Apostles and Prophets:
Validating Modern Claims of Leadership
An On-Line Book
|Copyright © 1985, 2003 - All rights retained by author|
|Written by: C. W. Booth|
Originally written in 1985, this book was an examination of a doctrine being taught by a small denomination of house-churches to which I had belonged. This exclusive denomination was led by a man who ultimately declared himself to be "the" apostle, shepherd and overseer of the entire denomination. Within a few years of that proclamation the denomination experienced considerable internal strife, not just over the doctrine of apostleship and church governance, but over the ethics and character of those who would be self-proclaimed apostles and self-appointed prophets. Today, that denomination survives but has shrunk to less than a third of the size it was in 1985 and has abandoned its distinctive denominational name in conformance to the new post-modern seeker movement. That denomination lacked the will and the discernment to identify and implement the "tests of apostleship" found in the New Testament which are given to us as a means to validate modern claims of leadership.
Oddly, the trend to resurrect the gift of apostleship has become widespread in other denominations. And this movement is gaining momentum from many sources. In recent history apostleship was predominantly the domain of smaller "full gospel" churches, but this is no longer true as the push to revive the office goes mainstream. In fact, recent books advocating the need for geographic apostles have gained considerable readership and loyal following.
Apart from the pragmatic arguments offered by the apostleship advocates there is a more bedrock set of discussions that must be conducted. Behind this drive to reanimate the office is the Biblical doctrine of apostleship and its inseparable twin, prophecy. What is the genuine Scriptural teaching regarding apostleship and the gift of prophecy? For without correctly interpreting the Scriptures on this point, it is impossible to have a Biblical basis to build upon, meaning the ultimate outcome will likely be ruination. Even the most knowledgeable among us will find substantive surprises during an impartial and in depth study of this topic. It would seem this on-line book is just as relevant now as it ever was back in 1985.
Permit me to express my appreciation to my wife for her word processing labors on this book. It is both our desires and hopes that you find this book edifying and useful in your Christian growth.
This informal on-line book is designed to be an honest attempt to implement Proverbs 18:17 as it pertains to what others have been teaching with regard to the two thousand year old doctrines of apostleship and prophecy; and more specifically as it pertains to modern applications.
Before beginning I will offer my basic assumptions without defense:
Apostleship -- An Important Doctrine
Why is it so important to know whether modern apostles are endorsed by Scripture?
First, if we teach that apostleship is a gift for men today, but it should turn out that God did not intend that the gift continue indefinitely, then we would be guilty of teaching men to become false apostles. What outcome can there be for any church that is governed by false apostles? Such is the magnitude of seriousness if we embrace the wrong answer to this question.
Second, if it is a gift for today and we are not teaching it as such, we are guilty of neglecting a powerful spiritual gift.
Definition of Apostleship
Our English New Testament Scriptures have been translated from the Greek language. This being true, a brief look at the Greek word behind the English will greatly aid our understanding.
The English word "apostle" comes from the Greek word "apostolos." To the people of the first century it had the meaning "messenger, one sent on a mission…"(Holman-Greek Dictionary). New Testament people used the word freely to refer to those who had been sent by a specific individual for some specific purpose or mission.
The important things about being an apostle (apostolos) were:
1) Whose apostle were you? Who actually sent you?
2) What mission were you on? What purpose had you been sent for?
Apostolos means "one sent on a mission." This word is the direct derivative of the Greek word "apostello." "Apostello" is a verb form that means "to send, send away" (Holman). The connection is very significant. The Greek "apostello" was understood to mean "to commission someone to go on a mission, to send someone away as your apostle."
Simply put, to be someone’s apostle (apostolos) requires that you must first be sent by that person with a defined purpose (apostello). For example: ‘I am sending (apostello) you to Kansas to deliver this letter for me. Now you are my apostle (apostolos).’ If you are not specifically commissioned by someone with a purpose, you are not an apostle. The real problem is determining who sent you and why.AN AUTHORITY
Now, every time we see the word apostle (apostolos) in the Bible, we must ask:
1) Who sent (apostello) that apostle, and
2) What mission is that apostle (apostolos) on?
If I say, "I am an apostle," someone may rightly ask, "Who sent you?" I reply, "My grandfather." The other person asks, "What mission are you on?" I respond, "I am carrying a message to my Grandmother." The other person may correctly conclude, "So you are an apostle of your Grandfather to your Grandmother?" I reply, "That is correct."
The word apostle (apostolos) does not automatically mean "an apostle of Jesus Christ…" (I Peter 1:1), as it did in Peter’s case. Peter was sent by Jesus as a literal eyewitness of the Christ and His resurrection (2 Peter 1:16). The word "apostolos" may be used in the Greek simply to show that someone is an ordinary messenger, as in our fictitious examples above, as well as to designate that someone is "an apostle of Jesus Christ". Context and careful questioning are needed to discern the difference.
A scriptural example of "apostolos" simply meaning a messenger with no other special significance is found in 2 Corinthians 8:23. "As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you: as for our brethren, they are messengers (apostolos) of the churches, a glory to Christ." Who are these messengers? 2 Corinthians 8:16 certainly includes Titus, however, the "messengers" in 2 Corinthians 8:23 refer to the other two brethren that went with Titus. One messenger is referred to in verse 18 as "…the brother whose fame in the things of the gospel has spread through all the churches." The other "messenger" is referred to as "…our brother, whom we have often tested and found diligent in many things…" vs. 22.
Now, let us apply the two criteria of apostleship to "the brother of fame" and the "often tested brother." Who sent them? Of whom are they apostles? Verses 17-18 state that "[Titus] accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest, he has gone to you of his own accord. And we have sent along with him the brother whose fame in the things of the gospel has spread throughout all the churches." Verse 19 speaks of him being "appointed by the churches." Verse 22 states that they had also sent with them "our brother, whom we have often tested." Finally, verse 23 states they are "…messengers (apostolos) of the churches." Clearly these two "apostles" are not apostles appointed by Christ to be His eyewitnesses, but rather are "sent ones" of the churches and of Paul--apostles of men.
Now that we know that Christ did not "send them", we must ask, "What is the mission of these two ‘sent ones’ traveling with Titus?" Looking carefully at 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 we see that the mission involved the collecting and transportation of gift offerings for the poor saints. In 2 Corinthians 8, we see that the churches of Macedonia "…gave of their own accord, begging us with much entreaty for the favor of participation in the support of the saints. …appointed by the churches to travel with us in this gracious work, which is being administered by us…taking precaution that no one should discredit us in our administration of this generous gift. …So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren [Titus, the brother of fame, and the often tested brother] that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, that the same might be ready as a bountiful gift, and not affected by covetousness. … fully supplying the needs of the saints…"
Their mission, having been sent by Paul and the Macedonian churches, was to ensure that the freewill gift that the Corinthians had zealously promised to give would be collected and ready for sending before Paul’s arrival. Thus Paul and the Corinthians would be saved the embarrassing possibility of picking up no gift at all or only a small gift. In short, these apostles of men were on a mission of delivering Paul’s fundraising instructions and organizing the actual collecting and handling of the Corinthian’s monetary gift. Therefore, it is clear that Titus and the two brothers for the purposes of this mission are little more than ordinary messengers for Paul and the Macedonian churches.
From this example it is easy to see how to apply the two criteria of apostleship to determine if "apostolos" means "apostle of Jesus Christ", or "messenger of men." Both men, the brother-of-fame and the often-tested-brother, were ordinary messengers carrying instructions on how to collect a charity fund, and they were charged with the mission of handling the money. While wonderful examples of deacon-style stewards, these two biblical figures are not shown to be "apostles of Christ".
One must always apply this two-question test to determine if the word "apostolos" is used in the Scripture to mean "apostle of Jesus Christ", or to mean "an ordinary messenger of men". Context is everything when conducting word studies in the Scriptures.
Sending the Twelve and Paul
To be an apostle (apostolos) you must be sent for a purpose (apostello). When the Bible calls men "apostles of Jesus Christ" it is critical that we be able to determine from the Bible who it was that did the sending (commissioning). Were men made "apostles of Jesus Christ" by Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, by the elders in the church, or simply by way of personally feeling that they had been called? Obviously this problem must be answered Scripturally. Any answer that is not based in Scripture is unbiblical and could easily lead one into heresy.
According to Matthew 10:1,2, Christ Himself summoned the twelve apostles and gave them all authority to perform miracles. In Luke 6:13 we again find that Jesus Himself named the Twelve as apostles. This is an obvious point and needs little discussion.
Was this unique only of the twelve apostles? Were they the only "apostles of Jesus Christ"? Were there any other apostles besides the Twelve of the gospels? Yes. We know of at least one other, Saul (Paul’s Hebrew name) of Tarsus. This same man wrote about half of the New Testament Scriptures.
According to Romans 1:1, Paul calls himself an apostle. In 1 Corinthians 1:1 Paul calls himself an "apostle of Jesus Christ", as well as in 2 Corinthians 1:1, Galatians 1:1, Ephesians 1:1, Colossians 1:1, 1 Timothy 1:1, and Titus 1:1.
Similarly, Peter calls himself an "apostle of Jesus Christ" in 1 Peter 1:1. Now we know that Peter was sent by Christ Himself as one of the twelve. Paul is claiming the same title of "sent one of Jesus Christ" as did Peter! Is this valid? Did Jesus Christ indeed send (apostello) Paul? When Peter was commissioned Jesus was still alive on Earth. When Paul was sent, Jesus had died years earlier, been resurrected, and had already ascended to heaven. How then is it possible for Jesus to commission Paul? Did Paul mean that the church made him an apostle, or maybe the Holy Spirit?
Scripture states: "Paul, an apostle (not sent from men, nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the father, who raised Him from the dead), " (Galatians 1:1) Paul was not sent out by men, nor by any church. Paul does not even say he was sent out through the Holy Spirit, but rather through Jesus Christ and God the Father.
Again Scripture says: "…Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship…" (Romans 1:4,5) The apostleship of Paul was by way of Jesus Christ, not men, churches, or by the Holy Spirit.
In Acts we have an account of Paul’s actual apostolic commissioning as told to Luke by Paul himself:
"And he [Ananias] said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will, and to see the Righteous One, and to hear an utterance from His mouth." (Acts 22:14)
"And it came about when I [Paul] returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, and I saw Him [Jesus] saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.’…And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles." (Acts 22:17,18,21)
In verse 21 the word "send" is "exapostello" in the Greek. The resurrected Christ told Paul, in person, "Go! For I will send (exapostello) you far away to the Gentiles."
There is little justification for missing the point as God saw fit to tell us one more time that Paul was sent (apostello) to be an apostle of Jesus Christ by Jesus Christ personally:
"And I [Paul] said, ‘Who art thou Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But arise, and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; delivering you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light…’ (Acts 26:15-18)
In verse 17 Christ says, "…the Gentiles, to whom I am sending (apostello) you."
Beyond any possible doubt it was Jesus Christ who personally appeared before Paul and verbally gave Paul his apostolic title by sending him on the mission of opening the Gentiles’ eyes to the light.
Did Paul believe he was a genuine apostle sent on a mission to the Gentiles of declaring the Gospel of the resurrected Christ as Savior?
"Consequently, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance." (Acts 26:19, 20)
"…inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles…" (Romans 11:13)
Some have argued that men can become apostles by having a known prophet receive a word of prophecy and then declaring, "the Holy Spirit appoints Joe to be an apostle." But this is not what happened with Paul. God wanted us to know that Jesus Christ Himself appeared to Paul and Himself appointed Paul; and very often the Scripture repeats just that. This was an appearance of Christ to Paul--Paul was the one receiving the appearance. It was only in this way that Paul could claim that he was an eyewitness to the fact that Jesus was truly resurrected from the dead. He could now state with authority that he had seen the risen Christ.
It seems the reason we so much want Paul’s commissioning to have come from a source other than Christ is so that we too can be made apostles without the need to be appointed by Jesus Himself. In other words, we want to be able to assume the title and authority Paul displayed without obtaining the same commissioning in the same way. However, God made it abundantly clear that Christ Himself appointed Paul as His apostle. The appointment of Paul was through a direct appearance of the risen Christ. The appointment of the Twelve was by Jesus Christ while He was still in human form on Earth, and they all became eyewitnesses of His triumph over death when they saw, talked, and ate with Him afterward.
Acts 13--Paul and Barnabas Are Sent
Before we continue, let us examine the passage in Acts 13 where some erroneously claim Paul is appointed to apostleship by prophetic utterance through the Holy Spirit. As you read, please keep in mind that Acts 13 happens well over four years after Paul received his visitation from the risen Christ ordering him to become an apostle to the Gentiles.
"And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus." (Acts 13:2-4)
The spurious argument runs this way: Paul is not referred to as being an apostle anywhere in Acts before chapter 13, therefore, he was not yet an apostle. In Acts 13 the Holy Spirit through a supernatural prophecy of Scripture makes Paul into an apostle. In Acts 14 Paul is now referred to as "an apostle" and remains one until he dies.
The obvious problem with this theory is that Paul never claims that he was appointed to be an apostle through a prophecy of the Spirit in Antioch. In fact, in all of his defenses of his apostleship Paul always claims Christ made him an apostle years before that date, and never that the Holy Spirit appointed him. Further he denies that any church ever sent him as an apostle. (Galatians 1:1)
Next, if we are honest with the words of Scripture, we will see that Acts 14 is the only passage in all of Acts that even mentions that Paul is "an apostle". Thus, in Acts 15:2,4 when Paul goes "up to Jerusalem to the apostles" does it show that Paul lost his apostleship? If we are to be consistent in assuming that when someone is not called an apostle in Acts then they are not an apostle at all we would be forced to the conclusion that Paul lost his apostleship. If the theory is valid (that not being called an apostle in a portion of Acts is the same as not being an apostle) then Paul should be going "up to Jerusalem to the OTHER apostles" and should always be called an apostle until the end of Acts. However, Acts 14 is the only place that calls Paul an apostle in all of Acts. In other words, Paul was just as much an apostle of Jesus Christ in Acts 9:20 as in Acts 13:2 as in Acts 14:14 as in Acts 15:38 as in Acts 26:19, because Jesus Christ had sent him as an apostle at the time of his salvation.
The theory that it was not until Acts 13 that Paul became an apostle (instead of at his conversion as is his own testimony) has as its main argument verse 3, that the church "sent" Paul and again in verse 4 that the Holy Spirit "sent" Paul. However, applying a bit of scrutiny we can see that in Acts 13:3 where the church at Antioch sent away Paul, in the Greek it actually says that the church "set free, released, divorced" (Gk. apoluo) Paul. That is, the church did not try to hold Paul back; they permitted him to freely go. The church divorced Paul; they sent him away from themselves without strings attached. They did not send (apostello) him as an apostle; they divorced (apoluo) him.
In verse 4 "sent out by the Holy Spirit" is actually "to send forth" (ekpempo). In other words Paul was released from the church and sent forth to a new location by the Spirit so that Paul could continue the apostolic mission given to him by Christ years before that time. Dr. Homer Kent of Grace Theological Seminary on page 56 of his commentary on The Book of Acts describes how the tense of the grammar requires us to understand that the "calling" (commissioning) was actually at an earlier time period than the events of Acts 13:4. So this verse actually says that the Holy Spirit was giving directions, "leave now to do the mission you were given earlier".
"Ekpempo" (sent out) has no sense of commissioning attached to it. If the person being sent is on a mission, the commissioning has to be done at an earlier date than the "ekpempo" sending away. "Ekpemo" has only the meaning of prompting someone to go away from someplace. The Spirit simply told Paul to go away from (ekpempo) Antioch.
This giving of directions through prophetic utterance by the Holy Spirit to men is no more an apostolic commissioning than any other time the Holy Spirit gave directions to men. Notice that the mission (calling) is mentioned as already having been given to Paul by God at some earlier time. Remember, the Holy Spirit is frequently the spokesperson of God. The Spirit is not necessarily claiming to have called Paul and Barnabas, but may simply be repeating the message given to him by God the Son--Jesus Christ. Paraphrased, a possible interpretation may read, "…The Holy Spirit gave them this message from God the Son, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have already called them.’"
This is the exact experience we see explained in Acts 4:24,25: "O Lord, it is thou…who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David…didst say." God used the Holy Spirit to give David Scriptural prophecy. The words, however, are not attributed to the Spirit, but to God as the initiator of the message. The Spirit delivered God’s message without claiming it was His own. In other words, the Spirit gave Paul and the church a message from God. The Spirit did not claim to have called Paul and Barnabas, but He delivered the message for God that states that God had previously called Paul and Barnabas to do some work.
We find throughout Scripture that the Spirit led men without the leading being considered an apostolic appointment. In Matthew 4:1, Jesus was led into the wilderness; in Acts 8:29, Philip (the deacon and evangelist) was told to join the chariot; in Acts 10:19, Peter was told to go with the Gentiles. The fact is simple: nowhere else in all of Scripture is it ever assumed that the directing of the Spirit is an apostolic appointment, so why assume that in Acts 13:4?
In nearly every letter Paul writes he claims to have received his apostleship through Jesus Christ--not the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2 and 26 Paul says he was sent (apostello) to the Gentiles by Christ Himself at the time of his salvation. Clearly Paul was appointed by Christ as an apostle at the time of his salvation and was consequently led throughout his life by the prompting of the Spirit (Acts 16:6).
The "other apostles" controversy has been purposely avoided up until now. First the solid, unambiguous facts had to be established; namely, that the Twelve and Paul were apostles of Christ and that Christ Himself was the One who called them.
If there are other apostles (besides Matthias) found in Scripture they will not be numbered with the Twelve. The Twelve had a unique position of status in Christendom. Even though Christ had a loyal group of followers He originally chose out only Twelve (Mark 3:14). "And He appointed [made] Twelve, that they might be with Him, and that He might send [apostello] them out to preach, and to have authority to cast out the demons." (Mark 3:14, 15)
As we see in Acts 1, Matthias was chosen to replace the deceased (by suicide) traitor, Judas Iscariot. One of the qualifications for the group of twelve was to be with Jesus from the start of His ministry (Mark 3:14, John 15:27). Since we know at least two men who readily qualified, this immediately increases our understanding that at least 14 men followed Jesus from the beginning through the resurrection. Almost certainly there were others, perhaps as many as 120 men and women were constantly with Jesus (Acts 1:15).
But why replace Judas at all? Peter uses Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8 to show that God’s enemy, specifically the traitor Judas, should have his office filled by another man. These verses were accepted as prophecies pertaining directly to Judas. They then assumed that the Lord had already selected either Barsabbas or Matthias to be numbered as one of the Twelve (Kent p. 8)
We are not told if one or both of these men were selected as apostles of Christ by the Lord before His resurrection, but simply not counted as a part of the Twelve. If Christ selected other men as apostles that were not part of the highly visible Twelve then almost certainly Barsabbas and Matthias were already apostles. One probable explanation is that both Barsabbas and Matthias were a part of the Seventy, or possibly appointed as apostles before Christ left Earth after His resurrection, but before His ascension.
Since the eleven assumed God had already chosen one of the two as an apostle to be included in the group of Twelve, they elected to use lots to discover which had already been chosen (Proverbs 16:33, Leviticus 16:8). When the lot fell to Matthias he was numbered or considered as one of the Twelve apostles without the laying on of hands or any other recorded ceremony. It was assumed that God alone had made him an apostle and a part of the Twelve. Thus the other eleven did not dare to claim that they had made or even appointed Matthias to be an apostle, as this was only something God could have done. It was assumed that God had previously chosen Matthias (Kent p. 8).
Was it a right or wrong choice? Might not Paul have been the twelfth apostle instead of Matthias? As Kent points out, Pentecost was about to start and the new church age to begin. It is difficult to believe that God would have wanted to start the church age with a set of eleven out of twelve. Also, Scripture never states anywhere that this was an incorrect choice. For those that argue that Matthias was not an apostle, they must first prove that Scripture says Matthias was not a true apostle and that the eleven apostles made a doctrinal and prophetic mistake.
The strongest argument of all that Matthias was a true apostle and rightly was numbered with the Twelve is that Scripture tells it that way. Throughout the entire book of Acts and even in Paul’s’ letters the Twelve are mentioned as a group exclusive of Paul’s presence. Paul never denounced Matthias nor claimed to be a part of the Twelve. The Book of Acts consistently makes mention of the Twelve, not the Eleven. Indeed, if Matthias was truly a mistake, why did Luke not tell us, and why does he continue to say "the Twelve" without explanation? It appears as if the apostles were correct (and who would know better than they?) when they assumed God had already selected Matthias as an apostle and as a part of the Twelve.
With the ranks of the Twelve established and Paul as a thirteenth apostle of Jesus Christ, it is imperative to identify the missions they had been given by Christ. We will also ask, "Did Paul’s mission differ from that of the Twelve?"Select this line to continue to the next chapter of Apostles and Prophets.