Apostolic succession

Hello all. One of the more convincing arguments for me as someone interested in possibly converting to Catholicism is apostolic succession. The idea that Catholics can trace their leaders all the way back to Peter. I was just reading an article that said that apostolic succession doesn’t really matter, and this is why:

–the true church will teach what the Bible teaches

–the true church is the one started in Acts, so we can model our faith off of that

–just because the Catholic faith, and doctrines like praying to saints existed in the early days doesn’t prove they are the true or first church, only that they are an early church after the Bible.

–the Bible was not widely available in the early church and thus false doctrines could’ve crept into the Catholic Church (obviously the article held that the uniquely Catholic teachings like praying for and to the dead, venerating Mary, etc) were false teachings because they aren’t explicitly taught in the Bible.

As a Catholic, how do you intelligently respond to this? I should make it clear that I am not planning to respond to it, I’m trying to determine how Catholics would respond to this idea.

–the “true church” will teach what the Bible teaches:

this is problematic since the “true church” necessarily pre-dates the Bible

–the true church is the one started in Acts, so we can model our faith off of that

The “true church” is the one founded by Jesus Christ on the rock the apostle Peter with the other apostles. Founded, not in Acts, but in the Gospel according to Matthew 16:18

–just because the Catholic faith, and doctrines like praying to saints existed in the early days doesn’t prove they are the true or first church, only that they are an early church after the Bible

The Catholic faith is the faith handed on through generations from the apostles by word and traditions.

The fact that the Catholic church can trace the lineage of her ministers back to the apostles is the proof of apostolic succession, one of the marks of the “true church.” The true church has four marks: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. If you can’t trace your church’s ministers back to the apostles, how can you claim they are the true church?

Claiming apostolic succession does not matter is like saying it doesn’t matter who is instructing you as long as you like what they are saying. Apostolic succession is one thing that the faithful have to rely on to indicate the person teaching them has the proper understanding and training in the faith to hand on the entirety of the faith - the parts we like and the parts that challenge us, not to mention the gift of the grace of the Holy Spirit to guide them in doing so.

Apostolic succession does not mean we will automatically agree with the person, that they are infallible in some way, that we will automatically like the person, etc. It does mean they have been chosen by God and a valid successor of the apostles for the role they exercise in the church.

For me, after looking at the intellectual reasons, I came back to; who started the Catholic Church? Then, who started the various Protestant churches? The straight and narrow does not allow for a branching off for an individual’s desire to start their own version of Christianity.

I think Catholic Answers apologist Tim Staples’ article against Sola Scriptura, “The Protestant Achilles’ Heel,” might be helpful.

As for the specific assertion that the practice of praying for the dead is not explicitly taught in the Bible, it really depends on the Bible. Catholic and Orthodox Bibles contain 2 Maccabees which explicitly recommends praying for the dead. (See 2 Maccabees 12:39-45) It also depends on whether or not you think Onesiphorus was alive or dead when St Paul wrote to Timothy, saying, “May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day.” (2 Timothy 1:18)

As for the specific assertion that the practice of praying to the dead is not explicitly taught in the Bible, again it depends on the Bible. Catholic and Orthodox Bibles include “The Song of the Three Holy Children” as part of Daniel and in it the Three prayerfully address “the spirits and souls of the just” and ask them to bless the Lord, to sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever. (Daniel 3:64)

Revelation was passed on through the Church’s leaders preaching and council, liturgy eg worship and the Scriptures that those Church leaders recognized as authoritative. Hence it was by Church, Tradition and Scriptures that God’s revelation from the very beginning was passed on from the inception of the Church all guided by the Spirit. The early Church would have answered your questions or objections the way they did 1800-1900 years ago against marcion and the gnostics by appealing to apostolic succession and tradition. This guaranteed the true Gospel and therefore the true meaning of the Church’s texts it used in its liturgy against those that misinterpreted the same writings (gnostics loved the G of John) or chose to reject some (marcion and much later Luther) or wrote novel stories (gnostic writing from 2nd century) At any rate from the beginning there was always a need for authoritative teaching, worship and sacrament administration due to the false teachers that the Pastorals talk about in the New Testament.

The Church doesn’t teach what she teaches because it’s in the Bible…it’s in the Bible, because that’s what the Church always taught.”

That’s an old adage that reflects what was already written above–the Church came before the Bible, because Christ left to us, a Church–HIS Church.

I presume you’ve read your Bible.

Do you recall Christ ever having written anything at all down?

(The only passage I recall, was when He scribbled in the sand, with a stick, as the croud gathered to stone Mary Magdalene–and nothing indicates that He actually wrote down any words).

Do you recall reading in your Bible, any mention whatsoever, about scripture that would come into being?

Not one single solitary syllable. Not a single mention, let alone prophesy, of anything resembling the New Testament. All reference in what we now know as scripture, referred to existing scripture–i.e.–the Old Testament.

However, you do read, in your Bible, about the Church which Christ founded. In Acts, among others; prophesied in Matthew, among others.

Christ left us a Church; the Holy Spirit gave to His Church, ‘the Bible’.

But no where can it be even be inferred, let alone is it ever expressly stated anywhere, that the latter should somehow supplant the former.

It’s actually all rather elementary–from the most cursory reading of your Bible, itself.

Sola Scriptura is a Protestant, man-made Tradition/concoction. Period.

To subscribe to SS, is to reject the gift that Christ gave us–His Church. What’s more, it is appropriation of the gift of His Holy Spirit to His Church (as well as the rejection of His Church).

Hi Jennifer,

In addition to good points above, I would point out that Apostolic Succession must matter precisely because the Bible does teach it. See

**Apostolic Succession **



If you read the letters of Ignatius of Antioch from the first century, and look at who he was, you will clearly see the Catholic Church from the beginning. He was part of the next generation of bishops after the original eleven apostles of Christ.

I recommend Irenaeus of Lyon from the second century.
You can also look at the Didache for similar information.

That said, I would echo the previous poster on the timeline of scripture. There were various manuscripts that the synods of the Catholic Church compiled into the bible in the fourth century. This Latin Vulgate, translated by Saint Jerome, existed for 1,200 years before the Protestant reformation.

Protestantism is a new development and nondenominationalism is an even newer development comprised of a mixture of Protestant doctrines.

Even Luther initially venerated Mary at the beginning of the reformation. The practice of downplaying her role in Christianity is also a recent development.

If Christ wanted his followers to only follow the Bible, he would have written the New Testament himself. Christ would have written everything that needed to be done and handed it to his followers instructing them to never waver from it. Instead he gave Peter the keys to the kingdom, and called Paul after his resurrection (after is ministry on earth). If Christ wanted only the Bible to be followed you would think he’d hire a team of scribes to jot down everything about his teachings. What I find interesting is how those who only follow the Bible can claim they know the true meaning of the Bible. For instance, the New Testament makes no specific references to banning masturbation, drugs, pornography, contraception, or abortion. Who gets to be the one to interpret all these Bible scriptures? Pastor John from the church down the street founded in 2006, or the Catholic Church founded by Christ in 33AD?

Just to add to what’s already been said, the Bible does not come with an interpretation manual. Look at how often churches splinter over its interpretation. The idea that the Bible is sufficient, that anyone today could just pick it up and come to the right interpretation if they simply read it enough seems rather silly and demonstrably false. Jesus taught about repentance and the kingdom to his Apostles, who went out and taught and appointed successors to their teachings. Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against his Church. He established a new Church to be an authority on his teachings. It makes sense for Jesus to not just leave us a Bible without an instruction manual, but to also give us (predating any scriptures) an enduring institution that would be the necessary authority in understanding the teachings he gave, whether written down in inspired documents or not.

Hello Jennifer, here is what I think is the Catholic response:

the true church will teach what the Bible teaches

This is true. Our response is that the Bible itself teaches Apostolic Succession, and so a community that rejects the teaching isn’t teaching the Bible in whole.

We can also point out that Apostolic Teaching isn’t bound to the Bible according to the Bible (2 Thessalonians 2:15, for example), and so we shouldn’t try and chain our teaching to “the Bible, the Bible, and nothing but the Bible.”

The true church is the one started in Acts, so we can model our faith off of that

For foundational things, yes, but there are other things that build on this foundation, like Aristotelean Theology.

These arguments are vague, and I can use this sort of reasoning to reject steel beams and electrical lighting in churches because “it wasn’t mentioned in the Bible.” :rolleyes:

Just because the Catholic faith, and doctrines like praying to saints existed in the early days doesn’t prove they are the true or first church, only that they are an early church after the Bible.

This is actually a good point, because it reveals the same error that those who think that Jesus was a Gnostic and that the Apostolic Church was originally as well. However, this isn’t actually an argument against the Catholic position: it doesn’t actually demonstrate what teachings are fake, and what are real.

The Bible was not widely available in the early church and thus false doctrines could’ve crept into the Catholic Church

This position is the somewhat the Catholic position, as long as it is understood that the Church itself didn’t teach the heresy, and that the Bible isn’t something ultimately separatable from the rest of Apostolic Tradition. Arianism crept into the Church, but it wasn’t taught by the Church.

(obviously the article held that the uniquely Catholic teachings like praying for and to the dead, venerating Mary, etc) were false teachings because they aren’t explicitly taught in the Bible.

The definition the the Trinity, the hypostatic union, etc. aren’t explicitly taught either (show me where the words ousia, hypostasis, etc. are used in Scripture).

The Protestant has to demonstrate how these doctrines are false. Just saying that they aren’t taught in the Bible begs the question.

Protestantism is a theological reductionist movement: they want to remove what they call excess by reducing all of Apostolic Tradition to (how they interpret) Scripture. Catholics, on the other hand, try to filter what is Revelation by appealing to the organ of the Church that is specifically created by Christ to pass on His teaching: the Bishops in communion with their head. Both groups are different in approach, in method. The major historical problem with Protestantism is that the sola Scriptura doctrine doesn’t appear until medieval times, and that the Catholic method itself was accepted by the true Church, as only the gnostics denied it (for reasons Protestants too reject): even the Arians understood the meaning of Ecumenical Councils.

The simplist problem with the sola Scriptura method, among other things, is that it ultimately collapses into the Magisterium method, because Scripture itself speaks of Apostolic Authority and Succession, as well as tradition by word of mouth (unwritten) and by letter (the Bible)

Do you wish for us to give an explanation of the Scriptural support for Apostolic Succession? A lot of Catholic apologists, I find, just throw the Scriptual phrases about without explaning why they prove the doctrine.

Christi pax,


Read over these links here at Catholic Answers:




Now this is a convenient thing to say. So basically, “the early Christians may have Catholic beliefs, but because I don’t believe in Catholic beliefs, the early Christians could not have been right!”

Kind of an arrogant thing to say, when the earliest Christians would have known the context of the Apostles’ teachings much better than we do today!

Does it really make since that Christ, who came to give us the Way, the Truth, and the Life, would leave the first few centuries of his followers unguided and unable to discern what is authentically Christian truth? I don’t think it does.

Christ sent his Apostles out, foremost. He commanded them to TEACH. The Apostles taught, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, whom Christ said is the Spirit of Truth and would them “all truth” and helping them to remember all that he taught them. It makes little sense that this was just for the Apostles – and then bam, the Holy Spirit disappeared. No! The Holy Spirit continued to guide the church after the Apostles especially via the successors of the Apostles.

The facts from the Bible and history indicate:
(1) Jesus sent the Apostles to TEACH all that he taught
(2) The Holy Spirit was given to enable the apostles to know what was truth and to be reminded of what Christ had taught
(3) The Apostles had successors, the bishops.

Off topic I know, but…

Just an aside here… there is no biblical evidence that the prostitute being stoned was Mary Magdalene and there some secular and scriptural evidence that she was not. There is biblical evidence of her having been cured by Christ of demonic possession after which she became a follower, but it is only mentioned briefly a couple of times including in Mark 16:9 and Luke 8:2-3

For further reading:


Just for future reference… :thumbsup:

On the main topic of Apostolic Succession, here are some reference scriptures and catechism references that support the concept:

Touche’. I caught my faux paus there, but only after it was too late to edit–and since it was a relatively minor, collateral point, I didn’t feel the need to post a corrective post (and it has been a part of Tradition–right or wrong–for centuries). But your point is well taken.

Thanks for the clarification/correction.


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