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Short version

How do Latter-day Saints (who believe in modern apostles) rebut Don Stewart's article Are There Still Apostles Today? ?

Longer version

I'll enumerate key points and include relevant quotes from Don Stewart's article:

  • The Gift Was Foundational to the Church (Ephesians 2:19-20).

    The foundation was laid long ago. Their purpose is no longer necessary.

  • The Requirements Cannot Be Fulfilled by Anyone Today
    • An Apostle Was an Eyewitness of Jesus’ Resurrection (1 Corinthians 9:1, 1 Corinthians 15:5-7).
    • The Gift of Apostle Was Accompanied by Miraculous Signs (2 Corinthians 12:12, 1 Corinthians 2:4, 5).
    • They Had Unique Authority to Receive Special Revelation (John 16:13)
  • Paul Was the Last of the Apostles (1 Corinthians 15:8, 9).
  • The Holy Spirit and the Word of God Lead Us Today

Today, we do not need people, such as apostles, to lead us. We find that even they failed. This is illustrated with the failing of Peter at Antioch. Paul wrote.

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned (Galatians 2:11 NRSV).

As Peter himself stated, what we need to today is the certain prophetic Word – that will never let us down. We read.

So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19 NRSV).

Believers need to read and obey what God has already revealed – they do not need to listen to fallible human beings to get their direction.

Thus, there are obvious contrasts between the present age and the age of the apostles. While the gospel has not changed, God’s methods have changed. Consequently, the office of apostle is no longer with us.

  • Response to competing views

There seems to be several reasons as to why there will be no more apostles who have similar authority as the Twelve. They include the following.

Paul Was the Last Person Jesus Appeared To
Paul clearly says that he was the last person to whom the risen Christ appeared. While the risen Christ did appear to John on the Isle of Patmos, this was not to commission him to the ministry – that had already been long since done.

Paul’s Case Was Unique
Paul’s case was unique from the other apostles. He was specially chosen to be the apostle to the Gentiles. His ministry did not have any successors.

Great Christian Leaders of the past Have Not Claimed Such a Title
It should be noted that none of the great Christian leaders in the past have claimed this title for themselves. They have acknowledged the unique ministry of the apostles.

Would Anyone Dare to Claim Such Authority?
With the sacred commissioning and responsibility that came with the office of an apostle, it is hard to imagine any person today claiming such an authoritative office. Anyone who does make a claim to have this particular office should immediately be looked upon with the greatest of suspicion.

Indeed, it seems audacious, if not almost blasphemous, for someone in our present-day to claim similar authority as the apostles of Jesus Christ. They received direct revelation from God, had seen the risen Christ, were specially commissioned by Him, and were responsible for composing the New Testament. There is nobody today who should be considered as equal with them.

The Ministry of the Missionary Is Greatly Needed Today
While the office of apostle may not be with us today, this gift of missionary work and church planting is still greatly needed. It is a difficult, but necessary, task to establish churches and then equip those to spread the good news of Jesus. While it may not be the exact same gift referred to by Paul as “apostle,” the need is there nevertheless.


Summary – Question 8
Are There Still Apostles Today?
There is a debate among Bible believers as to whether there are still apostles today. Many believe that this particular gift of office was to small select group of people living the first century. There are a number of reasons as to why this view is held.

First, the gift was foundational to the church – the church was built upon the apostles and the New Testament prophets. They were the ones whom the Lord chose to reveal His truth to the world. These men were in a position to do this because they had been with Jesus.

Second, the qualifications of an apostle were clear. Each apostle had to have been with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry as well as being an eyewitness to His resurrection appearances.

We also find that each one of these people had to be personally commissioned by Jesus. The apostles were also in a unique position to give miraculous signs to authenticate their message.

In addition, they had unique authority to write Holy Scripture. With these conditions necessary for someone to be an apostle, it is impossible for anyone today to have the gift.

Finally, the Apostle Paul seemed to make it clear that He was the last person to whom personally Jesus appeared and commissioned to be an apostle. The inference is that the apostolic authority ended with him.

These arguments have not convinced everyone. Those who claim that there are still apostles today usually argue in one of two ways. There is the distinction made between the office of apostle, which is no longer with us, and the spiritual gift of an apostle, which is still given. Some attempt to define the gift of an apostle as a missionary or a church planter. While these men and women do not have the same authority as the apostles in Jesus’ day, they have been uniquely gifted like the first apostles to plant churches and teach new believers.

There are a few people which actually claim that the office of apostle is still with us. They say that the office of apostle was not instituted until after Jesus ascended into heaven. The fact that He appeared to those whom He commissioned merely means that a personal appearance from Christ is necessary to hold that office. There are people who claim that the risen Christ has appeared to them and given them that authority.

These types of claim are audacious to say the least. Anyone who would claim a personal appearance from Jesus Christ as well as apostolic authority is bordering on blasphemy. It is not that we doubt that Jesus could appear to someone today if He so chose to do, it is that those who claim these appearances give no evidence whatsoever they we are to look to them as being authority figures in the church.

Whether modern day church planters and missionaries have the spiritual gift of “apostle” we can safely say that their ministry is absolutely crucial. This is true even if it is not the exact same New Testament gift, or office, as apostle.


Related questions

In favor of modern apostles

Against modern apostles

Neutral questions

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    "The qualifications of an apostle were clear. Each apostle had to have been with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry as well as being an eyewitness to His resurrection appearances." St. Paul was half an Apostle then.
    – Ken Graham
    Apr 12 at 1:08
  • @KenGraham Paul, himself admits he was 'born out of due time' a reference to his not being present during the earthly ministry of the Lord. But Paul, alone (of such as he) has Peter's approbation. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 12 at 3:58
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    I'd like to see a theological answer from a tradition that believes in Apostolic Succession, but I don't have enough rep to place a bounty. Hold to the Rod has thoroughly dealt with the purely logical problems.
    – OrangeDog
    Apr 13 at 9:26
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    @OrangeDog After the edits, this question becomes the appropriate question for it. This Q's scoped has been narrowed to LDS (restoration, not succession). Apr 14 at 15:04

3 Answers 3

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Stewart's argument is inconsistent with itself; it is also inconsistent with the New Testament.


Logical Inconsistencies


Foundations

After acknowledging that the church was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Christ Jesus himself is the cornerstone; Stewart suggests that The foundation was laid long ago. Their purpose is no longer necessary.

Imagine applying this argument to any physical structure: now that the building has been constructed, the foundation is no longer needed...? (This might be an interesting teaching to pair with the parable of the wise man and a foolish man)

Since the cornerstone is part of the foundation, Stewart's argument suggests that Jesus' purpose is no longer necessary. I emphatically disagree.

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Last appearance

Stewart suggests several times that Paul's statement in 1 Cor. 15:8 indicates that Paul was the last apostle and this was the last appearance of Jesus (other than to John on Patmos, which Stewart argues is an exception). This is contradicted by Paul's own history.

Paul wrote 1 Corinthians while in Ephesus during his 3rd missionary journey, putting composition in either AD 54 or 55; Jesus appeared to Paul again after this time. Acts 23 (circa AD 57) records an appearance of Jesus to Paul after Paul's 3rd missionary journey. This means the appearance recorded in 1 Cor 15:8 is not the final appearance of the resurrected Lord except to John on Patmos.

Additionally, it is a severe stretch to require that the word ἔσχατος, usually translated "last", means whatever is described next will never happen again. This severely restricts the usage & application of the word (see further discussion in this post). "Last days" can refer to a specific "end times" prophecy; it can also be used to mean "recent days" (the same way we refer to last week). Furthermore, when used in a series as it is here, ἔσχατος can simply mean the "least" of a group--this is precisely how the term is used in John 8:9, and appears to be how Paul himself uses the word earlier in the same letter (see 1 Cor. 4:9).

At no point does Paul (or Acts, if anyone's counting) indicate that a particular individual was the last apostle ever called.

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Don't believe anything I say

Stewart's argument...

Today, we do not need people, such as apostles, to lead us. We find that even they failed. This is illustrated with the failing of Peter at Antioch...As Peter himself stated, what we need to today is the certain prophetic Word – that will never let us down

...would be more persuasive if he could show that nobody had ever misunderstood anything written in the Bible.

However, Stewart doubles down on this argument...

Believers need to read and obey what God has already revealed – they do not need to listen to fallible human beings to get their direction.

...perhaps forgetting that in the last 3 sentences he has acknowledged that the Biblical words he's quoting came through the medium of fallible human beings. If the following axioms are treated as absolutes:

  • Words that come from the Bible are reliable
  • Words that come through people are not reliable

They contradict one another. Anyone who accepts the inspiration of the Bible must acknowledge that God is capable of getting a message across through imperfect people.

If we should not listen to fallible human beings, one wonders why we should listen to Stewart. This boils down to the classic gag: I'm lying; don't believe anything I say.

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Modern individuals need not apply?

Stewart offers 4 criteria (3 in his original list, but later in the post he adds a 4th), all of which he suggests are required for one to be an apostle:

  1. Had to have been with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry
  2. Being an eyewitness to His resurrection appearances
  3. Accompanied by miraculous signs
  4. Had unique authority to receive special revelation

Following which Stewart concludes:

With these conditions necessary for someone to be an apostle, it is impossible for anyone today to have the gift.

This is both question-begging & self-refuting.

There are 16 men in the New Testament named as apostles (original 12 + Matthias, James ben Joseph, Barnabas, Paul); with this in mind let's consider each criterion:

  • With Jesus from beginning of ministry: James & Paul fail this test. Barnabas may fail this test; we do not know for certain.
  • Eyewitness to His resurrection appearances. Appearances? None of the apostles were present at all of the appearances. But aside from the use of the plural appearances, which may have simply been a type-o, this assumes Jesus does not or cannot appear to anyone post-Patmos. This may be a popular view, but it certainly isn't Biblical.
  • Accompanied by miraculous signs. What miraculous signs did Thaddeus perform? How about James the son of Alphaeus? Simon the Zealot? They may well have all performed signs...we just don't have record of it. Ergo, we cannot conclude a sign has not happened just because we don't know about it. There have in fact been millions of Christians over the years who have claimed miraculous signs; if even just one of them is correct, it undoes Stewart's argument. Additionally, the statement in Mark 16 is signs shall follow them that believe, not them that believe shall follow signs. Stewart's expectation of a sign gets the order of operations backwards.
  • Had unique authority -- this is probably the best of Stewart's arguments, but Jesus left the door wide open for Himself to give authority to whomsoever He chooses whenever He chooses. He indicated that All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. We have no record that He made such a pronouncement regarding the apostles or their written records.

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We don't need any more help; we've got it all figured out

This leads to a crucial omission in one of Stewart's quotes. After quoting Ephesians 4:8-12 he suggests:

All this verse says is that Jesus gave some to be apostles. It says nothing about the duration or continuation of the gift

It would if we let poor Paul finish his sentence. The following verse states:

Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13)

All coming to unity of the faith & knowledge of the Son of God...to say nothing of perfection and attaining the requisite stature...sound decidedly like a future-state that has not yet been achieved. Paul suggests, then, that the need for apostolic ministry has not abated.

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Blasphemy

The argument I found most curious was this one:

Anyone who would claim a personal appearance from Jesus Christ as well as apostolic authority is bordering on blasphemy

This is eerily similar to the argument made by the Sanhedrin when Jesus was on trial. Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. The Sanhedrin recognized this was blasphemy...unless of course it was true.

The same can be appended to Stewart's argument: anyone making these apostolic claims is bordering on blasphemy...unless of course it was true.

Adopting the reasoning of religious leaders who rejected the Messiah is an inadvisable strategy. God's representatives (to say nothing of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself) have made bold claims throughout history, and people tended to reject them on the very same grounds: people were willing to believe in God's servants of the past, but not in His servants of the present.

They imagined God's representatives of the past as larger-than-life and held them to an idealized standard, and then they rejected God's living representatives for failing to meet this artificial standard.

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Other logical fallacies

Great Christian leaders of the past have not claimed such a title [the title of apostle]

This is cherry-picking--it's only true if we first claim that all leaders who have claimed the title apostle were not Great Christian leaders.

Additionally, there's no reason why a first-century Pharisee could not make an identical argument: great Jewish leaders of the past have not claimed the title of apostle, so we shouldn't believe anyone who does now.

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His [Paul's] ministry did not have any successors.

This is question-begging--that's the point he's supposed to be proving.


Theological Assessment


Here I will offer my views as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints--I'll add only a little to the excellent presentation already given by depperm.

Stewart spoke of the continuing office of apostleship as the alternative to his own view. This is a false dichotomy. I believe in a Great Apostasy and in a Restoration of the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ--including apostolic authority--in modern times.

We have not attained the lofty goals outlined by Paul, and the need for oracles of God on earth is as great as ever. Historically, God has on multiple occasions withdrawn His authorized representatives when people rejected them, but has sent messengers again when He knew the time was right.

I believe in modern apostles who are special witnesses of Christ and who are His authorized, qualified representatives. I had the privilege of personally meeting with one of them a few weeks ago.

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Considering the alternatives

When Hugh B. Brown was asked why God doesn't speak today as He did in the past, Brother Brown observed:

  • Perhaps God does not speak to man anymore because He cannot. He has lost the power. (No)
  • Well, then, if you don’t accept that, perhaps He doesn’t speak to men because He doesn’t love us anymore and He is no longer interested in the affairs of men (No)
  • Well, then, if He could speak, and if He loves us, then the only other possible answer, as I see it, is that we don’t need Him. We have made such rapid strides in science and we are so well educated that we don’t need God anymore (No)

Having ruled out competing possibilities, Elder Brown concluded:

He does speak, He has spoken; but men need faith to hear Him (source)

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How do you know modern apostles have not received that witness?

Apostle Harold B. Lee described his thoughts on much the same question raised by Stewart:

Some years ago two missionaries came to me with what seemed to them to be a very difficult question. A...minister had laughed at them when they had said that apostles were necessary today in order for the true church to be upon the earth. They said that the minister said, "Do you realize that when the apostles met to choose one to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Judas, they said it had to be one who companied with them and had been a witness of all things pertaining to the mission and resurrection of the Lord? How can you say you have apostles, if that be the measure of an apostle?"

And so these young men said, "What shall we answer?"

I said to them, "Go back and ask your minister friend two questions. First, how did the Apostle Paul gain what was necessary to be called an apostle? He didn't know the Lord, had no personal acquaintance. He hadn't accompanied the apostles. He hadn't been a witness of the ministry nor of the resurrection of the Lord. How did he gain his testimony sufficient to be an apostle? And the second question you ask him is, How does he know that all who are today apostles have not likewise received that witness?"



Post-script on foundations

I recognize that Stewart's framing of Ephesians 2:19-20 is not the only way this argument is presented--I responded above to the way he specifically made the argument.

More broadly, it appears that there are essentially 2 schools of thought:

a) The apostles laid the foundation and that work is done. When you build a building, you hire contractors to dig, pour cement, etc. Once they have done so, the contractors are no longer needed (their work remains)

b) The apostles are the foundation. The work of apostles and other officers is described not only here but in Ephesians 4, cited above (additional description of their work can be found, for example, in the Great Commission)--the apostolic ministry is to take the Gospel message to the world, to bring about unity in the faith, knowledge of the Son of God, etc. The apostles were and are the foundation of that work.

I suggest the genitive construction τῶν ἀποστόλων ("of the apostles"), and the ontological statement about Jesus Himself that follows it (not He made the cornerstone, He is the cornerstone), very much favors option b above. It is not that the apostles laid a foundation and left it; they are the foundation.

This is further supported in the theological portion of my post above. I believe that the ministry of the apostles is a critical function in God's ongoing work. Just as God was able to authorize (through His chosen channels) Matthias, James ben Joseph, Barnabas, and Paul to officiate as apostles after the calling of the original 12, He can (and I believe He does) appoint apostles when & where the time is right, and that this was a significant feature of the restoration of the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in modern times.

I don't believe Jesus' participation in the work of salvation is done; He is not a passive observer. His atoning sacrifice has been performed, but He remains actively involved in the development and progression of humanity. So too the offices He instituted to join Him in taking His good news & His covenants to the ends of the earth.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Ken Graham
    Apr 14 at 0:06
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From the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints perspective (while not believing in continuation of apostles since New Testament times, do believe in modern apostles because of restoration)


The Gift Was Foundational to the Church (Ephesians 2:19-20). The foundation was laid long ago. Their purpose is no longer necessary.

Is illogical. How is a foundation, no longer necessary (unless completely replaced. Where in scripture does it mention foundation being replaced?)? Isn't Jesus Christ still the chief cornerstone of Christianity? Shouldn't then the rest of the foundation stand as well, including apostles?

The NSRV of Eph 3:5 (which Don Stewart uses as evidence) seems to hold different meanings compared to KJV.

NSRV (past tense)

In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit

KJV (present tense)

Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;


The Requirements Cannot Be Fulfilled by Anyone Today

An Apostle Was an Eyewitness of Jesus’ Resurrection (1 Corinthians 9:1, 1 Corinthians 15:5-7).

Again flawed logic

  1. Not the full case. An apostle is the title given to the 12 by Jesus in Luke 6:13, so they were apostles before they saw the resurrection (including Judas Iscariot who didn't see the resurrected Savior)
  2. If Jesus shows himself to someone that doesn't mean they are an apostle (2nd coming will all who see him be apostles? it doesn't say no one but apostles saw the resurrected Savior in NT)
  3. Jesus can show himself to someone, an apostle for example (or anyone), if he so chooses; they may/may not explicitly testify of that

Don Stewart admits #3 as well

It is also argued by some people that Jesus Christ could appear to someone today and commission that person as He did the Apostle Paul. Indeed, there are individuals who have claimed that this is what happened to them. Therefore, it is possible that people with apostolic authority could still exist today.


The Gift of Apostle Was Accompanied by Miraculous Signs (2 Corinthians 12:12, 1 Corinthians 2:4, 5).

This doesn't go into detail about what signs, wonders, miracles, etc were accompanied but I'd argue they are present today.


They Had Unique Authority to Receive Special Revelation (John 16:13)

Would be true, but this says nothing about there not being Apostles today, just that they have unique authority. D&C 107:23

23 The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling.


Paul Was the Last of the Apostles (1 Corinthians 15:8, 9).

Is a misinterpretation of the verse IMO. Paul in v7 states the other apostles saw him, and him too (v8-9). Nothing in these verses indicates:

  • no one else will see him
  • no further apostles

The Holy Spirit and the Word of God Lead Us Today

The LDS church also believe the Holy Spirit guides us and scriptures do as well to an extent. That alone is not enough though. The Jews has scriptures but that wasn't enough for them to recognize Jesus. Plenty of denominations use the same Bible but interpret it differently, showing that it alone isn't enough. The Holy Ghost:

The power can come upon one before baptism and is the convincing witness that the gospel is true. By the power of the Holy Ghost a person receives a testimony of Jesus Christ and of His work and the work of His servants upon the earth.

If one feels the Holy Ghost it doesn't give them the authority to lead/organize his church, just to know truth of it.

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Additional perspective

There was some modification to this question and its parallel--that's fine, I see that they both ask worthwhile questions and engage different viewpoints--but since the modification to the questions leaves my thoughts in-scope for one of the questions and out-of-scope for the other, I'd like to contribute some additional perspective above and beyond my prior answer.



Arguments against Restorationist Views

One of the arguments against a restoration of the apostolic office--raised explicitly in the parallel question--is that:

Those who teach the restoration of the office teach that the men who claim to be apostles and prophets should never be spoken against, should never be questioned, because the person who speaks against them is speaking against God. Yet, the Apostle Paul commended the people of Berea for checking what he said against the Word of God to make sure he spoke the truth (Acts 17:10-11). The Apostle Paul also stated to those in Galatia that if anyone, including himself, should teach another Gospel, that person should be "accursed" (Galatians 1:8-9). In everything, Paul kept pointing people to the Bible as the final authority. The men who claim to be apostles and prophets today make themselves the final authority, something Paul and the Twelve never did

I cannot speak for other viewpoints, but from a Latter-day Saint's perspective, I object to the 4 characterizations I have bolded--3 of them on a doctrinal basis, and 1 on a historical basis.

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Should never be questioned

I addressed this topic in greater detail in this post, but a statement by former church president Brigham Young is worth repeating:

I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him (see discussion of this quote and Harold B. Lee's paraphrase of it here)

We believe in asking questions, not just blindly proceeding with no basis for doing so. Gaining a testimony for oneself is thought of not merely as an enriching & edifying experience, but a personal responsibility.

As I argued in greater detail here:

  • It is good to believe based on evidence. It is good to put God’s promises to the test.
  • It is bad to tell God we don’t like the evidence He’s given us.

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Another Gospel

Latter-day Saints are regularly called all kinds of names (some of which are decidedly un-Christian) on the basis of Galatians 1:8-9. We do not believe the message taught by Joseph Smith (and his successors) is another gospel--but a restoration by Jesus Christ of His original Gospel after centuries of apostasy.

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Paul kept pointing people to the Bible as the final authority

No, Paul never did this--the "Bible" didn't yet exist during Paul's lifetime.

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make themselves the final authority

And as apostle Jeffrey R. Holland explained:

the scriptures are not the ultimate source of knowledge for Latter-day Saints. They are manifestations of the ultimate source. The ultimate source of knowledge and authority for a Latter-day Saint is the living God. (see here)

The same could be said with respect to any fallen, mortal, imperfect office-holder in the church: none of us is the final authority on any matter. We ultimately defer not to Moses, nor Isaiah, nor Paul, nor Joseph Smith. We defer to God.


Disclaimer: these thoughts are products of my own study and do not constitute official statements of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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