Apostolic succession in the OT?


Hey there, I’m currently writing a short paper on apostolic succession and I’m wondering if there are any references or types of apostolic succession in the Old Testament. I’ve found a quote from an author in which he says, referring to the tradition of early Judaism, “the Spirit was believed to remain with God’s anointed representative until his kingship ceased, signifying an ongoing link between the Spirit and that particular office.”

I’m trying to find some verses or even good references that would back up this idea, allowing me to justify that apostolic succession is a continuation of this same tradition.



Have you already made the parallels between the Chair of Moses vs the Chair of Peter?


I think that the Levitical priesthood could itself be seen as a type of apostolic succession.


I haven’t heard read of this before! Do you have sources??


Elijah and Elisha


I agree, I’m just trying to find specific verses or sources that explain it well. Do you have any?


is one good source to start with.

But it’s also good to look at the arguments against the Chair of Moses being a prefiguration of the Chair of Peter, so that you know what to preemptively address.

Like, for example, this one.

So, it’s addressed in the New Testament:

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. (Matthew 23:1-3)

So basically, what’s happening? He’s recognizing their authority, but he’s also pointing out their flaws. He’s not saying, “They’re sitting there wrongly,” but rather, “They’re in a position of authority, so do what they tell you to do, but they’re not good role models, so don’t copy their example.”

If you remember his criticism—

Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

So that ties into what we say about the Church and the Pope— the Pope has the authority to change Discipline, but the Pope doesn’t have the authority to change Dogma. So what the Pharisees/teachers/etc were doing were saying, “Hey, you’re supposed to honor your father and your mother. But if you make a gift to the Temple with the money that your parents were going to need in their old age-- well, that’s okay, because now it’s sacred money put to God’s work. So that’s cool.” And Jesus is saying, “No, no, and no.”


So just as Circumcision was a prefiguration of Baptism, and Passover was a prefiguration of the Eucharist, and the sin-atonements in the OT–

when anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned. As a penalty for the sin they have committed, they must bring to the Lord a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for them for their sin… [description, description, description] …The priest shall then offer the other as a burnt offering in the prescribed way and make atonement for them for the sin they have committed, and they will be forgiven.

– show parallels to the sacrament of Reconciliation (confession, penance of sacrifice, involvement of a priest, absolution from sin), and so on and so on and so on… So just as all that’s prefigured, so there’s been a bunch of ink spilled on the Chair of Moses vs the Chair of Peter.

Likewise, you’d probably want to look at the early Church Fathers to see what they had to say about connecting the Chair of Peter with the office of the Bishop of Rome in the first two or three hundred years of the early Church.


That’s a stretch at best. The Levitical priesthood was initially passed down by bloodline, however, by the time of the Judges it appears this was not necessarily the case. Eli and Samuel are examples. The priesthood was then conferred by the King under the kingship of Saul and the Davidic line. Then the priesthood was broken due to the destruction of the temple and the exile of Israel. Eventually, after return of the exiles the priesthood was alternately passed by blood and election. There is no historic parallel between the claim of apostolic succession and the Levitical priesthood.


Elijah and Elisha were by no means normative for the prophets. The early prophets such as Moses were appointed by a visitation from God, and though sometimes this was handed down to the next generation, that wasn’t always normative as is the case with the Judges (who were frequently also prophets). During the Davidic kingdom prophets were frequently hired by kings, or were traveling prophets (essentially free agents who manifested the Holy Spirit). Most of the writing prophets received a direct commission from God such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Jonah, etc., and did not hand down their position or prophetic gift to another in their place. This is reaching to make a parallel to the RCC concept of apostolic succession unless your concept of apostolic succession is that it is the Word of God being faithfully proclaimed that legitimizes one’s claim to apostolic succession.


Best I would think of would be the Age of Patriarchs where the eldest living prime male heir of Adam was shown a special reverence and it is theorized that the Order of Melchizedek was begun by none other than Shem himself (son of Noah, under the given name).

The Aaronic priesthood comes next, but you may have some difficulty tying the pharisees to the new apostolic order established by Christ. Paul himself says the apostles are a new covenant, or some such - I can find the reference if you genuinely need.

Point being, the leadership has always been visible. But the latest succession may not necessarily be seen as a direct continuance of the old “Chair of Moses”.


I agree.

Remember that Christ is a “priest forever in the Order of Melchizedek.” Melchizedek’s sacrifice is a Eucharistic foreshadowing, which is the topic of another paper— but Catholics are going to be more aligned with Melchizedek’s priesthood, rather than Levitical priesthood.

Who was Melchizedek?

He was the King of Salem, so he operated in two offices: Priest and King. So it wasn’t his bloodline that made him a priest— he even lived before Levi.

The Apostle Paul quotes a somewhat hidden Old Testament passage to show that the priesthood started by this mysterious person made possible Jesus’ role as our heavenly high priest. It is a role that he did not perfectly fulfill until after he was born, suffered, died and was resurrected from the dead (Hebrews 5:7 - 10, 9:11 - 12).

So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father. And he says in another place (Psalm 110:4), “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:5 - 6, NIV).

God’s law specified that only those born of the tribe of Levi could serve as his priests (Numbers 8). Of these Levites, only those who were descended from Aaron were eligible to become High Priest (Exodus 29:9, 29 - 30, Leviticus 8:12, 16:32). Jesus, however, came from the tribe of Judah, a tribe which Scripture says nothing concerning the priesthood (Hebrews 7:13 - 14). He was not eligible to be a priest. How could he then “legally” serve in such a capacity after his resurrection? The answer is the creation of the order of Melchizedek.

God intended, in advance, that the Old Covenant Levitical priesthood last for only a short time (Hebrews 7:11 - 12, 9 - 10) and be replaced. This is why the Biblical appearance of Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18 - 20) occurred MANY decades before Levi (Abraham’s great-grandson) was born and more than 300 years prior to Israel receiving the law (Exodus 20). The existence of his order, prior to the giving of the law, meant that it would not be bound by its rules regarding the priesthood. This made it possible for Jesus to serve, after his resurrection, as High Priest after the order of Melchizedek.

The Apostle Paul delineates some of the profound ways this order, begun by Melchizedek, is superior to what was instituted under the Old Covenant (Hebrews 7:7). It is a royal or ruling High priesthood (Hebrews 7:1), which is perfect (verse 11), changeless (verse 24) and composed of one individual who always existed (verse 3) and always will (verses 8, 16, 24).

Instead of intercession being accomplished periodically within an earthly temple (see Hebrews 9), it is performed constantly next to God’s throne (Hebrews 7:25 - 26, 8:1 - 2, 10:11 - 12). The covenant that is mediated by the order of Melchizedek is much better (Hebrews 8:6), with better promises, than what was offering under the Old Covenant.


Completely agree. However, this passage is applied to Christ himself.


Cool beans. I was thinking that Melchizedek was referenced somewhere during the Rite of Ordination, and that Catholic priests are considered to participate in Christ’s priesthood through the Order of Melchizedek-- but I’m probably misremembering. It won’t be the first time! :slight_smile:


I don’t have a Bible in front of me (I’m away from home right now), but the ordination of Aaron and his sons comes to mind. These were the clear and established priestly class- though God would refer to all of Israel as a priestly nation, only a few could carry out the sacrificial priesthood. In the Old Covenant it was restricted to the descendants of Aaron.

Just as it was back then that an Israelite couldn’t be a priest without being able to trace his lineage back to Aaron, so it is in the New Covenant that one who can’t trace their ordination back to the apostles is not a priest.


I’d be reeeeally cautious about this.

We accept it as tradition, of course-- the Early Fathers made it very clear.

But a lot of the documentation hasn’t survived, and makes it hard to trace back further than the 16th c.

If we could figure out Scipione Cardinal Rebiba’s lineage, we’d be able to piece in a lot of puzzles! :smile:


@Hodos, do you have any opinion about the theory that Zadok was not an Israelite? He is never mentioned until after David’s conquest of Jerusalem. Cyrus Gordon – who didn’t originate the theory, but finds it an “attractive hypothesis” – thinks Zadok was the reigning priest-king of the Jebusites, and that after conquering the city, David deposed him as king but kept him on as high priest.


And our Lord said to Moyses: Gather me seventy men of the ancients of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the ancients of the people and maisters: and thou shalt bring them to the door of the tabernacle of covenant, and shalt make them to stand there with thee, that I may descend and speak to thee: and I will take of thy spirit, and will deliver to them, that they may support with thee the burden of the people, and thou only be not burdened. To the people also thou shalt say: Be sanctified: to morrow you shall eat flesh. (Numbers 11:16-18a) - Here we see that the spirit of ordination was given from the bishop (Moyses) to elders (which means priests), to help him minister to the people. It had to be the elders, not just anyone, and after this they ministered Manna to the people, representing the Holy Eucharist and other sacraments. The two who were not ordained but remained in camp probably represent the coming priesthood of the Gentiles, but even these would have to be enrolled in the priesthood, as it is said.

And thou and thy sons look to your priesthood: and all things that pertain to the service of the altar, and that are within the vail, shall be executed by the Priests. If any stranger approach, he shall be slain. And our Lord spoke to Aaron, behold I have given thee the custody of my first fruits. All things that are sanctified of the children of Israel, have I delivered to thee and to thy sons for the priestly office, as everlasting ordinances. (Numbers 18:7-8)

The rebellion of Core in Numbers 16, especially:
And when they had stood up against Moyses and Aaron, they said: Let it be enough for you, that all the multitude consisteth of holy ones, and our Lord is among them: Why lift you up yourselves above the people of our Lord? Which when Moyses had heard, he fell flat on his face: and speaking to Core and all the multitude, he said: In the morning our Lord will make it known who pertain to him, and the holy he will join to himself: and whom he shall choose, they shall approach to him. … and he said again to Core: Hear ye sons of Levi (who were equivalent to deacons) Is it a small thing unto you, that the God of Israel hath separated you from all the people, and joined you to himself, that you should serve him in the service of the tabernacle, and should stand before the full assembly of the people, and should minister to him? did he therefore make thee and all thy brethren the sons of Levi to approach unto him, that you should challenge unto you the Priesthood also, and all thy company should stand against our Lord? for what is Aaron that you murmur against him?

Appoint a sinner over him: and let the devil stand on his right hand. When he is judged, let him come forth condemned: and let his prayer be turned into sin. Let his days be made few: and let an other take his bishopric. (Psalm 108 [109]:6-8)


Don’t know if this directly answers your question, but in Elijah 22: 20 - 22, we see the keys given to Eliakim as prefiguring Jesus giving the keys to the kingdom to Peter. If you are trying to find a direct lineage of succession, you might find it in Matthew and his penchant for showing succession figures.


The kings of Israel were chosen by prophetic utterance at first until it became somewhat familial in succession.

At first, Aaron and his descendants were priests then the tribe of Levi seemed to take over priestly duties.

There were no apostles in the Old Testament so there was no apostolic tradition. I think prophets were called directly by God, no succession involved that I can tell.

If by apostolic succession you mean “traditions” then yes there were traditions handed down (for better or for worse). I’ll now look at the other responses to see if anybody came up with something else.

The “chair of Moses” was a concept mentioned only by Christ. I don’t think it explicitly arises in the Old Testament.

In the line of Aaron the holder was a descendant of the family line but that was not a position of prophecy. Later on, The man who functioned as high priest rotated, so it was not permanent. I suspect that Jesus used the term chair of Moses in an ironic or sarcastic way to those who thought they were experts or pretended to be experts. I wouldn’t take that term in any historical sense.

What was supposed to happen according to Deuteronomy was that every king of Israel was supposed to copy the book of the law (Deuteronomy) so that he knew how to rule the people. But, I know of no king who ever did this – probably one reason that Israel and Judah strayed so much from God’s law by worshiping idols, etc.

I don’t believe that there is any apostolic tradition in the OT because they didn’t have apostles (people who were “sent”). The prophets were “sent” directly to either Israel or Judah. But, that’s not like New Testament apostolic succession.

No cigar here. You need a new topic.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.