We usually read the position that there were only 12 Apostles + Paul, and that after the Apostolic era, we have no more Apostles at all. Specially I see this among Reformed theologians.

But how do these theologians explain Acts 14:14 and Acts 14:4, where Barnabas (not one of the twelve and, obviously, not Paul) is called an Apostle? (ἀπόστολοι is the same word used in Matthew 10:2, for example)

4 But the multitude of the city was divided: and part held with the Jews, and part with the apostles.


14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this [...]

Note on the verse 4: in the passage's context, we see in verse 1 that only Barnabas and Paul were there at Iconium as Christians in that specific "apostolic" mission, so, when we read verse 4, is clear that "apostles" there are Barnabas and Paul and no one else.

Another interpretation: There is a theological branch that will call them "Apostles of the Holy Spirit", because they were separated by the Holy Spirit in Acts 13:2 pretty much as the twelve were separated by the Lord at Matthew 10:2. Mainly Dispensationalists will hold on this view. And they believe that the Goly Spirit still separating His Apostles today. A good answer could deal with this view too.

  • That matter of dispensationalist interpretation here might be better as a separate question; it sounds like a significantly different view than the typical Reformed view. Dec 16, 2015 at 23:05

3 Answers 3


Reformed theologians understand these verses to be using the word "apostle" in a broader sense than is normally used, because of the similarity of the work of the men in that particular context. Barnabas and Paul's task at that time was similar, and thus both were working as "apostles," that is, as missionaries and evangelists. Calvin's analysis of Acts 14:4 is typical:

When Luke calleth Barnabas an apostle together with Paul, he extendeth the signification of the word farther than unto the chief [primary] order which Christ appointed in his Church; like as Paul maketh Andronicus and Junias excellent among the apostles. But if we should speak properly, they were evangelists and not apostles; unless peradventure because Barnabas was made Paul’s fellow in office, we place them both in like degree of office, so may he be truly called an apostle. (source)

Albert Barnes points out that both were "set apart" for missions in the same manner in Acts 13:

Barnabas is called an apostle because he was sent forth by the church on a particular message (Acts 13:3; compare Acts 14:26), not because he had been chosen to the special work of the apostleship (source)

Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown similarly explain that the word "apostles" is used here to describe Barnabas "not merely as Paul's companion, but in their missionary character." At that particular time, before Paul's apostolic authority was exercised, the term could be used more generally:

In no other character had Paul as yet stood forth among his brethren. His distinctively official apostolic authority had as yet no scope for its exercise. And since in the missionary character of his apostleship there was no perceptible, and hardly any real difference—if any at all—between him and Barnabas, why might not our historian, with propriety enough, style them both "apostles," without implying that there was not, and never would be, any difference between the two as apostles? (source)

  1. We now understand what offices in the government of the Church were temporary, and what offices were instituted to be of perpetual duration. But if we class evangelists with apostles, we shall have two like offices in a manner corresponding to each other. For the same resemblance which our teachers have to the ancient prophets pastors have to the apostles. The prophetical office was more excellent in respect of the special gift of revelation which accompanied it, but the office of teachers was almost of the same nature, and had altogether the same end. In like manner, the twelve, whom the Lord chose to publish the new preaching of the Gospel to the world (Luke 6:13), excelled others in rank and dignity. For although, from the nature of the case, and etymology of the word, all ecclesiastical officers may be properly called apostles, because they are all sent by the Lord and are his messengers, yet as it was of great importance that a sure attestation should be given to the mission of those who delivered a new and extraordinary message, it was right that the twelve (to the number of whom Paul was afterwards added) should be distinguished from others by a peculiar title. The same name, indeed, is given by Paul to Andronicus and Junia, who, he says, were “of note among the apostles” (Rom. 16:7); but when he would speak properly, he confines the term to that primary order. And this is the common use of Scripture. Still pastors (except that each has the government of a particular church assigned to him) have the same function as apostles. The nature of this function let us now see still more clearly. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion VI, IV.

According the John Calvin, the father of Reformed Theology, there are twelve apostles plus Paul who is included in their number. The confusion regarding Barnabas is the use of the term "apostle" in a sense different than it is applied to the Twelve and Paul. "Apostle" generally refers to an office in the church which closed upon the death of the final living apostle, but can also be used to describe missionaries and those who are sent by God. Similarly, the office of deacon is a specific church office, but the word "deacon" means servant and every Christian is a servant. Barnabas was a missionary sent by God, but not a member of the apostolic office.


Yes, according to Luke

Luke calls both Paul and Barnabas in Acts 14:14 ...

Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out,

... as ἀπόστολοι 652. apostolos

NOTE: This verse is extremely suspicious due to the author being Luke, a companion of Paul, as confirmed by Ireneaus in his Against Heresies -- NOT Luke one of the original Twelve Disciples.

No, according to John

John was the last of the original Twelve apostles to die. He clearly did not include late-comers Paul nor Barnabas in Rev 21:14

The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

... as ἀποστόλων 652. apostolos

Maybe, according to Calvin

In 1 Cor 4:9 we find Paul referring to Apollos

For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings.

.. as ἀποστόλους 652. apostolos

The original twelve never refer to Paul, Barnabas, Apollos or Sylvanust as apostles. Reformed theologians and other apologists like to ignore the facts and invent their own interpretation -- in this regard John Calvin is no different. Now Calvin died before he could finish his commentary of Revelations 21 but we do have his commentary on 1 Cor 4:9 Where he writes:

It is uncertain if he is speaking about himself alone, or whether he includes Apollos and Sylvanus, for he sometimes calls men like them apostles. I prefer however to take it as referring to himself alone. If anyone wishes to give it a wider application, I have no great objection, provided that he does not understand it, like Chrysostom, to mean that all the apostles have been relegated to the least significant place, as if they were in disgrace.


  • 1
    Could you edit this to address the question's element about reformed theology? It's a good start, but appears to be incomplete as you are offering a scripture only answer, and the question asks for (beyond that) the position taken by a particular type of Christian belief: reformed theology. Thanks, and we look forward to your continued participation here. Apr 24, 2017 at 20:33

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