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Number of Apostles


The Bible gives qualifications for Apostles.  These qualifications come from those applied by the 11 original Apostles as they sought to find a replacement for Judas:

  1. A new Apostle had to have traveled with Jesus from His baptism to His ascension (Acts 1:21-22a).

  2. A new Apostle had to be a witness of our Lord's Resurrection (Acts 1:22b).

  3. A new Apostle had to be male (Acts 1:23).

No person today can meet the first and second requirements.

Furthermore, Apostleship was a gift given to establish the church.  Notice the figure of the universal church as a building in Ephesians 2:19-22.  In that figure, the Apostles are the foundation.  It would be hard to believe that after two thousand years the foundation of the church is still being built.  In fact the teaching of the passage is that our Lord is the Cornerstone, the Apostles and Prophets are the foundation, and all the other members of the Church make up the building which is being built on the foundation.   For me that settles the question.  There are no Apostles today and we should not identify any to include in our local church structure.   There are two other ideas that some use to support present day Apostles.

  1. The Apostle Paul:  Paul could not be numbered among the Twelve, but he was a witness of the Resurrection (1 Corinthians 9:1b; 15:8) and claimed authority direct from Christ (1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 15:1-5). The Apostle Peter agreed that Paul had this authority (2 Peter 3:2, 15-16).

  2. Other Apostles:

    • James, the brother of Christ:  He was an elder in the church at Jerusalem and a writer of Scripture (perhaps as a prophet?) but Scripture never calls him an Apostle.  Galatians 1:19, though often brought forward as a verse that says he was an Apostle, only says for sure that Paul visited James, not the 12 Apostles.  As you study through Acts you see that the first leaders of the Jerusalem church were the Apostles, then there was period when the leadership consisted of Apostles plus non-Apostles, and then a final period consisting only of non-Apostles.  Likewise, 1 Corinthians 15:7 only certainly says the Lord after His resurrection appeared to James before He appeared to all twelve of the Apostles.

    • However, there are others besides Paul and the Twelve who are called Apostles.  In Acts 14:4, 14, Barnabus is called an apostle.  But, the only thing certain here is that Barnabus was an apostle of the Antioch church, not a formal Apostle.  Notice that church at Antioch sent out Barnabus, not our Lord (Acts 13:1-3).  Here apostle is being used in its more common usage, simply as a representative (i.e., missionary) authorized by a local church to minister in the Word in other fields.  There is no scene like Mark 3:14-19 or Acts 1:12-26 for Barnabus . . . only Acts 13:1-3.  By the way, Paul was both an Apostle of our Lord and an apostle of the church at Antioch.

    • Paul speaks of himself as having been in the company of apostles of Christ at the church in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2:6b).  Paul is apparently talking about his co-travelers, Silas and Timothy (1 Thessalonians 1:1a).  There is no recorded scene in which the Lord or the twelve Apostles appointed Silas as a formal Apostle.  But there is an Acts 13:1-3-like scene in which it could be said that he is appointed an apostle of the church at Jerusalem (Acts 15:22).  Silas then took off with Paul on his 2nd missionary journey.  Silas was also a prophet (Acts 15:32).  Timothy was discovered by Paul at the beginning of that journey and he took him along.  Again we are not told that the Lord or the twelve Apostles appointed him as a formal Apostle.  But, traveling with Paul and Silas on the journey apparently authorized by the Jerusalem church, Timothy could be called an apostle (i.e., missionary) of that local church.

    • That Andronicus and Junias were formal Apostles based on Romans 16:7 is not a very strong argument.  The verse can, and probably does mean, that the two were well known to the Apostles, not that they were Apostles.  For example, notice the following Versions:

      • "Remember me to Andronicus and Junias, my tribal kinsmen and once my fellow prisoners. They are men held in high esteem among the apostles, who also were in Christ before I was (Amplified Bible)."

      • "They are respected among the apostles (New Living Translation)."

      • "They have been respected missionaries (New Life Version)."  These translators apparently believe that apostles mean missionaries in this context.

      • "They are well known to the apostles (English Standard Version)."

      • "They are highly respected by the apostles (Contemporary English Version)."

      • "The apostles think they are good men (Worldwide English)."

    • The conclusion is that there were apostles that were like the missionaries of today but who did not have the position, the authority, and the abilities of the Twelve and of Paul.

So, we could say that we have apostles today.  But it would be better to call them missionaries or domestic workers so that they would not be confused with the Twelve Apostles and the Apostle Paul.  There are no Apostles today.