Church,  New Testament

Are Apostles for the Church Today?

Although it is becoming more and more popular to argue that there are Apostles in the church today, this is far from a majority position. Rather, it is generally recognized that the Greek word used for apostles in the New Testament can be used in both a generic sense (simply meaning “sent one”), or in a specific sense. Romans 16:7 is an example of a generic sense where Paul uses the term “apostle” to refer to individuals who are sent out from a church for some purpose.

But there is also a more specific category of apostleship which relates specifically to apostles who represent Jesus Christ as His authoritative ambassadors. In other words, these Apostles were viewed with the authority of Jesus because He commissioned them himself. Note, for example, that Paul, an Apostle of Christ, had the authority to give instruction which was on the same level of Christ (e.g. 1 Cor 7:10-12). A generic apostle had no such authority.

photo of Christ and the apostles of the church

So, in the generic sense, we could refer to apostles (though I would advise against it because that could be confusing). However, are there Apostles of Christ today? There are at least four reasons why authoritative apostleship has ceased.

1. Apostles must have seen the resurrected Lord in the flesh.

The qualifications for Apostleship are very clear in the New Testament. When the Apostles were replacing Judas, they said:

“Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us— beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.” (Acts 1:21-22)

Notice the replacement for Judas had to see the resurrected body of Jesus. Similarly, Paul claimed that his Apostleship was because he had seen the body of the resurrected Lord:

“Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?” (1 Cor 9:1)

Thus, in order to be an authoritative apostle commissioned by Jesus, one needs to see His resurrected body.

2. Apostles had to have been directly commissioned by Jesus.

Mark 3:14 – And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach,

Luke 6:13 – And when day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles:

Acts 1:2 – until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen.

Gal 1:1 – 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).

Here again we see the difference between authoritative apostles and those who are referred to in a general sense. Only the authoritative Apostles functioned with the absolute and unquestioned authority of Christ.

3. Apostles had to be able to demonstrate their power by miracles.

Paul says that the signs of a true apostle are “signs and wonders and miracles” (2 Cor 12:12). Some may try to argue that Scripture does not record all of the Apostles exercising miracles, should we therefore expect that every apostle had to perform miracles?

The key to understanding the meaning of this verse is found in following Paul’s logic in 2 Corinthians 12. Paul is defending himself by comparing his ministry with the false apostles in Corinth. In essence, his argument is that the mark of the genuine apostle was the powerful backing of miracles, signs, and wonders. In contrast to this, the false apostles were not able to demonstrate this power. In other words, an Apostle was able to demonstrate his validity through miracles, wonders, and signs and it was something that distinguished him from other pretenders.

4. Paul was the last Apostle.

Paul says he was the last of the Apostles, thus implying we should be looking for no more Apostles:

and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. (1 Cor 15:4-8)

It is also notable that when Judas died, the Apostles replaced him with the man of Jesus’ own choice (Acts 1:24-26). However, when James died (Acts 12:1-5), there was no need to replace him because the Apostles were passing away having already secured the foundation of the church (Eph 2:20).

The biblical view of the authoritative apostolate is that there were a select group of men, directly commissioned by Jesus himself, who had seen the resurrected Lord, and who testified of their apostleship by miracles and wonders. These men laid the foundation for the church together with the prophets (Eph 2:20). However, these men passed away, and the authoritative apostleship is no more. And if you are interested in pursuing this line of reasoning further, this argument transitions well into Sam Waldron’s Cascade Argument against the continuation of the miraculous gifts.

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He is a husband, father, and sports enthusiast.

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