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Holman Bible Dictionary

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Additional Resources
• Nave's Topical Bible
• Treasury of Scripture Knowledge
Poison not to kill apostles, but it killed Mohammed
• Torrey's Topical Textbook
Apostles, The
• Easton's Bible Dictionary
Acts of the Apostles
• Fausset's Bible Dictionary
Acts of the Apostles
• Smith's Bible Dictionary
Acts of the Apostles
• Condensed Biblical Cyclopedia
The Twelve Apostles
• International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Acts of the Apostles, 1-7
Acts of the Apostles, 13-Outline
Acts of the Apostles, 8-12
Apostles' Creed, the
Apostles, Gospel of the Twelve
Twelve Apostles, Gospels of the
Greek - apostles, apostles'
Greek - false apostles

Persons sent to accomplish a mission, especially the twelve apostles Jesus commissioned to follow Him. An apostle represents the one sending and has authority to represent the sender in business, political, or educational situations.

In the Gospels Matthew used the term “apostles” only at Matthew 10:2, introducing the list of twelve apostles. Otherwise, he wrote only of the “twelve” (Matthew 11:1; Matthew 20:17; Matthew 26:14,Matthew 26:20,Matthew 26:47; compare Matthew 19:28). Mark used “apostles” only once (Mark 6:30) as they returned from their mission trip (Mark 6:7-11). He, too, referred more often to the twelve (Mark 3:14; Mark 4:10; Mark 6:7; Mark 9:35; Mark 10:32; Mark 11:11; Mark 14:10,Mark 14:17,Mark 14:20,Mark 14:43). Apostles appears only once in John in the general statement “he that is sent (Greek, apostolos) (is not) greater than he that sent him” (John 13:16).

Luke is the Gospel of the apostles, especially when read in light of its continuation in Acts. Compare Luke 6:13; Luke 9:10; Luke 11:49. The apostles asked Jesus for increased faith (Luke 17:5) and participated with Him in the final Passover and the first Lord's Supper (Luke 22:14). Finally, the women had to tell the news of the resurrection to the apostles (Luke 24:10).

Thus in the Four Gospels, the word “apostle” does not play a strong role. The Twelve is the preferred term (Luke 6:13; Luke 8:1; Luke 9:1,Luke 9:12; Luke 18:31; Luke 22:3,Luke 22:14,Luke 22:47; compare Luke 22:30).

In Acts “Apostles” is an important concept in Acts. Jesus chose the apostles through the Holy Spirit and instructed them concerning their missionary mission which the Holy Spirit would empower them to carry out (Acts 1:2-8). They had a forty-day instruction period with the risen Lord before the ascension, but still they could not know “the times or seasons” of the full restoration of the kingdom (Acts 1:3-7). They were eyewitnesses of the ascension (Acts 1:9) and heard the angelic promise of His future return (Acts 1:11). They understood the betrayal by Judas as fulfillment of Scripture (Acts 1:16) and felt the need to replace him to keep their number at twelve. Qualifications for an apostle were clear: participation in Jesus' earthly ministry beginning with His baptism and a witness of the resurrection (Acts 1:21-22). At Pentecost people asked the apostles' leadership in how to respond to Peter's sermon (Acts 2:37). New converts remained in “the apostles' teaching” (Acts 2:42 NIV, NAS, NRSV). The apostles did signs and wonders Acts 2:43; Acts 5:12; compare Mark 6:7-13). They both preached the gospel (Acts 4:33) and directed social ministry to the poor (Acts 4:35). Even time in jail did not keep them from preaching the gospel (Acts 5:18,Acts 5:29). Gamaliel, a member of the Sanhedrin, managed to gain freedom for the apostles, but they still suffered a beating (Acts 5:33-40). The apostle reacted with rejoicing at the opportunity to suffer for Christ (Acts 5:41) and continued to preach (Acts 5:42).

The twelve led in the selection of the first deacons to minister to the needy (Acts 6:2, the only use of “the twelve” in Acts). See Deacon. The apostles prayed and laid their hands on these newly selected servants of the church (Acts 6:6). See Laying on of Hands, Ordination. When persecution caused the church to scatter and spread the gospel, the apostles remained in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1). They sent Peter and John to represent them in Samaria, see the result of evangelistic work there, and pray for the Holy Spirit to come upon the new converts (Acts 8:14-15). When the apostles laid their hands on the converts, they received the Spirit (Acts 8:17). They taught Simon, one of the Samaritans, that apostolic power could not be purchased with money (Acts 8:20). Barnabas introduced Paul to the apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 9:27), thus apparently giving apostolic acceptance of Paul's preaching ministry. Peter's mission to Cornelius and the Gentiles at Caesarea (Acts 10:1) caused division among the apostles (Acts 11:1-2) until Peter's explanation caused them to give God glory (Acts 11:18). Acts 14:4,Acts 14:14 introduces Paul and Barnabas as apostles, using the term for persons outside the twelve. In Acts 15:2 “elders” join the apostles in hearing the case against Paul and Barnabas at the “Jerusalem Council.” See Elder. The apostles and elders then sent a letter to the church at Antioch explaining the “council's” decision on how to deal with the Gentile question (Acts 15:22). The Jerusalem representatives—Judas Barsabbas and Silas—completed their task and returned to the apostles (Acts 15:33). Paul and Timothy distributed the decrees of the apostles and elders to the Gentile churches (Acts 16:4). Here the word “apostles” disappears from Acts, not appearing in the last twelve chapters.

In Paul's Letters Paul opened his letters by introducing himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1 Timothy 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:1; Titus 1:1). Paul's apostleship is a calling (Romans 1:1) by God's will (1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:1). Human authority had nothing to do with his apostleship, for it came through Jesus Christ and God the Father (Galatians 1:1), through the “commandment of God our Savior” (1 Timothy 1:1). Elsewhere, Paul defended his authority and position as an apostle, equal with other apostles. He was the apostle for the Gentiles with a heart for the Jews (Romans 11:13-14). He, along with other apostles, appeared on the scene late as poor fools for Christ to be an example over against the pride of the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 4:9). Indeed, existence and ministry of the Corinthian church sealed Paul's apostleship, showing he had done the work of an apostle. He also qualified because he had seen the risen Christ (1 Corinthians 9:1-2). He compared himself and Barnabas to the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas (1 Corinthians 9:5-6). Apostles had the right to marriage and to being paid for their ministry (1 Corinthians 9:5-6). Paul was the least of all apostles because he persecuted the church and was the last to see the risen Lord (1 Corinthians 15:6-11). Still, he considered himself “not in the least inferior to these super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:5, NRSV).

Those who opposed Paul's claim to apostleship simply sought to be his equal but in reality were “false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13, NRSV). Paul had performed the signs and miracles which were “the signs of a true apostle” (2 Corinthians 12:12), along with his life of patient endurance, preaching, and suffering for Christ. Paul claimed he did not have to go to Jerusalem to other apostles to get his apostolic mission and authority (Galatians 1:17). He did meet Peter and James, eventually, but the church at Jerusalem glorified because of Paul's ministry of evangelistic preaching (Galatians 1:18-24). Ultimately Paul proved his apostleship not by asserting personal authority or demanding praise from other people. Rather, he tenderly ministered among the churches (1 Thessalonians 2:5-8).

When speaking of apostles apart from defending his own role as an apostle, Paul emphasized that acting as an apostle was one of the spiritual gifts which must be done in love (1 Corinthians 12:28-13:13). Such a gift is to equip other saints for ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). The apostles represent the foundation of the church along with the prophets (Ephesians 2:19-20; compare Ephesians 3:5). Peter's apostleship could be distinguished from Paul's as an apostleship to the Jews as contrasted to an apostleship to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:8). Others were also apostles, precisely Andronicus and Junias (Romans 16:7), possibly a husband and wife team.

In the Epistles Hebrews refers to Jesus as “the Apostle” (Hebrews 3:1). Peter identified himself as an apostle in the introduction of each of his letters (1 Peter 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1). He also called his readers back to the authority of the prophets and of the apostles (2 Peter 3:2). Jude 1:17 echoes this.

In Revelation John commended the church at Ephesus for proving some who claimed to be apostles to be liars (Revelation 2:2). He called heaven, the prophets, and the holy apostles to rejoice at the fall of Babylon (Revelation 18:20). The names of the twelve apostles will be engraved on the twelve foundations of the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:14).

The Twelve The first three gospels and Acts list the twelve with some variations:

Peter heads all the lists. Simon, James, John, Andrew, and Philip with differing orders compose the first five in all lists. Matthew is apparently also known as Levi (compare Matthew 9:9; Mark 2:13-14; Luke 5:27-28). As “son of Alphaeus” (Mark 2:14), Levi may be brother to James, “son of Alphaeus.” Luke has a second Judas, where Matthew and Mark list Lebbeus or Thaddeus. Most modern translations follow Greek texts which do not include Lebbeus in Matthew's list, reading only Thaddeus.

Thaddeus and Judas, brother of James, are apparently the same person, though some scholars suggest that some sections of the early church had slightly different lists of the apostles' names.

Summary The New Testament has taken a common Greek word from naval and commercial language and made it a technical term for a messenger Jesus sent on a mission and more specifically for the twelve whom Jesus selected to follow Him from His baptism onward. To them He gave the special commission to lead the church into worldwide mission. They functioned as leaders of the church in the early chapters of Acts mainly from a base in the church at Jerusalem. The number twelve in some way identified them as continuing God's work through the twelve tribes of Israel. They had the spiritual gift of functioning as an apostle in giving leadership to the church and training others for ministry. They maintained and transmitted the teachings of Jesus to the early church. Having fulfilled their mission of leading the church's missionary activity and preserving the teachings of Christ, the twelve apostles passed from the scene. They did not occupy an office which they could hand on to others or which the church had the power to fill. Interesting to note is that Paul apparently argued with representatives of the Jerusalem church who claimed apostolic authority for themselves and that Paul had to defend his right to be an apostle. Paul also pointed to others outside the twelve and himself as apostles. Thus the term, at least for Paul and apparently for others, had both the narrower meaning of the twelve and a wider meaning. Otherwise, Paul could not have been included.

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor.. "Entry for 'APOSTLES'". "Holman Bible Dictionary".
<>. 1991.


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