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Patristic Studies


Apostolic Succession: Did It Happen in Rome, Alexandria, Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem or Asia Minor?

By COGwriter

Many believe that the true church can be traced through what is known as apostolic succession or the laying on of hands. Actually, to one degree or another, this is the official belief of the churches that most who profess Christ are affiliated (e.g. Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Living Church of God), although the individual churches tend to interpret how and who a bit differently.

The term apostolic succession has several possible meanings. But for the purpose of this article, the following definition from a Roman Catholic scholar will be used:

Apostolic Succession…In its strict sense, apostolic succession refers to the doctrine by which the validity and authority of the Christian ministry is derived from the Apostles…In its broader sense, apostolic succession refers to the relationship between the Christian church today and the apostolic church of New Testament times. Thus, apostolic succession refers to the whole church insofar as it is faithful to the word, the witness, and the service of the apostolic communities. Understood in this way, the church is not simply a collectivity of individual churches; instead, it is a communion of churches whose validity is derived from the apostolic message that it professes and from the apostolic witness that it lives (McBrien R.P. Apostolic Succession. 12/09/06).

In other words, apostolic succession is actually related to the acceptance of the succession of biblical truth, as taught by the original apostles–spiritual apostolic succession is the most important factor to consider when it comes to the subject of apostolic succession.

This article will discuss some of the biblical basis for this belief, and look at historical records to determine who, if any, were the most likely physical and spiritual successors to the apostles.

Where Does the Concept Come From?

Biblical support for the concept of apostolic succession mainly seems to come from a few passages in the New Testament.

The first involved Jesus:

Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:16-19).

This passage shows that the true church will not die out (the gates of Hades essentially means the power of death). Because of the above passage, though, some mistakenly seem to believe that the leadership of the true church was passed on from Christ only to Peter, and then only to the successors of Peter in Rome. But no city is implied in the above verse, nor is the concept of apostle to bishop transfer mentioned in that verse.

Furthermore, according to historians, the idea of Peter passing the cathedra in Rome to a necessary successor bishop was not understood in the second century (the century after the last of the original apostles died). Historians of that time seem to suggest that this passage was not limited to Peter alone. They taught that succession simply needed to pass from any of the original apostles to anyone who was ordained by an apostle (more information can be found in the article Peter and the Keys).

In addition, even today, the Roman Catholic Church accepts as valid, the succession from other apostles in cities other than Rome (such as the Orthodox churches in Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria), and it used to accept that in what now is part of the Anglican church (but only because they claim it came through Rome). It still teaches that succession passed from the Apostle John to Polycarp of Smyrna (in Asia Minor), though it may not recognize any today who claim that particular succession (however, it was accepted that there was apostolic succession in that region and after apostacy took place in the Ephesus/Smyrna region, for a couple of centuries, Rome and the Orthodox also recognized Ephesus as an “apostolic see”).

The Apostle Paul confirmed that the concept that the true church was built on more than Peter. In his letter to the Ephesians the Apostle Paul makes clear that the Church was not just built on Peter but is built on the spiritual foundation of the apostles (plural) AND the prophets, with Jesus as the chief cornerstone, and including all the members in the church as well:

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, In whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, In whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22).

And, I should add here, that the biblical idea that the true church would be built on an apostolic foundation is a valid view. But, it needs to be understood that the leaders are only to be followed if they are faithful to true Christian teachings. Notice that this passage in Ephesians, by discussing the apostles and prophets, does not in any way imply that any single city, nor bishop to bishop transfer, is required for succession. Furthermore, as Jesus and Peter used the term prophets (see Matthew 7:12;26:56; Acts 3:18-25) as a description of part of the Bible and the fact that the apostles wrote nearly all books of the New Testament, this verse is a clearer endorsement of apostolic succession being based upon the teachings (especially the inspired writings) of the apostles and prophets as opposed to some type of bishop succession that Paul does not mention in this passage.

And Luke recorded this concerning Paul:

From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. 18 And when they had come to him, he said to them: “You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you…Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves…” (Acts 20:17-18,28-30).

From the above passages we see that Paul taught leaders of the church that they were to teach others faithfully, but that even those who appear to be Christian successors/leaders could be a problem.

The Living Church of God teaches:

According to New Testament teaching, the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the hands of Christ’s Apostles, or elders (Acts 8:17; 9:17; 19:6; 2 Timothy 1:6) (Official Statement of Fundamental Beliefs. Living Church of God).

Thus, the Living Church of God recognizes that the true church has an apostolic foundation, and that authority was passed from the apostles to the ministry through the laying on of hands–and this has continued to this day (though not in one continuing city per Hebrews 13:14).

Paul also taught to Timothy of Ephesus (one of his successors who he laid hands upon):

Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands (2 Timothy 1:6).

And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2).

Perhaps it should be mentioned here that the Roman and Greek churches did accept that the church in Ephesus did have “apostolic succession”, through Timothy, in earlier centuries. Thus, they both recognize that it was the laying on of hands and NOT SIMPLY the death or some statement by (or to) Peter that only authorized succession through Peter’s death in Rome.

Who was Peter’s Successor?

Paul noted that there were three leaders in Jerusalem during one of his visits there:

James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars (Galatians 2:9).

He undoubtedly listed James first because James was the leader who actually lived in Jerusalem (the others were visiting). But notice that Paul then listed Cephas, who is Peter, and then John. This may suggest that Paul considered that Peter, at that time, had higher authority, sometimes called primacy. It also shows that Peter apparently conferred with John, hence Peter helped train him as a potential successor.

Yet, possibly around 64-67 A.D., Peter was killed, hence he no longer held physical primacy over the remaining apostles.

Now John greatly outlived Peter and is believed to have lived as late as 95-100 A.D.

John was an apostle, the early leaders of Rome were only presbyters.

The Bible clearly teaches that apostles were first (I Corinthians 12:28). Notice that even Roman Catholic scholars understand:

Unlike Peter, the pope is neither an apostle nor an eyewitness of the Risen Lord (McBrien, Richard P. Lives of the Popes: The Pontiffs from St. Peter to Benedict XVI. Harper, San Francisco, 2005 updated ed., p.33).

Since that is true, it makes no sense that the Apostle John would be somehow subordinate to Linus, Anacletus, Clement, and Evaristus, all of whom have been claimed to have been “bishop of Rome” and supposedly had primacy over all Christianity after Peter died and while John was still alive.

Note that Paul wrote:

And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles (1 Cor 12:28).

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11).

And since the Bible teaches that the true church is first led by apostles and other positions are lower ranked, there is no way that the Apostle John would have been below any bishop (essentially a pastor) in rank–Note that although the Bible uses the Greek term for pastor more than the one for bishop, it shows that the terms are interchangeable (see I Peter 2:25).

Hence, after Peter died (as well as the other apostles), it is clear that the was one true successor–who had been appointed by Christi Himself–would be the Apostle John (the last of the original apostles to die) and that true apostolic successors would probably have had contact with him.

Four Claimed Early Apostolic Successors by the Orthodox

Now that we know what apostolic succession is, and biblically where it came from, we now need to look at all the known candidates of who the first human leader who could have been an apostolic successor could be. While there is little doubt about the succession of later leaders in Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople, the links to the earliest leaders and earliest teachings is not strong as the current leaders from these areas normally indicate. Actually, there are so many contradictions of teachings in those groups now, that any early leader (with the probable exception of Alexandria) who were to suddenly become alive today would not recognize as apostolic many of the teachings and practices of those who now claim to be his successor.

It is of great importance to realize that the Bible was finished around 95 A.D. and the Apostle John died around 100 A.D. The Bible does not list any particular individual as the apostolic successor (how could it since succession would occur after the death of the last apostle and last writer of the Bible?).

In order to determine possible physical/spiritual successors to the original apostles, I have chosen to look at the historical records of the second century (101-200 A.D.) as these would seem to be the sources closest to the time of the last apostles’ death and hence, might be expected to include sources who actually knew (or at least knew of) who any successor(s) would have been.

There are at least nine men considered to have been the direct apostolic successors by a variety of churches.

There seem to be four-five main individuals according to the available first-second century writings.

However, before getting to them, let us look at four others that have been mentioned by the Orthodox Church.

1. Euodius of Antioch. There are at least two “orthodox” churches that blatantly claim apostolic succession from Antioch.

And both the Eastern Orthodox (or Rum Orthodox) Church of Antioch (apparently also called the Antiochian Orthodox) and the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch claim that Euodius (also spelled Evodius) was the successor to the Apostle Peter (see Syriac Orthodox Resources. Chronological List of the Patriarchs of Antioch. 03/19/06 and The Patriarchate of Antioch: Founded by Saints Peter and Paul 5/14/06).

Yet they have differing dates. The Syriac Church claims from Euodius led from 67-68 A.D., while the time period claimed by the Eastern Orthodox Church is earlier and longer. Specifically the Eastern Orthodox Church teaches:

Church tradition maintains that the See of Antioch was founded by Saint Peter the Apostle in A.D. 34 . Peter was either followed or joined by the Apostles Paul and Barnabas who preached there to both Gentiles and to Jews, who seem to have been numerous in the city… It was from Antioch that Paul and Barnabas departed for their great missionary journeys to the Gentile lands (Acts 13:1). The Apostles directed a truly universal ministry. After spending some seven years in Antioch, Peter left for Rome. To succeed him as bishop of Antioch he appointed Euodius, who is thus counted in early episcopal lists as the first successor to the Antiochian Throne of Peter…Saint Ignatius of Antioch for example, is revered as both a victorious martyr during the reign of Emperor Trajan (early second century) (The Patriarchate of Antioch: Founded by Saints Peter and Paul 5/14/06).

Although the above suggests that the Eastern Orthodox claim Euodius (spelled Eudoius below) was bishop from perhaps 41 A.D. (34 A.D. plus seven years) until whenever Ignatius took over, that is not actually what they claim as they provided the following early list:

1 45-53 The Episcopacy of St. Peter, the Apostle, in Antioch.

2 53 The Episcopacy of Eudoius in Antioch.

3 68 The Episcopacy of St. Ignatius (d. 107) in Antioch.

4 100 The Episcopacy of Heros in Antioch.

(Source: Primates of the Apostolic See of Antioch (Orthodox Succession). 11/16/07).

It may be of interest to realize that while the Bible lists some of the leaders in Antioch around 46 A.D., neither Peter nor Euodius is among them. The following is from the Rheims New Testament (a Catholic accepted translation):

AND there were in the Church which was at Antioch, Prophets and Doctors, among whom was Barnabas, and Simon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manahen who was the foster brother of Herod the Tetrarch, and Saul. And as they were ministering to our Lord, and fasting, the holy Ghost said: Separate me Saul and Barnabas unto the work, whereto I have taken them (Acts 13:1-2, RNT).

If either Peter or Euodius were the “Bishop of Antioch” and ministering to the Lord, it would make sense that they would at least have been mentioned, but they were not.

In addition, Peter around 50 A.D. was still in Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-7). Notice that Paul and Barnabas were sent back to Antioch and they remained there:

Then it pleased the Apostles and Ancients with the whole Church, to choose men out of them, and to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, Judas, who was surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren…And Paul and Barnabas tarried at Antioch, teaching and evangelizing with many others the word of our Lord (Acts 15:22,35, RNT).

Does any true Christian believe that there was a bishop in Antioch that Paul and Barnabas were reporting to then?

n addition, Peter was still in Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-7) around 50 A.D. and was still considered to be one of the “pillars”(Galatians 2:9) in Jerusalem Church around 52 or 53 A.D. (52 A.D. is arrived at by combining the 3 years in Galatians 1:18 with the 14 years in Galatians 2:1, which thus is apparently 17 years after Paul was converted–The Catholic Encyclopedia calculates that Paul’s conversion was 35 A.D. see Prat, Ferdinand. “St. Paul.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 27 Jul. 2008 ). Thus, Peter could not have been Bishop of Antioch (or Rome) around 50-53 A.D.

Furthermore, it should also be noted that Origen (early third century) and others do not list Euodius as coming after Peter, as they list the later Ignatius:

Origen calls Ignatius “the second bishop of Antioch after the blessed Peter”. Chrysostom and Theodoret also fail to include Euodius. The chronological impossibility of this arrangement is obvious (Bauer W. Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christianity, 2nd ed. Edited by R. Krafy and G. Krodel. Sigler Press, Mifflintown (PA), 1996, p. 116).

Others have noticed this problem as well:

Eusebius…the list he gives of the bishops of Antioch is doubtful with respect to its chronology. Compare A. HARNACK: Die Zeit des Ignatius, Leipzig, 1878. He places Ignatius as the second bishop after Peter. As nobody knew any thing about the intervening Euodius, he gradually dropped out of attention, and a new tradition formed, placing Ignatius immediately after Peter (Chrysostom, the Paschal Chronicle, Theodoret). Between these two traditions the Const. Ap. (VII. 46) tries to mediate by making Peter consecrate, first Euodius, and then Ignatius (Uhlhorn, G. “IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH,” Philip Schaff, ed., A Religious Encyclopaedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology, 3rd edn., Vol. 2. Toronto, New York & London: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1894. p.1058. at 5/14/06 ).

John Chrysostom specifically claimed:

[Ignatius] presided over the Church…But since I mentioned Peter, this is the man [who] succeeded to the office after him (As cited by Ray, Stephen K., in, Upon This Rock. St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early Church. Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1999, pp. 140-141).

Hence Euodius may not have filled in during either of the times that the Syriac or Greek Orthodox claim.

The first known reference to Evodius was written in the fourth century by the historian Eusebius who may have taken the three episcopal lists of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch from the “Chronography” which Julius Africanus published in 221–here is what it says:

At this time Ignatius was known as the second bishop of Antioch, Evodius having been the first. Symeon likewise was at that time the second ruler of the church of Jerusalem, the brother of our Saviour having been the first (Eusebius. Church History, Book III, Chapter 22. Translated by the Arthur Cushman McGiffert. Excerpted from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series Two, Volume 1. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. American Edition, 1890. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

There are no known writings to or from him. Euodius is apparently mentioned in a later pseudo-Ignatius writing, but that is not one that any seriously consider to be reliable.

In actuality, there is basically nothing known about Evodius. He is not mentioned in the New Testament (which was not finished until around 95 A.D.). Thus, presuming he was a true Christian, it is assumed that he held to apostolic teachings. It can be stated that based upon writings from later leaders in Antioch, it would seem impossible that Evodius held certain views, such as on idols and Easter, now held by the Eastern Orthodox Church (documentation of this is included in the article Some Similarities and Differences Between the Orthodox Church and the Churches of God). Hence, any modern claim to physical apostolic succession from Antioch by those churches is clearly negated by the adoption of doctrines that the earliest leaders in Antioch clearly opposed.

The next problem is that it is not probable that Peter could have been the Bishop of Antioch until 67 A.D., as the Syriacs claim, for at least three reasons.

First, blatant and unsubstantiated assertions to the contrary, there is no indication that Peter was in Antioch for any length of time (though he did have a meeting there once, see Galatians 2:11, probably in the mid 40s A.D. according to The Catholic Encyclopedia).

Second, if Peter became bishop simply because he once visited that town, then Euodius would have had to become bishop that far back.

And thirdly, if as the Syriac Orthodox claim, Peter was the bishop of Antioch from 37 A.D. until 67 A.D., then he could not have been Bishop of Rome then (not that I am saying that Peter was a bishop of Rome).

The reality is that there is major doubt that Peter spent any significant amount of time in Antioch or Rome (it is not even certain that he ever was in Rome). Neither city has any contemporaneous proof that Peter did anything than visit (or according to the Roman claim, died in) their respective city.

Another possible problem with Antioch is that although Ignatius is listed as the bishop after Euodius, he would have had to have been exceptionally young when he became a bishop as he is claimed to have lived until 107 or to possibly 118 A.D. (the latter date is has been proposed by some modern scholars). Yet, if either of those dates are correct, then the Antiochian claim of succession is in error as it has someone named Heros as bishop beginning with 100 A.D. (Ignatius was still alive then, and apparently in Antioch until at least 107). Nor is there any contemporaneus evidence that Ignatius was a bishop prior to the second century starting with 68 A.D. Hence there appears to be several gaps in the alleged apostolic succession in Antioch.

Furthermore, inaccurate tradition-based claims to the contrary, Ignatius’ writings actually support the concept that he observed and endorsed the seventh-day Sabbath, which is no longer the practice of any of the so-called “orthodox” churches (please see the article The Didache, Ignatius, and the Sabbath). Perhaps even more important, Ignatius apparently also held views on the Godhead that differ from mainstream “Christianity”, as he never referred to the Holy Spirit as God and acknowledged the Son as submissive to the Father (please see the article Binitarian View).

Now although there well may have been true Christian leaders in Antioch until possibly the beginning of the third century (please see the articles on Theophilus of Antioch died circa 182 and Serapion of Antioch died circa 211), this did not remain. Serapion was affiliated with the anti-Montantist Quartodecimans in Asia Minor (Eusebius records that Serapion referred to the Quartodeciman Apollonius of Hieropolis “blessed”, in his Church History, Book VI, Chapter 12, verse 2).

The supposed “successor” to Serapion, Asclepiades (also spelled Aslipiades), received praise from the compromised non-Quartodeciman Bishop Alexander of Jerusalem (see Eusebius, Church History, Book VI, Chapter 11, verse 4-5). Since apparently Asclepiades was the first Antiochian bishop ever so praised , it appears that a compromised form of Christianity became predominant in Antioch in the early and late third century.

Additionally, historians realize that a major apostasy occurred in the Antioch area later in the third century, and that the Roman Catholic Bishop (along with other Italian bishops) got to select the person considered to be the 17th bishop of Antioch (see Eusebius. Church History, Book VII, Chapter 30, Verse 19).

Also, if apostolic succession presumes that all the bishops in succession did not teach erroneous doctrines, then Antioch has a problem. The Orthodox Wiki states:

Paul of Samosata was a third-century Syrian theologian and heretical patriarch of Antioch. To defend Christianity’s monotheism against charges of tritheism, Paul espoused a definition of the relationship among the three persons of the Godhead that denied the personal distinction of the divine Son and Holy Spirit in contrast to God the Father, thus contradicting the Orthodox doctrine of the Trinity…Patriarch of Antioch 260-270 (Paul of Samosata. viewed 11/30/07)

Misunderstanding the Godhead was not Paul of Samosata’s only problem.

Notice what The Catholic Encyclopedia states:

In the third century Paul of Samosata, Bishop of Antioch, professed erroneous doctrines…(Schaefer. Transcribed by WG Kofron. The Church of Antioch. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I. Published 1907. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Paul of Samosata Bishop of Antioch. Several synods, probably three, were held against him about 264-66…A letter written by Malchion in the name of the synod and addressed to Pope Dionysius of Rome, Maximus of Alexandria, and all the bishops and clergy throughout the world, has been preserved by Eusebius in part; a few fragments only remain of the shorthand report of the disputation. The letter accuses Paul of acquiring great wealth by illicit means, of showing haughtiness and worldliness, of having set up for himself a lofty pulpit in the church, and of insulting those who did not applaud him and wave their handkerchiefs, and so forth. He had caused scandal by admitting women to live in his house, and had permitted the same to his clergy. Paul could not be driven from his see until the emperor Aurelian took possession of Antioch in 272. Even then he refused to vacate the house belonging to the church. An appeal was made to Aurelian, and the pagan emperor, who was at this time favourable to Christians, decided most justly, says Eusebius (vii, 30, 19), that the house should be given up to those to whom the bishops in Italy and the city of Rome should write…

Paul was driven out in utter disgrace by the civil power. Of his life no more is known to us. His doctrine was akin to the dynamistic Monarchianism of Theodotus, and he was nicknamed a follower of Artemas. We can gather these points: the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are but a single Person (prosopon). The Son or Logos is without hypostasis, being merely the wisdom and science of God, which is in Him as reason is in a man. Before all worlds He was born as Son (Logos prophorikos) without a virgin; he is without shape and cannot be made visible to men…

Paul…forbade hymns to Christ, and openly attacked the older (Alexandrian) interpretations of Scripture. The party of Paul did not at once disappear. The Council of Nicæa declared the baptism conferred by the Paulianists to be invalid. (Chapman J. Transcribed by Douglas J. Potter. Paul of Samosata. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XI. Published 1911. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Thus, for at least eight years one who even the Roman Catholics claims was unfaithful held “apostolic succession” in Antioch. And notice that the baptisms he and his group did were declared to be invalid. Clearly this is not true apostolic succession.

Oddly, the website of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America claims:

267 The Episcopacy of Paul of Samosata in Antioch 270 (Primates of the Apostolic See of Antioch (Orthodox Succession) viewed 11/30/07).

A 267-270 episcopacy seems odd because it would make no sense for Paul to have 3 synods against his episcopacy before he had that role.

But irrespective of when he was there, there simply is no unbroken line of faithful bishops in Antioch.

Furthermore, according to Jesus, no city, including Antioch (Rome, etc.) could remain the successor to the apostles throughout history. Note what Jesus said:

And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes (Matthew 10:22-23).

The above passage from Jesus would suggest that the true leadership of the church would have to move reasonably often (not just once or twice). Notice that the Apostle Paul also taught that it was impossible that any city in this age would be permanent for Christians:

For we have not here a permanent city: but we seek that which is to come (Hebrews 13:14).

Hence any claim of apostolic succession for 1000-2000 years from the same city should be viewed as basically impossible from what Jesus and Paul taught. Furthermore, the Antiochian churches hold to doctrines that Ignatius and other early leaders condemned.

Hence, I do not consider that any of the leaders who now claim to lead the Antiochian churches could be truly faithful to the original teachings from Jesus or the apostles. Thus, any claims to physical apostolic succession were made irrelevant by doctrinal and other compromises as this particular church is definitely not the spiritual successor of the apostles.

Claims, including unsubstantiated blatant assertions, should never be taken as proof.

2. Anianus of Alexandria. The Orthodox Church of Alexandria claims that Mark was an apostle and that he passed on the succession to a pious one named Anianus (or sometimes spelled Anianos). Essentially, these claims are based upon records from the fourth century writer Eusebius, which, however, history reveals contains several flaws.

Notice the following claimed succession list (much of which was apparently put together based upon Eusebius’ writings) in Alexandria:

2          ANIANOS (62-82)
3          ABELIOS (83-95)
4          KEDRON (96-106)
5          PRIMUS (106-118)
6          JUSTUS (118-129)
7          EUMENIS (129-141)
8          MARK II (141-152)
9          KELADION (152-166)
10        AGGRIPINOS (166-178)
11        JULIAN (178-189)
12        DIMITRIOS (189-232)

Source: Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa. CHRONOLOGICAL LIST OF PATRIARCHES OF ALEXANDRIA. viewed 08/04/08.

It needs to be understood Eusebius only states that he heard that Mark was in Alexandria (this differs from many other accounts from Eusebius where he claims to rely on written records).

The Coptic Catholic Church of Alexandria also holds a position similar to the Orthodox Church of Alexandria as it claims,

The Coptic Church was founded by the martyr Mark between A.D. 40 and 60 in Alexandria (Eastern Catholics Key for Christian Unity, Says Pope. Zenit – Dec 15, 2006).

However, Eusebius does not claim that Mark was actually in Alexandria for any specific time period. Actually, since Mark is mentioned many times in the New Testament, the dates and events in the Bible that mention Mark, demonstrate that Mark could not have been the Bishop of Alexandria at that time (as he was in, or traveling to, many other places).

Around 43-44 A.D., Mark is mentioned in first Acts 12:12, when he is praying in Jerusalem. Herod is noted as dying in Acts 12:20-23, which was in 44 A.D. (Nelson Study Bible, New Kings James Version. Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1997, p. 1813). Sometime after Herod’s death, notice:

And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their ministry, and they also took with them John whose surname was Mark (Acts 12:25).

Notice that Mark was in Jerusalem and then went with Paul and Barnabas. Also notice what certain scholars believe:

In A.D. 46, Mark spent time with Paul and Barnabas in the Antioch Church before his accompanied them as a helper on their first missionary journey (Nelson Study Bible, New Kings James Version. Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1997, p. 1636).

Mark apparently went with Paul and Barnabas from around 47-49 A.D. (Nelson Study Bible, New Kings James Version. Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1997, p. 1813).

But Paul was not pleased with Mark and did not want him to accompany him on the next trip:

Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus (Acts 15:37-39).

Notice that Paul considered Mark unfaithful, and notice that Mark then went to Cyprus (not Alexandria)–and this was around 50-53 A.D. (Nelson Study Bible, New Kings James Version. Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1997, p. 1813).

Later Paul apparently liked Mark:

Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him) (Colossians 4:10).

This occurred around 60 A.D. and Mark is believed to have been with Paul in Rome then (Nelson Study Bible, New Kings James Version. Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1997, pp. 1637, 2008).

Later Paul declared that Mark was useful:

Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry (2 Timothy 4:11).

And this occurred around 67 A.D. (Nelson Study Bible, New Kings James Version. Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1997, p. 2052).

It should be noted that the Bible never mentions that Mark was ever in Alexandria, nor ever gives any indication that he somehow was a “bishop” over any area.

Instead, the biblical account contradicts the position of the Orthodox Church of Alexandria that Mark was its bishop from 42-62 A.D. as Mark was in Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, Cyprus and other areas during this time. Plus, according to various historians, he was still alive in 67 A.D.

Therefore, either someone later made up the idea that Mark of the Bible came to Alexandria and led that church as an apostle or there was a false apostle who named himself Mark who was in Alexandria. While the Bible never calls or hints that Mark was an apostle and that Mark could not have led the church in Alexandria during the time Eusebius mentioned, it clearly does warn against “false apostles”. Specifically Paul wrote:

But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast. 13 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:12-13).

Interestingly, Paul wrote the above around, 56 A.D., which is during the time that there is claimed to have been an apostle named Mark in Alexandria.

Furthermore, even though Eusebius mentions “Mark”, Eusebius noted that there was a problem with those who professed Christ early in Alexandria:

1. And they say that this Mark was the first that was sent to Egypt, and that he proclaimed the Gospel which he had written, and first established churches in Alexandria.

2. And the multitude of believers, both men and women, that were collected there at the very outset, and lived lives of the most philosophical and excessive asceticism, was so great, that Philo thought it worth while to describe their pursuits, their meetings, their entertainments, and their whole manner of life.” (Eusebius. Church History, Book II, Chapter 16. Translated by Arthur Cushman McGiffert. Excerpted from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series Two, Volume 1. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. American Edition, 1890. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

When Nero was in the eighth year of his reign, Annianus succeeded Mark the evangelist in the administration of the parish of Alexandria (ibid, Chapter 24).

It should be noted that Eusebius’ source or conclusion regarding Anianus, that the Orthodox accept, must be in error. For example, the eighth year of Nero’s reign would be 61-62 A.D., and the Orthodox do claim that Anianus was a bishop there from 62 A.D.

However, this cannot be if he succeeded Mark.


Because according to Peter, Mark was alive when Peter wrote 1 Peter 5:13, which states:

She who is in Babylon, elect together with you, greets you; and so does Mark my son…

According to various sources, Peter did not write 1 Peter until after the date the Orthodox claim that Anianus took over from Mark. Here is what The Catholic Encyclopedia says about when 1 Peter was written:

The most probable opinion is that which places it about the end of the year 63 or the beginning of 64 (Van Der Heeren A. Transcribed by Judy Levandoski. Epistles of Saint Peter. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XI. Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Furthermore, according to Irenaeus (c. 175 A.D.), Mark was alive after Peter died:

Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter (Irenaeus. Adversus haereses, Book III, Chapter 1, Verse 1. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

While it is not certain that Peter actually preached in Rome (at least one of Irenaeus’ other claims about Peter and Rome are considered to be false according to certain Roman Catholic scholars), if Irenaeus is correct that Mark wrote after the death of Peter, then Mark could not have died before 67 A.D. And if he did die until at least then, he could not have been succeeded in death by 62 A.D.

Of course, pretty much nothing is known about Anianus or any of his “successors”–but it does not seem possible that he could have become a bishop after the time of the death of Mark (who may never have actually ever been in Alexandria), hence Eusebius’s writings about Alexandria have been discounted by many scholars.

But it does need to be understood that, in the first century, Philo reported that there were problems with those who were in Alexandria. Here is some of what Eusebius said Philo taught about the ascetic followers (who he seems to improperly allege followed Mark) in Alexandria (any bolding mine):

3. In the work to which he gave the title, On a Contemplative Life or on Suppliants, after affirming in the first place that he will add to those things which he is about to relate nothing contrary to truth or of his own invention, he says that these men were called Therapeutæ and the women that were with them Therapeutrides. He then adds the reasons for such a name, explaining it from the fact that they applied remedies and healed the souls of those who came to them, by relieving them like physicians, of evil passions, or from the fact that they served and worshiped the Deity in purity and sincerity.

4. Whether Philo himself gave them this name, employing an epithet well suited to their mode of life, or whether the first of them really called themselves so in the beginning, since the name of Christians was not yet everywhere known, we need not discuss here…

7. Philo bears witness to facts very much like those here described and then adds the following account: “Everywhere in the world is this race found. For it was fitting that both Greek and Barbarian should share in what is perfectly good. But the race particularly abounds in Egypt, in each of its so-called nomes, and especially about Alexandria

9. And then a little further on, after describing the kind of houses which they had, he speaks as follows concerning their churches, which were scattered about here and there: “In each house there is a sacred apartment which is called a sanctuary and monastery, where, quite alone, they perform the mysteries of the religious life. They bring nothing into it, neither drink nor food, nor any of the other things which contribute to the necessities of the body, but only the laws, and the inspired oracles of the prophets, and hymns and such other things as augment and make perfect their knowledge and piety.”

10. And after some other matters he says:

“The whole interval, from morning to evening, is for them a time of exercise. For they read the holy Scriptures, and explain the philosophy of their fathers in an allegorical manner, regarding the written words as symbols of hidden truth which is communicated in obscure figures.

11. They have also writings of ancient men, who were the founders of their sect, and who left many monuments of the allegorical method. These they use as models, and imitate their principles”…

15…Philo’s words are as follows:

16. “Having laid down temperance as a sort of foundation in the soul, they build upon it the other virtues. None of them may take food or drink before sunset, since they regard philosophizing as a work worthy of the light, but attention to the wants of the body as proper only in the darkness, and therefore assign the day to the former, but to the latter a small portion of the night.

17. But some, in whom a great desire for knowledge dwells, forget to take food for three days; and some are so delighted and feast so luxuriously upon wisdom, which furnishes doctrines richly and without stint, that they abstain even twice as long as this, and are accustomed, after six days, scarcely to take necessary food.” These statements of Philo we regard as referring clearly and indisputably to those of our communion.

19. For they say that there were women also with those of whom we are speaking, and that the most of them were aged virgins who had preserved their chastity…by their own choice, through zeal and a desire for wisdom

20. Then after a little he adds still more emphatically: “They expound the Sacred Scriptures figuratively by means of allegories. For the whole law seems to these men to resemble a living organism, of which the spoken words constitute the body, while the hidden sense stored up within the words constitutes the soul. This hidden meaning has first been particularly studied by this sect, which sees, revealed as in a mirror of names, the surpassing beauties of the thoughts”…

23. In addition to this Philo describes the order of dignities which exists among those who carry on the services of the church, mentioning the diaconate, and the office of bishop, which takes the precedence over all the others (Eusebius. Church History, Book II, Chapter XVII. Translated by Arthur Cushman McGiffert. Excerpted from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series Two, Volume 1. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. American Edition, 1890. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

So Eusebius claims that Philo (c. late 1st century) reported that those in Alexandria were ascetic, had mysteries, seem to have been gnostics (ones who claimed to have special knowledge/wisdom was essential for salvation), had some promotion of celibacy, allegorized scripture, and had a bishop–and Eusebius seems to claim that they are part of the Catholic Church (see vs. 17 above)–even though the Roman Church did not have celibacy rules at that time (please see the article Was Celibacy Required for Early Bishops or Presbyters?). This seems to have been where a major departure from the true faith occurred.

Even Irenaeus condemned the practice of allegorizing:

11…But if any one, “doting about questions,” do imagine that what the apostles have declared about God should be allegorized (Irenaeus. Adversus haereses, Book III, Chapter 12, Verse 11. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

When the Alexandrians first had a bishop who had successors is not clear–and if Anianus was such a bishop, it appears that he led a group that did not teach the Bible the same way that the apostles did. Since the Orthodox Church claims an unbroken link of bishops here, they are apparently including individuals who overly allegorized scriptures and taught other doctrines contrary to those of the apostles.

Alexandria was the original home of the heretic Valentinus (who later went to Rome), and it seems like some of the leaders in Alexandria adopted some of his traits. The historian HOJ Brown noted:

Alexandria was the home of the celebrated gnostic Valentinus. Valentinus adopted Philo’s method of allegorical interpretation…For a time, Valentinus and his followers existed with the orthodox Christians of Alexandria. (Brown HOJ. Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody (MA), 1988, p. 86).

Valentinus, even though condemned by Polycarp of Smyrna, when Polycarp visited Rome, ca. 155, was also tolerated by, and existed in, the Roman Church until at the 170s A.D. when he was finally put out after he had greatly influenced the church there.

One man who was affiliated with Valentinus was Marcus (also can be spelled Markos in English). Notice what Irenaeus wrote:

I showed thee, my very dear friend, that the whole system devised, in many and opposite ways, by those who are of the school of Valentinus, was false and baseless. I also set forth the tenets of their predecessors, proving that they not only differed among themselves, but had long previously swerved from the truth itself. I further explained, with all diligence, the doctrine as well as practice of Marcus the magician, since he, too, belongs to these persons (Irenaeus. Adversus haereses, Book II, Preface, Verse 1. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Eusebius claimed:

In Alexandria Marcus was appointed pastor, after Eumenes had filled the office thirteen years in all (Eusebius. Church History, Book IV, Chapter 11, Verse 6. Translated by Arthur Cushman McGiffert. Excerpted from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series Two, Volume 1. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. American Edition, 1890. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

One researcher noted:

Marcus, the seventh bishop listed by Eusebius, could just as well have been the famed disciple of the second-century Valentinus (Coulter Fred. The New Testament In Its Original Order, Appendix U. York Publishing, Hollister, CA, 2004, p. 859).

And that is possible. While the Eastern Orthodox venerate the memory of a Marcus they claim was bishop of Alexandria from A.D. 144-154, Roman Catholics consider that there was a leading Gnostic heretic named Marcus in the second century:

Marcus The name of three leading Gnostics…The founder of the Marcosians and elder contemporary of St. Irenæus, who, c. A.D. 175, in his refutation addresses him as one apparently still living (Adv. Haer., I, xi, 3, where the “clarus magister” is Marcus, not Epiphanes; and I, xiii, 21). Irenaeus, from whom St. Epiphanius (Haer., xxxiv) and St. Hoppolytus (Haer., VI, xxxix-lv) quote, makes Marcus, a disciple of Valentius (q.v.), with whom Marcus’s aeonology mainly agrees…Clement of Alexandria, himself infected with Gnosticism, actually uses Marcus number system though without acknowledgement (Strom, VI, xvi) (Arendzen JP. Transcribed by Joseph P. Thomas. Marcus. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York).

The fact that Clement of Alexandria (a contemporary of Marcus) apparently used Marcus’ numbering system, suggests that it is possible, but does not prove, that this could be the same Marcus.

Irenaeus even condemned the Gnostic Marcus who had been acquainted with Valentinus for coming up with some type of a “eucharistic -like” mystery. Notice:

1. In the first book, which immediately precedes this, exposing “knowledge falsely so called,” I showed thee, my very dear friend, that the whole system devised, in many and opposite ways, by those who are of the school of Valentinus, was false and baseless. I also set forth the tenets of their predecessors, proving that they not only differed among themselves, but had long previously swerved from the truth itself. I further explained, with all diligence, the doctrine as well as practice of Marcus the magician, since he, too, belongs to these persons (Irenaeus. Adversus haereses, Book II, Preface, Verse 1. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

1. But there is another among these heretics, Marcus by name, who boasts himself as having improved upon his master…

2. Pretending to consecrate cups mixed with wine, and protracting to great length the word of invocation, he contrives to give them a purple and reddish colour, so that Charis, who is one of those that are superior to all things, should be thought to drop her own blood into that cup through means of his invocation, and that thus those who are present should be led to rejoice to taste of that cup, in order that, by so doing, the Charis, who is set forth by this magician, may also flow into them. Again, handing mixed cups to the women, he bids them consecrate these in his presence (Irenaeus. Adversus haereses, Book I, Chapter 13. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

If these two Marcus’s are the same person, it is clear that one in the list of Alexandria’s Orthodox successors was condemned by Irenaeus as a heretic. And even if they are not, the practice of consecration with mysterious invocations was condemned in the second century–even though this is a practice somewhat adopted by the Roman and Orthodox Churches. And very similar to practices associated with Mithraism, as Tertullian noted:

By the devil, of course, to whom pertain those wiles which pervert the truth, and who, by the mystic rites of his idols, vies even with the essential portions of the sacraments of God…Mithra there, (in the kingdom of Satan,) sets his marks on the foreheads of his soldiers; celebrates also the oblation of bread, and introduces an image of a resurrection, and before a sword wreathes a crown (The Prescription against Heretics, Chapter 40. Translated by the Rev. Peter Holmes, D.D., F.R.A.S.).

In spite of claims from the Orthodox Church of Alexandria, little is known about those it claims as early leaders, but possibly they were influenced by followers of Mithra.

The Catholic Encyclopedia reports:

Demetrius is the first Alexandrian bishop of whom anything is known…Demetrius encouraged Origen when blamed for his too literal execution of an allegorical counsel of our Lord, and is said to have shown him great favour…In 230 Demetrius gave Origen a recommendation to take with him on his journey to Athens (Chapman J. Transcribed by Gary Mros. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IV. Copyright © 1908 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Demetrius is in the list of successors for the Orthodox Church of Alexandria from 188-231. During that time, Demetrius encouraged the heretics Clement of Alexander and later Origen (before eventually renouncing Origen) with their Alexandrian Catechetical School. Thus, no one in the Living Church of God would consider that those who claim to be his successor are truly successors of the apostles.

Even many Protestant leaders know that the old Alexandrian Catechetical School clearly had problems as the noted Protestant theologian John Walvoord has pointed out:

In the last ten years of the second century and in the third century the heretical school of theology at Alexandria, Egypt advanced the erroneous principle that the Bible should be interpreted in a nonliteral or allegorical sense.  In applying this to the Scriptures, they subverted all the major doctrines of faith…the Alexandrian school of theology is labeled by all theologians as heretical…(Walvoord, John F.  The Prophecy Handbook.  Victor Books, Wheaton (IL), 1990, pp. 9,15).

Clement mixed gnosticism with his form of Christianity:

Unlike Irenaeus who detested it, Clement refers to secret tradition, and his affinities to gnosticism seems to go beyond mere borrowing of gnostic terms. (Brown HOJ. Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody (MA), 1988, p. 87).

The Catholic Encyclopedia reported:

Clement was an early Greek theologian and head of the catechetical school of Alexandria...Alexandria was, in addition, one of the chief seats of that peculiar mixed pagan and Christian speculation known as Gnosticism…Conservative scholars are inclined to believe that Photius has thrown the mistakes of Clement, whatever they may have been, into undue relief. Clement’s style is difficult, his works are full of borrowed excerpts, and his teaching is with difficulty reduced to a coherent body of doctrine…

In the “Miscellanies” Clement disclaims order and plan…God’s truth is to be found in revelation, another portion of it in philosophy. It is the duty of the Christian to neglect neither. Religious science, drawn from his twofold source, is even an element of perfection, the instructed Christian — “the true Gnostic” is the perfect Christian. He who has risen to this height is far from the disturbance of passion; he is united to God, and in a mysterious sense is one with Him. Such is the line of thought indicated in the work, which is full of digressions…

Some scholars see in the chief writings of Clement, the “Exhortation”, “The Tutor”, the “Miscellanies”, a great trilogy representing a graduated initiation into the Christian life — belief, discipline, knowledge — three states corresponding to the three degrees of the neo-Platonic mysteries — purification, initiation, and vision…

Photius in the “Bibliotheca” censures a list of errors drawn from his writings…when the Roman Martyrology was revised by Pope Clement VIII his name was dropped from the calendar on the advice of Cardinal Baronius. Benedict XIV maintained this decision of his predecessor on the grounds that Clement’s life was little known that he had never obtained public cultus in the Church, and that some of his doctrines were, if not erroneous, at least suspect (Havey, Francis. “Clement of Alexandria.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 17 Nov. 2008 ).

In other words, many scholars understand that Clement of Alexandria, who is often listed as a major leader in Alexandria held a lot of gnostic and other heretical views.

Origen was one of the first major scholars to oppose the literal understanding of scripture (an article of related interest may be What is the Appropriate Form of Biblical Interpretation?)–which he may have gotten from the gnostic Valentinus.

It should be noted that many historians do not believe that there was an actual succession of bishops in Alexandria prior (or much prior) to Demetrius (see Bauer W. Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christianity, 2nd ed. Edited by R. Krafy and G. Krodel. Sigler Press, Mifflintown, PA, 1996, pp. 44-45 and Sullivan F.A. From Apostles to Bishops: the development of the episcopacy in the early church. Newman Press, Mahwah, NJ, 2001, p. 15).

The idea that there also was NOT a succession of apostolic teachings from the apostles through any early bishops of Alexandria appears to be confirmed by the following account of Clement of Alexandria who wrote:

Now this work of mine in writing is not artfully constructed for display; but my memoranda are stored up against old age, as a remedy against forgetfulness, truly an image and outline of those vigorous and animated discourses which I was privileged to hear, and of blessed and truly remarkable men.

Of these the one, in Greece, an Ionic; the other in Magna Graecia: the first of these from Coele-Syria, the second from Egypt, and others in the East. The one was born in the land of Assyria, and the other a Hebrew in Palestine.

When I came upon the last (he was the first in power), having tracked him out concealed in Egypt, I found rest. He, the true, the Sicilian bee, gathering the spoil of the flowers of the prophetic and apostolic meadow, engendered in the souls of his hearers a deathless element of knowledge.

Well, they preserving the tradition of the blessed doctrine derived directly from the holy apostles, Peter, James, John, and Paul, the sons receiving it from the father (but few were like the fathers), came by God’s will to us also to deposit those ancestral and apostolic seeds (Clement of Alexandria. The Stromata (Book I, Chapter I. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

The above account shows that Clement claims that he basically has apostolic knowledge based on him coming upon a variety of individuals who claimed to know the apostles. Notice that Clement never even hints that this information was preserved by a line of early bishops in Alexandria.


Well, amongst other reasons, because there is no proof that there ever was no real apostle to bishop to bishop transfers in Alexandria (though there appears to have been proof of some heretical bishops). And even the Bible disagrees with the position that Mark could have been there much from 42-62 A.D.

Later, the Church that Demetrius led split in the year 451 into the Coptic Church and the Orthodox Church of Alexandria.

We in the Living Church of God do not consider that either of the two leaders who now claim to lead the Alexandrian church could be truly faithful to the original teachings from the apostles. The gnostic practice of allegorizing scripture was encouraged in Alexandria, as were many parts of Gnosticism in general.

Thus, any claims to physical apostolic succession (which cannot be proven) are made irrelevant by doctrinal and other compromises as this particular church is definitely not the spiritual successor of the apostles.

3. Stachys in Constantinople. The Orthodox Church of Constantinople claims that the Apostle Andrew founded it, and that his successor was Stachys from 38-64 A.D.. The official website of that church states:

The Apostle Stachys was one of the Seventy Apostles of the Lord. In 38 AD Apostle Andrew appoints him first bishop of the city of Byzantium, which three centuries later will be renamed into Constantinople (The Apostle Stachys. Ecumenical Patriarchate. 3/29/06).

The Bible does not mention Stachys, nor the names of the 70 sent out by Jesus, nor are any group of 70 ever referred to in the Bible as apostles (see Luke 10:1-17). While the Bible does mention many cities in Asia Minor (and the Book of Revelation is address to seven cities in Asia Minor), Byzantium is not specifically mentioned in the Bible.

The information above on Stachys comes from The Synaxarion, which apparently got part of this information from this third century writing of Hippolytus:

Stachys, bishop of Byzantium (Hippolytus. On the Seventy Apostles. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 5. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1886. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight).

I should point out that Hippolytus’ writings do not clearly refer to Stachys as an apostle, simply as a bishop or overseer (the title “On the Seventy Apostles” may be a later addition to the text).

Here is the succession list per the Orthodox Church of Constantinople:

1 St. Andrew the Apostle Founder
2 St. Stachys 38-54
3 Onesimos 54-68
4 Polycarp I 69-89
5 Plutarch 89-105
6 Sedekion 105-114
7 Diogenes 114-129
8 Eleutherios 129-136
9 Felix 136-141
10 Polycarp II 141-144
11 Athenodoros 144-148
12 Euzoios 148-154
13 Laurentios 154-166
14 Alypios 166-169
15 Pertinex 169-187 1
16 Olympianos 187-198
17 Mark I 198-211
18 Philadelphios 211-214
19 Kyriakos I 214-230
20 Kastinos 230-237
21 Eugene I 237-242
22 Titus 242-272
23 Dometian 272-303

(Source: Ecumenical Patriarchate. List of Patriarchs. Apostolic Succession of the Great Church of Christ. 07/10/07).

It needs to be pointed out that while the Orthodox consider that Polycarp of Smyrna was a saint, he is not one of the two Polycarps in the above list. Polycarp of Smyrna held many positions that differ from those now held by the Orthodox.

Furthermore, it needs to be understood that the bulk of the leadership of the churches in Asia Minor became supporters of the Greco-Roman churches after the persecution of Decius (c. 250 A.D). And thus, the late third century churches in Asia Minor were not the same as the churches prior to that time. Notice that Dionysius, bihop of Alexandria reported that “the churches of the East” had been divided (from Rome and Alexandria) prior to this time:

But know now, my brethren, that all the churches throughout the East and beyond, which formerly were divided, have become united. And all the bishops everywhere are of one mind, and rejoice greatly in the peace which has come beyond expectation. Thus Demetrianus in Antioch, Theoctistus in Cæsarea, Mazabanes in Ælia, Marinus in Tyre (Alexander having fallen asleep), Heliodorus in Laodicea (Thelymidres being dead), Helenus in Tarsus, and all the churches of Cilicia, Firmilianus, and all Cappadocia. I have named only the more illustrious bishops, that I may not make my epistle too long and my words too burdensome (Cited in Eusebius. Church History, Book VII, Chapter V, Verse I).

Thus this a different Asia Minor religion than the one prior to Decius. It did not hold to the same teachings as the prior leaders did–that is why it had not been united with the Greco-Roman Catholics before. But what is interesting to note is that the “Bishop of Byzantium” is not listed in Dionysius’ listing—if the “Bishop of Byzantium” was truly the successor to the Apostle Andrew and was one of the original “Apostolic Sees” (as the Eastern Orthodox Church claim), then why was the “Bishop of Byzantium” missing? Probably because it did not take on significance until some years after Asia Minor became part of the Greco-Roman churches.

Near this time, the apocryphal Acts of Andrew was apparently put together (Comments on The Acts of Andrew. From “The Apocryphal New Testament” M.R. James-Translation and Notes Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924). Although the Acts of Andrew were condemned by Eusebius (Church History, Book III, Chapter 25, verse 6), it or other late second/third century writings may have been part of the basis for the Orthodox Church ultimately claiming Constantinople (previously called Byzantium and now called Istanbul) as its premier “see” (though its real reason for importance was that the pagan Emperor Constantine declared it to be important).

The truth is that even the Orthodox Church of Constantinople admits the following:

Following the establishment of Constantinople (the ancient city of Byzantium) as the state capital of the Roman Empire in the early part of the fourth century, a series of significant ecclesiastical events saw the status of the Bishop of New Rome (as Constantinople was then called) elevated to its current position and privilege. The Church of Constantinople is traditionally regarded as being founded by St. Andrew, the “first-called” of the Apostles. The 3rd canon of the Second Ecumenical Council held in Constantinople (381) conferred upon the bishop of this city second rank after the Bishop of Rome. Less than a century later, the 28th canon of the Fourth Ecumenical Council held in Chalcedon (451) offered Constantinople equal ranking to Rome and special responsibilities throughout the rest of the world and expanding its jurisdiction to territories hitherto unclaimed. The Ecumenical Patriarchate holds an honorary primacy among the autocephalous, or ecclesiastically independent, Churches. It enjoys the privilege of serving as “first among equals.” (History of The Ecumenical Patriarchate. 07/10/07).

Hence, even the Orthodox Church admits that Constantinople did not have much ranking until the fourth century after it was named Constantinople–which means that this occured because the pagan emperor Constantine (he was not baptised at this point) elevated it. So how can it be “the first among equals”?

In order to justify its supposed early ties, notice what the Official Site of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople states:

The apostolicity of the Throne of Constantinople is also shown from the proven fact that the Apostle and Evangelist John preached in Asia Minor. It was he who addressed his book of the Apocalypse to “the seven churches in Asia”, namely the Churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamon, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodecia, which, since the 4th century belong stably to the jurisdiction of the Church of Constantinople (A brief historical note about the Ecumenical Patriarchate–The Apostolic Value of the Church of Constantinople. viewed 11/30/07).

Actually, what the above shows is that there was some type of apostolic succession in Asia Minor beginning with John, but that after Emperor Constantine renamed Byzantium after himself, his influence declared “Constantinople” one of the supposedly five original “apostolic sees”. The truth is that early Byzantium had no important role within Christianity–there were no major leaders there (though Andrew may have passed through it), there were no early Christian writings from there, nor is it even discussed in other writings prior to the third century. Constantinople simply became important to the Orthodox, not because of the apostles, but because of a pagan Emperor and a spurious and apparently fraudulent document known as the Acts of Andrew.

Even the Catholic Encyclopedia teaches that Constantinople did not become important until the fourth century and that it probably did not have any bishops before the third century:

It has quite lately been established that Byzantium received its new name of Constantinople as early as the end of 324 (Centénaire de la société nationale des antiquaires de France, Paris, 1904, p. 281 sqq.). Nevertheless, the solemn inauguration of the new city did not occur until 11 May, 330; only after this date did the Court and Government settle permanently in the new capital. It was soon filled with sumptuous edifices like those of Rome…

A probably reliable tradition makes the Byzantine Church a suffragan of Heraclea in Thrace at the beginning of the third century. In the fifth century we meet with a spurious document attributed to a certain Dorotheus, Bishop of Tyre at the end of the third century, according to which the Church of Byzantium was founded by the Apostle St. Andrew, its first bishop being his disciple Stachys (cf. Romans 16:9). The intention of the forger is plain: in this way the Church of Rome is made inferior to that of Constantinople, St. Andrew having been chosen an Apostle by Jesus before his brother St. Peter, the founder of the Roman Church.

The first historically known Bishop of Byzantium is St. Metrophanes (306-314), though the see had perhaps been occupied during the third century. It was at first subject to the metropolitan authority of Heraclea, and remained so, at least canonically, until 381, when the Second Ecumenical Council (can. iii) gave the Bishop of Constantinople the first place after the Bishop of Rome.

Constantine had chosen this city as the new capital of the Roman Empire, but owing to his wars and the needs of the State, he rarely resided there (Vailhé S. Transcribed by Douglas J. Potter. Constantinople. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IV. Published 1908. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Thus the idea that Constantinople clearly has apostolic succession has been discounted by Catholic scholars (even if the current Pope has chosen to ignore the facts of history for “unity’s sake”–he apparently wants control, please see the article Orthodox Must Reject Unity with the Roman Catholics).

Furthermore, it also needs to be understood that the Orthodox Church has a book called The Synaxarion which contains stories, handed down through some type of tradition, about early church leaders. And it seems to be relied on even if it is not consistent with the biblical account–yet it is often accepted as historical fact within the Orthodox communities.

The Synaxarion seems to have been composed between the ninth and eleventh centuries:

The iconoclast heresy of the eighth and ninth centuries was directed against veneration of saints as well as against their holy images and, in general, opposed the presence of any intermediary between ourselves and God. The Orthodox reacted by attaching even more importance to veneration of the saints. Once the heresy was overthrown, they covered the walls of the churches with icons, were zealous in writing long lives of the heroes of Orthodoxy and completed the calendar and the Church service. The holy hymnographers of the Monastery of the Stoudion, Saint Theodore, Saint Joseph and others, ordered our Church services in the form they have retained ever since. After the sixth ode of the Matins canon, because of the number of hymns, the reading of the lives of the saints of the day was restricted to brief notices, called the Synaxarion, as a vestige of the practice of the first liturgical assemblies. From the ninth to the eleventh century, the compilation of the short notices that appear in the Synaxarion was completed (Hieromonk Makarios of Simonos Petra, Mount Athos. Introduction to The Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church. From Volume One of The Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church. Published by the Holy Convent of the Annunciation of Our Lady, Ormylia (Chalkidike, Greece), 1998. From 03/31/06).

Since the early church was clearly against idolatry (please see the article What Did the Early Church Teach About Idols and Icons?), and the primary Orthodox Church now encourages it, this church in Constantinople cannot be considered to be a church true to the teachings of the apostles. For if Stachys was one of the 70 Jesus appointed, he would not have condoned idolatry if he was faithful. Thus, any claims to physical apostolic succession were made irrelevant by doctrinal and other compromises as this particular church is definitely not the spiritual successor of the apostles.

Furthermore, like all the other cities mentioned in this paper, there is no contemporaneous documentation that there actually was the list of bishops in Constantinople until many decades (in this case over hundred and fifty years) after the alleged succession occurred.

Of course, the succession dates are not the only changes. Many of the Orthodox in Constantinople used to keep the Sabbath. Notice what the historian Sozomen reported in the mid-5th Century,

The people of Constantinople, and almost everywhere, assemble together on the Sabbath, as well as on the first day of the week, which custom is never observed at Rome or at Alexandria (Sozomen. THE ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY OF SOZOMEN. Comprising a History of the Church, from a.d. 323 to a.d. 425. Book VII, Chapter XIX. Translated from the Greek. Revised by Chester D. Hartranft, Hartford Theological Seminary UNDER THE EDITORIAL SUPERVISION OF PHILIP SCHAFF, D.D., LL.D., AND HENRY WACE, D.D., Professor of Church History in the Union Theological Seminary, New York. Principal of King’s College, London. T&T CLARK, EDINBURGH, circa 1846).

But this is no more. Another change.

To see the Orthodox buildings of early and modern “Constantinople”, please see Joyce’s Photos of Constantinople.

An Alternate Constantinople List That Was In Place in Late 2006

When I first wrote this portion of the article, the I noticed that the Orthodox Church in Greece claimed a different set of dates in their list of patriarches in Constantinople.

Here was the succession list per the Greek Orthodox Church:

Stachys the Apostle [31 Oct.] 38-54
Onesimus [15 Feb.] 54-68
Polycarp I 71-89
Plutarch 89-105
Sedekion 105-114
Diogenes 114-129
Eleutherius 129-136
Felix 136-141
Polycarp II 141-144
Athenodorus (Athenogenes) 144-148

(Source: Ecumenical Patriarchate. List of Patriarchs. 12/11/06).

Furthermore, the Orthodox Church used to admit that from 68-71 A.D. it had no bishop in Byzantium (and as mentioned there is no actual contemporaneous proof that there were any bishops there, and the gap, as will be alluded to before, must have been longer than that):

…3 years where the bishopric of Byzantium had no Bishop…{until} 71 A.D. (Polycarp I. 05/05/06).

Tradition that the Roman Catholic Church seems to accept states:

Onesimus had been martyred at Colossae during the first general persecution in the reign of Nero (Camerlynck A. Transcribed by Thomas M. Barrett. Philemon. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XI. Published 1911. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Since Nero died in 68 A.D. and his first persecution was no later than 66/67 A.D. and Onesimus is claimed to have been a bishop then, this would seem to contradict the Orthodox listing. There is an Onesimus mentioned in the Epistle to Philemon which was apparently:

written and despatched at the same time, between A.D. 61-63. Some scholars assign the composition to Caesarea (Acts 23-26: A.D. 59-60) (Ibid).

Since Onesimus was apparently in Rome at this time and had recently been converted by Paul and was a runaway slave (see Philemon vss. 10-16), it does seem that the Bible allows that he could have been the bishop of Byzantium from 54-68 A.D. Notice when Paul was imprisoned in Rome:

…Paul…captivity at Rome, 60-62 (Paul. Catholic Encyclopedia).

The Orthodox Church specifically claims that their Onesimus is the same one:

Onesimus was a servant of Philemon, who was a man of love and treated his servants with kindness. He was shown to be a bad servant, by taking advantage of his master’s kindness, stealing him, and escaping from Colloseis. He went to Rome, where he was catechised into the Christian faith by apostle Paul, was baptised, and became a man wonderful in virtue…In his letter, he certifies Philemon about the spiritual renewal of his servant and ask him to receive him, no longer as a slave, but as a beloved brother. Apostle Philemon accepted him with joy, but sent him back to Rome in order to serve apostle Paul…After the martyrdom of Paul, Onesimus was also caught, and in the name of the Gospel suffered horrible tortures (Onesimus. Ecumenical Patriarchate. 12/12/06).

But the biblical account is contradicting that claim as this claim simply does not allow the time for Onesimus to have been bishop of Byzantium. Even the Orthodox claim states that Onesimus was a bad servant, went to Rome, was converted there, was sent back to Rome, and died there. Onesimus clearly could not have been a bishop before he was baptised or after he died. Can not the Orthodox see that including Onesimus in their succession list as they do casts grave doubts on any credibility that the early list may have?

Since the bishopric of Onesimus does not even seem possible, the gap then, between Stachys and Polycarp I appears to have been at least 15 years (in the Constantinople list) and 17 years (in the Greek list)–and may have been even longer as there was no contemporaneous proof of either of those individuals having any bishopric that I have ever come across.

Interestingly, perhaps because of my writing this article, the Greek Orthodox seemed to have removed their list. For those of you who are Orthodox and believe that your church does not change, you might wish to think about this.

4. Symeon in Jerusalem. Symeon was apparently a Jewish Christian leader.

Not much is known about him, other than he probably was faithful to apostolic teachings. For example, Epiphanius records that the church in Jerusalem observed the Passover on the 14th of Nisan until the last of the Jewish bishops left (circa 135 A.D.) (Epiphanius. The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Books II and III (Sects 47-80), De Fide). Section VI, Verses 9,7-10,1. Translated by Frank Williams. EJ Brill, New York, 1994, pp. 411-412).

Thus, any true successor here would have been expected to continue that practice, yet none after 135 A.D. have (though it should be mentioned that one significant portion of the Church of God, Seventh Day claimed Jerusalem for its world headquarters for a short-time in the 20th century, but does not at this time).

Also, he and most of his successors would have had practices that many consider to be “Jewish”. Although they have their own biases, the historians Philip Schaff and Johann Gieseler correctly noted:

The Jewish Christians, at least in Palestine, conformed as closely as possible to the venerable forms of the cultus of their fathers, which in truth were divinely ordained, and were an expressive type of the Christian worship. So far as we know, they scrupulously observed the Sabbath, the annual Jewish feasts, the hours of daily prayer, and the whole Mosaic ritual (Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, Chapter 9. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc. 1997. This material has been carefully compared, corrected¸ and emended according to the 1910 edition of Charles Scribner’s Sons by The Electronic Bible Society, Dallas, TX, 1998.)

While the Jewish Christians of Palestine retained the entire Mosaic law, and consequently the Jewish festivals, the Gentile Christians observed also the Sabbath and the passover (1 Cor. v. 6-8), with reference to the last scenes of Jesus’ life, but without Jewish superstition (Gal. iv. 10 ; Col. ii. 16) (Gieseler, Johann Karl Ludwig. A text-book of church history, Volume I, Chapter II. New York : Harper & brothers. Date 1857-80).

In other words, it is known that the true early Christians in Judea did keep the Sabbath and God’s biblical Holy Days. Yet the current “Orthodox successor” does neither–hence he does not have a true claim of “apostolic succession”.

Eusebius states this about the succession in Jerusalem:

The chronology of the bishops of Jerusalem I have nowhere found preserved in writing; for tradition says that they were all short lived…The first, then, was James, the so-called brother of the Lord; the second, Symeon; the third, Justus; the fourth, Zacchaeus; the fifth, Tobias; the sixth, Benjamin; the seventh, John; the eighth, Matthias; the ninth, Philip; the tenth, Seneca; the eleventh, Justus; the twelfth, Levi; the thirteenth, Ephres; the fourteenth, Joseph; and finally, the fifteenth, Judas. These are the bishops of Jerusalem that lived between the age of the apostles and the time referred to, all of them belonging to the circumcision (Eusebius. Church History, Book IV, Chapter 5. Translated by Arthur Cushman McGiffert. Excerpted from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series Two, Volume 1. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. American Edition, 1890. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

However, this did not last as this church was eliminated. The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1907 notes:

The shortest-lived Apostolic Church is that of Jerusalem. In 130 the Holy City was destroyed by Hadrian, and a new town, Ælia Capitolina, erected on its site (Wilhelm J. Transcribed by Donald J. Boon. Apostolic Succession. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I. Copyright © 1907 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

And while is now believed that Ælia Capitolina was erected in 135 (as opposed to 130 since the Bar Kaba revolt was from 132-135 A.D.), as the true Christians had to flee from Jerusalem then (some Greeks, apparently led by Marcus, who were not considered by Hadrian to be close to the apostolic Christianity that had been in Jerusalem, did go there, but again they were not faithful to the original teachings, more information is in the article The Ephesus Church Era), it is clear that Catholic scholars have dismissed the idea of unbroken apostolic succession from Jerusalem.

Hence, any claims of continuance by groups such as the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem has no real merit. They, also, like the other Orthodox churches, hold many doctrines that the original church clearly did not hold.

It should be noted that there is a major difference, as well as gaps, in dates for Symeon. The Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem claims he was in charge from 106 – 107 ( 04/01/2006).

The Orthodox, similar to the Roman Catholics, also claim that James died in the 60s A.D. Hence the Orthodox seem to admit that they have a major break in “apostolic succession”. This gap of approximately 50 years is much too much to allow for some type of true succession from James to Symeon. But it is interesting to note that Roman Catholic scholars claim that any “apostolic succession” ended in Jerusalem by the 130s A.D.

The Roman Catholics suggest an earlier date:

According to a universal tradition the first was the Apostle St. James the Less, the “brother of the Lord”. His predominant place and residence in the city are implied by Gal., i, 19…After his death the surviving Apostles and other disciples who were at Jerusalem chose Simeon, son of Cleophas (also called Our Lord’s brother, Matthew 13:55), to succeed him. He was bishop at the time of the destruction (70) and probably then went to Pella with the others. About the year 106 or 107 he was crucified under Trajan (Eus., “Hist. Eccl.”, III, xxxii) (Fortesque A. Transcribed by Donald J. Boon. Jerusalem (A.D. 71-1099). The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII. Copyright © 1910 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

But, since the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem has the same anti-biblical doctrines that others within the Orthodox community holds, it cannot truly be considered as an apostolic successor.

Realize that not one of the four listed successors has any contemporaneous proof that they actually did succeed any of the apostles. And even if any (or all) of the four mentioned above as original successors of the apostles in the those cities were true Christians, those who now CLAIM to have succeeded them hold doctrines quite different than the apostles held. Thus, any claims to physical apostolic succession have been made irrelevant by doctrinal and other compromises, therefore no one of these particular churches are the spiritual successor of the apostles.

Furthermore, note what happened there according to the noted historian E. Gibbon:

The first fifteen bishops of Jerusalem were all circumcised Jews; and the congregation over which they presided united the law of Moses with the doctrine of Christ. It was natural that the primitive tradition of a church which was founded only forty days after the death of Christ, and was governed almost as many years under the immediate inspection of his apostle, should be received as the standard of orthodoxy. The distant churches very frequently appealed to the authority of their venerable Parent, and relieved her distresses by a liberal contribution of alms…

The Nazarenes retired from the ruins of Jerusalem to the little town of Pella beyond the Jordan, where that ancient church languished above sixty years in solitude and obscurity. They still enjoyed the comfort of making frequent and devout visits to the Holy City, and the hope of being one day restored to those seats which both nature and religion taught them to love as well as to revere. But at length, under the reign of Hadrian, the desperate fanaticism of the Jews filled up the measure of their calamities; and the Romans, exasperated by their repeated rebellions, exercised the rights of victory with unusual rigour. The emperor founded, under the name of Alia Capitolina, a new city on Mount Sion, to which he gave the privileges of a colony; and denouncing the severest penalties against any of the Jewish people who should dare to approach its precincts, he fixed a vigilant garrison of a Roman cohort to enforce the execution of his orders. The Nazarenes had only one way left to escape the common proscription, and the force of truth was on this occasion assisted by the influence of temporal advantages.

They elected Marcus for their bishop, a prelate of the race of the Gentiles, and most probably a native either of Italy or of some of the Latin provinces. At his persuasion the most considerable part of the congregation renounced the Mosaic law, in the practice of which they had persevered above a century. By this sacrifice of their habits and prejudices they purchased a free admission into the colony of Hadrian

When the name and honours of the church of Jerusalem had been restored to Mount Sion, the crimes of heresy and schism were imputed to the obscure remnant of the Nazarenes which refused to accompany their Latin bishop. They still preserved their former habitation of Pella, spread themselves into the villages adjacent to Damascus, and formed an inconsiderable church in the city of Bercea, or, as it is now called, of Aleppo, in Syria. The name of Nazarenes was deemed too honourable for those Christian Jews, and they soon received, from the supposed poverty of their understanding, as well as of their condition, the contemptuous epithet of Ebionites…The unfortunate Ebionites, rejected from one religion as apostates, and from the other as heretics, found themselves compelled to assume a more decided character; and although some traces of that obsolete sect may be discovered as late as the fourth century, they insensibly melted away either into the church or the synagogue…

It has been remarked with more ingenuity than truth that the virgin purity of the church was never violated by schism or heresy before the reign of Trajan or Hadrian, about one hundred years after the death of Christ (Gibbon E. Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume I, Chapter XV, Section I. ca. 1776-1788).

It should be noted that, because of this revolt, Emperor Hadrian outlawed many practices considered to be Jewish. The Christians in Judea had a decision to make. They either could continue to keep the Sabbath and the rest of God’s law and flee or they could compromise and support a religious leader who would not keep the Sabbath, etc.

Sadly as E. Gibbon’s reported, most, but not all, made the wrong choice in 135 A.D. Jesus, of course, taught that the true church would be a “little flock” (Luke 12:32). This clearly led to a separation between the Christian faithful and those who preferred a form of Christianity more acceptable to the Roman world. Those who claim Marcus as one of their leaders simply do not wish to retain true apostolic succession.

Furthermore, the Orthodox seem to acknowledge that a change came, but they are a but guarded about it. Notice this admission:

In 135 AD the Roman emperor Hadrian builds on the ruins of Jerusalem a new roman city and names it Aelia Capitolina and permits the Christians to come back. However the Jewish are not permitted to come in town (The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem. viewed 11/30/07).

The “Jewish are not permitted to come in to town”?

That’s correct in a sense. Those who kept Jewish practices like the seventh-day Sabbath were not permitted to come into Jerusalem after its 135 A.D. takeover. Thus, without admitting it, the Orthodox are acknowledging that changes did take place after 135 A.D. and those changes are proof that there was no faithful apostolic succession in Jerusalem.

And although the current Pope Benedict acts otherwise, the traditional approved position of the Church of Rome (as quoted above for at least three of the four claimed Orthodox Sees) is that the Orthodox do not have apostolic succession. Furthermore, the other official Roman position is that even if the Orthodox did, they lost it:

Regarding the Greek Church, it is sufficient to note that it lost Apostlic succession by withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the lawful successors of St. Peter in the See of Rome. (O’Reilly, Thomas. “Apostolicity.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 24 Aug. 2008 ).

Two Others: Timothy and Papias

It is generally understood that the Apostle Paul placed Timothy over the church in Ephesus, hence Timothy could in a sense be considered as an apostolic successor. However, it should be noted that once the Apostle John came to Ephesus, John was in charge. This suggests that there did not necessarily have to be a line of identically-ranked individuals (i.e. bishop to bishop) for succession of any particular church.

Furthermore, it should be noted that one who is acknowledged to be a successor bishop in Ephesus, Polycrates, clearly taught that the previous bishops in Ephesus (and throughout Asia Minor) all observed the Passover on the 14th day of Nisan in accordance with the scriptures. This is apparently a key doctrine, as it is clear that those that do not observe the Passover at that time are not faithful to apostolic and biblical teachings (it can be shown that the Passover observance was a major distinction of the true churches of Revelation 2 & 3 throughout history from 31 A.D. to present).

Another individual who was known as a successor of the apostles was Papias of Hierapolis. He apparently knew the apostles and was appointed by Philip or John:

Papias, who is now mentioned by us, affirms that he received the sayings of the apostles from those who accompanied them, and he moreover asserts that he heard in person Aristion and the presbyter John. Accordingly he mentions them frequently by name, and in his writings gives their traditions. Our notice of these circumstances may not be without its use. It may also be worth while to add to the statements of Papias already given, other passages of his in which he relates some miraculous deeds, stating that he acquired the knowledge of them from tradition. The residence of the Apostle Philip with his daughters in Hierapolis has been mentioned (Fragments of Papias, VI. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I, via ccel).

One early source taught this about Papias:

It may also be worth while to add to the statements of Papias already given…Amongst these he says that there will be a millennium after the resurrection from the dead, when the personal reign of Christ will be established on this earth (Fragments of Papias, VI).

Papias taught that it would be a time of great abundance:

In like manner, [He said] that a grain of wheat would produce ten thousand ears, and that every ear would have ten thousand grains, and every grain would yield ten pounds of clear, pure, fine flour; and that apples, and seeds, and grass would produce in similar proportions; and that all animals, feeding then only on the productions of the earth, would become peaceable and harmonious, and be in perfect subjection to man.” [Testimony is borne to these things in writing by Papias, an ancient man, who was a hearer of John and a friend of Polycarp, in the fourth of his books; for five books were composed by him…] (Fragments of Papias, IV).

It should clearly understood that although Papias and all known church leaders in the second century endorsed a literal millennial reign (including Polycarp, please see the article Did The Early Church Millenarianism?), the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches no longer have that teaching.

Furthermore, it should be noted that since the Apostle Philip who died in Hierapolis (see the citation later from Polycrates) and another successor in Hierapolis, Apollinaris, both kept Passover on the 14th of Nisan–this is clearly an apostolic teaching that few who profess Christ hold today. However, those who actually hold to the spiritual succession of the actual truths received from the apostles still do.

Three of Interest Are Mentioned in the Second Century: Polycarp and Linus/Clement

Several others are listed as possible apostolic successors by second century writers, and this section will concentrate on three of them that are endorsed in writings highly recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. Specifically the Catholic Church teaches:

Among the writings of the Fathers, the following are the principal works which bear on the doctrine of the Church: ST. IRENÆUS, Adv. Hereses in P.G., VII; TERTULLIAN, De Prescriptionibus in P. L… (Joyce G.H. Transcribed by Douglas J. Potter. The Church. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume III. Copyright © 1908 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

So who did these two writers list as apostolic successors?

Since Irenaeus wrote first (circa 180), he will be quoted first:

Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome…The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate…

But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time (Irenaeus. Adversus Haeres. Book III, Chapter 3, Verses 2,3,4. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

So we see from Irenaeus that there were many churches founded by the apostles, but that he only decided to mention two successors by name: Linus of Rome and Polycarp of Smyrna. Notice that Irenaeus is claiming that Polycarp was appointed bishop (pastor/overseer) of the Church in Smyrna by the apostles in Asia (which would most likely have been John and Philip and perhaps some others). Notice that Irenaeus is claiming that there was a list of men who have succeeded Polycarp until the late 2nd century and that they held to the teaching of the apostles. Thus the only universally accepted apostle to “bishop” transfer of leadership for the 1st and 2nd centuries that continued until at least the end of the 2nd century was through Polycarp of Smyrna.

But what of Tertullian?

By Tertullian’s time (circa 195), he concluded that there were only two apostolic churches (presumably because the church was split into three groups. the Romans (presumably also including those in Alexandria), the Smyrnaeans (presumably also including those in Antioch and Byzantium), and the heretics:

Anyhow the heresies are at best novelties, and have no continuity with the teaching of Christ. Perhaps some heretics may claim Apostolic antiquity: we reply: Let them publish the origins of their churches and unroll the catalogue of their bishops till now from the Apostles or from some bishop appointed by the Apostles, as the Smyrnaeans count from Polycarp and John, and the Romans from Clement and Peter; let heretics invent something to match this (Tertullian. Liber de praescriptione haereticorum. Circa 200 A.D. as cited in Chapman J. Transcribed by Lucy Tobin. Tertullian. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIV. Copyright © 1912 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

It is probable that Tertullian was aware of elders in Rome prior to Clement (as Irenaeus wrote prior to him), as well as bishops of Smyrna prior to Polycarp, but that Tertullian felt that apostolic succession could only have gone through Polycarp (who he listed first) or Clement.

Now this poses a problem for the Roman Catholic Church as its two primary sources of succession information disagree with one another. Normally, when there are two possibly reliable sources, historians tend to accept what they agree on, but place lower credence on those that they disagree on. Hence, from the position of a historian, Polycarp would seem to have been universally understood to have been the immediate physical successor to the apostles, but that Linus and Clement would not universally understood to be.

It needs to be further understood that there is basically nothing known about Linus nor Clement–pretty much everything truly known about them came many decades after their death (1 Clement will be discussed later).

In addition, into the third century, notice that two are listed by Anatolius of Laodicea (circa 270 A.D.) as successors to the apostles, with one through John and one claiming being through Peter and Paul:

Following their example up to the present time all the bishops of Asia—as themselves also receiving the rule from an unimpeachable authority, to wit, the evangelist John, who leant on the Lord’s breast, and drank in instructions spiritual without doubt—were in the way of celebrating the Paschal feast, without question, every year, whenever the fourteenth day of the moon had come, and the lamb was sacrificed by the Jews after the equinox was past; not acquiescing, so far as regards this matter, with the authority of some, namely, the successors of Peter and Paul, who have taught all the churches in which they sowed the spiritual seeds of the Gospel, that the solemn festival of the resurrection of the Lord can be celebrated only on the Lord’s day. Whence, also, a certain contention broke out between the successors of these, namely, Victor, at that time bishop of the city of Rome, and Polycrates, who then appeared to hold the primacy among the bishops of Asia…

The one party, indeed, kept the Paschal day on the fourteenth day of the first month, according to the Gospel, as they thought, adding nothing of an extraneous kind, but keeping through all things the rule of faith. And the other party, passing the day of the Lord’s Passion as one replete with sadness and grief, hold that it should not be lawful to celebrate the Lord’s mystery of the Passover at any other time but on the Lord’s day (ANF06, The Paschal Canon of Anatolius of Alexandria. X. THE ANTE-NICENE FATHERS translations of The Writings of the Fathers down to a.d. 325. Alexander Roberts, D.D., and James Donaldson, LL.D., EDITORS. AMERICAN REPRINT OF THE EDINBURGH EDITION. Revised and chronologically arranged, with brief prefaces and occasional notes by A. Cleveland Coxe, D.D. T&T CLARK, Edinburgh. Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. VOLUME VI–Schaff P. Nineteenth Century).

Notice that the two potential successors of the apostles looked at things differently, one relied the Bible and the other relied on tradition.

Roman Claims

The Roman Catholic Church bases its legitimacy over all of Christendom on this subject of apostolic succession. Notice the following from The Catholic Encyclopedia:

Apostolicity as a note of the true Church being dealt with elsewhere, the object of the present article is to show:

  • That Apostolic succession is found in the Catholic Church.
  • That none of the separate Churches have any valid claim to it.
  • That the Anglican Church, in particular, has broken away from Apostolic unity.


The principle underlying the Roman claim is contained in the idea of succession. “To succeed” is to be the successor of, especially to be the heir of, or to occupy an official position just after, as Victoria succeeded William IV. Now the Roman Pontiffs come immediately after, occupy the position, and perform the functions of St. Peter; they are, therefore, his successors. We must prove

  • that St. Peter came to Rome, and ended there his pontificate;
  • that the Bishops of Rome who came after him held his official position in the Church (Wilhelm J. Transcribed by Donald J. Boon. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I. Copyright © 1907 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Notice that the Roman Catholics claim that only their church has any valid claims to apostolic succession, that the Roman Pontiffs must have come immediately after Peter, and that they needed to be bishops.

Also notice this claim from a Roman Catholic writer regarding Matthias taking Judas’s place in Acts 1:20-26:

Here we see the office of apostle being referred to by Peter as the office of overseer or bishop. Also important, we see that the office is one of succession–another man succeeds to the office on the death of Judas…This was a dynastic position, an office of authority, and the office that continued though succession after the current occupant ceased to hold that position (Ray, Stephen K. Upon This Rock. St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early Church. Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1999, pp. 13,14).

Of course, he does not explain then why there are not currently twelve groups (one for each apostle) that are traced to each of the original apostles.

For example, what church claims a succession from Matthias? None that I know of. And if there actually is one, do the Roman Catholics accept it as legitimate? Not to the best of my knowledge. Nor does he explain how John replaced Timothy as the head of the church in Ephesus, as that was not the result of a dynastic transfer. Thus, the above Roman argument is inaccurate as it contradicts history as well as the actual Roman teachings on the successors of the apostles.

Where there in fact bishops in Rome who immediately succeeded Peter? Is it true that no other church that possibly had a bishop/pastor put in place by an apostle? Or are these basic Roman claims in error?

When Were There Bishops in Rome?

It is important to note that even Catholic scholars recognize that there is no proof that anyone was actually considered to be a bishop in Rome until sometime in the second century. Hence even Roman Catholic scholars understand that it is not certain that either Linus or Cletus or Clement were even bishops (actually there are enough contradictions concerning Cletus/Anencletus that even the existence of some of the early claimed bishops is questionable–please see the article What Do Roman Catholic Scholars Actually Teach About Early Church History?).

One such Catholic scholar, A. Van Hove, wrote this about early bishops:

  • This local superior authority, which was of Apostolic origin, was conferred by the Apostles upon a monarchic bishop, such as is understood by the term today. This is proved first by the example of Jerusalem, where James, who was not one of the Twelve Apostles, held the first place, and afterwards by those communities in Asia Minor of which Ignatius speaks, and where, at the beginning of the second century the monarchical episcopate existed, for Ignatius does not write as though the institution were a new one. 
  • In other communities, it is true, no mention is made of a monarchic episcopate until the middle of the second century (Van Hove A. Transcribed by Matthew Dean. Bishop. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II. Copyright © 1907 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York).

In other words, although there were bishops in Jerusalem and Asia Minor in the first and second centuries, there is no mention of a monarchic episcopate (a bishopric or pastorate) in other places, like Rome, until the middle of the second century.

Furthermore, even some more recent Catholic scholars understand that the New Testament provides no support for the idea that one of the apostles appointed someone to be “bishop of Rome”:

Was there a Bishop of Rome in the First Century?”…I have expressed agreement with the consensus of scholars that the available evidence indicates that the church in Rome was led by a college of presbyters, rather than by a single bishop, for at least several decades of the second century (Sullivan F.A. From Apostles to Bishops: the development of the episcopacy in the early church. Newman Press, Mahwah (NJ), 2001, pp. 80,221-222).

The consensus of scholars is that there was NOT an apostolic succession of bishops starting from Peter in Rome. And notice that according to Roman Catholic scholars, the first clear bishop of Rome was not until the middle or latter half of the second century:

ALTHOUGH CATHOLIC TRADITION, BEGINNING IN the late second and early third centuries, regards St. Peter as the first bishop of Rome and, therefore, as the first pope, there is no evidence that Peter was involved in the initial establishment of the Christian community in Rome (indeed, what evidence there is would seem to point in the opposite direction) or that he served as Rome’s first bishop. Not until the pontificate of St. Pius I in the middle of the second century (ca. 142-ca. 155) did the Roman Church have a monoepiscopal structure of government (one bishop as pastoral leader of a diocese). Those who Catholic tradition lists as Peter’s immediate successors (Linus, Anacletus, Clement, et al.) did not function as the one bishop of Rome (McBrien, Richard P. Lives of the Popes: The Pontiffs from St. Peter to Benedict XVI. Harper, San Francisco, 2005 updated ed., p.25).

To begin with, indeed, there was no ‘pope’, no bishop as such, for the church in Rome was slow to develop the office of chief presbyter or bishop…Clement made no claim to write as bishop…There is no sure way to settle on a date by which the office of ruling bishop had emerged in Rome…but the process was certainly complete by the time of Anicetus in the mid-150s (Duffy, Eamon. Saints & Sinners: A History of the Popes, 2nd ed. Yale University Press, London, 2001, pp. 9, 10,13)

…we have good reason to conclude that by the time of Anicetus (155-66), the church of Rome was being led by a bishop whose role resembled Ignatius or Polycarp (Sullivan F.A. From Apostles to Bishops: the development of the episcopacy in the early church. Newman Press, Mahwah (NJ), 2001, p. 143).

That is an astounding admission. These Roman Catholic scholars are essentially admitting that there was no possible succession of bishops beginning with Peter in Rome, but that the succession of a bishop from the Apostle John to Polycarp did occur (and it occurred probably 60 years earlier). It appears that in the areas of Alexandria and Rome, those there decided that since Polycarp was a bishop, that they needed to have a bishop themselves, and near the time of Polycarp’s martyrdom, they had leaders that were then called bishops.

There simply is no contemporaneous evidence that either Rome clearly had bishops before the second half of the second century–hence Rome should not be considered to have true, immediate, physical succession (and of course, neither have the more important spiritual succession).

Various Catholic writings state that Hegesippus came to Rome in the mid-2nd century and asked about its early leaders. F.A. Sullivan suggests that those Romans apparently mentioned names of leaders they had heard of (as most would have had no possible direct contact with any from the first century) as there were no early records with names. Because there was, at the time of Hegesippus’ visit, a bishop of Rome and there had long been bishops in Jerusalem and Asia Minor, F.A. Sullivan also suggests that Hegesippus and later writers presumed that the early Roman leaders were also monarchical bishops, even though that is not considered to have been likely.

This may explain why there are differences in order in the early Roman bishop lists: there were probably a lot of elders in its first 80 or so years of existence and since no one was necessarily a bishop that early, it seems that the early lists are simply an attempt to put an order of some possible elders that served in the church in Rome.

Furthermore, notice this admission:

Admittedly the Catholic position, that bishops are the successors of the apostles by divine institution, remains far from easy to establish…The first problem has to do with the notion that Christ ordained apostles as bishops…The apostles were missionaries and founders of churches; there is no evidence, nor is it at all likely, that any one of them ever took up permanent residence in a particular church as its bishop…The letter of the Romans to the Corinthians, known as I Clement, which dates to about the year 96, provides good evidence that about 30 years after the death of St. Paul the church of Corinth was being led by a group of presbyters, with no indication of a bishop with authority over the whole local church…Most scholars are of the opinion that the church of Rome would most probably have also been led at that time by a group of presbyters…There exists a broad consensus among scholars, including most Catholic ones, that such churches as Alexandria, Philippi, Corinth and Rome most probably continued to be led for some time by a college of presbyters, and that only in the second century did the threefold structure of become generally the rule, with a bishop, assisted by presbyters, presiding over each local church (Sullivan F.A. From Apostles to Bishops: the development of the episcopacy in the early church. Newman Press, Mahwah (NJ), 2001, pp. 13,14,15).

It is true that beginning sometime in the second century that there were truly individuals that could be properly described as Roman bishops. But history is clear that there were no early popes in Rome (that title was not taken formally until towards the end of the fourth century according to Roman Catholic sources) and the idea of an unbroken list of pontiffs beginning with Peter simply does not have any historical justification prior to sometime in the second century–over a century after Christ died. (More information can be found in the article What Does Rome Actually Teach About Early Church History?).

Furthermore, some who held that title in the early days (as well as later times) were corrupt.

Perhaps it should be noted that Callistus (bishop of Rome from 217-222) was considered to have been so corrupt and that he was condemned by Hippolytus both for his corruption, allowing abortion, and for instituting a Saturday fast:

Callistus…a man cunning in wickedness, and subtle where deceit was concerned, (and) who was impelled by restless ambition to mount the episcopal throne. Now this man moulded to his purpose Zephyrinus, an ignorant and illiterate individual, and one unskilled in ecclesiastical definitions. And inasmuch as Zephyrinus was accessible to bribes, and covetous, Callistus, by luring him through presents, and by illicit demands, was enabled to seduce him into whatever course of action he pleased. And so it was that Callistus succeeded in inducing Zephyrinus to create continually disturbances among the brethren, while he himself took care subsequently, by knavish words, to attach both factions in good-will to himself (Hippolytus. Refutation of All Heresies, Book IX, Chapter VI. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 5. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1886. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight).

The impostor Callistus … even also he permitted females, if they were unwedded, and burned with passion at an age at all events unbecoming, or if they were not disposed to overturn their own dignity through a legal marriage, that they might have whomsoever they would choose as a bedfellow, whether a slave or free, and that a woman, though not legally married, might consider such a companion as a husband. Whence women, reputed believers, began to resort to drugs for producing sterility, and to gird themselves round, so to expel what was being conceived on account of their not wishing to have a child either by a slave or by any paltry fellow, for the sake of their family and excessive wealth. Behold, into how great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by inculcating adultery and murder at the same time! And withal, after such audacious acts, they, lost to all shame, attempt to call themselves a Catholic Church! And some, under the supposition that they will attain prosperity, concur with them (Hippolytus. Refutation of All Heresies, Book IX, Chapter VII).

Even today some allow themselves the same audacities : they order fasting on the Sabbath of which Christ has not spoken, dishonoring even the Gospel of Christ (Hippolytus. In Danielem commentarius, 4, 20, 3 as Cited in Bacchiocchi Anti-Judaism and the Origin of Sunday, p. 65).

Note that even The Catholic Encyclopedia admitted this about Callistus and Zephyrinus:

Callistus…He obtained great influence over the ignorant, illiterate, and grasping Zephyrinus by bribes. We are not told how it came about that the runaway slave (now free by Roman law from his master, who had lost his rights when Callistus was condemned to penal servitude to the State) became archdeacon and then pope… Again Callistus allowed the lower clergy to marry, and permitted noble ladies to marry low persons and slaves, which by the Roman law was forbidden; he had thus given occasion for infanticide (Chapman J. Transcribed by Benjamin F. Hull. Pope Callistus I. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume III. Published 1908. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Obviously the corrupt Callistus attempted to buy the office–and since he was trying to, he violated the warning from the Apostle Peter against Simon Magus first who tried to buy the gift of God for money. Notice what Peter said to Simon Magus:

“Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity”(Acts 8:20-23).

Yet Callistus is part of the claimed “apostolic successors” of this same Peter according to the Roman Catholic Church.

Should one who allowed abortion and bribed his way into his office be considered a true Christian or should it be those faithful in Asia Minor be considered as true apostolic successors?

Even though Hippolytus is considered to be a saint by the Catholic Church and even “was the most important theologian and the most prolific religious writer of the Roman Church in the pre-Constantinian era” (Kirsch JP. St. Hippolytus of Rome. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VII. Published 1910), because Hippolytus held to more of a binitarian view of the Godhead (Callistus considered him to be a Ditheist according to Chapman J. Fathers of the Church. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VI. Copyright © 1909 by Robert Appleton Company), the Roman Catholic Church claims apostolic succession through Callistus instead of Hippolytus. Hippolytus was the first to be labeled as an antipope because he and his followers refused to accept that Callistus could have apostolic succession.

Hippolytus was actually elected Bishop of Rome the right after Zephyrinus’ death, but many chose to follow Zephyrinus’ archdeacon Callistus instead. There is no way that the corrupt Zephyrinus and Callistus can be in any legitimate list of successors to the Apostle Peter.

Yet, they both are in the Catholic list.

Did the Bishops of Rome Always Have Their Current Powers and Prerogatives?

Many will dismiss the truth about the early details of Roman Catholic history and state that the Roman Bishops (originally called presbyters, then called bishops in the mid-second century, and then called popes since the late 4th century) always ran the Christian Church. However this is simply not true.

The Eastern Orthodox, for example, do not accept this and claim that certain aspects were developed late:

The Orthodox Church does not accept the doctrine of Papal authority set forth in the Vatican Council of 1870, and taught today in the Roman Catholic Church (Ware T. The Orthodox Church. Penguin Books, London, 1997, p.27).

Notice these admissions from a Roman Catholic priest and scholar:

It is not until the middle of the third century that special importance began to be accorded the faith of the church of Rome (McBrien, Richard P. Lives of the Popes: The Pontiffs from St. Peter to Benedict XVI. Harper, San Francisco, 2005 updated ed., p.21).

Before the beginning of the second millennium and the pontificate of Gregory VII in particular (1073-85), popes functioned largely in the role of mediator. They did not claim for themselves the title of “Vicar of Christ”. They did not appoint bishops. They did not govern the universal Church through the Roman Curia. They did not impose of enforce clerical celibacy. They did not write encyclicals or authorize catechisms for the whole Church. They did not retain for themselves alone the power of canonization. They did not even convene ecumenical councils as a rule–and certainly not the major doctrinal councils of Nicea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431), and Chalcedon (451) (McBrien, Richard P. Lives of the Popes: The Pontiffs from St. Peter to Benedict XVI. Harper, San Francisco, 2005 updated ed., p.19).

It should be noted that the Orthodox schism with the Roman Church occurred in the 11th century as the Roman Pontiff demanded rights that the Eastern churches never believed that he had.

Some, however, decided to make up evidence that Rome always had the authority. It is of interest to note that for about 600 years during the Middle Ages, certain Roman bishops pointed to the “Donation of Constantine” as evidence of their right to preside over all the other bishops, but the document according to Roman Catholic sources (i.e. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Donation of Constantine) was later proven to be a fraud.

Current Roman Claims

In spite of the truth, even in the 21st Century, the false claims of apostolic succession are still being made by the Roman Church. Notice what the current pontiff recently declared:

Pope Benedict called “the succession of the episcopal function is … a guarantee of the endurance of apostolic tradition” saying that “The link between the college of bishops and the original community of the Apostles may be seen, above all, as a form of historical continuity.”

He added however, that “continuity may also be considered in a spiritual sense, because apostolic succession in the ministry is a privileged place for the action and transmission of the Holy Spirit.”
The Pope then quoted St. Irenaeus, who wrote that the Church was “founded and constituted in Rome by the most glorious Apostles Peter and Paul,” and highlights “the tradition of faith that … comes down to us from the Apostles through the succession of bishops.”
“Episcopal succession”, Benedict said, “verified on the basis of communion with the succession of the Church of Rome – is therefore the criterion of adherence of individual Churches to the tradition of apostolic faith, … which has come down to us from the origins.”

He went on to explain that according to the ancient Church, “the apostolicity of ecclesial communion consists in faithfulness to the faith and practice of the Apostles themselves, through whom the historical and spiritual link of the Church with Christ is guaranteed.”

“What the Apostles represent in the relationship between the Lord Jesus and the early Church,” he explained, “is similarly represented by the ministerial succession in the relationship between the early Church and the modern Church.”
He stressed in conclusion that “This is not a merely material link…rather it is a historical instrument that the Spirit uses to make the Lord Jesus present as the leader of His people” (Pope Benedict: Faithful episcopal succession is guarantee that authentic teaching of apostles carries through history. Catholic News Agency. May 10, 2006.

Certainly he MUST know that Paul DID NOT found the Church of Rome. He MUST know that his church has many teachings that differ from those held by the original apostles. He MUST also know that there is NO PROOF that the Roman Church even had a bishop prior to Anicetus in the latter half of the second century. He MUST KNOW that many current and past scholars in the Roman Catholic Church certainly teach and understand this.

If the current pontiff is truly a scholar, why has he chosen to overlook the truth about apostolic succession? (related information is found in the article What Does Rome Actually Understand About Church History?).

Yet, one of the Vatican’s top officials, Cardinal Walter Kasper has publicly taught that the Roman Catholic understanding of apostolic succession simply isn’t historically true. Here is something from a review of his book titled, Leadership in the Church: How Traditional Roles Can Help Serve the Christian Community Today:

The claim is made that the ancient formulation of apostolic succession—wherein Christ ordained his immediate successors who in turn ordained their successors with a laying-on of hands from one bishop to a new priest—no longer holds. Kasper is clear: That understanding “has been thoroughly shattered by modern exegesis, but no new historical reconstruction has found universal agreement among scholars.” Evidence of this late-in-history realization is a new perspective on the ministry of Paul, whose authority was not horizontal but came from “above.” Thus apostolic ministry cannot be seen as a “mere institutional matter”; rather, it is better grasped as a “following of the apostles teaching and life.” (Anderson, Mary Jo. Review: A Reformed Protestant Model of Leadership. 01/27/07).

Cardinal Kasper was appointed president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in Rome by Pope John-Paul II, and still holds that position.

Asia Minor

While there were certainly a lot of early religious leaders in Rome, since the actual Christian Church (according the Catholics and nearly all those who profess Christ) began in Jerusalem on the first Pentecost after Christ’s crucifixion, it is important to realize that both the Bible and Roman Catholic approved writings support the idea that there were true churches in the region the Bible refers to as Asia Minor (nearly all of which is now part of the country of Turkey).

When the Apostle John, for example, wrote the Book of Revelation, he was the last of the original 12 apostles to remain alive (and as an Apostle he ALSO would have been was part of the foundation of the church as Ephesians 2:19-22 teaches).

And he specifically addressed Revelation “to the seven churches which are in Asia” (Revelation 1:4), and later listed those seven (vs. 1:11) all of which were in Asia Minor (here is an article on The Seven Churches of Revelation). He also never positively addressed the church in Rome in that or any other or his known writings (nor, except in his gospel account, did he ever mention Peter).

Furthermore, The Catholic Encyclopedia records this about John,

John had a prominent position in the Apostolic body…the Apostle and Evangelist John lived in Asia Minor in the last decades of the first century and from Ephesus had guided the Churches of that province (Fonck L. Transcribed by Michael Little. St. John the Evangelist. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII Copyright © 1910 by Robert Appleton Company Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

But there is no scriptural reason to think that John only considered that the churches in Asia Minor were under his leadership. Actually, in one of his other letters, John also wrote “To the elect lady and her children” (2 John 1)–which appears to be a reference to the entire Church (see also Revelation 12:17). Hence, he obviously felt he had a leadership position related to the entire Church, not just those in Asia Minor.

This also appears to be confirmed from this quotation that Eusebius records:

Take and read the account which rims as follows: “Listen to a tale, which is not a mere tale, but a narrative concerning John the apostle, which has been handed down and treasured up in memory. For when, after the tyrant’s death, he returned from the isle of Patmos to Ephesus, he went away upon their invitation to the neighboring territories of the Gentiles, to appoint bishops in some places, in other places to set in order whole churches, elsewhere to choose to the ministry some one of those that were pointed out by the Spirit…” (Eusebius. Church History, Book III, Chapter 23. Translated by the Rev. Arthur Cushman McGiffert. Excerpted from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series Two, Volume 1. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. American Edition, 1890. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Hence it is clear that John, the last of the original apostles, was the true physical and spiritual successor to Peter, James, and Paul, while he remained alive. Roman Catholic scholars know that John was important and that the Bible teaches that Peter was fallible:

The conferral of the power of the keys of the kingdom surely suggests an imposing measure of authority, given the symbolism of the keys, but there is no explicit indication that the authority conferred was meant to be exercised over others, much less that it be absolutely monarchical in kind…In Acts, in fact, Peter is shown consulting with other apostles and even being sent by them (8:14). He and John are portrayed as acting as a team (3:1-11; 4:1-22; 8:14). And Paul confronts Peter for his inconsistency and hypocrisy…Paul “opposed him to his face because he was clearly wrong” (Galatians 2:11; see also 12-14) (McBrien, Richard P. Lives of the Popes: The Pontiffs from St. Peter to Benedict XVI. Harper, San Francisco, 2005 updated ed., pp. 30-31).

Unlike Rome, Asia Minor had a bishop directly traced from an apostle. And Asia Minor, even according to Roman Catholic scholars, clearly had bishops BEFORE Rome did (Sullivan F.A. From Apostles to Bishops: the development of the episcopacy in the early church. Newman Press, Mahwah (NJ), 2001, p.217 and Van Hove A. Transcribed by Matthew Dean. Bishop. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II. Copyright © 1907 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York).

In the late 2nd century, Tertullian claimed that apostolic succession from in the cities mentioned in Revelation came through the Apostle John:

We have also St. John’s foster churches. For although Marcion rejects his Apocalypse, the order of the bishops (thereof), when traced up to their origin, will yet rest on John as their author (Tertullian. Against Marcion, Book IV, Chapter 5. Online version. Copyright © 2006 by Kevin Knight).

Notice the following:

The letters of Ignatius of Antioch, generally dated to about 115, are the first Christian documents that witness to the presence of a bishop who is clearly distinct from the presbyterate and is pastor of the whole church. However this testimony is certain only for the church of Antioch and for several churches of western Asia Minor in the vicinity of Ephesus (Sullivan F.A. From Apostles to Bishops: the development of the episcopacy in the early church. Newman Press, Mahwah (NJ), 2001, p.15).

In other words, the only possible area where the Roman Catholic definition of apostolic succession, from an apostle to a bishop, could have occurred was in Antioch or Asia Minor.

The last apostle to die, John, died in Ephesus (around 100 A.D.). Hence it would make sense that if a bishop was to be the successor to the apostles, this would probably occur in western Asia Minor (Smyrna is only a relatively few miles north of Ephesus).

More on Polycarp

Perhaps the most famous successor appointed by the Apostle John was Polycarp of Smyrna. Polycarp is unique among any claimed to be a direct successor to any of the apostles:

  1. Polycarp is the only possible direct apostolic successor considered by any church I am aware of that there was a letter written to him while he was alive (yes, there were letters written in the New Testament to leaders, but none of them are in any of the ‘accepted’ succession lists I have seen).
  2. He is the only possible direct apostolic successor considered by any church I am aware that to have written any document that we still possess to this day (there is a letter claimed to have been written by Clement of Rome, however, it does not say that he wrote it, nor is Clement considered to be the direct successor of any apostle–the Roman Catholic Church currently claims that Linus was Peter’s direct successor; there are also letters written by Ignatius of Antioch, but the two Antiochian Churches I am aware of claim that Evodius, not Ignatius, was Peter’s direct successor).
  3. Polycarp is the only possible direct apostolic successor considered by any church I am aware that to have any significant document written about him within a few weeks of his death.
  4. Polycarp is the only possible successor to the apostles that was clearly called “bishop” while he was alive.
  5. Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Church of God historians all teach that Polycarp was a spiritually faithful Christian leader. Yet, Polycarp refused to accept the authority of the Roman Bishop Anicetus.
  6. Polycarp is also the only possible successor to have a writing perhaps directed to him in the Bible. Some scholars believe that when John wrote to the “angel of the church Smyrna” that this actually was addressed to the leader of the church (the Greek term translated as “angel” can mean human representatives, e.g. Luke 7:24) who they feel was Polycarp.

Unlike the early Roman leaders, a letter to Polycarp circa 108-115 A.D. states that he was a bishop. Ignatius notes:

…to Polycarp, bishop of the Smyrnaeans…So approving am I of your godly mind, which is as it were, grounded upon an unmovable rock, that my praise exceeds all bounds… (Ignatius.  Letter to Polycarp. In Holmes M.W. The Apostolic Fathers, Greek Texts and English Translations. Baker Books, Grand Rapids (MI), 2004, p. 194-201).

Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians contains a lot of information about what he believed and taught. That letter shows that he held positions still held by the Church of God. It is very important to note that Polycarp held positions that clearly differ from those now held by the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches (much of Polycarp’s teachings are discussed in the article Polycarp of Smyrna). Polycarp was clearly the spiritual successor to the original apostles. And it is the spiritual succession that counts.

There was also a letter written about his martyrdom by the Smyrnaeans which gives additional insight into him. As previously mentioned, he is also discussed in writing by such early writers as Ignatius who write an entire letter to him (circa 110 A.D.), Irenaeus who claimed Polycarp was faithful (circa 180 A.D.), Polycrates who claimed that Polycarp was faithful (circa 190 A.D.), Tertullian who claimed that the true Christian church could be traced through him (circa 195 A.D.), and Eusebius who wrote that Polycarp was faithful to the apostolic traditions (circa 330 A.D.).

Eusebius records the following as written by Irenaeus about Polycarp:

For when I was a boy, I saw thee in lower Asia with Polycarp, moving in splendor in the royal court, and endeavoring to gain his approbation. I remember the events of that time more clearly than those of recent years. For what boys learn, growing with their mind, becomes joined with it; so that I am able to describe the very place in which the blessed Polycarp sat as he discoursed, and his goings out and his comings in, and the manner of his life, and his physical appearance, and his discourses to the people, and the accounts which he gave of his intercourse with John and with the others who had seen the Lord. And as he remembered their words, and what he heard from them concerning the Lord, and concerning his miracles and his teaching, having received them from eyewitnesses of the ‘Word of life,’ Polycarp related all things in harmony with the Scriptures (Eusebius. Church History, Book V, Chapter 20. Translated by the Arthur Cushman McGiffert. Excerpted from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series Two, Volume 1. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. American Edition, 1890. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Note that Irenaeus stated that he personally met Polycarp and that Polycarp personally knew the Apostles John and that Polycarp’s teachings were in accordance with scriptures and what he learned from the followers of the Lord.

Around 180 A.D. Irenaeus recorded this about Polycarp:

But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna…always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time (Irenaeus. Adversus Haeres. Book III, Chapter 4, Verse 3 and Chapter 3, Verse 4).

This is also later (maybe 20 years later) essentially confirmed by Tertullian:

Anyhow the heresies are at best novelties, and have no continuity with the teaching of Christ. Perhaps some heretics may claim Apostolic antiquity: we reply: Let them publish the origins of their churches and unroll the catalogue of their bishops till now from the Apostles or from some bishop appointed by the Apostles, as the Smyrnaeans count from Polycarp and John, and the Romans from Clement and Peter; let heretics invent something to match this (Tertullian. Liber de praescriptione haereticorum. Circa 200 A.D. as cited in Chapman J. Transcribed by Lucy Tobin. Tertullian. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIV. Copyright © 1912 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

The Catholics themselves must recognize the importance of these statements by Tertullian (as well as Irenaeus)–there were two churches with proper apostolic claims as far as he was concerned. And not just Rome–but one in Asia Minor that had been led by the Apostle John through Polycarp and his descendants.

Actually, note that Polycarp was called, “the father of the Christians” by anti-Christians, hence it was he that they apparently would have considered to have been an apostolic successor:

12:1 Saying these things and more besides, he was inspired with courage and joy, and his countenance was filled with grace, so that not only did it not drop in dismay at the things which were said to him, but on the contrary the proconsul was astounded and sent his own herald to proclaim three times in the midst of the stadium, ‘Polycarp hath confessed himself to be a Christian.’

12:2 When this was proclaimed by the herald, the whole multitude both of Gentiles and of Jews who dwelt in Smyrna cried out with ungovernable wrath and with a loud shout, ‘This is the teacher of Asia, the father of the Christians, the puller down of our gods, who teaches numbers not to sacrifice nor worship.’ Saying these things, they shouted aloud and asked the Asiarch Philip to let a lion loose upon Polycarp (Lightfoot J. Martyrdom of Polycarp).

In the fourth century, Eusebius understood that Polycarp was a bishop and apostolic successor:

At that time Polycarp, a disciple of the apostles, was a man of eminence in Asia, having been entrusted with the episcopate of the church of Smyrna by those who had seen and heard the Lord (Eusebius. Church History, Book III, Chapter 36 . Translated by the Arthur Cushman McGiffert. Excerpted from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series Two, Volume 1. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. American Edition, 1890. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Even in the 21st century, the Orthodox Church claims Polycarp as a successor to the Apostles:

As a sharer of the ways and a successor to the throne of the Apostles, O inspired of God, thou foundest discipline to be a means of ascent to divine vision. Wherefore, having rightly divided the word of truth, thou didst also contest for the Faith even unto blood, O Hieromartyr Polycarp…This apostolic and prophetic man, and model of faith and truth, was a disciple of John the Evangelist (Polycarp the Holy Martyr & Bishop of Smyrna. Greek Archdiocese of America. 8/27/05).

Even in the 21st century, the Roman Catholic Church claims Polycarp as a successor to the Apostles:

Polycarp was the bishop of Smyrna, today the city of Izmir, on the west coast of Turkey. He was part of the generation of church leaders who succeeded the apostles. According to one tradition, he was taught by the apostle John and was appointed to his office by the apostles himself…This indeed was one of God’s chosen ones–the amazing martyr, Polycarp, an apostolic and prophetic teacher…(Zanchettin L, ed. The Martyrdom of Polycarp: Who would have thought the old man had so much courage? the WORD among us–The #1 Monthly Devotional for Catholics. 2006; Volume 25, Number 4, pp. 69,74).

Since the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics admit that Polycarp WAS a faithful successor to the apostles, why do they not teach what he taught? And since they do not, how can any of them claim to be true to the teachings of the true successors of the apostles?

How Else Did Polycarp and His True Successors Differ?

Irenaeus also reported,

And when the blessed Polycarp was sojourning in Rome in the time of Anicetus, although a slight controversy had arisen among them as to certain other points…For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp to forego the observance [in his own way], inasmuch as these things had been always observed by John the disciple of our Lord, and by other apostles with whom he had been conversant; nor, on the other hand, could Polycarp succeed in persuading Anicetus to keep [the observance in his way], for he maintained that he was bound to adhere to the usage of the presbyters who preceded him. And in this state of affairs they held fellowship with each other; and Anicetus conceded to Polycarp in the Church the celebration of the Eucharist, by way of showing him respect; so that they parted in peace one from the other, maintaining peace with the whole Church, both those who did observe [this custom] and those who did not Irenaeus. (FRAGMENTS FROM THE LOST WRITINGS OF IRENAEUS. Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Excerpted from Volume I of The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, editors); American Edition copyright © 1885. Electronic version copyright © 1997 by New Advent, Inc.).

Apparently Anicetus conceded enough (such as about Polycarp’s position on that and probably about Marcion—who Anicetus agreed was a heretic) that no recorded major ‘blowup’ between the two survived. It appears that Anicetus, tried to satisfy Polycarp to some degree, and tried to appear not to be a complete heretic.

But were the churches in Asia Minor and Rome truly in peace after that?

The Catholic monk Epiphanius wrote,

For long ago, even from the earliest days, the Passover was celebrated at different times in the church…In the time of Polycarp and Victor, the east was at odds with the west and they would not accept letters of commendation from each other (Epiphanius. The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Books II and III (Sects 47-80), De Fide). Section VI, Verse 9,7. Translated by Frank Williams. EJ Brill, New York, 1994, p.411).

It appears likely that Polycarp, when he returned to Asia Minor, would have told the Christians there that he was successful in turning some away from heretics such as Marcion and Valentinus. He probably was so disgusted by his Roman experience that he let those in Asia Minor know that they should not receive doctrine or other instruction from any in Rome–he also specifically would not change Passover observance to Sunday. This seems to be confirmed by Polycrates’ writings a few decades later.

Unlike many claimed apostolic successors, not only was Polycarp faithful to the teachings received from the apostles and the Bible, so were many of the leaders who were traced from him.

The Catholic writer Eusebius recorded that Polycrates of Ephesus, around 195 A.D. wrote the following to the Roman Bishop Victor who wanted all who professed Christ to change Passover from the 14th of Nisan to Sunday:

We observe the exact day; neither adding, nor taking away. For in Asia also great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again on the day of the Lord’s coming, when he shall come with glory from heaven, and shall seek out all the saints. Among these are Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who fell asleep in Hierapolis; and his two aged virgin daughters, and another daughter, who lived in the Holy Spirit and now rests at Ephesus; and, moreover, John, who was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord, and, being a priest, wore the sacerdotal plate. He fell asleep at Ephesus. And Polycarp in Smyrna, who was a bishop and martyr; and Thraseas, bishop and martyr from Eumenia, who fell asleep in Smyrna. Why need I mention the bishop and martyr Sagaris who fell asleep in Laodicea, or the blessed Papirius, or Melito, the Eunuch who lived altogether in the Holy Spirit, and who lies in Sardis, awaiting the episcopate from heaven, when he shall rise from the dead? All these observed the fourteenth day of the passover according to the Gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith. And I also, Polycrates, the least of you all, do according to the tradition of my relatives, some of whom I have closely followed. For seven of my relatives were bishops; and I am the eighth. And my relatives always observed the day when the people put away the leaven. I, therefore, brethren, who have lived sixty-five years in the Lord, and have met with the brethren throughout the world, and have gone through every Holy Scripture, am not affrighted by terrifying words. For those greater than I have said ‘ We ought to obey God rather than man’ (Eusebius. Church History, Book V, Chapter 24. Translated by Arthur Cushman McGiffert. Excerpted from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series Two, Volume 1. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. American Edition, 1890. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Thus it is clear that throughout the second century, that Polycarp and the churches in Asia Minor continued to observe the Passover on the 14th of Nisan, unlike the Romans, and that they did it based upon what the Bible, those in Ephesus (a church were Paul had once placed Timothy in charge), and the Apostles (John and Philip) taught. Also, notice that the “list of apostolic succession” that Polycrates seems to provide has individuals who did not all live in the same city–Polycrates is demonstrating a spiritual succession based upon adherence to both scripture and apostolic teachings.

Hence, only the church that continues this practice can seriously be considered as a successor to the apostles (the early church had many doctrines that are not held now by most who claim Christianity–a list of some of them can be found at the History of Early Christianity Page).

In spite of this, a relatively recent book stated:

Many of the Fathers were in theological or disciplinary disagreement with Rome (for example, Cyprian and Irenaeus), yet they never denied Rome’s primacy. They may have debated what primacy meant, or how it was to work out in the universal Church, but they never denied the primacy (Ray, Stephen K. Upon This Rock St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early Church. Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1999, p. 13).

Well, since Polycarp denied Rome’s primacy, and as through their words and/or action did Thraseas, Sagaris, Papirius, Melito, and Polycrates (and others), the above statements (and the related statements) in that book are in error–including its basic conclusions–Rome never had primacy over true, apostolic Christianity. And this is clear from the teachings and practices of many that the Romans considered to be “Fathers” of the church.

List of Early Leaders

The Church of God traces its history from Pentecost, the year Jesus was crucified, through the Apostles and through those leaders that were faithful to the faith that was once for all delivered for the saints (Jude 3). We teach that throughout history, there were those who were always faithful to the basic apostolic teachings, and that that is still true today.

We in the Churches of God do not view the following list the same way that those in the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches view theirs. We believe that we are the true spiritual descendants of the apostles and this is not dependent upon a bishop to bishop transfer, but a true holding of teachings in a little flock–Luke 12:32.

Lest this cause misunderstanding, it needs to be understood that we believe that the true COG never completely died out and thus that the true COG existed from the beginning to now, and will so until the end–we did not just appear or “pop-up” as the descendants of the Apostolic Church–we are a continuation (but we did not always call our leaders “bishops”). The following list (which mainly has dates based upon Roman Catholic accepted sources) gives a listing of apparently faithful leaders of the church from the first through third centuries. The dates listed are when they died, not the entire time they were leaders:

Peter/Paul/James through death circa 64-68 (mainly oversaw churches from Asia Minor and Jerusalem, though Paul was imprisoned in Rome)
John through death circa 95-100
(oversaw churches from Ephesus of Asia Minor)
Papias through death circa 135-145
(oversaw churches from Hierapolis, Polycarp was also in Smyrna during that same time, and may have been considered the primary leader after John’s death)
Polycarp through death circa 155-156
(oversaw churches from Smyrna of Asia Minor)
Thraseas through death circa 160
(oversaw the churches from Eumenia, but died in Smyrna)
Sagaris through death circa 166-167
(died in Laodicea of Asia Minor)
Papirius through death circa 170
(oversaw churches from Smyrna of Asia Minor)
Melito through death circa 177-180
(oversaw churches from Sardis of Asia Minor)
* Polycrates through death circa 200
(oversaw churches from Ephesus of Asia Minor)
*Apollonius of Ephesus through death circa 210 (oversaw churches from Ephesus of Asia Minor).
*Camerius of Smyrna through death circa 220 (possibly oversaw churches from Smyrna of Asia Minor).

* Note: History concerning Apollonius is not totally clear, but indications are that he was most likely in the true church (the 210 date came from The Catholic Encyclopedia). There is basically no information about Camerius of Smyrna, other than he is listed as bishop of Smyrna prior to the third century in sources like The Catholic Encyclopedia and the questionable book The Life of Polycarp. After Polycrates and Apollonius, the official history (with Eusebius the main writer) says almost nothing about the true church in Ephesus, though a compromised church from there develops importance in the fourth century.

Hence, there is an ‘alternate’ listing of leaders in a spiritual succession from the apostles that most people are unfamiliar with (many of the beliefs, as well as more information on the true second/third/fourth century church can be found in the article The Smyrna Church Era).

It should be noted that the idea that what became known as Roman/Orthodox/Traditional Christianity gaining prominence by the third century is not simply a view held by those in Church of God, but is held by a variety of theologians and historians.

Here is some of what Bart Ehrman has written:

traditional Christianity…is the form of Christianity that began to thrive at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth centuries (Ehrman B. From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity. The Teaching Company, Chantilly (VA), 2004, p. 28).

Thus, what is considered to be traditional Christianity developed in the third and fourth centuries, NOT the second century. NOT the century when the last of any true direct apostolic successors could have lived into.

Binitarianism was the belief of the main form of Christianity until the early third century. It mainly declined in overall popularity as the separation between true Christians (often referred to by scholars as Nazarenes and Jewish Christians) widened. Because in the first two centuries, both true Christians and those that were more Roman Catholic and/or Eastern Orthodox in their views were binitarian. People in those three groups are often referred to as “proto-orthodox”.

…”Nazarene” Christianity, had a view of Jesus fully compatible with the beliefs favored by the proto-orthodox (indeed, they could be considered part of the circles that made up proto-orthodox Christianity of the time). Pritz contended that this Nazarene Christianity was the dominant form of Christianity in the first and second centuries…the devotional stance toward Jesus that characterized most of the Jewish Christians of the first and second centuries seems to have been congruent with proto-orthodox devotion to Jesus…the proto-orthodox “binitarian” pattern of devotion. (Hurtado LW. Lord Jesus Christ, Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. William B. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, 2003, pp. 560-561,618).

However, as the Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox became less like original Christianity, they also adopted a different (a trinitarian) view of the Godhead. “Nazarene” Christianity completely separated from Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox “Christianity” by the end of the third century, with most of the separation occurring in the second century.

The Bible teaches that there will be a succession of seven churches throughout history, until the end of the age (Revelation 2-3). The Church of God traces itself through those seven churches, and holds the basic beliefs of them done to this day (more information can be found in the article The Churches of Revelation 2 & 3).

How can one know if the leaders of the Living Church of God have apostolic succession or the leaders of the “sees” in Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, or Jerusalem do? Is it by having a list of leaders for nearly 20 centuries or something else?

Notice what Jesus taught:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matthew 7:15-23).

So it is the fruits that are important. The fruits would certainly seem to include holding the teachings and practices of the early church as recorded in the Bible and also (to a lessor degree) the early leaders who professed Christ. And the fact is that the largest existing group that holds to all the doctrines and practices of the early church (as mentioned early and shown later in Appendix A in this paper) is the Living Church of God.

Remember, the Apostle Paul taught:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines (Hebrews 13:8-9).

Also remember that Jesus, the apostles, and their true successor kept Passover on the 14th, observed the seventh-day Sabbath, did not tolerate idols, etc. Just like the Living Church of God today.

Would the Successors of the Apostles Change Basic Doctrine?

Without going into all the detail (some of which is alluded to in Appendix A below), a question that needs to be asked is could it be possible that a true successor to the apostles would deny or change basic doctrine?

Well, history clearly shows that the Ecumenical Patriarche of Constantinople (Macedonius,) and the Bishop of Rome (often referred to as Pope Liberius) taught that denying the divinity of the Holy Spirit as the third person of some trinity was sound doctrine (on that point those two leaders actually were biblically and historically correct). (For details, please see the article Did Early Christians Think the Holy Spirit Was A Separate Person in a Trinity?)

However, that is considered to be such a basic doctrine of the Catholics and Orthodox that now they have a problem. If the Holy Spirit is the third divine person of a trinity, then their “successors” in the 4th century denied the faith. And since both were successors for over a decade each, then the Catholics and Orthodox must admit that they do not have an unbroken line of successors to their faith like they claim that they do.

And of course, that is the problem. None of those groups had the type of initial apostolic succession that they now claim, many of those that are in their succession lists held doctrines contrary to what the original apostles taught, and none of those churches are therefore truly apostolic as they claim that they are.


There is no single city that can prove with contemporaneous records that it had an unbroken succession of bishops/pastors starting with an apostle. There is no single city that can prove continuous succession of carrying on the teachings of the original apostles to present. The Bible clearly teaches that it would not be possible that one city would be available for true Christians throughout the entire church age.

There are many individuals who were appointed by the apostles to lead churches throughout the world. However, there was only one area, Asia Minor, that could clearly lay true contemporaneous claim that it had a bishop that was directly appointed by an original apostle (this is where Rome, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Constantinople, and Antioch fail) and who kept the apostolic practices of that bishop (this is also where Rome, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Constantinople, and Antioch fail).

A review of what the Bible teaches, and the writings by or about these individuals or their successors, clearly shows that those that are claiming to have been successors from the same city for nearly two thousand years contradicts Jesus’ teachings.

A further review of what the Bible teaches, and the writings by or about these individuals or their successors, shows that those who now claim that they are the successors in Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, and Jerusalem clearly do not hold to the original teachings of the apostles or their true successors. They mainly hold views that became dominant in the third and fourth centuries.


Neither the Orthodox Church of Alexandria nor the Coptic Church can be considered the area of apostolic succession as it was not possible for Mark to have been bishop when claimed. Also, is not clear that Alexandria actually had a succession of bishops prior to Demetrius in the mid-second century. But it is clear that neither the Orthodox or Coptic churches hold to the original teachings of the apostles.

Neither of the two churches of Antioch can be considered the area of apostolic succession as neither holds to the original teachings of the apostles. Plus there is significant doubt that Peter had any “reign” here. Both groups have problems with the dates claimed by their earliest listed bishops. Also its first bishop, allegedly after Peter, may have been Ignatius and not Euodius–hence this suggests major doubts that direct succession occurred here (plus it appears that this church changed when Aslipiades became bishop).

The Orthodox Church of Constantinople cannot be considered the area of apostolic succession as it does not hold to the original teachings of the apostles. Nor does it have truly contemporaneous proof of its earliest claimed successions. Instead the biblical account and some of its own admissions prove that Onesimus could not have been its third claimed bishop.

The Orthodox Church of Jerusalem cannot be considered the area of apostolic succession as it claims that there was a gap of about 50 years between James and its first bishop, plus it does not hold to the original teachings of the apostles.

The Church of Rome (Roman Catholics) cannot be considered the area of apostolic succession as it is not clear that it actually had any bishops/pastors prior to Anicetus (or possibly Pius) in the mid-second century, plus it does not hold to the original teachings of the apostles. The Roman Catholic scholars clearly admit that they cannot prove that there was an unbroken succession of bishops, beginning with Linus–actually, many teach that there were no early bishops of Rome. The reliance on the flawed account of Irenaeus (which the Bible shows is flawed as Irenaeus’ account claimed the Peter and Paul founded the church in Rome), is no substitute for proper scholarship. Hence the Roman Catholics do not have true apostolic succession (please also see the detailed article What Do Roman Scholars Actually Teach About Early Church History).

If a continuous identifiable line of bishop to bishop succession is necessary, then why is it not once mentioned in the entire Bible? And why do none of the five major cities that rely on that type of claim have no actual proof that there was not an important and significant gap in their alleged lists of succession (especially at, or near, the beginning for ALL OF THEM)? Remember that claims to apostolic succession are not the same as PROOF, and none of the cities mentioned can actually prove that they even have the apostle to bishop to bishop transfer that their CLAIMS are based upon.

Furthermore, as cited earlier in this paper, Roman Catholic scholars have admitted that there was no unbroken line of apostolic succession from bishop to bishop that occurred for the churches in Rome, Alexandria, Constantinople, nor even Jerusalem. Hence the recent claims of the current pope that the true church has to have “apostolic succession” would seem to disqualify all of those churches.

The one early leader who was clearly appointed by the Apostles was Polycarp of Smyrna. If apostolic succession was required from one or more of the original apostles to one called a bishop, then Polycarp meets that qualification. The true Church of God, now represented as the Philadelphia portion by the Living Church of God, teaches that Polycarp was appointed the predominant leader by the apostles. The Living Church of God traces its history throughout many cities and wilderness areas from the time of Pentecost in 31 A.D. to present. And the Living Church of God actually holds the same teachings that Polycarp held (some of this is discussed in the article on Polycarp of Smyrna) and wrote that Christians are to continue (see Chapters VI, VIII, IX, and X of Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians).

Even the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox admit that Polycarp was a faithful successor of the apostles. Since they do not teach what Polycarp taught, but the Living Church of God does, the Living Church of God, and not those that do not hold to these same biblical teachings, should be considered as the truly having spiritual apostolic succession. And this has been accomplished through the laying on of hands (Hebrews 6:2).

It is only the true Church of God (which includes those still alive that are spiritually part of the Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicean portions of the true church, see Revelation 2 & 3, with Philadelphia being the most faithful) that holds the same teachings as the true successors to the apostles. And we can trace our history from the time of the apostles to this present time. Thus, it is the Living Church of God that can prove that is has the clearest claim to true spiritual apostolic succession.

Now that you have learned that there is church that has the clearest claim to apostolic succession, do you wish to learn more? If so, please visit my Early Christianity page as it has links to articles about the people, places, and doctrines of the true apostolic church.

Thiel B. Ph.D. Apostolic Succession. (c) 2007 2008

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Appendix A


While scholars have a variety of opinions, this appendix itself will simply mention the following beliefs held by true Christians in the second century, with highly documented articles primarily based on the Bible and early historical writings:

The complete Bible with the proper Old Testament and New Testament was relied on by the true Church in Asia Minor.
A Binitarian view was obviously held by the apostolic and post-apostolic true Christian leaders.
Birthdays were not celebrated by early Christians.
Celibacy for Bishops/Presbyters/Elders was not a requirement.
Christmas was not observed by any professing Christ prior to the third century, or ever by those holding to early teachings.
Duties of Elders/Pastors were pastoral and theological, not predominantly sacramental.
Easter was not observed by the apostolic church.
The Fall Holy Days were observed by true early Christians.
The Father was considered to be God by all early professing Christians.
Holy Spirit was not referred to as God or as a person by any early true Christians.
Hymns were mainly psalms, not praises to Christ.
Idols were taught against, including the use of the cross.
Immortality of the soul or humans was not taught.
Jesus was considered to be God by the true Christians.
The Kingdom of God was preached.
Lent was not observed by early Christians.
Military Service was not allowed for true early Christians.
Millenarianism (a literal thousand year reign of Christ on Earth) was taught by the early Christians.
Monasticism was unheard of in the early Christian church.
Passover was kept on the 14th of Nisan by apostolic and second Century Christians in Asia Minor.
Pentecost was kept on the same day that the Jews observed it by all professing Christians.
The Resurrection of the dead was taught by all early Christians
The Sabbath was observed on Saturday by the apostolic and post-apostolic Church.
Salvation was believed to be offered to the chosen now by the early Church, with others being called later, though not all that taught that (or other doctrines) practiced “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
A Six Thousand Year Plan for humankind followed by a 1000 year millenium was believed by the apostolic and true post-apostolic Christians, as well as others.
Sunday was not observed by the apostolic and true post-apostolic Christians.
The Ten Commandments were observed by the apostolic and true post-apostolic Christians.
Tradition had some impact on the second century Christians but was never supposed to supercede the Bible.
The Trinity was not a word used to describe the Godhead by the apostolic or second century Christians.
The Virgin Birth was acknowledged by all true ante-Nicene Christians.

Note that the following articles document beliefs of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. And that in many cases, the Romans and the Orthodox changed their beliefs to those that were NOT HELD BY THE ORIGINAL APOSTLES, yet the Church of God has kept that original, apostolic faith:

Which Is Faithful: The Roman Catholic Church or the Church of God? Do you know that both groups shared a lot of the earliest teachings? Do you know which church changed? Do you know which group is most faithful to the teachings of the apostolic church? This documented article answers those questions.
Some Similarities and Differences Between the Orthodox Church and the Churches of God Both groups have some amazing similarities and some major differences. Do you know what they are?

Thiel B. Ph.D. Apostolic Succession. (c) 2006/2007/2008 1117

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“The heretics are proved to be disciples not of the Apostles, but of their own wicked notions. To this cause also are due the various opinions that exist among them, inasmuch as each one adopts error in whatever manner it presents itself to him. But the Church throughout all the world, having its origin firm from the Apostles, perseveres in one and the same opinion with regard to God and His Son.”   

– St Irenaeus of Lyons

Irenaeus on Development of Doctrine

The Lord of all gave his apostles the power of the Gospel, and by them we have known the truth, that is, the teaching of the Son of God. To THEM the Lord said, “He who hears you hears me, and he who despises me and Him who sent me” (Luke 10:16).


For we have known the “economy” for our salvation only through those through whom the Gospel came to us; and WHAT THEY FIRST PREACHED THEY LATER, by God’s will, TRANSMITTED TO US IN THE SCRIPTURES SO THAT WOULD BE THE FOUNDATION AND PILLAR OF OUR FAITH (1 Tim. 3:15).


It is not right to say that they preached before they had perfect knowledge, as some venture to say, boasting that they are correctors of the apostles. For after our Lord arose from the dead and they were clad with power from on high by the coming of the Holy Spirit, THEY WERE FILLED CONCERNING EVERYTHING AND HAD PERFECT KNOWLEDGE. They went forth to the ends of the earth, proclaiming the news of the good gifts to us from God and announcing heavenly peace to men. Collectively and individually they had the Gospel of God.


Thus Matthew published among the Hebrews a gospel written in their language, at the time when Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome and founding the church there. After their death Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself delivered to us in writing what had been announced by Peter. Luke, the follower of Paul, put down in a book the Gospel preached by him. Later John the Lord’s disciple, who reclined on his bosom, himself published the Gospel while staying at Ephesus in Asia.


Thus the TRADITION OF THE APOSTLES, manifest in the whole world, is present in EVERY CHURCH [in the form of the Scriptures] to be perceived by all who wish to see the truth.


Irenaeus of Lyons, “Against Heresies”

. Ambrose (340-397)
On the Holy Spirit
Book III

CHAPTER I. Not only were the prophets and apostles sent by the Spirit, but also the Son of God. This is proved from Isaiah and the evangelists, and it is explained why St. Luke wrote that the same Spirit descended like a dove upon Christ and abode upon Him. Next, after establishing this mission of Christ, the writer infers that the Son is sent by the Father and the Spirit, as the Spirit is by the Father and the Son.

1. IN the former book we have shown by the clear evidence of the Scriptures that the apostles and prophets were appointed, the latter to prophesy, the former to preach the Gospel, by the Holy Spirit in the same way as by the Father and the Son; now we add what all will rightly wonder at, and not be able to doubt, that the Spirit was upon Christ; and that as He sent the Spirit, so the Spirit sent the Son of God. For the Son of God says: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me, He hath sent Me to preach the Gospel to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and sight to the blind.” And having read this from the Book of Isaiah, He says in the Gospel: “To-day hath this Scripture been fulfilled in your ears;” that He might point out that it was said of Himself.

2. Can we, then, wonder if the Spirit sent both the prophets and the apostles, since Christ said: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me”? And rightly did He say “upon Me,” because He was speaking as the Son of Man. For as the Son of Man He was anointed and sent to preach the Gospel.

3. But if they believe not the Son, let them hear the Father also saying that the Spirit of the Lord is upon Christ. For He says to John: “Upon whomsoever thou shalt see the Spirit descending from heaven and abiding upon Him, He it is Who baptizeth with the Holy Spirit.” God the Father said this to John, and John heard and saw and believed. He heard from God, he saw in the Lord, he believed that it was the Spirit Who was coming down from heaven. For it was not a dove that descended, but the Holy Spirit as a dove; for thus it is written: “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven as a dove.”

4. As John says that he saw, so, too, wrote Mark; Luke, however, added that the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily form as a dove; you must not think that this was an incarnation, but an appearance. He, then, brought the appearance before him, that by means of the appearance he might believe who did not see the Spirit, and that by the appearance He might manifest that He had a share of the one honour in authority, the one operation in the mystery, the one gift in the bath, together with the Father and the Son; unless perchance we consider Him in Whom the Lord was baptized too weak for the servant to be baptized in Him.

5. And he said fittingly, “abiding upon Him,” because the Spirit inspired a saying or acted upon the prophets as often as He would, but abode always in Christ.

6. Nor, again, let it move you that he said “upon Him,” for he was speaking of the Son of Man, because he was baptized as the Son of Man. For the Spirit is not upon Christ, according to the Godhead, but in Christ; for, as the Father is in the Son, and the Son in the Father, so the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ is both in the Father and in the Son, for He is the Spirit of His mouth. For He Who is of God abides in God, as it is written: “But we received not the spirit of this world, but the Spirit which is of God.” And He abides in Christ, Who has received from Christ; for it is written again: “He shall take of Mine:” and elsewhere: “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and death.” He is, then, not over Christ according to the Godhead of Christ, for the Trinity is not over Itself, but over all things: It is not over Itself but in Itself.

7. Who, then, can doubt that the Spirit sent the prophets and apostles, since the Son of God says: “The Spirit of the Lord is. upon Me.” And elsewhere: “I am the First, and I am also for ever, and Mine hand hath rounded the earth, and My right hand hath established the heaven; I will call them and they shall stand up together, and shall all be gathered together and shall hear. Who hath declared these things to them? Because I loved thee I performed thy pleasure against Babylon, that the seed of the Chaldaeans might be taken away. I have spoken, and I have called, I have brought him and have made his way prosperous. Come unto Me and hear ye this. From the beginning I have not spoken in secret, I was there when those things were done; and now the Lord God hath sent Me and His Spirit.” Who is it Who says: The Lord God hath sent Me and His Spirit, except He Who came from the Father that He might save sinners? And, as you hear, the Spirit sent Him, lest when you hear that the Son sends the Spirit, you should believe the Spirit to be of inferior power.

8. So both the Father and the Spirit sent the Son; the Father sent Him, for it is written: “But the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My Name.” The Son sent Him, for He said: “But when the Paraclete is come, Whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of Truth.” If, then, the Son and the Spirit send each other, as the Father sends, there is no inferiority of subjection, but a community of power.


The Son and the Spirit are alike given; whence not subjection but one Godhead is shown by Its working.

9. Ash not only did the Father send the Son, but also gave Him, as the Son Himself gave Himself. For we read: “Grace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Who gave Himself for our sins.” If they think that He was subject in that He was sent, they cannot deny that it was of grace that He was given. But He was given by the Father, as Isaiah said: “Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given;” but He was given, I dare to say it, by the Spirit also, Who was sent by the Spirit. For since the prophet has not defined by whom He was given, he shows that He was given by the grace of the Trinity; and inasmuch as the Son Himself gave Himself, He could not be subject to Himself according to His Godhead. Therefore that He was given could not be a sign of subjection in the God-head.


Ambrose on Justification:
A Study in the Catholicity of Lutheran Theology


The Lutherans of the sixteenth century consistently maintained that their cultus and confession were truly catholic: “…nothing has been received among us, in doctrine or in ceremonies, that is contrary to Scripture or to the church catholic”;1 “…No novelty has been introduced which did not exist in the church from ancient times…”;2 “…our churches dissent from the church catholic in no article of faith but only omit some few abuses which are new and have been adopted by the fault of the times…”3 According to the Lutherans it was Rome, and not Wittenberg, that had departed from the authentic catholic faith of the apostles and Fathers of the Church.  

One of the most significant assertions of the Lutheran reformers was that sinners are justified before God by grace through faith alone, and not by human works or merits of any kind. In regard to the Lutheran doctrine of justification, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession makes the following statement:  

We know that what we have said agrees with the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures, with the holy Fathers Ambrose, Augustine, and many others, and with the whole church of Christ, which certainly confesses that Christ is the propitiator and the justifier.4  

Was this claim valid? Was the Lutheran doctrine of justification truly catholic, or was it (as the Pope and his followers claimed) a sectarian innovation? Since the Lutherans appealed explicitly to the ancient Father St. Ambrose (among others) as one who taught what they were teaching, it will be helpful to examine Ambrose?s writings on justification to determine if the Lutherans really understood his position and if his teaching did in fact confirm theirs.  

St. Ambrose (c.338-397), Bishop of Milan, has always been remembered as a courageous churchman, an able teacher, and a faithful shepherd. Christendom has also counted him as one of the eight “Doctors of the Church,” and an examination of his writings readily confirms the appropriateness of this honor.  

Ambrose?s theology is first and foremost a Christ-centered theology. According to Ambrose, “where Christ is, there are all things, there is his teaching, there forgiveness of sins, there grace, there the separation of the dead and the living.”5 Ambrose accordingly focuses on the saving work of Christ as the only hope for sinners: “He gave himself to be offered for our sins, that by his blood he might cleanse the world, whose sin could not be abolished in any other way.”6 ”The Lord?s death is my redemption, for we are redeemed by his precious blood.”7 Ambrose?s doctrine of the atonement actually includes two facets. The significance of Christ?s suffering and death as an expiatory sacrifice to God is explained in the following words:  

Jesus took on himself even death, that the sentence of condemnation might be carried out, that he might satisfy the judgment that sinful flesh should be cursed even unto death. Nothing therefore was done contrary to the sentence of God, since the condition of God?s sentence was fulfilled.8  

The significance of Christ?s suffering and death as a ransom to the devil is explained thus:  

If we were redeemed not with perishable things ? with silver and gold ? but with the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, surely the one who sold us had a right to our service in the coin of a now sinful race. And, undoubtedly, to release from slavery those whom he held bound he demanded a price. The price of our freedom was the blood of our Lord Jesus, and it had to be paid necessarily to the one to whom we had been sold by our sins.9  

As might be expected, the grace of God has a central place in Ambrose?s theology. He asks,  

What can we do worthy of heavenly rewards? By what labours, by what sufferings, can we wash away our sins? Not according to our merits, but according to the mercy of God, the heavenly decrees concerning men are issued.10  

According to Ambrose, “the grace of the Lord is given not as a reward which has been earned, but simply according to the will of the giver.”11 Ambrose also writes: “Let no one arrogate aught to himself, let no one boast of his merits or his power, but let us all hope to find mercy through the Lord Jesus.”12 It is indeed God?s gracious call that alone sets the sinner free, and Ambrose therefore prays to his Lord:  

Call forth thy servant. Although I am bound with the chains of my sins, being now buried in dead thoughts and works, yet at thy call I shall go forth free and be found one of those sitting at thy feast.13  

And how, exactly, is God?s gracious salvation actually received by each individual Christian? According to Ambrose, “God chose that man should seek salvation by faith rather than by works, lest any should glory in his deeds and should thereby incur sin.”14 The evangelical character of Ambrose?s theology is also evident in what he writes in regard to John 3:36:  

Let us consider another similar passage: “He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life, but he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” That which abideth has certainly had a commencement, and that from some offense, viz., that first he not believe. When, then, anyone believes, the wrath of God departs and life comes. To believe, then, in Christ is to gain life, for “he that believeth in him is not judged” [John 3:18].15  

The following comparison that Ambrose makes between the woman with the issue of blood (Luke 8:43-48) and the Christian clearly demonstrates that he understands “faith” to be much more than a mere mental acceptance of certain doctrines and facts:  

The woman was immediately healed, because she drew to him in faith. And do you with faith touch but the hem of his garment. The torrential flow of worldly passions will be dried up by the warmth of the saving Word, if you but draw near to him with faith, if with like devotion you grasp at least the hem of his garment. O faith richer than all treasures! A faith stronger than all the powers of the body, more health-giving than all the physicians!16  

In examining Ambrose?s use of the terms “justification” and “justified,” it becomes clear that he connects justification with forgiveness. Ambrose states that “he is justified from sin to whom all sins are remitted through baptism.”17 According to Ambrose, good works cannot be a cause of forgiveness and justification because in our sinful condition we are simply incapable of producing works that are truly good. He writes that “we are not justified by works but by faith, because the infirmity of our flesh is an impediment to works; but the brightness of faith overshadows the error of works and merits forgiveness of our faults.”18 Again, “Not of works, but of faith, each is justified by the Lord.”19  

Sanctification and good works naturally follow justification and are necessary as the fruits of a true justifying faith. However, Ambrose makes it clear that these fruits must not be relied on as in any way earning God?s favor:  

I will glory not because I am righteous but because I am redeemed; I will glory not because I am free from sins but because my sins are forgiven me. I will glory not because I have done good nor because someone has done good to me but because Christ is my advocate with the Father and because the blood of Christ has been shed for me.20  

The Pauline emphasis on justification as the imputation of Christ?s righteousness to the sinner is reflected in the following statement by Ambrose:  

In Adam I fell, in Adam I was cast out of Paradise, in Adam I died. How shall God call me back, except he find me in the Second Adam ? justified in Christ, even as in the first Adam I was made subject to guilt and destined to death?21  

Ambrose?s most thorough treatment of the doctrine of justification is found in a letter to a layman named Irenaeus,22 which is quoted at length in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession.23 This letter, in which Ambrose also outlines the proper distinction between Law and Gospel, deserves to be quoted at length here as well:  

Sin abounded by the Law because through the Law came knowledge of sin and it became harmful for me to know what through my weakness I could not avoid. It is good to know beforehand what one is to avoid, but, if I cannot avoid something, it is harmful to have known about it. Thus was the Law changed to its opposite, yet it became useful to me by the very increase of sin, for I was humbled. And David therefore says: “It is good for me that I have been humbled” [Psalm 119:71]. By humbling myself I have broken the bonds of that ancient transgression by which Adam and Eve had bound the whole line of their succession. Hence, too, the Lord came as an obedient man to loose the knot of man?s disobedience and deception. And as through disobedience sin entered, so through obedience sin was remitted. Therefore, the Apostle says: “For just as by the disobedience of one man the many were constituted sinners, so also by the obedience of the one the many will be constituted just” [Romans 5:19]. Here is one reason that the Law was unnecessary and became necessary, unnecessary in that it would not have been needed if we had been able to keep the natural law; but, as we did not keep it, the Law of Moses became needful to teach me obedience and loosen that bond of Adam?s deception which had ensnared his whole posterity. Yes, guilt grew by the Law, but pride, the source of guilt, was loosed, and this was an advantage to me. Pride discovered the guilt and the guilt brought grace. Consider another reason. The Law of Moses was not needful; hence, it entered secretly. Its entrance seems not of an ordinary kind, but like something clandestine because it entered secretly into the place of the natural law. Thus, if she had but kept her place, this written law would never have entered it, but, since deception had banished that law and nearly blotted it out of the human breast, pride reigned and disobedience was rampant. Therefore, that other took its place so that by its written expression it might challenge us and shut our mouth, in order to make the whole world subject to God. The world,24 however, became subject to him through the Law, because all are brought to trial by the prescript of the Law, and no one is justified by the works of the Law; in other words, because the knowledge of sin comes from the Law, but guilt is not remitted, the Law, therefore, which has made all men sinners, seems to have caused harm. But, when the Lord Jesus came he forgave all men the sin they could not escape, and canceled the decree against us by shedding his blood [Colossians 2:14]. This is what he says: “By the Law sin abounded, but grace abounded by Jesus” [Romans 5:20], since after the whole world became subject he took away the sins of the whole world, as John bears witness, saying: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” [John 1:29] Let no one glory, then, in his own works, since no one is justified by his deeds, but one who is just has received a gift, being justified by Baptism. It is faith, therefore, which sets us free by the blood of Christ, for he is blessed whose sin is forgiven and to whom pardon is granted [Psalm 32:1].25  

It seems fair to conclude that the sixteenth-century Lutheran doctrine of justification was fully congruent with the teaching of St. Ambrose on this subject, and that the Lutherans? Appeals to him were both legitimate and accurate. In those writings in which Ambrose dealt with this matter deliberately and carefully, he taught on the basis of Holy Scripture that sinners are justified before God by grace through faith alone, and not by human works or merits of any kind. On this central article of the Christian faith, the Lutherans were thoroughly “Ambrosian,” and if Ambrose?s views are a reflection of the authentic catholic position, the Lutherans were also thoroughly “catholic.”26  


1. Augsburg Confession, epilogue to XXVIII, 5 (Latin), in The Book of Concord, translated and edited by Theodore G. Tappert (Fortress Press, 1959), p. 95.  

2. Augsburg Confession XXIV:40 (German), Tappert pp. 60-61.  

3. Augsburg Confession, prologue to XXII, 1 (Latin), Tappert p. 48.  

4. Apology of the Augsburg Confession IV:389, Tappert p. 166.  

5. Epistle 4, The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 26 (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1954), p. 104.  

6. In ps. 47 enarr. 17; quoted in F. Holmes Dudden, The Life and Times of St. Ambrose (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1935), Vol. II, p. 606.  

7. De fide III:36; quoted in Dudden II, p. 607.  

8. De Fuga 44; quoted in Dudden II, pp. 608-09.  

9. Epistle 72, The Fathers of the Church 26, pp. 93-93.  

10. Expos. ps. 118, 20:42; quoted in Dudden II, p. 631.  

11. Exhort. Virginitatis 43; quoted in Dudden II, p. 632.  

12. Expos. ps. 118, 20:42; quoted in Dudden II, p. 631.  

13. De Poenitentia II:72; quoted in Dudden II, p. 626.  

14. In ps. 43 enarr. 14; quoted in Dudden II, p. 627.  

15. De Poenitentia I:53, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. X (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans reprint, 1983), p. 338.  

16. De Virginitate 100; quoted in Dudden II, p. 628.  

17. Quoted by Augustine in Contra Julianum II:8:23; quoted in turn in Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, Part I (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1971), p. 475.  

18. Liber de Jacob et Vita Beata, ch. 2; quoted in Chemnitz, Examination I, p. 508.  

19. Exhort. Virginitatis 43; quoted in Dudden II, p. 627.  

20. Liber de Jacob et Vita Beata, ch. 6; quoted in Chemnitz, Examination I, p. 507.  

21. De Excessu Sat. 11:6; quoted in Dudden II, p. 610.  

22. Not to be confused with the second-century church Father St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons.  

23. Apology IV:103, Tappert pp. 121-22. In the text of the Apology, immediately after the appearance of this quotation, we read: “These are the words of Ambrose, which clearly support our position; he denies justification to works and ascribes it to faith, which liberates us through the blood of Christ. If you pile up all the commentators on the Sentences with all their magnificent titles ? for some are called ?angelic? [Thomas Aquinas], others ?subtle? [John Duns Scotus], and others ?irrefutable? [Alexander of Hales] ? read them and reread them, they contribute less to an understanding of Paul than this one sentence from Ambrose.” (Apology IV:104-05, Tappert p. 122.)  

24. It is at this point that the Apology begins its quotations from this letter.  

25. Epistle 73, in The Fathers of the Church 26, pp. 466-68. In the translation of Epistle 73 that is found in that source, Ambrose?s Latin phrase “quia ex praescripto legis omnes conveniuntur et ex operibus legis nemo iustificatur” is rendered inaccurately as “because all are brought to trial by the prescript of the Law, and no one is justified without the works of the Law.” This is corrected in the quotation that appears in this essay.  

26. In his “Treatise on the Reading of the Fathers or Doctors of the Church,” Martin Chemnitz offers these very interesting comments about the writings of St. Ambrose in general: “He wrote many things, but best are the commentaries which he wrote on all the epistles of Paul, which can be of great help to the reader. There also is extant his commentary on Luke. He wrote on Isaiah, a work which antiquity held in the highest authority of all his writings. But it no longer is extant. In his Pauline commentaries he speaks most accurately about justification. There are also some other writings by him which are definitely doctrinal. Yet he has some statements which are not so satisfactory, particularly on free will and original sin. These were seized upon by the Pelagians as being his firm opinion. But Augustine, in his Contra Julianum, Bk. 1, shows clearly how these statements are to be understood. Ambrose was held in great authority even among the easterners, who criticized Jerome because in speaking of him he gave him too little honor.” (Chemnitz, Loci Theologici (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1989), Vol. I, p. 32.) We now know that the Pauline commentaries to which Chemnitz refers were not actually written by Ambrose. Chemnitz?s positive analysis of Ambrose?s teaching on justification would also apply, however, to many of Ambrose?s genuine writings (such as the ones from which the quotations in this essay are taken), where he does indeed speak “most accurately about justification.”  

This essay was published in Lutheran Synod Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 3 (September 1988), pp. 71-80. The printed version differs slightly from the online version that appears here.