What Is the Gift of Apostles?
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Thursday, April 29, 2010 at 4:46pm
QUERY: One of the “spiritual gifts” is the gift of “apostles” (1 Cor. 12:28-29; Eph. 4:11). Some believe this gift continues today. How do you understand this gift?
ANSWER: Most of the following material comes from my book, “Power from on High: What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit” (College Press, 500pp.), pp. 406-407.
Apostles are named in two of Paul’s four lists of spiritual gifts: in Eph. 4:11, and twice in 1 Cor. 12:28-30. They are named first in each list. The word “apostle” (Greek, “apostolos”) comes from a common Greek verb, “apostello,” which means “to send, to send out, to send on a mission.” In a generic sense an apostle is anyone sent on a mission, such as the three men (Titus and two others) whom Paul sent to Corinth to facilitate the offering he was collecting for the poor in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8:23); also Epaphroditus, sent by the church at Philippi to minister to Paul’s needs (Phil. 2:25); and Jesus himself, sent from heaven to be our Savior (Heb. 3:1).
The word “apostle” is linguistically equivalent to our word “missionary,” and is probably used in that sense of “Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 13:2-4) in Acts 14:4, 14, and of Andronicus and Junias in Rom 16:7. Some think that the spiritual gift of apostleship today refers to anyone thus “sent forth to preach the message of the cross,” or “church-planting missionaries.” This is possible, but highly unlikely. This function is more likely included in the gift of evangelists.
It is almost certain that the gift of apostles refers to the office of apostle, i.e., to the men chosen by Jesus Christ to be his personal representatives in establishing the church following his ascension. These are “the twelve apostles” (Matt. 10:2), commonly referred to simply as “the twelve” (with Judas being replaced by Matthias, Acts 1:26), to which was added the apostle Paul (2 Cor. 12:11-12; Gal. 1:1, 17). When Paul says in 1 Cor. 12:28 that “God has appointed in the church, first apostles,” he is saying that this gift is of first importance. It is also the most comprehensive gift, since apostles seem to have been given other gifts as a part of their calling, e.g., prophecy, teaching, administrations (involving their general authoritative leadership), tongues, and miracles (2 Cor. 12:12).
It is also quite clear that the gift of apostles was a temporary gift, intended only for the foundational era of the church universal (Eph 2:20). The existence of this gift is limited by the conditions laid down for the choosing of Judas’ successor in Acts 1:21-26, i.e., it was necessary for an apostle to have been a direct witness of the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ (or at least to have witnessed the risen Christ, as did Paul, Acts 9:1-6). Some argue that all the spiritual gifts mentioned in the NT are still given today, but this inherent limitation upon those who are qualified to be apostles shows that we are justified in distinguishing between temporary and permanent gifts (see Thomas Edgar, “Satisfied by the Promise of the Spirit” [Kregel 1996], 53-63).