Does apostolic succession even matter?

I read this argument…

Basically Paul warns against those who will teach a false gospel, and to only believe what has been taught even if THEY (apostles) teach something contrary, so it’s not about who is teaching but what is being taught. How can we know what is being taught is true? Comparing it to the Word of God which we know is infallible. So who cares if there’s apostolic tradition after all?

Well…for one thing…how would we know the truth? As spelled out in 1john4…from 1John 4… Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world……………6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit[a] of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

Well, Paul cared. And so did the Early Church.

Let’s begin by examining the evidence contained in scripture as well as the non-scriptural writings of the earliest Christians for evidence of Apostolic Succession. The Bible contains clear indications that the Apostle Paul taught Apostolic Succession to his disciples and fellow workers, Timothy, Titus and Clement. Here are the relevant passages:

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. Paul commanded Timothy to hand on the gospel to reliable men and further to ensure that those men would also hand on the gospel reliably.

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.

In the passage above, we see that Paul was concerned with the appointing of capable leaders in the Cretan church. So in addition to his concern for the content of the message, he is concerned with the succession of the leadership, as well.

Paul also outlined the beginnings of Church hierarchy (as well as the qualification for Church office) in his first letter to Timothy.

“Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. Now the overseer (bishop) 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.” (1 Timothy 3:1-10)

These verses illustrate that by the time this letter was written in the late first century, the Church had already established several positions of leadership: Apostles (Peter being the foremost among them), Overseers (or Bishops) and Deacons.

Philippians 4:3
Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

In the passage from Philippians, Paul mentions one of his fellow workers, Clement, who was ordained by the Apostle Peter and later became the fourth Bishop of Rome (after Peter, Linus, and Anacletus). Like Paul, who addressed to epistles to the Church of Corinth, Clement wrote his own letter to the Corinthians around 80 AD. In that letter, he stated:

“Through countryside and city [the apostles] preached, and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers. Nor was this a novelty, for bishops and deacons had been written about a long time earlier. . . . Our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry” (Letter to the Corinthians 42:4–5, 44:1–3 [A.D. 80]).

“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. (ibid.)

From these two passages, we can see that Clement had witnessed his mentors, the Apostles Peter and Paul, naming men to the office of Bishop and had received instructions from them that other men should succeed those Bishops appointed by the Apostles in the event that these first Bishops should die. Thus, history records that both the Apostles and their disciples such as Clement, Timothy and Titus understood and followed the practice of appointing successors to the Apostles in the Church.


While many seem to believe that anyone with a Bible may become a “pastor” by simply gathering around himself a group of fellow believers to form a church, the Bible itself teaches that true leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ must be ordained by those who were ordained before them. This process, known as Apostolic Succession, maintains an unbroken chain of continuity from Jesus, Peter and the Apostles to the leaders of the early Church.

The writings of other members of the early Church supports the idea of continuing Apostolic Succession. For example, the Apostle John discipled a man known today as Polycarp of Smyrna. Polycarp, in turn, discipled a man known as Irenaeus of Lyons. Around 180 AD, Irenaeus recorded the names of the leaders of the early church beginning with Peter down to his own day; thus, we have the following from a second-century (pre-Constantinian) Christian with impeccable credentials:

“3The blessed Apostles [Peter and Paul], having founded and built up the Church [of Rome], they handed over the office of the episcopate to Linus. Paul makes mention of this Linus in the Epistle to Timothy. To him succeeded Anencletus; and after him, in the third place from the Apostles, Clement was chosen from the episcopate. He had seen the blessed Apostles and was acquainted with them. It might be said that He still heard the echoes of the preaching of the Apostles, and had their traditions before his eyes. And not only he, for there were many still remaining who had been instructed by the Apostles. In the time of Clement, no small dissension having arisen among the brethren in Corinth, the Church in Rome sent a very strong letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace and renewing their faith. To this Clement, Evaristus succeeded; and Alexander succeeded Evaristus. Then, sixth after the Apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telesphorus, who also was gloriously martyred. Then Hyginus; after him, Pius; and after him, Anicetus. Soter succeeded Anicetus, and now, in the twelfth place after the Apostles, the lot of the episcopate has fallen to Eleutherus. In this order, and by the teaching of the Apostles handed down in the Church, the preaching of the truth has come down to us.” (Against Heresies 3.3.3, [A.D. 180])

In this passage, Irenaeus traces the succession of the early Christian Church leaders from Peter down to Eleutherus in his own day—a span of approximately 120 years. Using other historical records, we can continue to trace the leadership of that same Church from Eleutherus all the way down to Pope Benedict XVI today.

The existence and leadership of this Church is well-documented and unassailable historical fact. The connection between the modern Catholic Church and the pre-Constantinian Church of Peter, James and John is undeniable.

These early eyewitness accounts together with the testimony of Sacred Scripture prove the doctrine of Apostolic Succession and the existence of the Catholic Church prior to Constantine, and they drive a stake through the heart of any argument that the New Testament churches were independent of one another and not actually local congregations of the One Church led by the local Bishops in union with the Bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter.

Unfortunately, false claims of apostolicity are nothing new; the Church has been dealing with heretics and schismatics almost from the beginning of the Church itself. However, not everyone who claims to be in the line of Peter is truly descended from him. Tertullian, a prominent Church leader and prolific author in the second century, addressed this matter in a work entitled, “Demurrer Against the Heretics” from which I quote at length.

“But if there be any [heretics] which are bold enough to plant their origin in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, [emphasis added] because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [their first] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men – a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church in Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church at Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter.

“But should they ever effect the contrivance [of composing a succession list for themselves], they will not advance a step. For their very doctrine, after comparison with that of the apostles [as contained in other churches], will declare, by its own diversity and contrariety, that it had for its author neither an apostle nor an apostolic man; because, as the apostles would never have taught things which were self-contradictory.”

The Protestant Church, on the whole, makes little or no claim for itself with regard to genuine Apostolic Succession for it has little desire to be seen in communion with the Catholic Church. Indeed, some “Bible Churches” have no bishops at all – having sprung from the sofas and chairs of a home bible study to the empty storefronts of local strip malls. But even those Protestant churches that do cling to the idea of organized hierarchy are still stymied in their claims of Apostolic Authority because, as Tertullian noted, their doctrines are found to be at odds with those of the Apostles who are found at the root of the Catholic Church.

While it would be possible for an individual apostolic successor to get something wrong, as a whole, they do not. There have certainly been heretic bishops throughout the years.

St. Paul confirms the teaching authority of the successors as given by the Holy Spirit, and yet at the same time warns that some will lead them astray (Acts 20:28-30). The teaching magisterium of the unified apostolic successors (Bishops in union with the Pope) is the safeguard against this.

Are you talking about Ephesians 1:8-9? “Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach [to you] a gospel other than the one that we preached to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, and now I say again, if anyone preaches to you a gospel other than the one that you received, let that one be accursed!”

If so, then the argument you mention is kinda missing the boat. This isn’t an argument against apostolic succession – this is Paul’s argument against these other teachers who were leading the church in Galatia astray. Paul had taught them and then moved on, but then these other folks came along and taught the Christians in Galatia that they needed to follow Mosaic law. Paul is telling them that this isn’t necessary. Clearly, he’s unhappy that folks followed him and taught things that were untrue. So, he goes with hyperbole: “hey – I don’t care if an angel pops in and teaches you: if he teaches you something that contradicts what I said, then he’s wrong!”

In a way, it’s an argument for apostolic teaching, not one against it!

Well, Paul wasn’t being literal when he said “if we or an angel from heaven” should preach another Gospel, since (1) if the Apostles aren’t preaching the Gospel, there’d be no place to get it (the Apostles wrote the New Testament!), and (2) an angel from Heaven cannot sin.

What does Paul say immediately after his warning? Look at the brief autobiography in Galatians 1-2:
For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. But when he called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.
Paul’s whole ‘conversion’/‘discernment’ took him almost 20 years! And after these 20 years, Paul went to check with the Apostles “in order to make sure I was not running in vain”. This is precisely where Apostolic Succession and Magisterium are essential, per Paul’s own testimony.

Apostolic succession matters, not because of teaching per se, but for ordination.

Every ordained priest has had his hands anointed by the hands of someone who, was anointed by someone who, … etc, all the way back to our LORD. Physically!

We are bodies as much as mind; the physical connection of ordination is as vital as orthodoxy of teaching.



It only matters if your want to follow Christ as He is. He established a precise method for the handing on of the faith. That involves the calling, training and sending forth of Apostles to spread the faith. Not printing bibles, and not just anyone - only those whom He called, and those chosen by those whom He called. Apostles, who can teach and correct error in real time.

Break this line of Christ-given authority (as did the reformation) and see what took place: Anglicans, Lutherans, Calvinists have departed greatly from traditional doctrines, are ordaining women, embracing same sex unions, abortion, euthanasia - you name it. The Sacraments have been discarded in man cases, even baptism! Holiness is lost and they appear quite worldly.

Only the "medieval’ Catholic and Orthodox Churches soldier on, suffering for the truth.

This post isn’t saying anything that hasn’t already been said in Randy Carson’s 2 posts and in GEddie’s post, and po18guy’s post . But expressed relative to the wording of the quote in the original post

Perhaps it could be pointed out quite simply that : No Apostolic succession = No celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

And if we “know the word of God is infallible” , then we may place our full confidence in Matt 26:26-28 [DRV]:

And whilst they were at supper, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke: and gave to his disciples, and said: Take ye, and eat. This is my body. And taking the chalice, he gave thanks, and gave to them, saying: Drink ye all of this. For this is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins.

“It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do so without the Holy Mass.”

  • St. Padre Pio.

One might also add St. Paul’s own words - 1 Corinthians 11:23-29

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord.

A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup.

For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.

In my limited opinion, I would say Apostolic succession not only matters - it is embedded in the Heart of the matter.

What is passed on with ordination that can not be passed on in Protestant ordinations?

Do you believe that any person can lay hands on another person, intending an ordination, and this occurs?

I don’t know what specifically is passed from one to another in ordination. This has confused me and that’s why I ask.

What is passed on is an ontological change.

Just like in baptism: an indelible mark is placed on the soul.
Just like in marriage: what were 2 individuals are now 2 individuals joined as One.

The universe is changed forever at the moment of the confection of the sacraments.

What existed 2 seconds prior to the sacrament exists no more.

What happens at your church? How does it work there when someone becomes a pastor?


Not to be pedantic, but ya’ll are getting a little off topic. We’re talking about apostolic succession here, not ordination, per se. While it’s true that all apostles (a.k.a. ‘bishops’) are valid priests, their priestly ordination isn’t what’s in play – it’s their episcopal consecration.

When a man is ordained a priest, a permanent ontological change happens; he becomes conformed to “Christ the Head of the Church” (in persona Christi Capitis). When a priest is consecrated as a bishop, he receives the fullness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. It’s this latter act – episcopal consecration – that ‘makes’ apostolic succession occur. (Vatican Council II fleshed out this concept in a radical way – prior to VCII, the elevation of a priest to the episcopacy was seen as more an administrative action than any sort of sacramental action. So, even back then, the notion of ‘ordination’ wouldn’t have come to bear on the question of apostolic succession.)

(As it turns out, apostolic succession is something that we see in the Bible itself: in Acts 1, Peter authoritatively establishes that a successor to a deceased bishop is needed, and they choose Matthias to enter into that role.)

The tangent ya’ll are going down is one of the places that the “apostolic succession” question gets muddied – that is, by conflating ‘ordination of priests’ with ‘successors to the apostles’. But, to susanlo’s question, the answer is a combination of ‘ontological change’ and sacerdotal theology. I can’t speak for all Protestant denominations, but as I recall, one of Luther’s main theological inventions was the notion of a ‘universal priesthood’ that rendered priestly service moot. He thought that, by virtue of our baptism, we were all equally priests, to the point that he rejected the Catholic distinction between the “common priesthood” of the faithful and the “ministerial priesthood” in persona Christi Capitis. If I recall correctly, Luther asserted that ministerial service was just a ‘task’ someone could pick up and set down again; it didn’t touch upon his status of ‘priest.’

So, susanlo, if you’re asking what’s different about a Protestant ordination and a Catholic one, then my gut feel is that (as PRmerger points out) “ontological change” happens in a Catholic ordination, but is not believed to happen in a Protestant ordination. (Don’t let that get in the way of an understanding of apostolic succession, though. :wink: )

Re: the argument

take a look at this. The Bible Is Not Infallible


*] Is Scripture Inerrant?

*] Is Scripture’s inerrancy called into question because the first English Bibles contained errors?

*] Bible’s Inspiration and Inerrancy

*] Is the Bible’s inerrancy limited to matters pertaining to salvation?

*] The Truth of Scripture

*]The Accuracy of Scripture

(cont) from last post

Apostolic succession is in scripture and Tradition, and the ongoing 2000 year old teaching of the Catholic Church.

This argument as well as others, came up in the days of Irenaeus. Here’s how Irenaeus answered the Gnostics of his day.

Bk 3 Chapter 3 v 1-3

he names 12 bishops of Rome in succession from Peter down to his day. Obviously succession is not only important but he shows that in actuality.

So ordination to Priest and Bishop are 2 separate ordinations? And the 2 different types of ordinations give different special abilities to the one being ordained that he didn’t have before ordination? Is a consecration a type of ordination or something different?

I don’t think that Acts 1 is an example of apostolic succession. Here Peter determines that Judas should be replaced because of prophecy from Psalms:
Acts 1:15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, “Brothers and sisters,[d] the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”
18 (With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. 19 Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)
20 “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,’[e]
“‘May another take his place of leadership.’[f]
21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 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.”
e.Acts 1:20 Psalm 69:25
f.Acts 1:20 Psalm 109:8

When we read the Psalms he is quoting we can see that they are referring to Judas alone:
Psalm 109:6 Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy;
let an accuser stand at his right hand.
7 When he is tried, let him be found guilty,
and may his prayers condemn him.
8 May his days be few;
may another take his place of leadership.
9 May his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow.
10 May his children be wandering beggars;
may they be driven[a] from their ruined homes…

I don’t think this was about apostolic succession, but about Peter’s understanding of the Psalms in reference to Judas.

But Paul’s ordination seems to be captured in Scripture. However there are no Apostles or Bishops present:
Acts 13:1 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers:** Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul**. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

If Paul can pass on apostolic succession as is quoted in an earlier post from Timothy, was this the place where he received ordination and/or consecration? If one could be ordained without a Bishop in the 1st century, why does there need to be a Bishop now? Weren’t many of the rules and procedures for apostolic succession added later?

The sending of oneself, as opposed to being chosen and sent by and with authority, is the primary cause of the pulverization of the Body of Christ. The ‘reformers’ split while they were splitting. Why? None of them was known for humility. They were activists!

If one man as prime is so bad, just look at what putting millions of them in charge has done to doctrine.

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