DOES POSSESSION OF THE REMAINS OF THE FIRST CENTURY CHURCH LEADERS PROVE SUCCESSION?
Is one’s possession of bones and remains of the apostles and first-century Church leaders a valid basis for claiming a direct line of succession from the apostles and basis of truth and salvation?
By Dr. Eusebio Tanicala
NOTE: Appearing in a September 3 blog post is a list of the apostles and several notable Christians in the New Testament detailing how they died and where their remains are kept or buried today. Since the blogger says they kept the remains in Roman Catholic cathedrals or buildings, they make the claim that the Roman Catholic Church is the direct descendant of the apostles and therefore it is the true church.
Names/remains and their burial places are:
Simon Peter–St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome;
James the Greater–at St. James Cathedral at Compostela, Spain;
James the Less–buried in the Holy Apostles Basilica in Rome;
Jude Thaddeus–at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome;
Philip – in the Church of the Dodici, Rome, Italy;
Thomas – at St. Thomas Cathedral, Mylapore, India;
Simon the Zealot – in the Altar of Crucifixion, Vatican;
Bartholomew – buried at St. Bartholomew Church, Rome, Italy;
Andrew – buried in Cathedral of Amalfi, Italy;
Matthew – buried at St. Matthew's Cathedral, Italy;
John the Apostle – at St. John Basilica in Ephesus, Turkey;
Matthias – buried at St. Matthias Abbey, Trier, Germany;
Apostle Paul – buried at St. Paul’s Church in Rome, Italy.
Answer: No, flesh and bone relationship is not a guarantee of the genuine succession of truth and salvation of our souls.
Please observe the following reasons:
Desired relationship, Christ himself said: “For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35). Please read Matt. 12:46-50; Mk. 3:31-35; Lk. 8:19-21. Clearly, Christ disowns flesh and bones as a mark of spiritual relationship.
Christ castigated the scribes and Pharisees in Matt. 23:13-36 for painting white the tombs of prophets, showing honor to those messengers of God, but the people themselves killed those prophets when these people were told of their disobedience to God. Please read verses 27-28. Possession and honoring the remains of the prophets did not earn any salvific merits. Actually, those bones inside the tombs were silent witnesses of the scribes' and Pharisees’ hypocrisy, the context would say.
In the days of our Lord Jesus, the Jews took pride in saying that they are descendants of Father Abraham, as if physical descent from a great man of faith made them very special children of God. So Christ jolted them by saying, “and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” Verse 10 clearly states that those hypocrites were already condemned. Flesh and bone descent lacks merit in our reconciliation with our holy God.
After the fall of Constantinople in Asia Minor, about the middle of the 1400s to the Muslim Turks, scholars and men of letters brought their Greek manuscripts with them to the West. Among these scrolls were Bible materials.
Oxford and Cambridge were the popular universities in England. The study of Greek and Latin occupied the time of university students. Erasmus, the knowledgeable London biblical scholar of his day, edited the Greek Bible manuscripts. William Tyndale, who had finished his Master of Arts at the university translated this. But the Roman Catholic bishop of London prohibited the printing and distribution of this work, declaring William Tyndale a heretic, and so he escaped to mainland Europe. He improved his Bible translation over there, printed copies, and have copies smuggled into London through merchants crossing the English Channel. John Tyndale, William’s brother, was a member of the church of Christ congregation in downtown London, helped in selling the Bibles, and raising money they sent which amounts back to the mainland for succeeding prints. Later, William Tyndale was arrested, strangled, and burned at the stake in Belgium. Details of this you can read in a book, Traces of the Kingdom, by Keith Sisman.
Read also the volume Book of Martyrs by John Foxe, and learn about the thousands put to death who did not agree with the religious authorities during those centuries. Read more about the Inquisition in Europe, which also influenced and led to the death of our own national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, whose death was clamored by the religious leaders of that century.
- Besides Mark 3:35, observe this line from 2 Cor. 4:13, “But since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I believed and therefore I spoke,’ we also believe and therefore speak.” Also, note Acts 2:42, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” Closely analyze Matt. 7:21-23; Luke 6:46; John 14:15, 23; John 15:14; John 12:45-50.
Those who own the cathedrals and edifices where the apostles’ remains are found do not fully observe the apostles’ doctrine and faith. They have departed from what is written by the inspired apostles, thus dishonoring these messengers of God. They honor their bones, but they dishonor their teachings.
Humble obedience to the instructions of the Lord of Glory and faith in the person of Jesus Christ makes the true Christian and gives hope of salvation. Salvation is not based on flesh and blood relation. Neither does possession of dried bones.