When we were in Rome a few years ago we visited the Forum. It is the central area around which the ancient Roman civilization developed. It is located between the Palatine hill and the Capitoline hill. Situated on the northeastern slope of the Capitloine Hill is the Mamertine Prison (also known as Tullianum).
According to legend dating back to the 5th century, the apostle Peter was imprisoned there. Supposedly Peter caused a spring to miraculously well up in the prison so that he could baptize his fellow prisoners (some traditions say his jailers). Although the Catholic Encyclopedia admits there is no reliable evidence that Peter was ever imprisoned at Tullianum, the Catholic Church believes Peter was martyred at Rome. The Catholic Church also claims that Peter was the first bishop of Rome and the famous basilica bearing his name within Vatican City was built over his tomb.
There is no scriptural evidence that Peter ever set foot in Rome, in fact the scriptures would indicate otherwise. He certainly was not the first bishop of Rome (or pope). Since the Bible is our final authority let’s conduct a brief survey from its pages on these claims of the Catholic Church.
Paul wrote to the Romans, “Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation” (Rom. 15:20). If Peter had organized the church at Rome and had worked there, why would Paul want to preach there? No foundation (1 Cor. 3:11) had been laid in Rome. Nobody had preached there yet. Therefore, Peter had not been to Rome before Paul. The date of Romans is about A.D. 60, so about 27 years after Christ had been crucified, Peter had not made it to Rome.
In Paul’s concluding remarks to the Romans he wrote, “Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” (Rom. 16:7). Here are two apostles in Rome, and neither one was Simon Peter. You won’t ever hear any Catholic talk about Andronicus or Junia being apostles in Rome. Yet they were there, and they were mentioned by Paul when Peter wasn’t. Going back to our comment on Romans 15:20, how could there be apostles in Rome if Paul didn’t want to “build upon another man’s foundation.” The answer is found in Paul’s own experience. In Acts 16:6, Paul is in Asia Minor and he is forbidden by God to preach there. Obviously these two men were in a similar situation. They were in Rome but were not allowed by God to preach in Rome since that was the job that the Lord had chosen for Paul (Acts 23:11). If Peter was the first bishop of Rome then Paul forgot to greet or even acknowledge him in his epistle to that congregation. This is quite an oversight since Peter mentions Paul and recommends his writings as scripture in 2 Peter 3:15-16.
Peter wrote in his first epistle, “The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you” (1 Pet. 5:13). Kenneth Taylor’s The Living Bible, has changed every Greek manuscript extant by substituting the private Roman Catholic interpretation “Rome” for “Babylon.” However, the only place in Scripture where Rome is “Babylon” is in the Book of Revelation where it is in its mystery form (Rev. 17:5,9,18). Outside of Revelation, Babylon is always a reference to the city or the country of Mesopotamia. Either of those could be the case here. Peter is writing to Gentile believers in regions of the Roman Empire, not specific cities. If he meant the region of Babylon, there were Jews from that area who were saved at Pentecost (“the dwellers in Mesopotamia” – Acts 2:9). Of course, he could have meant the city of Babylon itself. It still existed in the first century, and it had a large Jewish population.
Peter’s ministry stretched from Corinth in the west (1 Cor. 1:12; 3:22; 9:5) to Babylon in the east. There is no indication, historically or scripturally, that Peter ever made it to Rome, much less became a bishop of the church there. The Roman Catholic apologist, Karl Keating, has propagated the idea that Peter’s bones (or his grave) were discovered under the Vatican in 1962. But what he has not disclosed is that two Roman Catholic priests, P.B. Bagatti and J.T. Milik, claimed to have discovered the bones of Simon Peter in an ossuary (a bone box) at the Mount of Olives, twelve feet away from the bones of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. All the ossuaries were clearly labeled in Aramaic, and Peter’s bore the name Shimon Bar Yonah: “Simon Barjona” (Matt. 16:17). That discovery was made in 1953 and published as Gli Scavi del Dominus Flevit in 1958. A man from Fort Wayne, Indiana named F. Paul Peterson, confirmed the discovery by visiting Jerusalem and interviewing the priests and viewing and photographing the ossuary. He published his account in 1960 as “Peter’s Tomb Recently Discovered in Jerusalem.” Why did the Catholic Church ignore this archaeological find? Because it was historical evidence available to anyone that the Bible was right and that Peter did not die in Rome or pastor in Rome or even visit Rome.
Peter was not the first pope. The Catholic view is that Peter is the chief of the apostles or “Prince of the Apostles.” In 1 Peter, the apostle does not elevate himself over any other apostle as he writes, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ” (1:1). Notice that he does not write “the apostle;” he counts himself as one of several apostles whom Jesus Christ chose (“an apostle”). Peter is merely “an elder” among “elders” (1 Pet. 5:1). When the leadership of the church meets to define a doctrine in Acts 15, Peter is not the “presiding elder;” he is merely one of the witnesses who gave his testimony. Peter is a Jewish bible teacher, not a “vicar of Christ” who sits on a golden throne wearing a papal crown while demanding respect, reverence, and obedience from the entire Body of Christ (1 Pet. 5:2-3). In the epistles of Simon Peter, it is “the word of God” that is the final authority, not tradition or any church (1 Pet. 1:23-25; 2:2; 2 Pet. 1:19-21; 3:16). In 1 Peter, Jesus Christ is the “Rock” on which the church is built, not Simon Peter (2:4-8). In 1 Peter, every saved person is a priest (2:9). In 1 Peter, the Pastor over all pastors is Jesus Christ (5:4) not the pope. Moreover, Peter acknowledges no office higher that that held by Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ is called “the chief Shepherd” (the word “pastor” means shepherd) and “Bishop of your souls” (2:25). There are no archbishops (one rank higher than Jesus Christ).
There are some basic differences between Peter and any Pope:
Simon Peter was married (Matt. 8:14; 1 Cor. 9:5). Popes don’t marry.
Simon Peter doesn’t “lord himself” over the flock (1 Pet. 5:3). He doesn’t sit on a throne in a mansion wearing a crown. Can you imagine Peter the commercial fisherman dressed up like the Pope?
Simon Peter doesn’t fool with literal sacrifices (the mass). The only sacrifices he recognizes are “spiritual” ones (1 Pet. 2:5).
Simon Peter doesn’t allow people to bow down to him (Acts 10:25,26). People bow to the Pope and kiss his ring as a symbol of submission.
Simon Peter was occasionally caught in heresy. Paul had to straighten out Peter’s doctrine in Galatians 2:11. A Pope thinks he is immune to doctrinal correction.
In summary, Peter wasn’t called to Rome. Peter didn’t write to the Romans. The scriptures never state that Peter was in Rome. Paul was the one called specifically by the resurrected Christ to go to Rome (Acts 23:11). To believe otherwise is to allow the traditions of men to usurp the authority of the Bible. God forbid.
“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” Colossians 2:8