As the question of the nature and functions of the apostles has arisen, it is as well to set out simply the salient facts about them. (a) The word "apostle" is the Greek word apostolos taken over into English. It is the combination of two words meaning from and put, the latter meaning to set or place in some determined position. In Scripture the verb apostellO means to put or send out officially and with authority for the performance of some particular task, to commission or to delegate. The idea of "commission" does not inhere in the word itself and is absent from some of its compounds. For instance, exapostellO is usually rendered send away in Luke 1:53; 20:10, 11; Acts 17:14. In none of these can the action be regarded as official but, rather, as deliberate. The precise force of these words must therefore be determined by their contexts.
(b) The term "the twelve apostles" occurs in three passages only: Matt. 10:2; Luke 22:14 and Rev. 21:14; and the second of these is somewhat doubtful, as some texts omit "twelve." The first lists their names, the third speaks of "twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb."
(c) The form "the Twelve," by itself, occurs 23 times: in Matt. 10:5; 26:14, 47; Mark 4:10; 6:7; 9:35; 10:32; 11:11; 14:10, 17, 20, 43; Luke 8:1; 9:12; 18:31; 22:3, 47; John 6:67, 70, 71; 20:24; Acts 6:2; 1. Cor. 15:5. In one of them, John 6:70, the term "the Twelve" is actually defined; for the Lord Jesus says: "do I not choose you, the Twelve; and, from among you, one is a slanderer?" In every single passage of these, the reference is unmistakeably to the Twelve Apostles. No other group is described as "The Twelve."
(d) The Eleven. After the defection of Judas, and until he is replaced, the apostles are described as "the Eleven" (Matt. 28:16; Mark 16:14; Luke 24:9, 33). "The Eleven Apostles" occurs once, in Acts 1:26: "and the lot falls on Matthias, and he is enumerated with the eleven apostles." Once more, only, do we find "the Eleven," in Acts 2:14: "Now Peter, together with the Eleven, lifts up his voice. . ."
(e) The Twelve after Pentecost. In Acts 2:14 "Peter, together with the Eleven," one plus eleven, makes twelve in all. As Peter already was one of the Eleven in the earlier references, the number "eleven" must have been made up here by somebody else, see (d) above. However, we need have no doubt as to this, for Acts 6:2 reads: "Yet the Twelve, calling near the multitude of the disciples, said. . . ." Thus, the Twelve were completed again long before the call of Paul. Further confirmation, if any were needed, is supplied by the last reference. After the Lord Jesus was roused, Paul says: "He was seen by Cephas, thereupon by the Twelve. Thereupon he was seen by James, thereafter by all the apostles. Yet, last of all, even as if by a premature birth, He was seen by me also." (1. Cor. 15:5-7).
(f) The apostles. This expression occurs about 40 times, and the context always shows who are intended. As might be expected, as soon as more than twelve apostles existed, the-description" the Twelve" could no longer be used except in such a way as to make it plain that none others were intended. So the less explicit description "the apostles" appears.
(g) The Apostle Paul. Saul (as he was named until Acts 13:9) is nowhere recognized under that name as an apostle. Not till Acts 14:14 is Paul spoken of as an apostle; and it is extremely important to note the point that here the text reads, "the apostles Barnabas and Paul." There is no reason to suppose that there was any inequality between them; but if there were, the superiority is plainly with Barnabas.
(h) Apostles of Christ. This term is found. in two passages only. The first, 2. Cor. 11:13, reads: "For such are false apostles, fraudulent workers, altering their appearance into apostles of Christ." The second is 1. Thess. 2:6: "... neither seeking glory from men, neither from you, nor from others, when we could be a burden as apostles of Christ." Rotherham (2nd edition) reads: "though we had power to be burdensome as Christ's apostles." This version has the inestimable advantage of showing the emphasis of the Greek. The New World Translation reads: "though we could be an expensive burden as apostles of Christ," with a marginal alternative: "be on our dignity." The word-for-word Greek reads: "being-able" (Middle) "in heavy to-be as of-anointed apostles." The alternative New World rendering, above, departs from the literal, but it may well be the best approximation to the sense, nevertheless. How would three such men as Paul, Silvanus and Timothy be a burden to such a keen and active church as that of Thessalonica unless they stood on their dignity and claimed some very special consideration and service? In what other way could they be a burden? And if, as three extra mouths to feed in a poor community they were a burden anyhow, why not leave it at that, instead of adding "as Christ's apostles"? It is hard to see how they could have been a burden unless, by coming there in their official position as apostles and by demanding special treatment, they would have brought heavy extra labour on their unfortunate hosts.
Objection has been taken to "as" being interpreted in the way implied in the foregoing; in the same sense, indeed, as in the words "as three extra mouths to feed." It is; admittedly, a difficult word to define. The C.V. Concordance, in listing its usages, says it is used "as a conjunction of time" and "as introducing a consequence," "as expressing design or aim"; each "as" being exactly parallel with "as Christ's apostles" here. The truth is, "as" is employed in a number of ways. Others occur in this epistle, yet we find also:
(i) The paramount apostles. In 2. Cor. 11 and 12 the Apostle Paul is concerned to defend his equality with what he calls "the paramount apostles" (11:5; 12:11). He claims that he is not deficient in any way by comparison with them. "Hebrews are they? I also," etc. (11:22). We are not told explicitly who "the paramount apostles" are; but if they are not the Twelve, it is impossible in the face of this comparison to imagine who they would be. And Paul does not say one single word here to suggest that he is one of them; but that he is deficient in nothing pertaining to them.
(j) 1. Cor. 9:1. Another suggestion which has been made is that this verse implies that it is necessary for One to have seen the Lord in order to be sent by Him and thus become an apostle. This is neither novel nor sound. The questions asked are quite separate. If one is a condition of apostleship, the other three are also. Even if we were to grant this, it would only prove that all who are named as apostles must somehow have seen the Lord Jesus.
(k) Apostles of churches. This term occurs in 2. Cor. 5:23 only: "... for the sake of Titus, my mate, and unto you fellow-workers; or our brethren, apostles of churches, Christ's glory." Elsewhere Paul says of Epaphroditus: "my brother and fellow-worker and fellow-soldier, yet of you apostle and minister of my need." (Phil. 2:25) That he was not an emissary of the Philippian church is shown by the fact that it was Paul who sent him to them and, later urged them to receive him (v. 29). That is all.
(l) Rom. 11:13. A flagrant error which is sometimes advanced, but which I have not seen for some considerable time, is that Paul was "the Apostle of the Gentiles." If this were true, it would prove that he was alone in his standing as an apostle and would be unique. As a matter of fact, Rom. 11:13 actually says: "I am Gentiles' apostle," and there is no "the" in the original before either word. Many versions and expositions are in error here, and the C.V. disgracefully fails to do better. Rotherham (2nd Edition), to his honour, will have none of this. He says, honestly, "I am an Apostle of Gentiles." There were others.
Private judgment is a matter about which there is a great deal of confusion. Roman Catholics accuse Protestants of rejecting the authority of "the Church" in favour of private judgment; but they take care to leave out of account the fact that one can accept their own authority only by an act of private judgment. The plain truth is that in nothing whatever can we escape having to make decisions for ourselves and about matters outside ourselves. We cannot avoid trusting some authority. If we are Roman Catholics, we have chosen the authority of "the Church" to expound the Scriptures. If we are Protestants, we have chosen the authority of the Scriptures themselves. In other words, the Protestant chooses to approach Scripture direct, the Roman Catholic at second hand; yet each choice is by an act of private judgment. If you can trust "the Church" to do your thinking for you, and it is a very big "if" indeed; then it is perfectly logical to be a Roman Catholic. What is not logical or reasonable in this action. is the trust itself. In effect, you are believing "the Church" because "the Church" tells you to. The moment you demand that it produce its credentials from Scripture itself, the whole pretence is blown sky-high.
Still, the system is logical and reasonable so far as it goes, even though that is not very far. What is irremediably illogical and unreasonable is to claim to be a Protestant, and therefore to claim to submit absolutely to the authority of the Sacred Scriptures, and yet at the same time to set aside any part whatever of that Authority in favour of personal private judgment, either of one's own or of some selected teacher. Once the decision, one way or the other—the Scriptures or "the Church"—is made, there is no going back. The Roman Catholic who begins to question or even argue about the pronouncements of Papal authority is soon thrown out. The Protestant who begins to question the authority of the Sacred Scriptures in any matter whatsoever immediately excommunicates himself from all real Protestants. The great tragedy for us, however, is that so many men stay on in positions of influence and power, and undermine our faith while pretending to support it. This point may be taken up more fully in another paper.
These reflections have been prompted by a curious discovery made in the course of the researches which culminated in the first part of this paper (August, 1957). It was noticed that to 2. Cor. 8:23 the 1930 C.V. appends the following note.
This shocking blunder might have passed unnoticed, as a: matter not worth bothering about, had it not been for the fact that recently the whole question of who were apostles and what sort of apostles they were has been forced on our attention. The Note refers to errors in other versions: it omits to notice a glaring one in the C.V. itself: "the apostles of the churches," in which "the," which is not in the Greek, is inexcusably twice added to the English. And the Note tells us that the six men "certainly were apostles of the churches." It would be interesting to learn just what churches "the churches" are! Once again, it must be pointed out that Scripture does not tell us a single thing about" apostles of churches" except when Paul writes to the Philippians of "Epaphroditus, the brother and fellow-worker and fellow soldier of me, yet of you apostle, and minister of my need" (Phil. 2:25 very literally). Now, if there ever were apostles despatched by churches, here surely would be the place to find them named. But no! Paul says "I send him. . . Receive him." (Phil. 2:28, 29).
These are facts, and if we are real Protestants, and therefore real Christians, we would accept such facts without question or demur. But facts are not good enough for some people, as the following quotation on the subject of "apostles of churches."
The comment that Rom. 16:7 "does not say 'apostles of Christ'" is typical of this way of dealing with Scripture. As already noted, the term "apostles of Christ" occurs twice only, and three alone of the whole of the apostles are thus named. No other references to apostles say "apostles of Christ": so this objection stands exposed as the fatuous nonsense it is. Even if we were to stretch the term to cover "Christ Jesus" and "Jesus Christ" that would add. only Paul and Peter, thus covering only about a quarter of all the apostles.
The idea that Paul was ever one of the Twelve is untenable; and, as we have already seen (pp. 181, 183) 1. Cor. 15:5-7 and 2. Cor. 11 and 12 plainly imply that he was not. Moreover, positive evidence exists. On the one hand, Scripture nowhere enumerates him with the Twelve; on the other, Matthias is plainly enumerated with the Eleven apostles and, immediately after Pentecost, this is confirmed in Acts 2:14; 6:2. I am told of my remarks in the middle of p. 22 (February 1957):
If there were any truth in the theory that Paul was the true twelfth apostle (and by now we clearly see there is none), Christ's disciples at the time of Pentecost must have been a pretty bad lot. For consider. On this theory, the very first thing they did after the ascension of the Lord Jesus was to elect another false apostle to take the place of Judas. Luke, the historian of these events and, if Acts is truly part of Scripture, the mouthpiece of God's Holy Spirit in so doing, recorded this deed without a scrap of adverse comment. Indeed, the next event is the endorsement of this (supposed) sinful act by the Holy Spirit himself at Pentecost. He descends on a "Twelve" of whom one is (supposedly) an impostor or, at best improperly and illegitimately elected. When, after a long delay, the true (?) twelfth, Paul, is chosen; a stony silence about his being the twelfth is maintained; and presently he is so ungrateful for the privilege as to repudiate it and also to repudiate the sign of covenant involved in it, circumcision. (Gal. 6:14-16). And not one writer of the Greek Scriptures had the courage to set out the facts plainly—if they were facts. And this extraordinary fantasy has been put out as Scripture truth!
Let us get this set down so plainly as to be beyond question. "The apostles of the Lamb" in Rev. 21:14 are identical with the Twelve after their number had once again been completed, and this new twelfth was Matthias. Their number was complete before Paul was called. He was not, and could not be, one of them.
The first reference to Barnabas is in Acts 4:36, 37:
Yet, in the face of all this, we are actually expected to regard Barnabas as of a different class from Paul, and, Paul as himself one of the Twelve. They were on equal terms addressing the apostles at Jerusalem; yet, on this ridiculous assumption, they were oblivious of the fact that Paul himself was really one of the company of these apostles and that none of them had any business to be ranking Barnabas equal with him. Could any idea be more outrageous? True, the apostles at Jerusalem are not here called "the Twelve," and only once in Acts (6:2—at Jerusalem) are they so described; but the fact that they were the apostles in Jerusalem, and that Peter himself speaks, makes it plain who are meant.
The suggestion has been made that the four questions in 1. Cor. 9:1 show that Paul was an apostle in a special way not shared by Barnabas; but in v. 6 he spoils the argument, such as it is, by deliberately associating himself with Barnabas, so that is invalid too.
Lastly, Ga1. 2:1 shows Paul and Barnabas in association, and Ga1. 2:9 the two again receiving recognition together, this time by the leaders of the Twelve. If it really were true that Paul was one of the Twelve; the fact that this point is not only nowhere made clear but in several of the foregoing passages is quite ignored, and by implication denied, calls loudly for an explanation. This is never given, understandably, because the theory does not make sense. I am told that in Acts 15:2:
After mentioning when "Barnabas drops out of the record," my critic says:
To sum-up: no evidence has been produced to show that "Barnabas was an apostle of a different class from Paul." On the contrary, out of the twenty-nine references to Barnabas, only eight mention him apart from Paul. Of the remainder nine refer to him first and twelve refer to Saul or Paul first. No evidence has been produced that Paul ever was, or could be, one of the Twelve, or that the election of Matthias as the twelfth was in any way improper or invalid. It has even been argued (in the face of Acts 1:26; 6:2) that "Matthias is never called an apostle by the Holy Spirit." Yet Paul is never called one of the Twelve by the Holy Spirit. If the first proves that Matthias was not an apostle, the second certainly proves that Paul was not one of the Twelve.
We may safely leave it at that.
R. B. WITHERS. Last updated 19.6.2006