John R. W. Stott:
“The Roman Catholics teach that, since the Bible authors were churchmen, the church wrote the Bible. Therefore the church is over the Bible and has authority to interpret it, but also to supplement it. But it is misleading to say that the church wrote the Bible. The apostles, the authors of the New Testament, were apostles of Christ, not of the church. Paul did not begin this Epistle ‘Paul, an apostle of the church, commissioned by the church to write to you Galatians’. On the contrary, he is careful to maintain that his commission and his message were from God; they were not any man or group of men, such as the church. See also verses 11 and 12.”
“So the biblical view is that the apostles derived their authority from God through Christ. Apostolic authority is divine authority. It is neither human, nor ecclesiastical. And because it is divine, we must submit to it.” (John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians, p. 16)
“Paul, an apostle (not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead), and all the brethren who are with me, to the churches of Galatia.” (Galatians 1:1-2)
“Apostle” (sent one) is the word Jesus used to designate His 12 disciples as those sent out on a mission to preach the gospel. (Luke 6:12-13; Mark 3:14 – notice they had to first “be with Him” before being sent out.) Jesus said, “Just as the Father has sent Me, so also I am sending you.” John 20:21
It seems that when Jesus said to the disciples/apostles that the Holy Spirit would “guide them into all the truth” (John 16:12-13; see also John 14:26; 15:26; 17:8; 17:17-18 ), that Jesus is referring to their being able to receive more revelation in preaching and teaching and then to write that revelation down in the Scriptures in the future. Jesus said, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12) Jesus is anticipating the future writing of Scripture. He is speaking directly to the apostles Matthew, John, and Peter, 3 of the 11 who are with Him in John 14-17 who will write Scripture.
Jesus is also anticipating that there will be other apostles and writers of Scripture such as the apostle Paul, Luke, Mark (writing for the apostle Peter), James and Jude (Jesus’ half-brothers), and the writer of Hebrews. We don’t know dogmatically who wrote Hebrews, but Barnabas seems a very good candidate for that. (Barnabas is called an apostle – Acts 14:4, 14; he was a Levite – Acts 4:36 – and this comports well with the details in Hebrews of the Levitical priesthood and details of the temple and sacrificial system; he is called “son of encouragement”, and seems to allude to that in Hebrews 13:22 “letter of encouragement” or “exhortation”; and Tertullian believed Barnabas was the human writer of Hebrews. On Modesty, 20 ) Why didn’t other apostles write Scripture? We don’t know and, we cannot know why, since history gives us no other Scriptures from other apostles, although false and forged Gnostic and Docetic gospels were written by others in the 2nd and 3rd centuries and claimed to be from other apostles, like the Gnostic gospels of Thomas, Judas, Bartholomew, Philip, etc. Certainly the other apostles were consulted, along with Mary, in Luke’s gospel, as Luke says he investigated everything carefully from the servants and eyewitnesses of the Word, and they handed down the truths to them. (Luke 1:1-4)
“The word apostle was not a general word which could be applied to every Christian like the words ‘believer’, ‘saint’, or ‘brother’. It was a special term reserved for the Twelve and for one or two others whom the risen Christ had personally appointed. There can therefore be, no apostolic succession, other than a loyalty to the apostolic doctrine of the New Testament. The apostles had no successors. In the nature of the case no one could succeed them. They were unique.” (John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians, p. 13)
One may argue that the apostles did appoint elders/overseers for churches, and that is true. (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5-7) But that is not “apostolic succession” in the way that the Roman Catholic Church claims. But they were not appointed as “apostles” with special authority to write Scripture and oversee many churches, nor expected to have an infallible interpretation of the Scriptures; nor was there any power in them as a person to cause grace to come down and regenerate people in the waters of baptism, nor did they have ex opere operato powers to change the bread and wine into the flesh and blood of Jesus. Rather they were appointed as elders/overseers, a plurality or college or team or council of equal status of authority of one church.
Notice the plural of “elders” in Acts 14:23 and Titus 1:5. See also Acts 20:17 (elders), and in Acts 20:28, all the elders are to be doing the work of overseeing (overseer, “bishop”, episcopais – επισκοπης ) and the work of shepherding, or pastoring the flock – teaching sound doctrine and guarding against heresy and false prophets and teachers.
It is true that Paul left Timothy and Titus to carry on the work of ministry in churches, indicated in those pastoral epistles. Those that argue for a 3 office episcopal church government (one bishop, elders, deacons) rather than a two office church government (a plurality of elders, and deacons for each church) – with an overseer or bishop above the council of presbyters/elders, argue that Timothy and Titus were bishops, and they also argue that James, the half-brother of Jesus and writer of the epistle of James, was the bishop of the church in Jerusalem in Acts 15. Timothy and Titus are not called bishops, and they are commanded by Paul to appoint and train elders and deacons, so after they are gone, the pattern seems to be that there is no more any “one man” leader over a church, rather a plurality of elders. The mono-episcopate (one bishop leading a church over a council of elders) developed later in church history, beginning with Ignatius.
For a good discussion and debate over the differences in church government, see below. The third one is a defense of a plurality of elders for each local church.
1. Perspectives on Church Government: 5 Views of Church Polity, edited by Chad Owen Brand and R. Stanto Norman. James White wrote the defense of the Plurality of Elders view.
2. Who Runs the Church? Four Views on Church Government, edited by Steven B. Cowan
3. Biblical Eldership, by Alexander Strauch.
For more articles that I wrote on elders and overseers being interchangeable and the earliest form of church government, along with other issues in early church history, see:
3. An Evangelical Introduction to Church History (Part 1)
Distinction between apostles and early writers/bishops/ elders shows it was not apostolic succession the way Rome tries to anachronistically apply it back into history.
Ignatius (writing around 107-117 AD), one of the earliest Christian writers of the second century that we have records of, is keenly aware of that distinction as he wrote,
“I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles; I am but a condemned man: they were free, while I am, even until now, a servant.” (To the Romans 4:3; see also, To the Ephesians 3:1 – “I do not give you commands as if I am somebody important”; To the Trallians 3:3 “I did not think myself qualified for this, that I, a convict, should give you orders as though I were an apostle”) So, Ignatius seems to go against the idea of apostolic succession, even though he did start the mono-episcopate.
The apostle Paul was specially chosen by Christ (Acts chapters 9, 22, and 26, Galatians chapters 1-2; 1 Corinthians 9:1-2; 1 Corinthians 15:1-9) to be an apostle; and many believe that He was the Lord’s real choice to replace Judas, not Mathias.
Others are called apostles in the New Testament:
Barnabas-Acts 14:4, 14; James, the Lord’s brother – Galatians 1:18-19, 2:9;
1 Cor. 15:7-9 – “then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. ”
Silas and Timothy – 1 Thessalonians 1:1 and 2:6; and Romans 16:7 might refer to two more apostles, Andronious and Junias, or it may mean that they have an outstanding reputation among the apostles (the 12 and Paul’s missionary team).
“We should get used to calling him ‘the apostle Paul’ rather than ’Saint Paul’, because every Christian is a saint in the New Testament vocabulary, while no Christian today is an apostle.” (John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians, p. 13)
“not from man, nor through the agency of man” (Galatians 1:1) –
Paul is saying that man or humans or a council or a church did not appoint him to be an apostle, but that he got his commission directly from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. “. . . his apostleship is not human is any sense, but essentially divine.”(Stott, ibid, p. 14) In other letters Paul notes that he is an apostle, Romans 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1, 2 Cor. 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1 Timothy 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:1; but here in Galatians, his first letter, written around 48-49 AD, right before the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, Paul wants to make sure that everyone knows that his apostleship is a direct divine calling from the Lord Himself; that it is not a human coming up with his own idea from his own heart and mind of being an apostle of Christ, or just human thinking that “it might be a good idea for you to do this work”.
There seems to be a clear distinction between “apostles of Christ” and “the apostles of the churches” ( see 2 Corinthians 8:23; Philippians 2:25)
Even so, Paul and Barnabas were also sent out by a local church as missionary evangelists. (Acts 13:1-4) Is that contradictory to what we have written? Not at all; one is the commission to be an apostle directly by Christ, the other is confirmation and accountability from a local church and guarding against just anyone claiming that they had a special revelation from God, when they really did not. (Like Muhammad of Islam, Joseph Smith of Mormonism, and Charles Taze Russell of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.)
John Piper writes: “Paul’s apostleship was virtually the same as Peter’s, for Galatians 2:8 says, “He who worked through Peter for the apostleship to the circumcision, worked through me also for the Gentiles.” (“To Deliver us from this present evil age”)
And they (Paul and Barnabas) were approved of and confirmed by the original disciples/apostles of Jesus. (Galatians 2:9)
See here also: