Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Apostolic Succession (Part 3): Succession In The New Testament

I've mentioned that apostolic succession could be defined in many ways. You could say that it's a Biblical concept if you have some definitions in mind, but not others. The question here is whether a definition like Dave Armstrong's should be considered Biblical. Consider the arguments he offers in one of the articles he linked in a recent response to me.

He claims that "St. Paul appears to be passing his office along to Timothy (1 Tim 6:20; 2 Tim 1:6, 13-14, 2:1-2, 4:1-6). See, for example [2 Timothy 2:1-2]". But while such passages are consistent with apostolic succession as Dave is defining it, they're also consistent with my rejection of that concept. The passages are consistent with Dave's view, but they don't render it probable. Timothy can be appointed to an office by an apostle, and he and successors to that office and similar offices can be expected to maintain apostolic teaching in that capacity, without an implication that Timothy is taking on Paul's office. Nor is there any implication in 1 and 2 Timothy that all future churches must have an unbroken succession of bishops going back to the apostles, for example. What Dave often does, in the article I'm currently addressing and elsewhere, is cite Biblical or other sources that give us something vaguely similar to what Dave believes, but without any explanation as to how those sources allegedly lead us to Dave's specific conclusions. For a further discussion of passages like the ones Dave has cited from 2 Timothy, see Steve Hays' article here and the sources he cites within that article.

Regarding passages like Luke 10:1-3, Dave writes, "The latter passages appears to imply that there are many others involved besides just the 70 (which is already an expansion upon the original twelve). This implies succession and perpetuity." Nobody denies that Jesus' original followers and leaders expanded beyond twelve. But where is Dave getting "perpetuity" in this context? The seventy were sent out to prepare the way before Jesus during His public ministry, and the performance of miracles was part of their task (Luke 10:9, 10:17-20). There would be no ongoing need to prepare the way for Jesus' public ministry, since that ministry came to an end. And there is no perpetuity of such miracles in Catholicism. The fact that there are no people fulfilling the role of the disciples of Luke 10 today is an indication that the office wasn't meant to be carried on throughout church history.

One of the passages of scripture most often abused by Catholics when discussing this subject is Acts 1:16-26. Dave appeals to it:

"Later in the chapter [Acts 1] we see explicit proof of apostolic succession (as discussed in my linked paper above): Judas was replaced by Matthias (1:17-26), and an OT passage is cited: 'His office let another take' (1:20)."

Judas was being punished by having another man take his office. Judas is replaced as a unique fulfillment of prophecy (Acts 1:16), and his being replaced is seen as something negative (Acts 1:20), not something positive. He's replaced by one man (Acts 1:20, 1:22), not by multiple men all claiming to be his successors. The requirements that Judas' replacement had to meet can't possibly be met by people alive today (Acts 1:21-22). And when people like James (Acts 12:2), Paul, and Peter are killed or are nearing death, the events of Acts 1 aren't repeated. People are told to remember what Jesus and the apostles had taught (Acts 20:28-35, 2 Peter 1:13-15, 3:1-2), not to expect all apostolic teaching to be infallibly maintained in unbroken succession throughout church history.

Dave also cites passages in support of other concepts, like confession of sins, baptismal regeneration, and the laying on of hands. Some of those issues have already been addressed in past articles at this blog, and some don't have much relevance to what I'm discussing here. But Dave's article fails to demonstrate that his concept of apostolic succession, or any notion of it that's contrary to Evangelicalism, is taught by scripture. The fact that he resorts to such misuses of passages like 2 Timothy 2 and Acts 1 suggests that he doesn't have much to work with.

While some concepts of succession consistent with Evangelicalism can be found in the Bible, Dave's view isn't there. There's no oak, and there's no acorn. Robert Lee Williams writes:

Scholars do not expect to find in the New Testament a precursor of the monepiscopacy in succession from the apostles. While bishops are mentioned, they are not clearly single bishops. There are only hints in that direction. No succession seems to be associated with them. Furthermore, what can be said of the possible existence of a line of succession in the New Testament is not based on apostleship....

Luke knows succession terminology [Acts 7:45, 24:27], but he never applies it to Christian leaders....

The Pastorals provide officials to continue protecting their churches (Titus 1:5, 7, 9-14; cf. 2 Tim 2:2) but not to continue the office or position held by the apostle or his lieutenant. (Bishop Lists [Piscataway, New Jersey: Gorgias Press, 2005], pp. 47, 60-61)

Williams argues that bishops do share to some degree in "the apostle's role" (p. 47), and he sees "a concept of succession" (p. 59) in the New Testament. But Evangelicals don't deny that there's some continuity between apostles and bishops and some forms of succession in the church.

Despite their familiarity with many concepts of succession and the availability of language that could be used to describe a succession, and despite the popularity of succession in the cultures of their day, the New Testament authors don't advocate Dave's view. When they do suggest some sort of succession, such as the responsibility of church leaders to maintain apostolic teaching from one generation to another, it's a form of succession consistent with Evangelicalism.

We've also seen that there's no basis for seeing Dave's concept of apostolic succession in Clement of Rome or Papias. In my next post in this series, I'll address some other early post-apostolic sources.

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