An APOSTOLOS (αποστολος) is one who is sent. The word was used in classical Greek as a naval expedition and probably also its commander. In the NT it can also mean ‘delegate,’ ‘envoy,’ ‘messenger,’ especially of God’s messengers. The NT uses APOSTOLOS predominantly for the ‘apostles,’ who were a group of highly honored believers with a special function in the church.1
Several people are named as ‘apostles’ in the New Testament. How do they all relate to the office of apostle as specified in Eph. 4:11? Would it be correct to say that there are different levels of ‘apostle-ship’ (get the pun?), or should we look for a different translation or interpretation for apostolos where it does not directly fit into being a foundation of Christianity as in Eph. 2:20? There is great division on this matter in the church with some saying that the 5-fold ministry (offices) is still for today, and others who deny that apostles and prophets are valid for today.
Will this writing clarify the issue? Probably not! I have noticed, through my other writings, that no matter how exhaustive or accurate one writes on any topic, there are few people that will even consider changing what they believe on a certain issue. What prevents them from doing so? It is hard to say! Peer pressure (the church exerts a lot of that together with condemnation), longevity of beliefs, etc. Yet, this is not the point! I do not say that I have it right, but I am trying to clarify it for myself.
Who were apostles?
Those who propose that the office of apostle is for today to the same degree as in the New Testament will present a list of names from the Bible with an open-ended ellipsis(…) at the end, or an ‘etc’ noting the continuance of the office. Those who believe that the office of apostle finally closed when John left will obviously give a shorter, definitive list.
The obvious list must start with the 12 apostles (Mt. 10:2; Mk. 3:14f; Lk. 6:13; 9:10; 17:5; 22:14; Ac. 1:26; 5:29; Rev. 21:14), minus Judas Iscariot, the betrayer, plus Matthias (Ac. 1:12f). Then we add to this the apostle Paul (Rom. 1:1; 11:13; 1 Cor. 1:1; 9:1f; 15:9; 2 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 1 Tim. 1:1; 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:1, 11; Tit. 1:1) for obvious reasons. Next we add Barnabas (Ac. 14:14). Those who do not want Barnabas on this list must literally jump through hoops not to have him added. No serious student of the Bible can exclude him. Acts 14:14 clearly says "when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it" they jumped into action to stop the sacrifices offered to them. So, that makes it 14 apostles.
Now we come to those who may or may not have been apostles in the sense that the 12, Paul and Barnabas were. Let’s start with James, the Lord’s brother. Paul writes in Galatians 1 that after his calling by the risen Christ Himself, he first went to Arabia, then Damascus, and three years later he went to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Peter and stayed with him for fifteen days.
"But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother." (Gal. 1:19 2)
The International Standard Version (ISV 3) says
"But I didn’t see any other apostle except James."
The New King James Version (NKJV 4) has it
"But I saw none of the other apostles except James."
The New International Version (NIV 5) puts it
"I saw none of the other apostles – only James."
The first three translations are probably more likely than the New International Version. Grudem writes that the New International Version here is not unlikely, yet
"the translation ‘except James the Lord’s
brother’ seems clearly preferable, because (1) the Greek phrase is EI
MH, which ordinarily means ‘except’ (BAGD, p. 22, 8a), and in the great
majority of New Testament uses designates something, that is part of
the previous group but is ‘excepted’ from it; and (2) in the context of
Gal. 1:18, it would not make much sense for Paul to say that when he
went to Jerusalem he saw Peter, and no other people except James…"6
Paul also recognized James with Peter and John as pillars of the church in Jerusalem (Gal. 2:9). Also, after Paul and Barnabas related the signs and wonders among the Gentiles, it was James who answered and suggested regulations for the situation. He exercised considerable leadership in the Jerusalem Council which would be appropriate to the office of apostle. Paul also lists James on the list of post-resurrection appearances (1 Cor. 15:7-9). Notice that Paul lists him ahead of all the apostles, concluding the apostles with himself "the least of all the apostles."
"Finally, the fact that James could write the
New Testament epistle which bears his name would also be entirely
consistent with his having the authority which belonged to the office
of an apostle."7
This would bring the number of those in the office of apostle to fifteen (the Twelve, Paul, Barnabas, and James). The next verse is touted by many (some charismatics and most of the liberals) that even women could hold to the office of apostle. They cling to Rom. 16:7
"Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles"
as such a lifeline. The International Standard Version here calls them "prominent among the apostles." The New King James Version has it as "who are of note among the apostles." There are two ways to interpret this verse: 1) they were outstanding, prominent and of note as apostles, or 2) they were recognized as outstanding, prominent and of note by the apostles. Now, I would say that this verse should not be something you lose your head over. Even BAGD, the most noted New Testament Greek lexicon, has it "either apostles or honored by the apostles."8 Grudem has a note which says volumes:
"Some have claimed that Junia was a common
woman’s name in ancient Greece, but this is incorrect, at least in
written Greek literature: A computer search of 2,889 ancient Greek
authors over thirteen centuries (ninth century B.C. – fifth century
A.D.) turned up only two examples of Junia as a woman’s name, one in
Plutarch (c. A.D. 50 – c. 120) and one in the church father Chrysostom
(A.D. 347-403), who referred to Junia as a woman in a sermon on Rom.
16:7. It is not common as a man’s name either, since the search found
only one example of Junias as a man’s name, in Epiphanius (A.D.
315-403), bishop of Salimus in Cyprus, who refers to Junias in Rom.
16:7 and says he became bishop of Apameia in Syria (Indeex of Disciples
125.19-20; this quotation is the most significant, since Epiphanius
knows more information about Junias). The Latin text of the church
father Origen (d. A.D. 252) also refers to Junias in Rom. 16:7 as a man
(J.P. Migne, Patrologia Graeca, vol. 14 col. 1289). Therefore the
available data give support to the view that Junias was a man, but the
information is too sparse to be conclusive."9
Here we have, then, two points to make about Andronicus and Junias in Rom. 16:7 -> 1) We cannot be sure if they were apostles or just honoured by the apostles; and 2) Junias could be a woman or a man, but this is inconclusive too. So, we cannot add these two to those who belonged to the office of apostle.
Dr. Bill Hamon, of CI International represents the other side of the coin. He lists those
"recognized as apostles by being called apostles by name or identified by association, implication or root meaning of words."10
He starts with the original twelve and then moves on to what he calls "The Expanded Circle of Other Apostles of the Lord."11 In this list he includes all those mentioned above (including the ones we excluded), and adds Silas, Apollos, Epaphroditus, Timothy and the two unnamed apostles (2 Cor. 8:18b, 22b).
Does Paul include Silas and Timothy as apostles in 1 Thes. 2:6 "as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority," since the letter begins "Paul and Silvanus and Timothy" in 1 Thes. 1:1? It is unlikely that Timothy is included as a n apostle: 1) Four verses earlier (2:2) Paul writes "we had already suffered…in Philippi, as you know." This refers to the beating and imprisonment of Paul and Silas, and not Timothy. Paul knows that his recipients will understand the "we" statements when he does not mean to include all three of them. 2) The "we" cannot include Timothy in 1 Thes. 3:1-2, since the "we" sent Timothy to the Thessalonians. Here the "we" could be Paul and Silas or just Paul (Ac. 17:14-15; 18:"5). It seems Silas and Timothy came to Paul at Athens (Ac. 17:15) although their arrival is not mentioned by Luke. Paul later sent them back to Thessalonica to help there (Ac. 18:5).
So, concerning Silas, it is just possible that he was an apostle and 1 Thes. 2:6 hints at that. He was also known as a leader in the Jerusalem church (Ac. 15:22). He certainly could have seen Jesus after His resurrection and then been appointed as an apostle by Him. Although, of this we cannot be absolutely certain.
We now have a list of fifteen, maybe sixteen men who were called to the office of apostle.
Attributes of apostles
An apostle received his calling by none other than the Lord Himself. He does not have his calling by virtue of any calling of a body of elders, or by recognition of any church. Paul even had to defend his ministry as apostle to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 10). It is only by the will and call of God that a man could be an apostle (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 1 Tim. 1:1; 2 Tim. 1:1). Paul makes it clear that his calling is from the Lord alone
"not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father." (Gal. 1:1).
Paul stresses this point again in 1 Tim. 1:1
"an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and Christ Jesus our hope."
He makes it clear that his calling was a direct command from heaven.
In 1 Cor. 4:8-10 Paul uses sarcasm to show the Corinthians how full of themselves they have become. In the middle of the point Paul is making, he writes that as apostles, they are exhibited as men condemned to death, "because we have become a spectacle to the world" (v9). He knew that as apostles the likelihood was great for the apostles to have to die for what they believe in as leaders of this "sect."
People are very gullible! They will believe almost anything they are told. Especially if it arrives in the "Inbox" of their emailing system. We have all received "virus warnings" and "urban legends" via e-mail, and it is shocking just how many people believe all that garbage. Especially, since they have a wonderful research tool right at their finger tips. The Internet!. Of the uncountable amounts of virus warnings and stories of 4-year old Billy-Bob who has cancer, how many times did you just pass it on to your 400 e-mailing buddies (congesting the Internet with garbage) and how many times did you actually try to use the Internet as a research tool to find out the validity of the latest hoax? Now, just imagine how difficult it had to have been for the Corinthians when someone came to Corinth questioning Paul’s apostlehood. They could not research Paul the we can do today using the Internet. So, they simply accepted that Paul obviously was not a real apostle. Paul had to defend his calling as an apostle and the circumstances under which he was allowed to deploy his calling (1 Cor. 9:1-7). Paul then makes the point that he has the right to marry just like the rest of the apostles and Peter. Celibacy was never a prerequisite for a pastor, bishop or "Pope!!" (The word here is "celibrate" and not "celibate.")
Another attribute of an apostle was that he performed signs and wonders. In Ac. 5:12 we find that the apostles performed many signs and wonders. Paul writes "The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles." (2 Cor. 12:12)
An apostle has the gift that is first among gifts.
"And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues." (1 Cor. 12:28)
When Paul enumerated the "offices" in the church he again put apostles first (Eph. 4:11). The reasons why apostles are first should become clear when we next look at The Purpose of Apostles.
The Purpose of Apostles
The first purpose of the apostles was to carry out the orders of Christ (Ac. 1:2). Jesus gave orders to the apostles before He was taken up into heaven. This probably was not much different to what He told them in Mt. 28:19-20. He then told them to make disciples, baptize them and teach these disciples "to observe all that I commanded you." Meaning, that it would become a repetitive action. Disciple, baptize, teach disciples who must disciple, baptize, teach disciples, who…
Next, we read from Paul’s epistle to Titus that Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ
"for… the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness" (Tit. 1:1).
The International Standard Version has
"the full knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness."
The apostles, who brought us the New Testament had to ensure that the gospel was preached by others in complete accuracy and that the gospel preached by others was the truth as delivered to them by the remembrance of the Holy Spirit. We find that Paul, especially, was very conscious of the fact that truth was very essential in the preaching of the gospel and that correct doctrine was unmistakably part of the gospel. Paul writes in Tit. 1:9 that an overseer must be "holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict." Soon after Pentecost we already find that the church adhered to the teaching of the apostles (Ac. 2:42). Even Peter, in his second epistle, stirs up the readers to
"remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles." (2 Pet. 3:2)
This was also reiterated by Jude in verse 17
"remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Third, the mystery of Christ ("that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel" – Eph. 3:6), had to be revealed to someone, and Jesus chose His apostles and prophets to reveal it to. This mystery, which was now revealed, was then taken out and preached by the apostles.
Fourth, there was nothing more important to an apostle than the preaching of the gospel. Paul knew it well, for he writes that he was
"set apart for the gospel of God" (Rom. 1:1).
Without the gospel, the apostles would not have had anything to do, because it was their bread and butter. They gave powerful testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Ac. 4:33).
Another purpose of the apostles was "for the faith of those chosen of God" (Tit. 1:1). Those that God had chosen to partake in salvation are very important to God, and the apostles had to keep on building their faith, and as a result we have the New Testament that was written under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, mostly by the apostles.
Sixth, the apostles, together with the elders had to decide on church matters. Some Judaizers went down to Antioch from Judea, and preached that salvation was impossible without circumcision. This was the old "Law" debate! Paul answered this well in his epistle to the Galatians. This problem had to be decided on and so the apostles and the elders came together to so so in Ac. 15:2, 4, 6, 22f; 16:4.
Last, the apostle and prophets became the foundation of the church. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, telling them that they are now of God’s household
"having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone" (Eph. 2:20).
The apostles were the initial carriers of the gospel. They were the ones who were told
"Therefore, as you go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you every day until the end of the age" (Mt 28:19-20 ISV).
They were to lay the foundation of the church by preaching and teaching the gospel, establishing the church. It was their duty to ensure that the gospel was preached, and that the content of the gospel was pure. They also brought us the New Testament. It
"is not surprising that no further Scripture
would be written until this next abd greatest event in the history of
redemption occurred [coming of Jesus and His redemptive work]. This is
why the New Testament consists of the writings of the apostles. It is
primarily the apostles who are given the ability from the Holy Spirit
to recall accurately the words and deeds of Jesus and to interpret them
rightly for subsequent generations."12
Jesus promised the disciples that when He was gone the Holy Spirit would remind them of all He said. This would then assist them in writing the New Testament.
"But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you… But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you" (Jn. 14:26; 16:13-14).
Qualifications of Apostles
According to the New Testament there are basically two qualifications that someone had to fulfill to be counted as an apostle.. Now, I admit that nowhere in the pages of the New Testament do we find something like "These are the qualifications of an apostles, and they are..." On the other hand, neither do we find the word "trinity" in the Bible, but we do believe it, because the concept is unmistakably taught in the pages of the Bible.
The first qualification of an apostle is that he had to have seen the resurrected Jesus with his own eyes. He had to have been an "eyewitness." This is indicated to us by Acts 1:21-22
"Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us-- (22) beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us--one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection."
"To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God." (Ac. 1:3)
In Paul’s writings, he is adamant that he indeed did meet this qualification, even though it was in a very unusual way (Ac. 9:5-6; 26:15-18). Paul, in defense of his apostleship wrote
"Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?" (1 Cor. 9:1 NIV).
He also said
"then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles" (1 Cor. 15:7-9).
The second qualification of an apostle is that he received specific appointment by Christ Himself. The term "apostle" is not common in the gospels, yet the disciples are called "apostels" in a context where Jesus commissioned them by "sending" them:
"JESUS summoned His twelve disciples … Now the names of the twelve apostles … These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them…" (Mt. 10:1-7).
Jesus reminds them that they will be His witnesses in Ac. 1:8. When the need arose to replace Judas Iscariot, the eleven apostles went straight to the Lord to reveal His choice of replacement:
"And they prayed and said, You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place. And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles" (Ac. 1:24-26).
Even Paul insists that his appointment as apostle was by Jesus Himself on the Damascus road:
"But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you;" (Ac. 26:16).
Paul also starts most of his epistles with the fact that he is an apostle by the will of God.
Do Apostles exist today?
First, based on the above section Qualifications of Apostles, I have to conclude that there are no apostles today. Naturally, there may be objections that Christ could appear to someone today similarly as to Paul, to appoint him as an apostle.
The second point, which is also in answer to the above objection, comes from Paul in 1 Cor. 15 when he writes of all those whom the Lord appeared to after His resurrection (first qualification of an apostle),
"then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also." (1 Cor. 15:7-8).
Paul was the last person that the resurrected Christ appeared to. The Greek term for "last" is ESCHATOS from which we get our word eschatology, which is the study of last days or end times. Its meaning is
"with reference to a situation in which there is nothing to follow the ESCHATOS."13
Thirdly, we find Paul writing in Eph 2:20
"having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone."
The foundation for the church has been laid. There is no need to "move to new premises" with a new foundation. If new apostles can be appointed today, are we to believe that new christs are to arise too? False ones, perhaps! In the context here the corner stone is lain down but once. Why should the foundation be lain down repetitively? ("having been built!")
An objection may be made that Eph. 4:11 provides us with the 5-fold ministry list, and therefore it should continue today. Looking at Eph. 4:11 we immediately find "and He gave" (KAI AUTOS EDWKEN) which signifies a one time event in the past when He poured out initial giftings on the church. This verse merely establishes the fact that these offices were given, not whether more people would be called to each of these offices. This has to be determined from the rest of the New Testament.
"In fact, we see that there were many prophets,
evangelists, and pastor-teachers established by Christ throughout all
of the early churches, but there was only one more apostle given after
this initial time (Paul, ‘last of all,’ in unusual circumstances on the
The term "apostle" can be used in a broad sense to mean "messenger" or "pioneer missionary," but in a strict sense it includes the fifteen or sixteen apostles mentioned in the New Testament.
The qualifications of an apostle were two-fold: 1) He had to have been a witness of the resurrection of Christ, and 2) He had to have been called directly by the Lord Himself.
We have also found that for several reasons the office of apostle did not continue beyond the calling of the apostle Paul.
Anyone calling himself an apostle today would rather cause confusion in the church by conjuring up the idea of authority to the magnitude of the New Testament apostles.
Endnotes1. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Second Edition, "Revised and Augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker from Walter Bauer's Fifth Edition, 1958," (BAGD), The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1979, p. 99.
2. Scripture quotations without version information are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB). "Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible® Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission."
3. "Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, International Standard Version® Copyright © 1999 by the Learn Foundation, Yorba Linda, CA. Used by permission of Davidson Press, Inc. All rights reserved internationally."
4. "Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved."
5. "Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved."
6. Grudem, Wayne, SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY An Introduction to Biblical Theology, Intervarsity Press, Leicester, England, 1994, p. 908.
7. Ibid., p. 908.
8. BAGD, p. 99.
9. Grudem, 9. 909.
10. Hamon, Bill, Apostles Prophets and the coming moves of God, Destiny Image® Publishers, Inc., Shippensburg, PA, 1997, p. 4.
11. Ibid., p. 5.
12. Grudem, p. 60.
13. BAGD, p. 314, 3b.
14. Grudem, p. 911.