Only in the past 50-60 years has the discussion escalated concerning the existence of apostles (and prophets) in the present day. The word apostle simply means ‘sent one’. When we discuss what it means to be an apostle, we usually like to look at the life of Paul, as we think he was the greatest one. But actually, there was another apostle who was the greatest one to ever walk the earth – Jesus. We usually think of Jesus as Savior, Messiah, Lord, etc, but not apostle. But he was an apostle – Hebrews 3:1 – ‘Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession.’ And we see this as He was ‘sent’ by Father (John 4:34; etc). So, whenever we look to discuss the nature of apostolic gifting, or the nature of just about anything to do with life and ministry, we should always be encouraged to start with the best one – Jesus.
Many who argue that apostles do not exist today usually begin by pointing to Acts 1:21-22 in support of their case. The context surrounding this passage is this – Judas Iscariot has killed himself, Jesus has ascended back to the Father, and the 12 are awaiting the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. During this waiting period, Peter has a revelation that it would be good to find a replacement for Judas, all to complete that important circle of 12. His understanding has come from either a reading or spontaneous revelation around the passage Psalm 109:8 – ‘Let another take his office.’ Thus, Peter goes on to state, ‘So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us – one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.’
It is this Scripture that is seen as holding the qualifications for being an apostle. They 1) accompanied Jesus from His baptism until the day He was taken up, and 2) they witnessed seeing Christ after His resurrection. But interestingly, the statement, ‘one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection,’ is, in all probability, a simple declaration of what the 12 were going to be doing – testifying to the fact that their Lord had risen from the dead. It was most likely not a hard-nosed qualification that they had to physically see Christ post-resurrection to be an apostle. But, if it were one of the criteria for having a calling as an apostle, then it would have been referring to seeing Christ post-resurrection during that 40-day period between His resurrection and His ascension. This will have implications later on.
If those two things listed in the previous paragraph are the prerequisites for being an apostle, then we must deal with the reality that Paul does not meet those requirements. One might argue that Paul fits these requirements because he saw Christ post-resurrection on the road to Damascus. But, one, as I just argued, I am not so sure Peter’s statement – ‘one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection’ – is being listed as a requirement. Even more, Paul didn’t see Christ during that 40-day period falling between resurrection and ascension. And we saw that, if Peter’s statement in Acts 1:21-22 was a condition for apostleship, then it would have to have been referring to that 40-day period. Paul saw Christ well after that time slot on the road to Damascus, thus, not fulfilling that first requirement.
Secondly, we must note that Paul did not accompany Jesus from His baptism until His ascension. Thus, it is certain that Paul did not fulfill at least one of the requirements from Acts 1:21-22, and highly likely that he did not fulfill both conditions.
But, to ‘let Paul off the hook’, many will turn to 1 Corinthians 15:8 where Paul states this about himself, ‘Last of all, as to one untimely born, he [Christ] appeared also to me.’ After reading this Scripture, many teach that, unfortunately Paul was somehow born at the ‘wrong time’. He had a call as an apostle, but did not fit the full criteria of Acts 1:21-22. So, Christ appeared to him on the road to Damascus, and thus he is able to fulfill the apostolic calling. But then you have to consider those 500 other people that Christ appeared to post-resurrection, presumably during that 40-period between Christ’s resurrection and ascension (see 1 Corinthians 15:6). We find them in the same boat as Paul – not accompanying Jesus during His earthly ministry, but receiving some kind of post-resurrection visitation from Christ. Thus, maybe they should have all been recognized as apostles, even though they only fit one of the original criteria from Acts 1:21-22.
The thing is, we can keep ‘dancing around the text’ and explain how Paul made it in with the other 12, but no one else does. Yet, I believe that if we consider all things fully and faithfully, then we will see that Paul does not fit into those above named requirements as an apostle. I am not saying that Paul was not an apostle. Scripture is clear that he was. But I am arguing that Acts 1:21-22 really is not a proof text for the requirements of an apostle.
Many who argue that apostles do not exist today claim that there were only 13 total apostles – the original 12, plus Paul. But, with Paul not fitting into those prerequisites above, yet still holding an apostolic calling, then we have to consider that it does open the door for the possibility of having more than 13 apostles, and the prospect of such a ministry existing even today.
The next article, Apostles Today (Part 2), will be posted in the next couple of days.