Apostles today? No way, jose! They died out a long time ago, with the passing of John.
I’ve written plenty in the past on the ministry of the apostle, but it’s been quite some time. So I thought I might revisit a few things. I adamantly believe this ministry is necessary today. Of course, God doesn’t need our appointing of apostles (or prophets) to get the work done. Many of folk have never been appointed direct pastoral or teaching ministries, yet they’ve still practically functioned in these roles, for the building up of Christ’s body. And I’d say the same is true with apostles (and prophets).
You see, when most people think of apostles, I believe they only envision the 12 and Paul. Some might remember that the word apostle sits next to both Barnabas’s and James’s names in the New Testament. But they were exceptional cases.
I think this is because we can easily identify an apostle as a writer of New Testament Scripture. Of course, we know that not all of the New Testament was penned by apostles. But we are at least ok with it because we, then, identify them as associates of those first apostles. Their source was one of the 12 that walked with Jesus himself.
But what we might fail to recognise is that there were quite a few more apostles than we first thought. Even more, Scripture-writing was not the primary calling of an apostle.
Now, I do not want to negate the role of writing Scripture – for the apostles and others who penned this God-breathed text. But, just as a starter, go back and think of the calling of some of these apostles in the early parts of the Gospel, or Paul’s conversion in Acts 9. In all of these settings, they were never told, ‘Write Scripture.’ But they still were able to faithfully fulfil their role as apostles.
And here is the interesting point I want to make in this post: If we look at the things properly, I believe we will see that there were at least 22 different apostles in total mentioned throughout the New Testament text. At minimum, that’s 9 more on top of the 12 and Paul.
This one is not so difficult, since we read statements like this in Acts 14:14: But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this…
Pretty clear about Barnabas’s ministry. Interestingly enough, I think Barnabas was one of the greatest mentors of Paul, considering Acts 11:19-30.
2) James (the brother of Jesus)
Again, not too difficult when finding the word apostle in close proximity to James’s name. Paul makes a very clear statement in his letter to the church of Galatia: I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother (1:19).
So we are at 15 and counting right now.
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). An important ministry for this married couple, including the wife!
Apollos 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? In this case, the word never actually is found associated with his name. Well, for starters, I’d encourage us to remember that apostle wasn’t so much a title, but a ministry function. But let’s consider some other things.
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. 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 Cor 1:10-12)
It is obvious that Apollos had a very significant ministry with the Corinthians, for Paul similarly identifies the ministries of himself, Peter and Apollos by stating how varying people within the church community wanted to follow one of the three. Of course, this was destructive to the body. But we find all 3 being recognised with similar ministries. And if Paul and Peter were apostles, what must we conclude about Apollos?
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 Cor 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 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, to which I think this fine. But this would not negate the calling of Apollos. They both had given so much into this church. They both had been part of establishing this church in the faith. The both had a foundation-building role.
Thus, as Paul and Barnabas made a formidable apostolic team at times (see Acts), so did Paul and Apollos.
4) 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 Thess 1:1)
Then, later on, we read this all-important statement:
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 Thess 2:1-8)
Notice the bolded part of vs6. It refers to the three – Paul, Silas and Timothy. Actually, notice the consistent use of ‘we’ throughout. We don’t realise who often Paul utilised a team in apostolic ministry, and also in writing letters to the churches. This is part and parcel to apostolic ministry – recognising the need for team, all ministries spoken of in Eph 4:11-13.
These 3 had an effective apostolic ministry in Thessalonica.
5) 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 Cor 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 messengers (or representatives). 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 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 seems quite reputable (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 Cor 8. They were sent with a specific mission, being instrumental in the Corinthian church just as Apollos.
Did they have as significant role as Paul? 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 Gospel accounts. And we might even say that Titus and these two others did as well. Maybe they had more of a role than just being ‘general messengers’.
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. (Phil 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 had a significant role in Corinth, and Silas and Timothy had such a role in Thessalonica, it is highly probable that Epaphroditus was to have a special role within 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’s love for them (2:26). I point this out to note that apostles deeply care for those to whom they have poured out their lives. Both Paul and Epaphroditus had such a heart for the church in Philippi.
7) 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. (Rom 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 NIV and 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 Paul’s statement carries a little more significance. I think it more probable that Paul is stating this couple had an outstanding apostolic ministry. This could be strengthened as we reflect on his words, ‘and they were in Christ before me’.
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 Barnabas, Apollos, Titus, and even Paul at times. They didn’t pen Scripture, but they go on with establishing, founding, strengthening and building up the church.
If interested in more thoughts on the role of Junia, I’d encourage you to look at Scot McKnight’s little book, Junia Is Not Alone, which I shared some thoughts about here.
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 are not 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 the twelve and Paul might have had a greater measure of apostleship than the others we have looked at here (though we don’t know a great deal about the ministry of many of the 12), our eyes have still been opened to the reality that apostleship is not confined to a few.
Knowing there were many more apostles functioning in the New Testament era, I think it calls for us to at least re-examine the nature of apostolic ministry continuing into today.
While I understand the point of this article, Scott, I think we rely too much on labels when it comes to our reasonable Christian service. I don’t believe they were so concerned with this label (or other labels mentioned in the NT). They were called Apostles because they were literally “sent ones”. They were sent out by someone, sometimes by a church, but most often by Christ himself, to tell another group of people about “the way”. Since technically we are ALL “sent” to share the gospel in our daily lives, we are ALL apostles WHEN we perform that function. The label goes with the function, not so much the person. We can all be at times preachers, teachers, apostles, healers, speakers in tongues, prophets, etc. because we have the Spirit within who empowers us to take on any and all of those roles as He requires. He gives us the role in the moment that is needed. WE are not those things, He is those things THROUGH us, who are simply (no matter what our current function may appear to be) His servants — His empty vessels. I think we do ourselves and others a disservice when we try and label people (both historically and currently) as having one specific role in the body. They are what Christ needed them to be, and were content to be so. So should we.
I actually don’t think this is about labels. I don’t think the 5 ministries listed in Eph 4:11 are labels or titles or positions. They are ministry gifts coming from the resurrected and ascended Christ. In the end, apostles will be apostles whether we recognise the Christ-ministry in them or not. Prophets will be prophets whether we recognise the Christ-ministry in them or not. The same for evangelists, shepherds & teachers. However, recognising such ministries can make us aware of the need, what the ministry is, and that we need to be ready to receive from such gifts. These people are gifts to the church. Eph 4:11-13 tells us we need them to become mature.
I do believe there is a sense in which the whole body of Christ is apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, shepherding & teaching. Christ was the greatest apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd & teacher. The Holy Spirit was sent in his stead to continue the same exact work. He empowers the entire body of Christ to be the entire Christ in the entire world. But it is these specific gifted people that prepare the body of Christ to fulfil this calling.
Just some more thoughts to ponder.
Yes, I agree with you about gifts being from Christ. We get every good thing from Christ. But I think WE turn those gifts INTO labels. I see this gift in you or in myself so you are/I am “this” in the body of Christ. Then because we tend to associate respect and power with labels like these, they can lead down a dangerous path. I don’t think the apostles thought of themselves as “Apostles” with all the lofty connotations that that label conjures up for us now, but just as someone who was sent with the message of Christ. From how I read him, I don’t think Paul liked the apostle “label” at all. It caused more division in the church. He didn’t like talking about himself or his accomplishments and didn’t want to be thought of as anyone special, but simply as a servant of Christ.
Do I think there are people who are called to specific roles and purposes within the body of Christ? Yes, but I think it’s a very uncommon occurrence. We are talking about men like Luther, Spurgeon, C.S. Lewis and Billy Graham – men that God has obviously graced, both in talent and in fruit, in a special manner. But I don’t think it’s something that each and every Christian should try to “figure out” and then label themselves. Not everyone will receive “a call” to a specific ministry area, and that’s OK. Just be Christ wherever you are and let God work out how that might be manifested on a daily basis.