After my previous articles, several readers – presumably Catholics – have written me demanding to know how I can allege that Peter was never in Rome. I could just as easily ask, What proof do you have that he was?
It’s wishful thinking that puts Peter in Rome. Catholics base that tradition on non-biblical sources from, at the earliest, a century after Peter, Paul and the other apostles died. Is that delay significant?
Okay, let's see. Pop quiz: Without googling it, one century ago, who was the president of the United States? Who succeeded him? When did he die? Where is his tomb?
At the end of the 2nd century, when Iranaeus wrote – from what is now France, by the way, not from Rome - that Peter had been ‘bishop’ of the Roman congregation, that his tomb was in Rome; who, other than a serious Bible student, would have been in a position to argue with him?
Without Wikipedia, or even history books, available to you, how could you refute me if I claimed that one hundred years ago, in 1914, the president’s name was Homer Simpson and his tomb is in Hollywood? (You just googled it, didn't you?)
If you are serious about pleasing God, then the Bible should carry more weight with you than a tradition based on spotty accounts written by men who may or may not have had an agenda. (If you’re not a serious Bible student, why would you even be reading this article?)
The Bible records Peter being in Jerusalem at the start of Christianity; no one argues about that. We know from Acts 8:14 that he was still there a couple years later:
“Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them.” (Sidenote: Peter was taking direction, not giving it.)
In Acts 10 he visited Caesarea, but in chapter 11 he was back in Jerusalem:
“So, when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were of the circumcision party disputed with him, saying, ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’” (Sidenote: this is not how you speak to a superior.)
About 8 years later Peter was imprisoned in Jerusalem. When he was miraculously released, he left Jerusalem for his own safety, headed for parts unknown: (Acts 12:3-17)
“But, waving to them with his hand to be quiet, he declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, ‘Go tell these things to James and to the brothers.’ And he departed and went to another place.”
After Herod’s death, it was safe for Peter to return to Jerusalem, and there we find him a couple years later, for the circumcision conference mentioned in our previous article. At some point after that we know he spent some time in Antioch, Syria, because of Paul’s reference to having to correct him there. (Galatians 2:11-14)
Peter’s presence in places with significant Jewish communities – Judea, obviously, Antioch, and Babylon – makes sense because of Galatians 2:9, where Peter is described as ‘apostle to the Jews’ while Paul was ‘apostle to the Gentiles.’ And we have Peter’s own word for it that he went to Babylon: (1 Peter 5:13)
“Your sister-Church in Babylon sends you greeting, and so does Mark, who is as a son to me.”
Catholics, of course, claim that Peter was speaking in code, that ‘Babylon’ meant Rome. Where is the proof of that? What would have been the reason for code?
When Paul wrote his letter to the congregation in Rome he mentioned 30 Christians by name (but NOT Peter) and clearly wasn’t worried about security. (Romans 16) If Paul could name individuals in Rome without fear of causing trouble for them, why would Peter need to use a code?
During Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome, around 60 or 61, he wrote a letter to Philemon, which he ended with, “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you his love. And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow laborers.”
If Peter was in Rome, why wouldn’t his greetings have been included?
In Paul’s letter to the Colossians around that same time he names five Jewish Christians who had been particularly supportive during his imprisonment: Tychicus, Onesimus, Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus. But not Peter. Tellingly, Paul specifically says: (Colossians 4:11)
“These are of the circumcision: they are my only brother-workers for the kingdom of God, who have been a comfort to me.” Peter simply was not there.
Could Peter have come later?
Paul was released, but not for long. Within a couple years he was re-arrested and sent back to Rome a second time. From house-arrest there he wrote his final letter, to Timothy, about the year 65. In it he says: (2 Timothy 4:10, 11)
“Demas has deserted me for love of this present world, and is gone to Thessalonica; Crescens is gone to Galatia; Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me.”
‘And, Oh, by the way, Peter was executed by Nero, and his tomb is in Hollywood, right next to President Homer Simpson.’ Nope, doesn’t say that.
He does refer to others in the Rome congregation: (2 Timothy 4:21)
“Do try to come before winter. Eubulus sends you his love, and Pudens and Linus and Claudia, and all the brothers.” No mention of Peter.
With so much detail about the preaching activity of the early Christians, there can only be one reason why the Bible is silent about Peter being in Rome: HE WASN'T.
Catholic tradition says Peter was succeeded by Linus. Who? That same Linus that Paul mentioned in his letter to Timothy, just quoted.
What do we know about Linus? Nothing, just that one line. The Bible’s entire record of the acts of ‘Pope Linus’ is his saying ‘Hi!’ to Timothy. Nothing about him even being an overseer, let alone ‘the bishop of Rome.’
Even if Linus was an overseer, episkopos, bishop in Rome, as we discussed in an earlier article, early Christianity had several episkopos in each congregation, not one who put himself above others and wore a funny hat.
Note what Peter himself said about this: (1 Peter 5:1, 2)
“I exhort the elders [presbyteros] among you, as a fellow elder [presbyteros], and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and who will also share in the glory that will be revealed, shepherd the flock of God in your care, serving as overseers [episkopos, bishops], not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly.”
Furthermore, Irenaeus – that writer who claimed Linus succeeded Peter – loses credibility when he adds:
“…that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul.”
Christianity was not “founded and organized at Rome;” it was founded and organized at Jerusalem. The early congregation in Rome, like all the other early churches, would have subjected itself to the ‘apostles and officers’ in Jerusalem. First century Christians, while having great respect for Paul, Peter, and the other apostles, would never have described Paul and Peter as “the two most glorious.” Both Paul and Peter would have disagreed with such a description. Paul, in fact, described himself as “the least of the apostles.” (1 Corinthians 15:9)
Paul and Peter had nothing to do with ‘organizing the Church at Rome.’ Paul wrote his letter to the already-established Rome congregation before he ever visited the place, and Peter was never there.
So why Linus? If Paul, knowing he was about to be executed, were going to appoint a successor, wouldn’t that have been Luke? “Luke alone is with me,” he said. For that matter, Paul’s protégé, if he had one, was Timothy, who was on his way to Rome; why not ask him to take over? Peter’s protégé was Mark. If Peter were in Rome and about to die wouldn’t he have asked Mark to continue his mission?
Iranaeus, without scriptural backing, was either repeating what he’d been told without checking his facts, or just making stuff up:
“Peter and Paul gave over the exercise of the episcopal office to Linus.” The Church admits they know nothing about Linus, except that he was their second pope.
“So what?” you may say. “Even if they fudged their early history, that doesn’t make the Catholic Church evil.”
Well, their claim is that they are the ONE TRUE CHURCH because of their origins, because they are the oldest, they started it all; and while they have no proof of that, they certainly wouldn’t lie about it because they are the ONE TRUE CHURCH…
But if their beginning is based on a lie, on the twisting or ignoring of scripture, doesn’t that make you wonder what else they’ve said? What else they’ve done?
We’ll look at that next.
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