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What is the biblical basis for the belief held by some Christians that the office of apostle has not ceased, but has continued until this day?


Relevant passages:

28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues [1 Cor 12:28 ESV]

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, [Ephesians 4:11-12 ESV]

11 I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. 12 The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works. [2 Cor 12:11-12 ESV]

19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, [Ephesians 2:19-20 ESV]


Related questions:

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  • @NigelJ - No, because that question is asking for the biblical basis for the opposite belief. How can it be a duplicate? This question is about continuationism, the other is about cessationism. Dec 4 '21 at 17:22
  • You accepted the answer which gave biblical support for cessation. If that be so, then continuation is not a truth.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 4 '21 at 17:55
  • @NigelJ - I've accepted answers from Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. Does that mean that I should become a Mormon or a Jehovah's Witness too? Dec 4 '21 at 17:57
  • Well I think that 'ever learning and never coming to the knowledge of the truth', 2 Timothy 3:7, is not a desirable situation. One should come to conclusions and take steps based on those conclusions. Else, one merely ends up with a collection of contradictory bits of 'information' and one makes no progress.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 4 '21 at 18:00
  • 1
    @NigelJ while I agree with your statement I also agree that accepting another answer does not denote an acceptance of it as truth, more of an acceptance that said answer addresses the question from the requested viewpoint or about said subject.
    – depperm
    Dec 5 '21 at 12:11
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The bible uses the word "apostle" to mean one who is sent forth with orders. There are two classes of that office. The first are ones who were eyewitnesses to Christ's 3 1/2 year ministry. The second are also messengers of those eyewitness who are called and sent forth to continue the spread of the gospel (emphasis mine).

So, the biblical basis for the continued office of a messenger apostle is not one who adds to or subtracts from the gospel as written during the time of the eyewitness apostles, but as one who faithfully brings the same gospel message forward.

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. These were the eyewitness apostles.

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 the same gospel message. As well, there were other apostles who spread the same message, but who were not eyewitnesses.

Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, 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, the bookends of Christ's specifically called apostles as eyewitness spread from James to John, sons of Zebedee, first and last eyewitness apostles to die. Within this period and continuing to today are faithful apostles called to faithfully spread the exact same gospel to all peoples, even though they are not eyewitnesses.

What about 2 Cor 12:11-12?

I [Paul] am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing. Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.

The "chiefest" or "pre-eminent" would point to the eyewitness apostles of the 3 1/2 years of Christ's ministry. The twelve and Paul, called of God as an apostle, showed the same signs and wonders among them as the gospel spread from Jerusalem outward. This was God endorsing their gospel. Once the bible was written by the time of John's death, the signs and wonders of the apostolic office was changing from miracles to faithful teaching (a miracle in itself). This is the message of Ephesians 2:20.

And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;

There are no more eyewitness apostles as also the prophetic office in the Old Testament also ended. What's the contrast?

But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. 2 Peter 2:1

The Old Testament false prophets were those who erroneously spoke in the name of God; likewise, in the New Testament where the apostolic office shifts from speaking as an eyewitness and as from the bible to basically adding to or subtracting from the gospel.

So, what is the biblical basis for the continuation of the apostolic office? If we use that broader definition found in the bible, it becomes faithful teachers of the same Good News.

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What is the biblical basis for the modern continuation of the office of apostle?

An Apostle in essence is on who is sent out to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, thus anyone sent out to preach the Gospel, especially if it was from some from of ecclesiastical authority would be considered an apostle.

Thus St. Augustine of Canterbury (early 6th century – probably 26 May 604), being sent by Pope Gregory the Great, is considered the Apostle of England.

According to Catholicism, there are various definitions or insights as to what constitutes an “apostle”.

Even Scriptures show to us that St. Paul was an apostle, even though this elevated position was accorded to him after the death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Catholic Encyclopædia clearly states that there are a variety of meaning of the word apostle.

The name

The word "Apostle", from the Greek apostello "to send forth", "to dispatch", has etymologically a very general sense. Apostolos (Apostle) means one who is sent forth, dispatched--in other words, who is entrusted with a mission, rather, a foreign mission. It has, however, a stronger sense than the word messenger, and means as much as a delegate. In the classical writers the word is not frequent. In the Greek version of the Old Testament it occurs once, in 1 Kings 14:6 (cf. 1 Kings 12:24). In the New Testament, on the contrary, it occurs, according to Bruder's Concordance, about eighty times, and denotes often not all the disciples of the Lord, but some of them specially called. It is obvious that our Lord, who spoke an Aramaic dialect, gave to some of his disciples an Aramaic title, the Greek equivalent of which was "Apostle". It seems to us that there is no reasonable doubt about the Aramaic word being seliah, by which also the later Jews, and probably already the Jews before Christ, denoted "those who were despatched from the mother city by the rulers of the race on any foreign mission, especially such as were charged with collecting the tribute paid to the temple service" (Lightfoot, "Galatians", London, 1896, p. 93). The word apostle would be an exact rendering of the root of the word seliah,= apostello.

Various meanings

It is at once evident that in a Christian sense, everyone who had received a mission from God, or Christ, to man could be called "Apostle". In fact, however, it was reserved to those of the disciples who received this title from Christ. At the same time, like other honourable titles, it was occasionally applied to those who in some way realized the fundamental idea of the name. The word also has various meanings.

  • The name Apostle denotes principally one of the twelve disciples who, on a solemn occasion, were called by Christ to a special mission. In the Gospels, however, those disciples are often designated by the expressions of mathetai (the disciples) or dodeka (the Twelve) and, after the treason and death of Judas, even of hendeka (the Eleven). In the Synoptics the name Apostle occurs but seldom with this meaning; only once in Matthew and Mark. But in other books of the New Testament, chiefly in the Epistles of St. Paul and in the Acts, this use of the word is current. Saul of Tarsus, being miraculously converted, and called to preach the Gospel to the heathens, claimed with much insistency this title and its rights.

— In the Epistle to the Hebrews (iii, 1) the name is applied even to Christ, in the original meaning of a delegate sent from God to preach revealed truth to the world.

  • The word Apostle has also in the New Testament a larger meaning, and denotes some inferior disciples who, under the direction of the Apostles, preached the Gospel, or contributed to its diffusion; thus Barnabas (Acts 14:4, 14), probably Andronicus and Junias (Romans 16:7), Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25), two unknown Christians who were delegated for the collection in Corinth (2 Corinthians 8:23). We know not why the honourable name of Apostle is not given to such illustrious missionaries as Timothy, Titus, and others who would equally merit it.

There are some passages in which the extension of the word Apostle is doubtful, as Luke 11:49; John 13:16; 2 Corinthians 13; 1 Thessalonians 2:7; Ephesians 3:5; Jude 17, and perhaps the well-known expression "Apostles and Prophets". Even in an ironical meaning the word occurs (2 Corinthians 11:5; 12:11) to denote pseudo-apostles. There is but little to add on the use of the word in the old Christian literature. The first and third meanings are the only ones which occur frequently, and even in the oldest literature the larger meaning is seldom found.

As it has been employed to others outside of the apostleship of Christ’s immediate 12 Apostles, the Catholic Church has thus continued the tradition of naming individuals as apostles.

As an historical example take the Twelve Apostles of Erin.

By this designation are meant twelve holy Irishmen of the sixth century who went to study at the Clonard in Meath. About the year 520 St. Finian founded his famous school at Cluain-Eraird (Eraird's Meadow), now Clonard, and thither flocked saints and learned men from all parts of Ireland. In his Irish life it is said that the average number of scholars under instruction at Clonard was 3,000, and a stanza of the hymn for Lauds in the office of St. Finian runs as follows:

Trium virorum millium, Sorte fit doctor humilis; Verbi his fudit fluvium Ut fons emanans rivulis.

The Twelve Apostles of Erin, who came to study at the feet of St. Finian, at Clonard, on the banks of the Boyne and Kinnegad Rivers, are said to have been St. Ciaran of Saighir (Seir-Kieran) and St. Ciaran of Clonmacnois; St. Brendan of Birr and St. Brendan of Clonfert; St. Columba of Tir-da-glasí (Terryglass) and St. Columba of Iona; St. Mobhí of Glasnevin; St. Ruadhan of Lorrha; St. Senan of Iniscathay (Scattery Island); St. Ninnidh the Saintly of Loch Erne; St. Lasserian mac Nadfraech, and St. Canice of Aghaboe. Though there were many other holy men educated at Clonard who could claim to be veritable apostles, the above twelve are regarded by old Irish writers as "The Twelve Apostles of Erin". They are not unworthy of the title, for all were indeed apostles, whose studies were founded on the Sacred Scriptures as expounded by St. Finian. In the hymn from St. Finian's office we read:

Regressus in Clonardiam Ad cathedram lecturae Apponit diligentiam Ad studium scripturae.

The great founder of Clonard died 12 December 549, according to the "Annals of Ulster", but the Four Masters give the year as 548, whilst Colgan makes the date 563. His patronal feast is observed on 12 December.

St. Faustina Kowalska (25 August 1905 – 5 October 1938[) Within Catholic circles is known as the Apostle of Divine Mercy

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