Apostles, prophets, and evangelists

Apostles

  • “The term ‘apostle’ was originally used as an adjective, describing a dispatch that was usually made by sea. It could also designate the thing that was sent out.” (Lexham Bible Dictionary)
  • In the New Testament the term “apostle” refers to an authorized person sent on a special mission. He is a messenger, envoy, ambassador, or an emissary. He is an official delegate of Jesus Christ.
  • The 1st category of apostles: The Twelve. Called, authorized, and sent (Matthew 10:1-4). Mission extended (Matthew 28:18–20).
  • Matthias replaced Judas. The candidates considered had to fit a special criteria: they had been with Christ from the beginning of his ministry and they were eye-witnesses of the risen Christ (Acts 1:21–26).
  • This replacement was unique.
    • “Peter explained that the reason for a new apostle was that Judas had apostatized and abandoned his office (Acts 1:16-17, 20, cf. 1:25), not that Judas had merely died (52, 179). The prayer of the disciples in Acts 1:24-25 “is not a set prayer such as the Lord’s Prayer or prayers in a liturgical setting, but a unique prayer on a specific and unrepeatable occasion” (75). “In the immediate context in the Book of Acts, the appointment of Matthias as the twelfth apostle prepares the way for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Zwiep argues (172–73), correctly I think, that in this context the appointment of Matthias was necessary so that Israel’s believing community could be fully represented by twelve men corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel (Luke 22:28-30). “There is more, but Zwiep’s thorough monograph on the Matthias passage—one of the very few such monographs ever published—confirms that Luke did not view Matthias’s appointment as [precedent] for an ongoing institutional office of apostle. To the contrary, the twelve apostles were a unique group of men whom Christ had chosen to fulfill a unique, eschatological role in redemptive history.” (Robert Bowman’s review of a book by Arie W Zwiep)
  • The 2nd category of apostle: The one untimely born, Paul. He is a literal eyewitness of the risen Christ, and considered himself the last in an exclusive group (1 Corinthians 15:4–11). Paul is very clear that he did not receive his apostolic authority or commission from another apostle (Galatians 1:1, 2:1-10).
  • The 3rd category of apostle: A broader, more generic sense of messenger.
    • “As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers [Greek: apostles] of the churches, the glory of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 8:23) These were part of a church-endorsed, church-sent effort to establish other churches in areas that had not been reached. Today we have a similar category: missionaries. “There were Barnabas (Acts 14:4, 14; 1 Cor 9:5–7), James, the Lord’s brother (1 Cor 15:7; Gal 1:19), and Apollos (1 Cor 4:6, 9), probably Silvanus (1 Thess 1:1; 2:6 [GT 2:7]), Titus (2 Cor 8:23), Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25), and possibly Andronicus and Junia(s) (Rom 16:7). Paul mentions James and all the apostles (1 Cor 15:7) as distinct from Peter and the Twelve (15:5). In Gal 1:18–19 Paul states that when he went up to Jerusalem he visited Peter and he did not visit other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. Hence, Paul recognized apostles beyond the Twelve.” (Hoehner, 135)
  • The apostles were church planters.
    • “It seems then that the main function of an apostle is to establish churches in areas that have not been reached by others (Rom 15:20). They are God’s messengers to open up new territories for Christ.” (Hoehner, 542)
  • The apostles and prophets were the pioneers to initially reveal the mystery of the gospel, “that the Gentiles are fellow heirs.” (Ephesians 3:4-6)
  • The the message and authority of the apostles (particularly the Twelve and Paul) was validated by significant miracles.
    • “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.” (2 Corinthians 12:12)
  • The apostles and prophets laid an initial foundation that the rest of the household of God would build on / grow into (Ephesians 2:19-21).
  • Paul, Peter, and Jude exhort their readers to remember, teach, and contend for the apostolic deposit of teaching definitively delivered to the saints (2 Timothy 2:2, 2 Peter 3:2, Jude 3).

Prophets

  • They stimulated the church by telling the future (Acts 11:27-30).
  • They spoke clear words of instruction from God (Acts 13:1–3).
  • They encouraged and strengthened believers (Acts 15:30–35; 1 Corinthians 14:3).
  • They disclosed the secrets of the heart (1 Corinthians 14:24-25).
  • They were to prophesy in an orderly manner, and to be weighed by others (1 Corinthians 14:29–33; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:21).
  • They were secondary to the apostles and were to submit to the teaching of the apostles (Ephesians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 12:28; 1 Corinthians 14:37–38).
  • They helped lay an initial foundation upon which the household of God could grow into and build upon (Ephesians 2:20).

Building on their foundation

How do we today build on and grow into the foundation of the apostles and prophets? Consider what Paul, Peter, and Jude exhort toward the end of their lives:

  • “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2)
  • “Remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles.” (2 Peter 3:2)
  • “Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3) Later Jude writes, “remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Jude 17)

Summary: Entrust, teach, remember, contend for the foundational apostolic deposit definitively delivered to the saints.

(Addendum: “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32) He doesn’t tell them to pay attention to a succession of future prophets or apostles. He commends them to God’s word.)

Evangelists

  • A basic definition: Evangelists preach the good news to those who have not heard it.
  • Compare these two words:
    • εὐαγγελιστής (evangelist)
    • εὐαγγέλιον (gospel)
    • See the overlap?
  • Philip was called an evangelist (Acts 21:8).
  • Philip preached to crowds (Acts 8:4-8). God used miracles to help him draw a crowd!
  • Philip practiced Spirit-led individual stranger-evangelism (Acts 8:26-40).
  • Paul tells Timothy, a younger man left behind to help stabilize churches with church leadership, to do the work of an evangelist: “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:5)
  • Paul tells this same Timothy to avoid quarreling, but yet to persist in teaching and correct his opponents, and to do so kindly and patiently (2 Timothy 2:22–26).
  • Evangelists preach with clarity what Old Testament prophets inquired about and what angels longed to look at. What they anticipated we evangelists get to announce (1 Peter 1:10–12).