Was Peter THAT important?

Peter, some dispute, was just another disciple, no different to any one else. Others some might say that he was the first among equals, he was after all the first to speak up when Jesus asked a question. What made him so special? Lets have a look at some significant scripture verses that support the catholic position of Peter being the leader Jesus intended him to be. 

Key Moments in History 

Luke 5:8 is significant because Simon is called Peter for the first time in Luke’s gospel. Luke structures this passage like those in the Old Testament. First a person is named twice. Look at Genesis 22:11 where God calls out “Abraham, Abraham” just as he’s about to sacrifice Isaac, or Exodus 3:4 where we see “Moses, Moses” in front of the burning bush. Another New Testament reference is found in Acts 9:4. This is the infamous road to Damascus where Saul is converted to Christianity through the words of Jesus, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Another thing that happens in this passage (returning to Luke 5:8) is that Simon’s name is changed to Peter, drawing on Matt 16:18. Again from the Old Testament we see a name change with Jacob to Israel in Genesis 35:10, and with Abram to Abraham in Genesis 17:5 (and Sarai to Sarah), none of which appeared in scripture before God uttered their names. 

Note that these events mark significant change in the history of Israel – the promise of a nation (Abraham); the beginning of the fulfillment of a covenant (Sarah bears Isaac); the test of fidelity (Isaac’s sacrifice); the start of the promised nation (Israel); the freeing of a nation (Moses). Could the same significance be given to Simon Peter? 

Another scriptural connection is the recognition of the divine name by way of falling on the ground. We see this, for instance, in the same passage as Abraham’s renaming when he falls to the ground in Genesis 17:3 after recognizing the divine presence of God. 

Promises to Peter Alone

There are promises that Jesus made to Peter alone: four in the marquee (and already referenced) Matt 16:18-19 – 1) “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church”; 2) “the gates of hell will not prevail against it”; and 3) “I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven”; 4) “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven”. This last one was also extended to all discples later. Much has been written on all these but allow me to draw some things to your attention. 

First, Jesus’s church was not built on anyone else but on Simon Peter. Incidentally, this is the only time we see the two named Simon Peter in the gospel of Matthew. (Another key moment in history?) 

Secondly, the gates of hell words were spoken to him alone. The church founded on him contains gates that no evil will overcome. It reminds me of the prophecy of Jeremiah (15:20). Jeremiah in his distress calls out to God. God promised that Jeremiah will be as a fortified gate of bronze that will prevail against the evils of the world. I don’t think it is too long a bow to draw a comparison between Jeremiah and Peter, but perhaps it is. 

Next, the third promise, we see the giving of the keys to the kingdom. Drawing from the Davidic kingdom in which Eliakim is given the keys to the kingdom (Isaiah 22:20-22) Peter here is also given a different set of keys to a different kind of kingdom. There is a clear significance of authority given to the one to held the key. That significance is still recognized today in Peter. 

Lastly, from as early as Numbers 3:1-2 Moses relays what God has stated about the significance of binding something, that it is an oath or a vow. Like things, words can also be bound to a person, and by a person. Here Peter is that person. Additionally the gospel was written in Greek, and the Greek language, similarly to English, has tenses though somewhat differently. The tense in this phrase means from now on; it is an open ended statement without limitation. This is essentially like giving Peter a blank cheque. Whatever you bind… 

Sole Authority

As well the promises given to Peter there are commands that were given only to him. These two are “strengthen the brethren” (Luke 22:32) and “feed my sheep” (John 21:17). It seems to me quite perculiar that Peter alone was given these commands. Surely all the brethren should strengthen each other, there is strength in numbers (11:6) after all (just a little joke; look it up!). Likewise, feed my sheep – which clearly doesn’t refer to real sheep and real food – but the spiritual support of the flock of Jesus: those who hear his voice and follow him (John 10:27). But Peter has been singled out for this command. It just doesn’t make sense. Unless, of course, his role was different to those of the other apostles. And as the leader, his role was different. 

The Firsts

Here I’ll just list a few things. Suffice to say that Peter did many firsts in the church. 

🔹Peter initiated the election of the first apostolic successor (Acts 1:15-17)
🔹Peter preached the first sermon after Pentecost (Acts 2:14-36)
🔹Afterwards, Peter received the first Jewish converts (Acts 2:41)
🔹Peter performed the first miracle (Acts 3:6-7) 
🔹Peter inflicted the first punishment (Acts 5:1-11) 
🔹Peter excommunicated the first heretic (Acts 8:21)
🔹Peter was the first apostle to raise someone from the dead (Acts 9:36-41)
🔹Peter received the revelation to admit Gentiles into the church (Acts 10:9-16)
🔹Peter first recieved Gentiles into the church (Acts 10:44-48)
🔹And finally, Peter made the first decisive act at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:7-11)  

While there may not be one single scripture reference that states out rightly that Peter is the leader of the church (though many rely on Matt 16:18-19 and its interpretation) these lesser known ones begin to build a strong case, built on Rock. To those who say Peter was not THAT important, I say that Jesus thought he was, and the early church continued to respect his authority; as does the Catholic Church. In light of apostolic succession (Acts 1:15-17) we still have a Peter with us today. 

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Yeah, about Pope Francis…

It seems that everywhere you go, people on the street, and even the media, are talking about how great Pope Francis is. “A breath of fresh air for the church” (implying that is was a bit stuffy), “people on the street have really taken to him” (implying that Common Joe was not at all interested at Pope Emeritus Benedict), “he’s showing us how to live like Jesus” (implying that this has not been happening). I could go on but I think you get the idea. There is a groundswell of people liking the pope.
Among these though are ones who profess that there is a new teaching going on: that Francis is changing Catholic Doctrines. First, and I say this by getting it off my chest, Francis has not changed any teaching. And if he did, it certainly would not be through some media outlet. Therefore he is not speaking infallibly, and furthermore any Catholic is still in full communion with the church if he or she disagrees with the Pope.
With that disclaimer, I’m not sure I agree with the way he’s going about things. Or about what he is saying. I certainly don’t think the biggest issues today are found in the youth or the elderly. Don’t get me wrong, I think the way he lives and shows human dignity is exemplary, but his silence is deafening on, say, the “gay” marriage movement in France (well, everywhere really), or abortions in America or China, or the Euthanasia movement surfacing in Europe. I mean, is he not aware of these things? I’m sure he his. So why his silence? His vocal support for those defending the traditional teachings of the church would have been like a shot of adrenaline in the arms of a tiring army. It’s easy to say he’s doing nothing about it. It’s too easy; there must something else he’s doing.
First, as has been said a number of times by a number of outlets, he has not changed any church teaching. Lets make that clear. But just as clear, something has changed. Some have said there is a refocus of teachings, of a way of life. Others have said that some of what was neglected by Benedict, is being addressed by Francis. Though there might be ring of truth to these statements I think there is still more going on.
As I reflect on the significance Francis has had on my life during his short pontificate, I find, in truth, that I am unsettled. I was comfortable with Benedict. I loved his approach to scripture and theology. His writing danced seamlessly from scripture to history to philosophy to doctrine and back in a way few before him have captured. I think he will end up being a Doctor of the church. (Sure, I’m calling it early, the man isn’t even dead yet! But he certainly has it in him.) I also liked Benedict’s renewal of the liturgy. I think there are few things that direct ones mind to heaven like a liturgy well done. It is important, but only for those in the church. There is one thing Benedict did though that, I think, will be significant through the eyes of history that is overlooked still so close the event: his effort in ecumenism.
It was an important and critical first step to get brothers of similar faiths united for the long road ahead. I think especially of the more traditional of the Anglicans who have entered the church – and continue to do so – and of the work in uniting the schismatic SSPX. His work towards reunification of the faith will be a landmark in his pontificate.
I remember last year running a lesson for some year 10s on ecumenism. I added in there the ways towards ecumenism highlighted by Dr. Peter Kreeft, the transcript of which can be found here. He points to the importance, in the context of Protestantism, of the personal relationship to Christ, a relationship closer than the Protestants could ever get. This is his key to ecumenism with Protestants. But the same principle applies to other groups: let’s love the environment more that the environmentalists, lets be more peaceful than Buddhists. Few doubt that the actions of Francis are from anywhere but God. He is living charitas. It is through his actions that people are coming to him. His is being more charitable than charities, more embracing than secularists, and more focused on personal dignity than humanists. And it’s making me uncomfortable.
But I’m sure it’s making many people uncomfortable. As someone with a more traditional bent, Francis is taking me out of my comfort zone. But he needs to do this for all traditionalists, as he is for all people. He is making those who oppose the faith uncomfortable, because they are reconsidering their opposition.
By his exemplary lifestyle, a lifestyle that challenges almost everyone, he is addressing what I think is among the biggest issue in the world today: that of the loss of human dignity. Restoring the human dignity in everyone he meets: that is his example. And by doing so his is challenging me, making me uncomfortable, to live likewise. And he also addresses the issues of “gay” marriage, euthanasia and abortion which have their foundation in the dignity of the human person. His silence in deafening, but his actions resonate through a largely hollow world. He may not be speaking infallibly, but if there was such a thing as acting infallibly, I think he would be very close to it. May he continue to challenge me and the whole world to a life conformed in Christ.

How is he challenging you?