October 15, 2011

Apostle ἀπόστολος

What is an Apostle?

There are two ways to answer this question. First, within the “norms of language” and according to Greek, an apostle in its strictest translation means/meant “sent one” or “agent” and comes from the word apostolos / ἀπόστολος. Regardless of the terminology the idea behind an apostle is that they are “a man’s agent” and is “like unto himself…” or one sent in place of another as a representative. Here we begin to see the true heart of what an apostle is both in the context of the culture, language and in the context of those selected by Jesus to carry on the Gospel and His teachings. A modern equivalent of an apostle in terms of a concept is “the power of attorney” in modern legal terminology. The other is an actual Apostle of Christ or those that were hand chosen by Jesus (Grudem 906, 911)

It is interesting to note that the term apostle was not given its lofty position until its involvement in the Roman Catholic Church or other church bodies that try and trace apostolic succession of their leadership to the original 12 apostles. What we must understand is that the Apostles Jesus selected were normal men with and exceptional calling. The one unique quality of the Apostles that Jesus picked was the fact that they were not exceptional at all. If anything they are average men. The Apostles were picked for their “ordinariness”.

Initially, the term apostle could be given to anyone sent by someone else. Even a 1st century slave being sent on an errand for his master could be called an apostle. Some advocate the recognition of contemporary apostles and use the term apostolic as noted in some sources. There are on the other hand churches (many of which are Protestant) that claim “apostolicity” due to the fact they teach the same things the original Apostles taught which actually a perpetuation of the Great Commission command by Jesus Himself of Matthew 28:19-20. To avoid games of semantics it would be safe to assume most Christian denominations view themselves as at least in some “sense” apostolic since they teach what Jesus taught the original apostles.

When we combine the above information we can begin to form a proper definition of apostle as being adherents of what they represent. In another words, real apostles as an office were appoint by Jesus Himself to act on behalf of Him. But this is not enough of a definition. So who qualifies a person to fulfill that role? We see further in denominational poistion papers that Apostles needs to have been baptized in the Holy Spirit as a final preparation for their mission. They are also to They were given spiritual gift(s) and power required for their office. We also need to draw a distinction between “Apostles of Christ” who actually witnessed the risen Lord and the “Apostles of the Churches.” Who although they did not witness the risen Christ, the Apostles of the Church still act as representatives of the church (or Christ) but the word apostle to denote them is used in the generic (agent) sense as a “sent one” not as one of the original twelve. This being said, if we are speaking of the “office” of an Apostle we are speaking of something completely different.

The issue then arises… can the office of Apostle be a transferable form as an institutionalized process or did it end in the first century with Jesus’ small hand-select group? It is also clear that while the Apostles of Christ themselves were leaders in the Early Church, there was no provision for their replacement or continuation of their particular office. As we further see, after Judas there is no true apostolic succession. The first case-in-point is James who is executed by Herod. He is not replaced nor are any of the other apostles directly appointed by Jesus afterward. There are episcopos, diakonos and presbyteros…but not apostolos. There are even hints directly within Scripture that the Apostles of Jesus have no later successors as noted by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:8 when Paul talks about the Resurrection and post-Resurrection appearances of Christ and then says “last of all he appeared to me” meaning he appeared no more after Paul. If this is to be taken literally which I believe it is, this means the Apostles of Christ stop at Paul. In addition the Apostles appointed by Christ directly have very unique and qualitative characteristics. Although some of these characteristic can be said of others besides the Twelve and Paul…not all of them can be. They are as follows:

1. They saw the risen Lord and been commissioned by Him as witnesses to His resurrection
2. A personal call or commission of the risen Christ, consummated by baptism in Holy Spirit
3. Apostles were supernaturally equipped for prophetic preaching and teaching.
4. With the apostolic gift came miraculous spiritual gifts.
5. They were the authoritative teachers of the Early Church in both belief and practice.
6. Apostles were commissioned as missionaries and church builders.
7. Suffering for Christ’s sake seems to have been a major mark of the apostolic office.
8. Apostles were pastoral and relational.

Drawing from this evidence the term Apostle in the sense that they are direct appointees of Jesus and given the full manifestations above--I believe that office is now defunct. On the other hand: The more generic sense of the term apostle as meaning one acting on behalf of a Master as an “agent” is still a valid definition. In the case of a Christian, we are all apostles in the sense that we (1) represent One sending us through our actions and words and (2) we carry on the teachings of the One sending us. So in a figurative sense, yes we are apostolic...but the literal Apostles stopped with Paul's selection as one "ill born" and the death of John who appeared to be the longest lived and not martyred.

Note: Someone asked me what the term "ill born" meant when referring to Paul. Paul makes a statement in 1 Corinthians 15:8 about his apostleship..."Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me" [referring to Paul's claim to have seen the risen Christ]. The word untimely is often translated also as abnormally born, ill born, etc...a literal translation of the greek ἐκτρώματι / ektromati is that Paul is born into the Faith as an abortion or prematurely born dead...or as I translated it: ill born.

Grudem, Wayne A.. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2000. Print.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...