the weblog of Alan Knox

Apostles or Elders?

Posted by on Feb 22, 2011 in blog links, elders | 31 comments

Apostles or Elders?

Andy at “aBowden Blog” wrote a very good article called “Brothers, We Are Not Apostles.”

In the post, Andy examines a common, modern (and perhaps even old) hermeneutic: assigning functions and characteristics of apostles in Scripture to elders/pastors today?

Is this is a valid way to interpret Scripture?

Andy writes:

Perhaps, then, we are wrong in assuming Apostolic functions are transferred to pastors and elders. What would happen if, when reading of the appointing of servants to wait on tables in Acts 6, we assumed that role was passed to pastor/elders. Bartlett writes, “It may also be that the responsibilities assigned to the seven in Acts 6 here have passed on to the elders as well” (Bartlett, Ministry, 133). And Tidball concludes, “There seems great wisdom in the growing consensus that rather than occupying an office, elders were simply those older men [hence the word “elder”] in the congregation who were respected and recognized for their experience and wisdom” (Tidball, 94).

So, Andy thinks there is a difference between apostles and elders/pastors. I agree. What do you think?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 2-22-2011

    I agree. But then, I also think the men appointed in Acts 6 were elders/pastors.

  2. 2-22-2011


    Now, you know that the seven men listed in Acts 6 cannot be elders/pastors, because elders/pastors are supposed to spend all of their time in prayer and in the word and not serving meals. It says so right there in Acts 6.


  3. 2-22-2011


    I agree that the functions of an apostle can not be consigned to a pastor/teacher. However I disagree with Bartlett that apostleship is dead. Actually, in practice that gift would SEEM dead, thanks to the improper emphasis on pastoral gifts. In reality I believe the lack of that function on the body is one reason that the body of Christ is so weak, immature and anemic. If Christ gave 4 (or 5) gifts for the maturing of the body, why are not all of them active? One place in the NT states the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, but we do not see that today.


  4. 2-22-2011


    I also disagree with that statement by Bartlett. And, if you read the comments, Andy disagrees with that statement as well. I think he was using that statement as an example.


  5. 2-22-2011

    I agree with Mark

    and I could not agree more with this: “There seems great wisdom in the growing consensus that rather than occupying an office, elders were simply those older men [hence the word “elder”] in the congregation who were respected and recognized for their experience and wisdom”

  6. 2-22-2011


    Thanks for that info. I was reading Andy’s post mobile, and wasn’t able to read the comments. I kind of assumed he didn’t hold to that portion of it, as he didn’t make any mention of it later. I have heard that theology in the past, although I don’t hear it much. I don’t even know who Bartlett is! Likewise I strongly agree with the portion quoted by tommyab. I don’t like the word “office”, or at least as we think of offices, when it comes to these issues.


  7. 2-22-2011


    Been wondering when this matter would arrive on the scene. I know it’s monotonous, but, I too, agree.

    “elders were simply those older men [hence the word “elder”] in the congregation who were respected and recognized for their experience and wisdom”, Exactly!

    How can a congregation recognize the Scriptural characteristics for eldership unless the person is a long serving member of THAT very congregation? Ditto for their experience and wisdom?

    Letters of recommendation from another congregation don’t count for much. I personally know of churches who have given a good reference for a pastor they want to get rid off!

  8. 2-22-2011

    last sentence… hilarious

  9. 2-22-2011


    Yes, that’s a very good sentence. If that’s true (and I think it is), then we’ve moved a long way from that understanding of elders.


    I thought the same thing when I first read his post.

    Aussie John,

    It is a very common hermeneutic around here: if it applied to apostles, then it applies to pastors (especially the senior pastor) now.


  10. 2-22-2011

    Hey Mark,

    You asked, “If Christ gave 4 (or 5) gifts for the maturing of the body, why are not all of them active?”

    Well, they are.

    By and large, such folk don’t really know what to do, how they fit in, since there isn’t much of an accepted role/service for them “today.” Some become missionaries, some radio folks, bloggers, seminary teachers, church planters, book writers, senior pastors, troublemakers, misfits, etc.

    But then, you basically have a similar situation for elders/pastors (“such folk don’t really know what to do, how they fit in”), with the exception that the church does have a greatly distorted place for them today.

  11. 2-22-2011


    You said, “Such folk don’t really know what to do…” Yes, that’s a huge problem, and not just for those gifted as apostles.


  12. 2-22-2011

    I agree with this and I also agree that in many cases the Elder / Sr. Pastor has taken on the role of the apostles in scripture. One easy example I think comes from the books of Timothy and Titus being labeled “Pastoral Epistles.” Correct me if I am wrong but Timothy and Titus were not Sr. Ministers in the way we think, they were apostles. The way I understand it, apostles laid the foundation for church life to happen. Elders were recognized among the community, by outsiders it seems, long after the church had been established. One is a builder, the other is a nurturer, teacher & sustainer. One stays temporarily, the other remains for long time and possibly a lifetime. That’s how I understand the roles at least. I don’t think it’s right to confuse the two or FUSE the two in our modern “churches”

  13. 2-22-2011


    Yes, I agree. Calling Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus “Pastoral Epistles” gives the wrong message about the purpose of these letters and the service of Timothy and Titus.


  14. 2-22-2011

    I definately believe there are still men who have an apostolic call on their lives to set in order and lay foundations for churches. But all too often we confuse the rolls and functions of apostles with the local eldership. We use the apostolic template as the model for local leadership.

    It is going to take time for change to occur. However, it is very unlikely that traditional churches will ever embrace NT thinking and living biblically in this area without some sort of persecution or trouble.

  15. 2-22-2011


    I hope you’re wrong, but I’m afraid that you may be right.


  16. 2-23-2011

    Along these lines, something I have been pondering recently is the role of “Church planter” in our time. I hear them more commonly linked to NT apostles than I do elders. I’m not sure I like the comparison any better. I don’t know much about church planting today, but what I do know of it revolves around typical business strategies: marketing, fundraising, etc. It seems forced as opposed to what I understand in the NT where church life naturally developed as a result of witnessing in some areas. Other areas received the same witness but a church never spawned. Another example of the organic vs. organizational approach to ministry. What do you think of the comparison though Alan?

  17. 2-23-2011


    “…revolves around typical business strategies: marketing, fundraising, etc. It seems forced…”

    Pretty much, but with the best of intentions (although maybe not with the best of hermeneutic examination).

    If I may:

    Here is an overview of church planting models:

    And here is an overview of Paul’s practices:

  18. 2-23-2011


    I don’t think there’s a close connection between modern day church planters (at least, the way I normally see them operate) and either NT apostles or elders.


    I remember those articles. Very good.


  19. 2-23-2011

    Doesn’t Frank Viola consider church planters to be apostles? Granted, I think he has quite a different view as to what church planting is vs. the institutional church’s model, but I think he does equate church planters with apostles.


  20. 2-23-2011


    I wouldn’t be surprised if Frank equated church planting with apostleship. I probably would too, assuming he’s using a different (than normal) definition of church planting. That’s why I said “church planters (at least, the way I normally see them operate)” in my comment above. There are several people – Frank included – who are redefining church planting, missionary, etc. I think this is a good thing.


  21. 2-23-2011

    Why should we assume that modern day “church planters” are apostles? To be an apostle means to be a ‘sent one’.. and in this case the one being sent is being sent by Jesus Christ Himself. I don’t know of anyone in the Church today who can make the claim (like Paul and Peter could) that they have been sent directly by Jesus Christ. This is important because if someone has apostolic authority, then to reject that authority is to reject the authority of Jesus Himself. Jesus said to the apostles, “As the Father sent me, so I send you”.. and “whoever hears you accepts Me and whoever rejects you rejects Me”. There are no modern day apostles with that kind of office, in my opinion. Unless we are redefining the term apostle to “church planters”…

  22. 2-23-2011


    There are people identified as apostles in the New Testament who were not specifically sent by Jesus Christ (like Paul and Peter). Here are a few people that the NT authors identified as apostles: Barnabas, Andronicus, Junia, Silas, Timothy, and Apollos. Perhaps “apostle” can refer to someone who was not specifically sent by Jesus Christ?


  23. 2-23-2011


    Why would we assume that those statements don’t extend to all believers? Why just Jesus’ immediate audience?

  24. 2-23-2011

    if the body of Christ send someone… is this equivalent to say that this person is sent by Christ ??

  25. 2-23-2011


    I would think so.

  26. 2-23-2011

    You can identify Apostles that were sent by Jesus by their tall green hat with gold trim (in modern times, sometimes the humble ones just use big hair).

  27. 2-23-2011

    Alan and Dan,

    I agree that those individuals were identified as apostles as well, but I tend to think that they were also sent by Jesus. Timothy and Barnabas had been given the same apostolic authority as Paul or Peter. I believe it’s possible for them to have been commissioned by Christ even though it was after the resurrection and ascension. I believe the church was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20). I don’t think a foundation has to be laid twice so I tend to think that the apostles were only around in the first century. The early church had this dilemma when Irenaeus decided to teach the doctrine of “apostolic succession”. This brought about the hierarchical church structure of Roman Catholicism because they knew that the apostles had a special “commission” from Jesus which was special. When the apostles said something, it was like Jesus was saying that same thing. However, I find it difficult to bring it over into modern times since we cannot give a member of the body of Christ that kind of authority unless we call them the Pope.

  28. 2-23-2011

    I think part of what complicates this discussion is our flawed understanding of authority. I definitely believe that the apostolic gifting is alive and well, although often misunderstood, mis-applied or just plain ignored. What I have found through experience in my own life is that the Lord gives different graces to different people. Graces could be equivalent to gifts, to a certain extent. In my life, the Lord has ordered relationships with individuals around me where there is a natural flow of spiritual “authority”. What I mean by authority is this: the grace of God in me recognizes the grace of God in those around me, and there is a natural flow of grace in these relationships. SO, when a dear friend, who functions as an apostle, (and is also an elder in my life as well), speaks something to me it carries a lot of weight. It is almost like a computer chip or something, that the computer chip in me recognizes the computer chip in him, and there is a natural relationship that develops. Of course, the Holy Spirit is that computer chip, and when this is functioning as it should there is no competition, there is no over-lording, there is no jealousy, or anything like what so often comes with power structures in the natural world. So, again, it comes down to our understanding of “authority” in the body of Christ, and how that authority works in practicality.

    I am probably not explaining this well, but I hope so.

  29. 2-23-2011


    I would not agree that the apostles spoke infallibly, which would be the logical conclusion of the statement: “When the apostles said something, it was like Jesus was saying that same thing.”

    There only seems to be one kind of succession in Scripture: from teacher to student (who in turn becomes a teacher and so on…) which we call discipleship. Jesus passed it on to his followers who passed it on and on down the line to us. So, I guess, in a sense I do believe in Apostolic Succession … to everyone.

  30. 2-23-2011


    The Twelve were apostles who had spent time with Jesus. There were others who had spent time with Jesus (either before or after the resurrection) who were not apostles (James, for example). There appears to be some special authority for those who spent time with Jesus. However, there were others who did not spend time with Jesus (physically) who still had authority to write Scripture (Mark, Luke, Jude, for example).

    The authority is not related to their gifting or functioning as apostles, even though it is traditionally called “apostolic authority.” And, while some in the early church (such as Irenaeus) believed that there were no more apostles during their time (and thus needed to create a succession of authority from the “the apostles”), others during the same time period believed that God continued to gift people as apostles (Origen and Jerome, for example). In this sense, as in the sense that apostles exist today, “apostles” are those who are sent away from their homes to proclaim Christ and to build up the church. (See Acts 13:1-4)

    The argument that Barnabas, Andronicus, Junia, Silas, Timothy, Apollos, and others were called apostles only because they spent time with Jesus physically cannot be backed up by Scripture. However, we do see that these people were traveling from place to place (away from their homes) as “sent ones” to proclaim the gospel and strengthen churches.

    The authority of apostles – and the authority of all believers – does not rest in their gifting, but in their ability to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ and to live their lives as examples to others.


  31. 2-23-2011

    Glad to see the female apostle mentioned, not ignored or given a name change. :)