Mid-2017, there was a healing rally in my country, Malaysia 1, led by an individual who goes by the name of Apostle G. Maldonado on social media.2 More recently, in September 2018, a local church in Malaysia hosted a prayer conference featuring Apostle Julius Suubi. 3
Naturally, within my circles, this sparked discussion about whether or not there are apostles today in light of the close of the canon.
A) Are there apostles today?
The answer to this question would depend on your definition of an apostle. Marcelo Souza, in his article “Are There Apostles Today?” notes the biblical requirement for apostleship.
“1. The apostle had to be an eyewitness of the risen Jesus [see Acts 1:2-3, 21-22; 4:33; 9:1-6; 1 Cor. 9:1; 15:7-9] …
2. The apostle had to have been commissioned directly by Jesus [see Luke 6:13-16; Acts 1:21-26; Gal. 1:1, 26].” 4
However, the requirements he laid out refers to a narrow sense of the term apostle. There is a broader sense which will be considered below.
Wescott and Hort defines ‘apostolos’ (the Greek word for “apostle”) as “a messenger, envoy, delegate, one commissioned by another to represent him in some way, especially a man sent out by Jesus Christ Himself to preach the Gospel; an apostle.”5
Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance’s definition is “a delegate; specifically an ambassador of the Gospel; officially a commissioner of Christ [“apostle“] (with miraculous powers): – apostle, messenger, he that is sent.”6
Thayer in his NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon (1999) defines ‘apostolos’ as “1. a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders … 2. Specially applied to the twelve disciples whom Christ selected, out of the multitude of his adherents, to be his constant companions and the heralds to proclaim to men the kingdom of God … 3. In a broader sense the name is transferred to other eminent Christian teachers; as Barnabas, Acts 14:14, and perhaps also Timothy and Silvanus, 1 Thessalonians 2:7 (6), cf. too Romans 16:7 (?) …” 7
“According to BDAG [i.e. a Greek lexicon], apostolos “can also mean delegate, envoy, messenger … perhaps missionary.””8
So what I would argue is that we do have apostles today (in the broad sense of the word) and they would include missionaries, for the very reason that missionaries are sent out to preach the Gospel.we do have apostles today (in the broad sense of the word) and they would include missionaries Click To Tweet
There are no longer any apostles in the narrow sense of the word because no one in the 21st century would be able to fulfill the two requirements of apostleship as quoted above.There are no longer any apostles in the narrow sense of the word because no one in the 21st century would be able to fulfill the two requirements of apostleship Click To Tweet
Another way to see it is according to Gordon Fee’s distinction in his commentary the First Epistle to the Corinthians (1987). He distinguishes between the “functional” (ongoing ministry) and “positional/official” use of the term9. So today, we would have apostles in the functional sense, but not in the positional/official sense.
Tl;dr – There is a difference between apostles in the technical/specific/narrow sense of the word apostolos (Gk 652) and the non-technical/broad sense of the same word. We no longer have the former, but we can have the latter.
B) What are their roles?
With regard to the role of apostles, their general role is, together with the other offices/positions in Ephesians 4, “… to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”10
More specifically, based on the semantic range of the Greek word apostolos, an apostle’s role would be to go out and perform the tasks to which they have been assigned. If the task is to go to Area A and plant/start a church there, that is that particular apostle’s role.
C) Should we shy away from using the term “apostle”?
The short answer is no. We should not shy away from using the term apostle just because it is misused by certain quarters. There are cults leaders who refer to themselves as pastors.11 Should we then no longer use the term pastor12 despite it being a biblical role?
Instead, what we should be doing is educating Christians about what the Bible teaches on apostles so that they would know how to distinguish between the functional and the positional/official sense of the word.
For further reading, see the following great articles by Dr Craig Keener of Asbury Theological Seminary13:-
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author, and they do not reflect in any way views of the institutions to which he is affiliated and/or the other Laikos Theologos contributors.