Yeah, the title of this post sounds strange. But, there’s a reason to my madness.
There is alot of confusion today about apostles. In fact, this confusion has continued for thousands of years (well, about two thousand years). It’s not that I’ve figured out something that no one else has ever figured out. Many people understand the difference between apostles and apostles. But, there are many who are still confused.
You see, it all began with the apostles… the twelve… those twelve men that Jesus originally called so that he could send them out.You can see this in Matthew 9-10:
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. The names of the twelve apostles are these… These twelve Jesus sent out… (Matthew 9:35-10:5)
The word “apostle” simply indicates that the person is a representative of someone else sent out for some person. Often, it can be translated as “messenger.” An “apostle” is differentiated from other in that the apostle is “sent out.” In fact, the noun “apostle” comes from a verb that means “to send,” as in Matthew 10:5.
Thus, the Twelve (the Apostles) were apostles. They were “sent out” by Jesus both before and after his death and resurrection. They were specifically told to make disciples of all the nations (indicating being sent) (Matthew 28:19-20) and that they were to be witnesses of Jesus to the end of the earth (also indicating being sent) (Acts 1:8).
So, the apostles (the Twelve) were apostles (those who are sent out).
The difficulty comes in recognizing that others in Scripture are also called apostles even though they were not part of the Twelve. The designations are not the same. The Twelve (including Paul?) were a special type of apostle who had been personally commissioned by Jesus. However, there were other apostles in Scripture who were not part of the Twelve.
In Acts 14:14, Barnabas is called an apostle. In 1 Thessalonians 2:6, Paul indicates that Timothy and Silas are apostles (see 1 Thessalonians 1:1 for the identification of “we”). 1 Corinthians 4:9 indicates that Apollos was an apostle (see 1 Corinthians 4:6).
Finally, in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul makes a clear distinction between “the twelve” and “the apostles.”
Thus, the Twelve (and Paul) were apostles, but others were apostles as well. There is, then, no reason not to identify Andronicus and Junia as being “among the apostles” in Romans 16:7. The indication only means that Andronicus and Junia were “sent out” away from their home in order to proclaim the gospel and strengthen the churches as they went.
The apostles were apostles, but there were other apostles who were not counted among the Twelve. From the very early days after the death of the Twelve, Christians have argued about the continuing existence of apostles. The Twelve no longer exist. But, there is no reason to assume that there are no apostles today. In fact, Scripture seems to indicate that the church continues to need apostles just as we continue to need all gifted believers.