The Biblical Basis for Apostles Today
by Don Walker
In the synoptic gospels, the term apostle is used of the 12 disciples personally commissioned by our Lord to be the vanguard of those sent to proclaim the gospel — initially to Jerusalem, then to all the nations of the earth. In the New Testament epistles, apostles are mentioned in two contexts: Paul, in Ephesians 4:11-16, outlines the equipping gifts (Greek word-“doma”), addressing their place and function in the Church; and in 1 Corinthians 12, where Paul makes reference to the various ministries (apostles, administrators, workers of miracles, interpreters of tongues, etc.). It is these two references which provide for us the link between the apostles of the New Testament era and those throughout Church history, even unto our present day.
There are over 80 references to apostles and at least 22 individual apostles mentioned in the New Testament. (By contrast, there are only four prophets mentioned by name, only one evangelist, and one teacher.) In addition to Jesus, the Chief Apostle (Heb. 3:1), and the Twelve chosen by Him, we have the following: Matthias-chosen to replace Judas (Acts 1:24-26), Barnabas (Acts 14:4,14), Paul (Acts 14:4,14), Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25), Silas (1 Thess. 1:1, 2:6), Timothy (1Thess. 1:1, 2:6), James, the Lord’s brother (Gal. 1:19, 2:9), Andronicus (Rom. 16:7), Junias (Rom. 16:7).
In addition to these, there are others who, by inference, could be added to the list: Apollos (I Cor. 4:6-13), Titus (II Cor. 8:23), two unnamed brethren (II Cor. 8:23), Erastus (Acts 19:22), Tychius (II Tim. 4:12), Judas (called Barsabbas) (Acts 15:22-23).
Paul is undoubtedly unique among the apostles. Unfortunately, because we know more about his apostleship than any other in the New Testament, we make him the model. This fails to take into account the unusual nature of his ministry. For this reason, before we can continue, we must consider some of the important factors involved in his New Testament Role.
Paul humbly, but consistently, attests to his apostleship in most of his epistles. He did not consider himself, in terms of this apostolic ministry, to be in any way inferior to the “Twelve” (2 Cor. 11:15, 12:11-12). He referred to himself as “one born out of due season” in relationship to the Twelve (1 Cor. 15:5-8). Paul qualified his having “seen” the Lord on the same level as those who were actual “eyewitnesses” of the Resurrection (1 Cor. 9:1-2, 15:8). Paul’s apostleship was confirmed with miraculous signs and wonders (Acts 14:27, 15:3-12; 2 Cor. 12:12). The Council at Jerusalem recognized Paul’s apostolic ministry (Gal. 2:7-8). Paul wrote 13, possibly 14, books of the New Testament. Revelation was given unto him unlike any other apostle, except maybe John. Even Peter said Paul wrote things hard to be understood, but acknowledged his writings as being inspired scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). Paul was able to say with authority, “I received of the Lord that which I delivered to you” — not of the other apostles, who added nothing to him as far as apostolic revelation was concerned (1 Cor. 11:23, 15:3; Gal. 1:11-12, 2:1-9; Eph. 3:1-12).
If all apostles were required to have the same credentials as Paul, the field becomes quite narrow. But there were other apostles in Paul’s day, some about which we know little or nothing. Were they any less apostolic than Paul was? Certainly they did not carry the ministry Paul did, but they did function as apostles.
Not all apostles were writers of scripture (Epaphroditus, for example, or most of the “Twelve”.) Nor is their sufficient evidence to conclude that all apostles were necessarily “eyewitnesses” to the Resurrection. For example, there is no scriptural indication that Timothy was such a witness. The argument that apostles must be eyewitness of Jesus, based upon Paul’s statement, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord” (1Cor. 9:1) is offered by some as a “proof text” opposing apostolic ministry in the Church today. In actuality, the text seems to show that Paul’s reference to seeing Jesus is only included as a secondary credential, not as proof of his apostleship.
I would contend that apostles have always been in the Church throughout her history. They often times were not called “apostles,” but there is no other way to describe their function. These men were spiritual fathers and master builders. Some pioneered missionary works in unreached lands; others lead movements and established churches. The spheres of influence may have varied with each, but the apostolic function was apparent.