2009 Conference- Pillar and Bulwark of TruthDeep in History

The Issue of Authority in Early Christianity – Dr. Kenneth Howell

March 21, 2018 No Comments

In this talk from The Coming Home Network’s 2009 Deep in History conference, Dr. Kenneth Howell looks at the question of authority in the early Church. Before the Bible was officially compiled, how did Christians understand the nature of truth, and how to prioritize beliefs and practices? What kind of authority did the apostles have – were they merely pastoral guides, or did what they said and did have the weight of law in the early Church? Did they pass on their authority to their successors? Dr. Howell addresses the question at the heart of all efforts toward Christian unity: who or what has the authority to teach and preserve the Christian faith?

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Study Questions:

-Why is the issue of authority inevitable? 

-What does it mean that the apostles had a “derived authority”? Why does that matter, according to Dr. Howell? (see Matt 7:28-29; Matt 28:19-20; John 20:19-23)

-By the end of the first century, the Church was much bigger than what is recorded in the book of Acts. Does this surprise you? What can we learn from the Council of Jerusalem?

-How did the authority of the apostles express itself in their ministries when there was no completed New Testament? What kind of authority did the apostles have — was it one of guidance and suggestions, or did the authority of the apostles act as divine law for the Church? 

-Was the authority of the apostles shared with others or was it uniquely possessed by them? Was their authority passed on to others or did it cease when they died off? What does Clement say?

-Was the Bible the only means through which apostolic authority was transmitted, according to Dr. Howell? 

-How did authority arise within the early Christian Church?

-What counsel does Paul give Timothy and Titus in his letters?


Apostle: A term meaning one who is sent as Jesus was sent by the Father, and as he sent his chosen disciples to preach the Gospel to the whole world. He called the Twelve to become his Apostles, chosen witnesses of his Resurrection and the foundation on which the Church is built.  The apostolic office is permanent in the Church, in order to ensure that the divine mission entrusted to the Apostles by Jesus will continue to the end of time. The bishops receive their office as successors of the Apostles through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. (Catechism of the Catholic Church Glossary)

Apostolic Succession: The handing on of apostolic preaching and authority from the Apostles to their successors the bishops through the laying on of hands, as a permanent office in the Church. (CCC Glossary)