Objections To Apostles Today (Part 5)

This is my final post in regards to addressing many of the objections for the existence of apostles in the present day. As usual, and especially since I have not written on the topic in 3 weeks, I thought I would summarise my previous four articles in which I address varying objections:

Part 1: I believe that the word apostle does not equal Scripture-writer, or more specifically, apostle does not equal New Testament writer. Now this might sound simple and easy for those who have thought this through. We see that many of the twelve did not author Scripture and there were others who wrote Scripture that were not apostles. But there is still a common argument amongst even theologians that the apostles were the authoritative Scripture writers of the New Testament. Thus, since we don’t have Scripture to write anymore, there are no longer apostles.

But I believe this – apostle equals New Testament Scripture writer – can be a confusing connection when considering what an apostle is from a holistic point.

Not only that, but if we intrinsically make revelation and authority only connected to the apostles, then we have to walk down the full line that says God no longer speaks and gives revelation today. But I believe this does not hold up. While Scripture encapsulates the full redemptive revelation that is summed up in Jesus Christ, and this Scripture was authored by specific apostles and other individuals who had a unique role in the early church, it does not contain all revelation from God. Our God has spoken outside of Scripture and always has. I also look at this more here.

The scope of the apostolic ministry is much wider than tying it down to Scripture or something that was only needed for a certain period of time. I’ll share more in recent weeks on what the apostolic ministry is about, though I have hinted at it before.

Part 2: This article addressed the idea that Jesus physically hand-picked and chose His apostles. Not that Jesus had to physically touch them on the shoulder (though touch was probably involved in the Jewish culture), but that Jesus had to physically-verbally pick those He wanted as apostles. Therefore, it is argued that, because this can no longer happen, apostles can no longer exist.

Yet I believe this is a misunderstanding of passages like Acts 1:1-3 in their original context. I am convinced Jesus is the one who selects and gifts people with apostolic ministry (i.e. Ephesians 4:11-13). But this selecting and gifting by the great apostle Himself (Jesus) has still been available for 2000 years, sense He did well to send a Helper of the same kind in His place to continue His apostolic work.

Part 3: This article is really connected with part 2. Most people will argue that, to have been an apostle, one must have received a post-resurrection appearance. Since Jesus is no longer making physical appearances to people, then He is no longer choosing people to serve in apostolic ministry. But I believe this is a misunderstanding of two central passages – Acts 1:21-22 and 1 Corinthians 15:3-9. If we read these two passages carefully and think through the ramifications, a post-resurrection appearance is not the requirement for apostolic ministry.

Part 4: The last part centres around the biblical teaching that apostles (and prophets) are foundation layers, as shown in Ephesians 2:20. And because a foundation is only laid once, never to be laid again, then apostles (and prophets) are no longer needed to fulfil this role. In this article, I shared three reasons why I believe this Ephesians verse is also misunderstood.

The final objection that I would like to consider is this: Following that first century and with the death of John the apostle, no church father has ever referred to the existence of apostles. No one. The church has always seen this ministry ceasing with the death of John.

I believe this is an objection to faithfully consider.

We need to ask why church history does not touch on apostles existing after the first century. Of course, the reason why we might browse the writings of church history and find no mention of post-first century apostles is because the fathers of our faith believed the other four objections that I have mentioned in my other articles (plus other probable objections that I have not addressed).

Now, the easy card for an evangelical to pull out is this: We don’t measure our faith and beliefs by tradition (or church history) but by Scripture alone. Remember the cry of the reformers – sola Scriptura. Scripture alone is the measuring stick for our faith, not tradition.

And, you know, I could easily pull that card and walk away with a smirk on my face as if I defeated this objection with ease. But it isn’t always that easy, though we wish it were, right?

I believe in a healthy respect for church tradition because I know I probably would not hold to quite a few essential orthodox beliefs apart from the creeds and teachings of the early church fathers. Things like the Trinity, the co-existing natures of Christ as both divine and human, the personality and divinity of the Holy Spirit, etc. Of course I believe the Bible teaches these and other essential beliefs of the faith. But it was the church fathers who really laid these teachings out in a more precise manner and fought to maintain these orthodox beliefs as heresy attacked the teaching of Scripture. I owe a lot to their lives and ministry, these apologists.

Yes, it is true. These fathers mainly defended these beliefs as they considered the Scriptures, or at least what was available in those first few early centuries (everything had not been completely and neatly gathered into one text). So, again, I feel the desire to pull the sola Scriptura card as my defence. But, again, it’s not that easy.

I could also pull out random pointers that a few people have been referred to as apostles at varying times, i.e., William Carey was referred to as the ‘apostle of India’. But I am not sure that such a statement encapsulates what I believe Scripture teaches about apostles. More than anything, the statement about Carey probably referred to his exceptional missionary status amongst the Indian people (which is part of apostolic calling, but not the only piece).

I have yet to be able to read lots of church history. My passion has been stirred to read more and I plan to, though I keep running across more modern texts to read. But I suppose our church fathers held the term apostle in a way that limited it to the first apostles. Those first apostles were absolutely important, even in such a way that their ministry is not to be repeated. They carried an authority that even I would be wary to recognise in any person today (or in the 1900 years subsequent).

Can I explain it all and box it into a nice and neat package for our cognitive understanding? I could work at it, but I haven’t, at least not yet.

So how could I say apostles exist today but then at the same time say the apostolic ministry of today has shifted from the first century? Well, I can’t just quote a few passages and paste it all together into an understandable theological system. I could borrow some thoughts from cessationism, but I’m not sure it’s that easy either.

I could simply say that the ministry to teach (and write) authoritatively was invested only in the apostles and this was only for the first century church as it was being established. Therefore, this is no longer needed. But the package is not held fully together when we look at all the ‘evidence’, for we’re not really sure what kind of authority some of those first apostles held (in a practical sense) and that quite a few others outside of the 12 and Paul held strong authority, even some who were not apostles.

To be honest, it’s all hard to juggle and maintain a very neat package to produce for the appeasement of our questions.

Again, I’m good to recongise the authority invested in that group of 12, in Paul and in a few others that were supposed tight associates of the first apostles. Non-apostles like Luke, John Mark, Jude, and maybe the author of Hebrews, had accountable relationships to the first apostles. They probably didn’t turn in a rough draft of their writings to the apostles before sending them out. But they were not writing as absent-minded people with no solid basis in apostolic authoritative teaching.

So these people had a special ministry. And I am very good with that. In the end, an authoritative Scripture-writing ministry has not continued. We don’t need it to. The authoritative, redemptive revelation in Jesus Christ and the new covenant has been completed. There is absolutely nothing, I mean nothing to add to its completeness. Hence, we don’t need anything added to our measuring stick, the canon of Scripture.

But, I believe God is still speaking authoritatively today. He was doing it even while Scripture was being written (from Genesis to Revelation), I believe He’s been doing such for 1900 years following the death of John the apostle, and I’ve seen Him do it today.

Yes, yes, I know. I am being subjective. And, yes, I know, you are too. But I am up for judging what we believe God is speaking today by what He was already affirmed as His God-breathed revelation in Scripture. And I am up for responsible leadership (and the whole body of Christ) weighing the words spoken – whether direct prophetic utterances or authoritative teaching that cuts like a two-edged sword.

This is where our debt is owed to those first apostles and their associates. They gave us God-breathed revelation to stand as a measuring stick for any subjective sense of God speaking today.

But I also affirm that Scripture does not teach that apostolic ministry would end at the death of John or sometime around there. Really, the best we can do is formulate a systematic theology that helps us conclude that apostles no longer exist. I am not ridiculing such a practise, as I employ it with a lot of my beliefs, even my full continuationist beliefs that allow for apostles to exist today.

But I believe the system of theology that says apostles no longer exist has holes and questions. And those holes cannot be filled and those questions cannot be answered by the system. It just can’t. And, I would be arrogant not to recognise that I have holes and questions in mine as well. But I want to be honest and authentic and say that I have them and cannot gloss over them as non-sense.

And believing God’s revelation continues to have a dynamic nature to it, and is not to be seen as statically set in concrete, I am ok that I cannot put a band-aid (plaster for Brits) over the questions and holes as if they aren’t there. But I also know that what I believe (as I have mainly espoused in the past fifteen or so articles) is not some hokey-pokey, off-based theology. I’m looking at Scripture, I’m thinking this through theologically (even the holes and questions that I cannot answer), I’m testing it against the objections that come my way, I’m staying accountable to those in my life.

Church history does not largely attest to the existence of apostles today. Maybe I’ll go searching one day and find a handful of quotes from Irenaeus or Ignatius or Augustine or whomever to help support my case. But I’m not too bothered if I can’t. Not because I’ll pull out the sola Scriptura card as my trump card (though I believe Scripture is our measuring stick), but because I think I have to still be honest that there are questions out there of how this practically works out. And oh I wish I could just put it in a ten point outline and it satisfy mine and your questions. But it won’t.

One question still rings like this: If you believe in apostles today and take that belief to its full extent, then you should allow for people to carry the same authority today as a Paul or Peter or John had.

Interesting question to consider. But it doesn’t scare me, though it might scare others.

But I believe that, though church history is majorly silent on this issue, or even giving a negative attestation to the existence of such a ministry, I am looking to stay solid in Scripture. It would be easier to pass on the apostle terminology and at least just stick with the terms prophecy and prophet. But I believe apostles and prophets are distinct ministries from one another (and I’ll come onto that in the near future).

Goodness, I didn’t answer much in this article other than to point out that I’ve got holes and questions to always consider. And I think the church has been doing that for some 2000 years.

Still, I know what I have seen and I know that what I have seen does not undercut God, the nature of His God-breathed word, nor the authority and ministry of the first apostles and their associates. But I cannot deny that I have seen – in the Scripture and in life – the work of foundation-laying, equipping, workings of power and authoritative ministry in apostles today. And I am so thankful that the handful of apostles I work with have no ego trip. You don’t know their names and they don’t want to be plastered on television. They just get on with the ministry God has given them.

It kind of mirrors that one apostle….what was his name? Oh yeah, Jesus.

The objections have come and they are very worthy of consideration. And I will still have to consider them tomorrow and twenty years down the road, with new ones surfacing and old ones resurfacing. But I am confident that the great apostle, Jesus, meant for His apostolic ministry to continue until we reach the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, being that mature and pure Bride He is preparing us to be (Ephesians 4:11-13).

Objestions To Apostles Today (Part 4)

Just to summarise for this extremely in depth series, I’ve shared three articles thus far as to why people object to apostles existing today:

  • Article 1: Apostles were NT Scripture writers and since we no longer are adding to Scripture, such a role is no longer needed. Click here for more.
  • Article 2: Jesus personally hand-picked the apostles and since he is seated at the Father’s right hand, he no longer choosing apostles in such a way (in the physical sense). Click here for more.
  • Article 3: To be an apostle, it is a requirement that Christ must have appeared to you post-resurrection. This no longer happens, Paul being the last one to receive such an appearance. Click here for more.

With each of these arguments, I truly believe there has been a misunderstanding of particular Scripture passages used as proof-texts as to why apostles no longer exist. Misunderstanding particular Bible verses will lead to the formulation of wrong conclusions. I don’t say this arrogantly, but rather to challenge us to re-think the particular passages usually quoted with regards to the reasons that apostles no longer exist post-first century.

The fourth objection usually surrounds this issue: Apostles are foundation layers (as it states in Ephesians 2:20) and a foundation only needs to be laid once. Since the apostles laid this once-for-all-time foundation in the first century, and with that foundation being faithfully recorded in the New Testament Scriptures, we no longer need apostles.

So let’s consider this objection.

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we find the very important passage mentioned above:

19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)

With such a statement in vs20, we see that, along with prophets (which might be another important post in the future), apostles are an extremely important part of the new covenant church. These two ministries are given as the foundation layers in the gospel.

So, to repeat, those who say apostles no longer exist today will point out that a foundation can only be laid once. What building (that is built correctly) has its foundation laid over and over again? The building might have its brick-work, roofing, windows, or even its furniture on the inside replaced. But not the settled and finished foundation.

So, because those first apostles laid this all-important foundation once-for-all-time, we no longer need such gifted people to lay the foundation.

There are 3 specific points I want to raise to address this fourth objection:

  1. The dynamic nature of the church’s foundation.
  2. Understanding how Biblical imagery is used.
  3. Keeping in mind other important passages.

1) The Dynamic Nature of the Church’s Foundation

What someone like myself could be accused of (I’ve never heard this, but it could be out there) is that to claim that apostles (and prophets) still exist today is to somehow acknowledge that the foundation laid in the first century was unfinished and/or faulty.

Let me start off by saying that I am not walking down that path at all.

I believe that the foundation laid in the first century by the first apostles (and prophets) was solid and faithful to the cornerstone, Jesus. By no means was that foundation faulty or lacking. Matter of fact, we see that they had a special foundation-laying role when reading these other words of Paul to the Ephesians:

1 For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles – 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (Ephesians 3:1-6)

Though there were definite pointers in the Old Testament to the ‘mystery’ of vs6, the new foundation of the new covenant was to be laid by the apostles and prophets of this new covenant. One of the major foundation stones, if not the major foundation, revealed to them was this: the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel (vs6). This was very good news (gospel) for which Paul gave his life.

This is why we must recognise the special and significant role of the first apostles and prophets of the new covenant. They were the first to receive this revelation, as well as other revelations, in regards to the outworking of the gospel and the new covenant. And this testimony has been recorded in the God-breathed Scriptures of the New Testament, which stand as a measuring stick for God’s people in regards to our faith for all times.

Yet, the special role of these first apostles and prophets should not negate Christ’s heart to continue to gift people as apostles and prophets for equipping the saints and helping us reach that high calling of unity, maturity and stature in Christ, which I will remind us of later.

But how does this all fit together then? How is their a foundation laid so long ago by the first apostles and prophets and yet still needing these ministries to equip God’s people today?

The important thing to remember is that the activity of God is always dynamic and not static. What I mean is that we cannot view the gospel foundation laid in the first century as some static, non-living, irrelevant foundation for today (and the other 19 centuries between theirs and ours). This foundation is Spirit-breathed and must continue in the dynamic life of the Spirit.

Therefore, the role of apostles and prophets today is not that they lay a completely different gospel foundation from the first apostles and prophets. Such is absolutely out of bounds! Rather, while treasuring that initial foundation laid two thousand years ago, the call of apostles and prophets of subsequent generations is to help this foundation become a dynamic reality today.

It’s easy to recognise that the times and seasons of today are quite different from 2000 years ago. The truths of God are timeless, no doubt. But seeing those truths become a reality for the Bride of Christ today is paramount.

Apostles and prophets never lay aside that which was taught by the first group of such ministries. If we do, we will head down a dangerous road. Rather, we take that measuring stick and continue to see the foundation of the gospel become a reality in our world and culture.

We must never see this foundation as static and cemented into time. The living, breathing Spirit of God is interested in seeing the truth of God become a dynamic part of the church’s life in every century, every decade, every culture, every language. I believe if we do not allow for such, we will have missed something vital.

2) Understanding the Building Imagery

What we must also remember with regards to imagery being used in Scripture is that not every single implication of the imagery is to be taken to its full extent.

With Ephesians 2:19-22, the people of God are being compared to a building, or specifically a temple. But we are not to walk down the path of making everything completely applicable in the imagery. We don’t assign differing church groups to different rooms in the building/temple. We don’t assign certain groups to the court of the Gentiles. And the list could go on.

The imagery does not serve this purpose, taking every single possible aspect to its full extent.

Here is another example: the body of Christ imagery. We are not called to identify who are the hands (those with gifts of healings?), who are the eyes (those who are prophets?), who are the feet (those who are evangelists?), etc. It doesn’t work. The purpose is to teach us the overall understanding of a body working together. Of course there are other implications, as we might gleam from 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. But we must be careful of trying to make everything about a body fit into the imagery.

Another is the vine and the branches of John 15. From reading vs6, one might conclude they can ‘lose their salvation’. But I believe that is taking the imagery too far. The point is to talk about the benefits of abiding in Christ as branches. We are absolutely dependent upon him.

So, with the building/temple imagery of Ephesians 2, I would ask us to guard against importing all of our ideas about buildings into what Paul is trying to teach us. Read vs21 and ask this question: How does a [physical] temple grow? It doesn’t. What Paul is teaching is not to be fully compared with an actual temple.

Thus, I’m not sure we are intended to import the idea that foundations are laid once-for-all-time in a static sense. Why? Because of my first point: the foundation of the gospel is dynamic knowing that it was birthed out of a dynamic Person.

3) Remember Another Important Passage

Finally, as we all know with hermeneutics (the interpretation of Scripture), one of the first and greatest guidelines is allowing Scripture to help us understand and interpret Scripture. This is very, very helpful.

And so, I would ask us to keep Ephesians 2:20 in context with what Paul also says later on to the Ephesians, a passage that this whole series is based on:

11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13)

Paul teaches us that, when Christ ascended, He gave certain ministry gifts to people, one of those being the ministry of apostle. Even more, we read that all five of these ministry gifts are needed until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ’ (vs13).

As I have stated in previous articles, no one would claim that the body of Christ has reached this unity, maturity and stature in Christ. We need to continue to move towards this goal.

Hence, the word ‘until’ denotes that something is currently taking place, but it has not yet been completed. We are still headed towards that goal, but we are longing to reach that finish line. Therefore, just as we need evangelists, shepherds and teachers to help us move towards this calling in Christ, so we need apostles and prophets to help reach the goal.

So I ask that we remember to keep Ephesians 2:20 related to other passages. And I believe some of Paul’s words just a little later on in Ephesians 4:11-13 provide some very important meat to chew on when considering the full ramifications of apostles and prophets.

Concluding Thoughts

It’s possible that some might accuse me of bringing in quite a slippery theology, meaning that, at all costs, I have avoided dealing with the issues at hand caused by Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:20. Of course, I would see otherwise when remembering 1) the dynamic nature of the gospel-new covenant foundation, 2) the implications of imagery used in Scripture are not to be fully imported into what the text is teaching, 3) consider Scripture in context with other Scripture.

Remember, I am very much an advocate of the foundation the apostles and prophets laid. It was the initial foundation and I am grateful for God’s providence in seeing this recorded in the New Testament Scripture. But I also believe Christ never intended such to be the final say-so for these ministries to continue. Christ, the great apostle, sent his Spirit to continue his apostolic work in his church so that the whole world might be able to know the whole Christ (I share more here). And, thankfully Jesus continues to gift people as apostles to help the body of Christ fulfil their apostolic calling as a whole community.

Click here for my final article in addressing objections to apostles today.

Objections To Apostles Today (Part 3)

Currently, I’m dealing with objections that are usually brought up against the notion that Jesus continues to gift people as apostles in the present day. I have posted two articles thus far: here and here.

In my last post, I specifically dealt with the claim that all apostles were hand-picked by Jesus himself. Not that he had to physically tap them on the shoulder (though, noting Jewish culture, I would not be surprised if he touched each of them in selecting them), but that apostles had to have physically been selected by Jesus while he was on earth. I think this is mainly a misunderstanding of passages like Acts 1:1-3.

Of course, I believe all apostles are hand-selected by Christ – the twelve, Paul, other New Testament apostles and present-day apostles. There is no doubt, since he is the one who gifts with these ministries (see Ephesians 4:7-16). But such people as Barnabas, Apollos, Silas, Timothy, as well as those throughout the centuries who have functioned in such a ministry, might have never had a physical, post-resurrection appearance and selecting by Jesus. But Jesus keeps gifting these people to complete the apostolic work he began. But you can read more here.

This argument is actually connected to a much larger argument against apostles today: all apostles received a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus Christ. This is mainly built around these words of Peter, which precede the choice of Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot:

21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 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. (Acts 1:21-22)

In the context, Peter has had a revelation that it would be good and right to find a replacement for Judas. His understanding had come from either a reading or spontaneous revelation around the passage Psalm 109:8‘Let another take his office.’

It does not say this specifically within the text, but such a replacement is probably seen as important to completing the circle of the twelve. The group of the ‘twelve apostles of the Lamb’ (Revelation 21:14) stood as a declaration that Messiah had initiated a restoration of Israel (I write more on this topic here). So the circle of twelve was important in launching the reality of the gospel and what Christ had done.

Again, it is this Scripture in Acts 1 that is seen as holding one of the, if not the, main qualification for being an apostle. Such a claim is also connected with Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:3-9, and we will look at those in just a moment. But let’s, first, examine the text in Acts.

The end of vs22 states, ‘one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection’. As with other passages, I also believe this is misunderstood. If we read the words carefully, I think it is quite easy to see that Peter is simply making a declaration of what the twelve were going to be doing. There were going to be testifying to the fact that their Lord had risen from the dead.

Read the words carefully – ‘one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection’.

You see, when Peter had said these words, the post-resurrection appearances over the 40-days before the ascension (see Acts 1:1-3) would have already happened. And these words are pointing to a future event, namely that they would become witnesses of the resurrection, telling others about it. And, with their faithfulness with such a task, all those who respond to the gospel would be doing the same thing, even down to this day.

Thus, I believe that Acts 1:21-22 does not state that apostles must have had a post-resurrection appearance of Christ. If that is a requirement for apostolic ministry, we must quote another verse. But we cannot quote Acts 1 for this.

As I pointed out, such proponents will also try and connect Acts 1:21-22 with 1 Corinthians 15:3-9. So let’s look at Paul’s words to the Corinthians:

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (1 Corinthians 15:3-9)

The claim is that, in this passage, we find more support that all apostles were ones who personally saw Christ after His resurrection. This is heightened by Paul’s words in vs8 about the appearance of Christ to himself on the Damascus road.

With the phrase, ‘Last of all,’ many claim that this proves that Paul would be the final apostle, since he was the last one to receive an appearance from Christ.

First of all, we must note that the major point of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-9 is to give an apologetic for Christ’s resurrection, especially considering vs3-4. He is giving reasonable evidence for the resurrection of Jesus – He appeared to over 500 people, and some saw Him more than once! That’s the main thesis.

Even more, though we could quibble over whether or not people like Apollos, Silas, Timothy, Titus and others were apostles (though I believe they are), we cannot do so with Barnabas. He is undoubtedly an apostle, as it is stated in Acts 14:14, as well as noting some kind of co-apostolic commission with Paul in Acts 13:1-4.

These things are important to remember because, amazingly, nowhere in all of Scripture are we specifically told that Barnabas saw Christ in a post-resurrection appearance. Now, it is true that Barnabas could have been one of those 500 spoken of in 1 Corinthians 15:6. But we don’t know.

If a post-resurrection appearance of Christ was the major qualification for being an apostle, as most will claim, we are left wondering about Barnabas.

Yet, worth noting is that, in the Corinthians passage, Paul is sharing all of these post-resurrection appearances in what seems like an orderly fashion. Christ appeared to Peter, then the twelve, then 500, then… And before appearing to Paul, we read that Christ appeared to James and then to all of the apostles (vs7).

Now, some will be quick to point out that this would have included Barnabas, because he was an apostle. But, let’s think some things through here. It seems most likely that all of these appearances Paul is referring to (albeit his own) seem to have happened in that 40-day period before Christ ascended to the Father (see Acts 1:1-3 again). Then, quite a few years later, we read of Paul’s exceptional experience on the road to Damascus.

Could Barnabas have been in that group of 500 that received an appearance or that group of all of the apostles? Sure. Barnabas was an apostle and it says Jesus, then, appeared to all of the apostles. I’m ok with this. I really am.

Ah, so my case falls, right?

Well, I don’t believe so. And this is why?

1) We’ve misunderstand Acts 1:21-22. Again, it is not stating that apostles must have received a post-resurrection appearance of Christ. That is not the meaning of the passage at all. Peter was telling them what they would be doing – testifying to the resurrection of the Lord.

2) If Acts 1:21-22 does not say what we originally thought it said, then we have to re-consider the implications of 1 Corinthians 15:3-9. And if we read 1 Corinthians 15:3-9 again, it never ever claims that apostles must have seen Christ post-resurrection. It might implicate that they all have as we consider vs7. But it does not state that they must. Such a claim comes from a misreading of the Acts passage and such has been debunked already.

3) Finally, I pointed out that hundreds of people saw the resurrected Christ. Even the other guy put side-by-side with Matthias (his name was Joseph Barsabbas) seems to have had the same qualifications. Why not give him such an apostolic ministry as the twelve or Paul or Barnabas or James or the others? Because it has to specifically do with calling and gifting by the risen Christ, not who saw him.

So, what was Paul getting at in his statement in 1 Corinthians 15:8 about Christ’s appearance to himself? You know, he said, ‘Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.’

I believe he was pointing out that the other apostles (the twelve, James, etc.), as well as the other 500 people to whom Christ appeared, had all seen Christ during that 40-day period before His ascension. But, as for Paul, he did not receive his own appearance of Christ until some 4 or 5 years later. There was a little time difference there. Consequently, this is why he says he was one ‘untimely born’.

Now, I do understand that we might say that Paul was the ‘last of all’ to receive an appearance of such an exceptional nature. Though some, by the active Spirit of God, have had visions of the resurrected Christ (as Acts 2:17-18 states God’s people could have such visions), we might be able to conclude that none have had such an appearance as the twelve, Paul, James and the other 500 – a literal, physical appearance.

But, even with this, I would encourage us to steer clear of being dogmatic. He is Lord, not us. I wouldn’t put it out of Jesus’ ability to physically appear to someone. Still, I am sure some would not be too open to this, and such is fine.

So I would conclude that having a post-resurrection appearance of Christ is not necessarily a hard-nosed requirement for an apostolic calling. As with most cases, it usually comes down to a misunderstanding or misreading of the text. And I believe this is what has happened with Acts 1:21-22, which has set us into a tailspin with understanding passages like 1 Corinthians 15:3-9.

I continually turn back to the important passage of Ephesians 4:11-16 which states that we need all five of those giftings until we reach unity and maturity as a body. We are not quite there yet. And, so, we are called, in the power of the Spirit, to continue the work that Christ started. He will continue to gift apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers until we complete that which he has called us to.

Here is the fourth article dealing with objections to apostles today.

Objections To Apostles Today (Part 2)

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.

Objections to Apostles Today (Part 1)

I am now beginning my twelfth article on this larger series in regards to the five ministry gifts listed in Ephesians 4:11-13 – apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. You can click here to start at the first article and read through the series if you so desire.

Twelve articles! That’s a lot!

And I suppose that there are at least that many to come, if not more. This is a delicate topic, one with lots of misunderstandings, one with lots of baggage, one with lots of abuses. And, so, I feel the need to slowly walk through some things, slowly work some things out.

Sure, I could have posted a handful of articles, as I have done in the past. But I wanted to take the time to really consider things both biblically and theologically. I don’t mean to split the two, but when I refer to things theological, I am more referring to the conclusions that we come to from our reading and study of Scripture. It’s not always as simple as reading black ink on white paper. We read it through a lens, me included. And so I am trying to faithfully look at various portions of Scripture pertinent to the topic at hand, as well as the theological conclusions of such.

Hence, I’m on my twelfth article so far and plan to put out just as many.

With regards to apostles, I said I would address the issues in this order:

  1. Apostles in New Testament Scripture.
  2. Objections to the existence of apostles today.
  3. What an apostle actually is.

So far, I have finished off the first point – looking at apostles in the New Testament. Whereas, when many people think of apostles, they think of the twelve, or possibly the twelve and Paul, Scripture actually lets us know there were a few other apostles at work in those early years following Christ’s resurrection, ascension and the outpouring of the Spirit of God.

We can definitely confirm that both Barnabas and James were apostles, but I believe there were others alive and well in those early decades – people like Apollos, Silas, Timothy, Titus, Epaphroditus, and probably a few others. It’s not so much that the word ‘apostle’ shows up next to their names (although it does in some cases). Rather, these people functioned in an apostolic ministry, what it meant practically to be an apostle.

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and squawks like a duck, it seems that it’s a duck. And those people mentioned above definitely lived and walked out the ministry of an apostle.

No, they didn’t write Scripture (though Apollos has sometimes been connected with the letter to the Hebrews). But they functioned very much like the twelve and Paul – helping found, establish, build, train and equip the early church to be faithful to Christ and the gospel. I’ll share more of what it means to be an apostle later, though I am hitting on it here and there. But you can read my two articles about apostles in the New Testament by clicking here and here.

But, the second focus is to move on and look at the objections to apostles today. I believe there are four major objections to the notion that apostles exist today (or post-first century). I shall spend some time over a few articles addressing these objections below:

  • Apostles are Scripture writers and we are not to add to Scripture, thus apostles are no longer existing.
  • One of the requirements of being an apostle is that the person had a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus Christ. But Jesus no longer makes such appearances, since Paul was the last to receive such. So there can no longer be apostles. Connected to this is the argument that Jesus specifically (i.e. physically) choose His apostles, but that can no longer happen since He is physically seated at the Father’s right hand.
  • Apostles are foundation layers (see Ephesians 2:20 ) and a foundation only needs to be laid once. Since the apostles did this in the first century, with that foundation being faithfully recorded in the New Testament Scriptures, we no longer need apostles.
  • Apostles are the only ones who performed signs and wonders, with these being the main attestation to their message (especially with the New Testament Scripture not being finalised and canonised). Since these specific signs, wonders, miracles, etc, are no longer performed today, we can easily ascertain that apostles no longer exist today.

There are probably other arguments. But I believe those mentioned above are the four main objections to the idea that apostles (and even prophets) were to no longer exist following the death of John, the apostle, and with the completion of what is now our New Testament canon of Scripture.

I’ll go ahead and make a practical note: It’s much easier to teach that apostles no longer exist. Much, much easier. Even for someone like a Wayne Grudem, who believes all the gifts of the Spirit are still active today, he has created a guard against the idea that apostles exist today, a very tight guard I might add. And I believe it’s with a noble heart – to honour God, to respect His word in the Scripture, and to protect against bad teaching. I mean, we’ve got a lot of abuse from cults and sects and from more Pentecostal and charismatic groups.

But, as I always say, and as some will tire of me saying: I do not believe misuse and abuse should lead us to never utilising the truth. Rather, it should all the more challenge us to be faithful in accordance with the teaching of Scripture and the wisdom of God given to His body.

It’s just like I would never argue that we keep a copy of Scripture away from the ‘untrained’ just because heresy and wrong understanding could come about. It’s tempting, and it was what the Roman Catholic church argued with Martin Luther. But we could never imagine succumbing to that temptation to keep the Scriptures out of people’s hands. We need it. It is bread for the soul, and so much more!

So, being a proponent for apostles today carries its difficulties. I don’t believe it carries it’s Scriptural difficulties, but rather practical difficulties. I find a lot of people claiming to be an apostle, but they look nothing like the great apostle, Jesus. Such has absolutely ruined anybody being open to the present-day charismata activity of the Spirit, much less that apostles might exist. But I also have relationships with a handful of people that I believe truly walk out an apostolic ministry after the pattern of Christ and those first apostles. I’m glad Jesus has brought me into such relationships. It keeps me refreshed when I turn on the tv or click on someone’s website and can only shake my head.

But let’s move on, shall we…

The first objection to consider is the common mistake that apostle = Scripture-writer.

One of the first things that can come to a person’s mind when we state that apostles still exist is that this means we are claiming that we can still add to Scripture. Why? Well, out of that first group of apostles, one of the significant roles that they and their associates had was the recording of the God-breathed New Testament Scriptures. And, for this, we are indebted.

Yet, I believe such thinking is not built from a solid theological understanding of the nature of the apostolic ministry. For starters, most apostles did not write Scripture. Matter of fact, there were only five writers of the New Testament that were apostles – Matthew, John, Paul, Peter and James (though James was not one of the ‘twelve plus Paul’). That means we are missing writings from quite a few of the ‘apostles of the Lamb’ (Revelation 21:14).

Also, we must consider that there were other writers of the New Testament that were not apostles – John Mark, Luke, Jude and possibly the writer of Hebrews (though if Barnabas and/or Apollos wrote it, then an apostle had their hand in it).

The argument then comes that those three or four other writers were very closely associated with the apostles, so they received their stories and teaching from those that were apostles. Not only that, but Jude finds his authority in being the physical brother of Jesus. Because they were closely linked with the apostles, and they would have received their information from them, they were ok to write Scripture.

But we must consider the reality that apostles are not first and foremost called to write Scripture. As I have pointed out, the word apostle means ‘sent one’. All apostles were first and foremost sent with a mission to accomplish. They were each sent out to accomplish it, and thus, they were apostles. The main part of that mission was that they were founding, establishing, building up, strengthening, supporting and teaching the church. And this included people like Apollos, Timothy, Titus and a handful of others.

Sure, those like Paul and Peter and John would have had the greater apostolic measure. I don’t deny such. But what made Paul, Peter and John, or Barnabas, Apollos and James apostles was that they were sent out to equip and train the early church. Many of them had a hand in Scripture writing, and I don’t want to add that on as a little appendix. Again, I am indebted to these men who penned the word of God as recorded in Scripture. But we must not intrinsically equate apostolic ministry with Scripture-writing.

Apostle means ‘sent one’, not ‘New Testament writer’.

What we also don’t usually realise is that not all of God’s revelation was recorded in Scripture. It was never planned that way. Thus, people could still speak forth revelation from God, revelation that was definitely worth paying attention to and reflecting upon, but it still never found its way into the inscriptured New Testament.

This is easy to see in such places as:

  • 1 Corinthians 14:26 – Paul lets the Corinthian believers know that, when they gather together, each one has something to bring. One of those things – revelation!
  • 1 Timothy 1:18 – Paul reminds Timothy of the prophecies made about him. But here is the interesting thing: Paul tells him that, by them (the prophecies), Timothy can wage good warfare, hold to the faith and a good conscience. Pretty important, maybe even authoritative and revelatory words from God, that never made it into Scripture.

There are other examples: think about Agabus. We only read of two of his prophetic utterances in Acts (11:27-30 and 21:10-14, and lest we think this last case is a ‘wrong’ prophecy from Agabus, as Grudem asserts, we shall consider the words in some article about prophets). I’m pretty certain he was prophesying a lot more than those two times, speaking for the word of God, since he was recognised as a prophet. And how many prophets of the Old Testament were used, but never penned a word – Elijah, Elisha, Nathan, etc. Some of their words were recorded, but not everything.

So I believe we need to really reconsider our understanding of what it means to be an apostle and that it is not simply connecting such a role to the writing of New Testament Scripture (as well as seeing prophets as those who were mainly called to write Old Testament Scripture). That is not the case. Never has been.

Again, I do not want to downplay the role of Scripture. I wish I could address all issues with Scripture, but suffice it to say, I believe it is what we call it – a canon, meaning a measuring stick for our faith and practise of it. Some of those first apostles had a major role in recording the apostolic teaching and testimony. I love it! But that took up only a small percentage of their apostolic ministry. They had other things to get on with in laying a foundation in faithfulness to Christ and the gospel.

One last thing I want to consider, for those interested: In his book, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, Wayne Grudem espouses:

  • New Testament apostles are equal to the Old Testament prophets in their authority. Therefore, these two groups are the authoritative recorders of Scripture.
  • Subsequently, New Testament prophets have much less authority than New Testament apostles.

Therefore, Grudem gives four possibilities of how to understand the roles of apostles and prophets as spoken of in Ephesians 2:20 and 3:5.

…built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone… (Ephesians 2:20)

…which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. (Ephesians 3:5)

His conclusion was to go with the fourth choice he states in his book, which I explain below.

For Grudem, from a New Testament perspective, these two verses in Ephesians teach that apostles and prophets are one joint ministry rather than two distinguishable ministries. Hence, he sees this joint ministry being expressed as such:

‘the apostle-prophets themselves (that is, the apostles who are also prophets).’ (see Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, p46)

Such helps maintain the safe viewpoint that apostles are the authoritative writers of the New Testament just as the prophets of old were the authoritative writers of the Old Testament. Therefore, such can be maintained that apostles no longer exist since we are no longer looking to write Scripture.

But I’ve already put forth the case that apostle does not specifically equal Scripture-writer, for many apostles did not write Scripture and there are some who authored Scripture but were not apostles. Not to mention that a lot of things were spoken, authoritative and revelatory things, that did not get recorded in Scripture.

Grudem goes on to state:

‘After considering these views…it seems best to me to conclude that Ephesians 2:20 has meaning 4, that the church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles who are also prophets,” and Ephesians 3:5 should be understood to mean that the mystery of the Gentile inclusion in the church “was not made to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles who are also prophets by the Spirit.”’ (Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy, p46)

But such a view only seems contrived to prove one’s point rather than to be solidly and carefully founded in Scripture. For starters, in every other place outside of Ephesians 2:20 and 3:5, apostles and prophets are distinguished from one another. The two main places we see this distinction are Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Corinthians 12:28-29.

One other major point Grudem brings up to try and prove that apostles and prophets are one group in both Ephesians 2:20 and 3:5 is that, in both instances, the definite article ‘the’ is found before the word apostle, but not before prophet. Thus, Paul is referring to one joint authoritative group, mainly apostle-prophets.

Theologian, Edmund Clowney, answers Grudem well in his own work:

‘The absence of the article before ‘prophets’ in Ephesians 2:20 and 3:5 indicates, then, not that prophets are identical with apostles, but that they are closely linked with them since they, too, receive and communicate revelation.’ (The Church, p261, italics mine)

Therefore, our conclusion is that apostles and prophets are two distinguishable ministries, yet both working together in an authoritative role within His body. Today, neither apostles nor prophets are called to add to the canon of Scripture, for such is the summation and measuring stick of our faith. But, by His Spirit, God still utilises these ministries in relaying revelation from God. And, of course, such will never contradict the tenor of Scripture.

God has always been communicating revelation outside of Scripture, as I alluded to above. And such revelation, if it is truly revelation, can be considered authoritative. It doesn’t mean we write 4 John or 3 Thessalonians or 1 Brussels. It simply means that, as people speak forth revelation (or what they claim as revelation), we learn to weigh it against Scripture, keep it before the leaders we are connected to, keep it before the wider body we are in relationship with, and pray for discernment.

It doesn’t make it easy. But it makes us move towards becoming the men and women God desires His body to be – hearers of His word. Oh, that we would hear Him speak through His written revelation and through His spoken revelation. And I’m so glad He is committed to not contradicting Himself in either case.

So, apostles are not intrinsically Scripture-writers. I understand the desire to argue such in attempt to honour God and the canon of revelation in Scripture. But I don’t think such arguments fully hold up to biblical and theological scrutiny.

In the next article, I shall consider the argument concerning the claim that all apostles are ‘hand-picked’ by Christ, in a physical sense.