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Are Apostles for today?


We have leaders today who refer to themselves as Apostles. Some even add the term as part of their title. It was part of the five key ministries that Paul listed as necessary for building the church:

11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; (Ephesians 4:11-12 NASV)

Traditionally non charismatic churches or cessationists have opposed the usage of ministries such as apostles and prophets and even spiritual gifts. Also called dispensationalism, those holding this view believed these ministries and spiritual gifts were for another dispensation, and not for today.

It has always been a bit puzzling why ministries such as prophets and apostles were rejected while pastors, teachers and evangelists were embraced even though the five are listed together.

However, that all changed with the Revival that took place in North Battleford, Saskatchewan Canada in 1948 where they rejected dispensationalism and restored the idea that apostles and prophets were necessary ministries in the church.

But today even some charismatics question the Apostolic ministry. I suspect at least part of the reason is due to the rapid growth in the apostolic ministries and growing influence they are having in Christian circles.

We know that there were 12 apostles in the early church and with the death of Judas, a 13th Matthias (Acts 1:20-26) was appointed to replace him.  Before choosing by lots, they set out the qualifications for this replacement Apostle. He needed to have been a disciple of Christ since the time of John the Baptist and a witness to the resurrection:

21 Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out [t]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.” (Matthew 1:21-22 NASV)

These two qualifications would seem to limit the apostolic ministry to the time of Christ or does it?

The question we have to ask ourselves is were there any apostles listed in the Bible aside from the 12 and if so were there any who did not meet these two qualifications?

If there were it would tell us that we have two levels of apostles. The ruling group of 12 who traveled with Christ and another level who functioned in an apostolic ministry and by implication this would mean Apostles would still be needed today

In fact there were several Apostles besides the 12:

The Apostle Paul

Referred to as the Apostle to the Gentiles, there is no doubt from scripture that Paul was an apostle.

Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ [a]by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, (1 Corinthians 1:1 NASV)

He had considerable authority in the early church almost ranking in authority with the 12 apostles. In fact, some would suggest he had more.

We know the Apostle Paul was not a disciple who traveled with Jesus from the time of John the Baptist. However, it is possible the early church thought he had been witness to the resurrection of Christ because of his Damascus road experience where he personally encountered the risen Christ (Acts 9:1-8).

He is the first evidence that Apostles were not limited to just 12 men. And he was not alone. There were several other people called Apostles and most did not meet the qualifications of one of the 12, but still functioned as an apostle.

Apollos/Apolios an apostle?

There is an interesting passage in 1 Corinthians 4:6-13, where the Apostle Paul designates Apollos as an Apostle.

In verse 6, Paul writes about his and Apollos’s ministry:

Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become [a]arrogant in behalf of one against the other. (1 Corinthians 4:6)

Then three verses later Paul continues:

For, 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. (1 Corinthians 4:9 NASV)

Who is “us Apostles?” The context suggests that Paul is referring to himself and Apollos, and by implication states Apollos was an apostle.

Apollos first showed up in Acts 18. He was a Jew (Acts 18:24-25) but a late convert to the Christian faith and was not part of Christ’s original group of disciples.

He was living in Ephesus and was taken under wing by Priscilla and Aquila. Apollos eventually moved to the Corinthian church where he began to minister and took on an apostolic role.

His ministry had such an impact that Paul put it on the same level as both his and Peter’s Apostolic roles:

11 For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. 12 Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:11-12 NASV)

Barnabas

The first mention of Barnabas is found in the Book of Acts (Acts 4:36) when he sold land and laid money at the Apostle’s feet. He was from Cyprus and because he is not mentioned in the Gospels, many suspect he was saved on the Day of Pentecost.

In the Book of Acts, he is clearly called an Apostle:

14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their [a]robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out (Acts 14:14 NASV)

Barnabas is also referred to as an Apostle indirectly in Acts 14:4 and 1 Corinthians 9:5-6).

He was mentored by Paul, but was definitely raised up by God as a leader and Apostle in the early church. These two key leaders actually had a falling out over Mark (Acts 15:36-41) who had earlier left the group and now wanted to rejoin them.

Barnabas wanted to include Mark in their next missionary journey, but Paul didn’t. There was a sharp contention between the two and they split into two groups (Acts 15:37-39). For the record, Barnabas was eventually proven right.

James the Brother of Jesus

James the brother of Jesus is also called an Apostle.  

But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. (Galatians 1:19 NASV).

Though it is possible James may have seen the resurrected Christ, it is doubtful he traveled with Christ from the time of John the Baptist. John notes:

For not even His brothers were believing in Him. (John 7:5 NASV)

James was not part of the original 12, but nevertheless went on to function in an apostolic role in the early church.

Titus

What we know about Titus is that he was a gentile (Galatians 2:3) and a convert of Paul (Titus 1:4).  This means he did not meet either of the two qualifications necessary to be one of the 12, but was still considered an Apostle.

23 As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brethren, they are [b]messengers (lit apostles) of the churches, a glory to Christ. (2 Corinthians 8:23 NASV)

In this verse, the NASV describe him as a “messenger,” but provides this important footnote on the word “messenger:”

 

In the Greek, the term is actually apostle and this means he was perhaps the first non-Jewish Apostle.

Epaphroditus

In Philippians, Paul refers to a man named Epaphroditus as an apostle:

25 But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your [a]messenger and minister to my need; (Philippians 2:25 NASV)

Similar to Titus, the NASV describe him as a “messenger,” but provides this important footnote on the word “messenger:”

a Philippians 2:25 Lit apostle

Notice how Paul refers to Epaphroditus as “your” or the Philippians’s apostle.

Who is Epaphroditus? We don’t know that much about him, but his name means “belonging to Aphrodite” which means he was also a gentile Apostle.

Paul was under house arrest in Rome and Epaphrodiuts delivered a care package to Paul on behalf of the Philippians and then returned with Paul’s letter.

He clearly was not a disciple of Christ from the Days of John the Baptist and had not been a witness of the resurrection of Christ. It is possible he was saved on the Day of Pentecost because there were Gentiles among the group Peter preached to on the Day of Pentecost.

10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and [m]proselytes (Gentiles who converted to Judaism), (Acts 1:10 NASV)

But more likely he was saved sometime after the Holy Spirit fell upon the gentiles in the House of Cornelius (Acts 10).

Silas and Timothy

In his first letter to Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul refers to both Silas and Timothy as apostles. Paul starts off stating who the letter is from:

Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. (1 Thessalonians 1:1 NASV)

Then Paul shows refers to their apostolic ministry later when he writes:

nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ [a]we might have [b]asserted our authority. (1 Thessalonians 2:6 NASV)

Who is the “we” Paul is referring to? It is clear from the context he is referring to both Silas and Timothy as well. But notice how Paul also refers to the authority they had as apostles, but importantly it was not an authority that they took advantage of.

Andronicus and Junias

Greet Andronicus and [a]Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. (Romans 16:7 NASV)

This is a bit of a odd passage because “Junias” is a female name. Some suspect Andronicus and Junias operated in a similar fashion to the husband and wife team, Priscilla and Aquila, who mentored Apollos.

They are referred to as outstanding among the Apostles and this leaves room for the possibility that they were not apostles themselves but simply well-known to the apostles. However, the translation suggests the two served in an apostolic ministry, suggesting a woman could be an apostle.

It is clear from the Bible that there were several people in the early church who were considered apostles but not one of the twelve. They were not required to meet the qualifications of the 12, and as a results this ministry is not limited to the time of Christ, but is just as important today for the “perfecting of the saints” as it was in the early church.

A list of the 12 Apostles (Matthew 10:2-4):

  • Simon (who is called Peter);
  • Andrew (Peter’s brother);
  • James son of Zebedee;
  • John, the brother of James of Zebedee;
  • Philip;
  • Bartholomew (also called Nathaniel);
  • Thomas (the doubter);
  • Matthew, the tax collector;
  • James son of Alphaeus;
  • Thaddaeus (also known as Judas, the son of James);
  • Simon the Zealot 0r Canaanite (probably a member of rebel group that existed at that time); and
  • Matthias (replaced Judas Acts 1:20-26)

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