Wednesday, August 23, 2017


When Protestants and Catholics discuss the role of authority, sooner or later, it is inevitable that the Catholic will point to the teaching of “Apostolic Succession.”  This seems to be their “ace in the hole” argument and the “ultimate proof” for all their debates on authority.  It is important to note that it is a foundational teaching for Catholics.  They point to this to prove the Catholic Church’s claim of being the One True Church.  From the highest Catholic theologian to the lowest amateur Catholic apologist, they all seem to hold tightly to this doctrine, and they are quick to point to it.


But what is Apostolic Succession, exactly?  It is the belief that the present pope can be traced all the way back (in an unbroken line of successors) to the apostle Peter (whom they claim is the first pope).  Here are some official Catholic statements concerning Apostolic Succession.  According to the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia (online), under “Apostolicity”:

“…the Church is one moral body, possessing the mission entrusted by Jesus Christ to the Apostles, and transmitted through them and their lawful successors in an unbroken chain to the present representatives of Christ upon earth. This authoritative transmission of power in the Church constitutes Apostolic succession.”  [Emphasis added]

“…Apostolic succession as an uninterrupted substitution of persons in the place of the Apostles…” (Ibid.) [Emphasis added]

“Hence in tracing the mission of the Church back to the Apostles, no lacuna [i.e., gap, blank space, or missing part] can be allowed, no new mission can arise; but the mission conferred by Christ must pass from generation to generation through an uninterrupted lawful succession.” (Ibid.) [Emphasis added]

“If any break in the Apostolic succession had ever occurred, it could be easily shown, for no fact of such importance could happen in the history of the world without attracting universal notice.” (Ibid.) [Emphasis added]

And according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #77:

“In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own position of teaching authority. Indeed, the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time.” (referencing “Dei Verbum,” a document of the Second Vatican Council) [Emphasis added]

Is it Really Unbroken?

So, to briefly recap, the Catholic Church claims that an “unbroken,” “uninterrupted” and “continuous” lawful chain exists in the successors of Peter (popes), with “no breaks” and “no lacunas” (gaps) in this line of succession.  But can they prove this claim of a continuous and unbroken line of Peter’s successors?  When challenged, the Catholic Church proudly displays a list of the whole line of popes to prove their claim.  But it is interesting that there have been several different lists of popes over the years.

The List

Here is an example of an official list of the popes from the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia:

But if one looks closely at this particular list, he can see that there are several gaps when no popes were reigning.  For example, during the years of 259, 305, 306, 307, 639, 1242, 1269, 1270, 1293, 1315, and 1416, we see vacancies in the papal throne.  This cannot be considered an “uninterrupted substitution of persons,” nor is this an “unbroken chain,” as claimed.  There are indeed lacunas / gaps in this official list of popes.  Don’t just take our word for it, but click on the link just above and see for yourselves.  

And lest anyone think that this list was produced by some unknown amateur Catholic apologist, the encyclopedia article containing this list has the official Catholic seals of approval - the nihil obstat (“nothing hinders”) and the imprimatur (“let it be printed”).  We have also seen other lists with slightly different dating, but these have gaps, as well.

How Catholics Deal with it

So, why don’t Catholics seem to be aware of these embarrassing gaps?  Don’t these gaps serve to refute the Catholic version of Apostolic Succession and demonstrate that their claim is false?  Indeed it does.  So, how do Catholics respond to this “gap” argument?  Let’s go over some of their objections…

It’s Just a “Vacancy”

Objection #1 - Some Catholics will admit that these gaps exist.  By the way, they are officially called “interregnums” (i.e., a pause; interruption; gap; absence).  And some Catholics will say that these interregnums are not really a big deal.  They will claim that there must be some “down” time between the death of one pope and the election of the next.  They’ll say it is just a vacancy, not an actual break in succession.

But what size “vacancy” is acceptable in this case?  A few days?  A week?  A month?  Perhaps even a month would be an acceptable amount of time to tolerate the election process, but if there is no limit on the length of an interregnum, then it is open-ended.  And if it is open-ended, then there can never be an occasion of a “broken” succession.  There would be no real way to tell when it’s “broken” or not.  In other words, their claim is  unfalsifiable (not able to be tested in order to verify or refute).  You see, these Catholics are simply playing word games and trying to justify all of the actual gaps that are found in these lists.  They are trying to exempt themselves from the obvious. 

With no standard to limit the time of these “vacancies,” they can simply brush off any challenges about breaks or gaps.  So, according to their reasoning, any apparent gap is never really a gap at all.  Very convenient, but very dishonest.

Furthermore, if these “vacancies” are really no big deal, then where do you draw the line?   Why not have only one documentable pope every 50 or 100 years, since, according to this argument, it doesn’t seem to matter anyway?  After all, it would be “just another interregnum,” right?  Could they be just as proud of such a list?  Would they still be able to brag about their Apostolic Succession?  Without putting definite limits on interregnums, their claim to an “unbroken succession” is meaningless.  When you take it to its logical conclusion, this objection fails.

As Long as the “Office” Remains

Objection #2 – Some will say that as long as the office (of pope) has not been destroyed, it is an “unbroken” chain and it doesn’t matter if no pope is in office.  To them, Apostolic Succession simply means that there is always an office existing.

But the use of the word “chain” doesn’t refer to the office itself, but it must refer to the men (the individual “links”) within that succession.  Else, why would they describe it as a “chain” in the first place?  So, the continuation of Apostolic Succession is about the individual successors just as much as it is the office.  And what good is an office if no one is in it, if no one is there to fill it?  Whether pope, king, president, or senator, it certainly does matter if someone is in the office.  An office is useless if there is no one there functioning and fulfilling its demands.  So, this objection also fails.

It’s the Bishops that Matter

Objection #3 – To other Catholics, an unbroken line of successors refers to bishops, as well, not necessarily just to popes.  They’ll say apostolic succession means an unbroken succession of valid bishops.  And even if there is no pope, the valid bishops are there in place, causing this apostolic line to be unbroken.

But think about this.  When asked to demonstrate or prove this “unbroken succession,” Catholics will immediately point to their list of popes.  But why point to this list if it’s really all about bishops instead?

Another List?

Continuing with Objection #3, if it is all about the bishops (instead of just the popes), then why bother with a list of popes at all?  Why not make an unbroken list of all the bishops, instead, to prove their case?  But the problem with this is that they can’t even trace the POPES all the way back with accuracy, much less the lesser-known multitude of individual bishops!

And furthermore, without an official list of those bishop-successors, almost anyone else could make the same claim – that they, too, have an “unbroken” historical connection to others who have laid hands on, and ordained, their own successors all the way back to the same apostles.

Are You “Valid”?

Concluding this “bishop” objection, how do we know that every one of these bishops were “validly ordained” (according to Catholic standards) in the first place?  It is possible that they could be unauthorized bishops.  Ordaining a priest or bishop is a Catholic sacrament (“holy orders”), and in order for any sacrament to “work,” or be “valid,” the ordaining priest / bishop must have the correct intention (CCC #1466) and the recipient must also have the correct intention (CCC #1319 and #1491).  Otherwise, the ordination is invalid.  But how could anyone ever know the true intention of either the ordaining bishop or the receiving priest?  Without knowing the heart, or intention, of either one, it is very possible that an invalid pope could be created, if he is ordained by invalid bishops.  We just can’t know for sure.  So, for all these reasons, their “bishop” objection also fails the test.

Sufficient Sources?

Another problem with the Catholic concept of Apostolic Succession is that sources from the early church were not always plentiful.  The New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967), which also contains the Catholic seals of approval, states: 

“…the scarcity of documents leaves much that is obscure about the early development of the episcopate…” (Volume 1, page 696)

And even more damaging, that same encyclopedia also states:

“But it must be frankly admitted that bias or deficiencies in the sources make it impossible to determine in certain cases whether the claimants were popes or antipopes.” (Volume I, page 632)  

Let’s Be Honest

You know, we could respect the Catholic Church more on this topic if they told us, “The list of popes we have is not complete, but we’ve got a pretty good idea who they were and when they served in this long line from Peter onward…” –  instead of boasting of an “unbroken” and “uninterrupted” lawful chain of successors.  Why proudly display this seemingly “full” list?  Are they hoping that no one notices those gaps?  But if these nagging gaps do exist (and they do), then don’t call it an “unbroken line,” call it a “mostly intact” line, but don’t lie about it just to maintain an inflated image of “Mother Church.” 

A Lesson from the Pharisees

Stop and think – one of the reasons that Jesus and John the baptist rebuked the Pharisees is because they trusted in some kind of lineage back to Abraham (Matthew 3:9; John 8:37,39,56).  It is very possible that they did have an actual unbroken historical lineage back to Abraham.  But Jesus was not impressed with that (John 8:44).  And their historical line didn’t make them the “true church” of their day.  Just as Catholics do today, the Pharisees were trusting in their historical line in vain.  


The Catholic Church does not have what they claim to have.  But even if they did have a perfectly unbroken and legitimate historical line of successors all the way back to the apostles, the truth is not discovered that way… it is discovered by handing down the true TEACHINGS of the apostles, not just depending on a physical, historical succession of people in the church hierarchy. 

Consider the issue of Judas Iscariot.  He was an apostle, directly chosen by Jesus, Himself – yet, he defected and did not pass on the faith of Jesus Christ.  Because of Judas, there was already a failure in the “historical lineage-from-the-hierarchy” type system to maintain the truth.  Before the original twelve apostles could even HAVE their first successor, there were already issues.  Sometimes, even those we may trust will fail to faithfully pass on the correct teachings.  And the fact that even an apostle could defect destroys the Catholic Church’s concept of Apostolic Succession through historical lineage.  Even if all the “right people” may be there in this line, this will not guarantee truth coming through them.

Now, we Protestants do believe in apostolic succession, just not the Catholic version of it.  True apostolic succession is simply taking the inspired teachings of the apostles and passing these truths down to the next generation.  That’s it.  Nothing complicated about that, and no lists to worry about.

But in the end, these lists hold no weight anyway, since the cold, hard truth is that the office of “pope” is unscriptural to start with.  There never was a BIBLICAL office by that name or that function.  Catholics will claim that their type of Apostolic Succession is biblical, since the Bible does speak of laying hands on one's successor (1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6), but dead popes can’t lay hands on their successors.  The papal process of "laying on of hands" is not the one identified in Scripture.  So, for many reasons, this foundational Catholic teaching crumbles upon its own weight. 

We pray that Catholics can come to see the truth of this.  Hopefully, these nagging, ever-present, and embarrassing gaps in the lists of popes will convince many (Catholics, Protestants, and others) of the deceitfulness of the Catholic Church’s claims.   

This particular article has dealt with the “unbroken line of successors” aspect of Catholic Apostolic Succession.  For more details on the “lawfulness” aspect of this teaching, see here:

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“Mary, in whom the Lord himself has just made his dwelling, is the daughter of Zion in person, the ark of the covenant, the place where the glory of the Lord dwells. She is "the dwelling of God . . . with men." (CCC #2676)

One can find much information online, in articles, books and other literature from Catholics calling Mary (the mother of Jesus Christ) the “Ark of the New Covenant.”  They call her this because she has “housed” the Savior in her womb, just as the Old Testament ark of the covenant was “housing” the presence of God.

But what exactly was the Old Testament ark of the covenant?  It was basically a gold-plated wooden box, and it was one of several pieces of furniture placed in the Old Testament tabernacle (and later, in the temple).  The tabernacle consisted of an “outer court” and two separate rooms.  The furniture of the tabernacle included the brazen (brass) altar and the brazen laver sitting outside in the “outer court.”  The first room, called the “holy place,” contained the table of showbread, the golden lampstand, and the altar of incense.  And the last room, the “Most Holy Place” (also called the “Holy of Holies”) was the most sacred area in the whole tabernacle and it was separated from the holy place by a thick veil.  The Most Holy place contained only one piece of furniture, and that was the ark of the covenant (on which sat the mercy seat), where the very presence of God dwelt on earth.  No one could ever enter this place without dying, except for the high priest; and he could only enter it one day a year, on the Day of Atonement, to atone for his own sins and then to atone for the sins of all Israel.  See this link for a good discussion on the tabernacle:

Catholics seem to see Mary as some kind of fulfillment of the Old Testament ark, since Jesus was in her womb.  That’s why Catholics call her the “Ark of the New Covenant.”  But should Mary be given this title?  Is this proper?  Is it biblical?

The Catholic Church claims that it is indeed biblical.  They will point to passages in the Old Testament about the ark that seem to parallel certain aspects of Mary’s life.  They try to demonstrate similarities between Mary’s discussion with the angel Gabriel, and with the glory of God “overshadowing” the tabernacle.  Or they will see a parallel in Mary’s stay at Elizabeth’s house for three months and David’s moving of the ark to the house of Obed-edom for three months.  Also, they will say that David’s dancing before the ark resembles Elizabeth’s child “leaping” in the womb.  Or they will compare some of the language that David used with that of Elizabeth (John the baptist’s mom).  Catholics will claim that the typology strongly suggests that Mary is now the ark.  We do not deny that there seem to be some parallels in these accounts, but their typology is not as strong as Catholics claim.  There are other things that happened with the ark that would also detract from the claim of Mary as the new ark:
For example, if Mary is truly and fully a type of the ark, then who did Uzzah represent?  He was the one who touched the ark and died (2 Samuel 6:6-7).  Had anyone touched Mary and died because of it?  If Mary is the “new ark,” then can Catholics demonstrate that Mary was also captured and stolen by the Philistines, like the ark was in 1 Samuel 4:10-11?  And who held up Mary (as the ark was) while the Jordan River parted (Joshua 3:14-17)?

Of course, Catholics may object and say, “Not every single thing that happened to the ark has happened to Mary.  Typology has its limits, you know.  All types have a breaking point, and you can’t just pick and choose what you want in typology.  It can be subject to abuse.”

That’s exactly the reason we need to be careful with Catholic typology!  Types simply help us to see the big picture, but some will try to force something into being a “type,” when it was never intended to be.  And this Catholic insistence that Mary is the New Covenant Ark is one of those abuses.

But the Bible never says that Mary was the “Ark of the New Covenant.”  If we’re going to follow this Catholic pattern, then who is now the “New Brazen Altar” or the “New Brazen Laver”?  Or why is no one recognized as the “New Veil”?  Who is the “New Table of Showbread”?  These types are ALL fulfilled in Jesus, and not anyone else.  They point to Him as their final fulfillment (Hebrews 9:1-11).  Why would we think that one of those items (the most important one, no less) should be attributed to Mary?  Was God saving the most important piece of furniture, the holiest one, to represent and honor HER above even her Son?  Does anyone really think that this was God’s intent?  If anyone is the “Ark of the New Covenant,” it is Jesus, Himself.

It is one thing to say that Mary was simply a type of the ark of the covenant for a short time, but it is another thing to give her the permanent status and glory of that holy item, especially when it points to Jesus as the true Ark and the true Temple, containing God’s presence (John 2:18-21).  Remember, Jesus is not in her womb anymore! 
The ark of the covenant is only mentioned twice in the entire New Testament (Hebrews 9:4; Revelation 11:19) and there is nothing at all about Mary becoming the “new ark” in either of these passages.  The authors of Hebrews and Revelation had ample opportunity to mention this “important” Catholic concept at this point, but nothing of Mary is mentioned here.

We think that Mary, herself, would heartily disagree with Catholics concerning many of the things they believe about her.  We believe that the biblical Mary, the humble handmaid of the Lord (Luke 1:38, 48), would admit to being a type of the ark at one point in her life (during her pregnancy), but she would never claim such an exalted title that Catholics try to give her.  We believe that she, like every true Christian, would agree with John the baptist when he said, “He (Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  But Mary is in no way “decreasing” in the Catholic Church today!  For example, in the Catholic rosary, there are many more prayers to Mary than there are to Jesus, or God the Father.  As long as the Catholic version of Mary is around, Jesus just can’t seem to be “increasing” as He should.  But once again, Mary is not the “New Ark.”  Jesus Christ should be recognized as the fulfillment of every part of the tabernacle / temple.  He is the center of all prophecy (Luke 24:27; Revelation 19:10), and He and His plan of redemption can be found on every page of Scripture.

Friday, June 23, 2017


Today, we are briefly addressing some more comments from the world of Catholic apologist, John Martignoni.  He was recently writing to his Bible Christian Society audience, and he said something very interesting.  His comments can be found here:

In his comments, Martignoni claims some unique insight concerning a passage in the book of James:

My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)

And then Martignoni writes immediately after this:

“Did you catch that?  Most people who read this passage do not stop to think about what it is really saying.  If you do something to bring a sinner back from the error of his way, you will save YOUR soul from death and will cover a multitude of YOUR sins.  What an awesome promise God has given us in Scripture!  Zeal for the souls of others will cover a multitude of our sins and save our soul from death!” (Emphasis in original)

Martignoni acts as though he has discovered some deep revelation that few have ever seen before.  But, at this point, we feel the need to ask Martignoni some questions that he, himself, often asks those with whom he debates.  For example, we would ask him:  John, is your interpretation of this passage of Scripture infallible?  Is the Holy Spirit guiding you when you interpret this?  Or is this your own private interpretation?  Since you have already admitted previously that you are not infallible, then the Holy Spirit might not be guiding you, and you could be wrong, couldn’t you?  And lastly, is your interpretation what the Catholic Church officially teaches?  

We’re pretty sure that this passage has not been infallibly defined by the Catholic Church, nor do we believe that Martignoni’s interpretation is official Catholic teaching.  If anyone claims that it is, then please show us where.
These questions from John are not actually a problem for Protestants at all, but we wanted to turn the tables on John, since he very often asks these same things of his opponents when they quote the Bible.  But his own questions come back to haunt him.  Those same questions that he uses in an attempt to frustrate or neutralize Protestants now have the same effect on him.  John seems to think that for any interpretation to carry any weight, it must be infallible.  But he cannot demonstrate that his interpretation is infallible, so (according to his own logic) why should anyone accept John’s interpretation?

We think that John will have to admit that his interpretation of James 5:19-20 is indeed private interpretation, and it is fallible.  And further, it is not official Catholic doctrine.  Although, we will give him credit for admitting that he is not infallible.

As to the actual meaning of the passage above, we’d have to say, sorry, John Martignoni, your interpretation is NOT what the passage is actually saying.  We believe that this passage is easy enough to understand by itself.  But we will try to make it even easier.  For the sake of simplicity and to keep track of things, let’s apply names to both of the characters in this scenario (James 5:19-20).  Let’s call the one who wanders from the truth, Bill.  And we can call the one sharing the gospel, Tom.  Tom is the one who rescues the sinner (Bill) from the error of his way.

Ok, so one of these guys is saved and one is not.  We must understand that Tom is not saving his own soul, since he is already saved - he is not the one who has lost his way.  Otherwise, he wouldn’t be sharing the gospel.  If Tom is not saved, he would not be capable of effectively bringing Bill back from the error of his way.  It would be “the blind leading the blind” (Matthew 15:14; Luke 6:39).  So, no… Tom did not save his own soul by bringing Bill back from error.  “Winning” souls is a job for those who are already “won over.”  So Bill is the one whose soul is saved from death and whose multitude of sins are covered, because HE was the one who strayed.  Pretty straightforward.

Now, of course, God wants Christians to win souls (Proverbs 11:30; Mark 16:15; Jude 23), but engaging in this activity does not save the one who does it.  So, how does one enter into a right relationship with God?  Salvation does not come by dipping a person in water, memorizing certain prayers or Scripture verses, helping your neighbor, feeding the poor, clothing the naked, etc., etc.  These are all good things for which we can get Heavenly rewards, but they don’t accomplish justification / salvation.  It is only by the humble acceptance of the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ that one is saved, because the gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16).  Justification / salvation is accomplished by simply embracing the truth of the gospel message by surrendering your own life to God and believing / trusting in the work that His Son accomplished on the cross, and that alone.  It is in realizing that you stand utterly lacking and spiritually bankrupt before a holy and perfect God.  Then will God give you the desire and ability to do true good works that He has planned for you to do.

So, what about John Martignoni’s interpretation of James 5:19-20?  Is this just another attempt to promote a “works-based salvation”?  We believe it is.