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

Don Stewart :: Are There Still Apostles Today?

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Are There Still Apostles Today?

The Various Gifts of the Holy Spirit – Question 8

One of the major questions surrounding the gift of an apostle is its continuance. Are there still apostles functioning in the church today? Do people still hold this particular office or have this gift?

There are two basic views. One position sees the apostles having a limited ministry during the early years of the church. Hence there are no more apostles today.

Another perspective believes this was to be a continuing gift until the Lord returns. Therefore, people today do have the gift of an apostle though there is not the office of apostle in the same sense as in Jesus’ day. We can make the following observations.

View 1: The Gift of Apostle Was Limited to the Twelve and a Few Others

There is the perspective that the gift of apostle is no longer functioning in the church of Jesus Christ. It is argued that the gift was limited to the twelve apostles and certain other people who were living at their time. Once that generation of believers died, the gift was withdrawn. The following arguments are put forward to substantiate this view.

The Gift Was Foundational to the Church

The church was built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Paul wrote the following to the Ephesians about the nature of the church.

That is why you are no longer foreigners and outsiders but citizens together with God’s people and members of God’s family. You are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Christ Jesus himself is the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19-20 God’s Word).

These apostles were the foundational to the work of the Lord.

Paul later wrote to the Ephesians about how God’s truth had been revealed to this select group of people.

In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: (Ephesians 3:5 NRSV)

The foundation was laid long ago. Their purpose is no longer necessary.

The Requirements Cannot Be Fulfilled by Anyone Today

There were a number of specific requirements for an apostle that are impossible for anyone today. These include the following.

An Apostle Was an Eyewitness of Jesus’ Resurrection

Not only were the original twelve apostles to be eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection, all who had the gift of the apostle had to have seen the risen Christ. Paul, who was not one of the Twelve, wrote.

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? (1 Corinthians 9:1 ESV)

Only the first generation of Christians would meet this requirement. Obviously no one today could qualify for the gift of apostle if an apostle had to be an eyewitness of the resurrection of Jesus. Paul also wrote.

He was seen by Peter and then by the twelve apostles. After that, he was seen by more than five hundred of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died by now. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles (1 Corinthians 15:5-7 NLT).

Here Paul distinguishes between the Twelve and the rest of the apostles. All of them were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection.

The Gift of Apostle Was Accompanied by Miraculous Signs

The apostles also gave miraculous signs and wonders to confirm their unique position. Paul wrote the following to the Corinthians about the signs of an apostle.

When I was with you, I was patient and worked all the powerful miracles and signs and wonders of a true apostle (2 Corinthians 12:12 CEV).

Signs and wonders accompanied Paul’s ministry. They demonstrated that he had the proper credentials to be part of this unique group.

He also wrote about the power which accompanied his preaching.

And my message and my preaching were very plain. I did not use wise and persuasive speeches, but the Holy Spirit was powerful among you. I did this so that you might trust the power of God rather than human wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:4, 5 NLT).

Paul was given the ability to do miraculous signs. These were the signs of an apostle.

They Had Unique Authority to Receive Special Revelation

There is something else unique about the apostles. They had unique authority to receive special revelation from the Lord. Their calling and commissioning by Jesus Christ included the ability to receive and communicate divine truth.

On the night of His betrayal, Jesus promised them the following to this select group.

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come (John 16:13 NRSV)

Notice the promise of Jesus that the Holy Spirit would guide these men into “all truth” concerning what Jesus said and did. Only those who were with Jesus from the beginning could claim this particular promise. Indeed, nobody else would have been in a position to know they knew or to have seen what they saw. The Holy Spirit was going to bring these things back to their remembrance.

Paul Was the Last of the Apostles

We also find a further reason for believing the apostles ceased to exist sometime in the first century. The Apostle Paul indicates that there were no apostles after him. Indeed, he was the last of those to whom the Lord appeared. He wrote the following to the believers in Corinth.

Last of all, as to one abnormally born, He also appeared to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God (1 Corinthians 15:8, 9 HCSB).

Paul was the last person that Jesus Christ personally appeared to and commissioned. There is only one other recorded appearance of the risen Christ after the appearance to Paul – to the Apostle John on the Isle of Patmos.

The Holy Spirit and the Word of God Lead Us Today

Today, we do not need people, such as apostles, to lead us. We find that even they failed. This is illustrated with the failing of Peter at Antioch. Paul wrote.

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned (Galatians 2:11 NRSV).

As Peter himself stated, what we need to today is the certain prophetic Word – that will never let us down. We read.

So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19 NRSV).

Believers need to read and obey what God has already revealed – they do not need to listen to fallible human beings to get their direction.

Thus, there are obvious contrasts between the present age and the age of the apostles. While the gospel has not changed, God’s methods have changed. Consequently, the office of apostle is no longer with us.

Another View: Apostle Was to Be a Continuing Gift

Another perspective believes that the gift of apostle was to be a continuing gift in the church. Those who hold this view argue that word apostle has both a limited and wide sense. Since the term apostle is used in a wider sense than the twelve, the gift of apostle continues in the church to this day. The following points are usually made by those who hold this view.

The Twelve Were Chosen during Jesus’ Earthly Ministry

It must be remembered that the twelve were chosen when Jesus was on earth. Spiritual gifts were not given until the day of Pentecost. Therefore we must make a distinction between the twelve apostles, personally chosen by Jesus, and the gift of apostle, that was given by the resurrected and ascended Christ.

Consequently, in the strict sense of the term there are no more apostles apart from the original twelve. However the New Testament uses the term apostle in a wider sense as a missionary and church planter. The gift, therefore, seems to be still available if understood in this sense. We do not have to consider these people as individual leaders of the church – they are merely people given special gifts to serve the Lord in the capacity of a church planter or missionary.

Thus, while not having apostolic authority like Peter and John, they do have the gift to plant churches.

Paul Says God Gave Apostles to the Church

Paul says that apostles were given by God to the church of Jesus Christ. He wrote the following to the believers at Ephesus.

Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:8-12 ESV).

All this verse says is that Jesus gave some to be apostles. It says nothing about the duration or continuation of the gift. The Greek aorist tense that is used for the verb “gave” in this verse has the idea of action occurring without any reference to time. All this verse says is that Jesus gave these special gifts to individuals. The duration of these gifts cannot be determined from this passage.

Jesus Could Appear Personally to Someone and Commission Them

It is also argued by some people that Jesus Christ could appear to someone today and commission that person as He did the Apostle Paul. Indeed, there are individuals who have claimed that this is what happened to them. Therefore, it is possible that people with apostolic authority could still exist today.

Response

There seems to be several reasons as to why there will be no more apostles who have similar authority as the Twelve. They include the following.

Paul Was the Last Person Jesus Appeared To

Paul clearly says that he was the last person to whom the risen Christ appeared. While the risen Christ did appear to John on the Isle of Patmos, this was not to commission him to the ministry – that had already been long since done.

Paul’s Case Was Unique

Paul’s case was unique from the other apostles. He was specially chosen to be the apostle to the Gentiles. His ministry did not have any successors.

Great Christian Leaders of the past Have Not Claimed Such a Title

It should be noted that none of the great Christian leaders in the past have claimed this title for themselves. They have acknowledged the unique ministry of the apostles.

Would Anyone Dare to Claim Such Authority?

With the sacred commissioning and responsibility that came with the office of an apostle, it is hard to imagine any person today claiming such an authoritative office. Anyone who does make a claim to have this particular office should immediately be looked upon with the greatest of suspicion.

Indeed, it seems audacious, if not almost blasphemous, for someone in our present-day to claim similar authority as the apostles of Jesus Christ. They received direct revelation from God, had seen the risen Christ, were specially commissioned by Him, and were responsible for composing the New Testament. There is nobody today who should be considered as equal with them.

The Ministry of the Missionary Is Greatly Needed Today

While the office of apostle may not be with us today, this gift of missionary work and church planting is still greatly needed. It is a difficult, but necessary, task to establish churches and then equip those to spread the good news of Jesus. While it may not be the exact same gift referred to by Paul as “apostle,” the need is there nevertheless.

Summary – Question 8
Are There Still Apostles Today?

There is a debate among Bible believers as to whether there are still apostles today. Many believe that this particular gift of office was to small select group of people living the first century. There are a number of reasons as to why this view is held.

First, the gift was foundational to the church – the church was built upon the apostles and the New Testament prophets. They were the ones whom the Lord chose to reveal His truth to the world. These men were in a position to do this because they had been with Jesus.

Second, the qualifications of an apostle were clear. Each apostle had to have been with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry as well as being an eyewitness to His resurrection appearances.

We also find that each one of these people had to be personally commissioned by Jesus. The apostles were also in a unique position to give miraculous signs to authenticate their message.

In addition, they had unique authority to write Holy Scripture. With these conditions necessary for someone to be an apostle, it is impossible for anyone today to have the gift.

Finally, the Apostle Paul seemed to make it clear that He was the last person to whom personally Jesus appeared and commissioned to be an apostle. The inference is that the apostolic authority ended with him.

These arguments have not convinced everyone. Those who claim that there are still apostles today usually argue in one of two ways. There is the distinction made between the office of apostle, which is no longer with us, and the spiritual gift of an apostle, which is still given. Some attempt to define the gift of an apostle as a missionary or a church planter. While these men and women do not have the same authority as the apostles in Jesus’ day, they have been uniquely gifted like the first apostles to plant churches and teach new believers.

There are a few people which actually claim that the office of apostle is still with us. They say that the office of apostle was not instituted until after Jesus ascended into heaven. The fact that He appeared to those whom He commissioned merely means that a personal appearance from Christ is necessary to hold that office. There are people who claim that the risen Christ has appeared to them and given them that authority.

These types of claim are audacious to say the least. Anyone who would claim a personal appearance from Jesus Christ as well as apostolic authority is bordering on blasphemy. It is not that we doubt that Jesus could appear to someone today if He so chose to do, it is that those who claim these appearances give no evidence whatsoever they we are to look to them as being authority figures in the church.

Whether modern day church planters and missionaries have the spiritual gift of “apostle” we can safely say that their ministry is absolutely crucial. This is true even if it is not the exact same New Testament gift, or office, as apostle.

Were There Female Apostles? ← Prior Section
What Is the Gift of Prophecy? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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