What is an Apostle?

Note: This subject deserves and demands much more attention, study and explanation than I can give in this short space. There are resources that give a more in-depth and formal treatment of the subject of apostles, and I’ll try to list a few  at the end for those looking for a more scholarly examination.  For being brief and simplistic, I apologize to you. My purpose here is to just touch on the subject at a level that folks might find both interesting and helpful without challenging them to a college-level investigation of the office of Apostle. Greg

What Is an Apostle?

We’re living today in an incredible moment of history and destiny. Maybe you have read stories of ‘the great’ men and women of revival, reformation and revolution, subconsciously thinking, ‘I wish I had been alive in those times.’

We often fantasize what it must have been like to walk with Paul and Barnabus into Antioch to establish the Church there, or to pray with Paul and Silas at midnight in a Philippian jail.

We read about Patrick and Luther and Wigglesworth and Wesley and Roberts and Spurgeon, Edwards and Moody and Lake and Price and Etter and McPherson and we want to climb back down the historical ladder and learn from these great men and women of God and see what they saw and experience what they experienced. 

And all the while we are unaware that Kingdom history is being made, day by day, act by act and life by life in our own generation.

Too often we look backward to find the Apostle and too seldom do we seek to find such a person in our own time and space. Maybe that’s why the Catholic Church has always recognized its saints long after their last teachings, miracles and breaths were taken. We’re too suspicious that somebody sharing the same air that we breathe could actually have been set apart “for the work whereunto (God has) called them” as the Apostle Paul was.

We tend either to grow too cynical or too naive in our estimation of ‘whom’ and ‘what’ someone might be in God’s eyes. There’s a crowd that will never allow for the possibility that the guy down the street, walking with his wife in the cool of the morning or pushing his grandson on a swing in the park might be a genuine, bona fide Apostle of Jesus Christ.  And there’s another crowd, just as prolific as the first bunch that seems to be carrying around ready-made name tags to pin on anybody who isn’t a pastor but who speaks with any authority or at least with an authoritative-sounding voice.

There’s a section in my library where I’ve collected various books on the subject of ‘The Apostle.’ Over the years I’ve been handed nearly everything in print on the topic, and while I’ll admit I haven’t read every page of every book, I’ve at least scanned those that I haven’t read.

Some of these books are really very good. My conclusion after reading not a few volumes is that I’d rather get my news from the most authoritative source I can find – and that’s not CNN, FOX News or the alphabet soup of television information groups or Christian Television networks.

I’ve read the staunch opponents of any thought of contemporary apostles. These scholars want to keep the apostle safely sandwiched between the books of the Gospel of Matthew and the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Any suggestion that an apostle might crawl out of the pages of the New Testament and escape into modern life is seen by these literalists as akin to heresy. To these folks I would ask simply to consider the following scripture found in Ephesians 4:11-13:

And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God's Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ's fullness.

Just some brief thoughts:

A. God “gave” some to be 1) apostles 2) prophets 3) evangelists 4) pastors and 5) teachers. God is the Giver of these gifts, and He, not man must be the Remover of the gifts. I have not yet discovered the scriptural basis for removing any of these offices (in spite of the logic applied by the Opponents of Office mentioned earlier).

B. These gifts were given “for the training of the saints in the work of ministry” and “to build up the body of Christ.”  May I ask, are the saints all trained now? Have the saints been sufficiently prepared to do the “work of ministry?” Were the First Century saints (after all, apostles only lived during the First Century and could only have trained their contemporaries) trained so well that they have reached all the way from their time into the 21st Century? May I ask, is the body now “built up in Christ” to an acceptable level, and is this the fruit of First Century saints?

C. Have we all at last reached “unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son?” The implication and emphasis in the text we quoted is “until...”  “Until we all reach unity in the faith...” “Until we obtain unity “in the knowledge of God’s Son” Until we have grown “into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” When the "until" arrives, the apostle can go, but not "until." Do you seriously believe that we, the church, have reached "until....?"

Ask yourself – have we, the church “arrived” at the level, place and height that God is calling us to? And if we have not, why would God remove the gift, office, work, effort and effect of the apostle “until” these things are achieved?

Secondly, if we are allowed to reach into Ephesians 4 and remove the word “apostle” what can restrain us from removing the word “pastor” or “teacher” or “evangelist?” I personally want to leave Scripture untouched and unedited. The Bible tells me that God “gave...until.” I’ll leave it with God to determine when the “until” has been reached, and I dare not delete any of the offices and gifts He has given.

There is a biblical template – one often overlooked at great peril to those who would construct their own definitions of the office and gift. I’d like to start there before meandering someplace else. Remember, this isn’t an exhaustive study, I’m just pointing out a few examples here.

The first time you’ll encounter the word ‘apostle’ in Scripture is in Romans, chapter one. There, Paul writes of himself, “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God.” And here we find the first hint at what an Apostle of Jesus is: “separated unto the gospel of God.” The “gospel” means “good news” so we can rightly read, “separated to the good news of God.”

I sometimes refer to The Message Bible to find confirmation or clarity of a particular verse, and in this case, The Message says, “I, Paul, am a devoted slave of Jesus Christ on assignment, authorized as an apostle to proclaim God's words and acts. I write this letter to all the Christians in Rome, God's friends.”

I like that: “a devoted slave of Jesus Christ,” “on assignment,” “authorized...” That’s a good order as far as I’m concerned, and an important one: Paul says he is first and foremost “a slave.” Then he is a “slave on assignment” and only lastly, “authorized.” I’m no expert on Apostolic Networks, Groups, Affiliations or Associations, but sadly it seems to me that when I’ve encountered a lot of these ‘apostles’ the first thing that comes across in their demeanor and through their actions is one of ‘authority.’ I’ve even heard some of these guys say of themselves, “an apostle has authority in the church,” and, while that’s true, I think it might better be digested by us poor saints if first of all the ‘apostle’ showed us what it means to be a ‘”slave of Jesus” and to tell or show us what his ‘assignment’ from heaven is. We could maybe recognize the ‘authority’ thing more easily if it were preceded by those two important distinctions: ‘slave’ and ‘assignment.’

The next time the word ‘apostle’ appears is in Romans 11:3. Paul there writes, For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:

Follow me to the word ‘magnify.’ It sounds as though Paul is bragging, doesn’t it? If we look at the original word Paul used (it was a Greek word. In spite of Paul’s great intellect, he didn’t speak English) we’ll find his word is ‘doxavzw,’ pronounced ‘Doxazo.’ The word is then translated into English as ‘magnify’ (King James). Other versions (Darby, Young) use the word ‘glorify,’ and a couple (the Latin Vulgate and the Douay-Rheims Bible) give the word ‘honor.

Looking at the word ‘magnify’ we might get the idea of worship, since we’re accustomed to saying, “magnify the Lord” in our worship. But the word ‘magnify’ actually means to “enlarge, expand or to increase.”

The Greek doxavzw – magnify – is “to think, suppose; to praise, extol, magnify, celebrate. To honor, do honor to, hold in honor, to make glorious, adorn with luster, clothe with splendor; to impart glory to something, render it excellent to make renowned, render illustrious; to cause the dignity and worth of some person or thing to become manifest and acknowledged.

Notice the critical words Paul uses, now; “my office.” “I will magnify, praise, honor, adorn with luster, make excellent and renowned my office.” There’s a huge distinction between magnifying, praising, honoring a man and making excellent and renowned an office.

What I think Paul is saying here is that as a “devoted slave of Jesus” “on assignment” he wants “to cause the dignity and worth of some person or thing to become manifest and acknowledged” and that Person is Jesus, not Paul. The ‘thing’ he desires to become manifest is the office of apostle and not the apostle of the office.

If a “titled” apostle comes to your town puffing himself up more than he boasts about Jesus, be wary of anything else he or she talks about. Paul’s first estimation of himself was that of a slave. I know, We want to translate Paul's verbage. We don't like such base words as 'slave.' We want to 'upgrade' Paul's status. We want to make him a 'bond-servant' or a 'love-slave' of Jesus. We'd like to dignify the man who called everything he'd ever attained 'dung.' We want to pretend the great Apostle wasn't a prisoner in a stinking, moldy jail cell; a convict in solitary confinement. We'd like to ignore the facts that he was beaten and abused and chased from towns and ignored and disbelieved; a man who described himself as the "the filth of the world, the off-scouring of all things until now."

The third appearance of the word “apostle” is in First Corinthians 1:1. This is Paul’s salutation to the church at Corinth: Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,”

Here we find Paul talking about ‘the will of God.’ That’s a concept much talked about but much ignored in human practice. There are folks who seemingly have ‘called’ themselves into some ministry or spiritual office on the virtue either of their desire to serve God or because of the prompting of some well-meaning believer.

From the beginning of earthly ministry, ‘calling’ was the most critical, most painful and most essential component of serving God. Yeah, I know, I included the word ‘painful’ in my description of ‘the call.’ We might as well talk about reality; becoming an apostle isn’t a simple exercise of changing name plates on our office doors.

Take some time to read about Moses, Joshua, David, Isaiah, Ezekial, Jeremiah, Paul, Peter, John to name a few. Where is it we got the idea that assuming any office of ministry was a sweet and simple stroll into glory? Read Hebrews 11. Spend some time with Paul in Second Corinthians: “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;  Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus...”

Paul talks about ‘death’ working ‘in us.’ There is reason to faint, yet he will not faint. His outward man is perishing, but his inward man is being renewed day by day. He’s not staying at the Four Seasons Hotel and being chauffeured in a stretch limo. He’s barely alive most of the time so he can be fully alive in God all of the time. This ‘call’ thing is no bed of roses; often it’s no bed at all.

My observation of a number of the folks who claim apostolic status is that few have been to the graveyard yet. “Unless a corn of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it abides alone.” That applies to the apostle at every level – and especially at levels others never see.

It’s worth observing just about here that when Saul of Tarsus came to Damascus at the time of his conversion experience, the Lord told Ananias to “Go, for he (Paul) is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”  (Acts 9:15,16). Let me bring an emphasis to important words: For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”

If you’re longing for an apostolic calling, gifting, mantle, office – call it what you will – you ought to first take into consideration the pain and the death involved in that calling.

Being ‘called’ is to be ‘set apart,’ to be ‘separated;’ literally, to be “holy.” Holiness is not the absence of sin or weakness or temptation. Holiness is being separated by God for His purposes. Within that condition, God will deal with temptation, weakness and sin, but the concept of ‘holiness’ simply means one has been separated by God from other, earthly pursuits in order to give everything, time, ability, energy, devotion, completely and wholly to God.

But in every case it’s God Who does the calling, and not a man or a woman or a denomination or a church body. God is the ‘Originator of ‘the call’ while man is the ‘confirmer’ of the call.

Paul tells us that he was called to be an apostle “By the will of God”. His office was not the result of any personal desire or impassioned prayer or hopes or ambitions or ministry training efforts. All of these can assist us and help us, but without “the will of God” a man or a woman is without any true position, office or gift. Simply put, we do not “call” ourselves to ministry or to apostlehood.

Let’s review what we’ve discovered so far: What is an apostle? First of all, an apostle is a person who is “separated to” a life of “good news.” It is the gift and not the person that is honored and recognized. An apostle becomes an apostle “by the will of God” and not by the will of man or denomination or church group or ministry peers. An apostle is invited by Jesus to join Him in a life of death; a life of suffering; a life of “laying down” everything to become part of a foundation of something glorious and beautiful and majestic called “The Church.”

Being an apostle isn’t about receiving the adulation and exaltation of man. It’s not about being honored by people. It isn’t about receiving the wealth of the world or in living a life of luxury. It’s more about serving Jesus in an unpretentious manner, living a humble and simple life of service and meekness before God, one’s family and the world.

In His Grace,


Also Read:Who Are The Apostles?

Resources on the subject of Apostle:

Steve Atkerson: Modern Apostles

Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada: Position Statement on Contemporary Apostles

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