Answering common questions concerning apostles.
What does the word Apostle mean?
The word apostle originates from the Greek word apostolos defined as “one sent forth” such as an envoy or messenger. Apostle terminology in the biblical text is often used to distinguish the Christ chosen pioneers of the early church. However, we do find two distinct categories of apostolic language delineating between apostles chosen by Jesus for a unique service, and apostles serving as messengers or missionaries.
For today’s blog post, we will primarily look at the unique office of Apostle as chosen by Christ.
Who were the Apostles?
The apostles were specific men, chosen during a specific time, for a specific function. Jesus identifies the Twelve Apostles in Matthew 10, including the ominous distinction of Judas Iscariot as the one “who betrayed him” (Matthew 10:1-4). Matthias was later chosen as the replacement of Judas, fulfilling Scripture, but we do not witness any further selection of future “apostolic” office. In addition to these twelve, Paul and Barnabas are also referred to as apostles (Acts 14:14) and James the brother of Jesus as well (Galatians 1:19). The inclusion of these men is accepted because they fulfill the proper qualifications of an apostle.
What role did the Apostles play?
The apostles were the forerunners of the church, laying the foundation for future believers to thrive upon. Paul emphasizes the new citizenship Christians have as “members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). He further establishes that this divine household is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” with Christ being the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20).
This pioneer status of the apostles illustrates Jesus’ words to Peter, “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Jesus does not elevate Peter to a superior apostolic status, but merely praises Peter’s divinely inspired confession of Christ as the Son of God.
How did the Apostles fulfill their role?
They fulfilled their role through the authoritative preaching, speaking, and writing of the word of God. The apostle Peter establishes the authority of the apostles by saying, “that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles” (2 Peter 3:2). The apostles are the conduit through which God rules the church.
Paul affirms his divine authority to write the words of God by saying those who are spiritual should acknowledge “that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37). Writing to the church in Thessalonica, the apostle also thanks God for the church’s reception of the word of God because they “accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
In addition to writing the words of God, Paul also establishes the authority to speak the word of God saying, “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:15).
How did the Apostles confirm their authority?
The Apostles confirmed their authority through the performance of signs, wonders, and mighty works. Paul emphatically declares this confirmation of apostolic authority in 2 Corinthians, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works” (12:12). He also affirms to the church in Rome that what Christ has accomplished through his ministry was “by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God” (Romans 1:19). Philip also performed signs, causing the attention of the crowd and subsequent hearing to his message (Acts 8:6-7).
The author of Hebrews speaks of the salvation of God first declared by Jesus, and then attested “to us by those who heard” (2:3). He is referring to the apostles here, and then states that God bore witness by “signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” One must recall the gifting of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, given to the disciples, and supplying them with divine power to confirm their testimony of Jesus’ resurrection.
What are the qualifications of an Apostle?
In Acts 1:20, Peter establishes precedence for the selection of Judas’ replacement in the fulfillment of Scripture, “May his days be few; may another take his office!” (Psalms 109:8). Peter then moves to the established criteria for selecting this future candidate, the official qualifications for an apostle.
The first qualification for an apostle was witnessing the resurrection of Jesus. Peter says “one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection” (Acts 1:22). Acts 4:33 records the apostles “giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” and includes the newly selected Matthias from Acts 1:26. Even Paul adamantly declares, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” (1 Corinthans 9:1).
The additional qualification for an apostle is revealed when the disciples pray for guidance from God in choosing between Joseph and Matthias saying, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen” (Acts 1:24). This is to say the commission of Christ, the choosing of Christ, constitutes the second qualification of an apostle. Jesus “called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him” (Mark 3:13). This personal selection from the messiah resulted in the appointment of the twelve, and their apostolic office because Christ named them apostles (Mark 3:14).
Paul himself confirms his appointment by Christ identifying himself to the Galatians as, “Paul, an apostle -not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Galatians 1:1).
Do apostles still exist today?
Analyzing the qualifications of an apostle, one must conclude the apostolic office is no longer functioning today. Christians may permit usage of the term apostle to refer to a messenger or missionary, but the church cannot allow individuals to claim apostolic authority reserved for those chosen by Christ and witnesses to his resurrection.
The apostles laid the foundation of the early church. A foundation is established and then built upon, the elders and pastors continuing the great commission first issued to the apostles. Though apostles are no longer present, their authority presides through the existence of their written words within the New Testament.
Paul says he was the last of those who Christ appeared to, the least of the apostles, and unfit to be called one (1 Corinthians 15:5-9), perhaps emphasizing the conclusion of the apostolic office through living members.