In the last post, I started looking at the specific role and gift of apostle. My plan is to slowly work through these three sub-points:
- Apostles in New Testament Scripture.
- Objections to the existence of apostles today.
- What an apostle actually is.
And, of course, each sub-point will have a few articles. I know it seems slow and tedious, but I think it is helpful to slowly work through some of the concepts and biblical texts that surround this, since I am purporting a not-so-popular-belief that apostles (and prophets) still exist today.
I have decided to start by simply looking at the varying apostles (or probable apostles) in the New Testament because I think this can be an eye-opener to many. As I stated in the last article, when we think of apostles, we usually think of something like this:
- The twelve
- The twelve and Paul
- Scripture writer
But what we can fail to recognise is that there were quite a few more apostles than we originally thought, that Paul was not specifically tied into the ‘twelve apostles of the Lamb’ (Revelation 21:14), nor was Scripture writing the first and foremost calling of an apostle, since many apostles never penned anything and there were a handful of people who did author parts of Scripture but were not apostles.
I do not want to negate the role of writing Scripture – for the apostles and the others who penned the God-breathed word. But, just as a starter, go back to Paul’s conversion in Acts 9, or in the chapters following in Acts. In all of his calling(s), Paul was never told, ‘Write Scripture.’ But he still functioned as maybe the greatest apostle, outside of Jesus Christ Himself.
Still, I am getting a little ahead of myself.
So, I started out in the last article by pointing out some of the more recognisable apostles in the New Testament:
- The twelve (with Matthias properly replacing Judas Iscariot)
- James, the physical brother of Jesus
Of course we all know about the twelve and Paul. But it might have even been a little enlightening to see that both Barnabas and James were apostles. It makes it easy when Scripture puts the word apostle in the same verse as their name.
But, the difficulty comes when considering if there were anymore besides these fifteen. I believe there were probably another seven to nine apostles in the New Testament era, but with a lot of them we don’t find the word apostle sitting next to their name. But, if we carefully read about them in the Scripture and consider the fruit in their lives, I believe we will see that at least some of these, if not all of them, had apostolic ministries.
So, who else do I believe were apostles? Let’s move on…
First off, who was Apollos?
We first read about him in Acts 18:24-28. He was based in Ephesus at the time and had been instructed in the way of the Lord, was fervent in Spirit, taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, but only knew of John’s baptism at the time (vs24-25). It was Priscilla and Aquila that were used to explain the ways of God more accurately to him (vs26). He then went on to the province of Achaia and was used greatly in proving that Jesus was the Christ, or the Messiah (vs27-28).
But why would someone ever consider Apollos as an apostle? Again, the word never actually arises in association with his name.
First off, keep in mind that after Priscilla and Aquila helped explain the things of God more accurately to Apollos, he then went on to Achaia. But what’s so important about Achaia?
Within Achaia we find the city of Corinth. It is there that we read about Apollos having a significant ministry role within that city. We can conclude such after looking at two passages of Scripture in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. The first is this:
10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:10-12)
It is obvious that Apollos had a very significant ministry with the Corinthians, for Paul mentions that some were wanting to follow Apollos, of course in a very destructive way to the unity of Christ’s body. And this was also true with others wanting to follow Paul and others wanting follow Cephas (Peter).
Now Paul’s main point, here, was that the body in Corinth should not be divided. But it is interesting to think this through more fully.
Paul and Peter had significant apostolic ministries, easily identifiable as apostles, maybe the two most significant apostles in the early days of establishing the church. And, in this passage of 1 Corinthians 1:12, it seems obvious that Paul is stating that Apollos had a ministry quite equal with them. In the division mindset of Corinth, some were wanting to equally follow Paul, Apollos and Peter.
I believe Apollos’ apostolic ministry is also confirmed when we read these later words of Paul:
5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labour. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.
10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:5-11)
Again, Paul is noting the significant ministry that both he and Apollos had amongst the Corinthians. Paul had planted and Apollos had watered. Then, Paul says two interesting statements:
- He who plants (Paul in this specific situation) and he who waters (Apollos in this specific situation) are one. (vs8)
- For we are God’s fellow workers. (vs9)
It seems highly, highly likely that Paul and Apollos shared an apostolic ministry within the Corinthian church. One could argue Paul had a greater measure of apostleship to this church, which I am fine with. But this would not negate the calling of Apollos. They both had given so much into this church. They both had been parting of establishing this church in the faith. Even more, Paul seems to identify their ministry with the Corinthians as equal.
Now, some might be quick to point out that Paul says he is the one who laid a foundation, all the while someone else (presumably Apollos) had built upon it (vs10). Therefore, knowing that apostles are foundation layers (see Ephesians 2:20), this immediately excludes Apollos from having an apostolic ministry. Therefore, the conclusion would be that Paul was the foundation layer and Apollos only built upon that foundation.
Such an objection is worth considering. But remember, we have already noted how Paul saw himself, Apollos and Peter on equal grounds (1 Corinthians 1:12). Also, in 1 Corinthians 3:5, Paul established that it was both he and Apollos that were servants through which the church came to Christ, while also noting in vs8 that the one who plants and the one who waters are ‘one’ and ‘fellow workers’.
While Paul could have been the first one to come into Corinth to proclaim the gospel and see a local church expression established, Apollos had a foundation-building role as well. Apollos helped establish this church in a very apostolic manner. Yes, I know we can argue that Paul had the greater apostolic ministry. But Apollos had a major role in helping to establish and maintain this church.
In all, there is no need to strain a gnat here. But what I’ve tried to do is show the ministry, the apostolic ministry, that Apollos had, specifically with the Corinthian church. He never had the word apostle next to his name in the text. But the fruit of his life – an establishing, foundation-building ministry – shines forth his apostolic calling, even if Paul still had the greater measure.
Thus, as Paul and Barnabas made a formidable apostolic team at times, so did Paul and Apollos. Therefore, I believe it is more than highly probable that Apollos was an apostle.
Silas and Timothy
Here are two others that likely had some sense of apostolic ministry. But where would we see Silas and Timothy as having such a ministry?
At the beginning of the first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul gives a brief greeting from himself, Silas and Timothy:
Paul, Silvanus [Silas], and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. (1 Thessalonians 1:1)
Then, later on, we read this statement from Paul:
1 For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 2 But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. 3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed— God is witness. 6 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. 7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. (1 Thessalonians 2:1-8)
The ‘we’ in vs6 most likely refers to the group of three – Paul, Silas and Timothy. And Paul connects all three of them as ‘apostles of Christ’.
In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem looks to show how Timothy was definitely excluded from the ‘we’ of vs6, some of his concluding words being as follows:
‘Apparently he [Paul] is using “we” more frequently in this epistle as a courteous way of including Silas and Timothy, who had spent so much time in the Thessalonian church, in the letter to that church. But the Thessalonians would have had little doubt who was really in charge of this great mission to the Gentiles, and on whose apostolic authority the letter primarily (or exclusively) depended.’ (Grudem, Systematic Theology, p910)
But go back and read vs1-8 above. Notice how many times the words ‘we’ and ‘our’ come up. It seems Paul was emphasising their apostolic teamwork, as ‘apostles of Christ’.
Of course, just as with Apollos, it could be claimed that Paul had the greater apostolic gifting as compared with Timothy and Silas. But such should not keep us from recognising Silas’s and Timothy’s role within this church (and even elsewhere). Even Grudem is willing to concede that both Silas and Timothy had a significant role with the church in Thessalonica.
Even more, we must remember that Paul is not stingy, always trying to make sure people know ‘who was really in charge’, as Grudem suggests. Just as Jesus got on with the job and included a close group of twelve others with him, so Paul got on with his apostolic call while also looking to include people like Silas and Timothy in helping to establish and strengthen churches. And 1 Thessalonians 2:3-8, above, seem to speak of the heart of all three for the believers in Thessalonica. Paul knew it was about teamwork, an apostolic teamwork that is!
Titus and others
Here is the passage for consideration:
16 But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. 17 For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest he is going to you of his own accord. 18 With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. 19 And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will…22 And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you. 23 As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers [apostoloi] of the churches, the glory of Christ. (2 Corinthians 8:16-23)
Unfortunately, our English translations are not as helpful with vs23. Though the Greek word, apostoloi, which is the plural version of apostolos, is found in vs23, our English versions usually translate the word as messenger. This is due, perhaps, to translators holding to the view that apostles were mainly the authoritative New Testament Scripture writers. Thus, it would be argued that the term can only be used to describe the twelve, Paul, and possibly a couple of others, namely Barnabas and James.
Therefore, it is argued that these three people spoken of in 2 Corinthians 8:16-23 are simply ‘general messengers’.
We first take note that, quite similarly to Apollos, Paul refers to Titus as ‘my partner and fellow worker’ (vs23). But, re-read the text carefully. Read what Paul says about Titus and these two other unnamed brothers. One of the unnamed persons had a major preaching role and was ‘appointed by the churches’ to travel with Paul (vs19). The other seemed to have quite a reputable character (vs22).
And remembering that, in its core essence, an apostle is a ‘sent one’, we then see how Titus and these two unnamed people fulfilled an apostolic role. Just as Jesus and the Holy Spirit had been sent with a specific mission and task to accomplish, so was Titus and the two others spoken of in 2 Corinthians 8. They were sent with a specific mission, being instrumental in the Corinthian church.
Did they have as significant role as Peter or Paul or John? No. But what if these guys had a similar role to a Thomas or Simon the Zealot? And, hey, those guys were apostles, right? They had the word sitting next to their name in the Gospels. And we might even say that Titus and these two others did as well. Maybe they had more of a role then just being ‘general messengers’.
It seems obvious that these three had a very important and significant role with the Corinthians and even elsewhere. Paul continues to show his strong belief in apostolic team, not the one-man-show.
Epaphroditus is spoken of as an apostle in Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger [apostolos] and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. (Philippians 2:25-26)
Just as with Titus and the other two men, most will simply recognise Epaphroditus as a general messenger. But, one thing interesting to note is that Paul calls him ‘your apostle’ (vs25). Just as Apollos was having a significant role in Corinth, and Silas and Timothy were having such a role in Thessalonica, it is highly probable that Epaphroditus was to have a special role with the Philippian church.
All of these people were being used in the early days to establish, strengthen and maintain local churches. Again, we are fine to note that Paul would have had the more significant apostolic ministry in these churches. But we must be willing to consider that God had called others to function in apostolic ministries as well.
It is also very interesting to note that the same language Paul used to describe his love and affection for the Philippians (1:7-8), he also uses to describe Epaphroditus’ love for them (2:26). I point this out to note that apostles deeply care for those to whom they have poured their lives out. Both Paul and Epaphroditus had such a heart for the church in Philippi.
Andronicus and Junia
We finish by reflecting on the enigmatic couple, Andronicus and Junia. We use the term ‘enigmatic’ because we do not really know much about them outside of this statement by Paul:
Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. (Romans 16:7)
What is most probable is that Andronicus and Junia were a married couple working in ministry together, quite like Priscilla and Aquila.
In the ESV, it states that they were ‘well known to the apostles’. The NASB puts it this way: ‘outstanding among the apostles’. No definite statements can be made about this couple from only one verse of Scripture. But it is interesting to consider a few things.
Whereas many see this phrase stating that the apostles knew them well or recognised them as having a good general ministry, I believe it is probable that Paul’s statement carries a little more significance. It could be that Paul is actually stating that they had an outstanding apostolic ministry. This could be strengthened as we reflect on his words, ‘and they were in Christ before me’.
Keeping in mind the whole of vs7, it is likely that Andronicus and Junia would have even had an influence on Paul. Here was a couple that possibly helped Paul become the man he was in Christ (a little like another apostle, Barnabas, as I pointed out in my last article).
Also, if Andronicus and Junia were a married couple in ministry together, it is interesting to consider the implications on a couple like Priscilla and Aquila. When we read about the significant ministry of Priscilla and Aquila in the book of Acts and other places, it is even possible that they, too, fulfilled an apostolic function in the early church. They functioned a lot like a Barnabas, an Apollos, a Titus, and even a Paul. They didn’t pen Scripture, but they go on with establishing, founding, strengthening and building up the church.
Some Concluding Words
In all, outside of the twelve and Paul, there could have been quite a few other apostles in those early days, not to mention there could have been more that were not even mentioned in Scripture.
The point is not for us to count how many apostles there were. But the purpose is to show that the apostolic ministry was not confined to the twelve and Paul in the first century. While those usually recognised as apostles might have had a greater measure of apostleship than the others we have looked at here (though people like James and Barnabas were quite strong in their apostolic roles, not to mention Paul would always argue for apostolic teamwork), our eyes have still been opened to the reality that apostleship is not confined to only thirteen in the New Testament.
Knowing there were many more apostles functioning in the New Testament era than the thirteen we usually think of, I think it calls for us to at least re-examine what an apostle is, as well as re-think the passages we generally point to as proof that the ministry of apostle is excluded outside of the usual thirteen and not to continue beyond the first century.
I’ve not yet fully said what I believe Scripture says an apostle is, though I have taken quite some time to hint at some things. But I want to move on to consider some of the objections to the notion that apostles still exist today. I’ll do that in my next article.