"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Friday, July 20, 2007

Apostolicity in Acts 15

Ἐπειδὴ ἠκούσαμεν ὅτι τινὲς ἐξ ἡμῶν [ἐξελθόντες] ἐτάραξαν ὑμᾶς λόγοις ἀνασκευάζοντες τὰς ψυχὰς ὑμῶν οἷς οὐ διεστειλάμεθα
(Acts 15:24)

Literal translation: "Since we have heard that some out of us having gone out disturbed you with words, unsettling your souls, to whom we gave no mandate/order/command."

NAB: "Since we have heard that some of our number who went out without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind."

Recently I discussed [here] the significance of St. Paul's statement: "And how shall they preach unless they are sent?" (Romans 10:15) for understanding apostolicity. Here I wish to discuss a statement written by the Apostles and elders at the council of Jerusalem around 50 AD, and recorded by St. Luke in Acts 15:24.

If apostolic succession were merely doctrinal, then why did these disturbers need a mandate from the Apostles? Why is their lack of an Apostolic mandate even mentioned? The Apostles and elders should simply have said only that the doctrine of the disturbers was not the Apostles' doctrine. But the Apostles and elders do not say that. Instead they provide a mandate to Paul and Barnabas, Silas and Judas called Barsabbas. The "letter" mentioned in verse 23 is the authentication or proof that these men have the necessary mandate from the Apostles to teach and preach in their name, as official legates / ambassadors of the Apostles.

But if Paul and Barnabas needed an Apostolic mandate, and if the Apostles and elders show that because the disturbers mentioned in Acts 15:24 do not have an Apostolic mandate they [i.e. those disturbers] should not be listened to, then from whom did Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin receive a mandate? Or should we believe that the need for a Church mandate in order to preach and teach in the name of the Church ceased with the death of the last apostle?


contrarian 78 said...

I am going to guess and state that the response that I should make as a good Protestant is that this nature of apostolicity is only relevant post-Pentecost but pre-Canon?

And I'm also going to guess that the Roman Catholic response is that if that is the case, wherefore those particular books in your canon??

Or is there a better line of thinking?

Bryan Cross said...

Thanks for your comments. I don't know what the *official* Catholic response to this Protestant response would be. I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "pre-Canon". Are you thinking of the Council of Carthage in 397?

I'll tell you what my own response is. To me, it seems arbitrary to claim that sacramental apostolicity was only relevant until the canon was settled. So as soon as the bishop of Rome ratified the decisions of the Council of Carthage, then at that point anyone could start preaching and teaching in the name of the Church, without a mandate from the bishops of the Church. I simply don't see how the finalization of the canon by the Church would either remove any authority from the bishops or give all other Christians the same authority had by the bishops.

Say, hypothetically, that at the council of Jerusalem in 50 AD the Apostles had agreed upon and finalized the canon. Would the Apostles have at that instant lost their authority as Apostles? Suddenly the heretics could come along and say to the Apostles: "The Scripture teaches that Jesus is a created being", and the Apostles would reply, "No it doesn't", and the heretics would reply, "Yes it does, and once you finalized the canon, you have no more authority than anyone else, including us." That looks bizarre. And that is why Tertullian wrote this and St. Vincent of Lerins wrote this.

So it seems to me that the thesis that sacramental apostolicity was only relevant or applicable until the canon was settled would need some hard evidence. E.g. Church authorities saying something like, "Now that the canon is finalized, we [bishops] no longer have magisterial authority; all Christians have equal authority under Scripture." But the Church never taught anything like that. So I don't see any way to support the "pre-canon" thesis.

- Bryan