This article explains the origin, authority, and function of the apostles.

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Jesus’ representatives exercised his authority🔗

Then they drew lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles. Acts 1:26

Although the Gospels call the same people “disciples” and “apostles” (Mark 3:7, 14, 20), the terms are not synonyms. Disciple means “pupil, learner”; apostle means “emissary, representative,” in the sense of one who is sent with the full authority of the sender. The “twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev. 21:14), as distinct from the apostles (“representatives”) of the churches (2 Cor. 8:23) and from the rest of Jesus’ disciples, were chosen and sent by Jesus (Mark 3:14) just as Jesus himself, “the apostle... whom we confess” (Heb. 3:1), was chosen and sent by the Father (1 Pet. 1:20). Just as rejecting Jesus is rejecting the Father, so rejecting the apostles is rejecting Jesus (Luke 10:16).

The New Testament shows the apostles functioning as evangelists, church planters in the sense of community founders, and pastors, just as Jesus himself had functioned in these three roles during his earthly ministry. As Jesus claimed the Father’s divine authority for his words (John 12:49-50; 14:24), so the apostles claimed Christ’s divine authority for theirs (1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Thess. 3:6; cf. 1 Cor. 2:12-13; 14:37).

Acts 1:15-26 shows us the church before Pentecost prayerfully asking Christ through the casting of a lot to choose a successor to Judas. Whether they were right to do this, and Paul was Christ’s thirteenth apostle, or whether Paul was Christ’s intended replacement for Judas and the choice of Matthias was a mistake, is not clear in Acts; Luke himself may not have known. Paul, the “apostle to the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:13; Gal. 2:8), who announces himself as an apostle in the opening words of most of his letters, insisted that, because he had seen Christ on the Damascus road and been commissioned by him (Acts 26:16-18), he was as truly a witness to Jesus’ resurrection (which an apostle was to be, Acts 1:21-22; 10:41-42) as were the others. James, Peter, and John accepted Paul into apostolic partnership (Gal. 2:9), and God confirmed his status by the signs of an apostle (miracles and manifestations, 2 Cor. 12:12; Heb. 2:3-4) and by the fruitfulness of his ministry (1 Cor. 9:2).

The apostles were agents of God’s revelation of the truths that would become the Christian rule of faith and life. As such, and through Christ’s appointment of them as his authorized representatives (2 Cor. 10:8; 13:10), the apostles exercised a unique and functional authority in the infant church. There are no apostles today, though some Christians fulfill ministries that are in particular ways apostolic in style. No new canonical revelation is currently being given; apostolic teaching authority resides in the canonical Scriptures, of which the apostles’ own writings are the core and the key. The absence of new revelation does not, however, put the contemporary church at any disadvantage compared with the church of apostolic days, for the Holy Spirit interprets and applies these Scriptures to God’s people continually.

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