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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature

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Apostle, a person sent by another; a messenger.

The term is generally employed in the New Testament as the descriptive appellation of a comparatively small class of men, to whom Jesus Christ entrusted the organization of His church and the dissemination of His religion among mankind. At an early period of His ministry 'He ordained twelve' of His disciples 'that they should be with Him.' 'These He named apostles.' Some time afterwards 'He gave to them power against unclean spirits to cast them out, and to heal all manner of disease;' 'and He sent them to preach the kingdom of God' (Mark 3:14; Matthew 10:1-5; Mark 6:7; Luke 6:13; Luke 9:1). To them He gave 'the keys of the kingdom of God,' and constituted them princes over the spiritual Israel, that 'people whom God was to take from among the Gentiles, for His name' (Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18; Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30). Previously to His death He promised to them the Holy Spirit, to fit them to be the founders and governors of the Christian church (John 14:16-17; John 14:26; John 5:26-27; John 16:7-15). After His resurrection He solemnly confirmed their call, saying, 'As the Father hath sent Me, so send I you;' and gave them a commission to 'preach the Gospel to every creature' (John 20:21-23; Matthew 18:18-20). After His ascension He, on the day of Pentecost, communicated to them those supernatural gifts which were necessary to the performance of the high functions He had commissioned them to exercise; and in the exercise of these gifts, they, in the Gospel history and in their epistles, with the Apocalypse, gave a complete view of the will of their Master in reference to that new order of things of which He was the author. They 'had the mind of Christ.' They spoke 'the wisdom of God in a mystery.' That mystery 'God revealed to them by his Spirit,' and they spoke it 'not in words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth.' They were 'ambassadors for Christ,' and besought men, 'in Christ's stead, to be reconciled to God.' They authoritatively taught the doctrine and the law of their Lord; they organized churches, and required them to keep the traditions,' i.e. the doctrines and 'ordinances delivered to them' (Acts 2; 1 Corinthians 2:16; 1 Corinthians 2:7; 1 Corinthians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 2:13; 2 Corinthians 5:20; 1 Corinthians 11:2). Of the twelve originally ordained to the apostleship, one, Judas Iscariot, 'fell from it by transgression,' and Matthias, 'who had companied' with the other Apostles 'all the time that the Lord Jesus went out and in among them,' was by lot substituted in his place (Acts 1:17-26). Saul of Tarsus, afterwards termed Paul, was also miraculously added to the number of these permanent rulers of the Christian society (Acts 9; Acts 22; Acts 26:15-18; 1 Timothy 1:12; 1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:11).

The characteristic features of this highest office in the Christian church have been very accurately delineated by M'Lean, in his Apostolic Commission. 'It was essential to their office—1. That they should have seen the Lord, and been eye and ear witnesses of what they testified to the world (John 15:27). This is laid down as an essential requisite in the choice of one to succeed Judas (Acts 1:21-22) Paul is no exception here; for, speaking of those who saw Christ after his resurrection, he adds, 'and last of all He was seen of me' (1 Corinthians 15:8). And this he elsewhere mentions as one of his apostolic qualifications: 'Am I not an apostle? have not seen the Lord?' (1 Corinthians 9:1). So that his 'seeing that Just One and hearing the word of his mouth' was necessary to his being 'a witness of what he thus saw and heard' (Acts 22:14-15). 2. They must have been immediately called and chosen to that office by Christ Himself. This was the case with every one of them (Luke 6:13; Galatians 1:1), Matthias not excepted; for, as he had been a chosen disciple of Christ before, so the Lord, by determining the lot, declared his choice, and immediately called him to the office of an apostle (Acts 1:24-26). 3. Infallible inspiration was also essentially necessary to that office (John 16:13; 1 Corinthians 2:10; Galatians 1:11-12). They had not only to explain the true sense and spirit of the Old Testament (Luke 24:27; Acts 26:22-23; Acts 28:23), which were hid from the Jewish doctors, but also to give forth the New Testament revelation to the world, which was to be the unalterable standard of faith and practice in all succeeding generations (1 Peter 1:25; 1 John 4:6). 4. Another apostolic qualification was the power of working miracles (Mark 16:20; Acts 2:43), such as speaking with divers tongues, curing the lame, healing the sick, raising the dead, discerning of spirits, conferring these gifts upon others, etc. (1 Corinthians 12:8-11). These were the credentials of their divine mission (2 Corinthians 12:12). Miracles were necessary to confirm their doctrine at its first publication, and to gain credit to it in the world as a revelation from God, and by these 'God bare them witness' (Hebrews 2:4). 5. To these characteristics may be added the universality of their mission. Their charge was not confined to any particular visible church, like that of ordinary pastors, but, being the oracles of God to men, they had 'the care of all the churches' (2 Corinthians 11:28). They had a power to settle their faith and order as a model to future ages, to determine all controversies (Acts 16:4), and to exercise the rod of discipline upon all offenders, whether pastors or flock (1 Corinthians 5:3-6; 2 Corinthians 10:8; 2 Corinthians 13:10).

It must be obvious, from this scriptural account of the apostolic office, that the Apostles had, in the strict sense of the term, no successors. Their qualifications were supernatural, and their work, once performed, remains in the infallible record of the New Testament, for the advantage of the Church and the world in all future ages. They are the only authoritative teachers of Christian doctrine and law. All official men in Christian churches can legitimately claim no higher place than expounders of the doctrines and administrators of the laws found in their writings.

The word 'apostle' occurs once in the New Testament (Hebrews 3:1) as a descriptive designation of Jesus Christ: 'The apostle of our profession,' i.e. the apostle whom we profess or acknowledge. The Jews were in the habit of applying the corresponding Hebrew term to the person who presided over the synagogue, and directed all its officers and affairs. The Church is represented as 'the house or family of God,' over which he had placed, during the Jewish economy, Moses, as the superintendent—over which he has placed, under the Christian economy, Christ Jesus. The import of the term apostle, is—divinely-commissioned superintendent; and of the whole phrase, 'the apostle of our profession,' the divinely-commissioned superintendent, whom we Christians acknowledge, in contradistinction to the divinely-appointed superintendent Moses, whom the Jews acknowledged.

It is scarcely worthwhile to remark that the Creed, commonly called The Apostles', though very ancient, has no claim to the name, except as it contains apostolic doctrine.





Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Apostle'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​a/apostle.html.
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