Dialogues on Various Biblical Arguments for Apostolic Succession

Dialogues on Various Biblical Arguments for Apostolic Succession January 6, 2017
+ The Catholic Role in Canonizing the Bible

Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter (1481-1482), by Pietro Perugino (1448-1523) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]



[This occurred on Baptist professor Jerry Walls’ Facebook page; the words of others will be in various colors]


Jerry Walls: “Guided by the Holy Spirit, we compiled the Bible.”
–TV commercial for RCC
Simplistic, self-serving hubris.
Accurate, historical fact. Who else do you claim compiled the Bible? That is in terms of canon, of course. We’re not claiming that we “created” the Bible. It is what it is (inspired revelation), regardless of men’s reaction to it. Both Vatican I and Vatican II state this.
I know why Jerry thinks that; I used to think the same thing when I was a Protestant. I think it’s demonstrably false, but showing it is a very complicated, involved endeavor, involving the nature of the Church, the establishment of bishops, development of doctrine, papal succession, the nature of councils (local and ecumenical), etc.
Protestants do attempt to co-opt the fathers and the early Church but it is a futile effort. I’ve written about it many times; e.g.:
John Wilks: The New Testament was written either directly by the Apostles or recorded from the teaching of the Apostles. This is an important distinction. The process of setting the NT was Apostolic connection.
So, no, the Early Church didn’t make the Bible.
Rather, the teachings of the Apostles made both the Bible and the Early Church- and it is the Bible which guides what the Church should do.
The problem, then, with the commercial in question is that it makes the Bible the property of the Church rather than viewing the Church as the product of the Bible’s teachings.
We don’t claim to have “made” the Bible; only to have authoritatively compiled what was inherently the inspired revelation:
Moreover, this same inspired Bible teaches about an authoritative Church, apostolic succession, Petrine primacy, and authoritative tradition, which is why we Catholics believe in all those things.
John Wilks: Let’s see… James was over Peter in Acts 15, Paul is the last person given the title Apostle and he received it directly from an encounter with Jesus, not by succession from the 12, and the faith is said to be handed down ONCE and FOR ALL by Christ to His Apostles, so the authoritative tradition is that which the Apostles recorded, not what their followers added.
Yes of course it is. No one denies that the apostolic deposit can’t be added to. It can, however, be developed (an unfolding of what is already present in kernel). As for your denial of any apostolic succession whatever, that is annihilated by the example of Matthias:
Acts 1:20-26 (RSV) For it is written in the book of Psalms, `Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it’; and `His office let another take.’ [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 us — one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” [23] And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsab’bas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthi’as. [24] And they prayed and said, “Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two thou hast chosen [25] to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside, to go to his own place.” [26] And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthi’as; and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles.
John Wilks: Note that Matthias was there from the start. That’s kind of a big deal. The selection process here hinged on it. Also note that Paul didn’t become an apostle this way at all.
Yes, he was there, but he wasn’t an apostle, and then later was declared to be, in succession from Judas, who fell away. Apostolic succession in the Bible, and undeniably so . . .
John Wilks: But no living priest, bishop, or even the Pope is analogous to Matthias. He was there. They were not. Apples and oranges.
Then why did they choose Matthias and not also Justus, if that is the primary criterion, since both possessed it? It was a selective and succession process. The passage also shows that bishops were seen as successors to the apostles, which is what we mean by apostolic succession, since the word for “office” in Acts 1:20 is episkopos. It’s rendered bishopric in KJV.
John Wilks: Yes, and the work of a bishop is to preserve and pass forth the Apostolic teaching, not add to it. And it is the faithfulness of the messenger to the message that matters- not the human linage. This is the thrust of Paul’s argument in Galatians.
Please understand, my issue isn’t with the importance of the office of bishop. To the contrary, I fully recognize the importance of the episcopacy. My problem is with the idea that the human lineage of the episcopacy is what counts. As Jesus warned the Jews in Matthew 3, this isn’t about human lineage. It is about the Gospel.
We agree. Nothing was added to the apostolic deposit, but that deposit has developed through the years. The classic example is Christological and trinitarian development, which proceeded as late as the 6th century, as Gnosticism, Arianism, Sabellianism, Nestorianism, Monophysitism, and Monothetism were all determined to be heretical, while orthodox trinitarianism developed: particularly at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Protestants agree that all this is a development from the apostolic deposit of “Jesus is Lord” etc.
If bishops fall out of line with apostolic tradition, they are decreed as heretics. That was especially true for eastern bishops, where there were a host of heretical bishops for centuries, and in the west there were many Arian bishops, too. That doesn’t disprove succession; it only proves that at times bishops can apostatize. The Church declares this, and moves on.
That’s no different from Judas: chosen by Jesus as a disciple / apostle, falling away and having to be replaced by Matthias. The Bible declares exactly what I just explained: one fell away, and the succession continued by replacing him. It didn’t *wipe out* succession.
St. Paul himself continued to be under the authority of bishops, since they met in the Jerusalem Council, made authoritative decrees, and then the Bible informs us:
Acts 16:4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem.
Once again, we see that both apostles and elders had authority (succession, since the two offices are distinguished): to which even Paul was subject. The (de facto infallible) decision was jointly reached by both apostles and elders, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28).
John Wilks: Respectfully, Paul’s case is one of the human institution recognizing what God had already done in Paul- ministry that Paul was ALREADY engaged in with out without their blessing.
It is more affirmation than true succession. As I see it, this harmony between the human lineage and the procession of the Gospel is a beautiful thing- but I want to be careful that we do not put the cart before the horse.
Paul’s case is unique; I agree (I think all do), but it doesn’t follow that his exception to the rule of succession, means there is *no* succession, as the normative rule. Exceptions by nature are just that, and do not disprove that which they are an exception to.
If a parent says, for example, that a child can stay home from school, as an exceptional case, if his or her grandmother died, it doesn’t follow that there is no “rule” of daily attendance. Thus, Paul’s being chosen directly by God (Gal 1:1) does not mean that there cannot possibly be a normative method or process of apostolic succession. Matthias alone shows that that is the case. So does the Jerusalem Council, since apostles and elders are portrayed as having more or less equal authority.
There was a lot more fluidity in Church offices in the earliest days, precisely because ecclesiology was still in a very early stage of development.
John Wilks: And it is precisely that fluidity that makes me leery of making overly dogmatic statements about succession.
As an Anglo-Catholic, my tradition recognizes AP as well- it is simply the degree of emphasis where I we tend to differ a bit from our RC brethren.
We have a lot of common ground, and some continuing honest disagreements. I’ve tried to provide some of the biblical arguments that Catholics make for our views here. In other words, they are not just arbitrary and pulled out of a hat, but based on (or at the very least, in harmony with) biblical reasoning and biblical interpretation.
John Wilks: Oh, I will grant you that point. I would not accuse the Catholic view on this, or much of anything, as being arbitrary or simply pulled from the aether.
I would say, though, that fluidity in Church offices early on does not mean that there was not a definite historical direction that it was going, anymore than early disagreements about the exact nature of trinitarianism and the two natures of Christ “proved” that there was not an orthodox Christology that was inevitably to be developed over centuries.
Fluidity does not prove some sort of doctrinal relativism or relative lack of importance, since trinitarianism is of the highest importance, yet still had to highly develop in the post-biblical, post-apostolic period.
John Wilks: I would disagree there a bit. True, the word “Trinity” doesn’t appear in the Scriptures, but the concept is there in a very substantial way through the whole of the Bible. We hear God speak in the plural, see multiple manifestations of God interacting, and even have a Trinitarian formula for baptism in Matthew’s gospel. The early Church didn’t develop the doctrine of the Trinity. They simply gave it a name.

Absolutely. I have argued many times that the Trinity is massively found in Scripture (this was one of my first major biblical research projects in the early 80s). It still nevertheless developed through the centuries, in its particulars and minuteness of distinction. The essence was the same all along: men achieved a greater understanding of it through the guidance of the Holy Spirit (that’s what development of doctrine means). But it’s in the Bible. See my early compilation of trinitarian passages.

Another argument is that Jesus Himself recognized succession of teachers, even among the non-Christian Pharisees (an early form or type of apostolic succession):

Matthew 23:2-3 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; [3] so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.

They had authority — even when hypocrites, and even over Christians — and they did because they were in an office of succession that went back to Moses (implied by “so” in the text). Moreover, the notion of “Moses’ seat” is not found in the Old Testament, but we know it must be so, because Jesus said it. If even Pharisees, then, have a succession of teaching office going all the way back to Moses, so Christians can and ought to have apostolic succession.
And indeed, we can also trace papal succession and the papacy itself to Jesus; instructions to Peter, and how Peter is presented in Scripture. And we can show papal succession as quite harmonious with the Bible.
Jim McNeely: This whole conversation always reminds me of the 12 Apostles fighting over which of them was the greatest. Jesus’ response seems to answer that problem quite well: “The greatest among you will be the least and servant of all.” Brothers, let me humbly suggest that while we are concocting theological and historical perspectives, we’ve missed this. And I further posit that no one institution – Rome, Constantinople, Canterbury, or otherwise – is the Holy Catholic Church. To claim otherwise is to commit an act of arrogance I find totally incompatible with the heart of the Gospel.
That is a very widespread Protestant understanding. We would say it has nothing to do with arrogance or hubris at all, but simply established historical fact; ascertained by historiography, not partisan apologetics.
There were such things as the Roman empire, Babylonian empire, Greek empire (Alexander the Great), etc. It’s not arrogant to acknowledge that. There was such a thing as the United States, with a Constitution, which was begun in the late 18th century as a break-off from England. That’s simply a fact. It’s not arrogant to note it.
Likewise, we say that there is such a thing as the historic, institutional, apostolic Christian / Catholic Church, and that it can be traced back historically (apostolic succession) to the beginning. It developed and grew (quite a bit, for sure), yet it can be identified as one thing, that is continuous through history.
This historic entity is not Protestantism. That’s for sure, because that entity came on the scene in the 16th century, with many innovations that had never been heard of before.
The eastern and western churches were united in the early days, so it is not a question of Orthodoxy vs. Catholicism, either, except for quibbles about how the Roman bishop exercised power, and how much power he ought to have had. The Orthodox acknowledge Petrine primacy in the early, undivided Church: with the Roman bishop being foremost in honor, though not the “head” in the Catholic sense.

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