What are Apostles, and are they alive today?


What are Apostles, and are they alive today?

In this short blog, I will answer two critical questions regarding the spiritual gift of the apostle:

1) What is the historical background of the word apostle?

2) Are apostles still alive today?

Let’s get going.

1) What is the historical background of the word apostle?

The easiest way to discover the meaning of the word apostle is to break it apart from its original language.

Greek word = Apóstolos

 apo = from 

stello = send forth 

Apóstolos = To be sent forth from

However, like so many words found in the New Testament, the word apostle is not a uniquely “Christian” word. So, diving in a bit deeper to the word apostle’s historical background sheds even more light on its meaning than just breaking apart the word.

Bible teacher Rick Renner tells us that roughly 300 years before Jesus was born, the word apostle (apóstolos) was used to describe “an admiral, the fleet of ships that traveled with him, and the specialized crew who accompanied and assisted the admiral.”

Renner continues, “The fleet would be sent out to sea on a mission to locate territories where civilization was nonexistent. Once an uncivilized region was identified, the admiral (called the Apostolos) — along with his specialized crew and all their cargo and belongings — would disembark, settle down, and work as a team to establish a new community. Then they would begin the process of transforming a strange land into a replica of life as they believed it should be. Their purpose was total colonization of the uncivilized territory.”

What a fantastic image. An apostle was a leader sent out to further the boundaries of a kingdom by expanding its influence into new territory. 

And that is what we see when we look at the first mention of the word apostle in Scripture in Matthew 10:1, “And he (Jesus) called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.”

2. Are there apostles alive today?

There is no doubt this question stirs up quite a bit of controversy, and understandably so. Depending on how the argument is framed, there are potentially some massive things at stake.

The group of people who claim there are no longer apostles today typically base their claim on two things.

1) Apostles were needed to establish the early church. 

2) Apostles were writers of Scripture, and now that the Bible is completed, they are no longer needed.

Hence, in their logic, now that the church is established and the Bible is finished, they claim there is no longer a need for apostles today. 

While I applaud the desire to guard the earliest apostles’ authority and the Scripture’s authority, I believe this argument misses something essential.

I believe there is a clear and necessary distinction made in the New Testament between the foundational apostles chosen by Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:3-9) and other individuals referred to as apostles throughout the New Testament. 

There is no doubt that the foundational apostles, chosen by Jesus, had a special place in the early church’s founding. 

So much so that when Judas betrayed Jesus, the other apostles made sure to choose another apostle to take his place (Acts 1:26). This shows us that this particular position held a special place in the early church.

However, the New Testament also depicts a secondary category of people who were not chosen by Jesus directly, yet we are told they possess the gift of apostleship. 

Here is a brief list of these people:

Barnabas (Acts 14:14)

Andronicus and Junias (Romans 16:7)

James (Galatians 1:19)

Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25)

Apollos (1 Corinthians 4:69)

Two unnamed apostles (2 Corinthians 8:23)

Timothy and Silas (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2:6).

So are apostles alive today? My answer to that is it depends on what do you mean by an apostle. 

If you ask if apostles continue to exist that serve the same role as the early church’s foundational apostles, then my answer is no.

However, if you ask if there are apostles like the names listed above, then my answer is yes for two reasons.

1) The Scripture lays out a clear distinction between the foundational apostles chosen by Jesus and other people who possess a gift of apostleship to expand the gospel to new territories. 

2) There is still a need to expand the kingdom of God into new territories.

Until Christ returns and the whole world hears the good news of the kingdom, there will continue to be apostles breaking forth new territories for God’s kingdom. 

Perhaps God has gifted you in this way? Why not take a step and see what spiritual gifts God has given you through our free mobile-friendly spiritual gift test.

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