The role of apostolic succession in preserving true doctrine is illustrated in the Bible. To make sure that the apostles’ teachings would be passed down after the deaths of the apostles, Paul told Timothy, “[W]hat you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). In this passage he refers to the first three generations of apostolic succession—his own generation, Timothy’s generation, and the generation Timothy will teach.
|Acts Chapter 1|
|20: For it is written in the book of Psalms, `Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it’; and `His office let another take.’ 21: So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22: beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us — one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” 23: And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsab’bas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthi’as. 24: And they prayed and said, “Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two thou hast chosen 25: to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside, to go to his own place.” 26: And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthi’as; and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles.|
|Acts Chapter 6|
|6: These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands upon them.|
|Acts Chapter 14|
|23: And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they believed.|
|Galatians Chapter 1|
|8: But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed.|
|Ephesians Chapter 2|
|19: So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20: built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,|
|1 Timothy Chapter 3|
|1: The saying is sure: If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task.|
|2 Timothy Chapter 1|
|6: Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands;|
|2 Timothy Chapter 2|
|1: You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2: and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.|
|2 Timothy Chapter 3|
|14: But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it|
|Hebrews Chapter 13|
|7: Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith.|
From the Early Church Fathers:
Clement I of Rome: “Through countryside and city [the apostles] preached, and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers. Nor was this a novelty, for bishops and deacons had been written about a long time earlier. . . . Our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry” (Letter to the Corinthians 42:4–5, 44:1–3 [A.D. 80]).
Iranaeus: “It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known to us throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors down to our own times, men who neither knew nor taught anything like what these heretics rave about” (Against Heresies 3:3:1 [A.D. 189]).
“But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul-that church which has the tradition and the faith with which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world. And it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition” (ibid., 3:3:2).
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” (ibid., 3:3:4).