The term apostle is used throughout Scripture, but is it a role that is still found in the church today? To explore this possibility, let’s consider what the Scriptures have to say.
Generally we associate the term apostle with the twelve disciples that Jesus called apostles during His earthly ministry, see Luke 6:13. These men were with Jesus from the early days of His ministry witnessing all that He taught and did. As representatives, they were sent out during and after Jesus’ earthly ministry to testify of Him and His kingdom in word and power.
But, did the term apostle end with them?
In Acts 1:15-26, Matthias is chosen to replace Judas, who was one of the twelve and who betrayed Jesus and then committed suicide.
Most of us, without much thought, automatically associate Paul as an apostle. But, most of the evidence to Paul’s apostleship is by way of his own letters, where he calls himself an apostle, which alone could appear to be a dubious self-appointment. However, Peter, one of the twelve, rather than take exception to Paul’s claim to apostleship, instead ratifies it when he called Paul’s letters “Scripture” in 2 Peter 3:15-16.
Also, although Luke’s account in Acts doesn’t directly refer to Paul as an apostle, it clearly shows Paul to be one by the call on his life, through his teaching and by the miracles associated with him. In fact, it appears that Luke purposed to show in his narrative that Paul’s apostleship was just like that of Peter’s by intentionally choosing to reflect on the similar miracles that each did.
The term apostle didn’t end with the selection of Paul.
Here is a list of persons who are also called apostles in the Bible:
Barnabas – Acts 14:14
Andronicus and Junia – Rom. 16:7: – they were shown to be apostles depending on whether the text is to mean “among” or “to” the apostles
Timothy & Silas – see 1 Thess. 2:6 in context to 1:1
Epaphroditus – Phil.2:25 -“messenger” is the same word translated apostle elsewhere
Apollos – 1 Cor. 4:9
Evidence for Today?
The above list from Scripture shows a continued and broader use of the term apostle outside of the twelve. So, clearly, along with the unique apostleship of the twelve, Jesus chose others as apostles after His ascension.
This goes hand in hand with Eph. 4:11-12 where it mentions certain role players in the body of Christ, namely, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers who were given as gifts to the churches “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…”
Can the list of names above, along with this scripture, be considered evidence for the role of apostle continuing to this day? Many, who are uncomfortable with persons being referred to as apostles in the church today, would have no problem with persons being referred to as an evangelist pastor, or teacher. But, for some reason, using the term “prophet” and “apostle” for someone today is considered anathema. Why is this so?
Ignorance and Tradition
I believe that it’s because of ignorance and tradition that we sit with a narrow concept and use of the term apostle. And, also, out of ignorance and tradition we have incorrectly associated rank with this role and as such cannot imagine any regular person attaining the much elevated rank of apostle.
Now, although apostleship is a very significant role in the body of Christ that carries certain important responsibilities, it has no rank over anyone else in the body of Christ. The title or rather term apostle simply means “messenger” or “sent one” and as such describes a function or role in the Body of Christ.
Reverence and respect for an apostle should be no more than for anyone else in the body of Christ. Further reverence should be spared for the function and who the apostle is representing and not in a title of rank that we’ve created out of a title of function. This is hard for us to grasp, because in this world we typically associate rank with titles. However, Jesus taught his disciples differently, see my post, No Rank, Only Roles in the Body of Christ.
It would be fitting to mention the most outstanding apostle, Jesus. Those preoccupied with the idea of rank might consider referring to Jesus as an apostle a demotion. Yet, in Heb. 3:1, He is called this, not as an inferior title, but rather as the description of His role as a messenger or sent one from heaven. However, unlike any other apostles, in this role Jesus does carry preeminence in rank and is certainly superior in its execution.
I believe that to this day many have carried out the role of apostle, but have been referred to by other terms. Certainly, some have been among the leaders in missions. Yet, whether they have been known as such or not, the ministry of the apostle has lived on in Jesus’ Church to this day.
Look around in the body of Christ and perhaps you will notice an apostle or two among us. Don’t tell them though, as the false issue of rank associated with the role might make them giddy and fall :).