;

Galatians 2:7 But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter;


Protestants believe Peter was a leader amoung the apostles and may have been the leader, however, in the authority structure of the church, as it appears in the NT, he never seems to have ultimate say, and nowhere is it written that the other leaders in the church looked to him only for any final word on things, although his word was respected and accepted, so was the word of the others, ie. in Jerusalem, James, later, Paul.

Protestants see the NT emphasis is on the truth being revealed and confirmed, and not necessarily on who revealed and confirmed it having any 'special' place or position.

However, after having been exposed to Catholic ideas on some things I realize we as Protestants have as equal a chance at being wrong about things, as do Catholics.

The bottom line for Evangelical Protestant believers is that the Christian believer have the new birth into Christ, post baby baptism (meaning if baptized as an infant, that the adult choose to make sure they are born again of the Spirit of God and are following the Holy Spirit in the Christian life.)

Babies are not accountable before God, but adults are.(yes, it is reasonable to assume babies and other children were baptized into Christ in the NT church when whole households were baptized, however, infants were not the usual baptis=ees)

  • 1
    Thank you. Any biblical passages to support this answer?
    – user13992
    Sep 27, 2014 at 18:41

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