Currently in this series on the Ephesians 4 ministries, I am moving through varying objections to the idea that apostles still exist today. In the last article, I specifically addressed the understanding that says apostles are mainly Scripture-writers. Of course, as I shall always state, those first apostles, and some of their close associates, recorded what is now the God-breathed New Testament Scriptures. Such a role was of great import and is not needed again.
But, I also believe that if we truly study what it means to be an apostle – by looking at the great apostle, Jesus, and the lives of the other apostles of Scripture – we will see that the apostolic ministry gift is not intrinsically tied to Scripture-writing. For those first apostles, their lives were taken up with a lot more than penning what we now recognise as our New Testament canon. Even so, not all apostles wrote Scripture. Only five did. Hence, I believe it is unhelpful to associate apostles as Scripture-writer.
At this point, I had planned to cover at least three more objections. But in the last article, I noted that the second argument I had planned to address – all apostles must have received a post-resurrection appearance from Christ – also had a connected argument to consider.
That connected argument: Jesus physically hand-picked and chose His apostles. Therefore, due to Christ now being physically seated at the right hand of the Father reigning over all heaven and earth, this choosing can no longer happen.
So, where do we start with this specific argument?
Let’s start with the first three verses of Acts:
1In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:1-3)
In arguing that the apostles were hand-picked by Christ, many will likely quote passages like vs2 above which says, ‘the apostles whom he [Jesus] had chosen’.
And since Jesus cannot physically choose apostles anymore, apostles can no longer exist.
But, we need to consider some practical things here.
Acts stands as Luke’s second volume, his Gospel being his first work. Therefore, the statement in Acts 1:2 most likely harkens back to Luke’s Gospel in 6:12-13:
12In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. 13And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles…
Here, we read of Jesus’ physical selection of the twelve, whom he named apostles (though we must also recognise that the choosing of the twelve did not all happen at once, since there are a few accounts in the Gospels of specific ones being chosen).
Why is this important to point out this passage in Luke’s Gospel? Because it is obvious that Luke’s words in Acts 1:2 are most likely connected back to that initial summary statement about the choosing of the twelve in Luke 6. Volume 2 would connect back to Volume 1.
Ok, but what’s the point?
Well, all we have to do is simply look at the reality that no other apostle could be in this place that they twelve found themselves in – a physical selection by Christ. Even Matthias could not fit into this role, though by no means do I question his apostolic calling. Matter of fact, if we go back and read Acts 1:2, it doesn’t even say Jesus was speaking to the twelve. It says he was speaking to the apostles he had chosen, which would have been eleven at that time.
Therefore, Luke’s reference in Acts 1:2 refers back to a physical selection in Luke 6:12-13. But such could have never happened again with the Son seated at the Father’s right hand reigning over heaven and earth.
Now, this is where people will come in and say, ‘Ah, but Paul was physically chosen by Christ on the road to Damascus.’
Well, let’s be real and honest – not really. Paul’s selection on the road to Damascus was not like the choosing of the initial twelve apostles. Again, I hate to beat a dead horse, but Luke’s words in Acts 1:2 speak of the actual physical selection of the twelve. I believe this is one of the reasons why they are the twelve apostles of the Lamb (Revelation 21:14), with Matthias replacing Judas. But no one else fits into this grouping of twelve. They were even unique beyond Paul, since Paul was not chosen in this same way.
Please hear me. I believe Paul still had a significant post-resurrection calling from Christ (though we could argue Acts 9 is more his conversion rather than a specific apostolic calling, as it seems Ananias could have been more aware of Paul’s apostolic calling before Paul was – see Acts 9:15-16). But Acts 1:2 cannot be used to imply that all apostles are ‘hand-picked’ by Christ, with a physical selection, since the reference in Acts 1:2 points back to what happened with the twelve in the Gospel of Luke.
But, if you don’t like my approach with regards to Paul, then let’s consider people like James and Barnabas (not to mention the others in the New Testament with the high probability of an apostolic calling).
Both James and Barnabas were apostles (see here). Yet they were not hand-picked, in the physical sense, like the twelve. Still, we read in the New Testament about their significant apostolic ministries in the early days.
Now, many will remind me of Christ’s post-resurrection appearance to James (1 Corinthians 15:7). Therefore, this could have been the place where Jesus ‘hand-picked’ James. But again, I bring up the reality that this still puts him outside of the meaning of Luke’s words in Acts 1:2 – a physical selection before the resurrection.
The box is simply not holding together.
And, moving on, we have to consider Barnabas. I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself for the next article, but we don’t even know if Barnabas fits into either group – knowing Christ pre-resurrection or receiving a post-resurrection appearance from the Son of God.
For these things to be such important requirements, it is interesting that we are left in the dark with regards to Barnabas.
Now, I know some will say, ‘Well, we are supposed to assume these things with all apostles. They were 1) hand-picked by Christ and 2) received a post-resurrection appearance of Christ.’
But I believe this is a misunderstanding of passages like Acts 1:2, as well as Acts 1:21-22 and 1 Corinthians 15:3-9, which I will look at in my next article. I believe we have unfortunately practised a little too much eisegesis of reading back into the Scripture what it actually does not communicate.
Still, let me say this: I do believe that all apostles are chosen by Christ. This is clear from the main text I have been looking at in Ephesians 4. The passage starts off in vs7-8:
7But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8Therefore it says,
“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he [Christ] gave gifts to men.” [quoting Psalm 68:18]
And vs11 says:
And he [Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers.
So it’s quite obvious who is choosing these people, calling these people, gifting these people in such ministries. Every apostle, from the first twelve to the other apostles in those early years to apostles ever since, finds their choosing in Christ for such a ministry. As the great apostle and exalted Lord, he gets to do the choosing.
That is the hand-selection of Christ.
To end out, I again state that I believe we have formed wrong conclusions from certain passages about apostles. One of those wrong conclusions is that apostles have to have been chosen by Christ in the physical sense. Paul, himself, did not fall into that category as Luke had in mind when recording those words in Acts 1:2. And neither did James or Barnabas.
Still, Christ is the one who chooses all apostles, as well as prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. That’s how it has always been and that is how it will always be. Christ is the great gifter.
In the next article, I will continue looking at the objection that all apostles must have received a post-resurrection appearance of Christ.