Rome versus the Bible Series - #3

The False Authority Claimed by the Roman Catholic Religion

Table of Contents


One of the primary arguments upon which Roman Catholic apologists will rely is to demand that others recognize and acknowledge the authority of the Roman Catholic religion as an institution. Catholics will accuse Baptists and Protestants of being "schismatic" and "lawless" for refusing to recognize the authority of Rome. Though Rome has spent the better part of fifteen centuries perfecting its claims, a thorough examination of its arguments shows that these contentions are built upon sand. Below, the major arguments employed by Rome in defense of her authority are addressed and refuted by appeal to the Scriptures, and also to the witness of Christian history.

Original Authority - The Bible Takes Precedence Over the Church and Tradition

The very word "authority" presupposes an "author," a source from whence power and the right to exercise that power are derived. It has long been held by the Roman Catholic religion that within itself, in the offices of the Pope and the Magisterium, is the authority that must be obeyed by all Christians. As part of this claim, Rome supposes to establish its authority over the Bible, God's Word, as well. Yet, to make this claim, Rome ultimately needs to base itself upon the Bible. Without the passages of Scripture which Rome uses to try to prove its position of authority over Christians, there would be no basis for such a claim at all. Both, however, cannot be the source of authority, so which is it - the hierarchy or the Bible?

The answer must be the Bible. The precognition of origin demands that the Word of God take precedence over the organization of man into bodies instituted by God, for without that Word, there would be no guidelines for said organization. The churches, whatever their constitution, would not exist except that they were instituted and ordered by the Word made flesh who dwelt among us, nor would they have any mandate but for His commandments given to them as to their mission in the world and their conduct in their assemblies. Without the inspired Scriptures, there would be no Matthew 16:18 or I Timothy 3:15 for Rome to even use to attempt to justify itself. Before man was created, the Word of God (He who was revelation to man in the flesh, and of the same Spirit as inspired the Scriptures) made and ordered the universe and all the habitations into which man later would be placed. Christ also said that the house of the wise man must be built upon the immovable rock of His sayings. The Word of God, the Scriptures which God has said He has magnified above all His Name, are from God Himself, God-breathed (theopneustos - qeopneusto$) to the inspired writers of Scripture, thus their origin is God Himself. The potter has power over the clay. Likewise, God through His Word and by right of origination has power over the churches.

It is a most fitting thing that Irenaeus said,

"It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the "pillar and ground" of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh."1

As he asserts, so it remains today - the Gospel, the words of God revealed to man, which in its fullness means the entirety of the Word of God, is the pillar upon which the churches rest.

Yet, the Catholic religion maintains that both Scripture and Tradition, by which is meant the traditions of Catholicism, are authoritative.2 Further, the Catechism says this,

"...two distinct modes of transmission
"Sacred Scripture" is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit."
"And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound, and spread it abroad by their preaching."3

The Scriptures are not enough, one also needs the Traditions of the Church to fully know the truth revealed by God, or so Rome teaches. These traditions, of course, go beyond what is taught in the text of the Scriptures. However, when considered in juxtaposition to the Scriptures themselves, this position is not only unscriptural, but illogical to boot. The Catechism states that Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God entrusted to the Apostles. On the basis of this, Catholic theologians point to this verse for Scriptural support,

"Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle." (II Thessalonians 2:15)

Logically speaking, if the Tradition of the Church really transmits the entirety of what was delivered to the Apostles, then there can be no contradiction between the written Word and the Traditions. What is taught "whether by word, or our epistle" will not be incongruous. However, the very fact that Rome considers the Traditions to be additional to the Scriptures, and that this additional teaching is both authoritative and needed for the Christian to be perfected, is itself a position in contradiction to the Scripture which says,

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." (II Timothy 3:16-17)

Catholic apologists will rebut this verse by pointing out that the merely passage says the Scriptures are profitable, as if to assert that this implies they are not completely and solely authoritative. However, these same apologists ignore the part that says that the Scriptures are able to make the man of God perfect, that by them he may be throughly furnished unto all good works. The Scriptures are all that are needed to make a person complete and renewed (the idea of artios - artio$ translated as "perfect") in Christ, throughly, completely, and fully furnishing them to ALL good works, for ALL service fitting and acceptable to God. Or, as James tells us, the Scriptures are the perfect law of liberty, the engrafted word which is able to save, to sanctify fully and completely, our souls (cf. James 1:21,25).

Hence, if the Scriptures are able to make a Christian fully and completely fit for service, in every area of life whether doctrine or correction or instruction, what need is there then for any Tradition which may add to this Scripture? There is none, and thus, the Catechism is in logical contradiction to the plain statement of the Scriptures. Further, the Scriptures themselves warn against adding anything to them (which, by claiming equal authority for augmentative Church Traditions, Rome would be doing). In Revelation 22:18-19 it says,

"For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book."

Now, it is commonly understood that John was not writing ONLY about adding to or taking away from the Apocalypse, but rather was speaking of the whole of the Word of God, as his final book was the closing of the inspired Scripture being given to man in that age. This view was held by some of Rome's most revered Church Fathers, as well. Irenaeus quotes this passage as a warning of the woe that comes to someone adding a teaching which is not found in the Scripture (not just in Revelation, as his context indicates).4 Tertullian is also quite clear as to his meaning when he says,

"'In the beginning,' then, 'God made the heaven and the earth.' I revere the fulness of His Scripture, in which He manifests to me both the Creator and the creation. In the gospel, moreover, I discover a Minister and Witness of the Creator, even His Word. But whether all things were made out of any underlying Matter, I have as yet failed anywhere to find. Where such a statement is written, Hermogenes' shop must tell us. If it is nowhere written, then let it fear the woe which impends on all who add to or take away from the written word."5

Hence, these doctors of Christianity are in accord with those even today who teach the inviolability of ALL the Scriptures as is taught from Revelation 22:18-19.

Thus, if the Scriptures themselves say that they are all a Christian needs to be wise unto salvation and completely prepared for every service to God, what need is there of Tradition, as found in the paragraph from the Catechism which is thus contradicted by the Scripture itself? If the dyarchy of Scripture and Tradition is confounded by the plain statement of Scripture itself, then how much less foundation does Tradition have to stand upon when Tradition is used to propound a whole set of "apostolic" doctrines, such as transubstantiation or the immaculate conception of Mary, which are in contradiction to Scripture, and which do not even find expression in the earliest years of Christianity, only having gradually filtered in as innovations in the intervening centuries?

Traditions as handed down from the Apostles to their successors, and on down the line, are very needful. But, these traditions are the Scriptures themselves, as were revealed through the hands of the Apostles and their compatriots, and the teachings derived only from the Word. When Paul wrote to Timothy these words...

"And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." (II Timothy 2:2)

...he was urging Timothy to pass on the true doctrines, derived from the Scriptures, that he had learned from Paul the Apostle. This is amplified later in this same epistle,

"But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." (II Timothy 3:14-15)

Again, Paul exhorts Timothy to continue in the things that he has been taught - presumably the "traditions" spoken of elsewhere. However, the connective "and" joins the two clauses in this passage. The "things" Timothy is to continue in are based upon what he had learned from the Scriptures even as he was a child growing up. Timothy was to continue in the traditions based upon the Scriptures. This suggests that if Christians are to act on "tradition", it is tradition which is derived from (and ultimately judged BY) the Scriptures themselves.

When the churches are said to be the pillar and ground of the truth, this then is the clear mandate of the churches - to teach, keep, and guard the Scriptures from error or innovation. This fact, and the subsequent lesson that the sub-apostolic writers understood that the churches were to guard against innovation (thus, rendering void the practical outflow of Rome's teaching on Tradition), are again exemplified by Irenaeus, who says,

"But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth."6

He says that the succession of presbyters, or elders, in the churches was to work to PRESERVE the tradition which originates with the Apostles, again pointing us back to the Scriptures which Paul said were able to fully and complete outfit the Christian servant to God's work. The entirety of Irenaeus' five-volume work against various heresies deals with these innovations from a Scriptural standpoint. When he deals with a heresy, he calls against it the pertinent Scriptures, not the opinions of learned theologians or ecclesiastical pronouncement. Irenaeus, and the other earliest patristics, knew no "tradition" other than the Scriptural teachings handed down to them from the Apostles, whom many of them knew first-hand. Indeed, Irenaeus seems to speak of people like the Catholic theologians who assert that the Scriptures are not enough, but must be augmented with the traditions as handed down by the hierarchy,

"We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed 'perfect knowledge,' as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles."7

And elsewhere,

"When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and [assert] that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition. For [they allege] that the truth was not delivered by means of written documents, but vivā voce: wherefore also Paul declared, "But we speak wisdom among those that are perfect, but not the wisdom of this world."8

Even the seeming emphasis which writers such as Irenaeus and Tertullian put on the succession of bishops from the Apostles (the basis for the Catholic assertion of "apostolic succession", by which theological innovation has been introduced for centuries) ultimately exists not because these writers wanted to argue for a universal church or for greater authority for the successors of the Apostles. Rather, these writers were responding to the invention of heresies that were contrary to the Scriptures, being propagated by heresiarchs claiming to have the authority of Christian leaders. Irenaeus and Tertullian make so much of being able to trace back successions of bishops to the apostolic churches and the Apostles because they want to establish the purity of doctrine of the true churches, not because they want to establish a claim to authority for certain successors. Their purpose was to establish authenticity, not authority, and this authenticity was based on the notion that Scriptural doctrine would be handed down from bishop to bishop, originating with the Apostles. That which was authentic, as the context for the "apostolic succession" passages by these writers shows, was that which was Scriptural.

Hence, if the Catholic theologians or apologists are to try to convincingly make an argument for any aspect of Roman theology, they must necessarily rely upon the Scriptures to do so, for no tradition aside from the Scriptural teaching is of any authority OR authenticity, as both the Scriptures and the early witnesses inform. Indeed, Irenaeus, a patristic upon whom Rome often relies to give support to her doctrines, presents the apostles themselves (not their successors, real or otherwise) as having obtained and passed on all the wisdom the churches needed. To Irenaeus, there could be no lawful "improvers upon the apostles", no tradition handed down apart from those of the Scriptures. If, as Irenaeus rightly said, the gospel is the pillar and ground of the Christian's faith, what place does Rome have to claim authority by tradition and hierarchy, over the faith of believers?

But then, the Catholic apologist or theologian might ask, was not the authority, even to determine what is and is not the Bible, delegated to the Church? After all, didn't Jesus say that whatever Peter and the Apostles bound or loosed on earth would be bound or loosed in heaven? Does not I Timothy 3:15 say that the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth? Church history records, in contravention to Rome's claim that it "established" the canon at the Council of Carthage in 397 AD, that both the Old Testament and the New Testament were well and widely established among the individual churches long before this Council. Nevertheless, before it can be clearly seen to whom the preservation and care of God's Word has been entrusted, it must be seen what exactly is meant by the term "church" when it appears in the New Testament. We have seen that the Scriptures originated with God, and hence the stewardship of them is given by His authority. Now let us see to whom this stewardship is given.

What Exactly IS "the Church"?

The first thing that needs to be understood about the term "church" is that it is, essentially, a LOCAL term. The word in the Greek is ekklesia - ekklhsia. This word refers to an assembly or group of people called out from within a larger group of people. In the New Testament, in addition to its use with respect to assemblies of Christians, it is also is used three times in Acts 19, where it is translated as "assembly", to denote the gathering of the chief citizens of Ephesus. In secular literature, ekklesia is used often, indicating a gathering of prominent citizens for political or other purposes.9

By virtue of the plain and common meaning of ekklesia, and from the contexts of the passages, it is apparent that the majority of times in which this word appears in the Bible, the entity in view is a LOCAL assembly, a LOCAL church of believers. Even on the occasions where this meaning is not contextually indicated, the idea of a worldwide community of believers, all under the allegiance of a single head, is never indicated.10 In fact, the only time when the New Testament makes a reference to a church containing all believers is in Hebrews 12:23, where the saints of all ages are brought together for convocation in heaven. The meaning of the word alone denies the ecclesiology of Catholicism (as well as most of Protestantism).

Likewise, because ekklesia (a compound word essentially meaning "called out from") indicates the drawing out of a group from a larger body (in this case, Christians from the world), it stands to reason that any notion of a universal, worldwide or nationwide religious body ideally containing all people, a "Christian commonwealth" so to speak, is unscriptural. The Bible makes clear that not many will be chosen, not many will find the narrow path that leads to salvation. These scriptures only make sense in the context of blood-washed called-out local assemblies of believers. The "church", by the context and meaning of ekklesia, cannot include all people in a region, nation, etc. who have been "initiated" into it from birth. It can only include a smaller sub-set, those called out into its membership, just as a civic council in a Greek city-state was drawn from the larger body of the citizens.

The Roman Catholic religion does indicate a partial understanding of this concept, as can be seen in the Catechism,

"The phrase 'particular church,' which is the diocese (or eparchy), refers to a community of the Christian faithful in communion of faith and sacraments with their bishop ordained in apostolic succession. These particular Churches 'are constituted after the model of the universal Church; it is in these and formed out of them that the one and unique Catholic Church exists.'"11

This still fails to reconcile with the plain meaning and context of the references to local churches in the New Testament. The Catholic explanation suggests that over the universal Church there is a bishop (i.e. the Pope) just as over each individual body there is a bishop. As will be seen below, the primacy of the Roman bishop is not supported by the bulk of the early Christian writers. The fundamental difference then between the Catholic and the Biblical view of the churches is not so much the idea of individual church polity, per se, but rather whether these individual assemblies are under the authority of a higher hierarchal organization. Are local churches independent of each other in authority and administration, or are they beholden to each other and to religious authorities further up the hierarchical ladder? The balance of testimony concerning the "Church", as we shall see below, supports the view of the church as an independent, local body of Christians which are not under greater organizational constraints or administration. The "Church" is not, functionally, a universal organization encompassing all of "Christendom" or all the people of a region, diocese, nation, etc.

So does the New Testament bear out this meaning? Yes it does. On several occasions, it is indicated that there are multiple churches in a region, such as the churches of Galatia, churches of Asia, and the churches of Macedonia. Instructions given to churches were individualized, dealing with particular sins within a local assembly. Individual members of these churches were greeted by the Apostles by name. The allusions to the church as a body, whose members support each other, comfort each other, etc. only make sense when considered as a local body of people who actually know each other and are even in a position to be able to carry out these duties.

The early Christian writers also indicate this view of the church. Some Catholic apologists will point to a statement attributed to Ignatius in support of the "universal church" position,

"Since, also, there is but one unbegotten Being, God, even the Father; and one only-begotten Son, God, the Word and man; and one Comforter, the Spirit of truth; and also one preaching, and one faith, and one baptism; and one Church which the holy apostles established from one end of the earth to the other by the blood of Christ...."12

This passage, like the rest of the extended passages added to Ignatius' letters, is almost universally held by scholars to be a late addition, tacked on to bring Ignatius' unwitting authority to later theological debates. In the authentic portions of Ignatius' letters, he deals with bishops and churches as local entities. For example,

"Let no man deceive himself: if any one be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God. For if the prayer of one or two possesses such power, how much more that of the bishop and the whole Church! He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself."13

How else but in a local church context would any reasonable person interpret this? Ignatius alludes to the very definite establishment of the local church in Matthew 18, and clearly indicates the "church" as a body that assembles. The "whole Church" is the combined assembly of the Ephesians' local body of believers, as opposed to the one or two praying members, and the bishop is the pastor over that local church. Ignatius elsewhere specifically indicates "churches" as being bodies both locally situated and distinct one from another geographically.14

In the Didache, an instructional work assembled in the latter years of the first century AD and attributed by some to the Apostles, a commandment is given concerning bishops,

"Appoint, therefore, for yourselves, bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men meek, and not lovers of money, and truthful and proved; for they also render to you the service of prophets and teachers. Therefore do not despise them, for they are your honored ones, together with the prophets and teachers."15

The context set for this in this work is that of the local church, here treated in a synecdochic fashion. In chapter 4, the Didache had already instructed, "In the church you shall acknowledge your transgressions, and you shall not come near for your prayer with an evil conscience." This commandment only makes sense in a local church setting. How, especially given the technology of that day, was a Christian to acknowledge their transgressions in the church (indicating public confession and repentance) if by "church" is meant the universal body of believers? The commandment in chapter 15 to appoint for themselves bishops and deacons logically applies to local bodies of believers. It was a local church who was viewed (per Matthew 18:18-20) as having the authority to determine who would be the pastors and deacons for their assembly.

The Didache does at certain points use language suggesting a "universal" sense of the term "church", but the context for this usage is that which alludes to the ingathering and assembling of all believers, taught in Matthew 24:31 and Hebrews 12:23,

"Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom; for Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever."16

Tertullian's view seems to be similar in that he also treats the "church" functionally at the local level, while yet viewing the Church universally in the final gathering together of all the saints to the Lord. In his treatise on baptism, Tertullian quotes Ephesians 4:4-6, but does so inexactly,

"I know not whether any further point is mooted to bring baptism into controversy. Permit me to call to mind what I have omitted above, lest I seem to break off the train of impending thoughts in the middle. There is to us one, and but one, baptism; as well according to the Lord's gospel as according to the apostle's letters, inasmuch as he says, 'One God, and one baptism, and one church in the heavens.'"17

Now, Paul's letter does not say "in the heavens". This emendation then most likely represents Tertullian's particular belief on the subject. This unity of the Church is that which is in heaven, not any unity, at least of a functional or hierarchical sort, on earth. Tertullian on numerous occasions referred to churches in the plural.18 These churches are clearly understood in the local sense. This is shown below,

"There are also provincial crowns of gold, needing now the larger heads of images instead of those of men. But your orders, and your magistracies, and your very place of meeting, the church, are Christ's. You belong to Him, for you have been enrolled in the books of life. There the blood of the Lord serves for your purple robe, and your broad stripe is His own cross; there the axe is already laid to the trunk of the tree; there is the branch out of the root of Jesse...."19

The church, then, is the place of meeting for the particular group of Christians to whom Tertullian is writing the letter. To support that he means "the Church" universally makes no sense in context. He elsewhere shows the same local church tendencies when he refers to the "church" as coming in place of the synagogue (another word whose literal meaning means "an assembly").20 Likewise, Tertullian affirms the biblical teaching that a pastor, whom he specifically states is over a church, should not marry a second time after his wife dies, as this would introduce indiscipline into the church.21 Certainly, this whole line of teaching confutes Rome's view of the papacy, and its literal sense and context argues for application to a local church. Tertullian, in this paragraph, proceeds to apply the teaching for a local church generally through synecdoche. Indeed, that this was Tertullian's ecclesiology seems to be argued by his somewhat strange statement concerning "universal churches",

"Besides, throughout the provinces of Greece there are held in definite localities those councils gathered out of the universal Churches, by whose means not only all the deeper questions are handled for the common benefit, but the actual representation of the whole Christian name is celebrated with great veneration."22

Universal churches? This seemingly contradictory statement is elucidated by its immediate context. Each of these obviously local churches is "universal" in the sense that it shares a common faith with the other assembled bodies, such that the representatives which each local church sent to these councils were "representations" of the whole Christian name. This exemplifies the synecdoche of Tertullian and many of the other ante-Nicene patristic writers with respect to what the "church" is.

Other patristics also align this way. Irenaeus shows this,

"As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world."23

The "Church" is scattered throughout the whole world, and each part, no matter where they reside, holds to this faith. The unity is not in hierarchy or in administration, but in a common faith passed from bishop to bishop, church to church, Christian to convert. Irenaeus clearly understands "church" in its natural usage to be a local body, for he mentions that Cerdon would come frequently into "the church" to make public confession.24 Did this man come into the midst of a worldwide body to make his peace? Of course not. Polycarp's use of "church" indicates a local sense.25 Theophilus of Antioch explicitly defines "churches" (plural) as "assemblies."26 Clement of Alexandria also treats churches as multiple and independent.27 Clement (who ruled only in Alexandria) even refers to himself and other bishops who preside over "the churches" as individual shepherds, each accountable to the "great Shepherd", the Lord, with nary a mention of any intervening hierarchy.28

From this representative survey of the ante-Nicene Christian writers, it becomes apparent that there was little to no understanding among them of a universal church in the sense of a top-down hierarchy, ruling from a "mother church", all giving fealty to a single bishop who heads the whole organization. When they refer to the "Church", they either specify that they are referring to the general assembly of the firstborn in heaven (Hebrews 12:23), or else they use the term in a representative manner, viewing churches locally, but willing to teach a single church in a manner applicable to any body of believers holding to the faith once delivered. Indeed, one finds little actual evidence for a "Catholic Church" in the sense meant by Roman Catholic theology until the later Latin writers of Ambrose and Augustine's day are encountered. It seems likely that these later writers, who by and large were not familiar with the Greek language, and relying upon Latin translations of the Scriptures, were unaware of the full force and meaning of ekklesia in the Greek. This, plus the centralizing tendencies introduced by the establishment of Christianity as the state religion of the Empire by Constantine and the development of caesaropapism under the that Emperor and his successors, very well could have resulted in the tendency to subordinate local assemblies, with their differences in practice or doctrines in some areas, to the dominating force of the Church Imperial.

This brings us to an answer to the earlier question. If the churches are local, as both the plain and contextual usage in both the Scriptures and also these early patristics indicates, then it obviously follows that "the pillar and ground of the truth" which has been given the task of keeping and guarding God's words are the local churches. Separated as they are by space and time, yet guided (John 14:26) by the Spirit of Christ whom the Lord promised would be with an assembly of even two or three believers (Matthew 18:20), these local assemblies of God's people have been tasked with the protection and preservation of the words of God, both in their "tradition" as teaching, and in the very words of the texts themselves. It is through the local church that God keeps His promise to preserve the very words of Scripture (c.f. Psalm 12:6-7) and it is through the local church that the truth of the Gospel is spread in communities near and in regions afar.

What About the Apostles?

If the "church" is a local assembly of believers, then it follows that the bishops set over churches are not ecclesiastical hierarchs who rule a region or "diocese" (note: itself a later Roman political term). They are, instead, the pastor-shepherds over these same local assemblies of believers. The authority which the Bible extends to the bishop in the New Testament is held by the pastor of a local church whose membership is called-out from all the people of their particular area. And, as the Bible is silent on any authority in the churches besides the pastor/bishop/elder (aside from the Apostles), we see that there is no higher earthly authority in Christianity than the local church pastor.

What then of the apostolic authority that Rome claims to itself, held to be granted by the handing down of apostolicity through the bishops over the whole Church? Indeed, the Bible does indicate that pastoral authority is handed from bishop to bishop, and that this began with the Apostles and those who worked with them in the first missionary endeavors. Paul and Barnabas placed men in charge of the churches that began from the first missionary journey through Asia Minor,

"And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed." (Acts 14:23)

Elsewhere, we see this power of ordination being passed on by those who were not Apostles - by Titus,

"For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee:" (Titus 1:5)

And by Timothy, who was both ordained by the laying on of hands (I Timothy 4:14), and evidently had the power to ordain other men to the pastoral service (e.g. I Timothy 5:22, where he is warned against promoting a man too quickly to the ministry). Traditional history says that Mark (who was not an Apostle) was the first to evangelize Egypt, and was responsible for starting the churches in that land, including the church at Alexandria. Church history shows this continued on after the Apostles had passed from the scene, with bishops ordaining bishops to replace men who had died, or to fill the pastorate of new churches. As it stands, this would be nothing with which either a Catholic or a Baptist would disagree. But, the question must be asked - does this power of the bishop entail "Apostolic authority", as Rome understands it? Did the men ordained by the Apostles to be bishops inherit the same authority and position as the Apostles? What even IS so special or different about the Apostles versus other Christians?

To begin, it is abundantly clear from the Scriptures that not just anybody could be an Apostle. An Apostle only held this position by fulfilling two criteria. First, he had personally seen the Lord Jesus after His resurrection (cf. Acts 1:21-22). Second, he had been personally chosen by the Lord Jesus to the ministry. All the twelve, as well as Paul, had direct personal encounters with the risen Christ. All had been chosen by the Lord to serve in the ministry of the Gospel. Even Matthias, who was chosen by lot to fill the space left by the departure of Judas, was specially chosen by providential choice when the other Apostles prayerfully sought God's will and cast the lot in Acts 1:26 (cf. Prov. 16:33). As such, we see that after the departure of the Apostle John to receive his eternal reward, there could not possibly be any Apostles. Hence, the specific embodiment of apostolic authority - Apostles themselves - is completely out of the question after around 100 AD or so. That this was understood as the prerequisite for apostleship seems to be shown in the 2nd century by Irenaeus, who says this,

"But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna...."29

Does the commissioning of bishops by the apostles, and the subsequent ordinance of other bishops on down the line constitute Apostolic authority as Rome understands it? This does not seem to be the case. Instead, we see that such authority comes not from men, but from the local church. Before Paul could carry out the work which Scripture records as God's calling for his life, he had to be ordained and commissioned for this work by the church at Antioch. Thus, though he was an Apostle, and did have certain rights and prerogatives which were to extend across all the churches, he still had to be ordained for the work BY the officials of the local church at Antioch (Acts 13:1-3). There was not even any consultation with the founding church in Jerusalem. The authority derived from the local assembly of the believers, not from some greater authority (aside from the Lord) imposing itself upon them. Likewise, we see that the church in Jerusalem, during the council recorded in Acts 15, the ultimate authority for issuing the final pronouncement on the matter was held not by an Apostle, but from the pastor of the church, James the brother of Jesus. Thus, we see that, in some sense, the Apostles even were subject to the authority of the bishop and leadership of the local church. This makes sense when we consider the meaning of the word "Apostle". It is a word transliterated from the Greek (apostolos, ajpostolo$), and indicates a messenger, a delegate, or someone who is commissioned to represent someone else.30 This, indeed, was the role of the Apostles. They carried the Gospel to a goodly share of the known world in their own lifetimes, having been specifically delegated and commissioned for the task at the special behest of the Lord, having the pre-eminence in this office due to their specific visual witness of the risen Savior. Their business was NOT to rule over the churches either in aggregate or separately, except for such cases (as seen in the example of Paul), where the Apostle was in the process of preaching the Gospel in a city and organizing a church of the believers who had been saved. Hence, the apostolic authority that Rome claims for itself does not even entail, either Scripturally or philologically, the rulership over either churches or their bishops.

From this we can see that, if the apostles even were subordinate to local church pastors with regards to local church affairs, then there were no others who exercise authority over local churches in any sort of a hierarchy supposedly based upon the successors of the Apostles. The hierarchy built up by the Roman Catholic religion (and indeed, by many Protestant denominations), is nowhere to be found in the Scriptures. Indeed, if the truth be told, it is nowhere to be found in the history of Christianity for its first couple of centuries, as will be explored below when the issue of the supposed primacy of the Roman church is considered. There WAS, of course, the passing on of the truth of the faith from bishop to bishop, from church to church, as churches were started and bishops trained and ordained. These, as we saw above, were the traditions which the Bible commends, based upon the truth found in the Scriptures. There was the passing on of authority from bishop to bishop. This transmission, however, was horizontal, between men of the same authority ordaining to the Gospel ministry other men who then had equal authority. This bishopral authority was not handed down on high from any "successors of the Apostles" who held some sort of pretended apostolic authority over the separate churches.

So, while it is true that the Scriptures, and also the early Christians writers, indicate a succession of pastoral responsibility from pastor to pastor, it is not at all apparent that these men had any sort of authority over any body but the particular local church over which each was bishop. Irenaeus is often pointed to by Catholic apologists as a proponent of apostolic authority. However, even the Catechism31 notes from Irenaeus' own words32 that what was passed on was the teaching authority of the Apostles, not any sort of supra-church governing authority, an authority which we have seen did not exist in the first place. And though the Catechism tries to argue that this teaching authority entailed both the passing on of Scriptural truth and Tradition as perpetuated by the Church, we have seen above that the Apostles HAD no traditions aside from those which were deposited in the Scriptures.

Regarding apostolic authority, it is important to note what II Corinthians 1:24 says,

"Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand."

The word translated as "dominion" is kurieuo - kurieuw - and means "to have or exercise lordship over". The context for this verse is in Paul's explanation to the Corinthians for his slowness in coming to them again. He desired that his admonitions to them (from the previous letter) would be taken to heart and acted upon. He fortifies the doctrinal authority of what he had written and taught to them by appealing to the witness of the Spirit and to the truthfulness of God's Word. But, Paul pointedly says that he did not have dominion over their faith, to command them to believe certain doctrines. His role was as teacher and helper, not as a lord. His authority as an apostle lay in that he was the conduit through whom the doctrines of God's Word came to the churches and was taught. Paul did not have a domineering authority over the churches. Indeed, even though he could exhort and admonish churches, give authoritative teaching to the churches, and even deliver God's judgment against individual members who refused to be restored to the church by spiritually turning them over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, he made no effort to step in and assume administrative or monarchial authority over the Corinthian church.

Likewise, concerning the authority passed down to the pastor/bishops to follow after the apostles, we see (I Peter 5:3) that their authority, supposedly apostolic according to Rome, did not entail acting as lords over the people of God, as Rome has done throughout its history. Instead, these pastors were to act as shepherds and as teachers to the people of God. Their responsibility was, and is, TO the people of the local church over which they are set. Moreover, some aspects of the functioning of the church fall to the authority of the church body as a whole,

"Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:15-20)

It is important to keep in mind that when discussing the authority to bind and loose, this authority is given to the CHURCH, not just to Peter or to the Apostles. These words were directed to the whole body of his disciples, the Twelve, and also the rest who followed Him, all of whom were addressed here. Hence, this apostolic authority claimed by Rome, this authority over the disposition, teaching, and function of the church, is in actuality given to each individual pastor over a local church, and to a lesser extent as defined in Matthew 18 to the church body as a whole. When the passages in Matthew upon which Rome relies for her authority are examined in their various contexts, the doctrine that they give monarchial power to bishops and authority only to a hierarchy ceases to be a reasonable proposition.

Matthew 16:18 - Is Peter the Rock?

Salutary to the claim of the Roman Catholic religion to apostolic authority with the Pope as head of the Church is the interpretation of Matthew 16:18 which is employed by Rome. This is best exemplified in the Catechism,

"The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the 'rock' of his Church, He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock. 'The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles united to its head.' This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church's very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope."33

All of this is based upon the statement that Peter is the Rock upon which Christ was to build His Church. However, is this really what Matthew 16:18 is saying? Indeed, it is not, as the Greek behind the verse indicates. What we see in the Greek text of Matthew 16:18 is actually a play on words on the part of Jesus, one which hearkens back to an earlier parable given by the Lord, and one which Peter, later in his life, seems to fully recognise as emphasizing that Christ is the foundation upon which the Church is built, not Peter himself.

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus says, "And I say unto thee, that thou art Peter (petros, petro$), and upon this rock (petra, petra) will I build my church.... The play on words is seen in Jesus' use of the masculine form to describe Peter, and his use of the feminine form to describe the rock on which the churches were to be built. This is important, for the masculine form of the word for "rock" describes a small stone or pebble. The feminine form indicates a huge rock ledge or foundational stone, and is often used to describe stony mountains.

In secular Greek literature, this difference is shown clearly enough. Petro$ is used, for example, by Apollodorus to describe the stones being thrown by the inhabitants of an island to hold off besieging Greeks.34 Xenophon likewise uses it to denote rocks that were being thrown down upon a besieging enemy by the people of a town.35 Euripides employs it to describe smallish rocks that help upset a chariot that was running over them.36 In each of these, the petroi in question are definitely small rocks, light and compact enough to be manipulated by a person. Even in a place in the literature where petros would conceivably describe a large rock, the term is used for literary effect.37

Regarding petra, uses in the secular Greek literature are typified by those such as Strabo's to describe the Nymphaeum, a mountain near Apollonia which was famed for "emitting fire" and producing asphalt out its sides.38 Pausanias uses it to indicate a huge rock crag that was part of a mountain,39 Xenophon has it denoting rock abutments which were part of a mountain and large enough to be honeycombed with caverns,40 and Josephus uses the term to describe the rock Etam upon which Samson dwelt after smiting the Philistines hip and thigh in Judges 15:8.41 This "rock" in the Hebrew of Judges 15:8 is a word (cela, ul^s#) describing essentially what petra does - a large craggy rock, though the Hebrew term can also indicate a fortress. At any rate, Etam was large enough to accommodate 3,000 Judahites who wanted to apprehend Samson (Judges 15:11).

In the New Testament, petra is used for the "rocks" which the inhabitants of the earth at the time of the tribulational judgments will seek to hide in (Revelation 6:17-18). It also used for the rock bearing the hewn tomb in which Jesus was lain after His death on the cross (Matthew 27:59). Significantly, it is also used in several passages to describe "rocks" which are used figuratively for Christ. It denotes the spiritual Rock which followed Israel in the desert, specifically said to be Christ by Paul (I Corinthians 10:4). Twice petra is used in reference to the rock of offence upon which Israel stumbled, also understood to be Christ (Romans 9:33, I Peter 2:8). And significant to what was said above, petra also is used to describe the rock upon which the wise man builds his house in Matthew 7:25 in Christ's parable. Jesus explicitly stated that building on this rock, this immovable foundational stone, was the spiritual result of hearing and doing His sayings.

Thus, we can clearly see that when Christ differentiated between petros and petra, the practical result of a plain understanding of the Greek is that Peter is NOT the rock upon which the churches were to be built. So what is the rock? Well, as the other uses of petra in the New Testament show, Christ Himself and His sayings (which, in a sense, can be considered synonymous due to Christ's being the Word) are the rock upon which the churches were to be built. Peter's great confession of Christ as the Son of God, revealed as truth by God Himself, and completely in line with the testimony of the rest of Scripture concerning Jesus Christ, is the incident for Christ's statement. Thus, it is the truth about and of Christ which is the great, immovable, foundational rock upon which the churches of God are built.

Further, in light of what has been seen above about the meaning of the word ekklesia and about the binding and loosing authority which rests in the local church as a whole, it becomes apparent that the specific authority given to Peter here is by virtue of both his membership in the assembly (thus, he takes part in the "binding and loosing" authority which the church as a whole also has), and his additional role as the first pastor of this local church at Jerusalem. He was the one through whom the "keys" to the kingdom of heaven were given. This responsibility to use the "keys" was fulfilled by his subsequent opening of the kingdom to the Jews, the Samaritans, and to the Gentiles by his initial preaching to all three groups, after Christ's resurrection, as seen in the book of Acts. But, this passage nowhere intimates that Peter was the foundation of the Church.

Catholic apologism often falls back upon the words of the early patristic writers, who supposedly testify to the foundation of the churches upon Peter. With regards to the patristics, however, we see that these apologists play fast and loose with the quotations. For instance, Origen is often pointed to as a strong supporter of Petrine foundation, because of statements such as this,

"And Peter, on whom the Church of Christ is built, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail...."42

However, when we examine Origen's views concerning Peter a little more in depth, we see that he diverges quite a bit from the traditional Catholic interpretation,

"Many then will say to the Saviour, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God; "but not all who say this will say it to Him, as not at all having learned it by the revelation of flesh and blood but by the Father in heaven Himself taking away the veil that lay upon their heart, in order that after this "with unveiled face reflecting as a mirror the glory of the Lord" they may speak through the Spirit of God saying concerning Him, "Lord Jesus," and to Him, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." And if any one says this to Him, not by flesh and blood revealing it unto Him but through the Father in heaven, he will obtain the things that were spoken according to the letter of the Gospel to that Peter, but, as the spirit of the Gospel teaches, to every one who becomes such as that Peter was. For all bear the surname of "rock" who are the imitators of Christ, that is, of the spiritual rock which followed those who are being saved, that they may drink from it the spiritual draught. But these bear the surname of the rock just as Christ does. But also as members of Christ deriving their surname from Him they are called Christians, and from the rock, Peters. And taking occasion from these things you will say that the righteous bear the surname of Christ who is Righteousness, and the wise of Christ who is Wisdom. And so in regard to all His other names, you will apply them by way of surname to the saints; and to all such the saying of the Saviour might be spoken, "Thou art Peter," etc., down to the words, "prevail against it." But what is the "it"? Is it the rock upon which Christ builds the church, or is it the church? For the phrase is ambiguous. Or is it as if the rock and the church were one and the same? This I think to be true; for neither against the rock on which Christ builds the church, nor against the church will the gates of Hades prevail; just as the way of a serpent upon a rock, according to what is written in the Proverbs, cannot be found. Now, if the gates of Hades prevail against any one, such an one cannot be a rock upon which Christ builds the church, nor the church built by Jesus upon the rock; for the rock is inaccessible to the serpent, and it is stronger than the gates of Hades which are opposing it, so that because of its strength the gates of Hades do not prevail against it; but the church, as a building of Christ who built His own house wisely upon the rock, is incapable of admitting the gates of Hades which prevail against every man who is outside the rock and the church, but have no power against it."43

Origen superficially affirms that Peter is the rock, but then explains, in his allegorical manner, that by "Peter" as the "rock", he means ANYBODY who is in the church and faithful.

Other patristic quotations are often cherry-picked by Catholic apologists, though further investigation often shows that the quotations are taken out of context, and that the author in question may even elsewhere state positions contradictory to what Rome wishes to affirm. One example of this is Tertullian, who on a number of occasions makes statements to the effect that Peter is the Rock upon which the church is built.44 Yet, when Tertullian expounds on such a statement in his work On Modesty, he proceeds to refute the claims to authority which Rome makes for itself regarding the ability to forgive sins, supposedly conferred upon Peter the other Apostles and their successors when Christ gave the "keys" to Peter. Tertullian is quite clear in noting that the power of the keys given to Peter involves Peter being the one who "was the first to unbar, in Christ's baptism, the entrance to the heavenly kingdom, in which (kingdom) are 'loosed' the sins that were beforetime 'bound'; and those which have not been 'loosed' are 'bound,' in accordance with true salvation...."45 In other words, through Peter, the one who first took the lead in preaching the Gospel of the kingdom after the church in Jerusalem was imbued with power of the Holy Ghost, the gates of heaven were opened to all who would believe on the Gospel and repent of their sins. Tertullian's whole argument, indeed, is one with which Protestants and Baptists would have little to argue, and he even closes that section by plainly stating the right to forgive sins is the Lord's, not the priest or bishop's.

Other patristics are called as witnesses in favor of Petrine primacy by Catholic apologists, such as Cyprian and Clement.46 Yet, there are others who seem to pointedly deny this pillar of Catholic authority. Irenaeus, in particular, makes a telling but often overlooked statement in which he seems to agree with the notion that the truth of the Word of God is the foundation of the churches, when he states,

"For, after our Lord rose from the dead, [the apostles] were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came down [upon them], were filled from all [His gifts], and had perfect knowledge: they departed to the ends of the earth, preaching the glad tidings of the good things [sent] from God to us, and proclaiming the peace of heaven to men, who indeed do all equally and individually possess the Gospel of God. Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia."47

Now, logic suggests that if Peter were involved in "laying the foundation" through preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then he himself was NOT the foundation, was NOT the rock upon which the churches were to be built. Clearly, Irenaeus viewed the truth of the Gospel of God, the Word of God, whether written or preached, to be what the churches were built upon. This is further shown when Irenaeus, in this very same chapter, explicitly states that the Scriptures are "the pillar and ground of the truth". Hippolytus also takes a similar line of reasoning when he seems to indicate that the confession of Peter in verse 17 is the rock upon which the churches were built.48 Eusebius places Paul on essentially the same level as Peter where planting churches is concerned,

"That Paul preached to the Gentiles and laid the foundations of the churches 'from Jerusalem round about even unto Illyricum,' is evident both from his own words, and from the account which Luke has given in the Acts."49

In the paragraph immediately following, Eusebius mentions Peter's similar ministry to the Jews in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. Both Peter and Paul laid foundations, but neither of them WERE the foundation.

Hence, even the basis for the Roman claim of Petrine foundation made from the patristic writers is seen to be largely taken out of context. As with most everything else for which Rome claims support from these early writers, the evidence is spotty and questionable, at best, and is contradicted by what other patristics, those founts of Tradition, had to say.

The Church of Rome - Equal or Greater?

Likewise, the actual support for the primacy and authority of the Roman church over the rest, at least in ante-Nicene days, is very little. Catholic theologians will point, for example, to Ignatius' letter to the Roman church, in which he requests that they not interfere with his martyrdom, and commends them for their teachings given to other churches. However, in this same letter, we see Ignatius giving teaching and admonition TO the church in Rome.50 Clearly, the teaching being spoken of is of an exhortatory, but not authoritative, nature. There is no reason to presuppose that the same manner of exhortation, when spoken of the Roman church, acquires a different and monarchial character. Further, when Ignatius asks the Roman church not to interfere with his martyrdom, he is speaking in a legal sense, as Ignatius' case and martyrdom were legally appellate. Ignatius wanted to be martyred, as his letters repeatedly indicate, and he did not want anyone lodging appeals with the Emperor to try to rescue him. He is not implying that the Roman church could stop his execution, except by working through the Imperial legal system (and even this would be less than sure of securing Ignatius' release). The Emperor, at this time, had no reason to accept any claim to "authority" on the part of the Roman church. Indeed, if the Roman church had the sort of authority that the Catholic religion anachronistically attributes to it, there would have been no issue of martyrdom for Ignatius in the first place, as there would have been no powers in a position to try and execute Ignatius.

Elsewhere, Ignatius also evinces that he does not consider himself under the authority of the Roman bishop. At one point, he writes,

"Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to Polycarp, Bishop of the Church of the Smyrnaeans, or rather, who has, as his own bishop, God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ: [wishes] abundance of happiness."51

This statement clearly was not made by a man who thought the bishop of the Roman church was a "pope" in authority over other bishops. Rather, it sounds like a man who considers the only authority over a bishop to be God Himself. In this, he echoes the statements of Peter, who himself indicates that Christ is the ultimate Bishop in authority over both the members of the churches (I Peter 2:25) and over the earthly bishops of the churches (I Peter 5:4).

Clement of Rome, another sub-apostolic bishop often called upon by Rome as a witness to Roman/papal authority, likewise proves troublesome for Rome's position. In his epistle to the Corinthians, Clement's language assumes that authority for the conduct of the Corinthian church rests within the Corinthian church. At one point, he admonishes,

"Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry. We are of opinion, therefore, that those appointed by them, or afterwards by other eminent men, with the consent of the whole Church, and who have blamelessly served the flock of Christ in a humble, peaceable, and disinterested spirit, and have for a long time possessed the good opinion of all, cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry. For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties. Blessed are those presbyters who, having finished their course before now, have obtained a fruitful and perfect departure [from this world]; for they have no fear lest any one deprive them of the place now appointed them. But we see that ye have removed some men of excellent behavior from the ministry, which they fulfilled blamelessly and with honour."52

The whole context in which this passage resides is the conduct of the Corinthian church itself, not all of Christendom. This, then, indicates the meaning for when Clement speaks of "the whole church". These elders over the church at Corinth, who had been ordained by "other eminent men" as time passed, were approved by the whole church. This makes no logical sense unless we consider the meaning of "church". The whole body of Christian believers the world over had a hand in consenting to the placement of ministers over the church in Corinth? Of course not. This "whole church" is, contextually, the full body of the assembly in Corinth, and nothing more. This is buttressed by Clement's statement further down that the Corinthian church ("ye" - you plural) had removed some presbyters from being over them. Clement nowhere challenges their essential right to do so - he merely remonstrates with them for removing good men from this office unjustly. Clement nowhere suggests, or even indicates, that they had to have the consent of his bishopric in Rome, or the consent of all of Christendom. Taken in their logical and philological context, his statements suggest that he understood churches to be independent of the authority of other bishops or churches.

Clement elsewhere indicates that even apostles were not to be considered preeminent above the bishops of a local church,

"Take up the epistle of the blessed Apostle Paul. What did he write to you at the time when the Gospel first began to be preached? Truly, under the inspiration of the Spirit, he wrote to you concerning himself, and Cephas, and Apollos, because even then parties had been formed among you. But that inclination for one above another entailed less guilt upon you, inasmuch as your partialities were then shown towards apostles, already of high reputation, and towards a man whom they had approved. But now reflect who those are that have perverted you, and lessened the renown of your far-famed brotherly love. It is disgraceful, beloved, yea, highly disgraceful, and unworthy of your Christian profession, that such a thing should be heard of as that the most stedfast and ancient Church of the Corinthians should, on account of one or two persons, engage in sedition against its presbyters. And this rumour has reached not only us, but those also who are unconnected with us; so that, through your infatuation, the name of the Lord is blasphemed, while danger is also brought upon yourselves."53

Here, Clement considers if sedition for people to enter into the local assembly (church of the Corinthians - would this apply to all of Christianity?) and introduce a party spirit whereby the church is split into groups adhering to outside teachers or others in competition with the pastor over that local church. What is more, he indicates that they brought guilt upon themselves for engaging in this SAME behavior regarding Paul, Peter, and Apollos. Clement does not say they had NO guilt for regarding apostles in place of their local church pastor, only LESS guilt than in their present schisms, since at least the earlier schisms regarded apostles, and not merely random teachers coming into the church with lesser credentials. Either way, even Peter and Paul, as Clement appears to believe, did not have authority over the churches to supplant the affections of the people for their duly-ordained pastors.

Irenaeus, as well, presents some genuine problems for Roman Catholic tradition regarding the establishment of the papacy and its authority. This is, again, in spite of the heavy investment which Rome makes in Irenaeus as "proof" that the Roman See was established as preeminent in his day. Rome will point to statements made by Irenaeus in which this writer recommends that Christians look to the church in Rome for doctrinal guidance and authority. For example,

"For with this church, by reason of its pre-eminence, the whole Church, that is the faithful everywhere, must necessarily be in accord."54

From this, Catholic theologians draw the conclusion that Irenaeus held the Roman church to be the fount of doctrine and authority. There is, however, a question concerning the translation of Irenaeus made by the Catholics. Coxe makes this note, in which he comments on the difficulties surrounding this sentence,

"The Latin text of this difficult but important clause is, "Ad hanc enim ecclesiam propter potiorem principalitatem necesse est omnem convenire ecclesiam." Both the text and meaning have here given rise to much discussion. It is impossible to say with certainty of what words in the Greek original "potiorem principalitatem" may be the translation. We are far from sure that the rendering given above is correct, but we have been unable to think of anything better. [A most extraordinary confession. It would be hard to find a worse; but take the following from a candid Roman Catholic, which is better and more literal: "For to this Church, on account of more potent principality, it is necessary that every Church (that is, those who are on every side faithful) resort; in which Church ever, by those who are on every side, has been preserved that tradition which is from the apostles." (Berington and Kirk, vol. i. p. 252.) Here it is obvious that the faith was kept at Rome, by those who resort there from all quarters. She was a mirror of the Catholic World, owing here orthodoxy to them; not the Sun, dispensing her own light to others, but the glass bringing their rays into a focus. See note at end of book iii.] A discussion of the subject may be seen in chap. xii. of Dr. Wordsworth's St. Hippolytus and the Church of Rome."55

As Coxe notes, the greater context in which this sentence resides suggests not so much that Christendom was to obtain its doctrine from Rome, but rather that Rome received its doctrine from faithful men who "resorted from every side" TO Rome. Irenaeus' point in this paragraph as a whole is the refutation of those heretics who were assembling in "unauthorized meetings", defined as those assemblies which rejected the apostolic doctrines handed down to all the churches. Irenaeus, in this very paragraph, indicates that he could have reckoned the succession of bishops down from the apostles in ALL the churches (primarily apostolic churches, such as Ephesus and Smyrna which are specified in the paragraphs following), but instead chose to focus on the Roman church both as an example of this succession and because it was the church to which faithful men from the various churches went, carried, and maintained right doctrine. LaDue seems to concur with this,

"Karl Baus' interpretation [ed. note - that Irenaeus was not referring to the primacy of Rome] seems to be the one that is more faithful to the text and does not presume to read into it a meaning which might not be there. Hence, it neither overstates nor understates Irenaeus' position. For him, it is those churches of apostolic foundation that have the greater claim to authentic teaching and doctrine. Among those, Rome, with its two apostolic founders, certainly holds an important place. However, all of the apostolic churches enjoy what he terms "preeminent authority" in doctrinal matters."56

As such, the context of the passage does NOT indicate a view on the part of Irenaeus that the Roman church held authority over the other churches. Indeed, Irenaeus elsewhere makes some very telling statements, in his letter to Victor, who succeeded to the pastorate in Rome in 189 AD,

"And the presbyters preceding Sorer in the government of the Church which thou dost now rule-I mean, Anicetus and Pius, Hyginus and Telesphorus, and Sixtus - did neither themselves observe it [after that fashion], nor permit those with them to do so. Notwithstanding this, those who did not keep [the feast in this way] were peacefully disposed towards those who came to them from other dioceses in which it was [so] observed (although such observance was [felt] in more decided contrariety [as presented] to those who did not fall in with it; and none were ever cast out [of the Church] for this matter. On the contrary, those presbyters who preceded thee, and who did not observe [this custom], sent the Eucharist to those of other dioceses who did observe it. And when the blessed Polycarp was sojourning in Rome in the time of Anicetus, although a slight controversy had arisen among them as to certain other points, they were at once well inclined towards each other [with regard to the matter in hand], not willing that any quarrel should arise between them upon this head. For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp to forego the observance [in his own way], inasmuch as these things had been always [so] observed by John the disciple of our Lord, and by other apostles with whom he had been conversant; nor, on the other hand, could Polycarp succeed in persuading Anicetus to keep [the observance in his way], for he maintained that he was bound to adhere to the usage of the presbyters who preceded him. And in this state of affairs they held fellowship with each other; and Anicetus conceded to Polycarp in the Church the celebration of the Eucharist, by way of showing him respect; so that they parted in peace one from the other, maintaining peace with the whole Church, both those who did observe [this custom] and those who did not."57

Irenaeus, writing to Victor about the Quartodeciman controversy, notes that Anicetus, who was bishop of Rome in the time of Polycarp, and the other Roman bishops succeeding him were only able to authoritatively determine the practice of "those with them" regarding this issue. They had to accept the differing practice of those outside their church. Likewise, though Anicetus tried to convince Polycarp, the Ephesian bishop, to observe the Easter celebration using the Roman date, he was unable to, and the two men had to come to terms and agree to disagree. Irenaeus also notes that there were other controversies between Polycarp and Anicetus as well. Anicetus and the other early bishops of Rome are most definitely NOT considered by Irenaeus to have had power to compel or demand that other bishops and churches to conform to the Roman line.

Another evidence against Rome's primacy is seen in the correspondences of Cyprian. Firmilius, a bishop of Caesaria in Cappadocia, wrote to support Cyprian (circa. 250 AD) in his opposition to the bishop of Rome, Stephen at this time, and clearly states that it was the ROMAN bishop who was both schismatic and deviating from apostolic tradition.58 Even more pointed rejections of Stephen's pretentious claims to the "throne of Peter" follow (ppg. 17,19), and indicate that this claim on the Roman bishop's part is something new and previously unheard of to the other bishops. Indeed, as was seen earlier, Clement (also a bishop of Rome, circa. 100 AD) did not exhibit any knowledge that he was a monarchial bishop having authority over other bishops and churches.

The supposed primacy of Rome, based on the claim that it was the "throne of Peter" suffers another blow from other patristic writers. Rome maintains that Peter was the first pope, ruling from 42 - 67 AD, ending at the time of his martyrdom. Yet, this is not what several of the early Christian writers say. A good deal of confusion abounds among the patristics as to exactly what the order of office for the first bishops of Rome even was, but one commonality seems to be discerned from a plain reading of these writings, which is that the succession of these bishops did not begin with Peter. Irenaeus, for instance, says this:

"The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric."59

Irenaeus is referring to the supposed foundation and edifying of the church in Rome by Peter and Paul. Following the typical pattern evinced in the New Testament, it appears that Linus was ordained as the first bishop of the church in Rome, since the apostolic pattern in the New Testament was for the apostle(s) to preach, organize the converts, and ordain a bishop over them before proceeding to the next city. After Linus came Anacletus and Clement. Later patristics such as Augustine, Optatus of Milevis, Hegesippus, Jerome, and Tertullian held to this order, though it is in the post-Nicene writers that the notion of Peter as the first bishop becomes most apparent.60 Tertullian held Clement to have been ordained to the episcopate by Peter,61 which would, by any reckoning, leave Peter alive during the tenure of Linus as bishop of Rome. The Apostolic Constitutions, following Hippolytus' order, also say that Linus was ordained by Paul, followed by Clement who was ordained by Peter.62 The Epistle to James, attributed to pseudo-Clement, also affirms that Clement was ordained bishop over the Roman church by Peter. The Ante-Nicene records seem to deny the traditional Catholic account of Peter's papacy, placing him instead in the role of an apostle as conducted in the New Testament. Indeed, when Paul wrote the church at Rome in 57 or 58 AD, several statements of his indicate that he had not yet been to that church (e.g. 1:13). He addresses several prominent members of the Roman church of whom he had received report, yet he never mentions Peter, which is very odd indeed if such a prominent Apostle were really the bishop of this church. It is likely that the Roman church was started by converts made at Pentecost (c.f. Acts 2:10), who carried the Gospel back to Rome. It is likely that these later traditions about the Roman succession were augmented to reflect the celebrity of Paul and Peter.63

As such, the evidence found from the New Testament and among the ante-Nicene writers for either the primacy of the Roman See or the foundation of the Church and the papacy upon Peter is underwhelming. As with the argument concerning the word "church", so also does the view of the Petrine papacy and his place as the foundation upon which the Church is built not appear definitely until in the later Latin writers of the 4th century and on. And again, it seems likely that this is due to the lost distinction between petros and petra when the transition was made from Greek to Latin as the literary medium of Western Christendom (note: in the Latin Vulgate, petra is also feminine and also meaning "a crag or slab of rock". Petrus appears as the name for Peter, but otherwise makes practically no appearance in other Latin literature. To denote a small rock such as petros describes in Greek, Latin uses lapis. Hence, while the gender difference in Greek between petros and petra is significant, this is lost in Latin, where the masculine name Petros is an otherwise unused name with no other signification, and appears to have been considered merely a masculine form of petra, misunderstood to have the same signification of a large slab or crag of rock as is denoted by petra).


In conclusion, the arguments that Rome employs to justify her claims of authority over the faith and practice of all Christians are baseless. Catholicism's supposed authority over the Bible is based on illogical arguments. The claim to Apostolic authority is without merit and based upon an idea of apostolicity which is not even correct. Her arguments from the apostolic primacy of Rome and the Roman pontiff are not substantiated by Scripture or history. It should be seen and understood by all that the Roman Catholic religion has no rightful claim upon the loyalty or affection of Christians. The churches stand on the Bible alone, and serve Christ alone, not an earthly hierarchy founded upon man-made traditions.

End Notes

(1) - Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bk. 3, Ch. 11.8
(2) - Catechism of the Catholic Church, ppg. 78
(3) - Ibid., #81
(4) - see Irenaeus, op. cit., Bk. 5, Ch. 30
(5) - Tertullian, Against Hermogenes, Ch. 22
(6) - Irenaeus, op. cit., Bk. 3, Ch. 2.2
(7) - Ibid., Bk. 3, Ch. 1.1
(8) - Ibid., Bk. 3, Ch. 2.1
(9) - E.g., see Lysias, Speeches: Against Agoratus, sect. 17; Polybius, Histories, Bk. 23, Ch. 5, where the typical idea of political or citizen assemblies are clearly seen.
(10) - In some passages, such as Ephesians 5:22-33, "church" is used in a generic sense. This in no wise undermines the specific local meaning of the term. Rather, it just means that what is said in the passage can apply to any local church, all called-out assemblies are espoused to Christ. Nor does this position mean that multiple spouses are attributed to Christ, as many as there are multiple churches. We must remember that the Bride of Christ, ultimately, is joined with Christ when He comes to receive her. Then, the Bride, all believers, will join the great assembly depicted in heaven in Hebrews 12:23. This will include the true saints from each of the typical, generic local churches scattered across the globe. The use of "church" in passages such as this is synecdoche, the rhetorical substitution of the part for the whole.
(11) - Catechism of the Catholic Church, ppg. 833
(12) - Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Philadelphians, Ch. 4, emended version
(13) - Ignatius, Epistle to the Ephesians, Ch. 5
(14) - See Ignatius, Epistle to Polycarp, Chs. 7,8
(15) - Didache, Ch. 15
(16) - Ibid., Ch. 9
(17) - Tertullian, On Baptism, Ch. 15
(18) - E.g. The Shows, Ch. 29; The Prescription Against Heretics, Ch. 28, etc.
(19) - Tertullian, the Chaplet, Ch. 13
(20) - Tertullian, To His Wife, Bk. 1, Ch. 2
(21) - Ibid., Bk. 1, Ch. 7
(22) - Tertullian, On Fasting: In Opposition to the Psychics, Ch. 13.2
(23) - Irenaeus, op. cit., Bk. 1, Ch. 10.2
(24) - Ibid., Bk. 3, Ch. 4.3
(25) - See Polycarp, Epistle to the Philippians, Ch. 11
(26) - See Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus, Bk. 2, Ch. 14
(27) - E.g. Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Bk. 1, Ch. 9.16
(28) - Ibid., Bk. 1, Ch. 6.5
(29) - Irenaeus, op. cit., Bk. 3, Ch. 3.4
(30) - This same word is elsewhere used and translated as "messenger(s)" in II Corinthians 9:8 and Philippians 2:25, in both cases it is the individual church which has sent out "apostles", and the purpose in both is clearly and merely representative, without any sort of special authority attached.
(31) - Catechism of the Catholic Church, ppg. 77
(32) - Irenaeus, Op. cit., Bk. 3, Ch. 3.1
(33) - Catechism of the Catholic Church, ppg. 881
(34) - Apollodorus, Library and Epitome, Book E, Ch. 3.26
(35) - Xenophon, The Persian Expedition, Bk. 4, Ch. 7, various places
(36) - Euripides, Hippolytus, line 1230ff
(37) - See, for instance, the use by Pindar (Nemean Odes, Ode #4, Line 25) to describe a large rock that was hurled by the giant Alcyoneus which crushed twelve chariots at once with all the men in them. Of course, to Alcyoneus, such a rock would still be a petros!
(38) - Strabo, Geography, Bk. 7, Ch. 5.8
(39) - Pausanias, Descriptions of Greece, Bk. 10, Ch. 37.1
(40) - Xenophon, op. cit., Bk. 4, Ch. 3.11
(41) - Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Bk. 5, sect. 297
(42) - Origen, Commentary on John, Bk. 5, Ch. 3
(43) - Origen, Commentary on Matthew, Bk. 12, Ch. 11
(44) - E.g. Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics, Ch. 22; On Modesty, Ch. 21
(45) - Tertullian, On Modesty, Ch. 21
(46) - The Clementine Homily, No. 17, upon which the claim to Clementine support is made, is thought by most scholars to be of late and fictional authorship, and is often considered to be of Ebionitic origin.
(47) - Irenaeus, op. cit., Bk. 3, Ch. 1
(48) - See Hippolytus, The Discourse on the Holy Theophany, Sect. 9, from his Dogmatical and Historical fragments
(49) - Eusebius, History of the Church, Bk. 3, Ch. 4.1
(50) - E.g. Ignatius, Epistle to the Romans, Ch. 7
(51) - Ignatius, Epistle to Polycarp, Introduction
(52) - Clement of Rome, Epistle to the Corinthians, Ch. 44
(53) - Ibid., Ch. 47
(54) - Irenaeus, op. cit., Bk. 3, Ch.3.2, cited in Catechism of the Catholic Church, ppg. 834.
(55) - Ante-Nicene Fathers, Translations of The Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325, Ed. A.C. Coxe, note #6 on Irenaeus, op. cit., Bk. 3
(56) - W.J. LaDue, The Chair of Saint Peter: A History of the Papacy, p. 28
(57) - Fragment 3, Letter to Victor Bishop of Rome, Lost Writings of Irenaeus, as recorded by Eusebius, History of the Church, Bk. 5, Ch. 24
(58) - Cyprian, Epistle #74, ppg. 6
(59) - Irenaeus, op. cit., Bk. 3, Ch. 3.3
(60) - Some, such as Hippolytus and Eusebius, alter this order, placing Clement before Anacletus/Anicetus
(61) - Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics, Ch. 32
(62) - Apostolic Constitutions, Bk. 7, Ch. 46
(63) - Concerning the tradition of Peter's martyrdom in Rome - For an incisive discussion of an archaeological site in Jerusalem which suggests this tradition is false, see Gli Scavi del Dominus Flevit, written by two Roman priests, P.B. Bagetti and J.T. Milik, both of whom were Orientalist scholars of some renown in the middle part of the last century. The claim that this site, located on the grounds of a Franciscan monastery in Jerusalem, is the real tomb of Peter the Apostle is well-supported. The ossuary containing the bones bore the inscription in Aramaic "Simon bar Jona", and was found in a Christian burial ground dating from around 70 AD. The inscription has been dated by epigraphists as having been produced just prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Roman general Titus.