Christian-History.org does not receive any personally identifiable information from the search bar below.
Apostolic Succession in Early Christianity
The early churches did talk about apostolic succession, but not the way the Roman Catholics do today.
My book, Rome's Audacious Claim, goes through the church fathers to refute the claim of Roman Catholic apologists that there was a pope in the first century. It explains how fourth-century events explain the rise of the papacy, the (later) development of Roman Catholicism, and then opens the door on the sordid results of Roman religious rule. Available where books are sold. See Amazon reviews.
The Roman Catholics argue that it is the passing down of authority. Peter, and not any other apostles, passed authority down to the first bishop of Rome, and not any other bishops, and then down to the succeeding bishops of the Roman church.
Peter, for example, taught the truth—the faith once for all delivered to the saints—to Linus and other elders in Rome around A.D. 60. Linus taught it to Anacletus, Anacletus taught it to Clement, and so forth.
As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies I:10:2, emphasis mine)
In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth. (ibid. III:3:2, emphasis mine)
And this was just as true in every other church started by an apostle:
To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time … Then again, the church in Ephesus, founded by Paul and having John remaining with them permanently until the times of Trajan [began his reign in A.D. 98], is a true witness of the tradition of the apostles. (Ibid. III:3:4, emphasis mine)
We have fellowship with the apostolic churches because our doctrine is not in any way different from theirs. This is our witness of truth. … Run over to the apostolic churches, in which the very chairs of the apostles are still preeminent in their places, in which their own authentic writings are read. These utter the voice and represent the face of each of them individually. (Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics 21,36, emphasis mine)
In the late 2nd and early 3rd century, apostolic succession was a great argument.
After all, who really understands the Scriptures and the message of the apostles? Is it not those who are directly descended—spiritually speaking—from those to whom the apostles committed their message and the churches themselves?
However, to argue that apostolic succession has faithfully and accurately preserved apostolic tradition for two thousand years, including throughout the massively corrupt Middle Ages is quite a different issue.
The following four part series covers the early church's view of apostolic succession in depth. I think you'll enjoy it.
This is one of those "talking head" videos, though the scenery's nice. I recommend listening to them like you would the radio, while you wash the dishes or have some other chore to do.
These are, however, interesting and well researched. You'll get a well-documented picture of the leadership and structure of the early churches that you may not be able to get anywhere else on the internet.
This is an ad written by me, Paul Pavao:
I get a commission if you buy Xero shoes, which does not increase your cost. Barefoot running/walking is the best thing for your feet--if we did not walk on cement, asphalt, and gravel. Normal shoes compress your toes and do a lot of the work your lower leg muscles should be doing. Xero shoes are minimalist and let your toes spread and your feet do the work they are supposed to do. More info at the link.
When you sign up for my newsletter, your email address will not be shared. We will only use it to send you the newsletter.
Citations on this Site
Unless otherwise noted, all Bible verses on this site are taken from the King James Version (because it's not copyrighted). Language, grammar and punctuation are updated, comparing other translations and taking care not to change any meanings.
Citations from the early church fathers are referenced, and the references can be read online at EarlyChristianWritings.com and CCEL.org. I often update the language on these, too, doing my best not to affect even possible meanings.
All unattributed images on this site are either mine or known to be in the public domain.
Please contact me for permission to reproduce any pages on this site, but see permissions in next paragraph.
This web site, like all published works, can be quoted without permission as long as the quote constitutes "fair use," an undefined legal term. Usually, quotes should be limited to a paragraph or two, and the law dictates that quoting more than 50% of a document is a copyright violation.
Citing this Site
MLA format for referencing Christian History for Everyman:
Pavao, Paul. "Page Title." Christian History for Everyman. Greatest Stories Ever Told. 2014. Accessed day month year. <https://www.christian-history.org/page-name.html>
Note that the words in blue need to be changed to match the title, date, and URL.