Definition and Etymology:
APOSTOLOS – ἀπόστολος (ap-os’-tol-os) is an Attic Greek word originally used for a high‑ranking 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. Therefore, it was an admiral, supreme commander, or one who has the highest rank. It was also used 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.
APOSTOLOS is a Greek noun from the verb APOSTELLO – ἀποστέλλω (ap-os-tel’-lo) that is a compound word from the Preposition APO – ἀπό (apo’) meaning, “from, off, or away from,” and STELLOMAI – στέλλωμία (stel’-lo-mee’-ah) a primary verb meaning, “to put something in order, to prepare, to arrange, gather up, etc.” Therefore, APSOTELLO comes to mean, “to send out, forth, or away.” Likewise, APOSTOLOS comes to mean, “one who is sent, a messenger, or one sent on a mission.” It is transliterated and used for an apostle who generally was a delegate; specifically an ambassador of the Gospel; officially a commissioner of Christ, (sometimes with miraculous powers), or for the gift of Apostle. We noted this word in John 13:16 for “one who is sent,” in reference to our Lord who was sent by the Father.
Apostle was a unique spiritual gift, 1 Cor 12:11, 28; Eph 4:11. It was the first and highest of all spiritual gifts ever given. This gift had maximum command authority appointed through the sovereign decision of:
- God the Father, Rom 1:1.
- Jesus Christ provides the spiritual gifts, Eph 4:11.
- The Holy Spirit matches the gift to the individual, 1 Cor 12:11.
The qualification for being an Apostle included:
- Seeing the Lord and being an eyewitness to His resurrection, Acts 1:2, 22; 1 Cor 9:1.
- Being invested with miraculous sign-gifts, Acts 5:15-16; Heb 2:3-4.
- Being chosen by the Lord and the Holy Spirit, Matt 10:1-2; Acts 1:2; Eph 4:11.
The term apostle was used for the original twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, including Judas Iscariot. The list of the original 12 disciples is found in Matt 10:2-4; Luke 6:13-16. These were the apostles to Israel. Yet, the Bible distinguishes between the apostles to Israel, the original 12, and the apostles to the Church, that includes Paul who replaced Judas Iscariot, according to 1 Cor 15:7‑10.
- This is not to be confused with the term apostle that is used in a broader sense, applied to other eminent Christian teachers like Barnabas, Timothy, and Silvanus for the early establishment of the Church. Others were given delegated authority, and therefore occasionally had apostolic authority without having the gift. For example, Barnabas, Acts 14:14; Gal 2:9, and James, the Lord’s half-brother, 1 Cor 15:7; Gal 1:19. James was not an apostle but he was given the authority of an apostle to write the book of James. Apollos, 1 Cor 4:6, 9. Sylvanus and Timothy, 2 Thess 1:1; 2:6.
The 12 Apostles to the church were given the gift of Apostle to establish the Church and exercised absolute authority over the churches until the Canon of Scripture was completed. The Canon is now the absolute authority. The spiritual gift of apostleship carried fantastic absolute authority. It was designed for two purposes.
- The formation of the Canon of Scripture, the New Testament. This absolute authority was restricted to the pre‑canon period of the Church Age, from 30 to 96 A.D.
- 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).
No gift of apostle was appointed to the Church until after the Ascension of Christ, Eph 4:8-11.
To qualify, as one of the twelve Apostles, one must be an eyewitness to the resurrected Christ, 1 Cor 9:1; 15:8-9.
1 Cor 9:1, “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?”
An apostle also had the temporary gifts of miracles, healing, speaking in tongues, etc. as signs and wonders for the Jews first, and second as an identification card that they were from the Lord to establish the authority God gave them over the Church, Acts 5:15; 16:16-18; 28:8-9; 2 Cor 12:12. For example, Paul did not have the gift of healing at the end of his life, it was removed from him before he died, some ten years before, in 57 A.D., 2 Cor 12:6-10; Phil 2:27; 2 Tim 4:20.
Apostles received direct revelation from God and communicated it to the Church. All revelation today is through the Word. All writers of the New Testament were either apostles or someone closely associated with an apostle, (e.g., Mark, Luke, James, and Jude). Once the Canon of Scripture was complete, (writing of Revelation), the gift of apostleship was withdrawn. The Canon of the New Testament became the basis and absolute criterion for the Christian way of life.
The spiritual gift of apostleship was temporary and discontinued after the completion of the Canon. The removal of this temporary gift began in the pre‑Canon period of the Church Age. There is no perpetuation of apostleship. No sons became apostles. We never receive anything in the Christian life through physical birth. Everything we have comes as a result of spiritual birth, regeneration. Therefore, today no one has the right to exercise authority over more than one church. Each local church should be self-sustaining and self-governing. No one has the gift of Apostle, nor should claim it.
The Apostle Code:
By aligning the list of Apostles given to us in Scripture, and understanding the definition of their name, we see a wonderful outline of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
From the list in Mat 10:2-4.
2Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him.
Jesus Christ – the rock the corner stone (of our faith), being all-powerful (in hypostatic union), the one who has supplanted sin, He is the gift of the grace and mercy of the Lord, the warrior on horseback, [Rev 19:11], (who won the strategic victory of the Angelic Conflict), by becoming the curse (sin) for man, [Gen 3:17ff], in the likeness of Adam, [Rom 5:12-17], the gift of God who will come to collect His just due at the resurrection, [1 Cor 15:20-22], supplanting our sinful flesh by changing, (becoming a man). He is the courageous one. Praise God for His gift, the corner stone for all who hear and obey, (confess the name of the Lord). Praise the Lord you men of the world.
From the list in Acts 1:13 that is arranged slightly different and has the removal of Judas Iscariot and the adding in of Paul, in bold below.
13When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James.
Jesus Christ – the corner stone gift of the grace and mercy of the Lord, who has supplanted sin, (as our substitute), being all-powerful, (in hypostatic union), the warrior on horseback, (who won the strategic victory of the Angelic Conflict), in the likeness of Adam, by becoming the curse, (sin), for man, the gift of God, supplanting our sinful flesh by changing, (becoming a man). The corner stone for all who hear and obey, (confess the name of the Lord), praise God for his substitution, little ones.