The New International Encyclopædia/Apostle

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APOS'TLE [Gk. ἀπόστολος, apostolos, one sent forth, a delegate, from ἀπό, apo, from + στέλλειν, stellein, to send). The name used in the New Testament to designate specifically that group of Christ's disciples who were called by Him to be His more intimate companions during His ministry, and to proclaim, as His representatives, the Gospel to men. They were twelve in number: Simon Peter (Hebrew name Cephas), Andrew, James (the son of Zebedee), John (brother of James), Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew (Hebrew name Levi), Thomas (also called Didymus), James (the son of Alphæus), Jude (the son of James, doubtless to be identified with Thaddæus, named in his place in the lists of Matthew and Mark), Simon (the Canaanite, also called the Zealot), and Judas Iscariot.

Their qualifications, as understood by the early Church, were evidently that they should have been with Him during His ministry, and have seen Him after His resurrection (Acts i. 21, 22: “Of these which companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us . . . must one be a witness with us of the resurrection”). As a result, however, of exercising its rights in the election of a substitute for Judas Iscariot, in order to maintain the original number, and as a result, further, of admitting into this number an extra apostle in the person of the divinely appointed Paul, the Church evidently considered itself justified in modifying these qualifications, so as to adapt the office to the needs of its developing mission. As a result, others prominent in this work received the name of apostle besides the Twelve and Paul. So James, the Lord's brother, head of the Jerusalem Church, is referred to by Paul as an apostle (Galatians i. 19: “But other of the apostles saw I none, save James, the Lord's brother.” See also I. Corinthians ix. 5, in which passage Paul speaks of his right to lead about a wife “as well as other apostles, and the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas,” a statement that would seem to indicate that all the brethren of the Lord were recognized as apostles.) So Barnabas, companion with Paul in his first mission tour, is designated by Luke as an apostle (Acts xiv. 4, 14: “But when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of it, they rent their garments”). So perhaps Andronicus and Junias, kinsmen and fellow prisoners of Paul's, are mentioned by him as distinguished apostles (Rom. xvi. 7: “Andronicus and Junias . . . who are of note among the apostles”). Possibly, also, Apollos is intended by him to be considered as an apostle together with himself (I. Cor. iv. 6, 9, where Paul speaks of God's setting forth “us the apostles last of all, as men doomed to death”; and the immediate context makes reference, apparently, to Apollos as the one Paul had in mind besides himself). This enlarged application of the term is recognized by patristic writers, such as the author of the Didache and of the Shepherd of Hermas.

Among the credentials of the apostolic office were apparently the ability to work miracles (e.g. II. Cor. xii. 12: “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you . . . by signs and wonders and mighty works”); also the conversion to God of those to whom they brought the Gospel (e.g. I. Cor. ix. 2: “The seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord”). If the office possessed peculiar rights, to these might belong the appointment of the original officers of the local churches (e.g. Acts xiv. 23: “And when they had appointed for them elders in every church . . .”), and possibly, in extreme cases, the regulation of the teaching and morals within the churches' organized limits (e.g. II. Thess. iii. 6: “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which they received of us”). The characteristic duty of the office consisted, most likely, in the preaching and missioning of the Gospel (e.g. Acts vi. 2-4: “And the twelve . . . said, It is not fit that we should forsake the word of God and serve tables.” I. Cor. i. 17: “Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel”). At the same time, however, as to how far the apostolate was considered by the early Church as an office at all is a question of large debate.

There is no evidence of any division of territory among the Twelve. The nearest approach to this is in the mutual understanding referred to in Gal. ii. 9 (“They gave us the right hand of fellowship, that we should go unto the Gentiles, and they unto the circumcision”), by which Peter was recognized as the leader of the mission to the circumcision, which would naturally mean, in general terms, the Palestinian Jews; and Paul and Barnabas were recognized as the leaders to the uncircumcision, which would as naturally indicate, generally, the Gentiles outside of Palestine; and even this was not strictly carried out, since Paul began his work in most places to which he went by preaching in the synagogue, while the address in I. Pet. would imply that Peter had a considerable parish of Gentile Christians in Asia Minor.

In II. Cor. viii. 23 and Phil. ii. 25, in which passages Paul speaks of the messengers of the churches, the word ἀπόστολος is used in its common classical meaning of delegate, and in Heb. iii. 1, where Christ is referred to as “the Apostle and High-Priest of our confession,” the word is applied in the same sense, from the point of view of Christ's divine sending into the world (see John xvii. 18). For details of apostolic life and work, see under individual apostles.

Bibliography. In general, see J. B. Lightfoot, “Excursus on Name and Office of an Apostle,” in Commentary on Galatians (London, 1877); C. Weizsäcker, The Apostolic Age, English translation (Edinburgh, 1894); A. Harnack, Die Aposlellehre, second edition (Leipzig, 1896); E. Haupt, Zum Verständnis des Apostolats im Neuen Testament (Halle, 1896); A. V. G. Allen, Christian Institutions (New York, 1897); F. J. A. Hort, Ecclesia (New York, 1898); J. W. Falconer, From Apostle to Priest (New York, 1900).