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

by K.W. Leslie, 12 January
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 he designated the Twelve in particular as ἀπόστολοι/apóstoli, “sent ones.” Lk 6.13 Eleven of ’em—including another student named Matthias whom they promoted apostle Ac 1.26 —became the core leaders of his newly-created church.

And apostle still designates 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.

Well… okay, they concede Judas Iscariot turned traitor and died, Ac 1.16-20 and Matthias replaced him, so Judas is out and Matthias is in. And okay, Paul of Tarsus counts as aposstle, ’cause he calls himself that a few times; maybe Jesus wanted him to be the twelfth apostle instead of Matthias.

Well… maybe a few more first-century church leaders. Scripture does after all 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. They believe Jesus quit making apostles, and that 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 a specific job; namely the supervision of specific churches and ministries. It’s the jobs, the offices which are meant to be passed down from person to person. It’s not so much that any one person is an apostle; it’s the mission, which continues till Jesus returns and ends or upgrades it. So the only real apostles are the people in these particular positions: The bishops, patriarchs, and popes who run certain branches of Jesus’s church. Jesus doesn’t need, and therefore doesn’t create, any more apostles than that.

Either way, these folks claim the apostolic age is over. I don’t agree with ’em, mainly ’cause that’s not how the bible describes the first apostles.

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 NRSV
3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

To their minds, this is a comprehensive list of all the apostles—and last of all Paul. (Even though the apostle 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 have in mind. Then, y’notice, verse 7 lists James and “all the apostles.” Indicating there are even more apostles than the Twelve and 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 Yep, that’s 70-ish more apostles. They in the 1 Corinthians list? Maybe; maybe they’re the “all the apostles.”

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

As for appearing to people, Jesus clearly did so 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 this could certainly also be the Holy Spirit’s voice.
  • To John at Patmos. Rv 1.12-20

And I’m gonna harp on the fact 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 NRSV
Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.

The original text 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 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 designating 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 ever read the Prophets, you might remember when Amaziah, the head priest of the heretic temple of the LORD at Bethel, got really tired of the prophet 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 NRSV
12 And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”
14 Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, 15 and the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’
16 “Now therefore hear the word of the LORD.
You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel,
and do not preach against the house of Isaac.’
17 Therefore thus says the LORD:
‘Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city,
and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword,
and your land shall be parceled out by line;
you yourself shall die in an unclean land,
and Israel shall surely go into exile away 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 stays 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 speak and 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 they saw him, were personally visited by him, and were 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 have 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 the 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 gave ’em 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 kept using the word apóstolos, so the translators went with “apostle.” Which was the right word then, and still is the right word today.