The Roman Catholic Church, along with other churches, claims to have authority from God because they have an unbroken line of succession dating back to the Apostles in which the teachings and authority of the Apostles was passed on through tradition. Here is one quote from the catholic Catechism that shows their belief on this subject:
In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own position of teaching authority." Indeed, "the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 1, Chapter 2, Article 2, Paragraph 77).
If the Catholic Church’s claim to have the authority of the apostles, scripture needs to be provided that shows they have such authority. They cannot just make the claim or give themselves such authority. They can’t use their traditions to prove their traditions are from God. They must appeal to the inspired word of God.
Without the Apostolic Authority they claim to have, they would not be able to administer the sacraments with the authority that they claim to have, they would not have the authority to forgive sins that they claim they have, their traditions that they say are directly from the Apostles would be nothing more than just manmade traditions, and the catholic church that claims to have infallibility in their doctrines is a apostate, heretical church. This is the crucial subject that must be met head on to know the truth of where the Catholic church stands before God.
One last point before getting into this article: It is not good enough to provide a list of succession of bishops. This is the case for a few reasons:
- The Roman Catholic church is not the only church that claims to have such a list
- Anyone through history could have made or even forged such a list without any evidence
- A list of names does not prove faithfulness to God. If one man on the list was a heretic, the whole list would be invalidated.
- We need more than an arbitrary, subjective list to prove that someone has authority from God. We need objective evidence, especially evidence from scripture.
The Qualifications of Apostle
The Apostles are chosen by God, not by men
- In Luke 6:12-16, Jesus personally chose 12 men and named them to be apostles.
- In Acts 1:24, when one was chosen to take Judas’ place and be numbered among the 12, the Lord indicated which man He had chosen to fill the office through the casting of lots after the Apostles prayed.
- In Acts 9:15, Jesus personally appeared to Paul (v 1-9), then told Ananias to teach and baptize him because Paul was "a chosen vessel" to preach Jesus’ name to Gentiles, etc.
- The Apostles had to be eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ
- Apostles repeatedly affirmed that they were eyewitnesses – Acts 2:32; 10:41, etc.
- Acts 1:15-26 (v 21,22) – The one chosen to replace Judas had to be an eyewitness.
- Acts 26:16 – Jesus said he appeared to Paul to make him a witness
These men had the duty of being witnesses to what they saw, especially their seeing Jesus resurrected. They needed to do this so others could believe through their preaching of the gospel.
- The Apostles had “signs” (miracles) to show they were legitimate Apostles and spoke for God, inspired by the Holy Spirit
- 2 Corinthians 12:12 – Paul accomplished the signs of an apostle among the Corinthians.
- Matthew 10:1-4 – Jesus gave the 12 power to perform miracles.
- These signs showed their authority and confirmed their words to be from God (Mark 16:20, Hebrews 2:4)
- Apostles could lay hands on people, giving them the power to perform miracles
- Acts 8:14-21 – Apostles went from Jerusalem to Samaria to lay hands on Christians there and give them the Holy Spirit. Philip, though he could preach the gospel and do miracles, was not an apostle and did not bestow these powers on others (v 5-13).
- Acts 19:6,7 – He laid hands on twelve disciples so the Holy Spirit came on them and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.
Does the Catholic Church, who claims Apostolic Authority show these qualifications of an Apostle?
- There is no evidence in scripture (which we will see shortly) that any individuals are specifically chosen by God after the Apostles to fill their role
- No one after the Apostles has been an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ.
- The Pope, along with Catholic bishops, do not performing miracles like the Apostles did.
- The Pope, along with his bishops, do not lay hands on anyone to give them the ability to perform miracles like the Apostles did.
- The Catholic church claims not to possess some of these qualifications:
"Peter, it is true, … possessed also the gift of inspiration and the power of working miracles. These two latter gifts are not claimed by the Pope … The Apostles were endowed with the gift of inspiration … No Catholic, on the contrary, claims that the Pope is inspired or endowed with Divine revelation properly so called" (Faith of Our Fathers, pp. 89,99).
- Just based on the qualifications that the Apostles give, no man after the Apostles can fulfill the role or have the authority of an Apostle. If someone did claim to have the authority of an Apostle today, all they would have to do is show the above credentials.
Did The Apostles Pass Their Authority Down to Other Men?
As previously stated, if the Apostles did do such a thing, it would be visible. Those who had such authority would show the signs of an Apostle. Nonetheless, the Catholic church uses a few scriptures to prove that the Apostles did such a thing. I would like to examine these one by one.
Acts 1:15-26: The replacement of Judas
This is probably the best verse a catholic can give to show Apostolic Succession. But this verse comes up far short of showing that all of the Apostles were to be replaced at their deaths. Here are some important things to note in this text:
- Peter says he is fulfilling a prophecy that spoke specifically of a replacement of Judas that would be able to join with them in their Apostleship.
- There is no reason in the context to believe this was to be done beyond Judas. Peter specifically applies it to him.
- The Apostles had not yet begun their Apostleship. They had not received power themselves yet from God. This would happen on the day of Pentecost. They didn’t have power to give to someone else.
- Peter states that there are qualifications that must be met to be selected as an Apostle.
- The Lord chose the one that would fill Judas’ office. It was not voted on by cardinals as it is done today in the Catholic church.
- The Apostles were not handing down THEIR apostleship to anyone here. God was selecting an Apostle to replace Judas
These six points show that Apostolic succession is not being taught in this verse.
2 Timothy 2:2- The Handing Down of Teaching
This is another popular verse that Catholics go to in order to show Apostolic Succession.
“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
There are many things missing in this verse if it were to prove Apostolic Succession. First, what was it that Timothy is instructed to pass on? He surely did not have the authority of an apostle to give to other men. This is nowhere to be found in scripture. What he is instructed to pass on is the teachings that Paul had given him by the Spirit to other teachers so they can teach. The authority of an Apostle is mentioned nowhere in this context.
Acts 14:23 – Paul and Barnabas appoint elders
“When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”
This verse also does not talk about any authority being given to these men that were appointed as elders. They appointed more than one man in each congregation to oversee the flock and to protect it from false teaching (see 1 Tim 3; Titus 1). We do not see Paul appointing anyone as His successor.
Acts 9:17-19 – Ananias lays hands on Paul
So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit."
Where is it mentioned in this text that Paul was given the authority of an Apostle by Ananias? Ananias is not even an Apostle. Jesus had already made His choice of Paul and appeared to Him. Ananias is sent to heal Paul of his blindness, to baptize Him, and to give him instructions from the Lord. There is no mention of Apostolic Succession in this text.
Acts 6:3-6 – choosing of seven to serve
"Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. "But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.”
The Apostles are not appointing successors in this text either. They are appointing servants (maybe deacons) to fulfill a specific role of caring for the needy widows.
2 Tim. 4:1-6 – Paul’s final instructions to Timothy
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. 5 But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.
This text is used by Catholics to show that Paul is handing his ministry over to Timothy. It is interesting that Paul never says such a thing in this text. Just a literal reading of the text shows that Paul is instructing Timothy to fulfill not the role of an Apostle, but an evangelist (v5). As an evangelist, he was to proclaim the word of God boldly and faithfully.
These are all of the verses that I know of that the Catholic Church uses to prove that it has Apostolic Authority through succession. If you know of any that I have not dealt with in this text, please share them. I will ad them to the list. I have tried to find all of the references in the New Testament that are used by Catholics so I am not accused of passing over any verses.
I would like to share one verse before concluding:
Acts 12:1-2 – James, son of Zebedee is killed
Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. 2 And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword.
This is an example of one of the twelve being put to death. The question I have regarding this verse is: “Why is it that the Apostles do not appoint a successor for James?” According to the Catholic interpretation of Acts 1 (where Judas is replaced), this is what the Apostles should have done. But the fact is, they did not replace James. The reason? Because they were not instructed to and the Lord did not choose a replacement for him.
Paul stated the church has been built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Christ Jesus being the cornerstone. We still have this foundation today. The Apostles and Prophets still live today through their writings that were handed down to us in the Bible. Why is there a need for Apostles when we have their authoritative teachings in scripture?
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).
Although within the context Paul is referring mainly to the Old Testament scriptures, this verse applies to “all scripture.” Paul states that the word of God is what the Lord gives us so we can be adequate (perfect, mature) and equipped to do every (or all) good works. This verse doesn’t leave room for traditions based on false claims of Apostolic Succession, which is not taught in scripture.