First off, what are Apostles?
Well an Apostle, along with Evangelists, Pastors, Teachers, Prophets and workers of Miracles are all “appointments”. I use this rather clumsy word of “appointment” because there is SO MUCH kickback in today’s word of using the word “office” due to the mental baggage that word arries for some people.
In all reality the distinctive word the New Testament uses for these people is Energies. This is found in Paul’s famous chapter 12 to the Corinthains and I have a few messages dedicated to the topics, one of which is Gifts, Ministries & Energies Pt. 1.
In brief, Energies are certain people given AS gifts to the body. Yes, I know how that sounds, but let’s let God’s word define itself as it pleases without our interference.
These “energies” have an “energizing effect” on those within their “sphere” of authority. They equip for ministry, encourage growth into Christ’s image and unify the rest of the body in sound doctrine. These are the ones who minister to the true ministers in Christ’s body which are all the other members.
So Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastor-teachers, Teachers & Worker’s of Miracles (and perhaps others) are PEOPLE given BY God the Father to the church as a gift.
The word Apostle in the Greek is number G652 in the Strong’s Concordiance ἀπόστολος apóstolos; gen. apostólou, masc. noun from apostéllō (G649), to send. Used as a subst., one sent, apostle, ambassador.
So in brief an apostle as used in the scriptures is one who is sent as a messenger of and for Christ Jesus. In a general way, that is true of every Christian, for 2Cor. 5:20 tells us that we are “…ambassadors for Christ”. The same can be said regarding the appointment of being an evangelist, for we are all to evangelize and “do the work of an evangelist” (2Tim. 4:5), but we do not all hold that office or appointment.
The Lord chose the term apóstoloi to indicate the distinctive relation of the twelve men He chose to be His witnesses, though that word was rarely used in classical Greek (Luke 6:13; Acts 1:2, Acts 1:26). Therefore, it designates the office as instituted by Christ to bear testimony of Him before the world (John 17:18). It also designates the authority which those called to this office possess.
[For more on the word and it’s use see the verb apostéllō in Rom. 10:15. Paul combines both these meanings (Rom. 1:1; Rom. 11:13; 1Cor. 1:1; 1Cor. 9:1-2; 1Cor. 15:9; 2Cor. 1:1; 2Cor. 12:12; Gal. 1:1).]
It was the distinctive name of the twelve Apostles originally (Mat. 10:2; Luke 6:13; Luke 9:10; Luke 22:14; Rev. 21:14) or the eleven later, with the addition of Matthias in the upper room Acts 1:26 and then later of Paul himself as he himself said in 1Cor. 15:7-9.
One further clarification as to the job and position of apostles is that they seemed to be sent out to specific people and regions with the testimony of Christ Jesus for the spread of His kingdom through the establishment of churches and the appointing of elders over them.
For example, Paul was called as an apostle TO THE GENTILES, and not to ALL gentiles, but to gentiles in specific regions where the Lord directed him.
“Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Seeing that I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry,” – Romans 11:13
“We do not boast beyond limits, that is, in the labors of others; but our hope is that, as your faith increases, our sphere of action among you may be greatly enlarged, so that we may proclaim the good news to the regions beyond you, not boasting about what has already been done in someone else’s area of ministry.” – 2Cor. 10:15-16
All of this is seen more by example than by any clear statement explaining their position and function in the church which is much testified to throughout the entire book of Acts. However, other examples are found in 1Cor. 9:1-2; 2Cor. 10:13-16 & Titus 1:5.
The Friberg Greek Lexicon gives a broad definition for apostles. He says they are those who are sent on a mission, a commissioned representative of a congregation, a messenger for God, a person who has the special task of founding and establishing churches.
Finally, just as there are proofs of one being a genuine prophet, there are also apparently signs or proofs of being an apostle. Paul mentions them in 2Corinthians 12:11-2.
“(11) I have become a fool. You yourselves forced me to do it, for I should have been commended by you. For I lack nothing in comparison to those “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. (12) Indeed, the signs of an apostle were performed among you with great perseverance by signs and wonders and powerful deeds.” ~ 2Cor. 12:11-12.
Two distinct types of Apostles
Paul justified his being counted as an apostle by the fact that he had been called to the office by Christ Himself. However, that there seems to be a very clear distinction between the 12 Apostles and those who became such later is supported by both specific decree of Jesus and by later example.
Jesus told the disciples that to them had been given the keys of the kingdom of heaven and that whatever they bound on earth would be that which was already bound in heaven and whatever they loosed on earth would accurately represent what was already loosed in heaven.
Matthew 16:15-19/ Matt. 18:18,
“(15) He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” (16) Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (17) And Jesus answered him, “You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven! (18) And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. (19) I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven.”
Now the first objection one might have is that it appears that this “authority” (which is what is meant by the word power) was given exclusively to Peter. I would agree with this if this same power was not seen in use by the whole 12 apostles as is seen in the book of Acts.
What was this power of binding and loosening?
Well I have an entire article dedicated to this topic where I explain it in depth, so if you wish to you can read it here. For the more simplistic purposes of this article let me simply say that scripture uses these words in a way which in the ancient world had a very singular usage and meaning, especially within the Jewish culture.
It was a legal term regarding doctrines and laws. It was used in such a manner by the rabbis in Jesus’ day. Originally, these terms were part of a Jewish Mishnaic phrase meaning to forbid by an indisputable authority and to permit by an indisputable authority.
As it is brought by Jesus and Paul into New Covenant usage, it usually meant to declare something as “lawful” or “unlawful” in terms of doctrine. As you may be aware, the early church did not place the writings of the apostles on par with scripture at the time. They were nothing more than letters which contained teachings. The Old Testament was the only “Bible” of the early church. So, it doesn’t take much of an imagination to understand that the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus created a new and living way and ratified a New Covenant with God, so that there would be many OLD teachings which would no longer be relevant or would have to be altered to fit within the teachings of the New Covenant. SO, it was quite necessary to make declarations regarding which teachings were “lawful” and which were “unlawful”.
Examples of this which Jesus Himself did is found in Matthew 5. One of which was,
“(38) You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ (39) But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well. (40) And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your coat also. (41) And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. (42) Give to the one who asks you, and do not reject the one who wants to borrow from you.”
Jesus was quoting the Old Covenant law found in Exodus 21:24 but which was no longer acceptable once their inner character was now changed in the New Birth.
THIS is an example of binding and loosening, and it was an authority which the apostles who had walked with and learned from Jesus THROUGHOUT HIS ENTIRE MINISTRY would need in order to establish New Covenant doctrine.
Revelation 21:14 coins the term “Apostles of the Lamb” to refer to these original Apostles. Judas was one of them, but was replaced by the Holy Spirit with Matthias in the upper room on the day of Pentecost Acts 1:15-26.
So we know that there were two classifications of apostles. Those who were eye-witnesses of Jesus THROUGHOUT His ministry and who had been given special dispensational authority to clarify and establish New Covenant doctrine AND those who were simply sent out as ambassadors by the Lord of the church to bear testimony of Jesus and establish churches.
Who are clearly identified as Apostles in the New Testament?
The criteria here is that scripture specifically identifies them as confirmed apostles. As such we have the original twelve…
- Peter: Renamed by Jesus to Peter (meaning rock), his original name was Simon bar Jonah – Mk. 3:16; was a fisherman from the Bethsaida “of Galilee” – Jn. 1:44, cf. Jn. 12:21. Also known as Simon bar Jochanan (Aram.), Cephas (Aram.), and Simon Peter.
- Andrew: The brother of Simon/Peter, a Bethsaida fisherman, and a former disciple of John the Baptist.
- James, son of Zebedee: The brother of John.
- John: The brother of James. Jesus named both of them Bo-aner’ges, which means “sons of thunder’.'” – Mk. 3:17.
- Philip: From the Bethsaida of Galilee – Jn. 1:44; 12:21.
- Bartholomew, son of Talemai: usually identified with Nathanael, who is mentioned in Jn 1:45-51.
- Matthew: The tax collector. The similarity between Mt. 9:9-10, Mk. 2:14-15 and Lu 5:27-29 may indicate that Matthew was also known as Levi.
- Thomas: Judas Thomas Didymus – Aramaic T’oma’ = twin, and Greek Didymos = twin. Doubting Thomas.
- James, son of Alphaeus: Generally identified with “James the Less“, and also identified by Roman Catholics with “James the Just“.
- Thaddaeus: In some manuscripts of Matthew, the name “Lebbaeus” occurs in this place. Thaddeus is traditionally identified with Jude.
- Simon the Zealot: Also called Simon the Cananite as in Mt. 10:4. Some have identified him with Simeon of Jerusalem.
- Matthias: This was of course not the 13th apostle but rather the replacement for the 12th. The Acts 1:12-26 teaches us a lot about who could even be called as an apostle, especially an Apostle of the Lamb (which we will define at little later), but to streamline it I will simply say that they had to be a man who was called by God to this position AND in order to be an Apostle of the Lamb the additional requirement had to be that they had been with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry until He was taken into heaven from them. It was imperative that these be EYE-WITNESSES of Him! Only two in the upper room met this qualification Joseph (a.k.a. Justus) and Matthias. They prayed, cast lots and the Lord chose Matthias to take Judas’ place. I go into some detail regarding this in a message I taught entitled, The Book of Acts: Ministry WITH the Holy Spirit.
- Judas Iscariot: (died c. AD 30), one of the Twelve Apostles, notorious for betraying Jesus. Judas’ surname is more probably a corruption of the Latin sicarius (“murderer” or “assassin”) than an indication of family origin, suggesting that he would have belonged to the Sicarii, the most radical Jewish group, some of whom were terrorists. Other than his apostleship, his betrayal, and his death, little else is revealed about Judas in the Gospels. Always the last on the list of the apostles, he was their treasurer. John 12:6 introduces Judas’ thievery by saying, “. . . as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it.”
Paul: Who used to be known as Saul of Tarsus [Acts 9:11] of the tribe of Benjamin [Rom. 11:1 & Php. 3:5]. He was originally known as Saul only [Acts 9:4; 13:9] which means “asked for” or “desired”. Likely Paul changed his name to coincide with this new self-effacing nature in that Paul means “small”. Also, though probably just incidental, tradition has it that Paul was a very short man. Paul referred to himself as an apostle born “out of time” – 1Cor. 15:8, which some take to mean that he was the one God indented to replace Judas Iscariot but that is without ANY support while Matthias being one of the twelve is supported in Acts 6:2 before Paul was ever even converted.
Barnabas: The scriptures seem clear that Barnabas was an apostle not only by his mention as such in Acts 14:14,15, but by his apparent apostolic work which he continued independent of Paul at their separating Acts 15:37-40.
Silvanus — Very likely the same man as Silas, the companion of Paul and Timothy. He is called a prophet in Acts 15:32 and a preacher 2Cor. 1:19. Peter refers to him as a faithful brother in 2Peter 3:16. The only reference used to support the view that Silvanus was an apostle is I Thess. 1:1 joined with 2:6.
In 1Thess. 2:6 Paul says, “Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ.” This is most often cited as a reference to 1:1 where Paul lists Timothy and Silas as the two with him as he wrote this epistle.
The problem with this is that Paul is not making mention of the writers of the epistle the Thessalonians were currently read, but of those who came to them when they received the Gospel message as is evidenced by the contextual setting established in verse 1 –
“For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain”.– 1Thess 2:1
So to discover who these apostles were we need to go to the book of Acts to see who was with Paul when he came to Thessalonica. Now, Acts 16-17 do in fact reveal that both Timothy & Silas were with Paul when he came to Thessalonica. However, in both places only Paul & Silas are mentioned as ministering or being persecuted for their ministry – Acts 16:19-21,37; 17:4,10,13-14. Since the scriptures only mention Silas as preaching with Paul, and that no other people are named as ministering the word with them, it is then safe to conclude that the “we” Paul was referring to was Silas and himself – though this would be the ONLY place were Silas was indirectly identified as an apostle.
Most likely NOT Apostles:
Timothy (Timotheous) – Timothy was the companion of both Paul and Silas. He is directly called:
- a fellow-worker (a general term meaning helper) – Rom. 16:21
- beloved son in the Lord – 1Cor. 4:17; 2Tim. 1:2
- our brother – 2Cor. 1:1; Col. 1:1 (as opposed to Paul who in both places refers to himself as an apostle in the same verse).
- a preacher – 2Cor. 1:19
- a bondservant (a general term for one in service to Christ) – Php. 1:1
- minister of God (the word minister being G1249 διάκονος diákonos; – deacon)
The fact that the only reference which could in any way indicate apostleship is in 1Thess 2:6 is suspect. This fact taken together with the fact that Acts only has Silas as actually ministering along with Paul at that time, it seems a bit of a leap to come to the conclusion that Timothy was an apostle. This is especially true when every time Paul refers to Timothy in future writings when Timothy was more mature he is never bestowed that title. However, it seems clear that Timothy at very least functioned in the capacity of an apostolic delegate – or an apostle for an apostle.
That Epaphroditus was a messenger to and from the Philippian church seems evident by the only two verses in the Bible which mention him.
Php 2:23-30 NKJV
“(23) Therefore I hope to send him [Timothy] at once, as soon as I see how it goes with me. (24) But I trust in the Lord that I myself shall also come shortly. (25) Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need; (26) since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. (27) For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. (28) Therefore I sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful. (29) Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; (30) because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me.”
Php 4:18 NKJV
“(18) Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.”
In chapter 2 he is referred to as a messenger. Though this word is the same Greek word used for an apostle it appears that the messages he was carrying were the correspondences between Paul & this church. That he was “their” ambassador/apostle and messenger is aptly implied by the words “your messenger” and the fact that he delivered to Paul the things they sent to him. In contrast, Paul always referred to himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ TO the church of…fill in the blank.
Though it could be seen as implied, it is never explicitly stated. As is so often the case, Paul seems to be the one who directs many of their activities which suggests a hierarchy not a co-apostleship. The closest reference which might suggest his apostleship is found in 1Cor. Chapters 3 & 4. Here, Paul, Apollos & Cephas are mentioned as ones with whom certain factions of Corinthians seemed to identify. That out of them, it was Paul who was called an apostle of Jesus Christ to them as is testified to in the following references: 1Cor. 1:1; 9:2; 2Cor. 1:1; 2Cor. 12:12.
The second reason for doubt concerning Apollos as an apostle is the nature of his ministry. Paul has him as watering the seeds he planted as an apostle among them. This at least indicates that Apollos nurtured their faith, but may not have had a hand in initiating it.
The apostle Peter and the Cephas Paul often refers to in Corinthians appear to be different people which is suggested by 1Cor. 9:5.
1Cor. 9:5 “Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?”
Here Paul places Cephas in a different group than the apostles and the physical brothers of Christ Jesus. This means…
- a) He cannot be Peter the apostle.
- b) He is not considered an apostle by Paul.
Titus & other brethren:
These are not apostles of Christ but like Epaphroditus were messengers OF THE CHURCHES. This, as mentioned above, is altogether different language from “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ to the saints in …etc.” The idea is not that they are not messengers but of and for WHOM are they messengers. – 2Cor. 8:23
Andronicus and Junia:
In most translations of Rom 16:7 Paul’s statement concerning Andronicus and Junia as said to be “of note among the apostles“. This translation is a little cryptic and more than likely this was done purposely. In traditional English this phrase could mean one of two things:
1) That Andronicus and Junia were “of note among the apostles,” that is, that they were themselves distinguished apostles.
2) That Andronicus and Junia were “well known among the apostles“ meaning “well known to the apostles“.
Most of the disagreement surrounding this verse has focused more on the gender of Junia than on whether either of the two listed were actually apostles. The problem with this is:
- It focuses all theological questions on the wrong issue.
- It creates an atmosphere where being unbiased is nearly impossible. Most whether they are aware of it or not have an opinion of some sort concerning the position and authority women can have in the church.
Historically it has been virtually impossible to tell which of the two views were correct. The second view has however, in recent years, been defended from a scholarly perspective by Daniel Wallace and Michael Burer.
Following a careful examination of this Greek phrase “of note among”-[KJV] (episēmoi with the preposition en) a clear indication of Paul’s intended meaning becomes clear. This phrase was examined in biblical Greek, patristic Greek, papyri, inscriptions as well as Hellenistic and classical Greek texts. The conclusion convincingly revealed that the meaning ‘to the Apostles’ rather than ‘among the Apostles’ was what Paul intended in that in all the above stated material it was the normal understanding of those words.
This alone does not mean that “among the apostles” is an impossible translation altogether. However, the question is not – can we translate it this way. The question is how would the intended audience who spoke classical Greek have normally and naturally understood the words AS THEY WERE WRITTEN. The only correct response to this question is “to the apostles” – plain and simple.
For those who disagree with female apostles this should be no surprise, but it does not justify changing Junias into Junia. The argument that Junias is a shortened form of the male name Junianus is an argument of convenience – not proof.
Objectively, the question should not be “can we translate Junias as a shortened form of Junianus” – the question should be “how would the intended audience who spoke classical Greek have normally and naturally understood the words AS THEY WERE WRITTEN?” – the answer is Junias which is a proper feminine noun and so most likely a female’s name.
So it would seem that Paul is here making reference to the outstanding character of these two people which was greatly acknowledged by the apostles. Also the original Greek seems to indicate that these two were likely cousins of Paul – not just countrymen.
1 See Daniel B. Wallace and Michael H. Burer, “Was Junia Really an Apostle?” NTS 47 (2001): 76-91.
Translations and their rendering of Junais:
- 1965 Basic English
- Bishops (has Iunia my cosins)
- English Majority Text
- English Standard
- Good News Bible
- Holman Christian Standard
- King James
- New King James
- American Standard
- Contemporary English
- 1889 Darby
- 1899 Douay-Rheims
- International Standard
- Literal Translation
- Modern King James
- The Message
- 1898 Young’s Literal Translation
So apostles in the most basic meaning would be almost synonymous with our modern understanding of a missionary. However, it must be remembered that IF one IS truly an apostle, the signs of an apostle MUST be evident.
I truly hope this article helps to provide clarity in your understanding and study of the scriptures and opens doors to you for further encountering Jesus Who is Life!