The bible does not directly mention ‘the pope’. There isn’t anyone with the title anywhere in the Bible.
That doesn’t mean the Papacy is an unbiblical institution. According to catholic doctrine, there’s a straight line from the authority and supremacy of the pope to Saint Peter, the head of the apostles and early church.
So while Jesus nor anyone in the Bible explicitly mentions, or appoints a pope, the papacy is rooted solidly in the Bible. Specifically, in the proclamations of Jesus to his apostle Peter in Matthew 16:18-19.
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
What does Peter, an apostle who lived almost two millennia ago, have to do with the Catholic pope?
It all comes down to apostolic succession. This is the passing down of the keys or leadership to the church down through different apostles.
It begins with Jesus declaring saint Peter to be the Rock of the church and giving him the keys to the kingdom of heaven. While Peter did not become any more perfect after this, he held a divine responsibility to lead the early Church after Jesus ascended. This is the same responsibility held by the Pope.
He is not perfect by any means, but has divine authority to lead the church.
The other important phrase is ‘whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven’. This authority to bind and loose is commonly interpreted as the authority of confession and penance.
The same way other apostles and early church leaders also had this power, so does the pope share the authority of penance with other church bishops.
So Peter became the leader of the apostles, and later the church in Rome. He was the first Bishop of Rome, also known as the Pope.
After Peter came Linus, the second pope. After Linus came Clement, then Anacletus, then Evaristus and so on. That’s the apostolic succession that has, to date, given the Catholic Church 266 popes.
What’s Not In The Bible
The papacy has changed quite a bit from the early days of the Roman Church. One of the biggest changes that’s not in the Bible is the formation of Vatican City, an independent city state within Rome in Italy.
While the Vatican area has existed since the early church and was a major religious centre, it’s only recently in 1929 that it became a political jurisdiction.
But the pope’s religious authority extends far beyond Vatican city, to all Catholics worldwide. Even today, he plays the same important roles as Peter and other early Bishops – providing stable leadership and direction for the church.