Apostles and Prophets In The New Testament Church: Qualifications, Appointment, Functions, and Duration
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,” (Ephesians 4:11-12)
As far as the organization of the New Testament church is concerned, apostles and prophets were part of those that God set forth in the church during the infancy stage of the church. Paul stated in Ephesians 2:20 that the church was built upon the “foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.” Apostles and prophets were set there for a specific purpose, and when their mission was accomplished, they are no longer needed today (I Corinthians 13:8).
However, it is not uncommon to see people today in the religious world call themselves apostles and prophets. In fact, some individuals and churches would not consider one a true Christian if such does not possess the gift of prophecy. As part of our duty to rightly divide the word of truth (II Timothy 2:15), our endeavor in this writing is to examine the role of apostles and prophets; their qualifications, how they were appointed as well as the duration of their work.
Definition of Terms
The word “apostle” is from the Greek word “Apostolos” (G652), and it means a messenger; someone that is sent from or forth. In the New Testament, we find that the word is used in two distinct senses. Generally, it could refer to anyone that is sent by another to fulfill a task or mission. For example, we find that the word “messengers” in II Corinthians 8:23 is a translation of the Greek word, “Apostolos” – “If anyone inquires about Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker concerning you. Or if our brethren are inquired about, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ” (II Corinthians 8:23).The word translated “messengers” in this verse is “Apostolos” and the brethren were called apostles in the sense that they were sent by the churches on a mission. Another good example is found in Acts 14:14, where Barnabas (alongside Paul) was called an apostle. Here, Barnabas was an apostle in the sense that he was sent by the church in Antioch of Syria and accompanied Paul on evangelistic trips.
In a special or official sense, the term “apostle” also refers to those individuals who were specially and divinely selected to serve as Jesus’ original representatives or messengers – “And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles:” (Luke 6:13). Jesus chose these men as special messengers or ambassadors (II Corinthians 5:20). Of these original twelve, we find that Judas betrayed the Lord and committed suicide (Matthew 27:3-5). Matthias was selected by divine appointment to replace Judas (Acts 1:16-26). Paul was another man chosen by divine appointment to serve as the apostle of the Lord (I Corinthians 1:1; 9:1-4; Galatians 1:1).
Prophets on the other hand were people who spoke for God. They receive revelations from God and speak what God has revealed to them. Agabus was an example of such (Acts 11:27-30). In the church that was at Antioch, we find that there were certain prophets there (Acts 13:1). There were also prophets in the church at Corinth (I Corinthians 14:29). When people were baptized in the New Testament, we find that the apostles often lay hands on them to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17) and they would receive the miraculous ability to prophesy, speak in tongues, etc.
“But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.”
Becoming an apostle in the official sense of it requires one to meet certain qualifications. Christ appointed the first set of men by handpicking them as seen in Luke 6:13. However, in replacement of Judas, Matthias was appointed by divine qualifications. These qualifications were set forth in Acts 1:21-22 when Judas was to be replaced: “Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.” From this verse, we see that for one to be qualified to be an apostle, such had to have seen the Lord and been an eyewitness of His resurrection. That was the basis on which Judas was replaced.
The apostles specifically described their unique role in the early church as involving giving themselves to “the word of God” and “the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2,4). Basically, apostles were commissioned by Jesus to introduce the religion of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-48). We can see this coming to place by their preaching of the Gospel to the whole world (Colossians 1:23), and the establishment of the church of Christ (Acts 2). Second, apostles were largely responsible for making the New Testament available—first in oral form and, more specifically, in written form (1 Corinthians 14:37; Galatians 1:12; Ephesians 3:3-4; 1 Thessalonians 5:27; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:14; 1 Peter 1:12; 2 Peter 1:12-21; 3:15-16). These two central tasks are set forth clearly in the New Testament. That was why Paul said in Ephesians 2:20 that the church was built upon the “foundation of the apostles and prophets.” The Holy Spirit provided the apostles miraculous powers to confirm their testimony (Acts 4:33). And once all the information necessary to the promotion of the Christian religion was revealed to the early church (through oral means made possible by the distribution of the gifts), the church would have the means available to grow and mature in Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:8-13). While prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers were part of this early development of Christianity (Ephesians 4:11), the office of an apostle was the primary means by which Christ accomplished the inauguration of His religion.
Once the functions of the apostles and prophets were completed (i.e., introducing the church and making the New Testament available), the apostolic office faded from the scene along with the age of miracles. There are some Bible reasons why we do not have apostles today. First, their work has been completed. Second, no one today can meet the qualification that was listed to be an apostle – no one can serve as an eyewitness to Jesus. Third, all who were selected as apostles were chosen by Jesus. No method is recorded in the Bible for the training of new apostles. In fact, Paul’s argument that he was an apostle rested on the fact that he was not trained or selected by men (Galatians 1:11-12). Fourth, there is a distinct lack of proof that men today are apostles. There are signs with proved they are apostles. For example, Paul said to the Corinthians; “Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds.” Where is the evidence of signs which prove apostleship today? A notable sign was the ability to pass on the gifts of the Spirit by the laying on of the apostles’ hands (Acts 8:18). Paul even showed this ability (II Timothy 1:6). Today we have claims of such an ability, but there has been no proof. Hence, neither apostles nor miraculous gifts were needed any longer. They had served their temporary purpose (Mark 16:20; Acts 4:29-31; 13:12; 14:3; Romans 15:18-19; Hebrews 2:3-4; cf. Exodus 4:30). Miraculous gifts functioned as scaffolding while the church was under initial construction and was removed at the completion of the structure (1 Corinthians 3:10; 13:11; Ephesians 4:13-14). The Bible is the totality of God’s written revelation to humans today and it is the perfect law of liberty (James 1:25). Consequently, people now have access to everything they need (2 Peter 1:3) in order to enter into a right relationship with God via Christianity and the church of Christ. The apostles “had no official successors. From the nature of their duties, there could be no succession” (Hayden, pp. 20-21 cited in Miller, 2002). Based on this, apostles, quite simply, are no longer needed!
God warned us that there would be false apostles. Their deeds would demonstrate them to be false (II Corinthians 14:13-15). When tested, they would be shown as false apostles (Revelation 2:2). When a man falsely claims apostleship, he does so to gain authority with the church. By claiming to be an apostle, he claims the right to teach his own doctrine and that doctrine will necessarily conflict with the proven doctrine already delivered by the apostles (Galatians 1:6-10). Hence, we are warned to test every spirit (I John 4:1). Just because a man claims to be an apostle does not make it so.
Miller, D (2002). Are there modern-day apostles? Retrieved from https://apologeticspress.org/are-there-modern-day-apostles-1226/
Hamilton, J.W. (n.d.) Apostleship. Retrieved from http://lavistachurchofchrist.org/LVarticles/Apostleship.htm