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The keys to the kingdom were handed to Peter, one of the twelve apostles. Jesus said of Peter, upon this rock, I will build my church. According to Church law, Peter is the first Pope. Every Pope thereafter is a successor to Peter.
In especially solemn fashion Christ accentuated Peter's precedence among the Apostles. And I say to thee: That thou art Peter [Kipha, a rock], and upon this rock [Kipha] I will build my church [ekklesian], and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven. (Matthew 16:13-20; Mark 8:27-30; Luke 9:18-21).
This is an open ended question and a few answers can be given from the biblical data. Here are a few considerations:
1. Peter was the apostle to the Jews. He was the first to confess Christ, and I think the foundational element of Peter was his confession, not Peter himself as a person.
2. Paul was the apostle to the gentiles. His mission was great and expansive. Most of the New Testament is about his work.
3. James was the leader of the Jerusalem church.
In the light of these men, different answers can be given. If I had to take a guess, Paul is the man. He wrote much more than Peter and his influence is greater, since he was sent to the gentiles and most Christians today are gentiles.
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