Bryan Cross and Apostolic Succession

I’ve been asked to comment on this thread about “Apostolic Succession”:

I don’t have much time to spend on this, but I do want to suggest that any Protestants who are thinking of “crossing the tiber” over this issue — and even those who have — ought to give some serious consideration to the overview that Jason Engwer did on this topic:

Jason digs deeply into the earliest church and determines what they believed, based on what they really said. Contrast this with Bryan’s method here. For any of you who have studied the New Testament in any detail, note that Bryan does not make an exegetical argument for the current papacy/magisterium from the New Testament and from “what the Fathers believed”. Rather, he begins with the current situation as a mere assumption, and then he goes back and finds quotes that “kinda sorta” support some notion in the direction of what he’s trying to prove.

For example, Bryan cites Irenaeus extensively on succession lists in Rome. But he offers this in isolation. There is no consideration whatsoever for the context that Irenaeus is writing in, nor even the other things that Irenaeus wrote about. Consider:

The historian Eric Osborn, in a recent study of Irenaeus, concludes:

“The subjection of all churches to Rome would be unthinkable for Irenaeus.” (Irenaeus Of Lyons [New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005], p. 130)

The Roman primacy Irenaeus refers to is a result of non-papal factors, such as the Roman church’s historical relationship with two prominent apostles, its familiarity to other churches, and probably its location in the capital of the empire. Irenaeus believed in a form of Roman primacy that doesn’t imply a papacy.

Why are Catholics going to this passage in Irenaeus to begin with? A few hundred pages of Irenaeus’ writings are extant, and we have descriptions of some of his non-extant writings. He frequently addressed issues of authority, repeatedly appealing to the authority of the apostles, the authority of those who knew the apostles, the authority of scripture, etc. He never appeals to papal authority, nor does he ever even mention it. Yet, Catholics so often tell us that the papacy is the foundation of the church, the center of unity, that it’s the solution to a wide variety of problems in Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy, etc. How likely is it that Irenaeus would have believed in the concept of a papacy, yet would have said so little of it? The fact that discussions of the papacy in Irenaeus place so much emphasis on this one passage, which doesn’t actually say anything of a papacy, is revealing.

Bryan also posits the false dilemma, “who has greater proximity and historical authority, Irenaeus or Francis Sullivan?”

Francis Sullivan has a complete record of the history of the church. He is able to cross-check his facts against things that other writers from that time period were saying as well. And it’s true, various witnesses say different things. In some cases this may be acceptable; in other cases, there are direct contradictions. Irenaeus is generally reliable, but he has a somewhat narrow and faulty view. For example, Irenaeus holds that Jesus lived until he was 50 years old, something that is contradicted by many other factors. As well, Irenaeus clearly states that Peter and Paul “founded” the church of Rome. But Paul’s letter to the Romans clearly speaks against the notion that Paul founded that church, and as the movements of Peter are traced, there is virtually no evidence that Peter was even in Rome, much less than that spent 25 years there (as has been traditionally held for centuries).

Too, the records are muddied, given that (as I’ve written), some early witnesses clearly say that Paul ordained Linus (who is traditionally given as the first “pope” after Peter. What does that do to the supposedly “petrine” succession? What does that say about Irenaeus’s “succession list”?

I point this out because Bryan cites Wilson for not having demonstrated “gaps”. There is a huge gap here, and it is from an early source that was protected from Roman meddling.

Bryan is just too sure of himself and his Catholic dogmas — it is the result of the method he uses, simply to assume Catholic dogma is correct. But his “proof texts” are highly questionable.

Another point of his method is that he does not examine official sources of Protestant doctrines. He does not seek out the best sources who write about “apostolic succession.” He picks a questionable writer in Doug Wilson. Wilson is knowledgeable, but he hardly speaks for even one of the traditions within Protestantism.

Francis Turretin explores the topic of “succession” in the context of “the definition of what the church is” in Book 3 of his “Institutes. Yet (in the tradition of Karl Keating, who “tore apart” Jimmy Swaggart’s arguments in “Catholicism and Fundamentalism”) Bryan picks apart the works of second-tier Protestant commentators like Doug Wilson and Keith Mathison, whose arguments are weak to begin with.

In considering whether to “cross the tiber,” it is not a legitimate exercise to compare the whole Roman package with individual second-rate commenters.

The legitimate way to consider Rome’s legitimacy is to consider its claims, and examine its claims directly, and render a verdict on Rome itself. If you can dismiss Roman claims as not being true, then you survey the Christian world, and what you are left with, however improbable (that is, however improbable Bryan thinks it is), that is where the truth lies.

Published by John Bugay

"We are His workmanship," His poiema, His "poetry." If you've ever studied poetry, or struggled to write a poem, you understand the care God takes to "work all things together for good" in our lives. For this reason, and many others, I believe in the Sovereignty of God. I have seen His hand working in my life, and I submit myself to His merciful will, with all my being.

14 replies on “Bryan Cross and Apostolic Succession”

  1. Refering to Bryan Cross you said:

    “He picks a questionable writer in Doug Wilson. Wilson is knowledgeable, but he hardly speaks for even one of the traditions within Protestantism.”

    I am the one who found Wilson’s article to be persuasive and then asked Bryan to comment on it, so any fault in the choice of Wilson as a “questionable writer” lies with me, not Bryan.

    Having said that, your writing here continues to prove my point from my post on Called to Communion located here as post #37:

    That point is, why should I (and does the Holy Spirit expect me to have to) listen to you? or Wilson? you say Wilson is a questionable writer on the topic. That is your opinion. If you say I should listen to scripture, that is saying “listen to my interpretation”. If you say read more books and more books to be convinced of this or that, it just proves what I suspect, which is Christ gave us a visible Church to guide us. Because no offense, you are just one little voice in a sea of voices crying out for me to listen to your interpretation. You are your own Magisterium. In anticipation of your next thought (denying you are your own magisterium) let me point out that EVERY SINGLE PROOF you use to deny the fact that you are your own magisterium is based on either your personal interpretation of scripture, or some teacher/intellectual resource you find compelling. In other words, YOU are Pope of your own Christendom. There is no submission to anyone other than self. As protestants, we need to repent of this presumption.

    Good day.

    David Meyer


    1. What’s the difference between an authoritative interpretation and a correct one? For years, the official Roman version of Matt 3 said “do penance” when the word means “repent”. Augustine, not knowing Hebrew and Greek, came up with a wrong interpretation of “justification,” and the medieval church’s doctrine ended up being centered on that mistake. Aquinas thought the “False Decretals” were genuine; he thought that “Dionysius” was the “Dionysius” from Acts 17, when instead, he was a 6th century neoplatonist. Nevertheless, Aquinas based much of his doctrine of God on “Pseudo-Dionysius,” and much current Catholic doctrine is based on that. Does Rome’s being authoritative thus fix those mistakes and create right doctrines?

      My contention is, Rome is not what it says it is. I’ve put up a lot of information here to support that contention. See my posting on “Historical literature on the early papacy.” The story of the early papacy, which you have bought into — that Jesus divinely commissioned Peter, and thus somehow divinely commissioned an unbroken line of succession, is a fiction.

      So if Rome is not what it says it is, no matter how much you don’t like what’s left over — the disorganization, the fact that I use my own mind to make decisions — that’s where the truth of things lies.

      So let me ask you, how do you know that Jesus “divinely commissioned” “the papacy” “for all time”? Cause the pope tells you so? That’s a good one.


  2. Mr. Bugay,

    David, whom you responded to, is a Protestant (I understand that from his comment at called to communion). So I would suggest that you take a different tone than:

    “So let me ask you, how do you know that Jesus “divinely commissioned” “the papacy” “for all time”? Cause the pope tells you so? That’s a good one.”

    Remember, you are trying to keep him from “crossing the Tiber,” so sarcasm and skepticism probably hurt more than they help.

    As for me, I’d take Christ’s words in–yup–Matthew 16 for strong evidence that Peter was commissioned in a special way. It’s not a proof-text; it must be combined with other verses supporting Peter’s primacy, along with historical evidence for support, but it at least tells (an unbiased) Bible reader that the Rock is a rock for a reason. I know, I know, you disagree–looks like we have two different interpretations for the same verse, and thus David’s insights all apply.


    1. Gee, Devin, I’m sorry. He was sort of unkind to me though. “Why should I listen to you?” Well, because I’m giving him historical facts, not historical errors, for example.

      And my gosh, he heaped the ultimate insult on me” You are your own magisterium, you are Pope of your own Christendom!”

      And further, he exhibited a hint of an argument that I’ve seen before from Catholics and those leaning Catholic: “Henry VIII had six wives; therefore, Rome is infallible.”

      Forgive me for not bowing down before any of this.

      By the way, the word “petra” (rock) is used a number of other times in the NT. Exegetically, can you tell me what that might point to?

      Also, consider the use of the word “rock” in the Old Testament. Do you know, exegetically, what that might point to?

      Origen, who was the church’s earliest commentator on that verse, said that every Christian was “rock”.

      For all bear the surname of “rock” who are the imitators of Christ, that is, of the spiritual rock which followed those who are being saved, [1 Corinthians 10:4] that they may drink from it the spiritual draught. But these bear the surname of the rock just as Christ does. But also as members of Christ deriving their surname from Him they are called Christians, and from the rock, Peters. And taking occasion from these things you will say that the righteous bear the surname of Christ who is Righteousness, and the wise of Christ who is Wisdom. [1 Corinthians 1:30] And so in regard to all His other names, you will apply them by way of surname to the saints; and to all such the saying of the Saviour might be spoken, “You are Peter,” etc., down to the words, “prevail against it.”

      You say, “it must be combined with other verses supporting Peter’s primacy, along with historical evidence for support, but it at least tells (an unbiased) Bible reader that the Rock is a rock for a reason.”

      When did the understanding of who “the Rock” was change, from when Origen wrote this? Or from what the other NT writers held it to be?


  3. Hi John,

    Realize what you did immediately: you launched into your interpretation of Matthew 16 and quoted Origen to (ostensibly) support your position.

    I respond, read Ratzinger’s “Called to Communion” and this and that book supporting my (Catholic) position on the papacy. You say “read these other books proving the papacy was a made up invention from XYZ AD! and plus Peter held no special position with the Apostles based on Person A and B’s exegesis.”

    Certainly it is worthwhile to examine the arguments on both sides of this issue, but David’s point is a meta-level criticism of Protestantism which delving into a single issue doesn’t solve. Ratchet your sights higher and try to respond to this broader argument–that’s what you have to do to answer him.

    Wasn’t it Luther who remarked that “every man is born with pope in his belly”?


  4. No, I launched into the NT and then the OT, and then Origen.

    I have read Ratzinger’s “exegesis” on the early papacy, and it is fairly weak. “Peter died in Rome, that’s sufficient to start the succession.” How, precisely, did this happen? I’ve cited very many sources here which suggest that there was no understanding at all of a “petrine succession” for hundreds of years. There was not even a single “bishop” in Rome for 100 years after Peter died. The “succession” vanished.

    I’m making a “meta-level” criticism on Rome. Roman authority is not what Rome says it is. The Roman Catholic Church is not what it says it is — it could not have been. There was no “tradition” to carry on, until the elders in Rome stopped “arguing among themselves who was greatest.”

    The correct way to look at this is not, “there are lots of Protestants, therefore the Catholic Church is right.” You have to take the Catholic “meta-level” story and determine whether that has a leg to stand on.

    I’ve posted lots of writers and lots of evidence here to say it doesn’t. If you want to talk about any one particular point, I’m happy to do that.

    But for you to simply say “Matt 16, in conjunction with other sources,” and let that be the authority you stand on, without taking into account (a) what those verses actually say, and (b) how the historical situation played out, isn’t going to wash.


  5. John,

    I’d like your opinion for research purposes: when did the Church become corrupted in her teachings?

    200 AD 300 AD? 400 AD? 500 AD? Later? Earlier?

    Thanks for your help.


  6. “And my gosh, he heaped the ultimate insult on me” You are your own magisterium, you are Pope of your own Christendom!” ”

    Hehe, sorry about that one. I am criticizing myself at this point also. Those exact words were said to me about 4 months ago by a friend who left my PCA church for Orthodoxy. Those words stuck in my brain because I could not refute them.

    So, just to be clear, what you are suggesting is to do some further research into the OT, NT and Origen texts you exegeted, plus look around on your site at alot of articles to be convinced by your position?

    Again, i’m not sure you are smelling what i’m cooking here. I don’t see a situation where Christ leaves things up to fallible interpretation of scripture as being at all plausible. I have enough trouble obeying/understanding texts that WE ALL agree on (love thy neighbor) let alone ones that are “less clear”. How strange if He sends the Spirit of Truth and it ends up just in confusion?
    So what i’m left with is who’s interpretation to submit to. I must say Rome is looking to be a more secure option for my grandchildren than the PCA (or you brother)

    David Meyer


  7. David — I’ve written about the “Catholic Historical Method” a couple of posts ago. Before you start looking for someone to submit to, think some things through.

    The key verse for Catholics is Matt 16:18. EVERYTHING for them — “all authority” — depends on their interpretation of that verse.

    I’ve already given a citation from Origen, who was the earliest church commentator on that verse. He knew nothing of a “petrine succession,” except that every Christian was “petros”.

    Daniel Wallace, who teaches Biblical Greek and exegesis at Dallas Theological Seminary, says, “before you can understand what a text means, you have to know what it says.” That certainly makes sense, doesn’t it? The Catholic Church has a history of working with faulty texts (and I’ve mentioned some of those above; there are more) — then they claim that they have some sort of “infallibility” that enables them to get the “infallible” doctrine out of the wrong words.

    I’m going to assume that you believe in God — that God created a universe with laws — laws of physics, laws of math, laws of language, (gravity, etc.)

    Jesus said, “on this petra I will build my church.” In the New Testament, that Greek word is used five other times, including Matt 7:24-25, Luke 6:48, Romans 9:33, 1 Cor 10:4, and 1 Peter 2:8. Matthew, who wrote this Gospel, earlier identifies Christ as “petra”. If you go around saying, “hey, it’s cool,” you’re going to use that expression more than once. That’s what Matthew did.

    Too, Peter himself used “petra” clearly referring to Jesus. And he knew he himself was “a fellow elder”.

    These are just a couple of examples. Give me a day or so and I’ll put something more thorough together. I alluded to Devin that I’ve been intending to work through Ratzinger’s “exegesis” (That work is online at, if you’re interested in looking at it.)

    See also my posting on Christian Foundations:

    In it, I outline several areas where there are no questions at all — including that both conservative and atheist scholars agree that the Resurrection of Christ was preached from the beginning. There is clear evidence of this. No question — even among atheists.

    On the other hand, this verse in Matthew is one of the most convoluted verses in the NT — but almost nobody but the official Catholic Church believes the Catholic interpretation. Because the language doesn’t mean what the Roman church says it means.

    I’ve got things to do tonight, but I’ll put up a more thorough response shortly.


  8. The key verse for Catholics is Matt 16:18. EVERYTHING for them — “all authority” — depends on their interpretation of that verse.

    I was going to let this pass (along with your other claims) but for David’s sake must interject and point out that this statement is false.

    Everything, “all authority”, certainly does not depend upon interpreting that one verse in the most obvious way. Peter is singled out again and again in the Gospels, in Acts, in Pauline epistles, speaking for the Apostles, etc. It’s okay. It doesn’t mean that the Catholic Church’s claims about the Papacy are true, but to deny what is obvious from the Bible just makes you look overly defensive.

    Read Warren Carroll’s History of Christendom books. Throughout history early, middle, and late, Christians, bishops, kings, and theologians call the Pope “the prince of the Apostles”, “the rock”, and many other stronger phrases. I recall even Calvin believed that Peter was clearly the leader of the Apostles.

    The history of Christendom demonstrates the (often) miraculous way that the bishop of Rome was protected from teaching heresy as truth. I’m sure you deny it and want to tell me about X pope and ABC thing, but all of those claims have compelling rebuttals.

    So, to say that the Catholic claims depend on an interpretation of one verse is false.


  9. Devin — It’s not false; at worst it’s a bit of hyperbole. I’ll just say it’s a good thing for you that Matt 16:17-19 is, at best, a very convoluted text, or the papacy would have no claim at all.

    It’s true that you also rely on verses in Luke 20 and John 21, and that again for “papal” authority.

    There is no question that Peter is an important apostle. But for Rome to claim his own authority (whatever that was — and I’d disagree with you on that) for its own is theft and usurpation of the worst kind, because it has used that “authority” to cloud the gospel with idolatrous “developments”.

    I’ve read Warren Carroll — he relies on myths and legends for his “history.” (If I recall, doesn’t he cite the fraudulent “Liberian Catalogue” as if it were an authoritative source?)

    As I noted for David, I’m putting together an analysis of Ratzinger’s “exegetical” defense of the papacy from “Called to Communion.” All I can say is, that too is a bit of fraud. A good bit.


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