Do "Apostles" Exist Today?
Depending on your church background, you may have not thought about this question. Some traditions will say no because the term “apostle” only applies to the twelve apostles. While other traditions will say yes, the role of an apostle is still functioning today within the church. I believed and even taught that the role of an apostle does not function today because in Acts 1, Peter says a replacement needs to be chosen for Judas Iscariot. Peter gives some specific guidelines for who is qualified to replace Judas. One who has been with them the whole time Jesus went in and out among them, beginning with John’s baptism to when Jesus was taken away from them. This person would become a witness with the other eleven apostles of Jesus’ resurrection. Typically, this is where the definition of an apostle comes from, an eyewitness of Jesus’ resurrection. Then the conclusion is drawn, since there are no eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection alive today, there is no apostles. The role of an apostle has ceased when the 12 apostles died. But is this true?
Let’s begin by asking what is the definition of the word “apostle”? Simply put, it refers to a person who is sent, as a messenger or representative. They come holding the same authority as the person who is sending him or her. In Luke 6:12-16, we see Jesus calling out twelve men who will be his apostles or messengers. They will have the same authority as Jesus, which is why when he sent them out, they were able to do miracles, just like Jesus. But this term can be used to refer to anyone who is sent out as a messenger or a representative of anyone. And this is where we need to turn to the Bible and see how the Biblical writers use this term. Do they use it to just refer to the twelve apostles or do they use this term in a broader sense?
The Greek word that is translated as “apostle” is used 81 times in the New Testament (I have listed those references below for your own person study). The majority of the time, when the New Testament writers use this term, they refer to the twelve apostles, the ones Jesus sent out to be His witnesses of the resurrection. But this term is also used in some other interesting ways, again as that basic meaning of a messenger or representative of another person. Jesus is called an apostle in Hebrews 3:1 because Jesus was sent by the Father as His representative to the world. Epaphroditus is called an apostle in Philippians 2:25 because he was sent by the church in Philippi to Paul, who was in prison. In Acts 15:33 after the Council of Jerusalem, the church in Jerusalem sent messengers to travel with Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch. These men were called apostles. Again, the majority of the time this word is used to describe the twelve whom Jesus sent to be witnesses of His resurrection, but not one hundred percent of the time.
In fact, in 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians Paul talks about false apostles. Who were these people and what made them to be false? They were individuals who said that one of the twelve apostles sent them and then they began to teach people something that went against the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul was constantly telling the people to not listen to these so called “apostles” because they were not sent by the twelve.
So, what does this mean. Can “apostles” exist today? The answer is yes and no. Let’s begin with the “no” first. We must answer this question no regarding to how this term is used to describe the twelve disciples along with Paul, James the brother of Jesus, Silas, and Barnabas. In the New Testament all these individuals were called apostles because they were sent by Jesus, as His messengers to be witnesses of the resurrection. They came with the same authority as Jesus because they were His representatives to the world. No one today, functions in the church how they did. But there are still active apostles today in the body of Christ. They are those individuals whom the church sends out as messengers, i.e. missionaries, just as the church in Philippi sent Epaphroditus and the Council of Jerusalem sent those individuals with Paul and Barnabas
I would encourage you to read the verses below and to see for yourself how the Biblical writers use the term “apostle” so that you are able to draw your own conclusions.
Luke 6:13; 9:10; 11:49; 17:5; 22:14; 24:10
Acts 1:2; 1:26; 2:37; 2:42; 2:43; 4:33; 4:35; 4:36; 4:37; 5:2; 5:12; 5:18; 5:29; 5:34; 5:40; 6:6; 8:1; 8:14; 8:18; 9:27; 11:1; 14:4; 14:14; 15:2; 15:4; 15:6; 15:22; 15:33; 16:4
Romans 1:1; 11:13; 16:7
1 Corinthians 1:1; 4:9; 9:1, 2, 5; 12:28; 12:29; 15:7; 15:9 (used twice in this verse)
2 Corinthians 1:1; 8:23; 11:5; 11:13; 12:11; 12:12
Galatians 1:1; 1:17; 1:19
Ephesians 1:1; 2:20; 3:5; 4:11
1 Thessalonians 2:6
1 Timothy 1:1; 2:7
2 Timothy 1:1; 1:11
1 Peter 1:1
2 Peter 1:1; 3:2
Revelation 2:2; 18:20; 21:14