How do we know the successors to the apostles had the same authority they did?

By December 24, 2014 14 Comments

Full Question

Even granting that Jesus chose Peter as earthly head of the Church, and the apostles as its leaders, what evidence is there that their successors assumed their power?


This is the real issue that separates Catholics from other Christians. I doubt very much that anybody, Fundamentalist or mainline Protestant, denies the authority of the apostles. The very fact that there were apostles and that Christ explicitly commanded them to “go forth and teach whatsoever I have commanded you” is too powerful to ignore or deny. The real problem is in the question of their transferring that mission to others who decidedly were not apostles.
That this teaching authority can reside elsewhere than solely among the apostles, is amply demonstrated. Of the four Gospels, two were written by men who were not apostles, and yet their writings bear the stamp of divine inspiration and authentic teaching. There is no record anywhere of Luke’s ever having met Christ, and he was certainly not one of the Twelve. Mark may have seen Christ in the flesh and indeed may have been the young man in the garden who fled naked when someone tore from his back the sheet he’d wrapped himself in. Matthias was chosen as apostle by the other apostles to replace Judas Iscariot. This choice was, according to the Acts of the Apostles, made directly under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Once elected, he was treated exactly as one of the original Twelve.
In other words, the Bible itself shows that Jesus gave the apostles the power to appoint successors.


  • Terrible answer. The fact of the matter is this: God’s dealings with mankind come in the form of covenant. The word covenant appears over 300 times between the Old and New Covenant books of the Bible, therefore, covenant is a very important concept in understanding God’s dealings with us.
    In covenant dealings, whether they be political covenants in the form of Suzerainty kingship covenants, or the covenants between God and man, there are five principles which must be adhered to:
    1. T — Transcendence The greater always is the one who offers covenant to the lesser
    2. H — Hierarchy — The form of rule which involves covenant headship over the covenant unit.
    3. E — Ethics — The rules by which the covenant is maintained between the parties.
    4. O — Oaths and Sanctions — Promises to keep the covenant by obeying the rules(ethics) and the consequences that follow breaking the rules.
    5. S — Succession — The covenant passes from generation to generation.
    It is this last one which applies to the Apostles. Just as the high priesthood, the position of covenant mediation between God and man, was handed down from generation to generation, and just as kingship was also handed down from generation to generation, so the authority and offices of the Apostles, known as the bishops, was also handed down. This is a covenant principle that even Reformed writers such as Ray Sutton and others acknowledge.
    Honestly, guys, I expect better of you than this.

    • Lorry says:

      That was a good answer, Ed! However I believe the above answer is more Biblical, which is what our Protestant brothers and sisters usually charge us with “show me where that is in the Bible!!”
      While Catholics and other higher educated in Theology Christians would understand your answer, a more simplified, Biblical answer is what is needed when replying to an anti Catholicism Fundamentalist or Evangelical.
      But good answer! I’m going to post this on our fb page!

      • Edward A. Hara says:

        Lorry — You are correct. As an X-Evangelical/Fundamentalist myself, I often stress to Catholic folks the necessity of learning to do apolgetics on the other person’s playing field, which in the case of Evangelicals, is the Bible. This really was the short answer I gave. If I had a cup of coffee in front of me and the time to go through the Scriptures with someone I was speaking with, I would point to various covenant principles and defend apostolic succession from them.
        Of course, the first thing to do would be to be sure that my hearer understands what a covenant is. So many people have either no idea, or a strange and warped idea, of what constitutes a covenant relationship and how it works. But for our discussion, I would point to the succession of headship in the Old Covenant and why it was so important to be the first born son. He was the one who became the head of the covenant family, with all the blessings and respect of that position, upon the death of the father. This is a principle that is seen over and over in the OT.
        Also, with that power comes terrible responsibility. The covenant head acted for the whole family, and by his actions, brought either blessing or a curse upon those under his authority.
        Thanks for the kind words. If you would be interested (shameless plug coming), my book on the covenant, written as a convert who was brought to the Church by covenant theology, is found at Amazon.

  • Mary Hummel says:

    Thank you Ed!, much better indeed!

  • Chuck kilcoyne says:

    Thank you

  • This is the problem I had with Catholics when I was Protestant. I would ask things like “Why do you worship Mary?” and get an answer like “Because She is our Mother,” which is true, but not the way to answer a Protestant. If you are going to do apologetics, you have to meet people on their playing field and in their language. Using Catholic terms may make Catholics nod their heads and say “Amen!” but it does not give sufficient answer to Protestants.

  • Maria Santana says:

    Edward are you an aposle? Or a disiple? We all can become apostles after learning from the teacher, from Jesus directly, by reading the bible , but what we learn needs to be put to practice. It is thru our friuts that he will know us. You see his new covenant, or promise with mankind was to save us from sin. Save us from each other. His covenant was simple “love one another as I have loved you”. An apostle is anyone that truly follows Jesus example, whose life is turned from evil to good . Paul is the best example of this conversion. He was not appointed by successtion but merely by love, love for our Lord, love for life, love for himself and love for others. Our mother Mary loved god so much that thanks to that obedience god became flesh. It is that blind obedience that we all catholics want to follow as well. Love my brother, religions are always comparing each other that we forget the true lesson….love one another….my God is your god, his name is Jesus.

    • No, that is not the New Covenant. While love is indeed the heart of our covenant relationship to Him, you cannot just boil it down the way you want to (which is a typical Protestant action — take what you want and discard the rest) and call that a covenant. A covenant is just like any other thing in life — it has characteristics. For instance, if we see an animal that quacks, walks on two legs, has two wings and flies, we rightly call that a duck. If it does not have these characteristics, but has wings, it cannot be called a duck.
      Likewise with a covenant. The New Covenant has specific principles, which I laid out in my first post. You cannot just say that the covenant is love anymore than you can say that just because something has wings, it is a duck.
      And no, we do not all become Apostles after learning from Christ or the Church. Go back to the Catechism or the teaching of the Church and see what constitutes an Apostle. You have to have walked with Jesus on earth to be an Apostle. We are disciples, not Apostles. Protestants will call you out on this any time you say this.
      Yes, love is the heart of the Gospel and what the covenant is all about, but love is not the covenant.

      • Maria G. Santana says:

        Paul did not walk with Jesus, yet the bible calls him Apostle. His heart was so deeply changed after his encounter with Jesus, while being blind, but his blindness was a spiritual blindness. He’s heart was full of hate for Jesus followers, that his function before his conversion was to persecute and incarcerate all christians. When your heart is full of anger, bitterness, hate, arrogance, pride and selfishness there’s no room for the Holy Spirit, no room for a loving heart. This is what was in Paul’s heart, pure evil. But once in jail, alone and physically incapacitated he was able he see within himself and finally see GOD. He because an Apostle by love and faith. He spent the rest of his life teaching the Gospel to others. Thanks to him, you and I know who Jesus is, thanks to his testimony of conversion. Our Catholic church calls us to be Apostles. To be messengers of the Good News to the rest of the world. It’s in The Nicene Creed “We believe in a holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” A missionary who is a follower of Christ who is sent out with the specific mission of proclaiming the gospel is an Apostle. A missionary is an ambassador of Christ to people who have not heard the good news. We may call them missionaries, but they are really Apostles. So you see you and I or anyone else who can proclaim the gospel is an ambassador of Christ. All our Saints were Apostles, they too proclaimed, taught and spread the good news to the World. Like Paul they are role models to follow. They were all converted by love and faith. There was 12 original or founding Apostles, but many, many others have follow their steps….many became fishermen of men to increase GOD’s Kingdom just as Jesus ordered to do. Love is the heart of all things……..”love others as I have love you” and you will inherit the Kingdom of God and have everlasting life. This is my humble knowledge of the Gospel……without love I am nothing, I have nothing, but with Jesus I have won the world. This is what my legacy will be….”she loved as Jesus loved her”. Love and Blessing to you and your family.

        • Lorry says:

          Maria, something you may not know about Paul, is that he was the prize student of Gammiliel, who was recognized as the most educated scholar in the Old Testament. Paul knew the Old Testament like the back of his hand. God literally knocked him off his ass for a good reason. Not like He did with Nicodemus, by putting him to shame and humbling him, He needed to wake Paul up and make him realize that He WAS the Messiah, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute ME”? He had to blind him in order to make him see.
          That is why Paul was sent to the Gentiles and not the Jewish community.

  • lucia moro says:

    I think your answer is too complex and uninteresting while I agree with the original answer given, which anybody can understand and accept. About the question : why do u worship Mary – the answer is: we do not worship Mary, only God. We honor her for being the new ark, for carrying the son of God.

  • Bubukit Bournon says:

    Edward A. Hara.. Why should we care of the Protestants? They are the minority.. Besides, why should we explain them of our faith when their ancestors rebelled against Papal authority… Protestants are beyind repentance.. I shall not waste time arguing with heretics..

  • Edwin Subijano says:

    “The real problem is in the question of their transferring that mission to others who decidedly were not apostles.” – Catholic and Proud
    Does that mean that the mission was also transferred to protestant/orthodox pastors or priests ??? Did bishops who joined the protestant reformation also have the authority to pass on the mission ??? Same with eastern orthodox bishops ???

  • Wayne says:

    After reading it a second time this is probably the best answer I could imagine if having this discussion with a Protestant, it gives a direct example, from the Bible, of the Apostles appointing a successor and he having the same authority they do. They had lost one of the original Apostles and then through the inspiration of God named a successor that has the same authority and power they do, this is exactly what they have done from the time of the first Apostles. When they have to add to the Priesthood they pass it on to the next one, and so on and so on, just as they did with Matthias.
    If done the way the protestants do now, any Joe Blow “that had it figured out” could have stepped in filled that spot without any approval or inspiration from the Apostles.

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