It’s Sunday morning. You got up early, read your Bible, drank your coffee, and went to church to hear from your favorite apostle. Only—you didn’t hear from any apostles.
Yup, you read that correctly. Many churches boast of having apostles in the pulpit and many self-proclaimed apostles tote bragging rights in order to launch their “ministries.” Most people never question whether or not these men and women are true apostles. They blindly follow them and do their every bidding out of fear that if they do not, they are “touching God’s anointed.”
With the apostolic daze-craze in church culture it is especially important now more than ever to examine Scripture and understand exactly what a true apostle is. Believe it or not, the Bible does give the qualifications of an apostle. There are three main qualifications we see in Scripture: (1) the apostle was sent by someone specific, (2) the apostle was vested with a certain authority, and (3) the apostle was sent with a specific message. Using Mark 3:13-14 as our jumping off passage we will take a look at each of these qualifications in more detail and attempt to rebut some common arguments that try to circumvent the Bible on this teaching.
The apostle was sent by someone specific
13 And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And He appointed twelve (whom he named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach…
It is important to notice the pronouns in these verses. The ‘he’ and ‘him’ in verse 13 are referring to Jesus. But let us note two specific things about this verse:
- Jesus chose those He desired to be apostles
- Jesus Himself designated them as apostles
- Many of today’s self-proclaimed apostles would rebut this by saying that Jesus has also sent them to be apostles. But in the book of Acts we find something different. Those who were designated apostles had to have two special qualifications in order to claim the title apostle: (1) they had to be with Jesus at the start of His ministry or, (2) they had to have witnessed His resurrection. One of these qualifications had to be met before apostleship could be considered.
15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, 16 “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the Book of Psalms, “ ‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and “ ‘Let another take his office.’ 21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”
The apostle was vested with a certain authority
Mk 3:14-15 14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons.
Lk 10 20: Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven
Most of us think about power when we think about apostles. And it is for good reason. Jesus gave His apostles the power to cast out demons and perform miracles in His Name. This was for a specific reason as well as a sign of something greater than themselves, as we will examine in our final point of this post.
But this power was not like the kind of power that you may think about. It was not a super power or something you see in a comic book. This kind of power did not originate from themselves. The word we are thinking of is better thought of as a vested power, or a delegated power. This was much like an envoy sent by a king with specific authorities to accomplish specific tasks. For example, during the crucifixion of Jesus, the Jews had no power of their own to enact punishment. They had to get that permission, or power, from Pontus Pilate. In fact, our verse, Mark 3:14-15 translates the word as authority, which is a better suited word. The Greek word is exousia and conveys a broad range of meaning in the New Testament, which all have to do semantically with some form of delegation. Consider the word below:
The larger blue ring represents the way the word is translated the most throughout Scripture. The word is authority, the same as in Mark 3:14. But note that it is also translated as a charge, jurisdiction, and even domain. Why is this important for our topic? Many of today’s fake apostles focus solely on the power of their apostleship. But Jesus told His true apostles not to rejoice in the power given to them, but to rejoice that their names had been written in Heaven (Luke 10:20).
The apostle was sent with a specific message
33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
We come at last to the anchoring text of apostleship. The apostles were sent with a specific message and that message was their witness of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. The phrase to the resurrection is something we should give attention to. In Greek, it is known as a Genitive phrase. And more specifically, it is called a Genitive of Content. What does all this jargon mean? Greek scholar, Dan Wallace gives us some insight.
The genitive substantive specifies the contents of the word to which it is related. This word may be either a noun, adjective or verb. This is fairly common in the NT, though only with certain kinds of words. There are two kinds of genitive of content: one related to a noun or adjective (nominal gen. of content), the other to a verb (verbal gen. of content). A genitive of content is a lexico-syntactic category in that the verb or head noun will be a term indicating quantity…A genitive of content is a lexico-syntactic category in that the verb or head noun will be a term indicating quantity. The nominal genitive of content is distinct from the genitive of material in that content indicates the item contained while material indicates the material made out of…For the nominal use, the genitive term bears the brunt of the semantic weight. It is the important word rather than the head noun. Typically this construction is used in figurative language as a rhetorical device.
Wallace, D. B. (1996). Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. (pp. 92-93)
In other words, the apostles’ message of the resurrection (the content) was more important than the miracles themselves. The miracles simply showed that their message truly was from the Living Lord. This is why we see large droves of people turning to God in a single day. It was the sign and the working of God through those signs to coordinate the message and the miracle.
Again, many who believe that apostles are still commissioned today will point out that the apostles of their churches do indeed witness to Jesus’ resurrection. However, the true apostles’ testimony about the resurrection was accompanied by miracles. The first was that of tongues. But then we have the miracles of healing the lame, blind, even those who were near death. Many no doubt claim miracles in their ministries, as well. But this passage speaks about miracles that could be attested to; real miracles that took place instantaneously, not over time like many you encounter today.
The office of apostle has been done away with in our modern context. This is chiefly because there are none alive today that was present with Jesus during His ministry or none that have physically witnessed His resurrection.
Second, no one has been commissioned by God Himself to be an apostle. One may attempt to argue they have been commissioned by God’s calling and testified by the laying on of hands. Therefore they are apostles by that standard. But Scripture never gives this method of designating apostles, only elders and pastors.
Third, one cannot claim apostleship simply because he/she attests to Christ’s resurrection. All believers are called to give an answer for the hope that lies within [us] (1Peter 3:15) If that standard were to be used, we could indeed call all believers apostles.
It is important that we be discerning about those who designate themselves as apostles. Certainly, many mean no harm and take the moniker simply to show forth their calling by God into a preaching ministry. But beware of those who flaunt the title. Most are simply after fame, prestige, and wealth. Let us use Scripture as our plumb-line and guide for all of life, even something seemingly as small as a title.