Is there any biblical evidence that Jesus made St. Peter the first pope?
Yes, the biblical evidence is overwhelming! Following the logical presentation of Karl Keating in his classical work Catholicism and Fundamentalism (Ignatius Press, 1988), we find the evidence to be irrefutable.
Keating goes on to tell us that, "Peter's preeminent position among the apostles was symbolized at the very beginning of his relationship with Christ, although the implications were only slowly unfolded. At their first meeting, Christ told Simon that his name would thereafter be Peter, which translates as Rock (John 1:42). The startling thing was that in the Old Testament only God was called a rock. The word was never used as a proper name for a man. If one were to turn to a companion and say, 'From now on your name is Asparagus', people would wonder. Why Asparagus? What is the meaning of it? What does it signify? Indeed, why Peter for Simon the fisherman? Why give him as a name a word only used for God before this moment?
"Christ was not given to meaningless gestures, and neither were the Jews as a whole when it came to names. Giving a new name meant that the status of the person was changed, as when Abram was changed to Abraham (Genesis 17:5);Jacob to Israel (Genesis 32:8); Eliacim to Joakim (2 Kings 23:34); and Daniel, Ananias, Misael, and Azarias to Baltassar, Sidrach, Misach, and Abdenago (Danial 1:6-8). But no Jew had ever been called Rock because that was reserved for God. The Jews would give other names taken from nature, such as Barach (which means lightning;Jos 19:45), Deborah (bee; Genesis 35:8), and Rachel (ewe; Genesis 29:16), but not Rock. In the New Testament James and John were surnamed Boanerges, Sos of Thunder, by Christ (Mark 3:17), but that was never regularly used in place of their original names. Simon's new name supplanted the old."1
St. Peter's name has been firmly established by Christ as a name synonymous with God Throughout Jesus' and St. Peter's relationship the reason became gradually clearer, but it becomes crystal clear in Matthew 16:17-19. Immediately after St. Peter proclaims Christ's divinity, our Lord says, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death2 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 will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:17-19).
This passage seems obvious to most readers. As Keating points out, the verse could be written as: "You are Rock, and on this rock I will build my church."3 It makes perfect sense that Jesus is here giving St. Peter supreme authority; however, those who desire to debunk the papacy, and the divine authority it possesses, prefer to claim the rock refers to Christ instead of Peter. To settle this objection, we turn once more to Keating.
"According to the rules of grammar, the phrase 'this rock' must relate to the closest noun. Peter's profession of faith ('Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God') is two verses earlier, while his name, a proper noun, is in the immediately preceding clause. As an analogy, consider this artificial sentence: 'I have a car and a truck and it is blue.' Which is blue? The truck, because that is the noun closest to the pronoun 'it'. This identification would be even clearer if the reference to the car were two sentences earlier, as the reference to Peter's profession is two sentences earlier than the term rock."4
Not only is the reference to rock clear, but we see also that Jesus is giving St. Peter more authority than God had ever given any man, along with some specific promises. Immediately after stating that He will build the Church upon St. Peter (the Rock), Jesus goes on to make a promise and explain why He will do this.
The promise is that "the power of death" (or the more common "gates of hell") will not defeat the Church built on St. Peter. This is a promise that the Church will not be destroyed by Christ's enemies, and that She will stand until the end of time.
Next, we find Jesus using the symbol of the keys. This symbol has always implied power and authority, and the giving of the keys implies a transfer of power and authority. The symbol of the keys is not lost on us today. The owner and manager of a business possess both the keys to the and the authority to run it. When the business is sold, the keys and authority over it are passed to the new owner. It's obvious, then, that He is giving St. Peter power and authority when Jesus gives him "the keys to the kingdom of heaven."
Finally, there is what we call the power of binding and loosing. "Binding and loosing" among the Rabbis of our Lord's time meant to declare something "prohibited" or "permitted". Here it plainly means that St. Peter the Steward of the Lord's house, the Church, has all the rights and powers of a divinely appointed steward. He does not, like the Jewish Rabbis, declare probable, speculative opinions, but he has the right to teach and govern authoritatively, with the certainty of God's approval "in heaven." A law giving power is certainly implied by these words.
1 Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, 205-206.
2 This is the text of the Revised Standard Version (RSV). Most versions read "and the gates of hell" instead of "and the powers of death."
3 Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, 208.