This is the fourth in what I hope will be five daily posts on Peter’s primacy this week. Monday’s post explored Peter’s unique ministry from Luke 22 to lead and care for the other Apostles; Tuesday’s post followed it up by showing that Peter is the shepherd that Jesus promised in John 10; and yesterday’s post looked at the fact that Peter is the only Disciple that Jesus ever uses the word “We” to describe His relationship with, tethering Himself to Peter in an astonishing way. Given all of this, we should expect Peter to be treated differently in the New Testament. Today’s post establishes just that.
A. Top of the List
The first thing to establish is that Peter is given a clear primacy in Scripture. I don’t just mean that he’s told he’s in charge of the other Disciples. I mean that he’s treated as if he’s in charge. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke each list the Twelve. The Book of Acts does as well, with the exception that Judas is dead by this point. Here are the lists:
|Matthew 10:2-4||Mark 3:16-19||Luke 6:13-16||Acts 1:13|
|Simon (who is called Peter)||Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter),||Simon (whom he named Peter),||Peter,|
|his brother Andrew||James son of Zebedee,||Andrew,||John,|
|James son of Zebedee,||his brother John,||James,||James,|
|his brother John,||Andrew,||John,||Andrew,|
|Matthew the tax collector,||Thomas,||Thomas,||Matthew,|
|James, son of Alphaeus,||James, son of Alphaeus,||James, son of Alphaeus,||James, son of Alphaeus,|
|Thaddaeus, [a.k.a Judas, son of James]||Thaddaeus, [a.k.a Judas, son of James]||Simon who was called the Zealot,||Simon the Zealot,|
|Simon the Zealot,||Simon the Zealot,||Judas son of James,||Judas son of James,|
|Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him.||Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him.||Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.|
There’s a clear pattern. Judas is given a place of dishonor. He’s listed at the bottom of every list he’s alive for, and it’s mentioned that he’s a traitor. Peter, on the other hand, is given a clear place of primacy. Even where the order of Disciples varies between lists (whether to mention Andrew before or after James and John; in what order to mention Bartholomew, Matthew, and Thomas; whether Jude or Simon the Zealot should go first, etc.), Peter is invariably at the head. In fact, Peter is often the only Disciple mentioned by name: “Peter and his companions” (Luke 9:32, referring to Peter, James and John), “Simon Peter and another disciple” (John 18:15 and John 20:2-4, describing Peter and John), “Peter and the other apostles,” (Acts 2:37, referring to all Twelve), etc.
B. The Scriptural Spotlight on Peter
Now look at Acts 5:12-15:
12 The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. 13 No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. 14 Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 15 As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by.
Here again, all Twelve (and all the other believers) are meeting together, and people are trying to get healed by Peter, specifically. Almost immediately after that, the Twelve are arrested and put on trial. Acts 5:27-32,
27 The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28 “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”29 Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
C. Peter and the Eleven
Clearly, both St. Luke and the early Christians recognize Peter as possessing some sort of primacy. But was he “first among equals,” as the Eastern Orthodox claim, or something greater? Scripture answers this question, as well. There are three passages which are especially clear. The first is from the Book of Acts. In Acts 1:26, the Eleven Apostles get a Twelfth member, Matthias. After this comes Pentecost Sunday, in which the Holy Spirit descends upon the Apostles. Acts 2:14 says that at this point, “ Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd.” Think about that. The Twelve are being referred to as “Peter and the Eleven,” as if Peter isn’t just another Apostle.
The second is 1 Corinthians 9:1-5, in which St. Paul writes,
Am I not free? Am I not an Apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? 2 Even though I may not be an Apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my Apostleship in the Lord.3 This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. 4 Don’t we have the right to food and drink? 5 Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other Apostles and the Lord’s Brothers and Cephas?
Cephas is the Greek transliteration of Peter’s Aramaic name, Kepha, meaning Rock. So Paul, in asserting that he has the right of Apostleship points to the rights enjoyed by the other Apostles, the Brethren of the Lord, and Peter. So Peter (and only Peter) is somehow distinct from the Apostles and Brethren.
Finally, look at what the angel says on Easter Sunday to the women at the Empty Tomb (Mark 16:6-7):
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, Who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. 7 But go, tell His Disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.’”
So it’s not just the crowds outside of Solomon’s Colonnade, or even just the writers of Scripture. Here, we have an angel from Heaven confirming that Peter isn’t just another Disciple. When they speak of “Peter and the Eleven” or “His Disciples and Peter,” it’s the equivalent of saying something like “Bob Marley and the Wailers,” or “Bob Segar and the Silver Bullet Band.” It singles an individual as someone above just being another band member.
Since I’ve looked to John Calvin for the last two, I thought I’d use him again. Here’s Calvin on Mark 16:6-7, the last passage I quoted:
In Mark’s account of it, they [the women] are expressly enjoined to carry this message to Peter; not because he was at that time higher in rank than the others, but because his crime, which was so disgraceful, needed peculiar consolation to assure him that Christ had not cast him off, though he had basely and wickedly fallen. He had already entered into the sepulcher, and beheld the traces of the resurrection of Christ; but God denied him the honor, which he shortly afterwards conferred on the women, of hearing from the lips of the angel that Christ was risen. And, indeed, the great insensibility under which he still labored is evident from the fact that he again fled trembling to conceal himself, as if he had seen nothing, while Mary sat down to weep at the grave.
On Tuesday, I answered the idea that Peter ceased to be an Apostle, and had to be restored. And since all the Apostles, not just Peter, abandoned Christ, so this interpretation doesn’t hold much water. In any case, in claiming that Peter fled in shame on Easter Sunday, Calvin’s perverting what Scripture quite radically. John’s Gospel mentions that Peter and John went to the Empty Tomb. John arrived first, but waited for Peter before going in, almost certainly out of deference to Peter ( John 20:4-6). Peter goes in, John follows, and then “the disciples went back to where they were staying” (John 20:10). Nothing about fleeing in shame; instead, they wandered back confused, since “they still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead” (John 20:9). Likewise, Luke 24:12 says that after seeing the Empty Tomb, Peter “went away, wondering to himself what had happened.” In fact, Luke 24:9-12 shows Peter the most willing to believe the women’s testimony, while the others are skeptical. And lest it be forgotten, Peter ran to the Tomb with John (Luke 24:12; John 20:3-4). So Calvin’s interpretation doesn’t hold up.
Next, here’s Calvin on 1 Corinthians 9:1-5, the passage in which Paul distinguishes between Peter and the Apostles, as if Peter possesses a superior rank:
Now, if any one should think to establish Popery from this, he would act a ridiculous part. We confess that Peter was acknowledged as first among the Apostles, as it is necessary that in every society there should always be some one to preside over the others, and they were of their own accord prepared to respect Peter for the eminent endowments by which he was distinguished, as it is proper to esteem and honor all that excel in the gifts of God’s grace. That preeminence, however, was not lordship — nay more, it had nothing resembling lordship. For while he was eminent among the others, still he was subject to them as his colleagues. Farther, it is one thing to have pre-eminence in one Church, and quite another, to claim for one’s self a kingdom or dominion over the whole world. But indeed, even though we should concede everything as to Peter, what has this to do with the Pope? For as Matthias succeeded Judas, (Acts 1:26,) so some Judas might succeed Peter. Nay more, we see that during a period of more than nine hundred years among his successors, or at least among those who boast that they are his successors, there has not been one who was one whit better than Judas.
So first, realize that even Calvin has to concede that this verse shows pretty plainly that Peter is in charge, first among the Apostles, and presiding over them. The concession is a huge one. And Calvin’s attempt to argue against the papacy just doesn’t work. He says that Peter was just pre-eminent in one Church, but Peter’s presiding over all of the Apostles, meaning the entire global Church (which was already spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond by this point). So there’s (1) a global Church, and (2) it’s headed by one man, St. Peter. That’s an enormous concession for the papacy. And when Calvin – who loathed the papacy – makes this concession, it’s worth listening to him.
Calvin’s final claim is that Peter’s headship may not have passed from Peter to his successors, since they might have been unworthy.. From this argument, we can see that Calvin thinks Peter is the head of the Apostles through his own merits, his own “eminent endowments by which he was distinguished.” This is the same error he makes in thinking that Peter un-earns the Apostleship, and has to be reinstated. But the office of Apostle, and the office of Pope, aren’t earned, and can’t be.
If you cut out the nonsense that the Apostleship and papacy are things which are earned or merited, Calvin’s arguments stop making sense. Clearly, from Scripture, we know that Christ called unworthy and sinful men to be His Apostles, and chose one unworthy and sinful man (Peter) to lead the others. Once that’s established, Calvin’s argument that Peter’s successors may also be unworthy, sinful men just doesn’t prove anything. Iin bringing up the example of Judas, Calvin makes the Catholic case. If Judas could validly be an Apostle, why not pope? And Acts 1:20 shows that Judas held office at the highest ranks of the Church, so saying “bad popes!” doesn’t prove anything when we know that Christ chose at least one bad Apostle. But besides Judas, Pope Peter was already a scandal, as Galatians 2 makes clear. He’s a man, and he sometimes does dumb things. So do his successors.