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Tuesday, December 3, 2013 | Comments (3)

by John MacArthur

Lots of people today claim to be apostles—to wield the same authority and power as the leaders of the New Testament church. To properly evaluate those claims, we’re looking at the biblical requirements for apostleship and measuring the credentials of these modern apostles against those of the men the Lord used to found and establish His church.

The Greek noun apostolos—from which we get the word apostle—is derived from the verb apostellō, which means “to send off on a commission to do something as one’s personal representative, with credentials furnished.” [1][Kenneth S. Wuest, The Pastoral Epistles in the Greek New Testament, vol. 2 of Word Studies in the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), p. 22] We could translate apostolos as “envoy” or “ambassador,” someone who goes on a mission bearing credentials of the one who sent him.

An apostle in the New Testament was one sent to carry the gospel to sinners, and several individuals in the early church—both major and minor characters—were called apostles. Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25), Andronicus and Junius (Romans 16:7) and James the Lord’s brother (Galatians 1:19) all bore the title, though they were not among the twelve chosen by our Lord. They are what 2 Corinthians 8:23 calls “messengers [apostles] of the churches.”

In that broad sense, believers today are able to accomplish apostolic work through evangelism and service to the church. But that’s not what many modern church leaders mean when they lay claim to the apostolic office. Instead, modern apostles are claiming authority, privilege, and power that belonged only to men specifically appointed by Jesus.

In its more restricted and common New Testament usage, apostle refers to “an apostle of Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:1). Those apostles included the original twelve (with the deletion of Judas and the addition of Matthias after Judas’s defection) and Paul. In contrast to the apostles of the churches, these men were commissioned by Christ Himself. They were chosen by Him (cf. Luke 6:13; Acts 9:15) and learned the gospel from Him, not other men (cf. Galatians 1:11-12).

In Mark 3:14, we read that “He [Jesus] appointed twelve,” who are then named in verses 16-19. As we saw last time, the apostles were chosen by God long before they were ever born. But in life, they were hand selected by God incarnate. As Jesus said in John 15:16, “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit.”

That same mindset drove Paul to describe his own work as “the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:24). He also echoed that sentiment in Romans 1:4-5, recognizing Christ as the source of his apostleship.

New Testament apostles were not only chosen by God, they were appointed by Jesus—called out from the crowd and set aside for specific work on behalf of the Savior.

It’s a wonder then that so many men and women today claim the authority and power of the apostolic office when they so clearly lack the necessary credentials, which accompanied that office in Scripture. As we further examine the marks of a true apostle, the more clearly we will see that their vain claims hold no water. That’s where we will pick it up next time.


(Adapted from The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Timothy)


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#1  Posted by Link Hudson  |  Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 9:04 PM

I Thessalonians 2:6 labels Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy as 'apostles of Christ.' The phrase shows up in one other place to refer to false apostles. II Corinthians 8:23 seems to be talking about those sent by churches to deliver funds. Paul does not refer to James, Barnabas, Silvanus, or Timothy as 'apostles of the churches.' It seems John MacArthur just wants the verse to mean that. There is no support from II Corinthians 8:23 for this idea. If Silvanus and Timothy are 'apostles of Christ' along with Paul, why wouldn't Barnabas also be?

Paul mentions Barnabas while discussing his own apostleship in I Corinthians 9. Would Paul have considered Barnabas less of an apostle than himself?

I don't care for the fuzzy NAR understanding of apostleship as some kind of church or business innovator. I don't see a Biblical case for that. I do believe there is an ongoing role for apostles in planting churches and spreading the frontiers of the Gospel. But is it true that the NAR are claiming a type of apostleship that is different from Barnabas' or Timothy's? What is John MacArthur basing this on?

The Spirit spoke to the prophets and teachers and let them know that Barnabas was being called and sent. There should be no doubt of his calling. It's right there in scripture. He wasn't just delivering money. The church alone did not send him. The prophets and teachers were just following the instructions of the Spirit, which made the will of God known to the church.

So the big question is if God interacts with the church the way the Bible portrays Him as interacting with the church, or does God not interact with the church that way? Does the Spirit still identify men to be sent, and make His will known to the church? Does He still speak through the gift of prophecy to let people know who is gifted or called? Are believers empowered with grace to minister, or is the grace (in the form of spiritual gifts) partly or totally gone, and we just have to tough it out in our own strength?

The Bible tells us that the Spirit gives gifts to the church. We can either believe that, or buy some book that is several hundred pages long that presents a long argument that verses about how the Spirit works in the church are no longer valid for us today.

Ephesians 4 tells us that 'He ascended on high and gave gifts to men' and tells of the gift of apostles. These apostles were given AFTER the ascension. The Twelve were made apostles BEFORE the ascension. So why wouldn't this verse be (also) about apostles who are not a part of the Twelve?

#2  Posted by Travis Allen  |  Wednesday, December 4, 2013 at 7:14 AM

Link Hudson:

Thank you for taking the time to comment and make a thoughtful argument that interacts with the article. Here are some thoughts by way of response:

If 1 Thess. 2:6 were the only reference to Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy in Scripture, your argument that it "labels" all three men as "apostles of Christ"--in exactly the same way, with exactly the same qualifications, and with exactly the same weight of authority--would be stronger. But other references show a clear distinction between those men--Paul as an apostle on par with the Twelve, Silas a prophet and apostolic emissary, and Timothy a protégé of Paul and pastor.

The Spirit makes a distinction between Paul and Silas in Acts 15 when they were sent out from the Jerusalem Council. The text says, Acts 15:22, that "the apostles and the elders, with the whole church" (note the distinction in the Jerusalem church) sent Judas and Silas with Paul and Barnabas. Judas and Silas are called "leading men among the brethren" (v. 22), "also being prophets themselves" (v. 32). Instead of clarifying Silas's status as an apostle on par with the Twelve or Paul, or even a lower level apostle, the Spirit marked him as a leading man and a prophet. That's no mean calling, but it is a different than apostle.

The distinction between Paul and Timothy is also clear in Scripture, but for brevity's sake, I'll simply note the distinction Paul makes, by the Spirit, when writing his greetings in 2 Cor. 1:1 and Col. 1:1. Paul is "an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God," and Timothy is "our brother."

(I'll address two of your questions in a second comment.)

Travis Allen

#3  Posted by Travis Allen  |  Wednesday, December 4, 2013 at 7:27 AM

Link Hudson:

As to your question, "Would Paul have considered Barnabas less of an apostle than himself?," no, Paul would not have considered Barnabas "less" than himself. Barnabas was a choice servant of God, along with himself, but had a different role. The Spirit is the one who makes distinctions among us, distributing gifts according to His will (1 Cor. 12:11).

As to your either-or question--"Are believers empowered with grace to minister, or is the grace (in the form of spiritual gifts) partly or totally gone, and we just have to tough it out in our own strength?"--the Spirit continues to distribute gifts to believers. Complete and total cessation of all spiritual gifts has never been our argument.

The gifts of apostolic age, however--apostleship, prophecy, tongues, healing--those have clearly ceased. In charismatic churches, today's prophecy is little more than individualistic advice; today's tongues is not languages, but free-flowing, unintelligible noises; today's healing is nothing more (and nothing less) than answered prayer.

The Spirit gave the sign gifts of the apostolic age to authenticate Christ's true apostles (2 Cor. 12:12) so they could author the New Testament, laying the foundation for the church (Eph. 2:20; 3:5). Now that the canon is complete and among the churches, the apostolic sign gifts are no longer necessary. The apostles themselves are no longer necessary, because we have what they wrote.

Regarding your question about Eph. 4:8, Eph. 4:8-11 is not meant to provide a timeframe--i.e., first the ascension, then the giving of gifts. Eph. 4:7 refers to Christ giving grace to each one of us (i.e., individual grace, gifts); Eph. 4:8-10 is a parenthetical reference to Christ's victory and right to distribute gifts according to His will; and Eph. 4:11 specifies particular, special gifts in the form of gifted men whom Christ gave for the benefit of the church.

As Eph. 2:20 makes clear, the apostles and prophets of Eph. 4:11 laid the foundation of the church; the evangelists plant God's elect in that foundation; the pastors and teachers build people who have been planted in that foundation. Now that the foundation has been laid, the canon is complete, the apostles and prophets are no longer necessary. The evangelists plant churches, and the pastors and teachers edify the churches by helping them understand the Bible the Spirit authored.

I hope some of that helps, Link. Thanks again for your comments.

Travis Allen