THE APOSTOLICITY OF THE CHURCH
NEW TESTAMENT FOUNDATIONS
1. The witness of Scripture is of decisive importance as we strive together to explore the apostolicity of
the church as expressed in its apostolic foundation and by its apostolic message. The church adopted
the Holy Scriptures of the Jewish people and established the canon of the New Testament as a
normative witness to the apostolic gospel, that is, to the primary and authentic proclamation of God's
revelation in Jesus Christ by the first who were sent to "bring good news" (Rom 10:14-15). Under the
guidance of the Holy Spirit, both individual Christians and the church at large have read the Scriptures
time and again to gain insight and guidance as they continue to carry out the divine commission to
proclaim the gospel anew in every place and at every time. Throughout the centuries, the church has
thus aspired to honor its apostolic foundation and to remain faithful to it. The conviction has always
been essential that the Holy Spirit would guide and maintain the church in the truth, and that the
content of the faith, kindled by the Spirit within the confessing community of believers, was primary
and essential to any outer form. The ways in which being a Christian was practiced and in which the
ministry of reconciliation was carried out have always had to correspond to the gospel.
2. The interpretation of Scripture has identified and paid tribute to the rich variety of voices and forms
found within the New Testament in speaking of discipleship as a following of Jesus, and of the
apostles and the gospel they were commissioned to proclaim, both while they were with Jesus in
Galilee and by the risen Lord after Easter. The New Testament texts also speak in various ways of the
charisms and ministries in the early Christian communities in which these texts were written and to
which they also were addressed. The examination of this diversity within the New Testament witness
makes the question of how it all combines to constitute a unified canon all the more compelling.
3. Our churches have different traditions of interpreting certain passages. There are also differences
as to which writings are given greater emphasis, while different readings may even challenge one
another within each church. The hermeneutical task, however diverse it may be, is rooted in the
shared conviction that the witness of Scripture is normative. The awareness of how Scripture,
Tradition and traditions must be clearly differentiated, while at the same time understood in their state
of continual interaction, is a crucial issue for the ecumenical dialogue and an area in which
considerable consensus has already been reached.
4. The New Testament witness as it is presented in this study document has a long history of
reception in our churches - part of which, but far from all, has been one of division. This applies
especially to the question of whether any concept or practice of apostolic succession can be found in
the New Testament and, if so, what this would mean for the apostolicity of the church. The question
may be further sharpened by asking whether the later apostolic succession in ministry has a basis in
the New Testament. The selection and theological emphasis of the New Testament witness will
inevitably take account of the dogmatic questions and framework of the study document as a whole. It
is not, however, a matter of proof-texting certain dogmatic positions. The New Testament is itself
fundamental in its witness to the Word of God and is hence an invitation to examine dogmatic
traditions critically and to discuss seemingly contradictory expressions, which could even give rise to
1.2 The Following of Jesus and the Mission of the Twelve
5. Jesus preached the Gospel of God, saying "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand;
repent, and believe the gospel" (Mk 1:15), and he called disciples, both men and women, to follow him
and become "fishers of people" (Mk 1:16-20 par.; Mt 4:18-22 and Lk 5:1-11; 8:1-3). In the gospel
narratives, discipleship is described as the following of Jesus as he, in obedience to his Messianic
calling, goes up to Jerusalem to be rejected, to suffer and be crucified, and to rise again after three
days (Mk 8:31-38). The following of Jesus is thus a following under the cross; it demands self-sacrifice
and readiness to suffer, and to aspire to no other greatness than that of serving (Mk 10:38-45).
However, the gospel narrative of discipleship is also a story of fear and failure, as many of the
disciples do not persevere to the end but desert and even deny their relationship with Jesus. In the
end, therefore, it is the risen Christ himself who appears to them and redeems them, re-calls them into
his following, and re-establishes his community, as described in no. 30, below.
6. As they are together on the road, Jesus teaches the disciples about the kingdom of God in
parables, exemplifies God's mercy and power in wondrous acts, and authoritatively expounds the will
of God as it is expressed in the Law and the Prophets. One key characteristic of Jesus' following is
that the initiative comes from him and that the disciples respond to his call: "You did not choose me
but I chose you" (Jn 15:16). He is their teacher (Mt 23:8; Jn 13:13), and imparts to them a share in his
authority as well by commissioning them, as his followers, to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal
the sick and possessed like he does himself. (Lk 9:1-2, cf. also Mk 6:7-13; Mt 10:1). However, his
discipleship is essentially service, as they follow and are marked by him who "came not to be served
but to serve and give his life as ransom for many" (Mk 10:44-45, and also Lk 22:24-27).
7. All four Gospels recount that Jesus already selected a group of twelve disciples during his Galilean
ministry. Mark reports that they were appointed "to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the
message, and to have authority to cast out demons," (3:14-15) and he presents their names as
"Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to
whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); and Andrew, and Philip, and
Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon
the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him." (3:16-19). The number twelve derives its
significance from the twelve tribes of Israel, and following the Q-source, both Matthew and Luke
interpret the Twelve to have a part to play in the eschatological restoration of the people of God, "in the
new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones
judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Mt 19:28; Lk 22:29-30).
8. At times, Jesus selects from among the Twelve a smaller group of three to witness particular
events, most often Peter, James, and John (Mk 9:2; Mk 14:32; par. Mt). On occasion, Peter speaks on
behalf of the larger group, and he is mentioned first in all the lists of the Twelve, corresponding to the
fact that, in the Synoptic tradition, he and his brother Andrew were the first to be called (Mk 1:16-20
par.). In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus responds to Simon Peter's confession of him being the
Messiah, the Son of the living God, by giving him, Simon Bar-Jonah, the name Petros (in Aramaic Kephas, cf. Jn 1:42) and stating that Peter is "the rock (petra) on which I will build my church
(ekklesia)". Peter will also receive the power of the keys to bind and loose (Mt 16:16-20). At the last
supper in Lk 22:24-34, Jesus teaches the apostles a different ethos of leadership from that which is
common in the world: "the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like
one who serves." He then confers on the Twelve their eschatological role as described further in no. 7,
above, and no. 30, below. While alerting them to the trials ahead, he reassures Simon Peter that "I
have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back,
strengthen your brothers." When Simon Peter responds by pledging that he will not fail Jesus, come
prison and death, Jesus pronounces that his failure is imminent - before the cock crows that very day.
All the Gospels unanimously report that Peter denies Jesus three times at the crucial time of Jesus'
trial (Mk 14:66-72). When some of the resurrection stories focus particularly on Peter, this may be
read to convey that the risen Christ forgives him his betrayal, restores him to the communion of love
and care, and calls him to follow Christ to his death (Mk 16:7; Jn 21:15-22).
9. The Synoptic tradition is in agreement that the Twelve were sent out on a mission during the
Galilean ministry of Jesus. Their mission represents an extension of Jesus' own ministry of
proclamation and healing (Mk 6:7-13; Matt 10:1-11:2; Lk 9:1-6). Luke has also included, at even
greater length, the commissioning of seventy others (Lk 10:1-20). They, too, represent Jesus himself
so that "whoever listens to you, listens to me and whoever rejects you, rejects me . . ." (10:16). In its
present form, the commission in Mt 10:5-42, by applying the language of an eschatological crisis,
merges the sending of the Twelve "to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" with the experience of the
church at a later time. The temporal transparency at work in the Gospel of Matthew results, all
through- out, in the time of Jesus illuminating the later experience of the church and vice versa.
1.3 The Commission of the Risen Christ and the Promise of the Holy Spirit
10. The early Christian community was convinced of the abiding presence of the Lord even after
Jesus no longer appeared to them. The church is the locus where the Christian faith is maintained and
renewed time and again, from one generation to another. The Gospel of Matthew concludes with the
promise that the risen Christ will always be with his disciples wherever they go to the end of the age/
world (Mt 28:20). In the Gospels of Luke and John, as well as in Paul's writings, this continuous divine
presence is perceived in pneumatological categories. The Holy Spirit unites the church, lastingly and
ever anew, with Jesus Christ and with its apostolic foundation. By the power and guidance of the Holy
Spirit, the church is equipped for its mission in manifold but ever present ways. It is thus enabled to
meet the needs of each time and place, and the Spirit creates bonds of shared love and community
among all Christians.
11. In the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks, in his farewell address to the disciples, of the Paraclete or
the Spirit of Truth, who will come when Jesus himself is gone and who will "guide them into all the
truth" (Jn 14:16-17,26; 15:26; 16:7-15). The Paraclete will teach the disciples everything and remind
them of all that Jesus has told them. The Spirit does not add to the revelation of Christ but expounds,
uncovers, conveys and applies the meaning and implications of this revelation as they are led into the
whole truth. The emphasis lies on the maintenance and preservation of that which was once said and
taught by Jesus as well as on the pneumatic witness to its meaning. Indeed, the Gospel of John is
itself an expression of the sustaining presence of the Paraclete and the conviction that "blessed are
those who have not seen and yet have come to believe" (Jn 20:29).
12. In Luke-Acts, Christ, ascended into heaven, pours the Spirit promised by the Father upon his
disciples as they are all gathered in Jerusalem (Lk 24:49; Acts 2:1-4,33). They can be his witnesses
"to the ends of the earth" only in the power they receive when the Holy Spirit comes upon them (Acts
1:7-8). In the narrative about the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35), the two are kept
from recognizing their fellow traveler. Not until he breaks the bread are their eyes opened. Faith is re-established, as the presence of the Lord is revealed in this eucharistic act. The questioner thus proves
to be the teacher while the guest acts as host. The disciples do not themselves seek out and find the
living Christ. As in all the appearance stories he is the one who comes to them and reveals himself,
and the disciples remain receivers even as they recognize him. The risen Christ does not remain with
the two disciples at Emmaus beyond the moment of recognition. They are left with the broken bread,
the Scriptures that have been opened to them, and the story of their encounter to tell. As the Lord
vanishes, they change their plans and return to Jerusalem that very evening in order to join the other
disciples who are already gathered there; community is being restored. It is to this full assembly of
disciples that the Lord again appears, and on the day of Pentecost when they are all gathered (and not
only the Twelve), the Holy Spirit is given to all of them.
13. Matthew and Luke, and also John (who does not mention a previous commission in Galilee), attest
to a final, universal commissioning of the apostles by the risen Christ. They were not Jesus' disciples
only when he still was with them. Despite their fear and even denial, their calling is reaffirmed and they
are given a still greater commission for the post-Easter period. This is their apostolic brief, which
corresponds to Paul's emphatic statement that he received his apostolic calling from the risen Lord
himself (1 Cor 15:8-11). The mandate may vary in wording and in content but the authority it extends
is fundamentally similar. According to the Great Commission in Mt 28:19-20 their task is to make
disciples by baptizing and teaching; in Lk 24:48 and Acts 1:8.21-22 they are to be witnesses to the
resurrection, which also implies the proclamation of the repentance and forgiveness of sins; and
according to Jn 20:21-23, they are to forgive or retain sins.
1.4 The Apostles
1.4.1 Terminological Observations
14. In the New Testament apostolicity is not yet an attribute of the church as such. However, the terms apostolos and apostole occur, always applied to individuals and to their mission. Most New Testament
references to apostolos are found in the Pauline letters and in Luke-Acts. Scattered references
elsewhere also indicate that the term was well established and widely used in the Early Church.
15. The terms apostole and apostolos as used in the New Testament undoubtedly carry titular
connotations although this was apparently unknown to pre-Christian Greek, including the language of
the Septuagint-traditions. The Greek term apostolos means a messenger or an ambassador, "one
who is sent", and is a derivative form from the verb apostello. The verb is the primary term - without
someone to do the sending, no one is an apostolos. 16. The specifically Christian usage of the term
has been explained by reference to a Jewish convention of commissioning (shaliah), namely the
authorized representation of an individual or a group in legal or religious matters: the envoy is equated
with the sender himself. In carrying out the mission, the representative or agent has full authority and
commands the same respect as the principal. The dignity of a representative thus depends entirely
upon the authority and status of the sender. However, as a legal institute, shaliah is corroborated only
by rabbinical sources from the late second century A.D., but some have argued that Mt 10:40 and
especially Jn 13:16-19, which seem to refer to a commonly used turn of phrase, provide evidence that
the convention of shaliah was already known in New Testament times.
1.4.2 The Pauline Corpus
17. The meaning as well as the implications of the term apostolos were a matter for debate and
interpretation in the Early Church. In Paul's letters, the earliest Christian texts known to us, he
assumes a previously established wider usage in the congregations. Among the ministerial functions
in the church at Corinth, Paul refers to apostleship as the first charism (1 Cor 12:28f.), and in the long
list of personal greetings concluding his letter to the Romans, a couple, Andronicus and Junia, are
said to be "prominent among the apostles" (Rom 16:7). Recent research considers it likely that Iounian is the accusative case of Iounia, which is a woman's name - thereby retrieving an insight held by many
of the Church Fathers, among them John Chrysostom, Origen, and Jerome. Rom 16:7 hence seems
to support the possibility of women having numbered among the broader group of apostles, and that
Paul simply accepted this.
18. Traces of a similar broad use of apostolos for Paul and Barnabas can be found in Acts 14:4 and
14:14. In 2 Cor 2-6 and 10-13, Paul defends his right to the title of apostle with intensity and even
some bitter irony. The way in which he defends himself indicates that his opponents, whom he
ironically calls "super-apostles" (2 Cor 12:11), operated according to the wider and generic
understanding of the title as well as a different set of criteria for apostleship: besides enjoying certain
exceptional charismatic gifts, they required material support from the congregations they established
or visited. Most likely they had also a local base from which they were sent out and to which they
referred and returned. This may reflect an Eastern (Syrian) practice, which is also to be assumed in 2
Cor 8:23 and Phil 2:25. It is likely that Barnabas and Paul were also initially sent out by the
congregation in Antioch (Acts 13:1-3). This remained their base of support to which they returned
during their early missionary activity. At some stage it seems that in Paul's case this connection broke
off so that he no longer had any particular base. The way in which Paul understands the nature of his
apostleship, especially in Galatians and in 1 and 2 Corinthians, confirms and emphasizes his
independence and supports a more narrow and privileged interpretation of the title apostolos.
19. Some have identified in Paul's writings a distinction between those "apostles" who were envoys
sent out by local congregations/churches and a more exclusive set of "apostles of Jesus Christ" who
had been commissioned by the risen Christ and among whom Paul counts himself. This distinction is,
however, not consistent as Silvanus and Timothy are both referred to as "apostles of Christ" together
with Paul in 1 Thess 2:7. A further possibility is therefore that Paul also used the term in a wider sense
before his apostolate was challenged. Once he was compelled to give grounds for and defend his
credentials as an apostle, he insisted on a more exclusive set of qualifications. Whatever the
explanation may be, there is clearly some ambiguity in the Pauline usage of the title apostolos, which
Paul adopts, both using the wider sense as well as a more narrow definition, which he further develops
to apply to and qualify his own ministry.
20. It is essential to Paul's specific and developed understanding of apostleship that the apostle
proclaims the gospel as one so commissioned by Christ. An apostle is defined as a messenger
authorized and appointed by Christ. In this sense an apostle is a missionary, but there is no indication
that every missionary is an apostle. The prevailing view seems to be that the apostolic charge should
be issued by Christ directly, and that an appearance of the (risen) Lord was a necessary locus for the
commissioning or apostole (Rom 1:4-5; Gal 1:11-17; 2:7-9). In the later reception of the church, this is
the all-predominant understanding.
21. When Paul's opponents question his right and status as an apostle, his Damascus road
experience is crucial in his defense; he received his commission to be an apostle to the gentiles from
the risen Christ directly and without any human mediation (Gal 1:1; 1:15f). He is, however, also
concerned with demonstrating how important it was that his divine commission was recognized and
supported by the "pillars" in Jerusalem, even if he did not depend on their recognition. Indeed, Paul
takes care not to present himself as submitting to some supposedly superior authority in Jerusalem.
The fact that he was accepted by them, is rather described in collegial terms: "James and Kephas and
John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship"(Gal 2:9).
The collection which Paul took in his congregations as a ministry to the poor among the saints in
Jerusalem (Gal 2:10; 2 Cor 8-9), shows their solidarity with Jerusalem and is an acknowledgment of
Jerusalem's significance in having shared its "spiritual blessings". Paul's anxiety as he is on his way to
deliver the gift (Rom 15:25-33) however indicates that there is mutuality involved. By accepting the gift
- assuming they do so - the community (German: Urgemeinde) in Jerusalem recognizes Paul's
mission and his congregations. The gift, once received, becomes a token of mutual recognition and of
the unity of the whole church.
22. For Paul, the apostolic mission is fundamental as an ekklesia is established; the apostle is a Gründer. Through an apostle's proclamation, the word of God becomes effective in faith and Jesus
Christ is laid as the foundation of the church in ever new places. In this, the apostle, like those who
follow him and who build on this foundation, is a servant of God (1 Cor 3:5-11). But the apostle does
not belong to one particular place or to one specific congregation. The apostle's mobility is a sign of
the solidarity and unity of the whole church. He may even address congregations he had never visited,
as Paul does when he writes his letter to the Romans.
23. An interdependent communion is established between the apostle and the congregations he
helped found. The faithful life of the congregations where he proclaimed the word of faith is therefore a
clear measure of his apostolic achievements. The congregations are the "the seal" of his apostleship
(1 Cor 9:2) or his "letter of recommendation" (2 Cor 3:1). In this there is also an aspect of mimesis, of
imitation of the apostle and a reflection of the apostolic life (vita apostolica) to which Paul often
encourages his congregations (1 Thess 1:6; 1 Cor 11:1; Phil 3:17 and 2 Thess 3:7,9). As some of
these references show, this apostolic mimesis is in fact an imitation of the Lord. It is to lead a life
according to the teaching and example of Jesus Christ and even to make the life and suffering, and
indeed the death of Jesus visible "in our mortal flesh" (2 Cor 4:11). In this sense there is a succession,
a following in the apostolic faith just as in life.
24. Paul had numerous co-workers whom he mentions in his letters. These also included women as
the examples of the deaconess Phoebe (Rom 16:1-3) and Prisca (Rom 16:3-5a; 1 Cor 16:19)
demonstrate. Some of his co-workers were also co-authors of the letters, which Paul wrote to his
churches: Silvanus (1 Thess 1:1; 2 Thess 1:1), Sosthenes (1 Cor 1:1), and Timothy (2 Cor 1:1; Phil
1:1; 1 Thess 1:1, Phm 1:1). Timothy (2 Cor 4:17; 16:10; 2 Cor 1:19; Phil 2:19; 1 Thess 3:1-10) and
Titus (2 Cor 7:5-16; 8:6,16-17,23; 12:18) are given important assignments in the apostle's
communication with the churches and they are sent to provide guidance to the congregations on
Paul's behalf. In the Pastoral Letters, which assume Timothy and Titus as the addressees, their role is
developed into followers of the apostle in the leadership they provided to the church (2 Tim 3:10-15).
25. The foundational role of an apostle is a matter of priority in time and in sequence, but it also has a
formative function. It implies a responsibility of setting a norm that may subsequently be further
explored, developed, and applied, but not abandoned and distorted. This is why the apostle Paul
writes his letters to congregations he had founded, and also why others later write letters in Paul's
name when he was no longer around to be able to react.
26. The Pastoral Letters go further in spelling out the apostle Paul's role as a founder both in view of
his exemplary way of life (2 Tim 4:7) and his teaching "in faith and truth" (1 Tim 2:7). Thus Timothy is
said to have observed Paul in his teaching, conduct, life goals, faith, patience, love, steadfastness,
persecutions and suffering, and he is encouraged to continue that which he has learned and firmly
believed, knowing from whom it was that he had learned it all (2 Tim 3:10-14). The Pastorals assume
that Paul had in this manner established measures by which the churches could continue to safeguard
the truth of the gospel and sound doctrine as well as the purity of faith once Paul himself was no
longer there. The instructions concerning bishops, presbyters, and deacons indicate various
responsibilities in this regard, notwithstanding the lack of a consistent pattern.
27. In the Pauline tradition represented by the Letter to the Ephesians, the church itself becomes a
thematic focus of reflection. Apostles are mentioned in Eph 4:11 in a context similar to 1 Cor 12. The
various gifts of Christ to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers in his church, all
serve to build up the body of Christ. Significantly, in Eph 2:20 the language of the foundational role of
the apostles is further developed in that they, together with the prophets, are regarded as part of the
foundation of the church whereas Jesus Christ is the "cornerstone", which holds the whole together. A
similar image is found in Rev 21:14 where the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb are written on
the foundations of the city wall of the New Jerusalem. This language indicates that the apostles belong
to the past. However, not only the church of the present but also the future eschatological city of God's
glory is built on that past.
28. As Paul already makes clear, the apostleship is a part of the post-resurrection period. However,
the Synoptic tradition sometimes uses the term "apostle" for those who belonged to the group of the
Twelve. In Mk 3:13 and Mt 10:1-2 the terms "apostle" and "disciple" seem to be equivalents. This
terminological usage is most likely explained, according to many, as a retrojection back into the time of
the public ministry of Jesus. The title apostolos has retrospectively been applied to the Twelve since
their selection is so closely related to their mission in Galilee, to their first sending by Jesus. However,
in the view of others, already Jesus himself called his disciples "apostles", and they regard it as at
least functionally representing what is later expressed in the Jewish institution of shaliah as well as in
the Early Christian understanding of the apostolate.
29. In the two-volume work of Luke, the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, "the Twelve" and "the
Apostles" are programmatically identified. The title apostolos is (but for Acts 14:4,14) restricted to the
Twelve, who exclusively constitute the collegium of apostles. The Lukan composition of this collegium has influenced the Christian tradition in a decisive manner and has become the predominant
configuration in iconography as well. In the semantic context of Luke the position of Paul as an apostle
becomes problematic. In the last part of Acts in particular, Luke portrays Paul as the main protagonist,
and Paul preaches and heals much in the same manner that the twelve apostles had done. But
because of the specifically Lukan notion of apostleship as a privilege limited to the Twelve, Paul
cannot be included. Even though the wider usage that occurs in other New Testament writings is also
found in Acts 14:4 and 14, Paul's special claim to apostleship has little support in the prevailing
terminology of Acts, even if Paul, like the Twelve, has decisive importance as a witness of Jesus
30. The selection of the Twelve during Jesus' ministry in Galilee and the mandate they receive at the
last supper (Lk 22:22-38) prepare them for their role in the restoration of Israel, as is described in
eschatological terms: in the kingdom of God they will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes (v.30).
After the betrayal and death of Judas, the group of Twelve is no longer complete and therefore,
immediately after the ascension of Jesus, a new apostle is elected to replace Judas and take his
"place in this ministry" (Acts 1:15-26). At the election, at least two candidates appear to meet the
criteria, Joseph and Matthias, and the lot falls on Matthias, an otherwise unknown disciple.
31. In preparation for the election, the eligibility criteria for service as an apostle are listed (Acts 1:21-22): the person must have been among the followers of Jesus from the day he was baptized by John
until the ascension. Significantly, the criteria are such that they cannot be fulfilled beyond the first
generation. According to Luke, the collegium of the twelve apostles has a unique and singular function
in the history of the people of God, that is in the period in which those who believe in Jesus build the
community in Jerusalem, which is the point of departure and the center of the worldwide mission to
which the apostles are called (Acts 1:8). Not only are the criteria by which candidates are identified
clearly stated, but the special commission and service of the apostles is explained as well. The criteria
and the commission are related but they are not identical. The assignment is to become (note the use
of genesthai in 1:22) a witness to Jesus' resurrection (Lk 24:48 and Acts 1:8,22). Having been an
eyewitness (autoptes) is a requirement, but just having been an eyewitness does not make an apostle.
It requires a special commission and represents a unique function; it is the result of selection and
limited to the Twelve. Their task is to attest to the continuity between the crucified Jesus they knew
and the resurrected Lord, and to bear witness to the resurrection of Lord Jesus.
32. After the election of Matthias, the collegium of the Twelve is again complete and ready for its
mission. When the Spirit is poured out and the Jerusalem community established, they harvest mass
conversions of Jews both from the Diaspora and from Palestine, as described in the first part of Acts
2:1-8:25. The apostolic ministry of the Twelve is focused on Israel, and their eschatological role
becomes effective as the fallen dwelling of David is rebuilt (Acts 15:16). Once this mission is
accomplished, an apostle can die (James in Acts 12:2) without a new apostle being elected in his
place. After the Jerusalem council in Acts 15, at which the conflict in Antioch over the circumcision of
gentiles was resolved, the twelve apostles disappear from the narrative as Paul's continued mission
gains focus and attention. It is noteworthy that each step forward takes place because the Holy Spirit
sets events into motion or precedes human action, as when the God-fearing Cornelius is baptized by
Peter as the first non-Jew (Acts 10-11).
33. In the Jerusalem community, the apostles serve as leaders, as does James, the brother of Jesus.
They teach, they defend the faith, and they work miracles. They also take part in the laying-on of
hands so that those who have been baptized may receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:16-17). They install
"the Seven" through prayer and the laying-on of hands, as reported in Acts 6:6. The Seven are sought
out and selected by the whole community at the apostles' request so that these "seven men of good
standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom" can serve at tables. This leaves the apostles themselves free
to devote themselves to prayer and to the service of the word. This delegation of duties on the part of
the apostles allows for a division of labor. The intention is thus not to replace any of the apostles by
the Seven, even if the meaning of the Greek word diakonos, referring to an intermediary function or a
go-between, comes strikingly close to that of the term apostolos. The subsequent accounts in Acts of
Stephen and Philip, two of the Seven, indicate that they do indeed serve in a way similar to that of the
Twelve. They may not be the successors of the apostles, but there is an apostolic message to which
they too bear witness.
34. It is important that, despite the Lukan focus on the apostolic collegium of the Twelve, the apostles
function within the whole community, all of whose members (cf. the emphatic pantes, Acts 2:3f)
receive the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost. Their common life is formed by devotion to the apostles'
teaching, to fellowship and the sharing of resources, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers. This
condensed description of the Jerusalem community in Acts 2:42 has been understood as a list of
marks of the apostolic community.
1.5 Ecclesial Structures and Patterns of Ministry
35. The canonical writings of the New Testament reflect a phase during which different ecclesial
patterns developed, coexisted, and interacted. Some writings (e.g. the Johannine Literature and the
Letter to the Hebrews) reveal little interest in ecclesial structures and leadership, and even the picture
painted by those which do show interest may seem unclear and even inconsistent to us. A lack of
interest does, however, not preclude that structures were already in place, and a lack of consistent or
common patterns does not necessarily indicate a critical or indifferent attitude to ecclesial structures
as such. The church has never been without persons holding specific responsibilities and authority,
and functions and tasks make sense only when persons carry them out.
1.5.1 Spiritual Gifts and Ministries
36. In the Pauline churches, a charismatic profile should not be understood to exclude order and
governance. Nevertheless, there is a strong affirmation in the New Testament of the calling of the
whole people of God. The Holy Spirit bestows on the whole people of God - be they young or old,
slave or free, man or woman - a diversity of gifts and ministries. In 1 Cor 12:4-11, Paul speaks,
following a Trinitarian structure, of the diversity of charisms (charismata) given by the one Spirit, the
diversity of services (diakoniai) inspired by the one Lord, and the diversity of activities (energemata) -
all worked by the one God. The divine unity is the source and holds together this diversity of
expression, which is to serve the same purpose of building up the community. Paul applies the well-known image of the body to the church as the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12-27), and unfolds it to show
that the gifts are not there for people to boast over against each other, but to teach them to appreciate
and serve one another as they recognize their interdependence. The most excellent gifts are therefore
faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love (1 Cor 13). This is pursued further in Rom 12:3-8 when Paul emphasizes that the exercise of the different gifts should be determined by the purpose
for which they were given.
37. By means of these gifts of the Spirit, God creates and maintains the church and gives birth each
day to faith, love, and new life. Those who are baptized are therefore called upon to offer themselves
as a living sacrifice and to intercede for the church and the salvation of the world. This constitutes the
priesthood of all believers and the calling of the whole people of God to ministry and service (1 Pet
38. In several writings there are indications that ecclesial offices and titles were being formed, but they
were not yet precisely defined or generally accepted. The list in 1 Cor 12:28-30 contains a series of
titular positions, which may have been carefully ordered, "first apostles, second prophets, third
teachers" (apostoloi, prophetai, and didaskaloi); they are followed by a mixture of responsibilities borne
by people with particular charismatic gifts. Whereas these first three may have had a more official and
established status, the others probably refer to more occasional functions. Sometimes there is a more
general mention of "leaders" such as proistamenoi in 1 Thess 5:12 (cf. also prostatis in Rom 16:2)
and hegemonoi in Heb 13:17.
1.5.2 The Ministry of Episkope
39. In biblical Greek, episkope is used to refer to God's visitation (cf. Luke 19:44; 1 Pet 2:12). In the
rare cases where the subject is not divine but human, it may also refer to an ecclesial task. In Acts
1:16-20, the election of a new apostle to replace Judas is explained as a fulfillment of Ps.108:8 and
the term episkope occurs in the scriptural quotation. In 1 Tim 3:1, however, where episkope is most
likely coined on the basis of the title episkopos, it refers to a distinct office, which one may seek.
40. Whereas apostolos was a rare term in pre-Christian Greek, episkopos, meaning overseer,
watcher, and protector, was a common one and was frequently used to describe those who held
various official posts. It was, however, not the title of a specific office. The Christian usage may have
been influenced by a corresponding Essene term in Hebrew, but that remains an open question.
41. The term episkopos is used five times in the New Testament. In 1 Pet 2:25, Christ is called "the
shepherd and episkopos of your souls". In the other cases the term refers to leaders in a local church.
From Phil 1:1 we learn that Philippi has both episkopoi kai diakonoi, without specifying further. Paul's
farewell speech to the elders of the church in Ephesos (Acts 20:17-38) implies that presbyteroi and episkopoi (again both in plural) refer to the same group of persons. But, although hoi presbyteroi tes
ekklesias are the explicit addressees of the speech and seem to constitute a distinct group, it is not
equally clear whether the use of episkopoi in the speech (20:28) refers to a specific title or rather, in
alliance with poimen, is a convenient Greek term used to describe a certain task or function of the
presbyters (cf. the same combination in 1 Pet 2:25). The image of a shepherd serves to illustrate their
role as the protectors and guardians of the flock - and of themselves as well. This is important
because of both external and internal threats to the communities. The source of their authority is the
Holy Spirit who has made them episkopoi. The proximity between this speech in Acts 20 and the
Pastoral Letters indicates that the speech reflects the Lukan rather than the Pauline period and
situation. However, local traditions may have been influential in both cases as well.
42. The Pastoral Letters are concerned about the protection of the apostolic (Pauline) heritage in a
situation in which it is perceived as being under threat and attack by distorted speculations and
subversive behavior. They teach "God's household management (oikonomia) that is in faith" and call
for instruction that aims at "love that comes from a good pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere
faith" (1 Tim 1:3-5). They further defend the tradition by establishing firmly a church order. This occurs
in close interaction with an insistence on what was considered to be proper discipline for a respectable
household, which also entailed the submission of women. The church is ordered as "a household of
God" with moral expectations and clearly set standards of behavior according to one's place and with
a defined allocation of authority (1 Tim 3:14-15). God is the master/owner (despotes) of this household
(2 Tim 2:21) and has entrusted its management (Tit 1:7) to a steward (oikonomos) in the person of the
43. The interaction between the proper ordering of a household and ecclesial order is made clear in 1
Tim 3:1ff in the form of a list of rather mundane qualifications which a candidate for the office of
bishop (episkope) should have. They represent expectations, which were commonly found in society
concerning the conduct of a man of good standing, and apart from the fact that the person should not
be a recent convert, no specific Christian requirements are mentioned. At the same time, little is told
about the election procedure or about the special duties of the bishop. Titus 1:5f provides a similar list
of the requirements for a presbyter. This list reveals more about a presbyter's obligations: he should
be a man with "a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching, so that he
may be able both to preach with sound doctrine and refute those who contradict it." In v.7 the term episkopos occurs, which shows that the terms presbyteros and episkopos can still be interchangeable.
1 Pet 5:1-2 may also attest to a similar lack of differentiation. According to a well-supported textual
variant, the presbyteroi are exhorted to tend the flock of God that is in their charge, exercising
oversight (episkopountes) - thus reflecting the language of 1 Pet 2:25 referring to Christ as shepherd
44. It is noteworthy that the term presbyteros occurs in plural (hoi presbyteroi) in the Pastoral Letters,
while the term episkopos is always found in singular. On the whole, it remains unclear in these letters
whether all presbyters could also be called bishops, which could be argued from Titus 1:6f, or whether
the bishop was always one of the presbyters as 1 Tim 4:14 may seem to suggest. At this early stage
both may be true, and there may have been local and regional differences as well.
45. In the Pastoral Letters, the episkope is thus a distinct pastoral office. Its responsibilities may have
included the installation of deacons and widows by the laying-on of hands, even if this is not clearly
stated. But its crucial responsibility was the official teaching of community, holding fast to the sound
doctrine (Tit 1:9). This sound doctrine is the depositum (paratheke) that they have received from Paul
through his disciples and messengers, Timothy and Titus, whose task it has been to guard it faithfully
(1 Tim 1:11f.; 6:20). The apostolic legacy also includes the formative example of the apostle himself (1
1.5.3 The Emergence of a Threefold Order
46. In the Synoptic tradition one may trace the interface between itinerant preachers whose authority
was primarily based on charism and emerging local structures in settled communities. In Didache (The
Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) this interface and the potential tension involved are approached in a
pragmatic manner with concrete advice given (Did 12-13). The itinerant charismatics were referred to
as prophetai and didaskaloi, or parodioi, but they were never called episkopoi, presbyteroi or diakonoi.
These terms and titles all developed as part of the local established structure.
47. An often held view has been that while a twofold order employing the established Greek terms of
bishops (episkopoi) and deacons (diakonoi) emerged in primarily Gentile (Pauline) congregations in a
Hellenistic setting, a structure in which "the elders" (hoi presbyteroi) were honored as leaders reflects
an original Jewish background and terminology. In the end, the challenge was to unite these two
different structures and terminologies, resulting in a threefold order of bishop, priest, and deacon, first
developed in the East (Antioch and Asia Minor).
48. Contrary to the previously assumed distinction between Hellenistic and Jewish influences and
patterns, recent research has sug- gested that respect for "the elders" was not a particular Jewish
custom but a prevalent feature in Greco-Roman society as well. In both contexts "elder" is more a way
of speaking of leaders than of a specific office as such. Some have, however, argued that the
Christian usage of episkopos is due to a translation into Greek of a Jewish- Aramaic term (mebaqqer)
used by the Essenes and found in the Damascus Document and the Community Rule of Qumran.
This view has not gained any broad support although it is often mentioned.
49. One recent attempt at explaining the diversity within the New Testament witness posits a three-step development. First, as the Christians gathered in private houses, the kyrios of the house or the paterfamilias served as the patron of the group and may have been referred to as the episkopos. This
could explain why presbyters are never mentioned in the Pauline writings. As the number of
housechurches multiplied, the patrons/episkopoi would sometimes have had to act together. As a collegium, in the second stage of development, they were called presbyteroi. The third stage evolved
in the face of the threat of dissent and division. A single bishop then emerged as the overall leader of
all the house-churches within a city, which did not, however, render the other
patrons/bishops/presbyter colleagues superfluous. The bishop continued to preside with them
together. This, however, first developed with the turn of the first century. This historical outline might
help explain the flexible and interchangeable use of the titles episkopoi and presbyteroi in several New
Testament writings as well as the variance between the singular and plural forms. There is, however,
no convincing evidence to support the first stage of the explanation, which in the end leaves this
attempt at (re)constructing these developments questionable as well. The textual evidence is complex
and it remains an open question as to how the ministerial structures developed.
1.5.4 Rites of Laying-on of Hands
50. The Pastoral Letters attest to a rite of ordination through the laying- on of hands. In 2 Tim 1:6,
Timothy is reminded to "rekindle the gift (charisma) of God" that he has within him through Paul's
laying- on of hands. A similar rite, seemingly referring to the same occasion, is mentioned in 1 Tim
4:14, but in this case it is a council of elders (presbyterion) laying on hands. How these differing
versions can be reconciled remains unresolved. 2 Tim 1:6 describes neither the charism to be
rekindled nor its effects and manifestations in any detail. In 1 Tim 4:14, three elements seem to be
involved in the rite: a gift (charism), a prophecy, and the laying-on of hands. It is not however easy to
ascertain the relation between these elements or whether they all belonged within the framework of
one liturgical event, even if this is likely to be the case.
51. What does seem to be clear is the fact that the notion of charism occurs in the Pastorals only in
connection with an act of ordination. The enabling gift of the Spirit is conferred through the layingon of
hands and it is perceived as the charism of ministry (German: Amtscharisma). Accordingly, the rite of
ordination is to be interpreted in epicletic terms, and the laying-on of hands functions as a rite of
initiation into a position of spiritual leadership. The rite is mentioned retrospectively within an
exhortative context, and it is thus effectively connected to the truth of the doctrine that Timothy is
called upon to proclaim and defend. The Pastoral Letters do not isolate this rite from the life of the
church as a whole or from the authentic preaching of the gospel and the teaching of sound doctrine.
The rite demonstrates that the church is permanently subject to the guidance of the Spirit by means of
an ordered transition through the personal transmission from one generation to another.
52. The Acts of the Apostles also affirms a connection between the laying- on of hands and the gift of
the Spirit. This connection however varies. In Acts 8:14-17 and 19:5-6, the laying-on of hands is an act
which is somehow associated with or which follows baptism. When the Seven who will "serve at
tables" are selected in Acts 6, one of the requirements for eligibility is that they are "full of Spirit". The
laying-on of hands by the Twelve, which follows the election of the Seven by the community, is an act
which confirms their election and authorizes them to carry out a specific assignment. According to
Acts 13:2-3, Barnabas and Paul are, by the directions of the Holy Spirit, "set apart" by fasting, prayers,
and laying-on of hands as they are sent off from Antioch on their first mission. There are obvious
differences between Acts and the Pastoral Letters, but instances of installation to special missions or
offices through the laying-on of hands are also attested to in Acts.
53. The Pastoral Letters leave many questions open concerning the particular features of the ecclesial
structure, which the letters strongly advocate and to some extent reflect. They do, however, attest to
the disciplining and gradual transformation of the church's charismatic activity into an orderly ministry
wearing also the prophetic mantle. Within the canon, the Pastoral letters come closest to expressing
the position which became predominant in the mainstream of the Early Church: the formation of
ecclesial structures in which specific offices, some with supervisory authority, became responsible for
the church's steadfastness in faith, at first, however, without any firmly fixed terminology.
1.6 Living Tradition and Remaining in the Truth
54. The assurance of an abiding divine presence empowered and guided the apostolic community.
This assurance helped the Christian communities to retain and retell the deeds and words of Jesus
time and again; it moved them to ponder the meaning of his life and death; it moved them to remain
his followers, while it shaped their lives; it helped them find their way forward and encouraged them in
their teaching and witness. Jesus' proclamation was embedded into their proclamation of Jesus the
Christ, the Word of God, Lord and Savior. The teaching of the apostolic community was thus not
merely a repetition of the teaching of the historical Jesus himself. While remaining faithful to his
message, they recognized him as being the message himself. At the heart of the apostolic
proclamation and teaching were the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
55. In doing this, they were convinced that God's continuing guidance was not only a promise for the
future but also the present fulfillment of the promises given to God's people in the past. A major
theological concern in the New Testament is the exploration and identification of God's actions in the
present as they relate to the prophecies and promises in the Scriptures. The divine plan of salvation is
traced time and again to give witness to the faithfulness of a God in whom there is no contradiction.
This develops as they make Scripture and history meet, recognizing the unswerving will and plan of
God in the Holy Scriptures shared with the Jews, and trusting the intervening guidance of the Spirit.
Their proclamation is a witness to the living Word of God.
56. While emphasizing the unity of its source, the early proclamation took on diverse forms, shaped by
the diversity of the local communities and the cultures of the time. It served a variety of functions and
purposes such as missionary preaching and apologetics, the introduction to and further instruction in
the faith, ethical guidance and, not least, the liturgical life of the church.
57. The Christians told the parables of Jesus; they remembered his words of wisdom and his guidance
for life; they rejoiced in his acts of healing, liberation, and forgiveness as they proclaimed the gospel of
his life, death, and resurrection. When they gathered for worship, they expressed their faith in hymns,
in prophecies, in creedal and doxological formulas, and in the celebration of baptism and the
eucharist; they read and expounded selected passages from the Scriptures and soon came to read
from specifically Christian texts as well. The writing of letters providing advice, encouragement, and
theological reflection was not only a way for the "founding father" of the community to exercise his
authority but also an important bond of unity, as it brought local churches into correspondence with
each other. Complex compositions were used as a means to compile, reappraise, and retell traditions
about Jesus within a comprehensive narrative framework, not just in order to preserve them, but to
proclaim the message of Jesus and ponder its meaning time and again (Luke 1:1-4; John 20:30-31).
This type of narrative was later referred to as an euaggelion, "glad tidings". There were several such
narratives, which differed from each other to various extents but this lack of uniformity was not in itself
58. The church has ever since endeavored to remain faithful to the apostolic witness and the canon of
the Bible eventually became a normative exposition of this concern. The formation of the canon grew
out of the practice of reading particular Christian texts in the liturgy alongside the treasure of the Holy
Scriptures shared with the Jews. But it was also motivated by the wish to safeguard the content of the
apostolic tradition from attempts to reduce or distort it. The canon, however, still incorporated a variety
of expressions; normativity did not necessarily entail uniformity. Some gospels were not included into
the canon, but neither was only one gospel chosen. Even though gospel harmonies were widely
spread and read, the canon endorsed the diverse versions of the gospel according to Matthew, Mark,
Luke and John.
59. Faithfulness to the apostolic witness was not at any time taken for granted, and controversies
occurred as early as the time of the apostles about the right interpretation and application of the
Christian message. Paul was worried that the Corinthians were surrendering to a spirit different from
the one they had received or to a gospel other than the one they had accepted (2 Cor 11:4). The
incident in Antioch in which Paul confronts Peter (Gal 2:11-21) shows that not even a prominent
apostle was exempt from criticism. For Paul, the authority of the gospel resides in the gospel itself; the
proclaimer, be it Paul himself or an angel from heaven, is no guarantee of the faithfulness of the
proclamation (Gal 1:8f). There is indeed no other gospel than the true gospel; "another gospel" is
nothing but a perversion of the gospel of Christ (Gal 1:7).
60. Paul's polemical insistence in Galatians on the inherent self-authorization of the gospel does not
prevent him from exercising his authority elsewhere and commending his own example as "the father"
of the congregations (1 Cor 4:14ff). He is also able to reinforce his line of argument at decisive points
by referring to the tradition and using conventional Jewish language of transmission (1 Cor 11:23;
15:1-11). He has passed on to the Corinthians what he himself has received, and they should not
abandon what they have received and came to believe when he first proclaimed it. In 1 Cor 15:11, the
statement that this is a tradition shared by Paul and all the other apostles transforms the entire
passage (v.1-11) into a statement about unity in the community of faith, which holds fast to this
tradition. Since the tradition is shared, it does not depend on any particular one of them.
61. The almost technical terminology of transmission in some New Testament passages is a clear
pointer to early creedal statements in the Christian communities. Such statements (also called
homologies or pistis/credo formulas) or allusions to such statements occur not infrequently in the New
Testament. Most of them are Christological in content, and they most often serve as reference to a
conviction already shared between sender and receiver. But they are not untouchable treasures, and
Paul made both additions and other changes to underscore his theological concerns. They also serve
as a source for further reflection. In 1 Cor 15:3ff. the transition between the underlying formula and
Paul's expansion and further use of it is blurred. In Rom 1, Paul slightly amends a pre-Pauline
Christological confession (1:3-4) and develops it soteriologically to lead on to the theme of the letter
which is stated in 1:16-17.
62. The Pastoral Letters, written in Paul's name, represent a new application of that which the author
understands Paul's teaching to be for the next generation. In these letters, there is a growing concern
for the forms of transmission since a continuity with the teaching of the apostles (and especially that of
Paul) is a measure of faithfulness and a ground of credibility. The paramount task for those in
leadership positions is therefore to teach and to safeguard the transmission of sound doctrine, which
is constantly under threat. They are entrusted with the apostolic legacy, in Greek paratheke, (1 Tim
6:20; 2 Tim 12-14), and in Latin depositum. This is a depositum fidei but it also comprises a depositum
vitae, inviting the community to imitate the apostolic life in its spiritual discipline and practices. More
than other writings in the New Testament, the Pastoral Letters intertwine the question of the faithful
transmission of doctrine with the orderly conferral of ecclesial office.
63. The New Testament speaks in a variety of ways of "those called apostles", but this variety
converges in a common emphasis of their foundational role. They play a unique part in the post-resurrection period by mediating the transition from Jesus' own proclamation and the saving acts of
his life to the formulation and communication of the message about Jesus the Christ. The church was
founded on their initial proclamation of the gospel, and the living memory of this origin should never
cease to sustain and nurture us. At the same time, the witness of the apostolic era is maintained and
continued by new witnesses being called and sent out at every time and place: "How are they to hear
without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?" (Rom
64. No human authority is able to guarantee the truth of the gospel since its authenticity and its power
to evoke faith is inherent to the gospel itself (its extra nos). On the other hand, however, the
faithfulness of the church requires certain forms of traditioning and a particular ecclesial ministry of
proclamation, reconciliation, and teaching in order to ensure the orderly transmission of the apostolic
teachings. This leads to dynamic tension that has constituted a challenge to the church from the very