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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Various Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Don Stewart :: Were Others, Apart from the Twelve, Called Apostles?

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Were Others, Apart from the Twelve, Called Apostles?

The Various Gifts of the Holy Spirit – Question 5

The twelve apostles that Jesus Christ chose were a unique group as well as a limited group. There is no doubt about this. However, it is important to understand that the term “apostle” is used in two senses in the New Testament. Indeed, it is used Jesus’ original twelve disciples as well as a few others who were also called apostles. The evidence is as follows.

The Apostles Were Specially Chosen

The Bible says that the Lord Jesus specially chose individuals who would become the apostles. We read the following in the introduction to the Book of Acts.

The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen (Acts 1:1, 2 NKJV).

Scripture is clear that Jesus chose a select group of men to be His apostles. Among other things, each of them had to have had the risen Christ appear to them.

These apostles testified to their experience with the resurrected Christ. The Book of Acts records the following.

And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all (Acts 4:33 ESV).

These apostles testified to their experience with the resurrected Christ.

Peter later spoke of the unique position the apostles of Christ had been given. He explained it in this manner.

But God raised him [Jesus] from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead (Acts 10:40-42 NIV).

Therefore, the Bible emphasizes the special calling of these men who were witnesses of appearances of the resurrected Christ.

Paul Was an Apostle

Paul was not one of the original Twelve. In fact, he was not a believer during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. However he is called an apostle in the Scripture. Indeed, this is a claim that he often made for himself. To the Corinthians he wrote.

For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, as though sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to mortals (1 Corinthians 4:9 NRSV).

Paul had the two major qualifications for an apostle; he had seen the risen Christ and he was specially commissioned by Him for the work of the ministry.

Paul Saw the Risen Christ

Paul testified to the Corinthian church that he had seen the risen Christ. He made the following claim in his first letter to them.

Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? (1 Corinthians 9:1 NKJV).

In this verse, he claims to be an apostle as well as having seen the Lord.

Luke, the writer of the Book of Acts, also gives testimony that the Apostle Paul did indeed see the risen Christ. At the time of this occurrence he was not the Apostle Paul but rather Saul of Tarsus a persecutor of Christians. Luke explained it in this manner.

He [Saul] asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do” (Acts 9:5, 6 NRSV).

Jesus appeared to Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road. Saul later became the Apostle Paul.

We also know that while Paul claimed to be an apostle, he also said he was the least of that group. He wrote to the Corinthians.

Next he appeared to James. Then he appeared to all the apostles. Last of all, he also appeared to me. I’m like an aborted fetus who was given life. I’m the least of the apostles. I’m not even fit to be called an apostle because I persecuted God’s church (1 Corinthians 15:7-9 God’s Word).

Paul places himself last on the list of those to whom the risen Christ had appeared.

Jesus Commissioned Paul

Paul also had the second credential necessary to be an apostle – Jesus specially commissioned him. At his conversion on the Damascus road, Jesus told Paul of his future ministry. We read of this in the Book of Acts.

“Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me’ (Acts 26:15-18 NIV).

The New Testament stresses that Paul was specially called to be the apostle to the Gentiles.

In his letters to the churches and to certain individuals, Paul emphasized his unique calling. For example, we read these opening words in his letter to the Romans.

This letter is from Paul, Jesus Christ’s slave, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News (Romans 1:1 NLT).

Here Paul says that he was chosen by God Himself to be an Apostle.

To Timothy, he wrote of the special appointment he had been given. We read.

I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service (1 Timothy 1:12 NRSV).

It is clear that Paul possessed the two credentials necessary for an apostle – seeing the risen Christ and receiving a special commission from Him.

James the Brother of Jesus Was an Apostle

The gospels testify that James, along with the other brothers of Jesus, did not believe in Him during the time of His earthly ministry. We read in John’s gospel.

For even his brothers didn’t believe in him (John 7:5 NLT).

This changed. James, one of the brothers of Jesus is listed among the apostles. Paul wrote of this to the Galatians.

And the only other apostle I met at that time was James, our Lord’s brother (Galatians 1:19 NLT).

Although James did not believe in Jesus during the time of His earthly ministry he eventually became one of the apostles.

There is more. James is also called a pillar of the church. When Paul wrote to the Galatians he said the following about James.

And when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised (Galatians 2:9 ESV).

James was in a position of leadership among the believers. In fact, Paul listed James on the same level as Peter and the other apostles.

Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? (1 Corinthians 9:5 NASB).

This verse also indicates that more than one of Jesus’ brothers believed in Him after His resurrection from the dead.

Like Paul, the Bible records an appearance of the risen Christ to James. Paul wrote about this to the Corinthians.

Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles (1 Corinthians 15:7 ESV).

The risen Christ appear to James at some unstated time and place.

We find that James seemingly presided at the council of Jerusalem. The Bible explains what took place as follows.

When they had finished, James stood and said, “Brothers, listen to me... And so my judgment is that we should stop troubling the Gentiles who turn to God” (Acts 15:13, 19 NLT).

Only someone with the commissioning of an apostle could do this. Especially since the other apostles were there at that meeting.

Finally, James’ authority was shown by the fact that he authored a New Testament book. Only a unique group of individuals were called to do this. Therefore the totality of the evidence from the New Testament indicates that James was also one among that select group of people called and commissioned by Jesus to be an apostle.

Barnabas Was an Apostle

Barnabas also served as an apostle – although he was not one of the original Twelve. The Book of Acts reads as follows.

When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting (Acts 14:14 NRSV).

Barnabas is clearly called an apostle.

Though he was an apostle, Scripture makes a distinction between Barnabas and the Twelve. The Bible says.

Joseph, a descendant of Levi, had been born on the island of Cyprus. The apostles called him Barnabas, which means “a person who encourages.” He had some land. He sold it and turned the money over to the apostles (Acts 4:36, 37 God’s Word)

While there are specific references of the risen Christ appearing to Paul and James, we do not find a specific reference that He appeared to Barnabas.

It seems clear that Paul, Barnabas, and James were all called apostles. There may have been a few others who were given this title.

Silas Was Possibly an Apostle

It is possible that Silas (Silvanus) was called an apostle. When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians he gave the following introduction.

From Paul, Silas, and Timothy. To the church at Thessalonica united with God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Good will and peace are yours!....We didn’t seek praise from people, from you or from anyone else, although as apostles of Christ we had the right to do this. (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2:6, 7 God’s Word).

Paul addresses his letter to the Thessalonians alone with Silas and Timothy. Later he speaks of “we apostles of Christ.” This may mean that Silas was to be included. While there is no specific reference of the risen Christ appearing to Silas, he, like Barnabas, is probably included in the category of “all the apostles” that the Lord appeared to after His death (1 Corinthians 15:7).

We do know that Silas was a leader in the Jerusalem church. The Book of Acts says.

Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers (Acts 15:22 ESV).

Therefore it is likely that Silas was another of the select group of individuals that was specially chosen by Jesus.

Timothy Was Probably Not an Apostle

Although Timothy is mentioned along with Silas in Paul’s greeting to the Thessalonians, there is no reason to believe that he was an apostle. There are a number of reasons as to why this is so.

First, he is never specifically called an apostle. Paul calls Timothy a “brother” and a “servant”, but the word apostle is never used to describe him. Although he was a traveling companion of Paul, Paul was careful not to include Timothy in the apostolic circle.

Second, it is unlikely that he would have met the New Testament credentials for this special office. Timothy learned about Jesus Christ, not from being one of Jesus’ many disciples, but from his mother and grandmother. Paul wrote to him.

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well (2 Timothy 1:5 ESV).

Since Timothy learned about Jesus from his family, rather than from directly knowing Jesus, he would not have had the credentials to be an apostle. In addition, he was from Lystra – a Gentile city. The Bible describes him in this manner.

Then he went on to Derbe and Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a believing Jewish woman, but his father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke highly of him. Paul wanted Timothy to go with him, so he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, since they all knew that his father was a Greek (Acts 16:1-3 HCSB).

Add to this that Timothy was half-Gentile. All of the other apostles were Jews.

It is possible that Jesus could have appeared to Timothy after His resurrection – Timothy was probably in Jerusalem during the Passover when Jesus was crucified and then raised. However there is no evidence that this occurred.

Consequently Timothy was an important person in the early church yet he was never spoken of as an apostle.

Andronicus and Junias May Have Been Apostles

Two people, Andronicus and Junias may have been among the apostles. We read about this in the Book of Romans.

Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me (Romans 16:7 NASB).

However this is anything but certain. The phrase, “outstanding among the apostles” may be speaking of the reputation of their work among the apostles – not necessarily placing them in this unique group.

Also, the term apostles in this context may be a general one referring to “messengers” rather than the usual sense of the term as specially chosen representatives of Jesus Christ. Whatever the case may be, there is simply not enough evidence to place these two people in the category of apostles.

The Word Apostle Was Also Used in a General Sense

The Greek word, translated “apostle,” is used in a general sense. Jesus used the word apostle in the general sense of a messenger. We read.

Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers [apostles] greater than the one who sent them (John 13:16 NRSV)

In this context, the word does not have the technical meaning “apostles.”

There are three other instances in the New Testament where the word may have also been used in a general sense of messenger.

There were a number of unnamed people who were apostles. Paul wrote to the Corinthians.

If anyone asks about Titus, say that he is my partner who works with me to help you. And these brothers are representatives [apostles] of the churches. They are splendid examples of those who bring glory to Christ (2 Corinthians 8:23 NLT).

The word translated “messengers” is the same Greek word for “apostles.” It is uncertain as to whether it is meant here in the technical sense of one specifically chosen by the Lord. It may have only the general meaning of messenger.

Epaphroditus Was a Messenger (Apostle)

The Greek word translated “apostle” is also used of Epaphroditus. Paul wrote to the Philippians with the following description.

But I considered it necessary to send you Epaphroditus–my brother, co-worker, and fellow soldier, as well as your messenger and minister to my need (Philippians 2:25 HCSB).

This also seems to be the use of the word “apostle” in the general sense of a messenger rather than in the technical sense of one specifically chosen and commissioned by the risen Christ.

Apollos May Have Been an Apostle

There have been those who have thought that Apollos was among the apostles. In First Corinthians we read the Apostle Paul using himself and Apollos as examples. He said.

I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another (1 Corinthians 4:6 ESV).

A few verses later he says.

For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute (1 Corinthians 4:9-–10 RSV).

The fact that Paul mentions “us apostles,” a few verses after he uses himself and Apollos as examples, has led some to conclude that Apollos was among the apostles.

However, if this were the case, then there would be a problem. Apollos was a Gentile believer. He had not been with Jesus Christ from the beginning of His ministry; neither did he see the resurrected Christ. In fact, the good news about Jesus had to be explained more accurately to him because he knew only about the baptism of John.

It says the following about him in the Book of Acts.

This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately (Acts 18:25, 26 NASB).

If Apollos is called an apostle, it is probably in the general sense of a messenger rather than the specific sense of one to whom Christ appeared after His resurrection from the dead.

Are There Apostles of the Churches and Apostles of Jesus Christ?

Some see a distinction between the apostles of the churches and the apostles of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote about certain ones who he called apostles, or representative of the churches. This attempts to make a distinction between the twelve who, except for Matthias, were chosen by Jesus and those other apostles who were chosen by the churches.

Jesus Himself Was Called an Apostle

The term “apostle” is also used of Jesus. We read in Hebrews.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, holy partners in a heavenly calling, consider that Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession (Hebrews 3:1 NRSV).

Jesus was an Apostle, or “sent one” in the sense that He was sent to the earth by God the Father. Obviously He was an Apostle in a different sense than the Twelve or anyone else.

There Were False Apostles

Paul gave a warning concerning people who were false apostles. Indeed, he cautioned the Corinthians about such people. We read.

For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:13 HCSB).

Note that these false apostles disguised themselves as “true apostles.”

John also warned against these people. We read the following words.

I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false (Revelation 2:2 NRSV).

This would have no meaning if the apostles were limited to the Twelve. Since the twelve apostles would have been well-known at an early date, it must refer to those beyond the original group of disciples.

Consequently, it is clear that there were more people given the title “apostle” beyond Jesus’ original disciples. We have no way of knowing for certain how many other apostles existed. Paul, James, and Barnabas were apostles and most likely Silas. However, beyond these men we do not know how many more people would have met the qualifications.

Therefore, we can conclude that we have a number of people, apart from the Twelve, who were called apostles. However, we cannot determine exactly how many there were.

Not Everyone Who Saw the Risen Christ Was an Apostle

However, not everyone who saw the risen Christ was commissioned to be an apostle. There were a number of women who saw Jesus on the day of His resurrection. There is no clear evidence that they, or any female, held the office of apostle.

Paul also said that over five hundred people at one time saw the risen Christ.

Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died (1 Corinthians 15:6 NRSV).

There is no evidence that all of these people became apostles. In summary, we conclude that while Jesus specifically chose twelve individuals to be His apostles there seems to be a number of others who also were given this designation.

Summary – Question 5
Were Others, Apart from the Twelve Called Apostles?

Jesus Christ chose twelve individuals to be His innermost core of disciples. These men were also called His “apostles.” When one of these apostles, Judas Iscariot, committed suicide after betraying Jesus, he was replaced by a man named Matthias.

Yet the term apostle was not limited to these twelve men. Indeed, we also find a number of other people who had the authority of an Apostle. This includes Paul, James the brother of Jesus, Barnabas, and possibly Silas. Each of these men was in a place of authority in the early church.

Saul of Tarsus, an enemy of the Christian faith, was met by the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. He then became the Apostle Paul. Paul not only saw the risen Christ he was also specially commissioned by Him.

James, along with the other brothers of Jesus, did not believe in Christ during His earthly ministry. However, James, and at least one other of Jesus’ brothers, became believers in the Lord after His resurrection from the dead. In addition to this, James became a leader in the early church. Paul specifically called James an “apostle.” We also find that Paul listed James as one of those people to whom the risen Christ appeared.

Barnabas was also said to be one of the apostles of Christ. Interestingly, those he is called an apostle the Bible makes it clear that he was distinct from the Twelve.

Others may have been apostles. This includes Andronicus, Junias, Epaphroditus and Apollos. Each of them was called an apostle. However, this may not have been in the sense of an authoritative leader.

While Timothy was a leader in the church, He was not an apostle. Scripture is clear that he did not possess the necessary qualifications. There is something else that we must appreciate. Not everyone who saw the risen Christ became an apostle. While seeing Jesus Christ after His resurrection from the dead was one of the qualifications necessary to become an apostle, this alone did not enough. Indeed, a person had to be specially commissioned by the Lord to be called an apostle.

Thus, there were indeed a number of apostles apart from the Twelve. As to just how many there were, we are not certain.

Who Were the Twelve Apostles? ← Prior Section
Was Paul the Twelfth Apostle? Next Section →
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