Apostolic Succession

I need a little help. I’m evangelizing a friend who is a non-denomination Christian. Actually, we’re both evangelizing each other. At the end of our last meeting, I brought up Apostolic Succession and used Acts 1:20-26 to begin explaining were we can find it in the Bible. He stopped and told me that there’s no Apostolic Succession because of the requirement for the office. He explained the requirement was that it was “necessary” for the apostle to choose men who were “with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us” (Acts 1:21-22). So instead of bulldozing forward with other scripture we called it a night. He also said something else that was puzzling to me. That St. Paul was not a part of the church. I would appreciate any input that would dispute his claims and best show Apostolic Succession. Thank you.

God Bless

Check my book at the bottom of my post, theirs a section dedicated to apostolic succession. It has a lot of verses.

Wow! You did a lot of homework chero23.

Thanks for posting that.

God bless.



Do you think a good starting place is to ask an essential question like, why was there a need to fill the office (episkopēn) then have the office be non-existed when the last apostle dies?

You friend assumes his interpretation is correct.

Irenaeus was taught by Polycarp a direct disciple of St John. That makes Irenaeus one man away from an apostle in his education and ordination.

Irenaeus in his work “Against Heresies” gives the lineage of bishops by name (12 of them) succeeding Peter in Rome down to his day. That was an important lineage making his point. Bk 3 [/FONT]Chapter 3[FONT=Calibri] v 1-3

300 years later, Augustine does the same thing. He lists by name all the bishops of Rome succeeding Peter, down to Augustines day. Succession to one office in particular is important to both these saints, in making their point. [/FONT]Letter 53[FONT=Calibri] Ch 1 vs 2

Paul talks about holding fast to tradition, both oral & written. Not oral alone, and not written alone. But BOTH

You don’t have to bring this point up to your friend as I’m saying it here, but your friend is not the pillar and foundation of truth, the Catholic Church is. It’s the only Church Our Lord established and left all His promises to #34 Not only that, your friend is a member of one of The Great Heresies of history. That’s working against him and his confusion, as well

Maybe that’s his problem. He is reading the letters of someone who is not a part of his church.:rolleyes: But St. Paul is a big part of our Church.

I hope you like it.

There’s a half truth in there. There are no more APOSTLES because of that requirement. However, apostolic succession refers to the process by which authority is handed on from one generation to the next even AFTER all the apostles had died.

I’m going to give you a lengthy answer because I can. :slight_smile:


The argument for Apostolic Succession can be made directly from scripture, from history and from logic.

Biblical Basis for Apostolic Succession

Acts 1:15-26
In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus—he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.” (With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) “For,” said Peter, “it is written in the book of Psalms, " ‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,’ and, " ‘May another take his place of leadership.’ Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

The eleven replaced Judas with Matthias who filled the twelfth seat.

Acts 14:13-15
The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: "Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you.”

Paul and Barnabas are also Apostles. This makes fourteen.

Romans 16:7
Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

Andronicus & Junius are Apostles according to the Apostle Paul – and possibly were Apostles before him. That makes 16 men named Apostle in Scripture. Other candidates include Apollos, Epaphroditus, Timothy and Titus.

2 Timothy 2:1-2
You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.

There are four generations of believers contained in this one passage: 1. Paul himself, 2. Timothy, who was Paul’s disciple, 3. those whom Timothy would disciple, and 4. those to whom Timothy’s disciples would preach.

Titus 1:5
The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.

Apostolic Succession is illustrated here as Paul had appointed Titus and left him in charge of appointing elders in the Cretan church.

2 Peter 1:12-15
So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.

What effort could Peter make to ensure his message would be remembered after his departure? With the knowledge that he would follow Christ in martyrdom (cf. John 21:18-19), Peter alludes to his plans for naming a successor.



One document for the Early Church Fathers is so exceedingly clear on the subject of Apostolic Succession that appealing to any other historical source is unnecessary. Writing in around the end of the first century (and probably before the death of the Apostle John), Clement of Rome, the third successor of Peter as Bishop of Rome expanded upon Peter’s veiled thought contained in 2 Peter 1:12-15 in his “Letter to the Corinthians”:

The apostles have preached the Gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ has done so from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first-fruits [of their labors, having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus says the Scripture a certain place, “I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith.”

Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect foreknowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry. We are of opinion, therefore, that those appointed by them, or afterwards by other eminent men, with the consent of the whole Church, and who have blamelessly served the flock of Christ in a humble, peaceable, and disinterested spirit, and have for a long time possessed the good opinion of all, cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry. For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties. Blessed are those presbyters who, having finished their course before now, have obtained a fruitful and perfect departure [from this world]; for they have no fear lest any one deprive them of the place now appointed them. But we see that you have removed some men of excellent behavior from the ministry, which they fulfilled blamelessly and with honor.

From these two chapters we see that the Apostles tested and approved their earliest converts to be Bishops and Deacons. Additionally, the Apostles gave instructions that when these Bishops and Deacons should “fall asleep’ either due to natural causes or martyrdom that they should be succeeded by other men in the ministry. Note that Clement also exercises his primacy as Bishop of Rome by correcting the Corinthian church for improperly removing some of the “presbyters” from office. The acceptance of Clement’s intervention by the Corinthians is evidence of the authority of the Bishop of Rome, or Pope, even at this early date.



Matthew 28:18-19
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

First, notice in the passage known as the “Great Commission”, that the Apostles were commanded to make disciples of “all nations”. How would it have been possible for these Eleven men to travel to every country on earth at a time when travel was slow and difficult? Given that the last of the Apostles died no more than 60 years or so after the Ascension of Jesus, would there have been time for them to physically visit every nation on earth to fulfill His command? No! Clearly, the instruction of Jesus only makes sense if it was given to the Apostles and those who would take the place of the Apostles after their deaths. Those who took the place of the Apostles would have to have the same Apostolic Authority given to the Apostles handed down to them. Thus, the “Great Commission” would be fulfilled over time through the missionary efforts of a greatly expanded Church.

Second, if the authority of the Apostles was intended to die out with the death of the last Apostle, why bother to elect Matthias to the office of Apostle after the suicide of Jesus’ betrayer, Judas Iscariot? (cf. Acts 1) Instead, we can understand that Peter had initiated the replacement of one Apostle (Judas), had known the beheading of another (James), and was conscious of Jesus’ prophecy concerning his own impending martyrdom. Wisely, Peter planned for his own replacement as Bishop of Rome.

John 14:16-17
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

Does it make sense for Jesus to say “forever” if He anticipated that the Holy Spirit would depart from the church with the death of the last Apostle? No! The Spirit would remain with the Apostles and, through those who succeeded them, with the church forever. As we saw earlier, he also said,

Matthew 28:18-19
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

How could Jesus fulfill this promise if the disciples themselves did not live until the end of the age? Clearly, Jesus intended that the apostles would be succeeded by other men who are still with us and will live until the end of the age. Jesus can be with the Apostles through their successors who also have the same Apostolic Authority by means of Apostolic Succession.


Church Leadership Expands - Overseers, Elders & Deacons

Acts 6:1-6
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

Exercising their own Apostolic Authority, the Twelve create a new office within the Church by laying hands on men consecrated to service of the Church.

Acts 14:23
Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

The word “elders” is translated from the Greek word presbyteros, and the modern English equivalent of presbyteros is “priest”.

Acts 20:28
Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

“Overseers” are traditionally understood to be bishops.

1 Timothy 3:1-13
Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

In this passage, Paul gives Timothy instructions about the careful selection of Bishops and deacons. Deacons were assistants to the Bishops.

Titus 1:5
The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.

Apostolic Succession is illustrated here as Paul had appointed Titus and left him in charge of appointing elders in the Cretan church.

Apostles were also Bishops

“All that time most of the apostles and disciples, including James himself, the first Bishop of Jerusalem, known as the Lord’s brother, were still alive . . .” (Eusebius, History of the Church, 7:19, tr. G.A. Williamson, Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1965, p. 118)


You can respond as follows …

However, it can be shown that these restrictions were not perpetual, but only temporary. Paul, who was not originally a follower of Christ, is also a Bishop. 1 Thess. 2: 3-7 and 1 Timothy 2:7. Besides Timothy was very young when Ordained by Paul as a Bishop and was not an original follower of Christ, yet he becomes a Bishop as well. Philippians 2:19-22. 1 Timothy 4:12-16. 2 Timothy 1:6
First Timothy was written in about 60 AD and it refers to Timothy as young, so obviously these restrictions were not binding on him. In fact the note at the end of Second Timothy in the King James (Authorized) Version says that Timothy was the first ordained Bishop of Ephesus.

Yes. Questions like that make them think.

At my web page below on Apostolic Succession, from which I quoted above, I begin with why it is necessary to have Apostolic Succession.
Without it we would have no Bible, no infallible Canon or list of books that belong in the New Testament.




Thank you for all the information. It really helped me develop a game plan that I want to share. I’ll just give the verses with little explanations but please let me know if my line of reasoning is good to show succession.

Exodus 18: 24-25 I trying to show that Moses had authority to select on his own even though he had counsel from his father-in-law Jethro.
Numbers 3:3 – It shows how authority was passed on through the anointing of priests who held an office.
Numbers 16:40 – In order to be a priest you needed to be a decendant of Aaron. Not everyone can be a priest.
Numbers 27:18-20 – Eleazar, a decendent of Aaron, the priest that laid hands on Joshua showing how the succession of priesthood and authority.
Exodus 40:12-15 – This shows how God wanted the priest to be anointed by being washed so they can serve as priest.
Exodus 30:16 – In preparation of their ministry, Priests had to wash their hands and feet. The prepping is between the “tent of meeting” and the “altar”.
John 13:6-10 – The washing of the Apostle’s feet was a preparation for their ministry before the High Priest, the sacrificial lamb went up to the altar. Look at Peter’s responses to Jesus about washing his feet and how Peter understands it. He also wanted his hands and head washed but he was already bathed. Let me know what you think about this connection.
1 Peter 5:1 – Peter was a fellow “elder”. He wasn’t just an apostle but an ordained priest.
1 Peter 2:25 – Jesus was also a “guardian” or “overseer” – a bishop in a sense because he was sent.
Hebrews 3:1 – Jesus is God, the High Priest and an Apostle because he was “sent”. The succession of apostles and bishops.
John 20:21 – The succession goes from the Father to the Son and to the Apostles.
Matthew 28:18-20 – Because they are given the authority by Christ to make disciples by “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you… I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
Acts 1:17 - There was an opening to the “ministry” that Jesus founded that needed to be occupied.
Acts 1:20 – That office that they were fulfilling is an “overseership” or “bishopric”(episkopen). A guess in a sense it’s different than an apostle. I don’t know if “episkopen” is different than an apostle.
Acts 6:6 – The apostle’s laid they there hands on men that were chosen. This shows that ordained men just like in the OT are ordaining other men to carry out a ministry.
Acts 13:5 – Barnabas and Paul were ordained by laying of the hands.
Acts 14:14 – Connecting the laying of the hands to both Barnabas and Paul being called “Apostle’s”
Acts 14:23 – Barnabas and Paul laid hands and ordained other “elders”.
Acts 15:22-29 – This is an Apostolic letter that is delivered by other ordained men and also transmitted orally.
1 Thessalonians 2:5-7 – Paul is using the word “we” to describe the others who were with him. That would be Silva’nus and Timothy because they are on the greeting. The text claims they were apostles.
2 Timothy 1:6 – Paul reminds Timothy about his gift because of the “laying on of my hands”.
2 Thessalonians 2:15 – Transmission of apostolic traditions “by word of mouth or by letter”.

Did I make a case for succession?

Not so. The reason that it was “necessary” (that word was not used in the scripture) was simple and can be stated in one word, seminary. Today we send men to a seminary to be taught but the Apostles had no seminary nor did they attend one except for the time they spent with Jesus. So the Apostles wanted someone who had undergone the same teaching as they did. Matthias was chosen and consecrated a bishop.

As for Paul, Scripture says he was an Apostle selected by and sent by Christ to the Gentiles. That alone makes him part of the church. Also, according to Paul, he began his missionary journeys only after seeing Peter. If he was not partof the church then why see Peter?

I think your friend is trying to rationalize the existence of another church which is ludicrous inlight of Jesus’ prayer that His followers be one.

Great point about about “necessary”.

I have to ask him where he finds this teaching about Paul in the bible. I’m guessing but I think 2 Corinthians 11:21-29. He might think Paul is separating himself from the others even though he’s comparing himself to the false apostle who are of Jewish origin.

Apostolic Succession Through the Laying on of Hands Proved from Scripture

How was Apostolic Authority handed on? By a formal ceremony known as “laying on of hands” as we see in the following passages:

1 Timothy 4:14
Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders [or bishops] laid their hands on you.

2 Timothy 1:6
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.

Notice that multiple Bishops were present at the ordination of Timothy and that Paul was apparently among them. This practice of having multiple Bishops involved in the ordination of a new Bishop continues in the Catholic Church today to ensure the validity of the Apostolic Succession.

Later, Timothy was sent to Corinth with the Authority of Paul to teach and remind them of the things Paul had taught them personally. Again, Paul instructed Timothy concerning the handing on of his teachings:

2 Timothy 2:2
And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.

In this one passage, we see four generations in the line of Apostolic Succession: 1) Paul, 2) Timothy, 3) those to whom Timothy would pass on Paul’s teachings, and 4) those whom they in turn would teach. Remember, the mission of the Church is to teach, and one office in the Church is that of teacher. Thus, Paul is instructing Timothy about the handing on of teachings of Christ which is the function of a Bishop. This is Apostolic Succession at work. Paul also told Titus:

Titus 1:5-7
The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer [or bishop] is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless.

Paul also cautions Timothy:

1 Timothy 5:22
Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands

So we see that the ordaining of Bishops is not something to be taken lightly or done spuriously. The mission of the teaching Church must be entrusted to reliable men through the laying on of hands – a ceremony which we now call “ordination”.

I’m following your logic in these scriptures. I like the connections.

He also said something else that was puzzling to me. That St. Paul was not a part of the church.

After his encounter with the risen Jesus Christ on his way to Damascus, St Paul became a part of the established Church when the disciple Ananias laid hands on him and baptized him. Depending on how Acts 9 and Galatians 1 are harmonized, after his baptism, St Paul either spent some time with the disciples in Damascus, i.e., with the Church at Damascus, proclaiming Jesus Christ in the synagogues until the Jews of Damascus tried to kill him and then went to Arabia or St Paul immediately went to Arabia, presumably to proclaim Jesus Christ, and later returned to the Church at Damascus. In either case, after three years, St Paul went to Jerusalem to get to know those who were apostles before him and he stayed fifteen days with Cephas, presumably St Peter, and he also met with St James, the brother of the Lord. Not long after that St Paul teamed up with St Barnabas, an early associate of the apostles first mentioned in Acts 4:36, and they worked together for many years. They spent a year together with the Church at Antioch, they took relief to the Church in Jerusalem, and the Church at Antioch sent them on a long mission to proclaim Christ in Cyprus and Asia Minor. After twelve years, they went to Jerusalem, on account of the circumcision controversy, and St Paul submitted the gospel he had been preaching to the scrutiny of the apostles and elders of the Church there and received their approval. (Acts 15; Galatians 2:1-10).

If a person considers only Galatians 1:16-17, he might get the idea that St Paul operated quite independently of the established Church. However, if a person also considers Acts 9-15 and the rest of Galatians 1 and 2, he will see that St Paul was definitely a part of the established Church.

What I love about Protestants and their rejecting of Apostolic Succession because it isn’t directly found in scripture (the term, not the practice) is the fact that by the time the good majority of the New Testament had been written, most of the Apostles were still alive. After all, it was the Apostles who wrote the New Testament.

I believe (and I could be wrong) that St. James the Greater was the only Apostle who had been killed by the time of the Emperor Nero’s persecution of Christians in 64 AD. By that time, at least 3 of the 4 Gospels had been written and the book of Acts was about to be completed by Luke (it ends with Paul under house arrest in Rome). So the concept of Apostolic Succession was in its infancy by the time most of the New Testament had been completed.

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.