Lorraine Boettner’s 1962 book Roman Catholicism is notorious for its egregious distortions of history and outright falsehoods. Nevertheless, it remains popular amongst some Fundamentalist circles, because hey, it speaks ill of Catholicism, so how could it be wrong? Here’s a sample of the sort of thing I’m talking about:
The remarkable thing, however, about Peter’s alleged bishopric in Rome, is that the New Testament has not one word to say about it. The word Rome occurs only nine times in the Bible, and never is Peter mentioned in connection with it. There is no allusion to Rome in either of his epistles. Paul’s journey to that city is recorded in great detail (Acts 27 and 28). There is in fact no New Testament evidence, nor any historical proof of any kind, that Peter ever was in Rome. All rests on legend. The first twelve chapters of the book of Acts tell of Peter’s ministry and travels in Palestine and Syria. Surely if he had gone to the capital of the empire, that would have been mentioned. We may well ask, if Peter was superior to Paul, why does he receive so little attention after Paul comes on the scene?
All three of the claims Boettner makes here are false. Let’s take them one by one:
Wrong. In 1 Peter 5:13, Peter sends greetings to the global Church on behalf of the Church “in Babylon,” which is used elsewhere in the New Testament (specifically, The Book of Revelation) to speak of Rome. Boettner knows that “Babylon” is often a reference for Rome — in fact, he quotes Alexander Hislop’s book The Two Babylons, which tries to argue that “modern Rome” is the fulfillment of ancient Babylon. When it suits their fancy, the likes of Hislop and Boettner are ready to say that the Roman Catholic Church and the Vatican are the same as modern Rome, that modern Rome is the same as the capital of the Roman Empire, and that these are what “Babylon” refers to in Revelation. When it doesn’t suit their fancy, Babylon can’t mean Rome.
Boettner even goes so far as to try and use 1 Peter 5:13 to “prove” that Peter went east to the literal city of Bablyon. There are some glaring problems with this. Fred Zaspel, of Word of Life Baptist Church, rejects the papacy, but concedes that 1 Peter 5:13 proves Peter to have gone to Rome. He first showed why it couldn’t have literally meant Babylon:
In 309 B.C. Antigonis I of Macedonia leveled Babylon. Later, in 275 B.C., Antiochus I took away the remaining civilian population and deported them to other cities. Pausanias, a Greek writer and geographer of the Roman period, said that there was absolutely nothing within the walls of Babylon. The city was later re-founded by Antiochus Epiphanes around 160 B.C., and it was later captured by the Parthians in 127 B.C. In the 30’s B.C. Hercanus II was in residence there for a while and from him it is known that there was not much to the city at that time. The Roman geographer, Strabo, writing about the time of Christ said “the great city Babylon has become a wilderness.” Evidently, the Euphrates River dried up during the time of the Parthians; after that, Babylon was no more (see Jeremiah 51:41-43). From Strabo to Trajan there is no mention of the city extant. Trajan (the Roman Emporer), eager to visit the infamous Babylon, was disappointed when he arrived at the site; it was only a wasted pile of rubble. Add to this observation that there is absolutely no tradition that Peter ever went to Babylon and that there was never a strong Mesopotamian church, it seems rather obvious that the Babylon of 1 Peter 5:13 can not be Babylon of Mesopotamia, the city of the exile.
So even the few people living in the ruins of Babylon didn’t claim that 1 Peter 5:13 referred to them literally.
Most likely, Peter is using the coded term “Babylon” so that the Roman authorities don’t realize that he’s in Rome itself. As Zaspel notes, the fact that Peter’s companion in “Babylon” has the Roman name Marcus supports this, as does the Roman see’s own claims (as we’ll see in part two). An article seeking to disprove that Peter was in Rome actually gives a good reason for thinking he was there:
The late Carsten Thiede is one scholar who sought to prove that the code word was in use prior to 70 C.E. and thus before Peter’s epistle was written, and that Peter was attempting to veil his whereabouts. But Thiede himself pointed out that “for an inhabitant of the Roman Empire it was perfectly possible, and indeed quite natural, to compare the ancient Babylonian Empire with that of Rome in terms of their respective size, splendour and power, and equally in a negative sense, in relation to their decadence and declining morals.” Thus, though Babylon may indeed have been used for Rome before 70 C.E., the purpose was not to veil the capital of the empire but to elevate its position in the world by emphasizing its lineage. So Thiede’s claim that Peter used the term Babylon to hide the fact that he was actually in Rome lacks credibility.
Vision Magazine thinks that this point disproves that Peter was in Rome. It does the exact opposite. Whether the term Babylon was a code name known only to Judeo-Christians, or a nickname known to the whole Empire is irrelevant: either way, it establishes that saying one was in “Babylon” meant that one was in Rome.
This is one of those claims that Boettner just asserts without evidence, and it’s blatantly false. The Vision article I quoted above actually acknowledges that one of the two possible graves of Peter is under the high altar in St. Peter’s. Once again, they treat this like it hurts the Catholic case, when it helps it:
Embarrassingly, in the 1950s Roman Catholic archaeologists discovered a tomb in Jerusalem containing an ossuary—a bone box used in first-century Jewish burials—that bore the engraved name “Simon Bar Jona” (a name by which the apostle Peter is known in the Gospels). Not to be outdone, the Vatican soon produced its own archaeological evidence that Peter’s tomb and remains were buried under the high altar in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. At the heart of its argument was a sarcophagus discovered in the first half of the century, which authorities began examining more closely in the years after the Second World War.
So we know that a first-century man in about his sixties was buried in Rome, that he was proclaimed to be Peter, and that within a few centuries after his death, they moved his bones from the Catacombs into St. Peter’s to better honor him. The idea that this was just some other guy is sort of silly.
On the other hand, look at the treatment given the “Simon, son of Jonah” (Simon bar Yonah) of Jerusalem. His gravesite was obscure, and none of the ancient Christians upheld the site as of the Apostle – nor did Jerusalem advance any serious claims to be the place where Peter died. Simon and Jonah weren’t exactly uncommon names, so the idea that another Simon bar Yonah existed is not exactly “embarassing.” What Vision doesn’t mention is that there’s another ossuary nearby to someone named Jesus. Of course, the author of this article knows that the Jesus buried there isn’t the Son of God, but another man by that name. Likely, we’re dealing with a Christian gravesite Even today, if you look at cemeteries in Latin America, you’ll see a lot of graves for those named in honor of Jesus, as well as Peter and the other great Saints.
After bringing up this evidence which it claims embarrasses the Church, Vision tries to call it a draw:
Unfortunately there is no way of proving whether either sarcophagus or ossuary contains the true remains of Peter. It may therefore be more fruitful to leave archaeology aside and focus on the historical literature that is available to everyone to consider.
Now Vision, which decided to punt on seriously considering the archaeological evidence, then claims that the Catholic Church’s “claim to apostolic authority, it turns out, stands on no real evidence at all.” That’s just not true. Even though it’s impossible to know to a scientific certainty that it’s really Peter (there was no DNA testing at the time, so literally no possible evidence would be able to meet this standard), all the available evidence says it is. He’s of the right age and ethnicity, he died at the right time, he was recognized as Peter by those who knew him, and they moved his bones into a church named after him. You might just as well argue that Grant isn’t buried in Grant’s Tomb.
But let’s move past the physical evidence, because we also have a massive amount of testimonial evidence that Peter was there, and that he died there. To take only those examples from before 200 A.D.:
- In 110, Ignatius of Antioch wrote to the Romans, and admitted his inferiority to those who came before him, Ss. Peter and Paul: “I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles; I am but a condemned man: they were free, while I am, even until now, a servant.“
- Eusebius, writing in about the 320s, tells of how Peter and Paul were killed under Nero and buried in Rome. He says that this “account of Peter and Paul is substantiated by the fact that their names are preserved in the cemeteries of that place even to the present day.” But even better, he quotes a priest named Caius, writing in the early part of the 100s, who says, “I can show the trophies of the apostles. For if you will go to the Vatican or to the Ostian way, you will find the trophies of those who laid the foundations of this church.” So Peter and Paul were not only buried in Rome, but their relics (“trophies”) were preserved, just as in life (see Acts 19:11-12 for the healing power of Paul’s relics).
- In about 170, Bishop Dionysus of Corinth wrote to the Romans: “You have thus by such an admonition bound together the planting of Peter and of Paul at Rome and Corinth. For both of them planted and likewise taught us in our Corinth. And they taught together in like manner in Italy, and suffered martyrdom at the same time.” This fragment also comes to us through Eusebius.
- In 190, Irenaeus wrote in Against Heresies about the origins of the Gospels, saying, “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.” The “depature” in question is the martyrdom of the two, as Dionysus’ account confirms.