Skip to comments.Apostolic Succession; A Biblical Doctrine?
Posted on 01/02/2012 9:00:25 PM PST by RnMomof7
T he doctrine of apostolic succession is the belief that the 12 apostles passed on their authority to successors, who then passed that apostolic authority on to their successors, continuing on throughout the centuries, even to today. Whilst this might be a fascinating and intriguing concept, is it truly biblical?
The great thing about the New Testament is that it clearly establishes the major doctrines of the Church. One may find vital doctrines such as the atonement, resurrection and justification by faith alone, clearly outlined with many scriptural references (one may wish to check out this page). One is left in no doubt on the pivotal doctrines of the Church, neither is one left in any doubt regarding the specific content of the Gospel message (Acts 16: 30-31; Acts 26:1-23; Romans 4: 24-25; Romans 10: 9-10; 1 Corinthians 2: 1-2; 1 Cor. 15:1-4). In the face of such clarity, it might seem amazing how so many have managed to successfully teach extraneous, non-biblical messages but this they have certainly done.
One has to say that 'apostolic succession' is conspicuous by it's absence within the New Testament. The basic idea is that Peter the Apostle was the first pope, or chief leader (based on Matthew 16:18), and that this somewhat grandiose conception of 'chief church leader' should then be passed on through the entirely biblical principle of the 'laying on of hands,' and this certainly does seem to be a New Testament principle of conferring authority. Roman Catholicism believes that Peter later became the first bishop of Rome, and that the Roman bishops that followed him were accepted by the early church as overall leaders. However, there are huge problems with this belief. Here are some of them:
1. Apart from the principle of governing elders, the New Testament is pretty much silent on any required church governing schema, or office. For sure, a range of possible church offices are listed in 1 Cor. 12:28 and Eph. 4:11 and one might expect to find some Christians having the necessary gifts to fulfill certain such offices (but not all), possibly depending on the size and scope of the area of responsibility, but the only required office appears to be that of Elder. See Titus 1:5. Also, one might note that neither 1 Cor. 12:28 nor Eph. 4:11 suggest any system or principle of 'apostolic succession' - but wouldn't these have been the ideal places to mention it?? After all, both Eph. 4:11 and 1 Cor. 12:28 do refer to the office of 'apostle,' however, that does not imply, of course, that that particular office would be continually repeated throughout the church age. 'Bishops' are pretty much essential to the concept of apostolic succession, but even Bishop Lightfoot, one of the greatest New Testament scholars of all time, freely admitted that 'bishop' (the office which he himself eventually inherited within Anglicanism), was not truly a New Testament office. The word is based on 'overseer,' but biblically, it appears that it was certain of the elders who were to be overseers, but with no indications of a separate 'overseer' office. The fact that the office of 'bishop' has no New Testament authority or precedent already seriously weakens the 'apostolic succession' argument.
2. Peter might well have been, in a somewhat loose sense, overall apostolic leader in the New Testament, but if he was, it was a very, very loose sense. For example, on one occasion, Paul the Apostle quite strongly challenges and disagrees with him in public (Galatians 2:11-14). Peter's New Testament epistles are not, perhaps, major epistles, as the Pauline ones are, indeed, they are somewhat short and not high on doctrinal content. Later, he appears to disappear altogether from any New Testament consideration with scarcely a mention anywhere. Peter may well have been the overall leader for taking the gospel to the Jews (as Paul was with respect to the Gentiles), yet the epistle of James (James almost certainly being the Senior Elder at Jerusalem), does not even mention him once! Moreover, there is no evidence that Peter ever became 'bishop' of Rome as Roman Catholicism - even now - continues to (erroneously, in my opinion) teach.
Surely all of this would be utterly inconceivable if Peter had understood Jesus' comment to him in Matthew 16:18 to mean that he should adopt a grandiose and pope-like style of leadership! If he was a leader at all (which seems quite debatable), it was possibly only with regard to the work among the Jewish people.
3. In the New Testament, no 'bishop' (overseer) had jurisdiction over the bishops or presbyters of other churches (carefully check out Ignatius of Antioch, in his Letter to Polycarp); rather, that function was reserved for the apostles, which was obviously a foundational office of the Church (Eph. 2:20; 4:11; 1 Cor. 12:28; 2 Cor. 11:28). But today the office of Apostle is obviously closed.
4. The Roman Catholic Church itself has not maintained it's own concept of apostolic succession through the laying on of hands upon holy men. In fact, 'Simony' (that is, the buying of the office of 'pope' or 'bishop' for money, or favours) was an absolute disgrace when the Church of Rome was at it's peak, which it no longer is. Unless I am misunderstanding something here, appointing a corrupt bishop or pope just once would destroy the whole structure and principle of 'apostolic succession' for all time. Frankly, I think that most studied RCs know this which could be why they tend to play down the teaching on 'apostolic succession.'
I’m a Messianic Jew. Do I count? I mean Yashua being Jewish and all. Rome took over and look what happened. I’ve read the history of the popes. And that church history. But then, there was Luther.
There is no church but the local church, and there are no pastors but local church pastors.
What did the Apostles do to replace Judas after he hanged himself?
They met amongst each other and elevated one of those who had seen the risen Lord.
And thus it has been ever since.
You have to have seen the risen Christ to be an Apostle.
It’s an open thread, not a caucus designation.
Anybody is free to participate.
I see the concept as proposed by the Catholic church an attempt to put their claim to being the one and only true church started by Jesus beyond any possibility of refutation.
There is that little complication.
Are you saying that the leadership in the RCC are apostles?
Are you saying that seeing the risen Lord is a requirement to be a leader in the Catholic church?
If seeing the risen Lord is a requirement to be chosen in the process of apostolic succession, then apostolic succession died out when the last of the men who saw the risen Lord died.
Yea you count ...LOL
6. Roman Catholicism points to Matthias being chosen to replace Judas as the 12th apostle in Acts chapter 1 as an example of "apostolic succession," but it is nothing of the kind. While Matthias did indeed succeed Judas as an apostle, this is hardly an argument for apostolic succession. Rather, this just shows the divine determination to launch the New Testament Church with 12 Apostles (just as the Old Testament had had 12 tribes of Israel). Matthias being chosen to replace Judas is only an argument for the church being prepared to replace ungodly leaders (such as Judas), where necessary. The scant Acts 1 references to Matthias being appointed as apostle never say enough to establish an 'apostolic succession' argument upon. Neither, by the way, is this an argument that churches should only operate through 12 leaders, as a few now teach.
I would note that actually God had chosen a replacement for Judas.. permission for the apostles to replace him is not found anywhere in scripture... God had already chosen Paul.. A major author of the NT and teacher in the New testament church ...where as the selection of the apostles is never heard of in the scriptures again
1. I see no references to Act. Read there. It discusses how the Church chose to appoint the replacement of Judas. The understanding being that the positions did not die with the Apostles, but that they could select their own.
“2. Peter might well have been, in a somewhat loose sense, overall apostolic leader in the New Testament, but if he was, it was a very, very loose sense.”
Nonsense. He was universally acknowledged as the first among the Apostles, including Paul, who says that he was the least of them and unworthy to be called an Apostle.
Christ gave Peter the Keys to the Kingdom of heaven and the authority to bind and loose, in forgiving sins. Peter, not any of the other Apostles was given the authority by Christ over the Church. “Feed my sheep”, three times Christ admonished Peter.
“For example, on one occasion, Paul the Apostle quite strongly challenges and disagrees with him in public”
Yet, Paul considered himself to be the least among the Apostles. So clearly, he did not believe that the disagreement changed his position.
“Peter’s New Testament epistles are not, perhaps, major epistles, as the Pauline ones are, indeed, they are somewhat short and not high on doctrinal content.”
How is that relevant to the point? Again the relevant texts show that Peter was considered by the Apostles to be first among them.
“Later, he appears to disappear altogether from any New Testament consideration with scarcely a mention anywhere.”
So does Christ... There’s no direct mention of him after the Gospels. Does that mean that Paul replaces Christ? Nonsense.
“Peter may well have been the overall leader for taking the gospel to the Jews (as Paul was with respect to the Gentiles), yet the epistle of James (James almost certainly being the Senior Elder at Jerusalem), does not even mention him once!”
This is an argument from silence. Absence of evidence is not evidence of Absence.
“Moreover, there is no evidence that Peter ever became ‘bishop’ of Rome”
The tables of Bishops list Peter as the first bishop of Rome. Eusebius, writing in the fourth century lists Peter as the bishop of Rome. So yes, there is historical evidence for Peter as the first bishop of Rome.
There are exactly zero lists of bishops that do not list Peter as first. In the absence of evidence that does not corroborate with the evidence that we do have, we are forced to conclude that Peter was beyond reasonable doubt, the first bishop of Rome.
“Surely all of this would be utterly inconceivable if Peter had understood Jesus’ comment to him in Matthew 16:18 to mean that he should adopt a grandiose and pope-like style of leadership!”
Finally, you mention Matt 16:18. You might want to also mention the end of John and after the Great Commission, where Christ speaks (again to Peter alone), and tells him to ‘feed his sheep’.
It’s clear to me that Peter was given the authority to lead the Church, from the beginning. And as Bishop of Rome, that establishes Petrine Primacy (which is what the doctrine is called), and the elevation of the Bishop of Rome.
Apostolic succession is something else altogether.
“If he was a leader at all (which seems quite debatable)”
Only among those who choose to deny scriptural evidence to the contrary.
“3. In the New Testament, no ‘bishop’ (overseer) had jurisdiction over the bishops or presbyters of other churches”
Again, MT says the opposite, and the Apostles considered Peter to be their leader. Paul himself says as much.
“(carefully check out Ignatius of Antioch, in his Letter to Polycarp)”
Oh, so patristic evidence is valid? Let’s see the full quote from Ignatius so we can verify whether he actually says this.
“4. The Roman Catholic Church itself has not maintained it’s own concept of apostolic succession through the laying on of hands upon holy men.”
Ok, this is a direct challenge of Apostolic succession.
“In fact, ‘Simony’ (that is, the buying of the office of ‘pope’ or ‘bishop’ for money, or favours) was an absolute disgrace”
Two things here.
1, the sacrament of ordination is not conditional on the sinfulness of the bishop. The consecration is valid so long as the bishop is in good standing with the church at the time of the consecration (ie, not excommunicated, etc).
If sacraments were in fact dependent, then they would never be efficacious, because men are sinful. Instead, they work from Christ through the priest, such that they still work, even if the priest is sinful.
Two, in order to establish a breach, you would have to show that all the current bishops can trace their lineage back to these priests. :)
Good luck with this, btw. Episcopal lineage is very sturdy. Say if 10 of 30 bishops were to fall away, and the remaining 20 ordained the next 30, then apostolic succession hasn’t been affected at all.
“Unless I am misunderstanding something here, appointing a corrupt bishop or pope just once would destroy the whole structure”
You’ve gravely misunderstood apostolic succession. In order for the succession to be broken, all of the bishops would have to fall away. Not just one.
“Frankly, I think that most studied RCs know this which could be why they tend to play down the teaching on ‘apostolic succession.”
Well, then. I think apostolic succession is absolutely crucial to the Church and one of her most important teachings. I’m happy to discuss it if you are.
There is that little complication.
“Are you saying that the leadership in the RCC are apostles?”
They have a direct link to the apostles in having been ordained by those who were ordained by those who were ordained going all the way back to the Apostles.
“Are you saying that seeing the risen Lord is a requirement to be a leader in the Catholic church?”
I’m saying that the selection process for replacements to the Apostles was well documented in scripture and this article fails to even mention Acts in this discussion. This is a grave oversight.
“If seeing the risen Lord is a requirement to be chosen in the process of apostolic succession, then apostolic succession died out when the last of the men who saw the risen Lord died.”
Never said it was. I’m saying that the Apostles had the authority to appoint their successors and that their successors also had the authority to do the same.
“I see the concept as proposed by the Catholic church an attempt to put their claim to being the one and only true church started by Jesus beyond any possibility of refutation.”
Indeed, I would argue it’s one of the most important teachings of the Catholic church.
The only time, I believe they have lost bishops was during the Great Schism. Which is why that schism has been such a loss.
I have been reading them myself for years. I do not claim to be a scholar but I do read the early Church Fathers. I am a layman who reads. I can tell by what is missing if they are that genuine in their work.
When someone shows early church Fathers without verses is like arguing the bible without showing those verses. Strange indeed.
Acts 1:21-22 21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from usone of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.
Those were Peter's own words.
What men today have walked with Jesus and the apostles for those three years and have been a witness to he resurrection?
No men after that generation died out qualified for the post.
You can't have a succession of apostles if you don't have anyone qualified to be one. It just doesn't work.
“Those were Peter’s own words.”
I am not arguing that.
“What men today have walked with Jesus and the apostles for those three years and have been a witness to he resurrection?”
That was not the argument either.
“No men after that generation died out qualified for the post.”
Once again, not the argument.
“You can’t have a succession of apostles if you don’t have anyone qualified to be one. It just doesn’t work.”
The Apostles were given the authority by Christ to appoint their successors, as they did after the death of Judas. This authority was passed on to their successors.
This is where the argument lies. I am not arguing that there exist Apostles in the narrow sense, that they exist today. I am arguing that the Apostles had the authority to appoint their successors and that their successors had the authority to do the same.
Galatians 1:8: But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
Galatians 1:9: As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
Heed God's Words and warning on preaching any other gospel, God says that any such follower shall be accursed.
Excellent and thorough rebuttal. Well done.
Very good question.
Isaiah 22 verse 15. Read it and ponder it. :)
"Never said it was. Im saying that the Apostles had the authority to appoint their successors and that their successors also had the authority to do the same."
Which IS it ?
What is the question? I’m not sure I understand.
There’s two things going on here. 1, Petrine Primacy and 2, apostolic succession.
Petrine primacy comes from the fact that he chose Peter, and that he gave Peter the Keys to the kingdom of Heaven. This is why Peter became the head of the Apostles.
What we see in Acts 1, is when Judas commits suicide, Peter says that his seat must be replaced by another. Rather than the 12 becoming 11, the 12 remain 12.
This is the point that I am trying to drive home. Peter had the authority to appoint a replacement for Judas, and the Apostles had the authority to ordain priests.
Apostolic succession talks about the succession, from Peter and the Apostles, all the way down to today. Each of the sees had their own ministry and Peter was the head of all of them. Peter could appoint men to replace a see, and the bishops could appoint their priests.
Who then, are the present day twelve ?
Well, I don’t mean to frighten you, but just one remains.
The other 11 have been devastated.
From what I understand, now I don’t know enough myself to answer this question properly, is that in the time of Eusebius, there were 5.
Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Jerusalem.
Jerusalem had been re-established after it’s devastation in Bar-Kochba, and Constantinople, to my understanding was elevated.
So there were just three in existence from the very beginning some 1600 years ago.
Antioch, as you well known, was devastated in the Seige when it fell to the Turks in the 11th century.
Alexandria fell to the Arabs, much earlier. Rome is the only one that remains.
I don’t know enough about the structure of the very early church to know what happened to the other 7. Perhaps someone else here knows. But it is to my understanding that Rome is the only one left.
It would be helpful if you pointed out that the Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox and Coptic Churches also believe in Apostolic Succession.
Why would a Protestant sect care about the validity of Apostolic Succession. Does that question have anything to do with the 5 Solas? Does it in any way threaten to obscure the doctrinal differences between Catholics and Protestants.
We don’t even know with certainty the bishoprics of all the 12.
From what I can see:
Bishop of Rome - St. Peter (+Antioch)
Bishop of Byzantium - St. Andrew
Bishop of Parthia - St. Matthew
Bishop of Jerusalem - St. James the Less
Bishop of Spain - St. James the Greater (Compostela)
Bishop of India - St. Thomas
Bishop of Phyrygea - St. Philip
Bishop of Armenia - St. Bartholemew
Bishop of Ephesus - St. John
Bishop of Alexandria - St. Mark
Bishop of Babylon - St. Simon
Bishop of Persia - St. Jude.
But most of this is speculation. We just don’t have that much information on the apostles.
Except that there is no apostolic succession described nor is any authority given in the Scriptures to pick successors.
If there is then it must asked who replaced the apostles as they died? and who has formed this body over time?
It’s central to the claim that the Catholic church was founded by Christ.
“If there is then it must asked who replaced the apostles as they died? and who has formed this body over time?”
Acts 1 - St. Peter. After that, his successors.
Matthias was chosen by lot, not by Peter and there are no successors named. none.
The choosing of Matthias happened before the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost by casting lots.
There is no other reference to them taking a vote on anything after they where baptized by the Holy Spirit.
This is the same way they choose the Pope, they cast lots. So much for being led by the spirit.
May God lead us to His truth, BVB
Peter, and this is the important point, decided that a replacement must be selected.
Not the other apostles, Peter.
This is why succession is biblical. He could have said, no, the 12 are now 11. Why did Peter insist that another be appointed?
The authority of the Church comes from Christ, not from the Bible.
The Church used that Christ-given authority to write the New Testament and to ratify the works that we now call the Old Testament.
If the Apostles didn’t have the authority even to establish their own heirs then why would we trust the Bible they wrote?
So you don’t see the connection between them selecting the Pope through casting of lots among worthy successors and what’s going on in Acts 1? :)
You don’t think maybe that’s the reason they do things that way?
Peter narrowed down the candidates and insisted that a replacement be appointed. Therefore we can conclude that succession is what is taught as the appropriate method of passing on the authority from one generation to the next.
Great, nay terrific posts from you this thread.
You are the one who doesn’t understand. They took the vote before they were filled with the Spirit.
Are you happy with them choosing your Pope using that as an example.?
May God lead us all to His truth, BVB
Peter wanted a man for the successor of Judas that had been with Jesus from the beginning of His public ministry. That is reasonable, since they had such men at that time. Peter did not set the same conditions for future successors.
The Early Father held themselves to be Apostolic successor-bishops and they in turn ordained successors. Do you know better than the Early Fathers?
There is really no doubt on the question among secular historians. Perhaps you should debate with them.
I’m not quite sure how you arrived at that conclusion.
I love what Peter himself wrote:
“Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrises, and envies, and all evil speakings, As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. To who coming, as unto a living stone, diallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, Ye also as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the Scripture, Behold I lay in Sion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on Him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe He is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner. And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.” (1 Peter 2:1-8)
In 2 Peter 3:18 Peter exorts us to:
“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever. Amen.”
I like you reference to 1 John chapter 4: It teaches us (believers) about the family(God’s family) and the world.
We as children are warned against false teachers, and
those that confess Jesus Christ; and those that confess not.
Verse 4 says: “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.”
Yes 1 John is a great chapter clearly written us who belong to the heavenly Father.
For evidence, just look at the great number of books in the Canon written by Matthias. (Doh!!!!)
Doesn't God make all of His great decisions by drawing lots? /s
Yeah, just like he selected Paul too.
Real loser decision there. Least of the apostles.
He didn’t select Paul by lots.
If he had he would have had a better apostle.
Do they get ranked by the word?
IIRC Acts has a very good example of what happens when men choose who is to take the place of an apostle. I think his name was Mathias. Never heard from again. Pray to God never to be chosen by men!
Even then in the appointment process they couldn’t discern God’s choice so after praying;they “cast lots and the lot fell to Matthias”. In the end they left it to God!(Acts chapter 1)
I find this “casting of lots” story in the discussion of apostolic succession a kind of 800 pound gorilla no one talks about! (like it was some type of evil “gambling” or something)
It might solve a lot of church conflicts if both sides of a situation pray and fast then cast lots over the issue...then abide by the results!
I disagree, when there is no clear consensus and both sides have prayed and fasted, the casting of lots leaves room for God to move; that is where there is strong agreement and faith on all sides to abide with the results of the lots cast.
The doctrine of apostolic succession appears to have begun primarily with Irenaeus in the late second century A.D. It was begun, not as a means of establishing a line of authoritative fellowship, but as illustrating a line of authoritative orthodoxy. It was begun as an argument against Gnosticism in Irenaeus’ classic work Against Heresies. Indeed, it proved to be the fatal blow against Gnosticism. Irenaeus’ argument, which the Gnostics could not counter, went thusly: We know of several congregations that were established by apostles, and we know who the bishops (or elders) of those congregations were from their time until now. None of those men ever taught the doctrines of Gnosticism. Therefore, Gnosticism is not an apostolic doctrine.
This line of thinking was later expanded by others in the third century, particularly Cyprian, to contend that those who were outside of this unbroken line of fellowship from the first century were not to be accepted as Christians even if they were orthodox in belief and practice.
Side notes: Irenaeus refers at times to a succession of bishops, and at other times to a succession of elders (or presbyters). At the time of Irenaeus there was a gradual change taking place in which the twofold offices of the New Testament period—bishops (also known as elders) and deacons—began to transition into the threefold offices of later times: bishops, elders, and deacons.
Cyprian (mid third century), although he argued for restricting fellowship to those within the line of succession, and was a proponent of the elevation of the office of bishop above that of elder, still did not ascribe to the later, more expanded versions of church government in which archbishops exercised authority over bishops beneath them, nor of a “universal bishop”. On one occassion he said:
“For neither does any of us set himself up as a bishop of bishops, nor by tyrannical terror does any compel his colleague to the necessity of obedience; since every bishop, according to the allowance of his liberty and power, has his own proper right of judgment, and can no more be judged by another than he himself can judge another. But let us all wait for the judgment of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only one that has the power both of preferring us in the government of His Church, and of judging us in our conduct there.” (Cyprian, in the Seventh Council of Carthage)
For a survey of the development of church government in the first and century centuries, see my posts on the following thread, especially post #23: