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.