Apostolic Succession

The critics say that it does not exist, that it is not Biblical, and that it is not needed.
Well, if all of that is true, then we did not need Jesus Christ to come to redeem us, for according to the critics, His Church ceased to exist soon after the last Apostle died.

Before the Apostles passed on, they started a system, commanded by Jesus Christ, to pass the baton to successors. This was to insure the perpetuality of the Catholic Church which Jesus Christ founded. That system is called "Apostolic Succession".

Every Catholic Bishop can show his line of spiritual descent, that is, who consecrated him, who consecrated his consecrator, and so on, all the way back to the Apostles. Jesus Christ vested in the Apostles special authority. This special Apostolic authority has been passed down in unbroken succession through the Bishops of the Church for almost two thousand years, so that the present Bishops of the Church truly teach with the voice of Jesus Christ through the Apostles.

For you can do nothing without Me...

Jn 15:5, "For without Me, you can do nothing."

Jn 5:19, "...the Son can do nothing of Himself, but only what He sees the Father doing..."

Lk 24:48, "...and you yourselves are witnesses to these things."

Mk 2:10, "But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins..."

Jn 7:16, "My teaching is not My own, but His who sent Me."

Jn 5:30, "Of Myself I can do nothing. As I hear, I judge and My judgment is just because I seek not My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me."

Jn 8:28-29, "...when you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that of Myself I do nothing: but that I preach only what the Father has taught Me. And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, because I do always the things that are pleasing to Him."


Jn 12:49, "For I have not spoken on My own authority, but He who sent Me, the Father, has commanded Me what I should say, and what I should declare."

Mt 28:18, "...All power in Heaven and on earth has been given to Me."

Jn 15:15, "But I have called you friends, because all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you."

Jn 16:11, "...and of judgment, because the prince of this world has already been judged."

Lk 24:49, "And I send forth upon you the promise of My Father. But wait here in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high."

Mt 28:19-20, "Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world."
Did the Apostles live long enough to "make disciples of all nations"? Did they make disciples of Mexico, or Canada, or Brazil, or America, or of hundreds of other countries? If not the Apostles, then who did?

Jn 20:21, "As the Father has sent Me, I also send you."

Jn 17:18, "Even as thou hast sent Me into the world, so I have sent them into the world."

Jn 17:22-23, "And the glory that thou hast given Me, I have given to them, that they might be one, even as We are One; I in them and Thou in Me; that they may be perfected in unity, and that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and Thou hast loved them even as Thou hast loved Me."

Jn 20:22-23, "...He breathed upon them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.'"
Did the power to forgive sins end when the last Apostle died?

Jn 21:15-17, "Simon, son of John, dost thou love me?.....Feed My sheep."
Note! Jesus did not say feed YOUR sheep. He said Feed MY sheep.

Acts 15:7, "And after a long debate, Peter
got up and said to them, 'Brethren, you know that in early days GOD made choice among us, that through my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the Gospel and believe."

Acts 16:4, "And as they passed through the cities, they delivered to the brethren for their observance the decisions arrived at by the Apostles and presbyters in Jerusalem."

1Thess 2:4, "But as approved by GOD to be entrusted with the Gospel, so we speak not as pleasing men, but GOD, who proves our hearts

Heb 3:1, "Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider the apostle and high priest of our confession, Jesus, who is faithful to Him who made him..."

Jn 20:29, "Because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed. Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed."

The Calling...

Gen 3:9, "But the Lord GOD called the man and said to him, 'Where are you'?"

1Sam 3:4, "And the Lord called Samuel
. And he answered; 'Here I am'."

Acts 9:10, "...the Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am Lord."

Lk 6:13, "And when day broke, He summoned His disciples; and from those He chose twelve
, whom He also named Apostles."

Mk 3:13-14, And going up a mountain, He called to Him men of His own choosing, 
and they came to Him. And He appointed twelve that they might be with Him and that He might send them forth to preach."

Jn 15:16, "You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and have appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain
; that whatever you ask the Father in My Name he may give you."

Jn 15:19, "If you were of the world, the world would love what is its own. But because you are not of this world, but I have chosen you out of this world
, therefore the world hates you."

Mt 10:1, "Then having summoned His twelve disciples, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every kind of disease and infirmity."

Acts 13:2, "...the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for Me Saul and Barnabas unto the work to which I have called them."

Acts 9:15, "But the Lord said to him, "Go, for this man is a chosen vessel for Me, to carry My name among nations and kings and the children of Israel."

Eph 4:11, "And He Himself gave some men as Apostles, and some as Prophets, others again as Evangelists, and others as Pastors and teachers

Acts 26:17-18, "...to whom I am now sending thee, to open their eyes that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of satan to GOD; that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance
among those sanctified by faith in Me."

Acts 20:28, "Take heed to yourselves and to the whole flock in which the Holy Spirit has placed you as Bishops, to rule the Church of GOD,
which He has purchased with His own blood."
What is the purpose of this verse if not to show Apostolic Succession via a succession of Bishops?

Gal 1:1, "Paul, an Apostle, sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and GOD the Father who raised Him from the dead."

Acts 14:22, "And when they had appointed presbyters for them in each church, with prayer and fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed."

Tit 2:15, "Thus speak, and exhort, and rebuke, with all authority. Let no one despise thee."

1Cor 12:28, "And GOD indeed has placed some in the Church, first Apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers; after that miracles, then gifts of healing, services of help, power of administration, and the speaking of various tongues."

Lk 22:29-30, "And I appoint to you a kingdom, even as My Father has appointed to Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom; and you shall sit upon thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel."

Lk 10:16, "He who hears you, hears Me; and he who rejects you, rejects Me; and he who rejects Me, rejects Him who sent Me."

1Thes 2:7, "Although as the apostles of Christ we could have claimed a position of honor among you, still while in your midst we were as children: as if a nurse were cherishing her own children..."

1Thes 3:2-3, "...and we sent Timothy, our brother and a servant of GOD in the Gospel of Christ, to strengthen and comfort you in your faith, lest any should be shaken by these tribulations. For yourselves know that we are appointed thereto."

1Thes 2:11, "Inasmuch as you are aware of how we entreated and comforted each one of you, acting towards you as a father towards his children."

1Thes 5:12-13, "Now we beseech you, brethren, to appreciate those who labor among you, and who are over you in the Lord and admonish you. Esteem them with a more abundant love on account of their work. Be at peace with them."

Passing the Baton...

Psa 109:8, "...May another take up his duties."

Acts 1:20, "...And his ministry let another take."
Isn't this one verse enough to prove Apostolic Succession?

Acts 20:32, "And now I commend you to GOD and to the Word of His grace, who is able to build up and to give the inheritance among all the sanctified

1Chron 24:5, "And he divided both the families one with the other by lot; for there were princes of the sanctuary, and princes of GOD..."

1Chron 25:8, "And they cast lots by their courses, the elder equally with the younger..."

1Chron 24:31, "And they also cast lots over against their brethren the sons of Aaron before David the king, and Sadoc, and Ahimelech, and the princes of the priestly and Levitical families, both the elder and the younger. The lot divided all equally."

Lk 1:8-9, "Now it came to pass, while he was officiating in the order of his course as a priest before GOD, according to the customs of the priest's office, that he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord to burn incense."

Acts 1:15-26, "In those days Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren, now in the number of persons met together was about a hundred and twenty,....And they drew lots between them, and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles."

1Cor 3:10, "According to the grace of GOD which has been given to me, as a wise builder, I laid the foundation, and another builds thereon

The 'Laying on of hands'
to convey authority and leadership is prefigured in the Old Testament.

Num 27:15-23, Then Moses said to the Lord, "May the Lord, the GOD of the spirits of all mankind, set over the community a man who shall act as their leader in all things, to guide them in all their actions; that the Lord's community may not be like sheep without a shepherd." And the Lord replied to Moses, "Take Joshua, son of Nun, a man of spirit, and lay your hands upon him. Have him stand in the presence of the priest Eleazar and of the whole community, and commission him before their eyes. Invest him with some of your own dignity, that the whole Israelite community may obey him. He shall present himself to the priest Eleazar, to have him seek out for him the decisions of the Urim in the Lord's presence; and as He directs, Joshua, all the Israelites with him, and the community as a whole shall perform all their actions." Moses did as the Lord had commanded him. Taking Joshua and having him stand in the presence of the priest Eleazar and of the whole community, he laid his hands on him and gave him his commission, as the Lord had directed through Moses."

Deut 34:9, "For Joshua, the son of Nun was full of the Spirit of Wisdom; for Moses had laid his hands upon him: and the children of Israel harkened unto him, and did as the Lord commanded Moses."

This same rite was practiced in the early Church and continues to this day. The Bishop, by the 'laying on of hands', conveys a succession of Priests and Bishops with a commission, giving them the authority and the leadership needed to perpetuate the Church which Jesus Christ founded.

Acts 6:6, "These they set before the apostles, and after they had prayed they laid their hands upon them."

Acts 9:17, "...and laying his hands upon him, he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord has sent me, Jesus, who appeared to thee on thy journey, that thou mayest recover thy sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit."
A 'laying on of hands' is a filling of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 8:17, "Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit."

Acts 19:6, " and when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they began to speak in tongues and to prophesy."

Acts 13:3, "Then having fasted and prayed and laid their hands
upon them, they let them go."

2Tim 1:6, "For this reason I admonish thee to stir up the grace of GOD which is in thee by the laying on of my hands

1Tim 4:14, "Do not neglect the grace that is in thee, granted to thee by reason of prophecy with the laying on of hands o
f the presbyterate."

Acts 9:15-17, "But the Lord said to him, 'Go for this man is a chosen vessel to me, to carry My Name among nations and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for My Name'. So Ananias departed and entered the house, and laying on of hands 
upon him, he said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord has sent me, Jesus, who appeared to thee on thy journey, that thou mayest recover thy sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit'."

Heb 6:1-3, "Therefore, leaving the elementary teaching concerning Christ, let us pass onto things more perfect, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith towards GOD, of the doctrine of Baptism and the laying on of hands, of the resurrection of the dead and of eternal judgment. AND THIS WE WILL DO IF GOD PERMITS."

Col 1:24-26, "I rejoice now in the sufferings I bear for your sake; and what is lacking of the sufferings of Christ I fill up in my flesh for His body which is the Church; whose minister I have become in virtue of the office that GOD has given to me in your regard. For I am to preach the Word of GOD fully, the mystery which has been hidden for ages and generations, but now is clearly shown to His Saints."

Eph 2:20, "You are built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets with Jesus Christ Himself as the chief cornerstone."

Tit 1:5, "For this reason I left thee in Crete, that thou shouldst set right anything that is defective and shouldst appoint presbyters in every city, as I myself directed thee to do."

Jn 15:20, "Remember the word I have spoken to you..."

2Tim 2:2, "...and the things that thou hast heard from me through many witnesses, commend to trustworthy men who shall be competent in turn to teach others."
This verse clearly tells us that the truth of the Apostles will be passed on to competent teachers. The Bishops of the Church are the teaching authority. How can the truth be passed on trustworthily and with authority unless there is a succession of competent teachers? If this line of succession is ever broken then it is every man for himself in passing on nothing but personal opinions. We see this today ever since the reformation in the proliferation of Protestant churches, which now number in the tens of thousands.
See how many more verses listed below echo this one in various ways?

2Tim 3:14, "But do thou continue in the things that thou hast learned and that have been entrusted
to thee, knowing of whom thou hast learned them."

2Thess 2:15, "So then, brethren, stand firm, and hold the traditions that you have learned, whether by word or by letter of ours."

2Tim 1:13, "Hold to the form of sound teaching which thou hast heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus."

1Cor 11:2, "Now I praise you, brethren, because in all things you are mindful of me and hold fast my precepts as I gave them to you."

1Thes 2:2, "But although we had previously experienced suffering and shameful treatment at Philippi, as you know, we had confidence in our GOD to preach to you the Gospel of GOD amid much anxiety."

1Thes 3:10, "Night and day we pray more and more that we may see you again, and may supply those things that are lacking to your faith."

1Thes 5:14, "And we exhort you, brethren, reprove the irregular, comfort the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient towards all men."

1Pet 5:1-4, "Now I exhort the presbyters among you, I your fellow presbyter and witness of the sufferings of Christ, the partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed in time to come, tend the flock of GOD which is among you, governing not under constraint, but willingly, according to GOD; not yet for the sake of base gain, but eagerly; nor yet as lording it over your charges, but becoming from the heart a pattern to the flock. And when the Prince of the Shepherds appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory."

Heb 13:7, "Remember your superiors, who spoke to you the Word of GOD. Consider how they ended their lives, and imitate their faith."

Heb 13:17, "Obey your superiors and be subject to them, for they keep watch as having to render an account of your souls; so that they may do this with joy, and not with grief, for that would not be expedient for you."
1Thess 5:12, "Now we beseech you, brethren, to appreciate those who labor among you, and who are over you."

Mt 16:15-19, "...'But who do you say that I am'? Simon Peter answered and said, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living GOD'. Then Jesus answered and said, 'Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to thee, but My Father in Heaven. And I say to thee, thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.'"
Simon Peter was the only Apostle who had the correct answer, and it was given to him by GOD the Father. All of the rest had only personal opinions, all of which were wrong. Simon Peter was the only one to receive the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven*.
If there was no such thing as Apostolic Succession, then where are those keys today?

*The phrase "Kingdom of Heaven", was used by Matthew since he addressed his Gospel to the Jews. The Jews were forbidden to mention the holy name of GOD. Mark and Luke used the phrase "Kingdom of GOD". Either phrase refers to the Church which Jesus Christ founded.

Mt 18:17-18, "And if he refuse to hear them, appeal to the Church, but if he refuse to hear even the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and the publican. Amen I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven."
If there is no such thing as Apostolic Succession, then to which church would one appeal if he lived in 400, 1000, or 1600 A.D.?

Jn 14:15-17, "If you love Me, keep My commandments, and I will ask the Father and He will give you another Advocate to dwell with you forever, the Spirit of Truth whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him."

Jn 16:13, "When the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come."
How can the critics explain this verse? Does, "He will guide you into all the truth", mean that all truth was revealed to the Apostles before they passed away and there will be nothing more to be revealed? If so, then please explain the last part, "He will declare to you the things that are to come"? That speaks of future tense. To whom is the Spirit going to guide or declare, if there is no Apostolic Succession?
However, Holy Scripture does say also that everything is not in the Bible, Jn 20:30-31, 21:25.

Jn 10:16, "And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd."
Jesus of course is the Good Shepherd, but who did He speak of here? The "other sheep" can only mean the Gentiles who are everyone who is not a Jew. His Church is to cover the whole world (Mt 28:19, Acts 1:8) and He and the Apostles will only be on earth for a short period of time. His Apostles started building His Church, guided by the Holy Spirit. Was the Church completed in the first century? Did the Church cover the whole earth before the last Apostle died? Far from it. His Church has been "building" for almost two-thousand years now. Who other than the Apostolic Successors are the ones making sure that the whole world "heeds His voice"? The "one flock" is His one Church. GOD has always spoken through a father figure on earth. The "one shepherd" can only be the one who leads His Church, the successor to the Apostle, Saint Peter. How can anyone lead His Church without Apostolic Succession?

Jn 16:23, "And in that day you shall ask Me nothing. Amen, amen, I say to you, if you ask the Father anything in My Name, He will give it to you."

Eph 3:21, "To Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus down through all the ages of time without end. Amen."

What the Apostles had to say regarding Apostolic Succession...

Didache 15:1, "Elect for yourselves, therefore, Bishops and Deacons worthy of the Lord..."

What an Apostolic Father of the Catholic Church
had to say about Apostolic Succession...


"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 fore-knowledge 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 blame-lessly 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 ye have removed some men of excellent behaviour from the ministry, which they fulfilled blamelessly and with honour."

What Church Fathers, Church Councils, and early writers had to say about Apostolic Succession...

"The true gnosis is the doctrine of the Apostles, and the ancient organization of the Church throughout the whole world, and the manifestation of the Body of Christ according to the successions of Bishops, by which successions the Bishops have handed down the Church which is found everywhere."

"For all these [heretics] are of a much later date than are the Bishops to whom the Apostles handed over the Churches."

"After the death of the tyrant, the [Apostle John] came back to Ephesus from the island of Patmos; and upon being invited, he went even to the neighboring cities of the pagans, here to appoint Bishops, there to set in order whole Churches, and there to ordain to the clerical estate such as were designated by the Spirit."

"Moreover, if there be any (heresies) bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, so that they might seem to be handed down by the Apostles... we can say to them: let them show the origins of their churches, let them unroll the order of their bishops, running down in succession from the beginning, so that their first bishop shall have for author and predecessor some one of the Apostles or of the apostolic men who continued steadfast with the Apostles."

"For this is the way in which the apostolic Churches transmit their lists: like the Church of the Smyrneans, which records that Polycarp was placed there by John; like the Church of the Romans where Clement was ordained by Peter. In just this same way the other Churches display those whom they have as sprouts from the Apostolic seed, having been established in the episcopate by the Apostles."

"Therefore the power of forgiving sins was given to the Apostles and to the Churches which these men, sent by Christ, established; and to the Bishops who succeeded them by BEING ORDAINED IN THEIR PLACE."

"That Bishops are to be appointed to ecclesiastical leadership by the judgment of the metropolitans and their surrounding Bishops, after they have been examined at length as to their knowledge of the faith and quite frankly as to their deportment."

This is only a small sampling of the early writings in support of Apostolic Succession
. There are many more.

Written by Bob Stanley, April 10, 1999
Updated June 12, 2003

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