The Study of the Church

What the Bible say about Church Government?

"And the wall of the city having twelve foundations and upon them twelve names of the twelve Sent Ones [Apostles] of the Lamb." (Revelation 21:14, author's literal translation).

The Myth of Apostolic Succession

What is Apostolic Succession? It is the exegetically flawed belief that there is an unbroken line of apostolic authority passed on from the original apostles to selected church leaders today. I do not know all the segments of Christianity that claim, to some degree, apostolic succession. But I do know that the Vatican Church (aka Roman Catholic Church) claims it. In fact, they claim, on the basis of apostolic succession, that the pope and the bishops in communion with him are the sole interpreters of Scripture (85, 100)! But followers of the Vatican (Roman Catholics) are not alone in their claim of apostolic succession. The Lutheran Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Church, and the Episcopal Church all hold to apostolic succession. So also, in some way does the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, which authorizes its pastors to grant forgiveness of sins to congregants based upon their confession. This dogma is based  upon Christ's instructions to His first apostles.

It is not difficult to refute Apostolic Succession. The original apostles could transmit their teaching as recorded in Scripture on to their followers. But they were not authorized to pass on their authority. That is Jesus' prerogative and His alone. There is no evidence that any other than the original twelve apostles (less Judas, plus his replacement) were authorized by Jesus with apostolic authority. It is Scripture that is inspired (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). The interpretations and opinions and traditions of man are not.

One of the easiest ways to refute Apostolic Succession is to examine the first instance in which it might have occurred.

After Christ's departure into heaven (Acts 1:9-11), Peter took it upon himself to engineer a replacement apostle for Judas (Acts 1:15-26). He referenced the Scriptures which, he said, must necessarily be fulfilled. These Scriptures included Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8. They are combined in Acts 1:20. Peter then proceeded to outline the prerequisites of the man that must be chosen to take the place of Judas (Acts 1:21-22). Those assembled (Acts 1:15, 23) put forward two men, Barsabbas and Matthias (Acts 1:23). Then they prayed and asked the Lord to show His will (Acts 1:24-25). They drew lots, the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven Apostles (Acts 1:26).

Now according to the Catholic belief system, this is Church Tradition, which, therefore, has to be valid. From my point of view, it is church tradition which is recorded in Scripture, and therefore has infinitely more value than extra-biblical church tradition. But even granting the fact that Acts 1:15-26 records church tradition in the Bible, it is my personal belief that Peter was out of order. I agree with him that someone had to take the place of Judas. But I find no record in Acts that Christ ordered Peter to engineer the selection of Matthias. I don't think the Church picks out Apostles. That is not the Church's prerogative. Only  Christ can pick out Apostles, at least on the order of the Twelve Apostles. I am convinced, moreover, that Christ did not pick out Matthias. We never hear of him again!

I believe Peter was correct in interpreting those two Psalms passages as referring to the need for a replacement Apostle. However, I think he went beyond his authority in engineering the replacement. That was Jesus' prerogative, not Peter's.

Whom then, did Christ pick out to be the Twelfth Apostle? I think we all know his name. It was Saul, who later was named Paul. Christ personally picked out Saul when he was on his way to Damascus to imprison Christians and have them tried in Jerusalem (Acts 9:1-2). As Saul was traveling, a bright light flashed around him and knocked him to the ground. He heard a voice asking him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" (Acts 9:3-4). Saul replied, already indicating his submission, "Who are you, Lord?" (Acts 9:5). To which the Lord replied, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. Get up and enter the city and await further instructions" (Acts 9:5-6, my paraphrase).

The Lord instructed a devout believer named Ananias to relay a message to Saul. Jesus instructed Ananias, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake" (Acts 9:15-16). This is the one Christ chose to be His twelfth Apostle. Matthias was not his choice. Saul was. The results speak for themselves. Saul, later known as Paul, became the fledgling Church's greatest missionary. Moreover he wrote thirteen letters that are part of the New Testament.

Repeatedly Paul states that he is an apostle of Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:1, 5; 1 Cor. 1:1; 9:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 1 Tim. 1:1; 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:1, 11; Titus 1:1). But we never again hear of Matthias.

Though the Apostle Peter was, without question, the most important Apostle in Acts 1-12, he all but fades from the picture in the last half of Acts. From Acts 13:1-28:31, the most important Apostle is, without a doubt, Paul.

My point here is that, just because the Church does something, that does not necessarily carry authoritative weight. Even Church tradition inside Scripture must be evaluated by Scripture. 

Peter's engineering of a replacement Apostle, though well-meaning, turned out to be futile. There are twelve names of the Apostles that will be inscribed on the Twelve Foundations of New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:14). I am willing to wager a thousand New Jerusalem Israeli shekels to any taker that the twelve names will include the name of Saul (Paul) and not the name of Matthias. Any takers?

My point is this. In the first instance in which Apostolic Succession might be expected and might be proven as valid, it fails the test of validity. Man does what he thinks is right, but it is not man's task to appoint other apostles. Only Jesus can do  that. And his clear choice was Saul / Paul, not Matthias.

Therefore we conclude that Apostolic Succession is a man-made myth. It has no validity in Scripture.

(Scripture quotation taken from the NASB 1995.)

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Updated March 7, 2022