Please comment on the word “vicar.” I have a friend whose church uses it, and I think I have seen the word in the Bible. What does it signify?

The word “vicar” comes from the word “vicarious.” Neither word is found in the Bible, but Bible-believing Christians use the second word to communicate an important truth taught in Scripture. I will comment on that truth later in this answer. But first we should focus on the first word.

It would be interesting to know how your friend’s church uses the word “vicar.” Some churches, including various liturgical Protestant churches, use this word to designate a student pastor, an intern, and the like. The dictionary defines the word as “one who serves as a substitute for another person.” An intern, for example, fills in for the regular clergyman while learning various pastoral duties. As far as I know, Baptists and other Bible-based groups don’t use the word this way.

What is far more unacceptable and dangerous to us, however, is the idea that a person is a vicar serving as a substitute here on earth for God. For instance, the Roman Catholic Church views the pope as the “Vicar of God.” The Vatican Radio noted on a certain Feast day venerating Peter and Paul a number of years ago: “The Church does not exist without the pope. The pope does not exist without the Church. He who believes in the Church believes in the pope.” This doctrine, of course, is totally contrary to the Word of God and is based upon a misinterpretation of Matthew 16:15–19. Verse 18 reads, “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Catholics erroneously believe that this verse is teaching that Peter, not Christ, is the rock. Then they attempt to prove that Peter was also the first pope.

For a number of reasons, we believe that Peter could not have been the first pope of Rome. Perhaps one of the main ones is that the apostle Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; 2 Tim. 1:11), never submitted to Peter as some ecclesiastical head. Paul worked independently of Peter; and if anyone were obviously from Scripture a human leader of the church, it would be Paul, not Peter. But Paul never made any claim of that position for himself. Also, Paul on one occasion withstood Peter to his face over a doctrinal matter (Gal. 2:11–14). The Bible clearly states that Christ is the head of the church (Eph. 5:23). No human acts as a substitute here on earth, acting in the place of Christ. For this reason, Bible-believing Christians had better be careful who they link up with.

Further, the Bible warns us not to call anyone “Father,” apart from God Himself (Matt. 23:9). Interestingly, the Spanish word for “pope” is papa. Another interesting item to consider is that the Latin equivalent of the Greek anti is vicarius, from which the word “vicar” is derived. Thus the term “vicar of Christ” literally means “antichrist.” Might this be one reason that Martin Luther called the pope the Antichrist? We know from studying Bible prophecy that the pope’s future counterpart, the coming world ruler of the one-world church and government, will indeed be the Antichrist, or the Beast. This individual will set himself up as the one in place of Christ, while actually opposing Him (2 Thess. 2:3, 8; 1 John 2:18; Rev, 13:2, 3; 17:1–18).

Now let’s look at the form of this word that Bible-believing Christians have loved to use through the years: “vicarious.” We use it in regard to Jesus Christ, the only Savior and the only way to Heaven. We just noted that anti in the Greek means “in the place of.” Christ is our substitute; He bore the punishment we as sinners rightly deserve. He died in our place. As helpless sinners, dead in our trespasses and sins, we couldn’t save ourselves. We could have our sin problem taken care of only by the death of the sinless Son of God for us on the cross in our place (Isa. 53:4–6; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13; Heb. 2:9; 1 Pet. 3:18). So “vicarious” means that the guilt of sinners was imputed to Christ in that He bore their punishment as their representative. The atonement was directed toward God and the satisfaction of His holy character and the demands upon the sinner.

We must always hold to this precious truth as we marvel over our salvation. Only Christ could meet the demands of a holy God; we need no human mediator. Anyone who claims to be what Christ is or claims to be able to step in and by proxy do what Christ has done is no less than a blasphemer. The book of Hebrews makes it clear that Christ is our high priest. There is no need for anyone else to step in as His substitute; He is our Substitute. Hebrews 7:25–28 states,

Wherefore he [Christ alone] is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them, For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless; undeified, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself. For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore.

This is good news!

Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to nolson@garbc.org or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.

Reprinted from the Baptist Bulletin (November 1997).
© 1997 Regular Baptist Press. All rights reserved.
Used by permission.