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Many Christians believe that the office of apostleship ended in the first century with the apostle Paul, and that after Paul there have not been any more people called by God/Jesus Himself (through some sort of Christophany or Theophany or Damascus Road encounter) to be apostles.

What is the biblical basis for this belief?


Note: for those interested in the opposite view, see the question Are there any denominations that believe in contemporary apostles, and if so, how is a person called to be an apostle according to them?

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  • I take it that you mean 'after John' (that is to say after John's departure from this world) . . . 'there have not been any more apostles'.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 7 at 14:49
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    @NigelJ - Oh, good point. I meant to say that Paul was the last one to be called to be an apostle. John was called to be an apostle before Paul. Sep 7 at 14:57
  • OK, well that results in the question of Mark and Luke.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 7 at 15:25
  • There are as many as two dozen apostles listed in Scripture (a few without names). We have no data on when some were called. Some of them may have been called after Paul. Sep 7 at 15:45
  • @PaulChernoch Only twelve were specifically named 'apostle' by Jesus himself. Luke 6:13. Just being otherwise 'sent' does not imply such a specific naming.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 7 at 16:01
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Probably the most basic proof is that the Apostles, were directly chosen by God personally by a physical call when he was on earth, through a blinding appearance and voice and extraordinary power as he called Paul, or in the case of Matthias in a very odd yet still direct way.

Secondly as in a more common sense way, as a special group was needed with extraordinary miracles to set up a brand new way of worship and church structure etc., under a new covenant obviously a similar group will no longer be needed as there will never be a new new covenant. This is why all the recorded miracles in the Bible have mountain peaks at the time of Moses who established under the authority of those extraordinary miracles the Old Covenant and Jesus and his Apostles the established the New Covenant. There must be something extraordinary and needed in this two unique and never to he repeated major events in history? It seems most reasonable since the Apostles meet this criteria and and nobody else after them meet the same criteria, that it ended with them.

One can see this line of argument from Martin Luther when looking at Galatians 1:1 Paul and Apostles ‘not from men, nor through men’.

Therefore when Paul says “not from men nor through man,” he is knocking down the false apostles. It is as though he were saying: “No matter how much these vipers may brag, of what more can they brag than that they have come either ‘from men,’ that is, on their own, without any call, or ‘through man,’ that is, being sent by someone else? I am not concerned about any of this; nor should you be. But as for me, I have been called and sent neither from men nor through man but immediately, that is, by Jesus Christ Himself. In every way my call is like that of the apostles, and I am indeed an apostle.” Therefore Paul deals thoroughly with this doctrine of the call of the apostles. Elsewhere he distinguishes between apostleship and other ministries, as in 1 Cor. 12:28 ff. and in Eph. 4:11, where he says: “And God has ordained some in the church as apostles, prophets, etc.” He puts apostles into first place, so that those may properly be called apostles who have been sent immediately by God Himself without any other person as the means. Thus Matthias was called by God alone; for when the other apostles had chosen two men, they did not dare decide between them but cast lots and prayed God to indicate whom He preferred (Acts 1:23–26). Since he was to be an apostle, it was necessary that he be called by God. Thus Paul was called to be the apostle to the Gentiles (Rom. 11:13). This is why the apostles are called saints; for they are sure of their calling and doctrine and have remained faithful in their ministry, and no one of them has become an apostate except Judas, because their call is a holy one. (Luther’s Works Vol 26 p19)

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  • +1 tho it still leaves open the door for deceivers to claim God has directly called them to be Apostles. One of the great roles of the A. was the writing/approving of the Scriptures as the foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20). In that the Word is now complete (REv 22:18-19) no more As are needed. Sep 8 at 14:50
  • Do we have a similar reason, from Scripture, why Barnabas is called an apostle in Acts 14:14 (see nickalh answer below)? Sep 10 at 0:25
  • @Mike Borden - The netbible has a good footnote “ Acts 14:14 (NETBFEN): The apostles Barnabas and Paul. This is one of only two places where Luke calls Paul an apostle, and the description here is shared with Barnabas. This is a nontechnical use here, referring to a commissioned messenger”. The word Apostle may have nuance based on context just as many other words in the bible like the word fear. ‘Apostle’ does seems to be used in a couple different ways.
    – Mike
    Sep 11 at 1:45
  • Some scholars think Apollos wrote Hebrews. I wonder if that would make him or Luke an Apostle? Sep 11 at 12:27
  • @Mike Borden - I think while the Apostles were still alive God could choose to use someone like Luke to collect historical facts under the inspiration of the Spirit and accept and be approved (in a sense) by the Apostles - to be included in the Cannon until the scriptures were completed by John in Revelation. Actually Lukes history is about the Apostles and what they did and said. Without the Apostles endorsement I don’t see how any writing would be allowed as scripture especially as it was their acts that ACTS is a collection of. But Luke was not an Apostle. I think Paul wrote Hebrews.
    – Mike
    Sep 11 at 13:18
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Probably the most valuable passage is in Corinthians-

"and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." (1 Cor 15:5-9)

Can Paul claim to be the last apostle Jesus appeared to unless the Holy Spirit is telling him there will be no more Apostles?

Can he claim to be the only Apostle untimely born unless the Holy Spirit is saying he is the last born?

I leave it to the reader to consider if this is decisive, (I think it is). Paul was the last to be called to be an Apostle.

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It depends on your definition of "apostle".

  1. a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders Thayers Apostle, Apostleship:

is, lit., "one sent forth" (apo, "from," stello, "to send"). "The word is used of the Lord Jesus to describe His relation to God, Hbr 3:1; see Jhn 17:3. The twelve disciples chosen by the Lord for special training were so called, Luk 6:13; 9:10. Paul, though he had seen the Lord Jesus, 1Cr 9:1; 15:8, had not 'companied with' the Twelve 'all the time' of His earthly ministry, and hence was not eligible for a place among them, according to Peter's description of the necessary qualifications, Act 1:22. Paul was commissioned directly, by the Lord Himself, after His Ascension, to carry the Gospel to the Gentiles. "The word has also a wider reference. In Act 14:4, 14, it is used of Barnabas as well as of Paul; in Rom 16:7 of Andronicus and Junias. In 2Cr 8:23 (RV, margin) two unnamed brethren are called 'apostles of the churches;' in Phl 2:25 (RV, margin) Epaphroditus is referred to as 'your apostle.' It is used in 1Th 2:6 of Paul, Silas and Timothy, to define their relation to Christ." * [* From Notes on Thessalonians, by Hogg and Vine, pp. 59-60.] -Vines-

If you use the word apostle as did Peter in Acts 1:22, then the last apostle is Matthias. He was of the twelve.

Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.

For Peter, at this time, an apostle was an eyewitness.

Paul, some three years later, was called by God to preach to the gentiles, but so were others to whom Paul points. It is as if the idea of an apostle was shifting from an eyewitness of Christ's ministry to the Jews to a faithful witness of the gospel to all peoples, yet one who is called of God..

Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. Rom 16:7

But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother. Gal 1:19

Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out, Acts 14:14

So, was Paul the last apostle? The bookends of Christ's specifically called apostles as eyewitness spread from James to John, sons of Zebedee, first and last apostles to die. But as apostles called to faithfully spread the gospel to all peoples, Paul and the others like Barnabas were also apostles during that period.

While there were eyewitness apostles and let's say "special" apostles overlapping that time from from ascension to John's death, we may presume to conclude that the office of apostle ended with John. We do this as there is no known record of other apostles specifically endowed with incredible gifts of the Spirit as apostles were wont to show when they preached the good news.

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