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|
Some Christians believe that Apollos was an apostle because of 1 Corinthians 4:6 and then jumping to 1 Corinthians 4:9 and somehow associating the two verses. This they do at risk of ignoring the context of 1 Corinthians 1-4. The subject addressed by Paul in these chapters is the problem of the church dividing itself into factions. Some within the church felt they were more blessed or more spiritual by claiming association with Paul, Peter, Apollos, or Christ in much the same way that we claim association with men and groups today. For example, we say with pride, "I’m with a New testament church," or, "I am with an Assembly," or, "I am a disciple of a great Christian teacher", or, "I belong to a full gospel church", or, "My church is only aligned with strict 5-point Calvinists." How often we glory in our denominational ties while excluding the rest of the body of Christ from our associations.
Who was Apollos? A mere man. Who was Paul? A mere man. But we all belong to Christ. What is a "New Testament church?" Mere men. What is a "traditional church?" Mere men. But we all belong to Christ. And where in the Bible is it stated the name of the denomination that will finally win the world for Christ?
What ministry did Paul have? To plant the seed, to go about giving the gospel in places it had not yet been give, to lay the foundation (1 Corinthians 3:6, 10).
What ministry did Apollos have? To water the already planted seed, to teach, to instruct men, to be a tutor in Christ, to build on the foundation laid by Paul (1 Corinthians 3:6, 10).
"For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. (1 Corinthians 4:15)
In other words Paul led the Corinthians to Christ. Paul founded that local church. Paul had proven to be a true apostle to the Corinthians through signs and wonders and miracles; they were his seal of apostleship. Then people began to accuse Paul of not being a true apostle, so they turned their allegiances to other tutors and became factious based on these sundry allegiances.
Paul counters with this very letter. For example, within the letter, he uses an illustration in which he tells them that factions such as "I am of Apollos" are wrong. It was just a figurative example. But the reason he wrote it was to tell the Corinthians "not to exceed what is written," or not to make claims about associations and authorities that are not clearly based on written Scripture. Otherwise, they would start to boast that they were the superior or ideal faction (1 Corinthians 4:6,7). Then Paul sarcastically says that the Corinthians believe they have already "arrived" at Christian superiority ahead the apostle Paul, whom the Corinthians had now forsaken. Finally, Paul says that he and his fellow apostles may be slandered, beaten, and considered as scum, but they still behave as godly men. For this reason the Corinthians should follow Paul’s example, because he was a godly man and as the founder of their local church, they knew this to be true.
Now, according to 1 Corinthians 4:6, we are not to exceed what is written. Paul says he used the illustration regarding himself and Apollos to drive home just that point, do not exceed what is written. But in 1 Corinthians 4:9 he is talking primarily about his own authority and defending his reputation and anyone else’s who might be an apostle. Do not exceed what is written. Paul does not say that Apollos is in that group. Paul does not say that Apollos was also their father (v. 15) The Corinthians were Paul’s’ seal of apostleship, not Apollos’ (1 Corinthians 9:2). 1 Corinthians 4: 9 does not mention Apollos. Paul’s’ explanation about the figurative example of Apollos does not qualify Apollos for candidacy as an apostle in verse 9. Apollos was a great teacher, but no verse calls him an apostle. Do not exceed what is written.
Titus, the Fellow Worker
Earlier in the paper we spent some time exploring how 2 Corinthians 8:23 uses the word "apostolos" in the ordinary sense to describe men who were simple messengers and not "apostles of Jesus Christ". But does 2 Corinthians 8:23 claim that Titus was an apostle of Christ? "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." (2 Corinthians 8:23)
1) Who sent those three men? Paul (2 Corinthians 9:3) and the churches (2 Corinthians 8:23).
2) What mission were the three on? To carry Paul’s instructions, to organize the collection of a gift, and to collect money in Corinth (2 Corinthians 9:5).
Were the three apostles of Christ? No, they were messengers sent by Paul and the churches to organize the collection of a free will gift of money from the Corinthians.
But doesn’t fellow worker in 2 Corinthians 8:23 mean that Titus was of equal title with Paul as an apostle? Once again we must be very careful to examine word usage in context and to also evaluate how that word is used throughout the New Testament.
A fellow worker is simply someone who works along with another person. No implication of equality is even assumed. For example, "For we are God’s fellow workers…" (1 Corinthians 3:9). If fellow worker means that the persons are equal in title and authority then both Apollos and Paul are equal in title and authority with God Himself.
"We sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ…" (1 Thessalonians 3:2). Again, if fellow worker implies equality of authority, then Timothy is just as authoritative as God.
Fellow worker as commonly used in the New Testament, and more to the point, as used by Paul in his writings, does not mean both are equal in any way. It only means both are cooperating and working together even if they have totally different offices or authority.
"But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger (apostolos) and minister to my need;" (Philippians 2:25)
1) Who sent Epaphroditus on his mission? Who was he an apostle of? The Philippians sent him to Paul to provide a service in some way (verse 30). Then Paul sent him back to the Philippians (verse 25).
2) What mission did Epaphroditus go on? A mission to provide some form of service to Paul (vs. 25,30).
Epaphroditus was an apostle, or messenger, sent by the Philippians to Paul to provide some aid. He was sent by men of the church to Paul. He was not an apostle of Jesus Christ. He was a messenger and minister of Paul and the churches.
Biblical Apostles Summarized
We have spent some time investigating the claims made about men mentioned in the Bible. Some were proven by the text to be true "apostles of Jesus Christ". Some men were proven to be simple messengers sent by other men; important activities in the service of the church and Christ, but not the same as being "an apostle of Jesus Christ".
The following is a list of apostles (apostolos) of Jesus Christ, sent (apostello) by Him as witnesses of Himself and His resurrection, who spent three years being trained by Christ as explained by the Scripture.
Eighty-Five Scripturally Confirmed "Apostles of Jesus Christ"
1) The Twelve (plus Matthias); Simon Peter, his brother Andrew, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, (Matthew 10:2) and Matthias (Acts 1), who replaced Judas Iscariot.
4) The Seventy
Five Who May or May Not Have Been Apostles
The following men may have been apostles of Christ, but the Scriptural evidence is too ambiguous for a definite confirmation or rejection. All we can say with certainty is that these men served the church and they served God, even if they were not apostles.
1) James and Jude (the brothers of the Lord)
3) Andronicus and Junias
The Tests of Apostleship -- Summary of the Qualifications of a True Apostle of Jesus Christ
Obviously the Twelve have a unique and eminent status, even to this day. Christ told them that they will sit on the twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28). Paul, Barnabas, and the Seventy do hold titles as "apostles of Jesus Christ", but are not a part of the Twelve. They did the work of "sent ones," had a title of apostles, but had a different status and distinction than the Twelve. This, however, did not necessarily make them inferior apostles (2 Corinthian 11:5).
Between the Twelve, Paul, Barnabas, and the Seventy we have seen some basic common threads and qualifications of apostleship. These qualifications were used as "tests" of genuine apostleship by Paul and by the early church (2 Corinthians 11:13, 12:12, Revelation 2:2).
1) They were all personally appointed by Christ.
2) They all saw the resurrected Christ.
3) They were all taught for three years by Christ Himself.
4) They were all given the authority, indeed the command, to perform miracles.
5) They all preached the gospel.
6) They all had the right to earn wages from the gospel.
7) They all faced the threat of persecution (bodily harm).
8) They did not waste time with unreceptive people.
9) They were all Jews.
Paul makes the claim that he was the last man to whom Christ ever manifested Himself alive (1 Corinthians 15:8). This would mean that Paul was the last man qualified to meet the standard of apostleship of having seen the risen Christ and being taught the gospel by Him for three years.
Summary of Mistaken Concepts About Apostles
The things we do not see them doing as apostles but which are sometimes erroneously held by some to be distinctions of apostleship are listed below.
1) They were never told to "plant churches." They were told only to make disciples for Christ and to train men.
2) None of these men were pastors (elders) before they were appointed as apostles by Christ.
3) None of these men are ever described as "desiring the office of apostleship" in scripture. Paul specifically states that it was not through man or the agency of man that he was called as an apostle of Christ. (Galatians 1:10). This means it was not through himself or his human desire that he attained that appointment; in fact, at the time he was commissioned to be an apostle, far from desiring the title of "apostle of Jesus Christ", he was quite literally persecuting the church.
4) No apostle was ever appointed by the Holy Spirit.
5) No apostle was ever not "called by Christ Himself." It always required a personal calling by the Lord Jesus Christ.
6) No apostle was ever appointed by a church or by another apostle, only by Christ.
7) No apostle ever gave a teaching on how to recognize a new apostle or how to become an apostle. Paul calls those who wanted to "be like him" false apostles, instead of applauding their desire to become apostles (2 Corinthians 11:12-15).
The major attributes of an apostle of Jesus Christ and his mission (qualifications if you prefer), by which the early church recognized true apostles, cannot be met by anyone alive today:
1) Witness Christ’s resurrection (Acts 1:22, 10:39-42);
2) See Christ (1 Corinthians 9:1, Acts 1:22, 1 Corinthians 15:7);
3) Be taught the gospel for three years by Christ (Acts 1:21, Galatians 1:12);
3) Perform miracles (2 Corinthians 12:12, Acts 14:3, Acts 5:12).
Without these attributes, anyone who called himself an apostle back in the early church was not recognized by the church as a true apostle, just as they would not be recognized as one today.
Summary of Righteous Men Who Were Not Apostles
Finally, a list of those men who some have erroneously assumed were apostles, but who have no Scriptural case to support the claim:
1) Timothy - not called "an apostle of Jesus Christ" in Scripture
2) Titus- not called "an apostle of Jesus Christ" in Scripture
3) Epaphroditus - not called "an apostle of Jesus Christ" in Scripture
4) Apollos- not called "an apostle of Jesus Christ" in Scripture
It is also enlightening to realize that none of these men are either qualified (matching the above attributes) or are ever called "apostles of Christ" by the other apostles. Further, and most importantly, none of them ever claimed apostleship for themselves.
Obviously, the line of apostles started with the Twelve ended with Paul, and we cannot hope to become apostles today since the qualifications and standards are rather unattainable. Who among us has seen Christ, much less been appointed by Him? And who among us has been taught by Him for three consecutive years? Recall that Paul said that no man ever taught him any of the gospel, all his great understanding came from revelations from Christ over three years.
If apostleship is now vacated, then who is it that goes about preaching and teaching and starting churches? Exactly the same men who went about preaching, teaching, and starting churches even while the apostles were alive. They called them evangelists in the New Testament. Today we call our evangelists, missionaries.
The word "missionary" is a bit misleading in the way that we use it today since it comes from the Latin word for apostle. The Roman Catholic church believed in apostolic succession (an unbroken line of popes from Peter onward), so they called their evangelists "missionaries" (apostles). Unfortunately, this erroneous Latin word (missionary) is still commonly used today. If we were to insist on technical perfection we would use the New Testament word "evangelist" instead of "missionary." However, today, since the understood and common meaning of the word "missionary" is the equivalent of the New Testament word "evangelist," we should not quibble overly much about the difference.
NOTE: "Missionaries" are actually "evangelists" according to the Bible and according to the common modern definitions of the words. "Missionary" is not even a word found in the Bible, while "evangelist" is often listed as a Biblical spiritual gift. To arrest confusion for future generations the churches should start using the word "evangelist" just as the early churches did, instead of the misapplied word "missionary." While this obviously will not happen, it is more precise to say, "We have sent our EVANGELIST to reach the lost in Africa…"
Of larger concern is our misunderstanding of the gift of evangelism. Regrettably when we hear "evangelist" we narrow-mindedly envision some mass media preacher. This image is not the same as the gift described in Scripture. Scripture shows us a picture of the evangelist doing some traveling, preaching, teaching, converting souls, and founding churches. If one desires to preach, teach, and plant churches he should do as Paul instructed Timothy, "…endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry" (2 Timothy 4:5).
Evangelists -- Preaching, Teaching, Church Planting
"Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word. And Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. … But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike." (Acts 8:4-6, 12)
"And on the next day we departed and came to Caesaea; and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him." (Acts 21:8)
Philip started the Samaritan church. Some even credit him with starting the Ethiopian church due to his evangelistic encounter with the eunuch. Philip was only an evangelist according to Scripture. He preached, taught, and planted churches.
Why did the evangelist use miracles? No New Testament Scripture was yet written. Therefore, the miracles did the same thing that the Scriptures do today. They authenticated the gospel message; they gave it authority. As it states in the text itself, "…the multitudes with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing…" The "sign gifts" not only caused people to stop and stare, they caused people to cognitively focus on Philip’s message, to take seriously what he had to say, which was the gospel itself.
"Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John." (Acts 8:14) Why did the apostles come down after the church was started? Was it to organize it? No. They came to pass on the Holy Spirit to the new church. Do we need apostles to do this today? No, the spirit was given to the Samaritans and to the Gentiles once already, at the foundation of the church age, by the apostles. No man has need to pass along the Spirit through this method today, nor is there any reason to believe that it is possible to do so without one of the original twelve apostles being present. Without having the need to pass along the Spirit today, and with the Scriptural Canon completed, it is arguable that there is simply no need for apostles today; their work is complete. Evangelists, however, still need to press on teaching, preaching, and planting churches.
No Authority to Rule the Churches
The question has been asked, "How can we reach the world for Christ without apostles to organize today’s church like they did in the first century" --OR-- "Doesn’t the Bible say that we cannot reach the world for Christ unless the apostles oversee the churches?"
This is specious reasoning, however. Christ’s commission to the apostles never tells them to organize the churches. The Bible never says that apostles had the right or authority to control the administration of any single church or any elder, much less a larger coalition of churches. The Scriptures do tell us that apostles had a right to earn money for their work, but not a right to control churches.
Paul used his authority as a preacher commissioned and taught by Christ to demand that all Christians obey and follow the doctrines given to him. Paul said that his teachings were without error (1 Thessalonians 2:3), and as such he could teach with authority as Christ’s spokesman. Peter claimed Paul’s letters were equal with Scripture. (2 Peter 3:16) and as such they were totally error free and infallible. When an apostle spoke of doctrine, it had the force of revealed Scripture, and God does and will require us to acknowledge and obey these words.
The authority that was given to the apostles that they could freely exercise was in preaching and establishing church doctrine and authenticating the message through the generous use of miracles. Their primary service was preaching the gospel and teaching doctrine, not organizing or administrating churches (Acts 6:1-7, 2:42). In Acts 6:1-7 the apostles actually said they were too busy with the gospel (their mission) to be bothered with organizing and supervising day-to-day operations like caring for the widows. The Twelve apostles told the congregation to select for themselves seven men from within the church to do the task of organizing that ministry. The apostles did not even choose the seven laborers, they told the congregation to do that. The apostles did not exercise authority over the church’s administration, only over their doctrine.
Christ actually commanded the Twelve NOT to exercise undue authority over men. "And He said to them, ‘The kings of the gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But not so with you, but let him who is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as the servant.’" (Luke 22:25,26)
Another very unscriptural concept is that the apostles were somehow organizers of the world church communications network. Some argue that if this same office is not fulfilled today we cannot effectively win the world because of our disunity. Actually, there was no such organized church network. To prove this to yourself, attempt to find two churches in the Bible that communicated and organized for an evangelistic campaign. Instead, what you will find is that all the churches were autonomous. Yes, a few men such as Apollos traveled back and forth to aid Paul in teaching doctrine, but not to organize strategy/planning conferences or evangelistic campaigns.
Indeed, Paul did not even have real authority to order his own volunteer aids around, but only as much as they were willing to cooperate. For example: Paul greatly encouraged Apollos to go to Corinth, but it was not at all Apollos’ desire to do so, so he did not go at that time. Paul had no authority to override Apollos’ desires or to order him to go immediately (1 Corinthians 16:12). Not even Paul and Barnabas demonstrated much of a unified master plan (Acts 15:36-41).
Further, even though as apostles of Jesus Christ the Twelve and Paul and Barnabas could have demanded that the churches accept their doctrinal decree on the issue of not imposing the Law on the Gentiles, they did not assert their authority. The Scriptures plainly tell us it was by joint cooperation that the elders and apostles looked into the matter. The two groups debated. The apostles had to use testimony, theology, and Scriptures to win the debate (Acts 15:5-29) even though they had seen the conversion of the uncircumcised gentiles with their own eyes.
Again, it is plain that the apostles held no overarching authority above the elders or churches, nor even claimed to, though an historically crucial area of doctrine was at issue. No decision was authoritatively demanded by the apostles, rather they participated in an open forum debate with no preplanned conclusion.
No Authority to Solicit Money and Offerings
Taking wages from the churches as they preached the gospel was most certainly an authority they were given by Christ, as it is listed as part of their commissioning. Apostles had the right to demand wages, but out of mercy to the church and consideration for the sake of the gospel they also exercised the option of not accepting the wages and instead worked with their own hands. It must also be pointed out that apostles did accept and distribute monetary offerings, though the record seems to indicate they were more comfortable placing other men in charge of, and to exercise authority over, the handling, collection, and distribution of the money itself
Consider also the events of Acts 4:34-5:11. The people of their own initiative voluntarily gave money to the apostles in order that those who had physical needs might not suffer. No one forced or asked these people to give. Ananias thought it would look good to sell a piece of property and claim to have given away all the money while secretly keeping back part of the profit. What Peter said about this is astounding. "While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? …You have not lied to men, but to God." Ananias committed no sin until he lied. If he would have decided to keep all his money it would have been fine with Peter, that was Ananias’ prerogative. It was the lie that was wrong. The apostles did not use their authority to ask for or demand money from Christians.
Even writing to the Corinthians the apostle Paul did not demand that they give money to the needy Jerusalem Christians. It was the Corinthians that promised a bountiful gift a year prior to Paul’s writing. (2 Corinthians 9:5). They were the first church to make such a gesture for the Jerusalem Christians (2 Corinthians 8:10). All Paul did was to send volunteers with instructions about how to collect the year’s worth of savings and to make certain that graft and covetousness were avoided (2 Corinthians 9:5). The Macedonian churches begged Paul to take charge of their gift (2 Corinthians 8:4). Paul did not assert his authority in order to handle the money. Just to be certain that no one accused him of using his authority to either raise money or use it for himself he let the church appoint their own man to take charge of it with Paul (2 Corinthians 8:19, 23). This is a wonderful role model and business structure for any man who would be an apostle today.
Authority to Teach and Preach
There were the twelve apostles. There were also seventy other apostles appointed by Jesus Christ. There was also Paul and Barnabas. A total shows about 86 apostles appointed by Jesus Christ in person. But, why? On the surface we can readily demonstrate the mission was to witness for Christ and His resurrection, preach, perform miracles to validate the message, and to be the conduit for bringing the Holy Spirit to the gentiles for the first time in history. Beyond this, is there a higher purpose in the grand plan of salvation? What ultimate purpose did the apostolic mission serve?
A first answer might be "To make disciples in every nation." A reasonable answer, but incomplete. Even today we know that this last commission of Christ should be followed in principle, after all, the apostles were examples of Christ’s life for us to imitate. So even today’s Christians should seek to make disciples in every nation. What then made the apostles’ mission so unique and eternally necessary?
Paul’s own testimony from Colossians 1:25-27 explains the singular nature of the apostolic mission:
"Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." (Colossians 1:25-27)
The uniqueness of the apostolic mission was to finally reveal the secret behind the mystery that was hidden from ages past, even from God’s own prophets. The secret was that Jesus was the Messiah come to Earth, and that the Messiah was Savior of both Jew and Gentile. It was the first time in all history that God revealed this mystery, and for this revelation He commissioned the apostles.
It is this one-time event that makes the apostle so relevant and special. God invented a new appointment to unveil His secret at just one point-in-time in human history. God created a special small group of men to whom the secret would be first revealed and explained, and then they in turn would teach others what they had learned and would testify as to the legitimacy of what they had witnessed with their own eyes and ears, even testifying as to the death and burial of Christ and to having seen His wounds when He appeared to them after the resurrection.
The uniqueness of the apostolic commission can be summarized in this manner: it was the apostles to whom Christ was first revealed; it was the apostles that were first appointed to be with Jesus; it was the apostles that were first appointed to carry the message to the Jews and Gentiles; it was the apostles to whom the Holy Spirit was first bestowed, it was the apostles who first laid down the foundation of Christian doctrine; it was the apostles and prophets who wrote the first and only New testament; and, it was the apostles, prophets, and teachers who first explained these new doctrines to the people.
This "new message" had to be observed by men, verified, passed along, written down, and properly explained (taught); all for the first time in history. This is why the apostles were needed for a one time and entirely unique mission--to testify as eyewitnesses for the first time in all history revelation of Christ as Savior of the world. This same understanding is repeated in Ephesians 2:11-3:12. The following are excerpts from this passage.
"Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called ‘Uncircumcision’ by the so-called ‘Circumcision,’ which is performed in the flesh by human hands--remember that you were at that time separate form Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world…For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall...and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity…So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow-citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles-if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. And by referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel," (Excerpts from Ephesians 2:11-3:6)
The following illustration depicts Ephesians 2:11-22. It shows how the one holy temple of God is founded on the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ as the only cornerstone. All Jews and Gentiles are being built together, even today, on the original foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ as the cornerstone. Both the cornerstone and the foundation are laid once in a temple; they are never again established in any other levels.The foundation being spoken of is the foundation of the entire (universal) church, both Gentiles and Jews, not just the local Ephesian church as some have erroneously assumed. All Christian Gentiles and Jews have as their foundation "the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone." The whole Christian church may only have but a single foundation and one cornerstone for all of time. Just as Christ is no ordinary brick that is constantly being placed in at each level, so are the apostles and prophets unique in their role as the foundation of the temple (church) of God. And the level at which the foundation is positioned is at the very ground level, the very beginning and entranceway to the rest of the building.
All Christian Gentiles and all Christian Jews who are not a part of the foundation are being fitted together as a part of God’s church, His holy temple, His dwelling, His body. There is only one complete "church of God," one temple, one body, one dwelling; therefore, only one foundation and one cornerstone are needed.
Paul says it is for this reason (3:1) to explain this mystery to us Gentiles that God made Paul an apostle. God made Paul a steward of the mystery of Christ by using revelation (3:3). In no other point in all history had anyone been allowed to know about the mystery of Christ as Savior to Jews and Gentiles until God "revealed [it] to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit." The apostles and prophets were the first to bear the responsibility of knowing about Christ. This was their stewardship--to be the first ones in all history to explain for the first time how the Jews and Gentiles are both heir to the same Savior.
Implications of "The Mystery" for Modern Apostles
There is only one true temple of God, that is the one true church of Christ. The one true church has only one foundation that appeared at one time in history. The purpose of the foundation was to explain (reveal) to the world for the first time that Christ as Messiah brought Jews and Gentiles together into a single body (2:15). Now, if a man claims to be a modern apostle, he is claiming:
1) to be a part of the foundation of the one true church of Jesus Christ almost 2000 years after its founding, and
2) to be carrying the mystery of Christ to the Gentiles for the first time in all of history.
Summarizing Apostolic Authority
To summarize apostolic authority it is important to remember that their area of control was not over churches or men, but in signs and miracles, preaching, and doctrine. They had no authority to remove legitimate elders, only to appoint those who were qualified. Apostles never asked for offerings, and only rarely asserted their right to earn wages from the gospel. There never was any New Testament churchwide evangelistic network (such a things is a fable made up by men). The early churches were administratively autonomous. No two New Testament churches are ever recorded as having held a joint evangelistic campaign, much less needing an apostle to oversee such an activity.
Finally, as more and more churches sprang up world wide, there were fewer and fewer apostles to watch over them as the apostles died off. If apostolic authority was of central importance to planting churches (evangelization) why are the only tests and qualifications given to us (by which to test those men who claim to be apostles) those criteria which men cannot fulfill today (1 Corinthians 15:7, 1 Corinthians 9:1, Acts 1:22)?
The answer is simply that apostolic authority is not necessary today. The foundation of the Gentile/Jewish church has already been laid (Ephesians 2:11, 20, and 3:5,6) and cannot be laid again. The canon of the Scriptures is now complete and the Messiah has been revealed in them. The apostles did their job well 2000 years ago. Now it is time for us to continue that legacy and build on their foundation with evangelists, pastors, teachers, deacons, administrations, helps, mercy, and a host of other Spirit-directed gifts. The era of the apostle ended 2000 years ago.
From the Biblical record, what can we ascertain about the apostles’ legitimate authorities? As previously noted, preaching and teaching were not just authorities, they were obligations for the apostle. Performing signs and wonders was obligatory as was exercising authority over the demons. But above all other authorities, to act as eyewitnesses of Christ’s resurrection was perhaps the most pivotal. They had authority as no other ever had or ever will have to bring the answer of the mystery to the Gentiles for the first time in human history, specifically that Christ is Savior of all.
Apostleship As An Historical Gift, Not a Church Office
Was apostleship a gift or an office? Paul considered his apostleship as a gift. "…I was made a minister (of the gospel) according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power." (Ephesians 3:7)
"But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift…and He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers," (Ephesians 4:7,11)
Apostleship was granted as a gift that carried with it a title, just as ‘evangelist’ was both a gift, a title, and a ministry. Apostleship was the ministry of bearing witness to Christ’s life, resurrection, and teaching to the Jewish/Gentile world. Not everyone who followed Christ’s ministry was "sent out" as His special envoy, but only a select few: "not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us, who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead." (Acts 10:41, 42)
So, apostleship was a gift with a title and a ministry, given to only a select few. Was it an office as well? An office is a position that continually needs to be replaced as men pass off the scene. According to what we have studied in Scripture, apostleship was a one time in history gift-ministry given only to a select group of men (about 85) by Jesus Christ Himself. Since no Scripture ever tells us to look for men who are true apostles, nor teaches us how to become apostles outside of seeing the resurrected Christ, being appointed by Him, and being trained by Him, it is obviously not an office of the church to be held by men today.
Apostleship--An Equipping Gift
Please read Ephesians 4:12 and 13. The gifts were given to men so that men may be equipped for service and for building up the body of Christ. The equipping and building will continue until we all become mature men of Christ. The verse does not say that the gifts will continue, but that the equipping and building will continue. If God chose to limit the gift of apostleship to a single instance in history then He is certainly sufficiently sovereign in the matter and may do as He pleases.
Still the argument is made: Without the apostles preaching and teaching to us today, will we not be less equipped for service than were the New Testament Christians? The answer to this question is so obvious it frequently escapes our attention: we do have the teaching, preaching, and equipping work of the apostles today; we call it Scripture. "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16, 17)
"…that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles." (2 Peter 3:2)
That we have pastors and teachers, the fully revealed Word of God, and the Holy Spirit is sufficient to continue the equipping of the saints. Scripture contains the words of Paul and the commandments of the Lord spoken by the apostles. Scripture will equip us for every good work today, just as apostolic teaching equipped men before Scripture was written.
Apostleship--A Greater Gift
1 Corinthians 12:28 says: "And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues." (1 Corinthians 12:28) Notice that most of the gifts mentioned are no longer in evidence in many mainstream fundamental denominations: apostles, prophets, miracles, healing, tongues. An interesting point of this fact is that miracles, healing, and tongues were all used by apostles to authenticate the gospel message that they were commissioned to bring for the first time in all of history. Both apostleship and prophecy are mentioned as being contemporaneous gifts with Christ as the foundation level of the church. Now that the foundation level of the church has been laid (some 2000 years ago) and we have the authenticated and completed Word of God, for what purpose would we continue to expect to see "signs" and "prophecies"?
The three gifts still given by the Holy Spirit to men of all denominations today in this passage are:
1) Teachers (ones who explained revealed Scripture),
2) Helps (deacons),
3) Administrations (pastors/teachers).
In context, chapter twelve of 1 Corinthians is Paul’s’ attempt to make the tongues-hungry Corinthians understand that:
1) there are many different gifts (verse 4);
2) there are many ministries (vs. 5);
3) there are many spiritual results (verse 6);
4) everyone is given a gift (verse 7);
5) the Spirit gives out the gifts as He will, not as man wills or desires( verse 11);
6) all holders of these different gifts are necessary parts of Christ’s body (verse 14, 15);
7) never would the whole body be the same part, in the same way never are Christians going to all receive the same gift (verse 19,29);
8) it takes all the different gifts to edify a church, just as it takes all the parts of a body to make it healthy (verse 17,28).
God goes out of His way to make it clear that we are all going to get different gifts, not just tongues. In this diversity of gifts it is strictly forbidden to call anyone '‘useless'’ just because they have a different gift than you have. Indeed, if you feel your gift is superior take notice: "..our unseemly members come to have more abundant seemliness; whereas our seemly members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another." (1 Corinthians 12:23-25).
Demanding that everyone should have gotten the same gift as you received from God is pride and arrogance: "For who regards you as superior? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?" (1 Corinthians 4:7)
Up to this time the Corinthians were all trying to get and use the gift of tongues. But God had given some of them prophecy and teaching gifts. Paul saw the waste of having only tongues being sought after for use in the church service, while prophecy and teaching were neglected or despised. It was imperative that Paul remind them that teaching, instruction, and doctrine (gifts of speech such as prophecy) were as important as any other gift. Indeed, since the New Testament had not yet been written the Corinthians would have had a far greater need for gifts of prophecy than we have today. Today teachers are more necessary than prophets to explain the already revealed word.
"But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way." (1 Corinthians 12:31)
The Corinthian church was to desire to be surrounded by and to have within its congregation those men to whom God had given "greater gifts." The Corinthian church was to especially desire that prophets be established and used in its congregation; not apostles, but prophets (1 Corinthians 14:1). This is an interesting observation because it causes us to contemplate that the only apostle the Corinthians were going to receive instruction from was Paul himself and that no apostle was going to be raised up from their own midst.
Paul reinforces the fact that the Corinthians could not be apostles by explaining in the next chapter that all apostles were witnesses of Christ’s resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7), and that Paul was the last man to see Christ and that he was an apostle born out of due time (commissioned by Christ after the resurrection without benefit of His earthly teaching ministry). Remember Paul only said that "God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers…" God appointed them, and they were given the authority to preach, even in Corinth. God did not say that He would continue to appoint them.
Paul confirms that God only chose a few to be apostles just to make sure the Corinthians did not get the wrong idea. Paul just wanted to be certain that the Corinthians accepted that God had appointed apostles and that the Corinthians were supposed to listen to their teachings. However, many of the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:28 are no longer given to entire denominations of solid Christ loving Christians (miracles, healings, tongues), proving that many of the gifts like apostleship and prophecy were only available to establish the foundation level of the church.
"But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way." (1 Corinthians 12:31)
Why were the Corinthians to desire the greater gifts? So that the church would stop concentrating on the gift of tongues and start using their gifts of teaching. This edifies the church.
What exactly is a greater gift? Paul tells us exactly what greater gifts are: "Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophecy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying." (1 Corinthians 14:5)
Prophecy was just as great a gift as tongues when an interpreter was available. Tongues was a greater gift, and prophecy was a greater gift. What made them "greater gifts?" The fact that they edified the church. A greater gift was any gift that verbally edified the church, including the simple gift of teaching. In context, edifying the church means to speak out verbally: "…if I come to you SPEAKING in tongues, what shall I profit you, unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching?" vs. 6
According to 1 Corinthians 14:5 tongues with interpretations is as great a greater gift as was prophecy. So, in 1 Corinthians 12:31 the list of greater gifts is not restricted to apostles, prophecy, and teaching--it included tongues and interpretations. In 1 Corinthians 12:28 tongues are listed as the last gift in the list. Also, administrations very likely means pastor/elders or overseers. Pastors definitely have a verbal ministry of edification, thus it would seem likely that they too were greater gifts. The bottom line is this, whatever you say in church, it is to be edifying to the church. Those who use their verbal ministries to edify the church are exercising their greater gifts.
"What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification." (1 Corinthians 14:26)
Summary of Greater Gifts
There is nothing mystical or secret about the greater gifts. Greater gifts are any verbal gifts such as prophecy (revelation), teaching (explanation or knowledge of Scripture), or tongues and its interpretation (revelation) that are used to edify the church. Other greater gifts may be evangelists and pastors (Ephesians 4:11), or exhorters and leaders (Romans 12:8), or, any other speaking gift that edifies the church.
All churches must strive to have an edifying verbal ministry, and each Christian who speaks must strive to be edifying. Remember that the Corinthians were using the gift of tongues without interpretations in church without realizing that "tongues are for a sign…to unbelievers." They did not realize that this "sign gift" was really not for believing Corinthians but for unbelieving Corinthian Gentiles and Jews. Therefore to be an edifying, and thus greater, gift, interpretations had to be used with the tongues. Prophecy, on the other hand, was being neglected by the Corinthians, but in reality "prophecy is for a sign…to those who believe." Tongues was a sign gift to unbelieving Gentiles and Jews, and prophecy was a sign to believers for their continued instruction in the Word of God. In essence, they had neglected the gift given for the believers’ edification in favor of the gift given to see unbelievers saved. And even more, they had thrown out the only edifying part of that gift -- interpretations.
Churches must avoid being consumed with just one gift. That apostles are no longer alive and present with us does not mean that we do not have all their relevant teachings in the Word by which we can be edified. "Greater gifts" of teaching, evangelizing, and pastoring are still widely given to all the churches today by the Holy Spirit, and along with the Word, this guarantees that no church need lack instruction in righteousness so that all members are adequately equipped for service.
All Christians have different gifts, ministries, and spiritual results (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). The church thrives on such a diversity given to it by the Holy Spirit. If the church members were all striving for the same greater gift, teaching for example, it would become an unbalanced, unhealthy church. Besides, the Spirit would not will it, and Scripture forbids it: "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment." (James 3:1)
Redefining the Word "Apostle"
It has become an increasingly popular trend today to take long standing words with time-tested meaning and then redefine them into something they have never meant. In this spirit some have said, "But can’t we redefine the word ‘apostle’ so that we can still use it today?"
Let us permit Revelation 2:2 to address this question for us:
"I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot endure evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false," (Revelation 2:2)
This message is to the church at Ephesus. Considering the late date of the book (A.D. 95) and the fact that Revelation was the last Scripture written, it makes no difference to the interpretation in this particular case whether this is a future-telling or contemporary communication.
God tells the Ephesians that He approves of their patient stand against evil and for good. Then He tells them that they "test those who call themselves apostles." The key question is: of all the apostles tested by the Ephesians, how many were found to be true apostles? Answer: "Those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false;"
Any man using the name "apostle" was apparently tested and all were found to be false apostles by the Ephesians. God then congratulates them for their righteous endurance. If everyone who was called an apostle was tested and found false, then it is obvious that no one became an apostle after the original 85 died.
How did the Ephesians "test" these false apostles? Perhaps in four ways:
1)Were their signs and wonders those of a true apostle? (2 Corinthians 12:12; Acts 2:43)
2) Was their teaching without error and equal with the rest of Scripture? (1 Thessalonians 2:43; 2 Peter 3:2, 15, 15; Acts 2: 42)
3) Were they eyewitnesses of Christ’s resurrection? (Acts 1:22)
4) Had they been trained for three years by Christ Himself? (Acts 1:21)
Indeed, these were the very tests and qualifications that Paul and Peter used when they were questioned about the validity of their own and other’s apostleship.
Are we at liberty to redefine the word so that we may use it for modern purposes? Given the very meaning of the word, "one appointed by Christ to be an eyewitness of His resurrection and to teach all that Christ had taught him", it would be not merely poor form to redefine the word, it would be damaging to the very purpose for which Christ created the role. These men witnessed and authenticated the very delivery of the gospel during the point in history that the events occurred. To redefine the word to mean something less makes a mockery of the sacrifice that these men made, not to mention the mockery it makes of Christ’s plan to provide credible eyewitnesses to His salvation of the world.
As for me, I will continue to apply the "tests" of apostleship to every man I encounter who claims for himself the title of "apostle of Jesus Christ". Those who fail the test, I shall be compelled by the Scriptures to label as a "false apostle".
History tells of no mighty army of apostles trained and sent out by the first century church. The apostles died, John last of all, leaving no apostles in their place. The only people who would be surprised by this are those that mistakenly believe in a Roman Catholic system of "apostolic succession." But those who read the Scriptures will readily recall that there is no teaching whatsoever in Scripture for a believer to put into practice today on "How to Become an Apostle." Paul never wrote to tell Timothy how to spot the next apostle after he died. No Scripture ever details the qualifications of an apostle except to say that they had to be with Christ, be appointed by Him, witness His resurrection, be trained by Him for three years, and perform miraculous signs, wonders, and healings.
As the apostles died, there were fewer and fewer men who had been appointed by Christ as apostles. As they died and became fewer, the number of churches was growing and growing. The last apostle on Earth completed the Scriptures closing the door on prophetic Scripture and all the authenticating apostolic sign gifts. But the number of Christian churches was even larger.
Who will do the apostles’ work of teaching and preaching and planting churches today? The church planters today are the same men that planted churches side-by-side with apostles--the evangelists. The apostles’ teachings and equipping works are still with us--the Scriptures. Just as the church carried on the tasks of church planting, teaching, and evangelism in those days without benefit of any new apostles, so too can we carry on today in the same strength of the Spirit and with the same zeal, if we are willing.
What are we to think of men today who demand to be respected as apostles? Only God knows a man’s heart, desires, and motives. We cannot judge the inner thoughts of such a one. But, written in Scripture, an apostle’s own words, is a warning about men who used to call themselves Paul’s equals: "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their deeds." (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)
To be certain, they may appear to have good character, even a righteous character; but, they may be disguised as a servant of righteousness, or disguised as an apostle. Even servants of Satan can appear to have "good characters." Good character is no substitute for good theology. Good character is no requisite for apostleship. Paul condemns the attempt of these men to be apostles; Paul did not applaud their desire. He found these apostolic imposters of himself to be false.
May we not be guilty of teaching men how to become false apostles.
Select this line to continue to the Prophets section of Apostles and Prophets.
"…you put to the test those who call themselves apostles..and you found them to be false;" (Revelation 2:2)