Question: I chanced upon your website by a search engine and I would like to thank you for your efforts. I have yet to read most of your material which I plan to do over the next few weeks but from the little that I've read thus far, I have been edified and I wish to encourage you by writing this short note of thanks. I have an initial question concerning the sentence in Peter#2:
"Although today, the word apostle is used almost exclusively to refer to "the twelve" (the eleven original disciples of Christ, minus Judas, plus Paul; Eph.2:20; Rev.21:14), in the early church, the word was used for other missionaries as well (Lk.11:49; Acts 14:4; Rm.16:7; Eph.4:11). "
With regards the 1st part of the sentence; what is used today in Christendom is influenced by many factors, an important one is that of tradition; however tradition need not be always right. Increasingly amongst the charismatic and the like; many of them call themselves Apostles (never in the original sense of the 12, however the 12 are defined) but only in the sense of being sent. The traditional Evangelical persuasion however mostly seem to reject this possibility without really good nor persuasive scholarship.
The 2nd part of the sentence gives me a glimmer of hope in understanding this issue better. Would not this fact that others are called apostle as well allow a wider meaning and use of apostle (other than the accepted narrower original 12 which can never be duplicated)?
I would be grateful for your learned clarification.
May our Lord bless you and your ministry richly.
Response: Thanks very much for your recent e-mail. It is always most encouraging to hear that this site has proved useful.
As to your specific comment/question, I quite agree that this (the exact application of the term "apostle") is the real issue. Perhaps my language "almost exclusively" is a bit strong - the characterization does indeed, as you "diagnose", reflect my own background.
The Greek word from which apostle comes has as its root idea "sent forth" as on an [often evangelistic] mission, the same etymological sense behind "missionary" (mitto = Latin "send") and it is fairly clear from New Testament usage where the term refers to others besides the "twelve apostles of the Lamb" that the idea of mobile service for Christ is in view (cf. the believers of 3Jn.5-8, though they are not given this name). Of course, terminology changes over time and comes to mean different things to different people. Both the word "missionary" and "apostle" conjure up a variety of images in the English-speaking realm which may or may not be helpful or accurate. To me, the terminology isn't as important, as what God has actually done. As believers, we have all been "gifted" and it is the responsibility of each and every believer to pursue in an appropriate way what God has truly given. If one has been gifted to depart from the comfort of home to serve Christ in some capacity, the doing of this job is more important than the titling of the individual who does it.
I suppose what concerns me most in the "apostle" area, therefore, would be the particular use to which the term is put. Clearly, there are only twelve "Apostles" with a capital "A". These are the individuals Paul has primarily in mind in both 1Cor.12:27-31 and Eph.4:11-12, listed first because of the preeminent authority they possessed (a necessary feature in the incipient Church which lacked even a completed canon of scripture). Certainly, we should not attribute to any present day individuals, no matter how gifted, the same authority over the entire Church that Peter, Paul, and John possessed in their unique apostleship (that authority ended with the death of John in ca. 70 A.D. - it does not continue through any "channel of grace" or through any institution or group).
This seems to me to be the best way to frame the issue in regard to your question:
1) If you are asking what "apostle" means as a unique gift and office in the New Testament, then my answer: "the 12" (the 11 plus Paul).
2) If you are asking what "apostle" means as a descriptive or functional term in the New Testament when these 12 are clearly not in view, then my answer is a term describing those involved mainly in itinerant evangelism/Christian service (Lk.11:49; Acts 14:4; Rm.16:7).
3) If you are asking what "apostle" may signify as it is employed today for various Christian activities, then I would hope that - if it is employed at all - this would be reserved for the same as #2 above (and be an alternative title for missionaries) - as I say, both words carry quite a bit of baggage, but both mean, essentially, "sent forth [for service]", and evangelism at home and abroad has always been a need which has been "gifted" in the history of Christ's Church (Eph.4:11; 2Tim.4:5).
To sum up, it would seem to me (admittedly, being ignorant in the main about the exact application of "apostle" by those who make use of the term today) that to be scriptural in terms of nomenclature a present day "apostle" would likewise be someone concerned with evangelism (or teaching or other edification of the Church) mainly away from home [i.e., having been "sent forth"]. To me, this seems close (if not identical) to what we, in my tradition, have been wont to call a "missionary".
I hope that you have found this response of some use in your search for God's truth. Thanks again for your encouragement. You might also want to have a look at the following links:
Matthias and the numbering of the 12 Apostles
The Deaths of the 12 Disciples / Apostles of Christ.
Paul is the 12th Apostle
Yours in Jesus Christ,