Why did the early Christian Church move to Rome from the early seat of Christian authority in the city of Jerusalem?

This query is fraught with controversy, misrepresentation, misunderstandings, local politics, Geo-politics of the time, power struggles and much more.

Jerusalem was the seat of the Christian authority until the Roman sack and subsequent persecutions of the Jews and Christians. With the decimation of their historic city, the city of Rome being the dominant center of government and wealth of that time, seemed to be a logical choice. [1][2]

Putting that history aside we must delve into the ‘traditions’ of the Christian Church. The first topic of interest must be the story of Peter, the purported ‘rock’ of the faith based of said traditions. [3]

Based on the writings of Irenaeus, mid second century, stated:

"Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, laying the foundations of the Church." Soon after, he refers to the "universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul."

In biblical context, we do know that Peter and Paul both visited and preached in Rome. There is no validation that Peter actually lived in Rome, only references to visits. The main references to Peter having long term stays in the city where while under arrest. [4][5][6] One reference, much debated or outright dismissed, is the deacon named Gaius around 170-180 C.E. Because there is little or no supporting evidence to the writings of Gaius, the credibility of the information is highly suspect.

There are a few simple references by the early Church Fathers, but have remained unsubstantiated or based on questionable ‘verbal or possibly eclectic’ writings of dubious origins.

Interestingly, the Bible says nothing about Peter ever traveling to Rome. When the gospels end, Peter is in Jerusalem. It’s the same in the Book of Acts. The apostle Paul, in his letters, also talks about meeting Peter in the eastern Mediterranean. After Jesus’ death, Paul says that James and Peter are the co-leaders of the “church,” or assembly, of Jesus-followers in Jerusalem. In short, there is no early textual evidence for Peter in Rome.

If we assume that Peter may not have sat in authority in Rome, Rome may have been a church founded no differently than Antioch or Alexandria, both actually founded before the church in Rome [by historic dating]. Jerusalem was perceived as the seat of the Christian faith. [7]

With that simple groundwork set, we can move on to Peter himself.

1.Temin, Peter. “Financial Intermediation in the Early Roman Empire.” The Journal of Economic History, vol. 64, no. 3, 2004, pp. 705–733., www.jstor.org/stable/3874817.

2. Garnsey, Peter, et al. The Roman Empire: Economy, Society and Culture. 2nd ed., University of California Press, 2015

3. Matthew 16:18 - “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. “

4. Capes, David B.; Reeves, Rodney; Richards, E. Randolph (2011). Rediscovering Paul: An Introduction to His World, Letters and Theology. InterVarsity Press. ISBN 978-0-8308-3941-4.

5. O’Conner – Peter in Rome

6. BAC, The Apostle Peter in Rome Jan 2023

7. The four early churches were Jerusalem (33AD), Antioch (42AD), Alexandria (49AD) and Rome (67AD).

Why must Peter be discussed within the context of the church moving from Jerusalem to Rome. Peter is the key to understanding the structure of the early church.

First we must look at the ‘tradition’ as was interpreted by the church of Rome (not Jerusalem). Here is a list of purported evidence that Peter was the leader of the church:

Next to Jesus, Peter is mentioned more than any other apostle in Scripture (152 times).

1. He stood up and spoke on behalf of the apostles (Mt 19:27, Acts 1:15, 2:14)

2. Peter as the ‘rock’ (Mt 16:8)

3. He stood up at the birth of the Church at the Pentecost to lead them. (Acts 2:14)

4. The disciples were referred to as Peter and the Apostles. (Acts 2:37, 5:29)

5. Peter was given the authority to forgive sins before the rest of the apostles. (Mat 16:18)

6. He was always named first when the apostles were listed (Matthew 10:1-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16, Acts 1:13) -- sometimes it was only "Peter and those who were with him" (Luke 9:32);

7. John ran ahead of Peter to the tomb but upon arriving he stopped and did not go in. He waited and let Peter go in. (Jn 20:4)

8. Peter stepped out of the boat in the middle of the storm, even though they were all afraid they would die in the storm. (Mat 14:29)

9. Peter was the oldest

10. Jesus told Peter to "feed my lambs...tend my sheep... feed my sheep." (Jn 21:15-17. The difference between a sheep and a lamb might be significant. A lamb is a baby, a sheep is an adult. Perhaps Jesus was asking Peter to take care of both the general people (the lambs), and the apostles (sheep). Regardless of that interpretation of sheep and lambs, is clear Jesus is asking Peter to feed and tend his flock. That is what a shepherd does. It appears that he is asking Peter to shepherd his Church on earth, on his behalf.

11. “Simon, Simon! Remember Satan has asked for you (Greek plural-“you all”), to sift you all like wheat. But I have prayed for you (Greek singular-“you alone”) that your faith may never fail. You in turn must strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).

First, we must look at item #2, Peter the ‘rock’. The name was given by Jesus the name Cephas, from the Aramaic כֵּיפָא, Kepha, 'rock/stone'. In translations of the Bible from the original Greek, his name is maintained as Cephas in 9 occurrences in the New Testament, [*1] whereas in the vast majority of mentions (156 occurrences in the New Testament) he is called Πέτρος, Petros, from the Greek and Latin word for a rock or stone (petra) [*2] to which the masculine ending was added, rendered into English as Peter. [*3]

*1. "Strong's Greek: 2786. Κηφᾶς (Képhas) – "a rock," Cephas, a name given to the apostle Peter". biblehub.com.

*2. "Strong's Greek: 4073. πέτρα (petra) – a (large mass of) rock". biblehub.com. Retrieved 1 September 2021.

*3. "Strong's Greek: 4074. Πέτρος (Petros) – "a stone" or "a boulder," Peter, one of the twelve apostles". biblehub.com.

In tradition, this is the most controversial translation of biblical text that is used to substantiate Peter as the first leader of the church. What does the comment from Jesus really mean?

We may never really know, as the words Jesus used seemed to be a play on words. But we must look at some facts that are not immediately apparent.

First, Peter who came from a fisherman background, was incredibly intelligent and articulate. If we look at items #1, #3 and many other references to when Peter addressed others, he spoke words of great wisdom to be sure. That not withstanding, it was very rare for Peter to give a command or make a precise decision. No doubt that Peter was a ‘rock’ or pillar of the church. No doubt whatsoever. Yet, if we consider item #2, was it authoritative or was it Jesus knew Peter understood Jesus' place on earth, and Peter had the ‘oration skills’ and ‘persuasiveness’ to bring the word decisively to the peoples? Peter was a great orator, yet made few finite decisions unilaterally.

This can be seen many times in biblical text. Items #1 and #3 above, his oration at the meeting with the Apostles and Matthias, the first Council of Jerusalem. When choosing Matthias, Peter did not decide, Matthias was chosen by lots. In the Council of Jerusalem, it was James that declared the final decision. In Gal 2:9 it is very clear that James, John and Cephas (Peter) decided together, as one voice, to accept Paul and Barnabas. In these instances they acted as ‘one among equals’.

Item #11 has two possible contexts. One is that Jesus is referencing only Peter’s great love for Jesus, his special understanding of Jesus, and his oratory abilities and charisma to help guide the disciples and the masses in the faith. The context may not be targeted at Peter’s leadership skills.

Items #4 through #7 and #9 have no tangible outcomes that would lead us to believe Peter was the ‘authority’ of the church. It does show that he and Jesus had a special relationship, and that the other disciples understood the friendship between the two. The disciples may have been showing Peter greater respect based on what they perceived as this closeness to Jesus. This is a cultural norm even today. If someone knows a famous or well respected individual, people tend to show more respect and to honor that relationship.

Item #10 is somewhat self explaining. To tend the flock, great orations must be presented to the flock. This process of great orations by Peter, called sermons or teachings, is what the disciples and Apostles were all about. They mimicked Jesus teachings to the best of their abilities.

Item #8 is a story of faith, not leadership.

Item #11 is ambiguous at best. “… strengthen your brothers’ is by no means translatable into authority. Rather, it may be gleaned from the structure of the sentence that Jesus trusts Peter implicitly in his faith and ability to orate that faith to ‘uplift’ those he orates to, keeping them strong in the faith.

There are many dozens of references in the bible that leads us to assume that Peter was the leader of the Apostles, with an equal number that present a picture that Peter may have been ‘one among equals’.

From Bible Research Resources (Staunch):

What is interesting, and most instructive, is that the Gospels give Peter no special, exclusive title to differentiate him from the other apostles (see Matt. 23:8-12). As one scholar who has written extensively on Peter puts it, “[Peter] is ascribed no leading position at all in relation to the group of the Twelve; on the contrary, he appears only as the most representative of the disciples.”[1] And this is deliberate, based on Jesus’ unique teaching on humility, love, servanthood, and brotherhood. As Jesus said, “You are all brothers,” “You have one instructor, the Christ,” and “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled” (Matt. 23:8, 10 ESV). [2] The Christian community is a family of brothers and sisters.

Furthermore, it is not only Peter who stands out among the apostles. In the Gospels, James and John are often highlighted by Jesus along with Peter, while the other apostles are left unmentioned (Matt. 26:37). Undoubtedly, Jesus had no difficulty in teaching brotherly equality and simultaneously acknowledging diversity of giftedness and leadership influence within the family of brothers and sisters.

First Among Equals

One way to describe the relationship of Peter to the other eleven apostles is by the ancient Roman description “first among equals” (Latin: primus inter pares; Greek: protos metaxy ison) or in the case of Peter, James, and John: “first ones among equals” (primi inter pares). Merriam Webster defines “first among equals” this way: “the leader of a group of people who is officially considered equal in rights and status to the other members of the group.” While such definitions are helpful, we must base our understanding of the phrase upon the context of Jesus’ repeated teaching on brotherhood (sisterhood), humble servanthood, and Christlike loving community.

The term “first among equals” is employed here to describe a reality that existed between Peter and the other apostles. It is not an official title. It is not a separate office. It is not a justification for autocratic leadership or one-man rule of the local church. I doubt the other apostles walked around calling Peter “first among equals.”

It is undeniable that Peter, especially after the ascension of Christ into heaven, acted as the chief spokesman of the Twelve (see notes below), and the outstanding gifted leader among them. We can describe him as first among his equals without reducing the other apostles to be his advisors or subordinates (Eph. 2:20; Rev. 21:14). “Among the Twelve,” Richard Bauckham correctly states, “Peter is clearly the pre-eminent figure . . . though himself subject to the apostles as a group (Acts 8:14).”[3]

Being first among his equals does not make Peter the supreme apostle or pope. Peter did not preside over the other apostles as head. He was not the presiding bishop of the Jerusalem council (Act 15:6-29). Instead, at the council he acted more as a missionary spokesman for the Gentile mission, and later his work would not entail organizational head over the church in Jerusalem but traveling gospel preacher. Peter was first among his equals, not over his equals. If he was over his equals, they would not be his equals in the office of apostle.

The concept of first among equals is not a foreign concept to the Bible.[4] In Acts 15:22, Barsabbas and Silas are called “leading men among the brothers.” “It is interesting,” remarks one commentator, “that they are described as ‘leading men among the brothers’ but are neither apostles nor elders, though both are later described as ‘prophets’ (Acts 15:32).”[5]All in the believing community are equally brothers and sisters in Christ, but some brothers stand out as leaders.

It is well noted that Paul also writes that Peter and James the Just ‘co-share’ operations of the church. [6]

Peter’s position among the Twelve should be neither exaggerated nor diminished.

1. Oscar Cullmann, Peter Disciple, Apostle, Martyr: A Historical and Theological Study (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962), 32.

2. Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture is taken from the ESV (English Standard Version.

3. Richard Bauckham, The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting, vol. 4 “The Book of Acts in Its Palestinian Settings” (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 428.

4. Gen. 49:8-12, 22-26; Deut. 33:16-17; Acts 13:50; 14:12; 15:22; 16:12; 17:4; 25:2. The “first among equals” leadership relationship can also be observed among the Seven who were chosen to relieve the apostles in Acts 6. Philip and Stephen stood out as prominent figures among the five other brothers (Acts 6:8- 7:60; 8:4-40; 21:8). Yet, as far as the account records, the two held no special title or status above the others. The concept of “first among equals” is further evidenced by the relationship of Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. Paul and Barnabas were both apostles (Acts 13:1-3; 14:4; 15:36-39; 1 Cor. 9:1-6), yet Paul was first between the two because he was “the chief speaker” and dynamic leader (Acts 13:13; 14:2). Although Paul was plainly the more gifted of the two apostles, he held no formal ranking over Barnabas; they labored as partners in the work of the gospel. A similar relationship seems to have existed between Paul and Silas, who was also an apostle (1 Thess. 2:6).

5. James D. G. Dunn, The Acts of the Apostles (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity, 1996), 207.

6. D. A. Carson comments, “Matthew uses ‘first’ in connection with Peter; the word cannot mean he was the first convert . . . and probably does not simply mean “first on the list,” which would be a trifling comment (cf. 1 Cor. 12:28). More likely it means primus inter pares (‘first among equals’; cf. further on 16:13-20)” (Matthew, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 1 [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995], 237). Darrell Bock also comments on Luke 22:32, “[Peter’s] responsibility will be to make [the brothers’] faith more resolute in its allegiance to Jesus. Peter is again considered the first among equals” (Luke, Baker Exegetical Commentary, vol. 2 [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996], 1743). (cont.) Commenting on Peter’s confession in Matthew 16, Turner writes, “It is not Peter alone but as first among equals, since the context makes it clear that Peter is speaking for the apostles as a whole in Matt. 16:16” (David L. Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008], 407).

What relationship does the discussion of Peter have regarding the move of the church from the early roots of the church in Jerusalem to Rome?

With the controversy and conflicting evidence over the supremacy of Peter over the other Apostles and lack of substantial proof Peter resided and sat in authority in Rome, it leaves open to interpretation regarding Rome as the definitive seat of power during those early dates. It goes without saying that if Peter was in Rome and he sat in the seat of authority, why would the church of Jerusalem have to be re-seated in Rome?

One of the historically correct answers to that question is the sack of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D. With the unrest and upheaval caused by the Jews and Christians against Rome, the empire reacted in a decisive way. Many thousands of Jews and Christians were slaughtered and persecutions of the few remaining was incessant. The city began to return to normal about 120 A.D. We do know that just previous to this, Peter was traveling on his many missions, sometime fleeing for his life, and did come to Rome ‘briefly’. Here he was again captured, jailed and martyred in 67 A.D. This creates a very important dichotomy. Peter died before the sack of Rome. Hence, if Rome was the seat of government and Peter was in authority there, why was the transfer of ‘power’ from Jerusalem such a bid deal? On the flip side, if Jerusalem was the seat of authority, why was placing Peter in Rome deemed important?

Yet why Rome? The one religion that was persistently outlawed and subject to systematic persecution in Rome was Christianity. [7] The persecution under Nero (64AD), and for many Emperors after was no better than the period of the sack of Jerusalem. The claim that the church moved to Rome based on persecutions does no hold to historical face checking.

Many state that Peter and others often used the word Babylon, and that this was a reference to Rome. This may be a ‘code’ word, but there is no factual accounts to support the theory. The issue at hand is Babylon existed during the life and times of Jesus and the Apostles. The approximate date of the final decline of Babylon was around 1000 A.D. [8]

Peter and Paul did seek to start a church in Rome. This is not in dispute. Many state that Rome was chosen to be the seat of government because Jesus and the Apostles desired the faith to be preached throughout the world. The claim is made that Rome was the central location to expand outwards in their missions. [9] This is very simply geographically false. Lets look at the historical facts. There is tradition that Paul went to Spain. At the close of his letter to the Romans he mentions twice his plan to visit Spain (15:24, 28). Pauline scholars note that there is a gap in the chronology of his life in the early 60s A.D. At this time he might have visited Spain, yet no with substantial proof. Clement and the Muratorian Canon as well as Chrysostom and Jerome ‘assume’ that Paul fulfilled his intention. [10] Assumptions are not facts. Also, there are indications of possible visitations to Gaul (France) but these appear to be well after the year 100 A.D. One main reference was the detailed account by Irenaeus regarding the death of the ninety year old bishop Pothinus in the mid 100’s A.D. There are eclectic reports that state Bartholomew and Thomas may have traveled as far as India, preached for a short time and left behind one of the Gospels (Matthew?). Yet, they did not formalize a fully operational church there. [11][12]

7. Jacob Neusner, A Life of Rabban Yohanan Ben Zakkai: Ca. I-80 C. E., Brill 1970 p.171

8. Bible.org - The Rise and Fall of Babylon

9. CatholicBridge – Why did the Church Move from Jerusalem to Rome?

10. Bible Archeology – Paul’s Journey to Spain

11. Butler & Burns 1998, p. 232.

12. Stephen Neill, A History of Christianity in India: The Beginnings to AD 1707 (2004). p 29

So, with that we have set the ‘limits’ of the Christian Migration. Now we can turn to geography to refute the claim that Rome was chosen because of its centralized location.

On this map the red box is the approximate limits of the fully established Christian faith based on the historical references in the previous section. The black line is the ‘median’ (half way) point between east and west. The Yellow line is Jerusalem. The light blue line is Rome. Geographically Rome makes no sense related to logistics. And with the main populace of Christians congregated closer to the ‘center’ of the red area, any centralized city would have been better than Rome. Antioch or Constantinople would have appeared to be a more practical choices in the grand scheme of things. Those two cradles of Christianity fall on or very near the black line.


If we take out the persecutions in Rome, we can open this up to other options.

Could it be likely that the church settled in Rome for economic, church political and geopolitical reasons? Rome was very rich. Rome did have a few very wealth patrons that did assist the church, totally disregarding the persuasions and outright outlawing of the faith. Also, all of these lands were dominated by Roman Rule. Did the Roman seat of government, politics and wealth come into play?

With that being said, why did the church not move back to Jerusalem? The horrible persecution continued in Rome for several hundred years. The end of the persecutions and outright outlawing of Christianity may have ended in the time of Lucinius, who issues the Edict of Milan 313 A.D. [13] Yet, Jerusalem was being fully repopulated and stable by 130 A.D. [14]

It is possible that Jerusalem was in a region that was always prone to conflict? This is simple fact that cannot be ignored. Yet, the people could not have foresight to know the future sacks of the city. Yet, Rome was sacked also within the first 400 years of Christianity.

13. Frend, W. H. C. (1965). The Early Church. SPCK, p. 137.

14. CatholicBridge

History, theology (theological archaeology) and church politics sometimes clash. We may never know all the facts.