Does the Roman Catholic Church have the authority of Christ?

Roman Catholic Church Authority

by Matt Slick

The Roman Catholic Church claims to have the authority of Christ that is passed down to the apostles. Therefore, it has the right to proclaim the apostolic truth, interpret Scripture, forgive sins, reveal sacred tradition, administer sacraments, etc. Everything rests on the authority of the Catholic Church and its claim to properly represent Christ. Please consider some of the following quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

  • "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,” (CCC 77)
  • "The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ,” (CCC 85).
  • The Church's Magisterium exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes, in a form obliging the Christian people to an irrevocable adherence of faith, truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes, in a definitive way, truths having a necessary connection with these,” (CCC 88)
  • "The power which they [Catholic bishops] exercise personally in the name of Christ, is proper, ordinary, and immediate, although its exercise is ultimately controlled by the supreme authority of the Church,” (CCC 895).
  • Bishops, with priests as co-workers, have as their first task "to preach the Gospel of God to all men," in keeping with the Lord's command. They are "heralds of faith, who draw new disciples to Christ; they are authentic teachers" of the apostolic faith "endowed with the authority of Christ,” (CCC 888)
  • Only priests who have received the faculty of absolving from the authority of the Church can forgive sins in the name of Christ,” (CCC 1495).

To summarize, the Roman Catholic Church says its Magisterium (teaching office of the Pope and Bishops) has Christ’s authority because it claims that “the apostles left bishops as their successors,” (CCC 77, 85, 888).  It can authentically interpret God's word (CCC 85), and forgive sins (CCC 1495) as well as define dogmas (CCC 88) So, how do we test this to see if this incredible claim is valid?  After all, aren't we urged to examine everything?   1 Thess. 5:21 says, “But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.”

Testing the Roman Catholic Claim to Authority

As always, to test the spiritual truth we must look at God's word. When we look at the authority of Christ and the apostles (which the Roman Catholic Church claims to have), we see several interesting truths. Please consider the Scriptures.

  • “But, so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” - He said to the paralytic—“I say to you, get up, and pick up your stretcher and go home. 25 Immediately he got up before them, and picked up what he had been lying on, and went home glorifying God," (Luke 5:24-25).
  •  "Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness..." 8 “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give," (Matt. 10:1, 8).

So we see that Jesus gave authority to his disciples to cast out unclean spirits, heal every kind of disease, every kind of sickness, raise the dead, and cleanse lepers.  This is the authority to represent Christ. 

Did the Apostles excercise Christ's authority?

If the Roman Catholic Church says it has the authority of Christ that has been passed down to the apostles, then let's see if they exercise that authority the same way the disciples did. Please consider the following.

  • Jesus raised the dead on command: "And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother," (Luke 7:14-15, See also Mark 5:38-42; John 11:43-44).
  • Peter raised the dead on command: "But Peter sent them all out and knelt down and prayed, and turning to the body, he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. 41 And he gave her his hand and raised her up; and calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive," (Acts 9:40-41).
  • Peter healed on command: "Peter said to him, 'Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed.' Immediately he got up," (Acts 9:34).
  • Paul healed on command: "At Lystra a man was sitting who had no strength in his feet, lame from his mother’s womb, who had never walked. 9 This man was listening to Paul as he spoke, who, when he had fixed his gaze on him and had seen that he had faith to be made well, 10 said with a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he leaped up and began to walk," (Acts 14:8-10)

Notice that part of what Peter and Paul, the Disciples of Christ, were able to do is perform the miraculous on command. If the magisterium (the Pope and the teaching Bishops) have the authority of Christ through the apostles, then can they do the same thing? If not, then how is it they actually have the authority of Christ?

An important point to understand is that there is a difference between the verifiable and the non-verifiable. The Roman Catholic Church can claim it has the authority to forgive sins, but how is that verified? The forgiveness of sins is something that is in the heart and mind of God. How do we check the heart and mind of God? We can't. So it's not possible to verify forgiveness of sins. But you see, this is exactly why Jesus in Luke 5:24 raised the paralytic. Jesus said he did it so that they would know he did have the authority to forgive sins. Jesus authenticated his authority with his miracles. He gave the same authority to the disciples who then performed miracles. But, as you seen above, the authority manifested in the ability to be able to perform miraculous things on command. Therefore we have to ask, is the magisterium capable of the same thing? If not, we must conclude it does not have the same apostolic authority.


The Catholic Church claims to have the authority for of Christ to the apostles (CCC 77, 85, 88, 895, 1495, 888). But, can the Pope and the Bishops do what Jesus and the apostles did? Jesus said his authority to forgive sins was demonstrated by his miracles which he exercised on command (Matt. 9:6; Luke 5:24; John 5:8). He gave this authority to the disciples to pronounce forgiveness of sins (John 20:23), heal all disease and sickness (Matt. 10:1), as well as raise the dead (Matt. 10:8). Jesus healed the lame (Matt. 15:30; 21:14). Peter healed the lame on command (Acts 3:6) as did Paul (Acts 14:8-10). Jesus healed paralytics on command (Luke 5:24; Matt. 9:6; Mark 2:10-12). Peter also healed the paralytic on command (Acts 9:34). Jesus raised the dead with a command (Mark 5:38-42; Luke 7:14-15; John 11:43-44). Peter raised the dead by command (Acts 9:40-41). So, apostolic authority was clearly demonstrated by the apostles uttering commands of healing and raising the dead. Since Jesus gave the apostles the authority to do the miraculous on command (Matt. 10:1, 8), then those with the apostle’s authority (the Pope and the Bishops) should be able to do the same thing since they claim to have the same apostolic authority. Since the Pope and Bishops do not do the miraculous on command (otherwise it would be known to all), then they do not have apostolic authority.




About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.