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Apostle [N] [E] [S]

(Gk. apostolos [ajpovstolo"]). Envoy, ambassador, or messenger commissioned to carry out the instructions of the commissioning aget.

Etymology and Usage of the Term Pre-Christian use of apostolos [ajpovstolo"] in the sense of messenger is rare. More common is the verb apostello, referring to the sending of a fleet or an embassy. Only in Herodotus (1.21; 5.38) is it used of a personal envoy. Josephus employs it once (Antiquities17.11.1) in the classical sense of an embassy. Epictetus (Discourse3.22) speaks of the ideal Cynic teacher as one "sent by Zeus" to be a messenger of the gods and an "overseer" of human affairs.

The Septuagint uses apostello [ajpostevllw] or exapostello [ejxapostevllw] some seven hundred times to translate the Hebrew salah [j;l'v] ("stretch out, " "send"). More than the act of sending, this word includes the idea of the authorization of a messenger. The noun apostolos [ajpovstolo"] is found only in 1ki 14:6, where the commissioning and empowering of the prophet are clearly in mind. Thus, the Septuagint uses the apostello [ajpostevllw] word-group to denote the authorization of an individual to fulfill a particular function, with emphasis on the one who sends, not on the one who is sent.

The noun apostolos [ajpovstolo"] appears seventy-nine times in the New Testament (ten in the Gospels; twenty-eight in Acts; thirty-eight in the Epistles; and three in Revelation). The vast majority of these occurrences are found in Luke-Acts (thirty-four) and in the Pauline epistles (thirty-four), and refer to those appointed by Christ for a special function in the church. Their unique place is based not only on having witnessed the resurrection, but also on having been commissioned and empowered by the resurrected Lord to proclaim the gospel to all nations.

In the New Testament apostolos [ajpovstolo"] is applied to Jesus as the Sent One of God ( Heb 3:1 ), to those sent by God to preach to Israel ( Luke 11:49 ), to those sent by churches ( 2 Col 8:23 ; Php 2:25 ), and most often, to the individuals who had been appointed by Christ to preach the gospel of the kingdom. This latter category, however, is understood differently by New Testament writers. For example, Luke-Acts uses the term "apostle" to refer almost exclusively to the Twelve, while Paul uses it in relation to a broader group of individuals. The expression "all the apostles" in 1 Corinthians 15:7 seems to include more than the twelve referred to in verse 5. James is considered here, and in Galatians 1:19, to be an apostle. Barnabas is referred to as an apostle in ac 14:14 ( 11:22-24 ; 13:1-4 ). Paul calls Andronicus and Junias apostles in Romans 16:7. In this broader sense, an apostle was a witness to the resurrection of Christ, sent by him to make disciples of all nations.

Christ the Apostle Although there is only one explicit reference to Jesus as an apostle ( Heb 3:1 ), implicit references to his having been "sent" by the Father are found throughout the New Testament. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the Gospel of John, where Christ's entire ministry is qualified by the term apostello [ajpostevllw] ("send"). As the Father sent his Son into the world ( John 3:17 John 3:34 ; 5:36-38 ; John 6:29 John 6:57 ; 10:36 ; John 17:3 John 17:8 John 17:18 John 17:21 John 17:23 ; 20:21 ), Jesus in turn "sends out" his disciples ( 4:38 ; 17:18 ) to continue and extend his mission. Thus, all apostleship finds its meaning in Jesus the Apostle, sent by God to be the Savior of the world ( 1 Jo 4:14 ).

The Twelve Jesus had a large number of disciples during his ministry, but not all of them were apostles. The Twelve were chosen out of a wider group both to be with Jesus as disciples and to be sent out to preach and teach as apostles. There are four lists of the Twelve in the New Testament, one in each of the three Synoptic Gospels ( Matt 10:1-4 ; Mark 3:13-19 ; Luke 6:12-16 ) and one in Acts ( 1:13 ). These lists are roughly the same, representing four variant forms of a single early oral tradition.

Matthew and Mark identify the Twelve as apostles only once, and in each case, in the context of a missionary journey ( Matt 10:2 ; Mark 6:30 ). Here the word designates function rather than status. Luke, however, frequently and almost exclusively calls the Twelve "apostles" ( 6:13 ; 9:10 ; 17:5 ; 22:14 ; 24:10 ; Acts 1:26 ; 2:43 ; Acts 4:35 Acts 4:36 Acts 4:37 ; Acts 5:2 Acts 5:12 Acts 5:18 ; 8:1 ). Except for Luke 11:49 and Acts 14:14, Luke applies apostolos [ajpovstolo"] only to the Twelve. Because they had been called by Jesus, had been with Jesus throughout his ministry, and had witnessed his resurrection, they possessed the best possible knowledge of what Jesus had said and done. Commissioned by the risen Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, they became witnesses to the saving work of God in Christ. The identification of the Twelve as apostles finds its basis not only in the use of this title for them in the Gospel narrative, but also in the post-Easter task given to them by Jesus ( Matt 28:19-20 ; Mark 16:15-18 ; Luke 24:48-49 ; John 20:21-23 ; Acts 1:8 ). Thus, the essential qualification of an apostle is being called and sent by Christ. In the case of Matthias, additional qualifications come to light. In addition to the divine call, the person must have been a disciple of Jesus from John's baptism to the ascension, and specifically a witness of the resurrection ( Ac 1:21-22 ).

Jesus' choice of twelve disciples to form an inner circle of followers served to symbolize the truth that he had come to build a new house of Israel. The Twelve formed the nucleus of this new people of God, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel, and signifying God's saving activity at work in Jesus and his followers. Their number implies that they were destined primarily to work among the children of Israel. Although not confined to the Jews, the mission of the Twelve had special relation to the twelve tribes of Israel, as emphasized in the promise of Matthew 19:28.

Paul the Apostle Since Paul had not accompanied Jesus during his earthly ministry, he did not meet the apostolic criteria of ac 1:21-22. It is clear, however, that he considered himself to be an apostle. Even though the only place in the Book of Acts where Paul is called an apostle is in reference to the apostles of the church in Antioch (14:4, 14), Luke's portrayal of Paul's ministry as paradigmatic for the church gives implicit support to his apostolic claims. Not only does Acts depict Paul as manifesting the signs of an apostle, but in its three accounts of the Damascus Road encounter, his apostolic task is presented as the direct action of the risen Christ (9:3-5; 22:6-8; 26:12-18; cf. 2co 4:6; Gal 1:16).

Paul's own claim to apostleship is likewise based on the divine call of Christ ( Rom 1:1 ; 1 Col 1:1 ; Galatians 1:1 Galatians 1:15 ; cf. 2 Col 1:1 ; Eph 1:1 ; Col 1:1 ; 1 Tim 1:1 ; 2 Tim 1:1 ; Titus 1:1 ). He is an apostle, "not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead" ( Gal 1:1 ). His encounter with the resurrected Jesus served as the basis for his unique claim to be an "apostle to the Gentiles" ( Rom 11:13 ). Paul bases his apostleship on the grace of God, not on ecstatic gifts or the signs of an apostle ( 2 Cor. 12 ). His apostolic commission is to serve God primarily through preaching the gospel ( Rom 1:9 ; 15:19 ; 1 Col 1:17 ).

Paul uses the word "apostle" in more than one sense. At times he employs the term in the broader sense of messenger or aget ( 2 Col 8:23 ; Php 2:25 ). More often, however, Paul uses the term to refer to those who had been commissioned by the risen Lord to the apostolic task. Included in this category are the Twelve (although he never explicitly applies the title of apostle to them as a group), Peter ( Gal 1:18 ), Paul himself ( Rom 1:1 ; 1 Col 1:1 ; 9:1-2 ; 15:8-10 ; Gal 2:7-8 ), James the brother of Jesus ( Gal 1:19 ; cf. Acts 15:13 ), Barnabas ( 1 Col 9:1-6 ; Gal 2:9 ; cf. Acts 14:4 Acts 14:14 ), and possibly others ( Ro 16:7 ). In addition to understanding apostleship in terms of its basis in a divine call, Paul views the life of an apostle as being one of self-sacrificial service that entails suffering ( 1 Col 4:9-13 ; 15:30-32 ; 2 Col 4:7-12 ; 11:23-29 ).

Apostles and the Spirit The primary function of the apostles was to witness to Christ. The Twelve had intimate knowledge of his life, and a wider group had been witnesses to his resurrection. Their commissioning by the risen Lord to worldwide witness ( Ac 1:8 ), however, was incomplete without the anointing of the Spirit. Only after Pentecost were they empowered by the Spirit for their ministry of word and deed. Their witness to Christ was not only empowered, but also guided and validated by the Spirit ( John 14:26 ). Thus, their full apostolic vocation was realized only in the Spirit (John 14-17). Paul viewed apostleship as a gift of the Spirit ( 1 Co 12:28 ), which was often accompanied by miraculous signs and mighty works ( 2 Co 12:12 ). Such signs and wonders, however, were clearly secondary to the apostolic functions of preaching and teaching.

Apostolic Authority Having direct knowledge of the incarnate Word, and being sent out as authorized agets of the gospel, the apostles provided the authentic interpretation of the life and teaching of Jesus. Because their witness to Christ was guided by the Spirit ( John 15:26-27 ), the apostles' teaching was considered normative for the church. They were regarded as the "pillars" ( Gal 2:9 ) and "foundation" ( Eph 2:20 ; cf. Rev 21:14 ) of the church, and their teaching became the norm for Christian faith and practice. The deposit of revelation transmitted by the apostles and preserved in its written form in the New Testament thus forms the basis of postapostolic preaching and teaching in the church.

It is evident that the apostles formed the nucleus of primitive Christianity. The New Testament highlights their function as apostles, without delineating in detail the authoritative nature of their office in relation to the church. What is emphasized is that their apostolic commission authorized them to preach ( 1 Co 1:17 ); to be ambassadors for Christ ( 2 Col 5:20 ; Eph 6:20 ); to be witnesses to all nations ( Luke 24:48 ); and to make disciples of all peoples ( Matt 28:19 ).

R. David Rightmire

Bibliography. F. Agnew, JBL105 (1986): 75-96; C. K. Barrett, Signs of an Apostle; W. Baur, New Testament Apocrypha2 (1965): 35-74; O. Cullmann, Early Church; E. J. Goodspeed, The Twelve; L. Goppelt, Apostolic and Post-Apostolic Times; J. B. Lightfoot, Galatians, pp. 92-101; H. Mosbech, ST2 (1948): 166-200; D. Mller, NIDNTT, 1:126-33; J. Munck, ST3 (1949): 96-100; K. Rengstorf, TDNT, 1:398-447; W. Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha2 (1965): 25-34; R. Schnackenburg, Apostolic History and the Gospel, pp. 287-303.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
[S] indicates this entry was also found in Smith's Bible Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Apostle'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.
Apostle [N] [B] [S]

a person sent by another; a messenger; envoy. This word is once used as a descriptive designation of Jesus Christ, the Sent of the Father ( Hebrews 3:1 ; John 20:21 ). It is, however, generally used as designating the body of disciples to whom he intrusted the organization of his church and the dissemination of his gospel, "the twelve," as they are called ( Matthew 10:1-5 ; Mark 3:14 ; 6:7 ; Luke 6:13 ; 9:1 ). We have four lists of the apostles, one by each of the synoptic evangelists ( Matthew 10:2-4 ; Mark 3:16 ; Luke 6:14 ), and one in the ( Acts 1:13 ). No two of these lists, however, perfectly coincide.

Our Lord gave them the "keys of the kingdom," and by the gift of his Spirit fitted them to be the founders and governors of his church ( John 14:16 John 14:17 John 14:26 ; John 15:26 John 15:27 ; 16:7-15 ). To them, as representing his church, he gave the commission to "preach the gospel to every creature" ( Matthew 28:18-20 ). After his ascension he communicated to them, according to his promise, supernatural gifts to qualify them for the discharge of their duties ( Acts 2:4 ; 1 Corinthians 2:16 ; 1 Corinthians 2:7 1 Corinthians 2:10 1 Corinthians 2:13 ; 2 co 5:20 ; 1 Corinthians 11:2 ). Judas Iscariot, one of "the twelve," fell by transgression, and Matthias was substituted in his place ( Acts 1:21 ). Saul of Tarsus was afterwards added to their number ( Acts 9:3-20 ; 20:4 ; 26:15-18 ; 1 Timothy 1:12 ; 2:7 ; 2 Tim 1:11 ).

Luke has given some account of Peter, John, and the two Jameses ( Acts 12:2 Acts 12:17 ; 15:13 ; 21:18 ), but beyond this we know nothing from authentic history of the rest of the original twelve. After the martyrdom of James the Greater ( Acts 12:2 ), James the Less usually resided at Jerusalem, while Paul, "the apostle of the uncircumcision," usually travelled as a missionary among the Gentiles ( Galatians 2:8 ). It was characteristic of the apostles and necessary (1) that they should have seen the Lord, and been able to testify of him and of his resurrection from personal knowledge ( John 15:27 ; Acts 1:21 Acts 1:22 ; 1 Corinthians 9:1 ; Acts 22:14 Acts 22:15 ).

  • They must have been immediately called to that office by Christ ( Luke 6:13 ; Galatians 1:1 ).
  • It was essential that they should be infallibly inspired, and thus secured against all error and mistake in their public teaching, whether by word or by writing ( John 14:26 ; 16:13 ; 1 Thessalonians 2:13 ).

  • Another qualification was the power of working miracles ( Mark 16:20 ; Acts 2:43 ; 1 Corinthians 12:8-11 ). The apostles therefore could have had no successors. They are the only authoritative teachers of the Christian doctrines. The office of an apostle ceased with its first holders.

    In 2 Corinthians 8:23 and Phil 2:25 the word "messenger" is the rendering of the same Greek word, elsewhere rendered "apostle."

    These dictionary topics are from
    M.G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition,
    published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain, copy freely.

    [N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
    [B] indicates this entry was also found in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary
    [S] indicates this entry was also found in Smith's Bible Dictionary

    Bibliography Information

    Easton, Matthew George. "Entry for Apostle". "Easton's Bible Dictionary". .
  • Apostle

    Messenger; one who has been sent.

    But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the APOSTLES of our Lord Jesus Christ; How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. ( Jude 1:17-18 )

    Source: A King James Dictionary. (Used with permission. Copyright © Philip P. Kapusta)

    Bibliography Information

    "Entry for 'Apostle'". A King James Dictionary.
    Apostle [N] [B] [E]

    (one sent forth ), in the New Testament originally the official name of those twelve of the disciples whom Jesus chose to send forth first to preach the gospel and to be with him during the course of his ministry on earth. The word also appears to have been used in a non-official sense to designate a much wider circle of Christian messengers and teachers See ( 2 Corinthians 8:23 ; Philemon 2:25 ) It is only of those who were officially designated apostles that we treat in the article. Their names are given in ( Matthew 10:2-4 ) and Christs charge to them in the rest of the chapter. Their office. -- (1) The original qualification of an apostle, as stated by St. Peter on the occasion of electing a successor to the traitor Judas, was that he should have been personally acquainted with the whole ministerial course of our Lord from his baptism by John till the day when he was taken up into heaven. (2) They were chosen by Christ himself (3) They had the power of working miracles. (4) They were inspired. ( John 16:13 ) (5) Their world seems to have been pre-eminently that of founding the churches and upholding them by supernatural power specially bestowed for that purpose. (6) The office ceased, a matter of course, with its first holders-all continuation of it, from the very condition of its existence (cf. ( 1 Corinthians 9:1 ) ), being impossible. Early history and training .--The apostles were from the lower ranks of life, simple and uneducated; some of them were related to Jesus according to the flesh; some had previously been disciples of John the Baptist. Our Lord chose them early in his public career They seem to have been all on an equality, both during and after the ministry of Christ on earth. Early in our Lords ministry he sent them out two and two to preach repentance and to perform miracles in his name Matt 10; Luke 9. They accompanied him in his journey, saw his wonderful works, heard his discourses addressed to the people, and made inquiries of him on religious matters. They recognized him as the Christ of God, ( Matthew 16:16 ; Luke 9:20 ) and described to him supernatural power ( Luke 9:54 ) but in the recognition of the spiritual teaching and mission of Christ they made very low progress, held back as they were by weakness of apprehension and by national prejudices. Even at the removal of our Lord from the earth they were yet weak in their knowledge, ( Luke 24:21 ; John 16:12 ) though he had for so long been carefully preparing and instructing them. On the feast of Pentecost, ten days after our Lords ascension, the Holy Spirit came down on the assembled church, Acts 2; and from that time the apostles became altogether different men, giving witness with power of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, as he had declared they should. ( Luke 24:48 ; Acts 1:8 Acts 1:22 ; 2:32 ; 3:15 ; 5:32 ; 13:31 ) Later labors and history. --First of all the mother-church at Jerusalem grew up under their hands, Acts 3-7, and their superior dignity and power were universally acknowledged by the rulers and the people. ( Acts 5:12 ) ff. Their first mission out of Jerusalem was to Samaria ( Acts 8:5-25 ) where the Lord himself had, during his ministry, sown the seed of the gospel. Here ends the first period of the apostles agency, during which its centre is Jerusalem and the prominent figure is that of St. Peter. The centre of the second period of the apostolic agency is Antioch, where a church soon was built up, consisting of Jews and Gentiles; and the central figure of this and of the subsequent period is St. Paul. The third apostolic period is marked by the almost entire disappearance of the twelve from the sacred narrative and the exclusive agency of St. Paul, the great apostle of the Gentiles. Of the missionary work of the rest of the twelve we know absolutely nothing from the sacred narrative.

    [N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
    [B] indicates this entry was also found in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary
    [E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary

    Bibliography Information

    Smith, William, Dr. "Entry for 'Apostle'". "Smith's Bible Dictionary". . 1901.


    a-pos'-l ([ @apostolos], literally, "one sent forth," an envoy, missionary):

    For the meaning of this name as it meets us in the New Testament, reference is sometimes made to classical and Jewish parallels. In earlier classical Greek there was a distinction between an aggelos or messenger and an apostolos, who was not a mere messenger, but a delegate or representative of the person who sent him. In the later Judaism, again, apostoloi were envoys sent out by the patriarchate in Jerusalem to collect the sacred tribute from the Jews of the Dispersion. It seems unlikely, however, that either of these uses bears upon the Christian origin of a term which, in any case, came to have its own distinctive Christian meaning. To understand the word as we find it in the New Testament it is not necessary to go beyond the New Testament itself. To discover the source of its Christian use it is sufficient to refer to its immediate and natural signification. The term used by Jesus, it must be remembered, would be Aramaic, not Greek, and apostolos would be its literal equivalent.

    1. The Twelve:

    In the New Testament history we first hear of the term as applied by Jesus to the Twelve in connection with that evangelical mission among the villages on which He dispatched them at an early stage of His public ministry (Matthew 10:1; Mark 3:14; 6:30; Luke 6:13; 9:1). From a comparison of the Synoptics it would seem that the name as thus used was not a general designation for the Twelve, but had reference only to this particular mission, which was typical and prophetic, however, of the wider mission that was to come (compare Hort, Christian Ecclesia, 23-29). Luke, it is true, uses the word as a title for the Twelve apart from reference to the mission among the villages. But the explanation probably is, as Dr. Hort suggests, that since the Third Gospel and the Book of Ac formed two sections of what was really one work, the author in the Gospel employs the term in that wider sense which it came to have after the Ascension.

    When we pass to Acts, "apostles" has become an ordinary name for the Eleven (Acts 1:2,26), and after the election of Matthias in place of Judas, for the Twelve (2:37,42,43, etc.). But even so it does not denote a particular and restricted office, but rather that function of a world-wide missionary service to which the Twelve were especially called. In His last charge, just before He ascended, Jesus had commissioned them to go forth into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature (Matthew 28:19,20; Mark 16:15). He had said that they were to be His witnesses not only in Jerusalem and Judea, but in Samaria (contrast Matthew 10:5), and unto the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:8). They were apostles, therefore, qua missionaries--not merely because they were the Twelve, but because they were now sent forth by their Lord on a universal mission for the propagation of the gospel.

    2. Paul:

    The very fact that the name "apostle" means what it does would point to the impossibility of confining it within the limits of the Twelve. (The "twelve apostles" of Revelation 21:14 is evidently symbolic; compare in 7:3 the restriction of God's sealed servants to the twelve tribes.) Yet there might be a tendency at first to do so, and to restrict it as a badge of honor and privilege peculiar to that inner circle (compare Acts 1:25). If any such tendency existed, Paul effectually broke it down by vindicating for himself the right to the name. His claim appears in his assumption of the apostolic title in the opening words of most of his epistles. And when his right to it was challenged, he defended that right with passion, and especially on these grounds:

    that he had seen Jesus, and so was qualified to bear witness to His resurrection (1 Corinthians 9:1; compare Acts 22:6); that he had received a call to the work of an apostle (Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1, etc.; Galatians 2:7; compare Acts 13:2; 22:21); but, above all, that he could point to the signs and seals of his apostleship furnished by his missionary labors and their fruits (1 Corinthians 9:2; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Galatians 2:8). It was by this last ground of appeal that Paul convinced the original apostles of the justice of his claim. He had not been a disciple of Jesus in the days of His flesh; his claim to have seen the risen Lord and from Him to have received a personal commission was not one that could be proved to others; but there could be no possibility of doubt as to the seals of his apostleship. It was abundantly clear that "he that wrought for Peter unto the apostleship of the circumcision wrought for (Paul) also unto the Gentiles" (Galatians 2:8). And so perceiving the grace that was given unto him, Peter and John, together with James of Jerusalem, recognized Paul as apostle to the Gentiles and gave him the right hand of fellowship (Galatians 2:9).

    3. The Wider Circle:

    It is sometimes said by those who recognize that there were other apostles besides the Twelve and Paul that the latter (to whom some, on the ground of 1 Corinthians 15:7; Galatians 1:19, would add James the Lord's brother) were the apostles par excellence, while the other apostles mentioned in the New Testament were apostles in some inferior sense. It is hardly possible, however, to make out such a distinction on the ground of New Testament usage. There were great differences, no doubt, among the apostles of the primitive church, as there were among the Twelve themselves--differences due to natural talents, to personal acquirements and experience, to spiritual gifts. Paul was greater than Barnabas or Silvanus, just as Peter and John were greater than Thaddaeus or Simon the Cananean.

    But Thaddaeus and Simon were disciples of Jesus in the very same sense as Peter and John; and the Twelve and Paul were not more truly apostles than others who are mentioned in the New Testament. If apostleship denotes missionary service, and if its reality, as Paul suggests, is to be measured by its seals, it would be difficult to maintain that Matthias was an apostle par excellence, while Barnabas was not. Paul sets Barnabas as an apostle side by side with himself (1 Corinthians 9:5; Galatians 2:9; compare Acts 13:2; 14:4,14); he speaks of Andronicus and Junias as "of note among the apostles" (Romans 16:7); he appears to include Apollos along with himself among the apostles who are made a spectacle unto the world and to angels and to men (1 Corinthians 4:6,9); the natural inference from a comparison of 1 Thessalonians 1:1 with 2:6 is that he describes Silvanus and Timothy as "apostles of Christ"; to the Philippians he mentions Epaphroditus as "your apostle" (Philippians 2:25 the Revised Version, margin), and to the Corinthians commends certain unknown brethren as "the apostles of the churches" and "the glory of Christ" (2 Corinthians 8:23 the Revised Version, margin). And the very fact that he found it necessary to denounce certain persons as "false apostles, deceitful workers, fashioning themselves into apostles of Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:13) shows that there was no thought in the primitive church of restricting the apostleship to a body of 12 or 13 men. "Had the number been definitely restricted, the claims of these interlopers would have been self-condemned" (Lightfoot, Galatians, 97).

    4. Apostles in Didache:

    When we come to the Didache, which probably lies beyond the boundary-line of New Testament history, we find the name "apostles" applied to a whole class of nameless missionaries--men who settled in no church, but moved about from place to place as messengers of the gospel (chapter 11). This makes it difficult to accept the view, urged by Lightfoot (op. cit., 98) and Gwatkin (HDB, I, 126) on the ground Of Luke 24:48; Acts 1:8,22; 1 Corinthians 9:1, that to have seen the Lord was always the primary qualification of an apostle--a view on the strength of which they reject the apostleship of Apollos and Timothy, as being late converts to Christianity who lived far from the scenes of our Lord's ministry. Gwatkin remarks that we have no reason to suppose that this condition was ever waived unless we throw forward the Didache into the 2nd century. But it seems very unlikely that even toward the end of the 1st century there would be a whole class of men, not only still alive, but still braving in the exercise of their missionary functions all the hardships of a wandering and homeless existence (compare Didache 11:4-6), who were yet able to bear the personal testimony of eye-witnesses to the ministry and resurrection of Jesus. In Luke 24:48 and Acts 18:22 it is the chosen company of the Twelve who are in view. In 1 Corinthians 9:1 Paul is meeting his Judaizing opponents on their own ground, and answering their insistence upon personal intercourse with Jesus by a claim to have seen the Lord. But apart from these passages there is no evidence that the apostles of the early church were necessarily men who had known Jesus in the flesh or had been witnesses of His resurrection--much less that this was the primary qualification on which their apostleship was made to rest.

    5. The Apostleship:

    We are led then to the conclusion that the true differentia of the New Testament apostleship lay in the missionary calling implied in the name, and that all whose lives were devoted to this vocation, and who could prove by the issues of their labors that God's Spirit was working through them for the conversion of Jew or Gentile, were regarded and described as apostles. The apostolate was not a limited circle of officials holding a well-defined position of authority in the church, but a large class of men who discharged one--and that the highest--of the functions of the prophetic ministry (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11). It was on the foundation of the apostles and prophets that the Christian church was built, with Jesus Christ Himself as the chief corner-stone (Ephesians 2:20). The distinction between the two classes was that while the prophet was God's spokesman to the believing church (1 Corinthians 14:4,22,25,30,31), the apostle was His envoy to the unbelieving world (Galatians 2:7,9).

    The call of the apostle to his task might come in a variety of ways. The Twelve were called personally by Jesus to an apostolic task at the commencement of His earthly ministry (Matthew 10:1 parallel), and after His resurrection this call was repeated, made permanent, and given a universal scope (Matthew 28:19,20; Acts 1:8). Matthias was called first by the voice of the general body of the brethren and thereafter by the decision of the lot (Acts 1:15,23,26). Paul's call came to him in a heavenly vision (Acts 26:17-19); and though this call was subsequently ratified by the church at Antioch, which sent him forth at the bidding of the Holy Ghost (Acts 13:1), he firmly maintained that he was an apostle not from men neither through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead (Galatians 1:1). Barnabas was sent forth (exapostello is the verb used) by the church at Jerusalem (Acts 11:22) and later, along with Paul, by the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1); and soon after this we find the two men described as apostles (Acts 14:4). It was the mission on which they were sent that explains the title. And when this particular mission was completed and they returned to Antioch to rehearse before the assembled church "all things that God had done with them, and that he had opened a door of faith unto the Gentiles" (Acts 14:27), they thereby justified their claim to be the apostles not only of the church, but of the Holy Spirit.

    The authority of the apostolate was of a spiritual, ethical and personal kind. It was not official, and in the nature of the case could not be transmitted to others. Paul claimed for himself complete independence of the opinion of the whole body of the earlier apostles (Galatians 2:6,11), and in seeking to influence his own converts endeavored by manifestation of the truth to commend himself to every man's conscience in the sight of God (2 Corinthians 4:2). There is no sign that the apostles collectively exercised a separate and autocratic authority. When the question of the observance of the Mosaic ritual by GentileChristians arose at Antioch and was referred to Jerusalem, it was "the apostles and elders" who met to discuss it (Acts 15:2,6,22), and the letter returned to Antioch was written in the name of "the apostles and the elders, brethren" (Acts 15:23).

    In founding a church Paul naturally appointed the first local officials (Acts 14:23), but he does not seem to have interfered with the ordinary administration of affairs in the churches he had planted. In those cases in which he was appealed to or was compelled by some grave scandal to interpose, he rested an authoritative command on some express word of the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:10), and when he had no such word to rest on, was careful to distinguish his own judgment and counsel from a Divine commandment (1 Corinthians 12:25,30). His appeals in the latter case are grounded upon fundamental principles of morality common to heathen and Christian alike (1 Corinthians 5:1), or are addressed to the spiritual judgment (1 Corinthians 10:15), or are reinforced by the weight of a personal influence gained by unselfish service and by the fact that he was the spiritual father of his converts as having begotten them in Christ Jesus through the gospel (1 Corinthians 4:15). It may be added here that the expressly missionary character of the apostleship seems to debar James, the Lord's brother, from any claim to the title. James was a prophet and teacher, but not an apostle. As the head of the church at Jerusalem, he exercised a ministry of a purely local nature. The passages on which it has been sought to establish his right to be included in the apostolate do not furnish any satisfactory evidence. In 1 Corinthians 15:7 James is contrasted with "all the apostles" rather than included in their number (compare 1 Corinthians 9:5). And in Galatians 1:19 the meaning may quite well be that with the exception of Peter, none of the apostles was seen by Paul in Jerusalem, but only James the Lord's brother (compare the Revised Version, margin).


    Lightfoot, Galatians, 92-101; Hort, Christian Ecclesia, Lect II; Weizsacker, The Apostolic Age, II, 291-99; Lindsay, The Church and the Ministry, 73-90.

    J. C. Lambert

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    Bibliography Information
    Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'APOSTLE'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.