Was Peter Ever In Rome?
IF YOU belong to the Roman Catholic Church or are acquainted with its teachings, you know that its foundation depends upon Peter’s having been in Rome. Says The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1911: “This constitutes the historical foundation of the claim of the Bishops of Rome to the Apostolic Primacy of Peter.”
The fact that such great importance is attached to Peter’s being in Rome gives real reason to expect the backing of reliable historical proof. The Catholic Encyclopedia maintains that this is the case, saying: “St. Peter’s residence and death in Rome are established beyond contention as historical facts by a series of distinct testimonies extending from the end of the first to the end of the second centuries.” Similarly, the New Catholic Encyclopedia observes: “It is quite certain that Peter spent his last years in Rome.”
WAS BABYLON ROME?
The most ancient testimony pointed to is that of 1 Peter 5:13: “She who is in Babylon, a chosen one like you, sends you her greetings.” A footnote in the New American Bible, a modern Roman Catholic translation, identifies this “Babylon” as follows: “Rome which, like ancient Babylon, conquered Jerusalem and destroyed its temple.” Yet, this same Catholic translation acknowledges that, if Peter wrote the letter, “it must be dated before 64-67 A.D., the period within which his execution under Nero took place.” But Jerusalem was not destroyed by the Romans until 70 C.E. So at the time Peter wrote his letter no correspondency existed between Babylon and Rome.
Thus the idea that Babylon means Rome is simply an interpretation, but is not supported by fact. It was questioned even by Roman Catholic scholars of past centuries, including Peter de Marca, John Baptist Mantuan, Michael de Ceza, Marsile de Padua, John Aventin, John Leland, Charles du Moulin, Louis Ellies Dupin and the renowned Desiderius (Gerhard) Erasmus. Church historian Dupin wrote:
“The First Epistle of Peter is dated at Babylon. Many of the ancients have understood that name to signify Rome; but no reason appears that could prevail with St. Peter to change the name of Rome into that of Babylon. How could those to whom he wrote understand that Babylon was Rome?”
Aside from references to “Babylon the Great” in the book of Revelation, only one city is called Babylon in the Holy Scriptures. That city is the Babylon situated on the Euphrates. Could this have been the place from which Peter wrote?
Yes. Though Babylon declined after its fall to the Medes and Persians, it continued to exist. There was a sizable Jewish population in the area of Babylon in the early centuries of the Common Era. Says The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: “Babylonia remained a focus of eastern Judaism for centuries, and from the discussions in rabbinical schools there were elaborated the Talm[ud] of Jerus[alem] in the 5th cent[ury] of our era, and the Talm[ud] of Babylon a cent[ury] later.”
Peter must have meant just what he wrote. This becomes clear from a decision he made some years before writing his first inspired letter. In a meeting with Paul and Barnabas, he agreed to continue devoting his efforts to spreading the gospel among the Jews. We read: “Recognizing that I [Paul] had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter was for the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter as his apostle among the Jews had been at work in me for the Gentiles) and recognizing, too, the favor bestowed on me, those who were the acknowledged pillars, James, Cephas, and John, gave Barnabas and me the handclasp of fellowship, signifying that we should go to the Gentiles as they to the Jews.” (Gal. 2:7-9, New American Bible) Accordingly, Peter would reasonably have worked in a center of Judaism, such as was Babylon, rather than in Rome, with its predominant Gentile population.
The claim that Peter was in Rome thus has no basis in the Bible’s own testimony. But what about other ancient writings?
Clement of Rome, of the first century C.E., is often presented as one who confirms Peter’s stay in Rome. He wrote:
“Let us set before our eyes the illustrious apostles. Peter, through unrighteous envy, endured not one or two, but numerous labours; and when he had at length suffered martyrdom, departed to the place of glory due to him. Owing to envy, Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance, after being seven times thrown into captivity, compelled to flee, and stoned. After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects.”
Concerning these comments, Roman Catholic scholar Lardner remarked:
“From these passages I think it may be justly concluded that Peter and Paul were martyrs at Rome, in the time of Nero’s persecution. For they suffered among the Romans, where Clement was bishop, and in whose name he was writing to the Corinthians.”
But is this really what Clement said? True, Clement mentions both Peter and Paul. But nowhere does he say that they both suffered a martyr’s death at Rome. He refers only to Paul as preaching “both in the east and west,” implying that Peter was never in the west (serving, rather, in the east, as at Babylon). Thus Clement’s testimony actually argues against Peter’s having been in Rome.
THE TESTIMONY OF IGNATIUS
Another early source cited in support of Peter’s residence at Rome is Ignatius, of the late first century and early second century C.E. Ignatius told Christians at Rome: “I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles; I am but a condemned man.” In explanation of these words, The Catholic Encyclopedia says: “The meaning of this remark must be that the two Apostles laboured personally in Rome, and with Apostolic authority preached the Gospel there.”
Is the conclusion of The Catholic Encyclopedia sound? Did Ignatius say that both Peter and Paul were in Rome? No, he simply stated that, as apostles, Paul and Peter issued commandments. Be it remembered that commandments can be issued by means of letters, through messengers or even verbally when one is visited by people from other places. There is no need for the one commanding to be personally present in a particular city.
THE TESTIMONY OF IRENAEUS
But some may say, Ah, but did not Irenaeus definitely say that Peter was in Rome? According to the extant writings of Irenaeus (second century C.E.), he did. We read: “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.” There is also a reference to the “universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul.” Nevertheless, Irenaeus may not have made these statements. Why not? Because the original Greek writings of Irenaeus are lost. These words attributed to him are translated from a poor Latin version found some hundreds of years later. A Latin scribe could have easily added the points about Peter. That there were similar forgeries is admitted by Louis Ellies Dupin, Roman Catholic church historian. He says:
“The Catholics invented false histories, false miracles, and false lives of the saints to nourish and keep up the piety of the faithful.”
The strongest evidence against the statements claimed to be made by Irenaeus is their disagreement with the Bible. As evident from the letter to the Romans, there were Christians in Rome before the apostle Paul ever came to that city. This is acknowledged in the introduction to the book of Romans in the Catholic New American Bible:
“Since neither early Christian tradition nor Paul’s letter to the Romans mentions a founder of the Christian community in Rome, it may be concluded that the Christian faith came to that city through members of the Jewish community of Jerusalem who were Christian converts.”
Neither Peter nor Paul, by laboring in Rome, founded the Christian church there. However, on the day of Pentecost 33 C.E., Peter spoke to “sojourners from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,” at Jerusalem. (Acts 2:10) This may be the basis for the traditions that credit Peter with the founding of the church at Rome. But, as the facts show, it is not a sound basis on which to build one’s faith.
Thus, seeming historical evidence for Peter’s stay at Rome, under close examination, proves to have no real foundation. This is also true of claimed archaeological evidence. Excavations brought to light remains of what is thought to have been a small funeral monument. Those who link this monument with the tomb of Peter base their conclusion on the assumption that he was in Rome. Concerning the bones that were found, the New Catholic Encyclopedia tells us:
“Anatomical and geological examination indicate that these bones are of the 1st century; among them are the bones of a man of large frame. But there is no way of proving that they are the bones of St. Peter.”
Hence there is no solid evidence, either archaeological or historical, to establish Peter’s stay in Rome. Biblical evidence is to the contrary. The claim of the Roman Catholic Church concerning the “Apostolic Primacy of Peter” is therefore false!