The standard Catholic apologetics argument from the Bible for apostolic succession is the selection of Matthias to succeed Judas (Acts 1:16-26). That includes taking note that the word for “office” in 1:20 is episkopos: the word for “bishop.” Thus, we have some sort of equation of apostles and bishops, which is necessary, for we believe that bishops are indeed the successors of (but not identical to) the apostles.
This very day, in dialogue with a Protestant on Facebook, I stumbled upon a “new” argument for succession from Scripture that had never occurred to me before in my 26 years of doing Catholic apologetics (I love when that happens!). I put “new” in quotes because I’m sure someone else has thought of this (“nothing new under the sun”), but for me it’s new, and I did come up with it on my own, even if others have taught it in the past. Dialogue and its intellectual challenge has a way of bringing about such wonderful discoveries.
The argument stems from how the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:1-32; 16:4) is presented in Holy Scripture. It’s been one of my favorite arguments against sola Scriptura (i.e., Scripture as the only infallible authority), and as a rationale for Catholic ecumenical councils, to note the high authority of the Jerusalem council, guided by the Holy Spirit Himself (15:28) to make a proclamation binding upon all the Christian faithful everywhere. We know that, since Scripture reports that it was “delivered” and received at Antioch (15:30-31) and in various cities in Asia Minor (16:4); hence, the analogy to ecumenical councils, which are much more than mere local authoritative proclamations.
I have loved presenting the fact that the Apostle Paul “delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem” (16:4; RSV, as throughout). This is the very opposite of sola Scriptura modes of thought. The Jerusalem council doesn’t even seem (from what we know) to have been primarily concerned with biblical arguments and justifications. But however the decision was arrived at, regarding abstaining “from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity” (15:28), and the non-necessity of circumcision (15:5), it was authoritative and binding. As such, it is a compelling biblical argument for an infallible Church and against sola Scriptura, which precisely denies this.
Now I will be using it as an argument for apostolic succession, too. Here is how it works: the Jerusalem council presents “apostles” and “elders” in conjunction six times:
Acts 15:2 . . . Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.
Acts 15:4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, . . .
Acts 15:6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter.
Acts 15:22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, . . .
Acts 15:23. . . “The brethren, both the apostles and the elders, to the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cili’cia, . . .
Acts 16:4 . . . they delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem.
“Elders” here is the Greek presbuteros, which referred to a leader of a local congregation, so that Protestants think of it primarily as a “pastor”, whereas Catholics, Orthodox, and some Anglicans regard it as the equivalent of “priest.” In any event, all agree that it is a lower office in the scheme of things than an apostle: even arguably lower than a bishop (which is mentioned several times in the New Testament).
What is striking, then, is that the two offices in the Jerusalem council are presented as if there is little or no distinction between them, at least in terms of their practical authority. It’s not an airtight argument, I concede. We could, for example, say that “bishops and the pope gathered together at the Second Vatican Council.” We know that the pope had a higher authority. It may be that apostles here had greater authority.
But we don’t know that with certainty, from Bible passages that mention them. They seemto be presented as having in effect, “one man one vote.” They “consider” the issue “together” (15:6). It’s the same for the “decisions which had been reached” (16:4).
Therefore, if such a momentous, binding decision was arrived at by apostles and elders, it sure seems to suggest what Catholics believe: that bishops are successors of the apostles. We already see the two offices working together in Jerusalem and making a joint decision. It’s a concrete example of precisely what the Catholic Church claims about apostolic succession and the sublime authority conveyed therein. There are three additional sub-arguments that I submit for consideration:
1) The council, by joint authority of apostles and elders, sent off Judas and Silas as its messengers, even though they “were themselves prophets” (15:32). Prophets were the highest authorities in the old covenant (with direct messages from God), and here mere “elders” are commissioning them.
2) St. Paul himself is duty-bound to the council’s decree (16:4), which was decided in part by mere elders. So this implies apostolic succession (and conciliarism), if elders can participate in such high authority that even apostles must obey it.
3) Paul previously “had no small dissension and debate” with the circumcision party (15:1-2), but was unable to resolve the conflict by his own profound apostolic authority. Instead, he had to go to the council, where apostles and elders decided the question. All he is reported as doing there is reporting about “signs and wonders” in his ministry (15:12). He’s not the leader or even a key figure. This is not what the Protestant “Paulinist” view would have predicted.
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Five Hard Bible Passages and What They Mean: Understanding the difficult parts of the Bible http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/06/08/five-hard-bible-passages-and-what-they-mean-understanding-the-difficult-parts-of-the-bible/
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“Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit by whom it was written” (DV 12 #3). The Second Vatican Council indicates three criteria for interpreting Scripture in accordance with the Spirit who inspired it (cf. DV 12 #4): 1) Be especially attentive “to the content and unity of the whole Scripture” (cf. Lk 24:25-27, 44-46); 2. Read the Scripture within “the living Tradition of the whole Church”; 3. Be attentive to the analogy of faith (cf. Rom 12:6; CCC: 111-114).
Briefly put, the Holy Trinity is the belief that the one God subsists in Three Persons: God the Father, God the Son, Jesus (Who took on flesh in the incarnation and became Man), and God the Holy Spirit. They are all God, with the same divine attributes, yet are in relationship with each other as Subject and Object.
It is ultimately a deep mystery, because we can’t fully comprehend how three can be one. It seems to go against logic. Yet the Bible plainly teaches it, with many and varied proofs, and so we must accept the revealed doctrine in faith, bowing to the fact that God’s thoughts are much higher than ours (Is 55:9).
The Trinity is a classic case where there are few “direct” proofs, but many many deductive or indirect proofs, which can hardly be dismissed by any person who accepts the inspiration of Holy Scripture: God’s revelation.
No single passage states, “The one God exists in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Yet, for example, we see a verse that strongly suggests the same, with just a little deduction:
Matthew 28:19 (RSV) Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
If the Bible teaches that God (and only God) has certain characteristics, and proceeds to apply them to three Persons: called the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then they are all one God (since the Bible teaches there is but one: Dt 6:4; 32:39; Is 43:10; 44:8; 1 Cor 8:4-6).
In my research, I have found 40 passages that mention all three Divine Persons. Here are eight of them (just one-fifth of all):
Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, . . . (cf. 61:2; Jesus applies this to Himself in Lk 4:16-30)
Luke 3:21-22 . . . when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened,  and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.” (cf. Mt 3:13-17)
John 15:26 But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; (cf. 14:26)
Acts 2:33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear. (cf. 7:55)
Acts 20:28 Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son.
Romans 15:30 I appeal to you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, (cf. Eph 2:18)
1 Corinthians 6:11 . . . justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (cf. 1 Pet 1:2)
2 Corinthians 13:14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Is the Holy Spirit directly referred to as God? Yes; here is the best single passage along those lines:
Acts 5:3-4 But Peter said, “Anani’as, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land?  . . . You have not lied to men but to God.” . . .
Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit; at the same time he lied to God; therefore the Holy Spirit and God are synonymous: one and the same.
This sort of thing occurs over and over in the Bible: equivalent characteristics in many respects are applied to all three Divine Persons:
1. Who raised Jesus from the dead? Well, it was God the Father (Gal 1:1; 1 Thess 1:10); it was also Jesus Himself (Jn 2:19; 10:17-18); and it was the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:11).
2. Who gave the new covenant? The Father (Jer 31:33-34); Jesus (Heb 8:1-13; 10:29; 12:24; 13:20); the Holy Spirit (Heb 10:15-17).
3. Who sanctifies believers? The Father (1 Thess 5:23); Jesus (Heb 13:12); the Holy Spirit (1 Pet 1:2).
4. Who is the creator? The Father (Gen 1:1; Is 44:24; Acts 17:24; Eph 3:9); Jesus (Jn 1:3; Col 1:16; Heb 1:8, 10); the Holy Spirit (Job 33:4).Job 33:4.
5. Who indwells believers? The Father (1 Cor 3:16a; 2 Cor 6:16; 1 Jn 3:24); Jesus (Jn 6:56; Rom 8:10; Eph 3:17); the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:16-17; Rom 8:9, 11; 1 Cor 3:16b). The Bible even describes this in terms of different combinations: Father and Son (Jn 14:23); Father and Holy Spirit (Eph 2:21-22; 1 Jn 3:24); Son and Holy Spirit (Gal 4:6).
What one Person does, the others also do in complete agreement and unity, and the Persons “interpenetrate” each other. Christian theology has 50 cent words for this: circumincession(Latin) or perichoresis (Greek).
Lots of things are very difficult to understand, yet firmly believed; for starters: quantum mechanics, the physics of black holes, the nuclear fusion that occurs in the center of our sun, the “bending” of space and time (Einstein’s relativity). Physical reality has turned out to be very “weird” and unpredictable. Theology is also sometimes striking, and seemingly “odd” and unfathomable. This should not surprise us at all (since God is an extraordinary Being).
Cumulative arguments based on scores of individual indications become very compelling: much as a large rope, consisting of many individual strands woven together is exceedingly strong. Such is the nature of biblical indications for the Holy Trinity. We find them at every turn. No one should be led astray to think that the Holy Trinity is not “biblical.” Having seen the many reasonable proofs, we believe in faith.
Read this source and comments: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/darmstrong/50-biblical-evidences-for-the-holy-trinity
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The Blessed Trinity by Archbishop Fulton Sheen http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2014/05/17/the-blessed-trinity-by-archbishop-fulton-sheen/
50 Biblical Evidences for the Holy Trinity http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/11/16/50-biblical-evidences-for-the-holy-trinity/
The Holy Trinity & Sex http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2014/04/29/the-holy-trinity-sex/
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity Sunday C & St. Rita of Cascia, May 22,2016 http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/05/21/readings-reflections-with-cardinal-tagles-video-the-solemnity-of-the-most-holy-trinity-sunday-c-st-rita-of-cascia-may-222016/
Pope Francis at Santa Marta: The Trinity is real and not a ‘vague idea in the clouds’ http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2014/10/09/pope-francis-at-santa-marta-the-trinity-is-real-and-not-a-vague-idea-in-the-clouds/
Pope Francis: Trinity Is a Model for How to Live Relationships http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/05/22/pope-francis-trinity-is-a-model-for-how-to-live-relationships/
Reflections on the Indissolubility of Marriage and the Trinity http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/02/12/reflections-on-the-indissolubility-of-marriage-and-the-trinity/
The Trinity and His Dwelling: Lectio Divina, feast of the Holy Trinity http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/05/22/the-trinity-and-his-dwelling-lectio-divina-feast-of-the-holy-trinity/
Christians are baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19). Before receiving the sacrament, they respond to a three-part question when asked to confess the Father, the Son, and the Spirit: “I do.” “The faith of all Christians rests on the Trinity” (St. Caesarius of Arles, CCC: 232). The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the fundamental and essential teaching in the “hierarchy of the truths of faith” (CCC:234). The Trinity is a mystery of faith in the strict sense, one of the “mysteries that are hidden in God, which can never be known unless they are revealed by God.” To be sure, God has left traces of his Trinitarian being in his work of creation and in his Revelation throughout the Old Testament. But his inmost Being as Holy Trinity is a mystery that is inaccessible to reason alone or even to Israel’s faith before the Incarnation of God’s Son and the sending of the Holy Spirit (CCC: 237).
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