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Are there Apostles Today?

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Paul the Apostle

Paul the Apostle

The issue of modern apostles is a controversial one; since the apostles had such authority in the early church, modern-day apostles obviously would have a great degree of spiritual authority, and people usually doesn’t like that. The historical churches argue that their bishops are sort-of modern day apostles, and several Pentecostal and charismatic churches use the a-word when describing some of its leaders, especially in the majority (so-called “third”) world. Some evangelicals protest against this, arguing that there are no apostles today. I think they’re wrong.

To solve this question we obviously have to define what an apostle is. The word apostolos means “being sent out”, and when we look at what the apostles did in the New Testament, they were translocal church planting leaders who did miracles (Paul says that miracles are the sign of an apostle in 2 Cor 12:12). Now, these people do hang around today. Surprise Sithole, Heidi Baker and Hans Sundberg are just some people that have those kinds of ministries. Still, some are not ready to call these people apostles.

The main reason for this is that they point to Acts 1 where Matthias is elected to be an apostle since he has witnessed Jesus life from His baptism until his ascending to Heaven. Thus, since nobody has seen that today there are no apostles today, the argument goes. But if one thinks that the Acts 1 description is the definition of apostle, then Paul isn’t an apostle.

The key is of course that “the twelve” and apostles are not the same thing – there are many apostles, Paul lists additional ones in his letters (e.g. Rom 16:7). I would say that the Biblical understanding of an apostle is what we today call missionary – somebody travelling around planting churches, spreading revival and equipping the body of Christ. We’ve got rid of the title, not the ministry.

But doesn’t Paul say that he indeed has witnessed the resurrection of Christ as the “last one” in 1 Cor. 15? Well, if Acts 1 is the definition of an apostle and not just the twelve, Paul still wouldn’t make it if he just saw the resurrection and not the life of Jesus “from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us”.Furthermore, I think it’s wrong to think that Paul means that he is the last one ever seeing the resurrected Christ, since John did that again in Revelation. I know people today who have seen Jesus. Rather, Paul was the last one among those who he listed in 1 Cor 15, not the last one in world history.

But what if Paul did witness the life of Christ so that he could be an apostle according to Acts 1? A brother commented here on my blog yesterday and argued that this was the case.

I’ve actually never heard that some people think Paul witnessed Jesus’ life and death, it is surely very unusal to do so. Luke who wrote the book of Acts never mentions Paul in the gospels, which he surely would have done if Paul was present since he would become a central figure in Acts. No other Gospel mentions Paul either. And there is nothing in Paul’s epistles that indicate that he has personally met Jesus other than in his visions, or witnessed the events described in the Gospels. Rather, his sources are the Holy Spirit and what the other apostles had taught him. There is extremely little – if anything at all – in the Scriptures that indicate that Paul observed Jesus’ life and death. Rather, it’s a speculation on the same level like when Catholics say that Mary went to heaven. The Scriptures never say it happened – but hey, they don’t say it didn’t happen as well, right?

If one interpretes Acts 1 as the eternal definition of apostleship, with the conclusion that since Paul called himself an apostle, he must have witnessed Jesus’ life “from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us”. And with that reasoning, Andronicus and Junia also must have witnessed this (Rom 16:7), as well as Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Silas and Timothy (1 Thess 1:1, 2:6) and Apollos (1 Cor 4:6,9) –they were all secret witnesses ofthe ministry of Jesus, even though several of them didn’t even live in Israel, and they all replaced someone from the twelve when they died. Or did they?

The eleven elected a new twelth apostle not just because one of them had died, but because he had betrayed Jesus. When James died there isn’t an account of how he was replaced like in Acts 1. No, the names of the twelve are definitive, they will judge the world and their names will be on the gates of the new Jerusalem. Instead of Judas will be Matthias.

But hey, there are other apostles as well. Paul, Barnabas, Timothy, etc. You know, Acts 1:26 says “so he was added to the eleven apostles.” All the twelve are apostles, but not all apostles belong to the twelve. Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy etc were working in the ministry ofthe apostle, planting churches and spreading revival, without belonging to the twelve. And surely, apostolic leaders can do that as well.


  1. jonte95 says:

    “Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” Romans 16:7

    It doesn’t say these are apostles themselves, but that they are, “of note among the apostles”.

    Junia was a woman, which further proves that such interpretation would be wrong, since:

    1) All of the 12 Apostles were men, none of them were women.

    2) Paul said, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” (1 Timothy 2:12-14 ESV)

    An apostle would have to exercise authority, thus no woman can be an apostle.

    3) “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;” (1 Timothy 3:2 ESV).

    This assumes that a bishop is a male, which one of his attrbiutes “apt to teach” further proves, since the verses above proves a woman cannot teach or exercise authority, which means she cannot be a bishop.

    4) Early Church writings:

    “For it is not to teach that you women . . . are appointed. . . . For he, God the Lord, Jesus Christ our Teacher, sent us, the twelve [apostles], out to teach the [chosen] people and the pagans. But there were female disciples among us: Mary of Magdala, Mary the daughter of Jacob, and the other Mary; he did not, however, send them out with us to teach the people. For, if it had been necessary that women should teach, then our Teacher would have directed them to instruct along with us” (Didascalia 3:6:1–2 [A.D. 225]).

    “It is true that in the Church there is an order of deaconesses, but not for being a priestess, nor for any kind of work of administration, but for the sake of the dignity of the female sex, either at the time of baptism or of examining the sick or suffering, so that the naked body of a female may not be seen by men administering sacred rites, but by the deaconess” (Epiphanius of Salamis, Against Heresies 78:13 [A.D. 377])

    An apostle would be baptizing people, and since a woman cannot baptize, neither can she be an apostle.

    5) By the writings of Early Church fathers, we can see that women weren’t allowed to be priests, so why apostles?

    6) A female apostle would be against the established culture.

    7) I know of no Early Church record of a woman being an apostle.

    • Keter Malkut says:

      You know that Devorah (Deborah) was a Judge in Israel…Her authority was the highest in Israel and she was a woman…she led the men into battle and got the plans of the LORD for Israel…

      Food for thought!!! Selah!

  2. linda says:

    micael, this is interesting as i’ve never heard that an apostle has to have witnessed the major points of jesus’ earthly life, the periods of it you mention, but i have heard some say apostles had to have met him in person (probably in bodily form but don’t quote me on that part). also, i think i’ve heard taught here in the US that paul encountered jesus bodily and not merely in a vision. while i do believe, like you, that there are apostles today i’m not completely sure what the exact requirements are as far as how they encountered jesus. i look at the fruit of the people you mentioned like surprise sithole, etc who have planted so many churches, perform miracles and have encountered jesus and i just can’t come to any conclusion other than that they are apostles. i think those who think apostles are limited to the 12 then must not think all the spiritual gifts operate today. if one believes all the gifts operate today then it makes sense there would be apostles today at least in some parts of the world and church.

    as for junia i read scripture as telling us she was an apostle but i have no desire to debate that. we all come to scripture with our biases and filters reading scripture through the influence of our interpretive communities. while i believe what God has shown me to be true i acknowledge that i believe that by faith as all truth is known. we all see through a glass darkly, are subjective, and our grasp of objective truth is by faith. only God is objective and infallible. hopefully, this realization will keep us humble and gracious as we discuss theology in the body.

    also, i think christians can get really hung up on offices because they can imply power and authority which can be so problematic in the church. because of that i personally tend to shy away from using terms that, while i believe them to be biblical, may not be helpful at least in some circles. with certain friends i’ve found using the word “prophecy” will send them into a bit of a tailspin so i usually just say “hearing from God”. i’m sure “apostle” would also ruffle their feathers. in some churches it seems people use titles like “evangelist jane” or “apostle robert” but we really don’t see that done in scripture. while paul referred to himself as an apostle he never called himself or signed his letters as “apostle paul”. i think focusing more on the spiritual gift, rather than the office, helps us to stay focused on the work that God is doing through the person rather than the person and our all-too-human tendency toward pride.

    • Keter Malkut says:

      I so agree with you. The “church” organization has its roots in roman catholic church organization where a few folk with the pope as the ultimate, exercise authority over others as exclusive.

      This is directly in opposition to the Word of the LORD – a true leader in the LORD acknowledges that the LORD is the ONLY Leader and the others follow Him. If they do not they are not of Him. In 1John we are told to test EVERY spirit (there is no exclusion for leaders), which means we also test the spirit of every person who calls themselves leaders – this is not negative, it is responsibility within the LORD. If a person’s motives are evil in doing so they will be judged by the LORD – Romans 14:4.

      In Matthew 23:8-10 JESUS told us to only call the LORD our Father and Teacher. When you combine that with testing the spirits we know we have to go to the Father regarding everything we accept and every person we accept.

      Second, in 1John 2:27 we are told that the ANOINTING within us will teach us and so we do not have to go to any person to teach us. This directly confirms Jeremiah 31:33-34.

      There are apostles today – see Ephesians 4:11 – with no qualification. If we qualify apostles in the verse, we should also qualify the other ministries mentioned in the same verse.

  3. Aidan says:

    Great thoughts.

    In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 we read how after Jesus’ resurrection he appeared to “the twelve”. Of course there were only 11 of them at that point, so “the twelve” is being used as a title for the group, not necessarily stating a limit on the number of apostles. Jesus then appeared to 500 people, then to James (could have been the son of Zebedee or Jesus’ half brother). Paul then says Jesus “appeared to all the apostles. Didn’t he already appear to “the twelve”? Maybe there were more ‘sent ones’ than ‘the twelve’.

    James and Jude, Jesus’ half brothers wasn’t Jesus’ disciples but later work with authority among the apostles, with James sending edicts from Jerusalem and both writing their own books of the bible. It seems at least James could be considered an apostle.

  4. PeterC says:

    I personally would have doubt as to there being apostles today. When other church leaders questioned Paul’s apostleship, his reply was that he had witnessed Jesus physically after his resurrection (He appeared to the twelve, then also to me) which seemed to be the main qualifying criteria. He has not returned to earth since so I suspect Paul was the last apostle. It should also be noted that when Paul said ‘Are all apostles,…’ it was when most if not all of the Apostles were still alive, so it should not be assumed that this ‘office’ of the church would continue after then. Having said that I appreciate other arguments. But my main ‘gripe’ with this issue is when certain leaders appear to set themselves up as an ‘apostle’ thus clothing themselves with certain authority that others presumably dont have, eg the Voice of the Apostles. It is the opposite of being humble which leaders should be. A leader in the church may have been given certain gifts, but pl dont start calling yourself or each other ‘apostles’!

    • Keter Malkut says:

      Why are you assuming that Paul giving the narrative of his seeing the LORD supported his office as an apostle?

      Apostle means Messenger – as a foundational ministry, we know that they are more than all of us – who are all messengers of the LORD and His Word. There was a foundational Authority in the Apostle who was a called out one for a specific work. Because of that specific Authority that was of the LORD Himself they had an understanding and power to deal with that work, which no other person would have. It is the same for the Prophets who are called of the LORD as Foundational ministers.

      Prophets are thought of as those who prophesy, which is not correct at all. They constantly looked to bring people back to the Father and the Path of Holiness. They walk with an Authority to discern and are used, especially in these days to shut down false works. We will see many “ministries” being cleansed in these days.

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The author

Micael Grenholm, a Swedish charismactivist, apologist and author.

Micael Grenholm, a Swedish charismactivist, apologist and author.

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