Some Christian traditions use the term "apostolic authority". What is meant by this phrase? Does it have more than one meaning depending on which doctrinal tradition it is coming from? Are there any traditions that don't hold it has a meaning at all?

Do groups that hold such a view think that some things can only be carried out by apostles with specifically granted authority?

  • Good question. I've updated it a little bit to fit our guidelines a little bit better. I hope the answers to these things will help you possibly with how to word your other question!
    – Caleb
    Oct 28 '11 at 14:15
  • Honestly, I don't really see how this question of mine is more focused than the one on laying-on of hands, especially when you look at either question through various traditions' prisms. Both then look quite broad to me.
    – brilliant
    Oct 28 '11 at 14:23
  • Actually they both are quite broad, but with the edits I did on this one I think it would be answerable with an "overview" style answer using facts and doctrinal references to covers a couple of different doctrines. The other one isn't answerable because it doesn't give a frame of reference for what would be considered a right/wrong answer and the different views on the issue would turn into a vote war.
    – Caleb
    Oct 28 '11 at 14:30

In broad terms there are two schools of thought on this. One concerns apostolic succession - the idea that the authority of the original 12 apostles has been passed down through the generations, relay-race style. For those who follow the doctrine of apostolic succession, apostolic authority belongs only to those who have inherited it from a predecessor, which in theory can be traced back to the original twelve.

The second notion of apostolic authority is that anyone can be ordained (I use the word in a very loose sense here) by God to have an apostolic ministry. In it's broadest interpretation it could include all Christians, because we're all called to act the way apostles do - but more often than not it's applied to individuals who demonstrate the characteristics of an apostle in a very clear way that is recognised by their peers and others.

Dr. Martin Schmaltz provides this succinct definition:

Apostolic Authority is being sent by Jesus Christ with an authorization to use His inherent power to fulfill His purpose. This apostolic sending has four parts:

  • First, the source of authority comes from outside the one operating in authority.
  • Second, authority has a specific area or place to operate.
  • Third, there is usually a specific mission or purpose for the use of authority.
  • Finally, it requires obedience and complete follow-through for authority to be effective

Apostolic Authority is acting as Jesus' representative to this world to accomplish His purpose.

while Dr Steven Lambert offers a much more lengthy answer to the question, which also deals with people who self-identify as having apostolic authority. He points out that different churches will recognise different people as having apostolic authority.


To answer the question of "apostolic authority", you must first define "apostolic succession".

From the Wikipedia article on apostolic succession:

Apostolic succession (Hebrew: הירושה האפיפיורית‎, Greek: Αποστολική διαδοχή) is a doctrine, held by some Christian denominations, which asserts that the chosen successors (properly ordained bishops) of the Twelve Apostles, from the first century to the present day, have inherited the spiritual, ecclesiastical and sacramental authority, power, and responsibility that were conferred upon them by the Apostles, who in turn received their spiritual authority from Jesus Christ.

The Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox churches, Oriental Orthodox churches, the Anglican Communion and some Lutheran churches are the predominant proponents of this doctrine.

I'll add the Mormon church to this list. They believe they have apostolic succession directly from Peter, James, and John, as these 3 apostles appeared in a vision and ordained Joseph Smith and others.

Apostolic authority is the authority granted by apostolic succession, usually by some form of ordination.

According to Steven Lambert, ThD, apostolic authority has been lost

Now, the problem is, since the church fell into apostasy in the third and fourth centuries, it has not been recognizing these offices, and erroneous cessation theories purporting that the apostolic and prophetic offices ceased with the death of the Apostles of the Lamb have been prevalent, especially in mainline denominational doctrine. And then, somewhere along the line, primarily, as I said, within the last hundred years or so, local churches began calling the chief minister "the pastor," even though that office, according to Scripture, does not entail government, per se.

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