Today we are going to examine the biblical passages related to Apostles. This discussion will be supported by multiple verses. Think through each verse. Have one goal in mind, search for truth. Be willing to let go of any teaching you hold to that might contradict the passages and pursue Jesus through His word.
Define your Terms
Defining the term Apostle is important.
When one uses the words Apostle today, we could be referring to its simplistic Greek definition. The word Apostle in Greek means “Sent forth”. It can be used as a word we substitute for the word missionary. A missionary is one we send forth proclaim the biblical Gospel. When you share Christ with someone you are behaving as an Apostle/Missionary for the Lord as you proclaim his truth.
HOWEVER…the Bible also uses the word apostle to describe the Office of an Apostle. The official office of an Apostle means something more than the basic definition of the Greek word for Apostle. It is very important to differentiate between the Office of an Apostle and the missionary sent forth (apostle) to proclaim the Gospel. Generally when you hear religious organizations use the term Apostle in reference to religious leaders, they are most likely referring to the office and not to a person who was sent out as a missionary. Therefore the following passages will help you work through the biblical definition of the office of an Apostle and what it means for us today.
What does the Bible Say about the office of an Apostle?
Defining the office of apostle
Matthew 10:1-2, 7-8 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. 2 Now the names of the twelve apostles are these… 7 And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give:
The Office of Apostle: One of apostolic authority given by Jesus. The position is demonstrated by signs and wonders for the purpose of validating their message, establishing churches and bringing people to maturity in Christ. Those in the office of Apostle were on the frontlines of ministry of pagan societies where there was often little to no Gospel presence.
Defining the duration of the office of apostle
Ephesians 2:20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
The Bible says the Apostles were used to lay a foundation. When you build a building, you only lay a foundation once. The foundation of the apostles has been laid and Paul’s statement below reiterates that point. In addition to other passages like Jude 3,
1 Corinthians 15:7-9a “then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 9 For I am the least of the apostles,”
Paul indicates from his own mouth that the office of apostle is a limited office that is not going to continue. This is seen as Paul refers to himself as the “Last of all the apostles”.
Titus 1:5 “For this reason I left you in Crete that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders.”
Acts 14:23 When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
The term elder was a borrowed term to refer to older people. A church elder was typically an older person. In fact Titus 1 suggests an elder had a career and was married with children. The Bible says the early church appointed elders to lead a church and not apostles and prophets. Paul even lays out the qualifications of these church leaders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Paul is operating under the thought that the ministry of the apostles will end knew that God desired for the elders will lead the church in the future. This is an important point because if God wanted the office of apostle to continue he would have told the apostles to appoint other apostles as the church leaders and not elders. Therefore, because elders are appointed to lead, one can only assume that the ministry of the office of apostle and prophets was coming to a close. As we have already discovered this is because the foundation has been laid (Eph 2:20), and no new revelation of the faith will be given to the church (Jude 3). Church history even shows that during the 1st, 2nd, 3rd centuries, etc.…. Apostles were not chosen. Why? Because the early church understood that the office of an apostle was temporary. If we were supposed to continue with the office of an apostle you would expect one of the New Testament writers to express this, describe how to do it, or even describing a time when the church elected more apostles to lead. However, you find just the opposite. Apostles aren’t chosen, we have no description on how to appoint apostles, and the bible says the office is to build a foundation once. (Jude 3)
The Marks of a True Apostle
1 Corinthians 12:12 Paul said, “I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles” (See also Matthew 10:1-2)
The office of a true apostle was confirmed with signs, wonders and miracles conducted in places where there were not any Christians. If Apostles exist we need to send them to Africa to cure Ebola and establish churches. During the Apostle Paul’s life, Hospitals did not exist. In fact it was the Christian church that originally started hospitals. The reason they did not exist was because the culture believed if someone were sick they were cursed by a god. Therefore sick people were often thrown into the streets until they healed. Some however never healed. The culture believed that once a person recovered the gods were no longer angry but if you helped them during their sickness you too could be cursed. Therefore sick people would often hang outside of temples to their gods in hopes of paying penance for their wrongdoing. This in fact this became a typical location where you would often see the disciples healing…(Outside of the Jewish Temple Acts 3:1-6). If one were a true apostle today, holding the office of an Apostle, you would expect them walking into hospitals. Like Peter, even their shadows would heal people. (Acts 5:15)
The Lifestyle of the office of an Apostle
1 Corinthians 4:9-13 I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. 11 To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; 12 and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; 13 when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.
Apostles live in rags and poverty not wealth and prosperity. Apostles lived in areas where it was dark and hostile not in areas where the majority of those who hold their faith would live.
According to Paul’s stance in 1 Corinthians 4, people wanted to call themselves “apostles” because they desired position and power. However, they were not interested in the sacrifice and giving their lives. Paul says in the above passage, real apostles have tremendous suffering that comes with it. In comparison to todays “apostles”, what person do you know who calls themselves an apostle and even comes close to living what Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 4:9-13? Today, most so called “apostles” live luxurious lifestyles. Hmmm?
The way one is qualified to hold the office of an Apostle
Acts 1:21-26 “Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”
The qualification for electing an apostle was that the apostle had to have seen the resurrected Christ.
1 Corinthians 9:1 …Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?
In defending his position as an apostle, Paul states the reason he can hold the office of an apostle is because he saw the resurrected Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:8-9 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 9 For I am the least of the apostles,”
Paul says he is the last apostle and that in fact he had seen the resurrected Christ. Keep in mind Paul is writing this passage 20 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Notice in this same passage Paul refers to himself as one “untimely born.” Throughout Paul’s ministry he was consistently having to defend himself as an apostle. This is likely because Paul was given the office of an apostle at a much later time than the original apostles, therefore he had to defend his unique calling because it was so much later than when the other apostles were chosen. Paul did clarify that although His apostolic calling to the office of an apostle was later, he was the last apostle (1 Corinthians 9). Hence writing 1 Corinthians 15 more than 20 years after Jesus’s resurrection, and calling himself the last apostle shows no more apostles were chosen. Paul became a Christian within a couple years after Jesus resurrection. Nearly 2 decades past and Paul remained the last apostle.
Those that claim to be apostles today look much different from the real apostles that held the appointed temporary office of the first century. The real apostles lived in places where there were few Christians because they were the ones “Sent out” to establish new churches. The biblical apostles were abused. They lived in poverty, and hunger (see 1 Corinthians 4:9-13). Paul encouraged Christians not to be envious of the true apostles because it was the lowliest of positions. Today it seems those who claim to be apostles live where there is a heavy population of their followers, and they live in luxury.
When someone is said to hold the office of an apostle, I take that statement seriously: #1 because I don’t believe they have a real understanding of what the biblical office of an apostle is and #2 because it is dangerous to make such a statement. Claiming to have an authority when in fact you do not is misleading and can pull people into error.
Does the office of Apostle exist today? If we are referring to the office of Apostles as the bible describes it, NO!!! The biblical office of an apostle was held by a few people who saw Jesus in his physical resurrection (Acts 1:21-26). However, if we are referring to an apostle as one who is sent out to proclaim Jesus, all of Christ’s followers have been sent into the world to proclaim his truth. God wants to use you to share his truth.