Doctrine of Apostleship

February 17, 2014


A.  Etymology
1.  The Greek word is APOSTOLOS.  When used without a definite article, as in Col 1:1, the high quality of the noun is emphasized.  “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ.”  Paul had the highest rank ever given to a member of the Royal Family of God in the Church Age.  As a Roman citizen, Paul carried authority in the Middle East.  As a Pharisee, Paul carried authority in Judea.  But as an apostle in the Royal Family of God, Paul reached the peak of rank and authority.
2.  APOSTOLOS, an Attic Greek word, was already 500 years old when used in the New Testament.  It was originally used for a highranking admiral or general officer chosen by a counsel to command either an army or an Athenian fleet on a military expedition, generally against the Spartans.
3.  Its third meaning, used less extensively, was for whoever was in command of a band of Greek colonists when they would leave Athens and go elsewhere to establish a Greek colony.  The governor of the founded colony was called an APOSTOLOS.
4.  Hence, the word connotes command responsibility.  Both uses of APOSTOLOS, for a commander of a military or naval expedition and for the governor of a Greek colony, are found in the New Testament.
5.  This word is used in the New Testament epistles in a special way for a temporary spiritual gift.  There are certain spiritual gifts which were temporary because there was no Scripture for the Church Age to explain the protocol plan of God.  It had not yet been reduced to writing.  The highest of all these temporary spiritual gifts was apostleship.

B.  New Testament Use of APOSTOLOS.
1.  Until the Canon of Scripture was completed and circulated, apostleship was a gift of superauthority beyond the local church level.
2.  There were two categories of apostles in the early church which correspond with the two uses of APOSTOLOS:
a. The twelve men with the spiritual gift of apostleship, analogous to the commander of a military or naval expedition.
b. Pioneer missionaries as a delegated function in the early church, analogous to the founder and governor of a Greek colony.

C.  The Spiritual Gift of Apostleship.
1.  The gift of apostleship is the first and highest of all spiritual gifts ever given.  This gift had maximum command authority.  It is listed in 1 Cor 12:28 and Eph 4:11.
2.  The apostles with supernumerary powers were twelve men in the early church who had the spiritual gift.  Eleven of these were carried over from being the apostles to Israel in Matt 10:24.  The only one not carried over on that roster was Judas Iscariot.  Therefore, the Bible distinguishes between the apostles to Israel and the apostles to the Church.  James, the Lord’s half brother, and Paul replaced Judas Iscariot according to 1 Cor 15:310.
3.  The spiritual gift of apostleship carried the highest authority God has ever delegated in the Church Age.  The apostle had authority over all local churches, in contrast to the pastor whose authority is limited to only one local church.  In 1 Cor 12:28, the gift of apostleship is first in order of merit.
4.  The spiritual gift of apostleship carried fantastic absolute authority.  It was designed for two purposes:
a. The formation of the Canon of Scripture, the New Testament.  This absolute authority was restricted to the preCanon period of the Church Age, from 30 to 96 A.D.
b. Leadership in the pre-Canon period of the Church Age.  This involved the establishment of local churches, the clarification of the mystery doctrine of the Church Age until the Canon was completed, the maintenance of a true systematic theology with dispensational emphasis, the training of pastors, and the establishment of local church policy.  The gift also functioned in sending out colonial apostles (super-missionaries).
5.  Apostles were not appointed until after the resurrection of Christ.  Eph 4:8, “And He has distributed spiritual gifts to men.”  Eph 4:11, “And He gave some apostles.”  1 Cor 12:11, 28.  Until Christ’s session there were no apostles.
6.  The spiritual gift of apostleship was temporary and discontinued after the completion of the Canon.  The removal of this temporary gift began with the postCanon period of the Church Age.
7.  1 Cor 12:11 says the Holy Spirit’s sovereignty bestowed the gift of apostleship:  “But one and the same Spirit [Holy Spirit] energizes all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.”  1 Cor 12:28, “Furthermore, God has appointed first apostles.”  That means first in order of authority and power.

D.  The Roster of the Spiritual Gift of Apostleship.
1.  Distinction must be made between the two categories of apostles.
a. Our Lord’s appointment of apostles to Israel during the great power experiment of the Hypostatic Union, Matt 10:24.
b. The twelve apostles appointed for the precanon period of the Church Age.
2.  The roster of the first eleven men with the gift of apostleship is as follows.  As with any group, some men were more active, and some were almost honorary apostles.  These eleven were apostles to Israel for three years, and apostles to the Church until A.D. 96.
a. SimonPeter, one of the three most active apostles.
b. Andrew, his brother, who was almost an honorary apostle because he did so little and had a very short life.
c. James and John, John being one of the most active and who lived the longest.  These two sons of Zebedee, James and John, came from a very wealthy family.  He wrote 1, 2 and 3 John, Revelation, and the Gospel of John.
d. Philip, who also had the gift of evangelism, which he used extensively.
e. Bartholomew, also called Nathaniel, an honorary type.
f. Doubting Thomas, also called Didymus, meaning a twin.  He did very little according to the Bible.  But extraBiblical sources indicate that he went to India and did a lot of work there.
g. Matthew, alias Levi, a writer.
h. Simon the Canaanite, an honorary; he did the least.
i. James, the son of Alphaeus, who disappears immediately.  He is mistakenly called “James the Lesser.”  But just because we know so little about him doesn’t mean he’s inferior.
j. Thaddaeus, also called Jude, who wrote the Book of Jude.  These eleven are mentioned first in Matt 10:24 as apostles to Israel.  They were the eleven disciples of our Lord who later became apostles.
2.  The last two apostles were James, the Lord’s half brother, and Paul.  But before he was recognized as such, a farce occurred in Acts 1.  Peter suggested that they elect someone to take the place of Judas Iscariot.
a. The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ gave the first spiritual gifts to the Church on the Day of Pentecost; after that, they are sovereignly bestowed by the Holy Spirit.  You do not elect what is sovereignly given by God!  You cannot elect greatness.  The church voted for Matthias.  But Matthias was not appointed by God to replace Judas, Acts 1:15-26.  The volition of mankind is never involved in spiritual gifts.
b. The twelfth man was to be the apostle Paul, 1 Cor 15:710, “Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all, as it were, to one untimely born [a bastard], He appeared to me also on the Damascus Road.  For I am the least of the apostles who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church.  But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove empty [vain], but I labored even more than all the rest [the eleven]; yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”
c. One of the requirements for this spiritual gift was that the apostle see the resurrected Christ.  Paul saw the resurrected Christ on the Damascus Road according to Acts 9:36, 22:611, 26:1318.  Then He appeared to Paul again in Arabia.  Then He appeared to Paul in the temple, Acts 22:1721.  Finally, He appeared to Paul in prison, Acts 23:11.  So Paul saw the resurrected Christ on four different occasions.
d. In genuine humility, Paul wrote (in Timothy) that he was the worst sinner who ever lived, and here that he was the least of all the apostles.  As an unbeliever, Paul murdered many Christians.  Yet he became the greatest Church Age Christian!
e. Paul became an apostle as a result of the sovereign decision of Jesus Christ according to Eph 4:11.  Paul was given the spiritual gift by the Holy Spirit according to 1 Cor 12:11.
f. Add to this 1 Tim 1:1214.  “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who made me strong, because He considered me faithful, putting me into the ministry.  And even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor, but I have received mercy because, being ignorant, I did it in unbelief.  And the grace of our Lord was superabundant with faith and love in Christ Jesus.”

E.  Office of Apostleship:  Pioneer Missions.
1.  The pioneer missionaries could be classified as colonial or delegated apostles, or missionary/ruler types in the early church. They had tremendous powers, but they were delegated powers.  In effect, they were colonial missionaries.  They were called apostles, because APOSTOLOS is also used for a Greek who founded and governed a colony.
2.  This is the true concept of sending out missionaries today.  A missionary team should go to a country to form churches in that country.  This requires evangelism, recognizing those men with the spiritual gifts of communication, and then training those men so that eventually indigenous local churches are established.
3.  Colonial apostles had lesser spiritual gifts:  pastorteacher, prophecy, evangelism, and they had the authority to establish churches.  They were, in effect, pioneer missionaries sent out under the authority of the spiritual gift of apostleship.
4.  Colonial apostles included men like Barnabas, James the Lord’s half brother, Apollos, Silas (Silvanus), Timothy, Titus, Epaphroditus, Andronicus and Junia.  They are called apostles in the sense of being pioneer missionaries, but not in the sense of having the spiritual gift of apostleship.  They had the delegated authority to establish churches, analogous to colonies which were founded in different parts of the Roman world, some as far as India and China.
a. Barnabas was an apostle in this sense, as documented in Acts 14:14 and Gal 2:9.  He had the authority to go out and form churches, recognize those men with the spiritual gift of pastorteacher, train them, appoint them to certain churches, and then leave.
b. James, our Lord’s halfbrother, had this same delegated authority of an apostle, 1 Cor 15:7 and Gal 1:19.
c. Apollos is called an apostle in 1 Cor 4:6, 9.  He was Paul’s delegate to Corinth.
d. Titus had the power to form churches in Crete, 2 Cor 8:23.  He had the authority, but not the gift.
e. Epaphroditus, mentioned in Phil 2:25, had this pioneer missionary gift.
f. Andronicus and Junia, Rom 16:7.
g. Silvanus and Timothy, 1 Thes 1:1, 2:6.
5.  These men did not have the spiritual gift of apostleship, but they did have delegated authority to fulfill the indigenous missionary principle through the establishment of local churches in different parts of the Roman world.
6.  Those with the office were the colonial apostles who had lesser spiritual gifts, such as pastorteacher, prophet, evangelist; they did not possess the gift of apostleship.  They had the delegated authority to function under the indigenous principle in training pastors and establishing local churches, both outside and inside the boundaries of the Roman Empire.

F.  Additional Spiritual Gifts of Apostles.
1.  To establish authority, the apostle had additional spiritual gifts provided in order to identify him as having the proper authority.
2.  The apostles were identified by the use of several temporal spiritual gifts, so that there was no question as to who had this gift.  They had certain temporal gifts which were used as their credit card to establish that they had the gift of apostleship.
3.  The temporal gifts included miracles, tongues, and healing: Acts 5:15, 16:1618, 28:89.  Tongues was the first gift withdrawn, for once Israel went out in 70 A.D., no one again legitimately spoke in tongues.
4.  Once the authority of the apostle was established, and once he was so identified throughout the Roman Empire, these temporary gifts were no longer necessary and were removed.  For example, Paul initially had the gift of healing, Acts 19:1112.  But he no longer had it at the time when several of his closest friends were ill or dying, for by this time his identity and authority as an apostle had been established.  He could not heal Epaphroditus in Rome in Phil 2:27.  He had to leave Trophemus behind because he could not heal him in 2 Tim 4:20.

G.  Summary.
1.  Apostleship is a unique spiritual gift sovereignly delegated by our Lord Jesus Christ according to 1 Cor 12:2728, Eph 4:11, and Col 1:1.
2.  Today, all spiritual gifts are permanent spiritual gifts and given at the point of salvation by God the Holy Spirit.
3.  In the preCanon period of the Church Age, certain temporary spiritual gifts were given to carry on with the Church until the Canon of the New Testament had been completed and circulated.
4.  Certain gifts such as apostleship, prophecy, miracles, healing, tongues, the interpretation of tongues, the gift of knowledge and wisdom, the gift of exhortation, the gift of discerning spirits and the temporary gift of faith are all out of function now.  None of them have been operational since 96 A.D.
5.  Once the Canon of the New Testament was completed and circulated, all temporary spiritual gifts were withdrawn.
6.  The apostles to the Church were not appointed until after the resurrection of Christ according to Eph 4:8 cf. 4:11.
7.  Therefore, the apostles to the Church are not to be confused with the apostles to Israel, Matt 10:24.
8.  The spiritual gift of apostleship exercised authority over numerous local churches until the completion of the New Testament.
9.  In the postCanon period of the Church Age, all local churches are autonomous under the authority of a pastorteacher.
10.  John was the last of the apostles and functioned as a minister at Ephesus.  John lived into the reign of the Antonine Caesars.
11.  Any claim of apostleship today is heresy and blasphemy.
12.  In order to execute their ministry, the spiritual gift of apostleship was accompanied by other temporary spiritual gifts.
13.  The apostle, as a human author of the New Testament, prophesied details of the eschatological dispensations which follow the Church Age, both the Tribulation and the Millennium.