By Charles H. Welch
The word is taken from the Greek apostolos which occurs in the New Testament 81 times, and is translated apostle 78, He that is sent once and messenger twice. The word is derived from apostello ‘I send’. This word is found both in the Greek version of the Old Testament, and in classical or common Greek used outside the Scriptures.
In classical Greek apostolos meant ‘a messenger, ambassador or envoy’, and, in later usage, ‘the commander of a naval force’. This rather limited meaning of the word is further seen in the use of stolos, ‘a fleet ready for sea, a naval squadron or expedition’. In the LXX apostolos occurs in 1 Kings 14:6 in the phrase, ‘I am sent to thee with heavy tidings’, where ‘sent’ translates the Hebrew shalach, which immediately connects with such missions as that of Joseph (Gen. 37:13), Moses (Exod. 3:14), and Isaiah (Isa. 6:8) and, generally, with the bearing of ‘tidings’, whether of deliverance or judgment. The composition of the word is simple. Apo is a preposition, and, like nearly all prepositions, carries with it a sense of motion, direction or rest. In this case the translation ‘from’ indicates origin, motion and direction. Stello is the verb ‘to send’, and so an apostle is one ‘sent from another’.
Apostello is used of the ‘sending forth’ of the twelve (Matt. 10:5), of John the Baptist (Mark 1:2; John 1:6), of preachers generally (Rom. 10:15), of angels (Heb. 1:14), and of Paul (Acts 26:17). There is, however, one other occasion where apostello and apostolos are used, that gives all subsequent apostles and messengers their true and only authority. Both words are used of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is pre-eminently ‘The Sent one’ (1 John 4:9,10,14); He is pre-eminently ‘The Apostle’.
Here, therefore, is revealed the character of the solemn office denoted by the title ‘apostle’. Here Paul’s insistence on the use of the word ‘me’ in 2 Timothy 2:2, is carried back to another and higher use of the pronoun, ‘He that receiveth you, receiveth ME’ (Matt. 10:40) and, through Him, to the ultimate source of all authority, God Himself.
Having therefore considered the meaning of the term apostle, we must now take the subject a stage further and inquire into the apostleship of Paul. First we must observe any difference there may be revealed between ‘The Twelve’ and Paul, and then collect all references that throw light upon the claim of the apostle to his office.
First we will see how Paul’s apostleship differs from that of the twelve in one great particular. The twelve were appointed early in the Lord’s public ministry (Matt. 10) before His Death, Resurrection or Ascension, whereas Paul’s apostleship is referred to the time when Christ ‘ascended up far above all heavens’ whence, as the ascended One, He ‘gave gifts unto men ... and He gave some apostles’ (Eph. 4:8-11). Here is indicated a most decided difference between the calling of these two orders of the apostles. The difference is recognized in 1 Corinthians 15, where the apostle gives successive witnesses to the Resurrection of Christ, among whom he numbers ‘The twelve’, but from which company he distinguishes his own calling by adding ‘and last of all he was seen by me ... for I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God’ (1 Cor. 15: 5-9). This intense humility and sense of undeservedness but heightens the fact that, in spite of all such limitations, Paul had a distinct apostleship which even humility could not deny.
There is another witness to Paul’s distinct apostleship which should weigh with us all, especially with any who deny or object to emphasis upon his distinctive calling: it is the testimony of Peter, James and John, recorded in Galatians:
The apostleship of Paul is a distinct order, and must not be confused with ‘the twelve’. One outstanding difference is that already cited from Galatians 2, another is made evident in Ephesians 4:
These are the gifts and their purpose. In 1 Corinthians 12, where the gifts are set out in detail, there is an inspired enumeration; firstly, secondly, thirdly. This order must be so placed for a purpose. To discount it is to despise the inspired Word; to add to it is to take unwarranted liberty. Before Acts 28 this is the God-given order:
The third one here is the evangelist whilst the teacher joined with the pastor is fourth. No other gifts follow, as they do in 1 Corinthians 12:28; we are evidently dealing with a different ministry.
APOSTLES. These were given after He had ‘ascended up on high’. Which of the apostles were thus given? In Matthew 10:2-4 we read:
Before the Lord ascended He was seen ‘of the twelve’ (1 Cor. 15:5). This therefore includes Matthias, for Judas never saw the risen Lord, and Matthias was a ‘witness of His resurrection’, and was ‘numbered with the eleven’ (Acts 1:15-26).
In any attempt to demonstrate the unique apostleship of Paul the case of Matthias is sure to intrude, and his place among the apostles must be settled before the way is clear to consider more intimately Paul’s own claims. We turn to Acts 1:15 to 2:13, which is the section containing the appointment of Matthias, and note first of all the structure:
Paul’s Apostleship, Gospel and Authority
It is clear that the appointment of Matthias is most intimately related to the making up of ‘the twelve’.
While we may give assent to the evidence of our eyes and agree that there is a verbal connection between the passages, it may not be very evident wherein the deeper connection thus indicated consists. Let us therefore look further. It is very evident that the apostle Peter and those who gathered with him realized that the gap in the number of the apostles occasioned by the fall of Judas was a matter for immediate concern. Of all things that it might have been expected would claim consideration and prayer consequent upon the Ascension of the Lord, the last to enter our unassisted minds would have been the matter of Judas and his successor. Not so the apostles. They were to tarry at Jerusalem and once more preach the kingdom. Should Israel repent and the kingdom be set up, the Lord would fulfil His promise that the twelve apostles should sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. While, however, the number of the apostles was incomplete it could not be said, ‘all things are ready’ (Matt. 22:4), therefore we can appreciate the fact that the apostles were rightly concerned about this matter.
The Jews gathered at Jerusalem to keep the feast were not, so far as is revealed, representative of the complete twelve tribes: all that is said is that they were gathered from the surrounding nations, and an examination reveals that the number of the nations was twelve. That is sufficient for the purpose: the link between Acts 1 and 2 is made evident, and the theme of this section, the restoration of Israel, is advanced. Whether Israel would repent and the kingdom be set up at that time, none of the apostles knew. It was not for them to know times and seasons. They were witnesses, and fully equipped for their work.
But in spite of the evident fitness of these two sections, there are those who maintain that Matthias was not appointed by God but by man, and that Peter and the rest were prompted by a zeal that was not according to knowledge. The matter is of great importance and must therefore be considered. Let us give heed to the word as we examine the matter. First of all, can we be certain that Peter was right when he said that the Psalms he quoted referred to Judas? We believe we can. But a few days before the Lord Himself had said:
Here the Lord not only quoted the Psalm as of Judas, but emphasized the point that He was informing them before it came to pass in order that their faith might be strengthened at the accomplishment of the event. Now it had come to pass, and they believed.
In addition to this we have recorded in Luke 24:44-48 the fact that the Lord not only passed in review the Old Testament Scriptures, including the Psalms, and dealt with those passages that spoke of Himself, but that He also ‘opened their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures’. When therefore Peter said, ‘This Scripture must needs have been fulfilled’, he was but repeating the lesson of Luke 24:26 and 46, for the self-same words there, ‘ought’ and ‘behoved,’ are translated ‘must needs be’ in Acts 1:16.
Even though it may be agreed that Peter’s quotation of the Psalm was appropriate, it is possible that some may entertain the suspicion that in selecting but two men the apostles were limiting the Lord. We shall, however, find, upon examination, that there was an important reason for this limitation. Referring once more to our Lord’s own instructions, we read:
The apostles were evidently acting with this qualification in mind, for Acts 1:21,22 reads:
It was therefore not a matter of piety, learning, or fitness of character; what was essential was capacity to bear personal testimony.
It is generally taught that the words ‘that he might go to his own place’ (Acts 1:25), mean that Judas had been consigned to hell or perdition, but the passage bears another sense and should read:
The fact the Holy Spirit made no difference between Matthias and the rest of the apostles should silence all objection. That Paul himself speaks of ‘the twelve’ as separate from himself is eloquent testimony to the accuracy of the inclusion of Matthias among the twelve (1 Cor. 15:5). In face of these facts we believe that the appointment of Matthias was in complete harmony with the will of God, and that of necessity, therefore, Paul was an apostle of an entirely distinct and independent order.
The structure of Galatians 1 is a testimony to the independent apostleship
of Paul, which we will now exhibit.
There is a remarkable parallel between Galatians and 2 Corinthians where
the issue once again is the validity of Paul’s apostleship
While a more complete list of parallels would be helpful, our immediate concern is with the revived controversy regarding the apostle Paul. In 1 Corinthians we realize that the elements of division are present; parties rally round the names of Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and even Christ. It is evident that the apostleship of Paul had been seriously questioned at Corinth, as Chapter 9 makes most manifest:
This utter abandonment of self for the good of others was used against the apostle by the Judaizing party. In 2 Corinthians 12:12 he tells them that all the signs of an apostle were wrought among them, except this one thing, that the apostle abstained from his right of being supported by them. ‘Forgive me this wrong’, he says, ‘I will very gladly spend and be spent for you, though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved’. There a heavy heart is manifested for all the brave exterior. Quoting from the slanders in circulation about him, he repeats, ‘But be it so, I did not burden you; nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you with guile’ (verse 16). Hardly are the words penned than the apostle’s whole being revolts against the charge. Away with the thought. ‘Did I make gain of you by any of them whom I sent unto you? I desired Titus, and with him I sent a brother; did Titus make gain of you?’ (verses 17 and 18).
2 Corinthians 11 and 12 are occupied much in the same
way as Galatians 1 and 2. The apostle, with much diffidence, calling his
defence ‘folly’ and ‘foolish boasting’, is again plunged into the defence
of his ministry, and the unchivalrous contention with Peter and others.
The literary structure will again simplify the subject and keep us to
the chief point:
2 Corinthians 11 and 12
A 11:1-4. The real deceiver. The Serpent; ‘subtility’ (panourgia).
A 12:13-18. The false charge.
‘Being crafty’ (panourgos).
While, therefore, the false teachers were saying of Paul that being
crafty he caught them with guile, Paul exposes the real deceiver in the
Serpent. And his servants - ministers of Satan, false apostles on the
one hand and a stake in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, on the other
hand, intensified the sufferings both mental and physical of the apostle
to the Gentiles. The necessity of saving the Corinthians from the bondage
of the Judaizers was urgent. Once more the apostle lays bare that which
modesty would for ever have covered.
Twice does the apostle use a term that is reminiscent of Galatians 2, ‘the very chiefest apostles’ - ‘extra super’ as one has well rendered it - and he follows the line of Galatians 2 where he not only establishes equality with Peter, James, and John, but in the case of Peter, shows that he had to withstand him to the face. But in 2 Corinthians the apostle not only says ‘so am I’, but also ‘I more’.
It was for the establishing for all time of the personal integrity and the absolute apostleship of Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, that the Acts of the Apostles was written: and in humbler form, and in faulty fashion, but with the same end in view, this Analysis is largely penned. To rehabilitate Paul as the minister of the risen and ascended Christ to the Gentiles would of itself revolutionize Christianity today. We entertain no vain hopes, however. A little company has always guarded the sacred deposit, and will do so until the dispensation closes, but the generality of Christians care for none of these things.
On occasions Paul makes the specific claim that he was the apostle of the Gentiles.
Paul clearly recognized two things. He knew and taught that there was but one Lord, one Mediator, one Head, one Offering, one Saviour, Jesus Christ, and that he was but an earthen vessel, a planter, and in comparison ‘nothing’ (1 Cor. 3:7). On the other hand, he knew and taught that he was a chosen vessel, that neither Peter, James nor John had received the commission that he had received, and while he could not and would not magnify himself, he could and did magnify his office, for as one that had been chosen, separated and sent to the Gentiles he had no option but to faithfully discharge so solemn a trust.