I’m excited to be sharing my thoughts and research on the word Apostle for this week’s edition of Word Nerd Wednesday, especially on the heels of last weeks post about being a disciple.
\ ə-ˈpä-səl \
1 : one sent on a mission: such as
a : one of an authoritative New Testament group sent out to preach the gospel and made up especially of Christ’s 12 original disciples and Paul
b : the first prominent Christian missionary to a region or group St. Boniface, the Apostle of Germany
2 a : a person who initiates a great moral reform or who first advocates an important belief or system
b : an ardent supporter : adherent apostles of high technology
3 : the highest ecclesiastical official in some church organizations
Apostles in the Bible
The greek word used for apostle in the Bible is apostles (ap-os’-tol-os) and means a delegate; specially an ambassador of the Gospel; officially a commissioner of Christ; a messenger, he that is sent. It comes from the root word apostle (ap-os-tel’-o) which means set apart, to send out. (2)
This word is used only in the New Testament and found predominantly in the Book of Acts, which in my Nelson Study Bible carries the extended title, “The Acts of the Apostles.”
Commonly, the distinction of Apostle is reserved for the 12 men Jesus called to not only study under Him as disciples, but who he also commissioned to spread the good news thought all the earth establishing The Christian Church. All apostles are disciples, but only the 12 were given the additional description of being apostles. These men witnessed the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus as His close personal allies. They had access to Him in ways other disciples did not. And before He was seated at the right hand of the Father, Jesus imparted full knowledge of all His parables and teachings so that they might in turn share their witness with all the earth.
Requirements to be an Apostle
The Apologetics Press (3) sets forth three Scriptural requirements for Apostleship:
- Someone who had seen the Lord and was an eye witness to His resurrection,
- specifically selected by Jesus or the Holy Spirit, and
- given not only the power to work miracles, but also to transfer that power to others.
The number 12 is significant, because it represents the 12 tribes of Israel and which is one representation of Jesus ushering in the new covenant and replacing the old legalistic system with grace (4). Additionally, 12 is a biblical number of completion. It was so important to the original 12 that they replaced Judas, the traitor, with Matthias in order to keep a full 12.Do you know the requirements to be an #apostle? #wordnerdwednesday Click To Tweet
Post Ascension Apostles
But then in Romans 1:1, we see Paul’s claim to apostleship. The Bible contains no direct references to Paul being a follower of Jesus during His earthly ministry, but they were certainly in close proximity to each other on several occasions. Further, the Risen Lord appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus and called Him to preach to the gentiles as Paul.
And in verse 5 of Romans 1, Paul says we have all received this grace and apostleship for the sharing of His name among all the nations. Jesus made him an apostle, a delegate or evangelist, tasked with carrying the good news of the gospel to the gentiles. This use of the word apostle is generic and much broader than the original requirements to claim apostleship. In some cases apostle is used to refer to all of us believers who have been called to be God’s ambassadors here on earth, to share what we have witnessed of His working in our lives, to point other’s toward His light and love and salvation, so that through the work of the Holy Spirit, they, too, might become apostles. Acts 5:12
The apostolic commission authorized apostles to preach (1 Corinthians 1:17), be ambassadors for Christ (2 Colossians 5:20, Ephesians 6:20), to witness to all nations (Luke 24:48), and make disciples of all people (Matthew 28:19).
The Apostles’ Creed
Though written roughly 150 years after the last true apostle died, church leaders complied what most liturgical traditions turn to as their statement of faith in 390 AD. It was based on the core beliefs used by the Apostles on their missionary journeys. Many councils over the years have revised the wording until the 8th century to come up with what we know today as The Apostles Creed.
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic* Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
*The use of the word catholic in this sense means universal, and is not a reference to the Roman Catholic church.
Modern Day Apostles or Not?
Here in lies the main difference between disciples and apostles. Disciples are followers, or learners, but apostles are those who have been sent out to teach, in addition to being learners. All apostles are disciples, but not all disciples are called, or sent out, to be apostles. Though there is significant controversy among church traditions over the existence of modern day apostles, certainly someone given the Spiritual gifts of teaching or evangelism or called to church planting or missionary work could be considered an apostle under the general definition. But does that minimize the significance of the original Twelve’s position in the kingdom?
Though by the strictest of definitions, no apostles exist today, in general, all we who believe their creed have inherited the mission of their great commission: To go and make disciples.Modern day #apostles or not? #wordnerdwednesday Click To Tweet
- Strongs Concordance App, G652