“one who is sent out.”
In the New Testament,
there are two primary usages of the word apostle.
The first is in specifically referring to the
twelve apostles of
The second is in generically referring to other individuals
who are sent out
of Jesus Christ.
The twelve apostles held a
In referring to the New Jerusalem, Revelation 21:14 states,
"The wall of the city
had twelve foundations, and
on them were the names of the
twelve apostles of the Lamb.”
The twelve apostles are also referred to in
Matthew 10:2; Mark 3:14; 4:10; 6:7; 9:35; 14:10, 17, 20; Luke 6:13; 9:1; 22:14; John 6:71; Acts 6:2; and 1 Corinthians 15:5.
It was these twelve apostles who were
the first messengers of
after the death
resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It was these twelve apostles
who were the foundation of the church--
Jesus being the cornerstone
This specific type of apostle is not present in the church today.
The qualifications of this type of apostle were:
(1) to have been a witness of the resurrected Christ
(1 Corinthians 9:1),
(2) to have been explicitly chosen by the Holy Spirit
(Acts 9:15), and
(3) to have the ability to perform signs and wonders
(Acts 2:43; 2 Corinthians 12:12).
The responsibility of the twelve apostles,
laying the foundation of the church,
would also argue for their uniqueness.
Beyond the unique twelve apostles of Jesus Christ,
there were also apostles in a generic sense.
Barnabas is referred to as
in Acts 13:2 and 14:14. Andronicus and Junias
are possibly identified as
apostles in Romans 16:7.
The same Greek word usually translated “apostle” is used to refer to Titus in 2 Corinthians 8:23 and Epaphroditus in Philippians 2:25. So, there definitely seems to be room for the term apostle being used to refer to someone besides the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ.
Anyone who was “sent” could be
called an apostle.
What exactly would be the role of an apostle outside that of the twelve apostles? That is not entirely clear. From the definition of the word, the closest thing today to an apostle, in the general sense, is a missionary.
A missionary is a follower of Christ who is sent out with the specific mission of proclaiming the gospel.
A missionary is an ambassador of Christ to people who have not heard
the good news.
However, to prevent confusion, it is likely best to not use the term apostle to refer to any position in the church today. The vast majority of occurrences of the word apostle or apostles in the New Testament refer to the
twelve apostles of Jesus Christ.
There are some today who are seeking to restore the position of apostle. This is a dangerous movement. Frequently, those claiming the office of apostle seek authority equal to, or at least rivaling, the authority of the original twelve apostles. There is absolutely no biblical evidence to support such an understanding of the role of apostle today. This would fit with the New Testament’s warning against false apostles (2 Corinthians 11:13).
In a sense,
all followers of Jesus Christ are called
to be apostles.
We are all to be His ambassadors (Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20). We are all to be “ones who are sent out” (Acts 1:8). We are all to be preachers of the good news (Romans 10:15).
Note – for a discussion on whether Matthias or Paul
was the twelfth apostle, please read the following article:
Was Matthias or Paul God’s choice to replace Judas as the 12th apostle?
(“one sent on a mission”)
is one whom God has sent on an errand or with a message. An apostle is accountable to his Sender and carries the authority of his Sender. An apostleship is the office an apostle holds.
Jesus Christ Himself
has an “apostleship.”
He wears “Apostle”
of His descriptive titles
(Hebrews 3:1). He was sent to earth by the Heavenly Father with God’s
While Jesus was here on earth,
He personally selected from His many followers twelve men and gave them an apostleship--
special responsibility to receive and
spread His message after He returned to heaven
(John 17:6–20; Matthew 10:1–4; Mark 3:14–15).
and sent ones were
During the time Jesus was
He did not explain the criteria that
He used to choose them.
One of the twelve was Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus to His enemies. In agony of conscience, Judas hanged himself (Matthew 27:5). Thus, when Jesus returned to heaven, He left behind only eleven apostles.
Some days later, the remaining apostles were in Jerusalem praying with Jesus’ mother, His brothers, and other believers.
The group totaled about 120 (Acts 1:12–26).
Simon Peter addressed the group and told them that Psalm 69:25 predicted Judas’ desertion and Psalm 109:8 predicted that the
defector’s place among the apostles
should be filled.
The apostleship must fall to
Peter proposed choosing a new apostle and set the qualifications. Not everyone could be considered for an apostleship. Candidates needed to have been with Jesus during the whole three years that Jesus was among them.
That is, he needed to be an eyewitness
of Jesus’ baptism when the Heavenly Father
validated Jesus’ person and work.
He needed to have heard Jesus’ life-changing teachings and been present to see His healings and
He needed to have witnessed Jesus sacrifice Himself on the cross and to have seen Jesus walk, talk, and eat among the disciples again after His resurrection. These were the pivotal facts of Jesus’ life, the heart of the message they were to teach, and personal witnesses were required to verify the truth of the good news.
The prayer group in Jerusalem
nominated two who met these
qualifications for apostleship:
Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias.
Then the disciples asked God
to guide them to know which one was to fill the post.
Using a method of determining
that was common at that time, they cast lots,
thus giving God freedom to make His choice clear.
The lot fell to Matthias, and he became the twelfth apostle.
On repeated occasions, the apostles gave witness of their personal observations of Jesus, making such statements as, “We are witnesses of everything Jesus did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen” (Acts 10:39–40).
Saul, one of the Pharisees,
was trying to stamp out the
of Christianity by killing and jailing some of
While Saul was on one of his deadly errands to Damascus, the living Jesus personally appeared to him. This undeniable encounter with the resurrected Lord revolutionized Saul’s life. In a vision to another believer in Damascus,
Jesus said that He had chosen Saul “
as My chosen instrument to
carry My name before the Gentiles
and their kings
and before the people of Israel”
(Acts 9:15; cf. 22:14–15).
Following his conversion, Paul spent some time in Arabia,
where he was taught by Christ
(Galatians 1:12–17). The other apostles recognized that Jesus Himself had appointed their former enemy to be one of them. As Saul went into Gentile territories, he changed his name to the Greek “Paul,” and Jesus, who gave Paul his apostleship, sent many messages through him to His churches and to unbelievers. It was this apostle, Paul, who wrote over half of the books of the New Testament.
In two of his Epistles,
Paul identifies the office of apostle as the first that Jesus appointed to serve His churches
(1 Corinthians 12:27–30; Ephesians 4:11).
Clearly, the work of apostleship
was to lay the foundation of
the Church in a sense secondary
only to that of
(Ephesians 2:19–20), thus
requiring eyewitness authority
behind their preaching.
After the apostles
laid the foundation, the Church
could be built.
While Paul never claimed
to be included among
the original twelve, believers
have recognized that Jesus appointed
him as His special apostle
to the Gentiles
(Galatians 1:1; 1 Corinthians 9:1; Acts 26:16–18). There are others in the early church referred to as “apostles” (Acts 14:4, 14; Romans 16:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:6), but only in the sense that they were appointed, authorized, and sent by churches on special errands.
These individuals bore the title “apostle”
in a limited sense and did not possess all the
qualifications of apostleship that the original twelve and Paul did.
No biblical evidence exists to indicate that these thirteen apostles were replaced when they died. See Acts 12:1–2, for example.
Jesus appointed the apostles
to do the founding work of the Church,
and foundations only need to be laid once.
After the apostles’ deaths, other offices besides apostleship,
not requiring an
eyewitness relationship with Jesus,
would carry on the work.