Are There “Apostles” Today?
Did you ever want to meet a real life apostle? An announcement on a church website read: “In July of 2015, Pastor Brown was ordained as Chief Apostle in the Pentecostal faith.” Catholicism maintains that Peter was the supreme bishop, even over the other apostles, and that every pope since Peter is an apostolic successor to Peter. The Catholic Encyclopedia’s article on Apostolic Succession claims: “Now the Roman Pontiffs come immediately after, occupy the position, and perform the functions of St. Peter; they are, therefore, his successors.” The Mormon Church goes even further, claiming that they have twelve apostles. “Twelve men with this high calling constitute an administrative council in the work of the ministry. When a vacancy occurred with the death of Judas Iscariot, Matthias was divinely appointed to that special office as a member of the council (Acts 1:15–26). Today twelve men with this same divine calling and ordination constitute the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bd/apostle).
Are there bone fide apostles today? What does the Bible teach concerning the existence of apostles in denominations?
In order to answer these questions we first must define what is an apostle, identify their qualifications, understand the work Christ commissioned them to do, and discover the duration of their office.
The Definition of an Apostle
The word “apostle” comes from the Greek word apostolos, which means “one sent from or forth, a messenger, delegate” (Arndt and Gingrich, 1957, p. 99; Thayer, 1901, p. 68). It can refer to an individual who is sent by other humans to accomplish a particular mission or task. This would be using the term “apostle” in a general sense. Barnabas was an “apostle” in the sense that he accompanied Paul on an evangelistic trip. Luke wrote, “but when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out” (Acts 14:14). Jesus is even said to be our “Apostle” in the sense He was sent to atone for our sins (Heb. 3:1). When Jesus sent out the seventy (Luke 9:1) the verb for apostle (apostellen) was used for the term “sent” as they went before Jesus to prepare for the Kingdom of God (Luke 10:3).
The word “apostle” is often used in a more official sense limited to a few special qualified men in the New Testament. The term “apostle” can refer to individuals who were officially and divinely selected to serve as Jesus’ original representative “ambassadors” (2 Cor. 5:20). Jesus handpicked the original twelve apostles (Matt. 10:1-5; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16; 9:1-2). Jesus “chose twelve whom He also named apostles: Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; James and John; Philip and Bartholomew; Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the Zealot; Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot who also became a traitor” (Luke 6:13a-16). After Judas hung himself his successor, Mathias, was selected by divine decree (Acts 1:16-26). The only other apostle, in the official sense, alluded to in the New Testament was Paul. He was one “born out of due season” as the apostles to the Gentiles (Rom. 11:13; 15:16; Gal. 2:8; Eph. 3:8). In the official sense only fourteen men were Apostles even though many can be considered, as noted above, apostles in the general sense. However, not all Christians are apostles. Paul asked the church at Corinth the rhetorical question: “Are all apostles?” (1 Cor. 12:29). The obvious answer is “no”.
The Qualifications of an Apostle
In order to be one of the fourteen Apostles listed in the last paragraph, these men had to meet certain qualifications. First, they had to be an Eyewitness of the Resurrection of Christ (Acts 1:22; 22:14; 1 Cor. 9:1). When the replacement apostle for Judas was sought Peter said, “one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection” (Acts 1:22). To be one of the Apostles a man had to be Chosen By God. Paul often began one of his letters by identifying himself as: “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God..” (1 Cor. 1:1; cf. 2 Cor. 1:1, Eph. 1:1, Col. 1:1 and 2 Tim. 1:1). An Apostle had to be specifically Appointed by Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit (Matt. 10:5; Mark 3:13-14; Luke 6:13; Acts 1:26; 9:15; 22:14-15,21; 26:16).
Additionally, Jesus made it clear on the night in which He was betrayed that all those who were to continue as Apostles had to receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
- John 14:26 – But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.
- John 15:26 – “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.
- John 16:13 – However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.
This was fulfilled when the twelve receive the baptismal measure of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).
A true Apostle in the New Testament was Given Miraculous Powers and could preform miracles and speak in tongues, prophecy, etc. The Apostles were able to heal instantly the sick, restore those who were lame, and even resurrect the dead (Acts 3:1-9; 9:36-42). Paul told the church at Corinth that the “signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds” (2 Cor. 12:11-12).
Finally, a genuine Apostle of our Lord not only had the ability to perform great signs and wonders, but could lay their hand upon another and Impart Spiritual Gifts. Simon recognized this about Peter and John when they were sent to Samaria. “Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:18-19).
The Work of an Apostle
Not only did actual Apostles have to meet specific qualifications, they also were assigned specific responsibilities. Jesus committed the Establishment of the Kingdom or Church into the hands of the Apostles. “He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things’ (Luke 24:46-48). This was accomplished by them on the Day of Pentecost after the resurrection and ascension of Christ (Acts 2). The Apostles were appointed to Teach the Truth. Most of the New Testament was written by the Apostles (1 Cor. 14:37; Gal. 1:12; Eph. 3:3-4; 1 Th 5:27; 2 Th. 2:15; 3:14; 1 Peter 1:12; 2 Peter 1:12-21; 3:15-16). The Apostles informed the church at Jerusalem of this primary duty given to them. “Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. …but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word’” (Acts 6:2,4). Confirming the Word With Miracles was another responsibility of the Apostle. After Jesus’ ascension, it is said “they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs” (Mark 16:20). As part of their work for the Lord in spreading the Gospel, they had to also Endure Persecution. Jesus prophesied, “when they deliver you up [arrest, DRV], do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” (Matthew 10:19-20).
— Daniel R. Vess