Did Peter Visit Rome?
MANY who believe that Peter was the first pope and the church’s foundation hold also that Peter visited Rome, wrote from there and was martyred there. This would, of course, make Rome appear to be very prominent in Christendom as a spiritual center. Is it true that Peter was in Rome? Did he establish the Christian congregation there? Is the Babylon from which Peter wrote a mystical name for Rome, as some say?
These questions may seem unimportant to some persons, but to understand or misunderstand the answers to them means we will either understand or misunderstand one of the most important Bible themes and may lose our lives by failing to obey the command to “get out of her” (Babylon the Great) to avoid our own destruction.
While it is true that Peter used the keys of the kingdom of the heavens and unlocked the knowledge of the opportunity of entering the kingdom of heaven to the Jews at Jerusalem on Pentecost day of 33 C.E. and later to the Gentiles when he opened this knowledge to Cornelius and his household at Caesarea, about fifty miles away, in 36 C.E., Paul was the one chosen by Christ to be the “apostle to the nations,” or Gentiles. (Acts 9:15; 22:17-21) Paul himself explains the territory division whereby the apostles were given different parts of the world in which to preach and to establish new Christian congregations:
A TERRITORY ASSIGNMENT
“Then after fourteen years [after a previous visit] I again went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking also Titus along with me. But I went up as a result of a revelation. And I laid before them the good news which I am preaching among the nations, . . . when they saw that I had entrusted to me the good news for those who are uncircumcised, just as Peter had it for those who are circumcised—for He who gave Peter powers necessary for an apostleship to those who are circumcised gave powers also to me for those who are of the nations; yes, when they came to know the undeserved kindness that was given me, James and Cephas [Peter] and John, the ones who seemed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of sharing together, that we should go to the nations, but they [James, Peter and John] to those who are circumcised.”—Gal. 2:1-9.
Now, most of the Jews were located in the East, including Babylon, during the first century. So Peter would concentrate there. On the other hand, for Paul this meant going west toward Europe. That this territory division was approved by God is shown by the fact that Paul, when visiting Troas at the western tip of Asia Minor, was called west by God: “During the night a vision appeared to Paul: a certain Macedonian man was standing and entreating him and saying: ‘Step over into Macedonia and help us.’” (Acts 16:9) The first congregation to be started as a result of Paul’s work there was in the Macedonian city of Philippi. Then followed the starting of Christian congregations in Athens, Corinth and other cities of Europe.
PETER NOT ABOVE ALL OTHERS
Proving that this Western city of Corinth had a congregation established in it as a result of the work of Paul and also showing that Peter was not to be looked to as head of the Christian congregation, Paul had to write to the Corinthians on just such an issue, for they had been forming religious sects among themselves. They were saying, variously, “I belong to Paul,” “I to Apollos,” others, “I to Cephas [Peter],” “I to Christ.” Paul reproved them sharply: “Are you not fleshly and are you not walking as men do? For when one says: ‘I belong to Paul,’ but another says: ‘I to Apollos,’ are you not simply men? What, then, is Apollos? Yes, what is Paul? Ministers through whom you became believers, even as the Lord granted each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God kept making it grow; so that neither is he that plants anything nor he that waters, but God who makes it grow. Hence let no one be boasting in men; for all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas [Peter] or the world or life or death or things now here or things to come, all things belong to you; in turn you belong to Christ; Christ, in turn, belongs to God.”—1 Cor. 1:12; 3:3-5, 21-23.
These men through whom they believed and who helped to cultivate their spiritual growth, some of whom were of the governing body, belonged to the congregation as its servants provided by God through Christ. They were “gifts in men.” So certainly no man such as Paul or Peter was the foundation or chief one of the church. It was founded on Jesus Christ. As Paul told the Corinthians, “no man can lay any other foundation than what is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 3:11) Christians looking to a man as foundation were “simply men,” fleshly, lowering themselves from spiritual persons to the thinking of unspiritual, materialistic men.
PAUL GOES TO ROME
The book of the Bible called the Acts of Apostles gives us the account of Paul’s work and shows that he was the one who was active in the West among the Gentile nations, although he did, of course, preach to the Jews in those lands. But it was not even Paul “apostle to the nations,” and more certainly not Peter, who established the congregation at Rome. While in Ephesus in Asia Minor, after speaking about a planned visit to Jerusalem, Paul said: “After I get there I must also see Rome.” (Acts 19:21) He wrote to the congregation in Rome, not in Latin, but in Greek, and said to them: “I was many times hindered from getting to you. But now that I no longer have untouched territory in these regions, and for some years having had a longing to get to you whenever I am on my way to Spain, I hope, above all, when I am on the journey there, to get a look at you and to be escorted part way there by you after I have first in some measure been satisfied with your company.”—Rom. 15:22-24.
After being arrested in Jerusalem and suffering at the hands of the Jewish religionists there, Paul appealed his case to Caesar, and Christ indicated his approval on this, as the account says: “The Lord stood by him and said: ‘Be of good courage! For as you have been giving a thorough witness on the things about me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness in Rome.’” (Acts 23:1-11) These facts would indicate that Paul did not establish the congregation at Rome, but that it had been undoubtedly established by Jews from Rome who were at Jerusalem on that remarkable day of Pentecost of the year 33 C.E. and who were among those there converted. When they returned to Rome they preached the good news of the Kingdom there.—Acts 2:1-10.
After many difficulties Paul arrived at Rome. Acts 28:14-16 tells us: “Here [in Puteoli] we found brothers and were entreated to remain with them seven days; and in this way we came toward Rome. And from there the brothers, when they heard the news about us, came to meet us as far as the Market Place of Appius and Three Taverns and, upon catching sight of them, Paul thanked God and took courage. When, finally, we entered into Rome, Paul was permitted to stay by himself with the soldier guarding him.” There is no mention that Peter came down from Rome to meet Paul and the later record does not report that Peter visited Paul during Paul’s being held in custody there before he appeared before Emperor Nero, the Pontifex Maximus. Neither is Peter mentioned in Paul’s long letter to the Romans, with all its many greetings.—Rom. 16:3-23.
PETER’S MINISTRY TO EASTERN CONGREGATIONS
In the meantime, where was Peter doing his missionary work? Well, he was working as he had been assigned, in his apostleship to those who are circumcised. (Gal. 2:8) Therefore, he was concentrating his efforts on the Diaspora, the dispersion.a Babylon would be an important concentration point in the Eastern dispersion of Jews. Concerning this we read:
In the time of Christ, Josephus could speak of the Jews in Babylonia by “innumerable myriads” (Antiquities, XI, v, 2). He also tells us of the 2,000 Jewish families whom Antiochus transferred from Babylon and Mesopotamia to Phrygia and Syria. . . . Babylonia remained a focus of eastern Judaism for centuries, and from the discussions in rabbinical schools there were elaborated the Talmud of Jerusalem in the 5th century of our era, and the Talmud of Babylon a century later. The two chief centers of Mesopotamian Judaism were Nehardea, a town on the Euphrates, and Nisibis on the Mygdonius, an affluent of the Chaborâs, which were also centers of Syrian Christianity.—International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, edition of 1955, Volume 2, page 856a.
While Paul went to the West, to Europe, James and Cephas and John, in harmony with the agreement mentioned at Galatians 2:9, served in the Eastern world. James, in writing his letter, is in agreement with this. He opens his letter: “James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes that are scattered about: Greetings!” (Jas. 1:1) The apostle John, who wrote the last book of the Bible, addressed it to Eastern congregations with these words: “John to the seven congregations that are in the district of Asia.” The resurrected Christ, who gave John the vision, commanded: “What you see write in a scroll and send it to the seven congregations, in Ephesus and in Smyrna and in Pergamum and in Thyatira and in Sardis and in Philadelphia and in Laodicea.” (Rev. 1:4, 11) Now, to whom did Peter write? Peter introduces his first letter: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the temporary residents scattered about in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” (1 Pet. 1:1) Not one of these places is in Europe.
BABYLON NO MYSTICAL NAME FOR ROME
Not only does Peter not mention Rome in his letter, but he distinctly indicates that it was written from Babylon, at 1 Peter 5:13: “The church that is in Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth my son, Mark.” (Douay Version) But proponents of the idea that Peter wrote from Rome say that he referred to Rome symbolically, disguising it under the name Babylon. For example, superscriptions to Peter’s first letter, as printed by the publishers John Murphy Company, with approbation by James Cardinal Gibbons, reads, in part:
He wrote it at Rome, which figuratively he calls Babylon, about fifteen years after our Lord’s Ascension.
And the footnote on Babylon, in 1 Peter, reads: “Figuratively, Rome.” The footnote in the translation of the New Testament by Monsignor R. A. Knox (1944) reads: “There can be little doubt that Babylon means Rome, compare Apocalypse xvii, 5.”
If Peter wrote his first letter about fifteen years after Jesus’ ascension to heaven, the very latest dating for Peter’s letter by this Catholic reckoning would be 48 C.E. However, The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 11 (edition of 1911), on page 753b says:
The most probable opinion is that which places it about the end of the year 63 or the beginning of 64; and St. Peter having suffered martyrdom at Rome in 64 (67?) the Epistle could not be subsequent to that date; besides, it assumes that the persecution of Nero, which began about the end of 64, had not yet broken out . . . the Epistle could not be prior to 63.
So, then, according to Catholic reckoning, Peter wrote his letter before Rome entered upon her career of persecuting the Christian congregation. What would be the purpose or logic of disguising the name of Rome or to have to use Babylon as a metaphorical name for Rome when Rome was not persecuting Christians? Regarding this, M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia, Volume 8, page 18, says:
But why discover a mystical sense in a name set down as the place of writing an epistle? There is no more reason for doing this than for assigning a like significance to the geographical names of 1Pe [chapter] 1, [verse] 1. How could his readers discover the Church at Rome to be meant by ἡ συνεκλεκτὴ [he syneklekté: the church elected with] in Babylon? And if Babylon do signify a hostile spiritual power, as in the Apocalypse (xviii, 21), then it is strange that Catholic critics as a body should adopt such a meaning here, and admit by implication the ascription of this character to their spiritual metropolis. Dr. Brown, of Edinburgh, puts a somewhat parallel case—“Our own city is sometimes called Athens from its situation, and from its being a seat of learning; but it would not do to argue that a letter came from Edinburgh because it is dated from Athens” (Expository Discourses on 1st Peter, i, 548).
. . . The natural interpretation is to take Babylon as the name of the well-known city. We have indeed no record of any missionary journey of Peter into Chaldaea, for but little of Peter’s later life is given us in the New Testament. But we know that many Jews inhabited Babylon—οὐ γαρ ὀλίγοι μυριάδες [ou gar olígoi myriádes: for not a few myriads], according to Josephus—and was not such a spot, to a great extent, a Jewish colony or settlement, likely to attract the apostle of the circumcision? . . . Granting that the Parthian empire [in which Babylon then lay] had its own government, he is writing to persons in other provinces under Roman jurisdiction, and he enjoins them to obey the emperor as supreme, and the various governors sent by him for purposes of local administration. Moreover, as has often been observed, the countries of the persons addressed in the epistle (i,1) 1Pe 1:1 are enumerated in the order in which a person writing from Babylon would naturally arrange them, beginning with those lying nearest to him, and passing in circuit to those in the west and the south, at the greatest distance from him. The natural meaning of the designation Babylon is held by Erasmus, Calvin, Beza, Lightfoot, Wieseler, Mayerhoff, Bengel, De Wette, Bleek, and perhaps the majority of modern critics.
In support of the above we have the volume entitled “A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments,” by Drs. R. Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and D. Brown of Great Britain, edition of 1873, Part Two of which says on page 514b on Babylon:
The Chaldean Babylon on the Euphrates. See Introduction, ON THE PLACE OF WRITING this Epistle, in proof that Rome is not meant as Papists assert; compare LIGHTFOOT sermon. How unlikely that in a friendly salutation the enigmatical title given in prophecy (John, Revelation 17.5), should be used! Babylon was the centre from which the Asiatic dispersion whom Peter addresses was derived. PHILO, Legatio ad Caium section 36, and JOSEPHUS, Antiquities, 15, 2.2; 23:12 inform us that Babylon contained a great many Jews in the apostolic age (whereas those at Rome were comparatively few, about 8000, JOSEPHUS 17.11); so it would naturally be visited by the apostle of the circumcision. It was the headquarters of those whom he had so successfully addressed on Pentecost, Acts 2:9, Jewish “Parthians . . . dwellers in Mesopotamia” (the Parthians were then masters of Mesopotamian Babylon); these he ministered to in person. His other hearers, the Jewish “dwellers in Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia,” he now ministers to by letter. The earliest distinct authority for Peter’s martyrdom at Rome is DIONYSIUS, bishop of Corinth, in the latter half of the second century. The desirableness of representing Peter and Paul, the two leading apostles, as together founding the Church of the metropolis, seems to have originated the tradition. CLEMENT OF ROME (1 Epistola ad Corinthios, section 4, 5), OFTEN QUOTED FOR, IS REALLY AGAINST IT. He mentions Paul and Peter together, but makes it as a distinguishing circumstance of Paul, that he preached both in the East and West, implying that Peter never was in the West.b
TRUTH, NOT TRADITION, GIVES FREEDOM
What if those religious writers of literature that is not a part of the Bible do say that Babylon was Rome—that it is the apocryphal name for Rome? These men were not inspired, as were God’s servants who wrote the Holy Scriptures. Peter was among the inspired Bible writers. (2 Pet. 1:21) If, by saying Babylon he really meant Rome, then the spirit of God that inspired Peter was wrong, which, of course, is unthinkable, for Babylon is not Rome and does not picture Rome, as we shall see in later articles in this series. God is always true and his inspired writers wrote the truth. Therefore, the statement of Peter at 1 Peter 5:13 does not mean Rome, but means the literal city of Babylon in Mesopotamia.
As to the existence of Babylon at that time, The Westminster Historical Atlas to the Bible, Revised Edition of 1956, by Wright and Filson (page 89, map entitled “The Roman World at the Birth of Jesus”), shows that Babylon was in existence as a city at that time. The expression at 1 Peter 5:13, “She who is in Babylon,” may mean a congregation there, but “she” did not save Babylon from becoming a complete desolation, to fulfill prophecy.
Christians today look to Christ Jesus as the Foundation of the Christian congregation and the apostles as faithful men used by their Head and Master, Christ, who are built on the Foundation. They do not look to any city on earth as the center of their faith or as being of greater importance than another city in God’s eyes at the present time. Whether a certain man, even one of the apostles of Jesus Christ, visited a particular city or not, is not the thing of importance here. But it is important to know that Peter did not mean Rome when he said Babylon, for if Babylon is a mystical name for Rome, then Babylon the Great is Rome. But the Bible shows us that Babylon the Great is something much more important and exercises a much more far-reaching influence than Rome ever did, or than does the religion that emanates from Rome. Babylon the Great is the world empire of false religion, which includes, not only the religions of Christendom, but also those of pagandom. To obey the Bible command to get out of her, one does not have to be in Rome; he can be in any location on earth and be held a spiritual prisoner under the influence of Babylon the Great. It is from this that he must flee. He must see unmistakably what Babylon the Great is in order to flee from her to save his life. To do this he must have a clear understanding of what the Bible says about Babylon. Therefore, let us rely upon God’s inspired Word rather than the traditions of men who are uninspired and who try to support a preconceived opinion. It is only the truth that sets men free.—John 8:32.
a “Referring to Jews in voluntary or forced ‘exile’ from the Holy Land, particularly in the era of Jewish expulsion from their homeland after the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of Titus (70 C.E.).”—Concise Dictionary of Judaism, by Dagobert D. Runes, 1959.
b The First Letter of clement to the Corinthians, section 5, reads: “. . . Let us place before our eyes the good Apostles. Peter, by unjust envy, underwent not one or two but many labours; and thus having borne testimony unto death he went unto the place of glory which was due to him. Through envy, Paul obtained the reward of patience. Seven times was he in bonds; he was scourged; was stoned. He preached both in the east and in the west, leaving behind him the glorious report of his faith. And thus, having taught the whole world righteousness, and reached the furthest extremity of the west, he suffered martyrdom, by the command of the governors, and departed out of this world, and went to the holy place, having become a most exemplary pattern of patience.”—Page 6 of A Translation of the Epistles of Clement of Rome, Polycarp and Ignatius, by Temple Chevallier, B.D., edition of 1833, London, England. See also pages 51, 52 of The Apostolic Fathers—An American Translation, by Edgar J. Goodspeed, edition of 1950.
c Regarding the above-named Dionysius, M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia, Volume 8, page 14, says: “Eusebius (iii, 25, in a quotation from Dionysius, bishop of Corinth) adds that they [Peter and Paul] suffered martyrdom together . . . Yet the whole story rests ultimately on the testimony of Dionysius alone, who must have died about A.D. 176 (The passages in Clemens Romanus, 1 to Corinthians v, and Ignatius, to the Romans, v, settle nothing.) . . . Epiphanius (xxvii, 7) even calls Paul the bishop (ἐπίσκοπος) of Christians in Rome.”