Apostles: Those whom Jesus sends out to do his work.

You might get the idea I believe Jesus still commissions apostles. ’Cause he does.

APOSTLE ə'pɑs.əl noun. Person commissioned by Christ Jesus to perform a leadership role.
[Apostolic æ.pə'stɑl.ɪk adjective, apostleship ə'pɑs.əl.ʃɪp noun]

Jesus didn’t just have the 12 students. The actual number fluctuated, as some joined the group, Mk 10.52 and others quit in frustration. Jn 6.66 Jesus had loads of student-followers, but designated the Twelve in particular as ἀπόστολοι/apóstolë, “sent ones.” Lk 6.13 Eleven of ’em, plus another student named Matthias whom they promoted apostle, Ac 1.26 became the core leaders of his newly-created church. Apostle still refers to anyone whom Jesus—or the Holy Spirit on Jesus’s behalf—sends forth to do his work.

Well, in some traditions.

Y’see, various Christians insist the only apostles in human history are Jesus’s original 12 guys, minus Judas Iscariot ’cause he turned traitor, Ac 1.16-20 and plus the apostle Paul of Tarsus. (They’re not always so sure about Matthias.)

And maybe a few more guys in the first century, ’cause scripture does identify Barnabas as an apostle, Ac 14.14 and Jesus’s brother James, Ga 1.19 and Paul’s relatives Andronicus and Junia. Ro 16.7 And probably Jesus’s brother Jude, ’cause he did write a book of the bible. But otherwise that’s all.

Two reasons these Christians insist Jesus stopped commissioning apostles after the first century:

  1. CESSATIONISM: Not only don’t they believe Jesus stopped making apostles, they believe the Spirit stopped making prophets. (Although evangelists, pastors, and teachers are still around.) The only reason Jesus designated apostles in the first place was to get his church started and the bible written. That done, the apostles died out, and are no more.
  2. APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION: They believe the apostles were given specific jobs—the supervision of specific churches and ministries. These jobs, they figure, are to be passed down from person to person. It’s not so much that the person’s an apostle; it’s that the mission continues till Jesus finally brings it to an end. So the only apostles are the people with these particular duties. Jesus doesn’t need, and therefore doesn’t create, any more apostles than that.

Either way, these folks teach the apostolic age is over.

How many apostles did Jesus commission?

Typically Christians misquote 1 Corinthians 15 to defend the idea there were a limited number of apostles—and Paul was the very last one.

1 Corinthians 15.3-11 KWL
3 First I passed down to you what I received: Christ died for our sins—according to the scriptures.
4 He was buried, and raised on the third day—according to the scriptures.
5 He was seen by Simon Peter, then the Twelve.
6 Then more than 500 Christians saw him at once.
Many of them remain to this day—and some have “fallen asleep.”
7 Then he was seen by James, then all the apostles.
8 Last of all, as if to a premature baby, he was seen by me too— 9 for I’m the lowest of apostles.
I’m not qualified to be called an apostle: I persecuted God’s church!
10 But by God’s grace I’m what I am. His grace to me hasn’t been wasted.
Instead I work more than anyone!—well, not me, but God’s grace in me.
11 So either I or they proclaim this, and you believe this.

To their minds, the 1 Corinthians list isn’t just Paul naming, more or less, all the people who saw Jesus after he was raised. Nor is it Paul describing himself as the lowest in God’s kingdom, the least deserving of the people who work for Jesus. They insist this includes a comprehensive list of all the apostles—and last of all Paul. (Even though Barnabas doesn’t get a mention.)

Yeah, that’s an iffy interpretation. But if you’re gonna insist on it, might I point out Paul listed Peter and the Twelve in verse 5, which would be most (if not all) of the apostles they’re thinking of; then James “then all the apostles” in verse 7. Implying there are even more apostles than merely Peter and the Twelve and James. And then Paul.

Doesn’t even mention the six dozen people (the KJV says there were 70; other translations like the NIV say 72) whom Jesus formally ἀπέστειλεν αὐτοὺς/apésteilen aftús, “sent ahead of himself,” to evangelize Israel. Lk 10.1 There’s some of them.

Another argument is Jesus appeared to Paul ὡσπερεὶ τῷ ἐκτρώματι/osperí to ektrómati, “as if to a premature baby,” 1Co 15.8 —an odd turn of phrase which they assume has something to do with the idea he doesn’t appear to people anymore, and thereby make apostles of them. I don’t know how they pull that idea from this phrase. Seems more obvious Paul was describing himself as defective, like he continues to do in verse 9.

Jesus clearly still appeared to people after his ascension:

  • To Ananias to send him to Paul. Ac 9.10-19
  • Multiple times to Paul, to give him further instructions or encourage him. Ac 22.17-21, 23.11
  • To Simon Peter, Ac 10.9-16 although that could certainly also be the Holy Spirit’s voice.
  • To John at Patmos. Rv 1.12-20

Further, Acts identifies Barnabas as an apostle, Ac 14.14 even though he’s not in the 1 Corinthians list. Since Barnabas started following Jesus after our Lord ascended to the Father, at what point did Jesus appear to him and commission him? Well, there’s when the Holy Spirit singled out Barnabas and Paul for a mission. Ac 13.2, 4 Does that count? I’d say yes; sticklers will say absolutely not.

I did bring up Andronicus and Junia. I should again, ’cause there’s a bit of controversy over Junia. ’Cause she’s a woman, and certain sexists insist Jesus can’t have made a woman apostle.

Romans 16.7 KWL
Greet my relatives and my fellow prisoners Andronicus and Junia,
who are remarkable among the apostles, who came to Christ before me.

The original has Ἰουνίαν/Junían, which is the predicate noun-form of Junia. That’s why the KJV has “Junia.” But many Greek dictionaries and several translations insist it should be “Junian”—which is not a proper Latin name. Junia is; Junianus is. The only reason they’d figure it a man’s name was because they presuppose all apostles are male. The problem is we have proof Jesus had no problem sending women out on a mission: He had no trouble sending Mary the Magdalene to inform his students he was alive. Jn 20.17 He doesn’t share their hangup about women apostles. He can, and does, commission anyone.

There are those who try to dodge the issue altogether, by claiming ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις/en tis apostólis, “in [or among] the apostles,” oughta be translated “by the apostles”: Andronicus and Junia aren’t in the apostolic group, but they’re considered good people by the legit apostles. (So goes the ESV and Amplified.)

But as I indicated, both sexists and those who claim Jesus quit making apostles in the first century, share a reason why they believe as they do: They’ve built their beliefs, theology, practices, leadership structures, and power structures, on this idea. They figure they’re in charge of commissioning Christian ministers. Not Jesus.

No, not because they’re ignoring him, nor because they’ve overthrown him. They insist they would never. They justify their behavior by claiming he doesn’t do such things anymore. It’s all his idea. Lack of biblical evidence notwithstanding.

Does Jesus still directly run his church or not?

See, the idea Jesus independently, preemptively commissions ministers apart from them—sometimes even against their wishes, sometimes even with a prophetic mission to condemn their wishes—would bollix their entire system.

Which is nothing new. If you’ve read the Prophets, you might remember when the head priest of the semi-pagan Bethel temple got really tired of Amos. Here’s some farmer from Tekoa, Judah, who dared to come north to Ephraim and criticize them for being corrupt. Who on earth was Amos? He wasn’t a priest. He hadn’t gone to their pre-approved prophetic schools. Who’d he think he was?

Amos 7.12-17 KWL
12 Amachía told Amós, “Seer, go away. Flee to your land, Judah.
Eat bread there. Prophesy there.
13 Don’t come again to Bethél to prophesy.
It’s the king’s sanctuary. It’s the kingdom’s house.”
14 In reply Amós told Amachía, “I wasn’t a prophet, nor a ‘prophet’s son’;
I was a herdsman, gathering figs.
15 The LORD took me away from the flock.
The LORD told me, ‘Go prophesy to Israel’s people.’
16 Now hear the LORD’s word.
You say, ‘Don’t prophesy over Israel.
Don’t drop revelations over Isaac’s house.’
17 So the LORD says this: ‘Your woman is whoring in the city.
Your sons and daughters are falling on the sword.
Your land is getting divided with a measuring rope, and you’re dying in an unclean land.
Israel is removed, removed from its land.’

This is the real reason people insist Jesus no longer sends apostles, and the Holy Spirit no longer inspires prophets: They don’t wanna be accountable to anything God says through these people. Easier to reject the messenger than answer to the living God. They prefer a God who’s not living, who doesn’t speak—and who keeps out of their business.

If your church hierarchy is based on the idea your founder was an apostle, it helps when there are no further apostles to futz with your system. The very existence of new apostles implies you’re likely passing over people whom Jesus personally commissioned to lead… in favor of people who may have successfully jumped through your hoops, but Jesus didn’t necessarily pick ’em.

If any of your sermons and teachings are based on (or at least heavily influenced by) the idea Jesus stopped making apostles, the existence of new apostles means you’re entirely wrong about what an apostle is, does, and can do. Undermines your credibility about a whole lot of other things too.

If other churches were started by apostles whom Jesus sent to proclaim the gospel, heal the sick, throw out demons, and help the needy—but you can’t abide them, balk at their teachings (and competition!), and claim they’re frauds—it implies you’re opposing our Lord who sent ’em.

No, none of us Christians wanna be on the wrong side of Christ Jesus. But let’s be honest: When we don’t really know God all that well, it’s not at all hard to make the very same mistake as the Pharisees, and push him aside and claim we know best.

Post-biblical apostles.

Certainly Jesus has made lots of apostles. Throughout Christian history, other followers of Jesus claim to have seen him, to have been personally visited by him, and to have been commissioned by him to achieve various things on his behalf.

  • Francis of Assisi was sent to rebuild a church building, and while he was at it he founded the Franciscan movement.
  • Catherine of Siena was sent to minister to the poor and sick.
  • William Booth was ordered to start the Salvation Army.
  • A number of Muslims and pagans in the present day had visions of Jesus, leading them to become Christians and likewise start ministries.

And let’s not forget every founder of every denomination. True, some of ’em were fake apostles, as revealed by the fake fruit in their churches. But those churches who do produce good fruit, are the product of real apostles, sent by Jesus.

He sends Christians to plant churches; start schools, ministries, charities, non-government organizations; take over other ministries; evangelize towns and countries; heal the sick, either by starting hospitals or supernaturally; and throw out demons. The diversity of tasks the Spirit puts upon his apostles, are as diverse as the things Jesus needs his kingdom to do.

Churches which insist Jesus no longer makes apostles, will sometimes concede he sends people—but don’t wanna use the word “apostle” for them, so they tend to call such people missionaries. ’Cause Jesus sent ’em on a mission, whether to other lands or our own. It’s not a word you’re gonna find in most translations of the bible, ’cause the apostles used the word apóstolos, so the translators went with “apostle.” Which was the right word then, and still is the right word today.