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IS THE AGE OF APOSTLES OVER?

by Jacques More

An area of belief which comes out of 'Dispensational thinking' is that of an apostolic age existing up to the death of the first 'Twelve', which, if true would be now therefore over. This would also serve to back up the idea that the age of miracles (in general) done through God's servants is over, that is, in the same manner as done by the 'first' apostles.

Looked at more closely, we find however that the apostles mentioned in the New Testament are not restricted to the twelve, and apostles have continued to be chosen, called out, well after the Resurrection and Ascension of the Lord Jesus.

When Judas Iscariot died, a '13th' apostle was appointed to take his place, Matthias in Acts 1:26.

Then we see Saul of Tarsus, a '14th' apostle, better known as Paul (Romans 1:1). When mentioning in his writings the various ministries which were active in the Church at large, Paul lists apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11).

I do not know anyone seriously suggesting evangelists and pastors and teachers as being no longer relevant!

So, why reject the relevancy of apostles today (or even prophets)?

The Greek word for 'apostle' literally means to send out (after being called out and especially picked). To this end, we can see Barnabas as an apostle as shown by,

. . . the Holy Spirit said, 'Now seperate for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.'

Acts 13:2

Barnabas would then be a '15th' apostle.

However, these are still just a few clear examples of apostles other than the 'Twelve'. What we do have, to further show the continuing relevance of the 'office' (or function) is definite implication of its existence in general. For example, in the last book of the Bible, Revelation, we read of the Lord Jesus Christ saying to the church at Ephesus,

. . . you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not. . .

Revelation 2:2

Paul, in writing to the church at Corinth said,

. . . such are false apostles, deceitful workers. . .

2 Corinthians 11:13

These two passages reveal clearly the existence of false apostles. Counterfeits of those with the real office or function of apostleship. This clearly implies that others - true apostles - were about beyond the 'original' few.

They were 'at large'. There is no use in counterfeits unless the real thing is in circulation.

Also if the number of apostles God used was limited to a dozen or more, it would not have been too difficult to learn all their names by heart. The list of the 12 as in the gospels could be circulated. i.e. Luke 6:12-16. There would therefore be no difficulty in spotting any false ones. It can therefore be seen that indeed the ministry of apostles is relevant today.

As far as miracles are concerned and the apostles being the 'only' or main ones to do them, Jesus commanded His disciples to make (more) disciples of all the nations. . .

. . . teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you. . .

Matthew 28:19-20

One of these commands as shown earlier in that same gospel is to,

Heal the sick [etc.]. . .

Matthew 10:8

And the attitude, the manner in which this was to be done, Jesus explained by the phrase 'Freely you have received, freely give'. We also read in Luke 10 that the Lord sent out 70 others to heal. Therefore, healing etc. is not an exclusive function of apostles.

Just like Philip whom we know as an evangelist, did miracles (Acts 8:6). And, Stephen the 'deacon' in Acts 6, who,

. . . did great wonders and signs among the people.

Acts 6:8

Now, if this is so, what are we to make of Ephesians 2.20, the passage often quoted as the backbone scripture against the above understanding.

Ephesians 2:20 is interesting, depending on which version, in general you find (starting at verse 19), '. . . the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone', or, 'are built upon. . .'. That is to say, 'presently continuously engaged in the building of'. It is therefore either a type of foundation that was once laid and is no more to be laid, or, a type of foundation 'work' which goes on being laid by Jesus and his apostles and prophets.

The tense and sense actually does not seem to change throughout the paragraph in the original Greek (verses 19-22 inclusive). I have actually one Greek-English interlinear with the first version and another with the second (AND BOTH WITH IDENTICAL GREEK PORTIONS).

The first verb tense translation, tends towards the view of apostles as an old and final foundation and, therefore Jesus also as mentioned in the verse would in this view no longer be building His church but have fully finished His bit. The latter tense (the second translation) tends towards my own view. The New King James Version the first, the King James Version the second, the New International Version neutral!?

Young's Literal Translation has it 'the latter' (he is generally very good with precise 'grammatical tense' translations):

. . . being built upon the foundation . . . Jesus Christ being chief cornerstone. . .

Ephesians 2:20 YOUNG (italics mine)

The crux of the matter as I see it is that it is a living building (-work). Jesus does not stop being the active Head of the church. And (as I see it) He has not stopped using apostle and prophetic type ministries either (though often nowadays, named differently) to lead and help His Body i.e as a continuous building foundation-work. If the sense (of the tense) means that there were apostles and prophets which were a foundation than it means that Jesus was the chief cornerstone and is no longer active (in the first version) i.e. If it is carried through to its logical conclusion, let alone the work of teachers and evangelists being now also over!

1 Corinthians 12:28-30 gives us a continuing list of active ministries in the Body of Christ which includes apostles and prophets. And Paul also said when ministries of this kind will actually be redundant (apostolic and prophetic 'offices' with a measure of revelation use). He said it will be when the Lord returns, not before (1 Corinthians 13:9-10). It is also obvious in Joel 2:28-29 as applied by Peter in Acts 2 that the last days include such activity (unless you believe 'the last days' are over).

If the scripture were the signal of redundancy to the use of the 'office' as is sometimes understood, than why do we have non-apostle writers as part of the New Testament canon, and where are the writings of the other apostles? This was not their sole (or even main) role in ministry and gifts of the Holy Spirit are nowhere mentioned as to be makers or replacers of Scripture. The Bible does not contain all the applicable interpretation for all things e.g. Is it wrong to smoke, drink coffee, watch T.V.? Yes, principles are there. But, 'Application Knowledge/wisdom', i.e. fresh truths (of this kind) is still possible and needed. I believe Jesus made that clear (John 16:12-13, James 1:5,6 et al). I believe this is one good reason why He still uses apostolic and prophetic type ministries for continuing 'foundational' work.



Ref. S.001

Unless otherwise stated Bible quotes are from the New King James Version

© copyright Thomas Nelson Inc. 1979,1980,1982.

© copyright Jacques More 1994. All Rights Reserved.

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