HOW MANY APOSTLES?
T. PIERCE BROWN
Not long ago I received a typewritten treatise of about 60 pages of invective, ridicule and misrepresentation from one who called himself my brother and claims membership in the Lord’s Church, but now claims to live in the greater light that has been shed on the world by the flickering of the Charismatic tongues of fire. It always surprises me just a little to re-discover how wonderfully this “deeper spirituality” that comes from the assumed Baptism of the Holy Spirit seems to increase the bitterness, deepen the ignorance, and broaden the base of perversions and misrepresentations of many of those who claim to receive it.
In this latest in a series of vilifications of the Lord’s church, I was impressed again with what seems to be common with most who take off on some radical extreme. At least many of them confess that when they were “faithful” members of the Lord’s church they felt that water baptism was the sine qua non of salvation. Now, having received the “real thing,” water baptism is practically nothing, but should be practiced either before or after Holy Spirit baptism for some reason. Or they may say that they deified the Apostles, and now they have learned that the Apostles were only men, and did not have anything that is not available for us. Of course none of them has yet written a second book of Romans, or even a “right strawy epistle,” as Luther spoke of James.
With any number of other perverted ideas of what the Bible is teaching, this seems common: When any persons questions their perverted idea, or they see how ridiculous it was, instead of coming humbly to what the Bible actually teaches, they swing to some other extreme.
But this article has to do with the latest that has come to my attention. In an effort to deny the special ability or authority of the Apostles, an effort is made to propagate the “newly discovered and startling truth” that there were others called “apostles” besides the twelve. Although I am not particularly astute or scholarly, I knew that about some 50 years ago. But a more careful examination of some of the claims may be in order for some that have never considered it.
First, the term “apostle,” like all other terms, has a basic or etymological meaning. Then it has a secondary or derived one. The basic meaning comes from “apo” (from) and “stello” (I send), and thus came to be used of any envoy sent with a special commission, with special qualifications and powers. Just as the word “church” (ekklesia) means “the called out ones,” and may refer to the group called out in the wilderness (Acts 7:38) or the mob which assembled in the theater (Acts 19:31-34) or any other number of assemblies, so the word “apostle” may refer to anyone sent from anywhere by anyone with any kind of special commission and authority. They may be apostles of God, Satan, Christ, Mohammed, Joseph Smith, the church, or others.
It should not, therefore, startle or confuse anyone to read in Hebrews 3:1 that Jesus is “the Apostle and High Priest of our profession.” He was “The Apostle” because He was sent from God with a special commission, authority and power. Nor should it be difficult to understand that when the church atAntiochsent out Barnabas and Saul (Acts 13:2) with a special commission they were called “apostles” in Acts 14:14. They were sent by the church on a special assignment and given authority by the church to perform it.
When someone who has had the great light shining on them tells you that there were many other apostles, you may inform them that you already know that the word “messenger” in 2 Corinthians 8:23 and Philippians 2:25 is the same as the word “apostle.” You will not be required to have a Ph.D. in linguistics or have a doctor of Theology degree to realize that it says “messengers (apostles) of the CHURCHES, and to Epaphroditus, “YOUR messenger (apostle),” or one sent from the church atPhilippi.
It is claimed that when Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 2:6, “We might have been burdensome to you AS the Apostles of Christ,” he included Silas and Timothy in the list of Apostles. If the “as” does that, then the “as” in verse 7 includes them in the list of nurses who cherish their children, and the “as” in verse 11 makes each of them a father (even if Paul was unmarried), and the “as” in 2 Timothy 2:9 means that Paul was an evil-doer. It should not take a Greek scholar, or even an astute person, to see that Paul did NOT say that Silas and Timothy were Apostles, but that they had the right to be burdensome AS Apostles.
Perhaps the most difficult statement for some would be the one in Galatians1:19, where Paul says, “But other of the Apostles saw I none, save James, the Lord’s brother.” If someone could prove that James, the brother of the Lord, was called an Apostle, it would not change any significant doctrine of which I know, but that verse does not prove it. When Paul says in verse 18, “I went up to see Peter,” he continues in verse 19 with “but other Apostles saw I none.” But how can he say “save James” if James was not an Apostle? For the simple reason that the expression here translated “save” is translated over three times as many times as “but,” or “but only.” What Paul said was, “I saw Peter, but none of the other Apostles, but I only saw James.”
Perhaps one of the clearest examples of this meaning is
the famous story of the two women who claimed the same baby before Solomon as recorded in 1 Kings3:18. They said, “There was no stranger in the house SAVE we two.” That clearly does not mean, “There was no stranger in the house except that we two were strangers,” but it means, “There was not stranger in the house but only we two were there.”
So, in the case of Paul, he was emphasizing the fact that he did not get his credentials, information, or authority from or by man (Galatians 1:1). So he says that he did not see any of the other Apostles except Peter, but he only saw James. The reason James would be mentioned is that he seemed to be a pillar (Galatians 2:9) and had great influence in the church.
We are not interested in defending any “brotherhood position,” whatever that is. But we are concerned about someone assuming a position that is unscriptural on some minor thing, then being stampeded into “throwing the baby out with the wash” when they are shown to be wrong.
The fact that there is, according to the Bible, THE CHURCH OF CHRIST, and there is ONLY one body does not mean that there are not many “churches” (albeit false ones). And the fact that there are, according to the Bible, those who were called THE Apostles of Christ, does not mean that there were not many apostles. But as A church and THE church are not the same thing, neither is AN apostle and THE Apostles the same thing. “A” church may be a church of some man or group of men. “The” church is thechurchofChrist. So “an” apostle may be one sent from ANYONE with special commission and authority. Brigham Young may have had some. But “THE” Apostles of Christ are those called out from among his disciples and sent with special authority and power.