A Question I Was Asked:

As Long As We Stand Under the New Covenant, There Must Still Be Apostles Around Today; Isn't That Right?

The Questions:

Hello, Robin. In your 2007 article, you seem to be of the opinion that apostles ceased to be in the early Church days-- that they are not for today. I don't think it should take pages to speak on whether or not this is true. There are only two things I will say, then I hope you can decide from the Bible whether or not apostles are for today (as pastors are):

1. The Bible says in Ephesians 4 that apostles with pastors (etc.) are given until the Church is perfected. The Church isn't yet perfected. We will either believe what the Bible says, or we will find things that make sense to us.
2. Hebrews 1:1-2 shows that whatsoever things Jesus instituted are, unlike the things of the OT, meant to last for ever: "God, who at various times and in various ways, spoke to our fathers by the prophets has, in these last days, spoken to us in His Son." That plainly says that Old Testament things could pass away (such as laws and ordinances) but that Jesus' example is God's Final Word.
Part of Jesus' example was that everyone was healed (you won't find anywhere in the NT where it doesn't say this because the Spirit wanted to show us that 'all being healed' IS God's PERFECT will which showed in Jesus who is the Perfect who, when He came, did away with the imperfect).
Hebs. 1:1-2 tells us that everything Jesus instituted lasts forever. Why? Because everything He instituted IS (not WAS) perfect. This includes apostles who were not instituted in the OT but in the NT. And apostles along with all five-fold ministers as it clearly says in Ephesians 4.

UK Apoologetics Reply:

Look I do not for one moment doubt your sincerity nor your keen interest in being biblical. That is to be commended! Nevertheless, with great respect, I must say that there are errors in the comments which you make, or, more especially, in the assumptions which you base your questions upon. But let us take your points one at a time.

1. Does Ephesians 4 state that the offices of pastor and apostle will be around until the church is perfected? I don't think that it does. Let us look at the relevant verses:

11. So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,
12. to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
13. until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.
15. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.
16. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

These verses do indeed state that the offices of pastor and apostle - and other church offices which you do not mention - are for the building up of the body of Christ and, of course, none of us doubt that. But to state such a thing is not to state that these offices will be evident throughout all the ages of the church until Christ returns - there is no guarantee of the continued existence of any specific church office here; Paul merely reminds the Christians at Ephesus, and you and I today, that these offices are spiritually beneficial for the people of God. However, it is very faulty logic to argue that since the church is not yet perfected (something we all agree upon), therefore all these exact offices must still exist. Paul does not state that. With respect, you are here reading something into Scripture which is not there (ie., that there exists a divine guarantee that whilst the church is unperfected, specific church offices must continue to exist). Rather, these offices were placed in the New Testament church to assist with the building up of the spiritual life and maturity of the church, a need which will exist "until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (verse 13). It is the need for the building up of the church which is the ongoing part there. That is clearly the overall purpose of those offices, yet many times sincere congregations of true believers have not had access to some of these offices, ultimately Jesus said that even where two or three true believers are gathered together in His Name, that becomes a genuinely Christian congregation! Matthew 18:20.

Perhaps I can illustrate the fallacy in your argument in this way:

In a very similar manner to Paul's comments in Ephesians 4, I could say, 'God placed his human creation into families, to equip his children to gradually mature into decent and well-adjusted people. So that children could be subject to, and learn from their overseers, that is, from their fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents and others too. In this manner children would be equipped for future works of service, including, ideally, in the true Faith. But - note this - that statement nowhere contains a guarantee that there would always be a mother, father, grandparents etc., in any such family! I think that we would all see and understand that. Let us not read things into Paul which are not there!

Regarding apostleship, now, of course, there is a loose sense in which we are all apostles ('sent forth with the truth of the Gospel'), but whilst no New Testament text actually states that the office of apostle was only for the first century, I submit (along with many other Bible commentators who have considered this topic at length and come to the same conclusion) that any careful analysis of the appropriate New Testament texts will substantiate the teaching that the office of Apostle was indeed first century specific. For example, the early apostles,

1. Had witnessed Christ living in the flesh:
Luke 1:1-2; Acts 1:21-22; 1Corinthians 9:1; 1 John 1:1.

2. Had been witnesses of the resurrection and ascension of Christ (Acts 1:2-9 here perhaps especially significant):
Luke 24:33-53; Acts 1:2-9; Acts 10:40-42; 1 Corinthians 15:3-9.

Okay, let us look specifically at Luke's words in Acts 1:1-9:

1. In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach

Now very carefully note the next few verses:

2. until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.
3. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.
4. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.

5. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
6. Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7. He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.
8. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
9. After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. (Acts 1:1-9, my emphases).

A very careful consideration of verses 2-3 reveals that these apostles had been specifically and carefully chosen to receive "convincing proofs" that Christ had indeed risen from the dead.

We should also note Luke's words which occur later in Acts in which he outlines the necessity that the first century leaders of the church were to be specific witnesses of what Jesus had done,

36. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.
37. You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—
38. how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

But now very carefully note the next part:

39. “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross,
40. but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.
41. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
42. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.
(Acts 10: 36-42, NIV throughout).

Now, of course, a few might argue that Luke himself was not an apostle. I submit that we cannot say that, it is possible that he indeed held the role of Apostle but possibly only specific to his active role of early church historian (he wrote his Gospel and also 'Acts of the Apostles').

There is also the fact of the 'Signs of an Apostle.' Do those modern preachers who insist that they are 'apostles' measure up? I suggest that they do not! Let us look at this:

The phrase 'signs of an apostle' is taken from 2 Corinthians 12:12 and is a reference to the fact that miracles were a major sign identifying the ministry of the first century apostles. In short, God enabled the apostles to perform various miraculous signs. Let us consider 2 Corinthians 12:12, then look at examples of this in the Book of Acts:

'The things that mark an apostle - signs, wonders and miracles - were done among you with great perseverance.' (2 Corinthians 12:12, NIV throughout).

'Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.' (Acts 2:43).

'The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people.' (Acts 5:12).

'...People brought their sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.' (Acts 5:15-16).

'So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders.' (Acts 14:3).

'The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.' (Acts 15:12).

'God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.' (Acts 19:11-12).

Neither can we leave out Hebrews 2, which confirms that the first century was a very special time in which the apostles - witnesses of the ministry of Jesus - were granted the ability to perform special signs:

'How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.' (Hebrews 2:3-4).

Please note that these Scriptures strongly appear to indicate that these miraculous gifts were apostolic and unusual. When we say 'apostolic' we plainly mainly refer to that original and first office, however, the original 70 evangelists probably also shared in these spectacular signs. See Luke 10:17-20.

During the ministry of Jesus, miracles had provided clear evidence for his identity: His miraculous ministry was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (Matthew. 11:3-5). Jesus Himself cited his utterly unique miracle ministry as one of the evidences for his Messiahship (Matthew. 11:3-5; Mark 2:9-11; John. 5:36; 10:37,38).

Then, following the ministry of Jesus, the ministry of the apostles was also spectacular and often stunning, it had to be, for it was God's intention for the name of Jesus to become famous very quickly. We sometimes forget that they operated in a world of many diverse religious claims. Therefore, God empowered them (Matthew 10:1; Luke 10:17-20), to have a ministry of miracles which would stun many people and cause the name of Jesus to acquire fame far more quickly than would otherwise have been the case.

So the apostles were specifically required to be witnesses to the ministry of Jesus and were empowered for this purpose. They had experienced the ministry of Jesus and they could provide direct testimony of the incredible things which they witnessed - none of us can do that today. Other Scriptures to carefully consult here are Matthew 10:1,8 Mark 16:20 and Luke 9:1-2. Also, in Acts 1:21, when the apostle's noted that Judas needed to be replaced, that verse is clear about the qualifications of an apostle:

21. Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, (Acts 1:21).

So this was a ministry for a particular time, indeed, even the New Testament writers usually referred to the miraculous 'signs of an apostle' in the past tense (note Hebrews 2:3-4, for instance) - this tends to show us that they themselves knew that it was a spectacular ministry for a special time, and as the apostles began to pass from the scene, that particular ministry would cease. Moreover, the 'church fathers' who wrote in the first few centuries of the church, also seem to have understood and accepted this.

Okay, so all of the above is my response to the suggestion that Ephesians 4 states that all the early church offices were necessarily ongoing. Ephesians 4 never, in fact, ever states such a thing and a fuller consideration of the points I have raised should confirm that such is not a correct understanding of what Paul wrote in that chapter.

2. Now what about Hebrews 1:1-2. Does this Scripture show that "...whatsoever things Jesus instituted are, unlike the things of the Old Testament, meant to last for ever?" Let us look at this:

1. In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways,
2. but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

Does that "plainly say" that Old Testament things could pass away (such as laws and ordinances) but that Jesus' example is God's Final Word?

These verses indeed show the superiority of the New Covenant as indeed does the whole of the Book of Hebrews. Indeed the 'things of the Old Testament,' that is, the Old Covenant, has indeed now passed away being replaced by something better (Hebrews 8:13). That sums up both Hebrews and all the writing of Paul. There is absolutely nothing there that I would argue with!

But is this discussing the offices or roles of authority in the New Testament church? Absolutely not! So I agree that the things which Jesus instituted were to last forever. There is no argument there whatsoever. Total agreement with my questioner.

But then my questioner continues on by stating,

"Part of Jesus' example was that everyone was healed (you won't find anywhere in the New Testament where it doesn't say this because the Spirit wanted to show us that 'all being healed' IS God's PERFECT will which showed in Jesus who is the Perfect who, when He came, did away with the imperfect).
Hebrews 1:1-2 tells us that everything Jesus instituted lasts forever. Why? Because everything He instituted IS (not WAS) perfect. This includes apostles who were not instituted in the Old Testament but in the New Testament. And apostles along with all five-fold ministers as it clearly says in Ephesians 4."

Okay, now, with great respect, there is obvious confusion here. It is being stated that "part of Jesus' example is that everyone was healed." No, they were not, but those who came to Jesus were healed, in fact God always intended this, it was a sign that Jesus also had the (much greater) power to forgive sins! But Jesus nowhere states that, under the New Covenant, "everyone will be healed." That is unscriptural. If so, why was Paul not healed? Why was Timothy allowed to continue in his bouts of stomach trouble? Why "anoint" anyone for healing as in James 5? So that is incorrect. The promises of the New Covenant are spiritual, not physical (see some of the links below).

My questioner then states that, "Hebrews 1:1-2 tells us that everything Jesus instituted lasts forever. .... This includes apostles who were not instituted in the Old Testament but in the New Testament. And apostles along with all five-fold ministers as it clearly says in Ephesians 4." So he repeats a claim which he has not established, nor is the claim capable of being established, then confuses that careless claim with the real and eternal promises of the New Covenant. Because Jesus instituted certain church offices - which He certainly did - the continuous existence of those offices is nevertheless no part of the eternal promises of the New Covenant, just as it it is no part of the New Covenant that "everyone will be healed." I do not doubt the integrity of my questioner but he is arguing for a point which is unscriptural. There is loose and careless assumption going on here which is masquerading as biblical truth.

If it is seriously being claimed that "everyone will be healed" is a cast-iron guarantee of the New Testament, and yet plainly many sincere believers are not healed of serious illnesses, and if it is - similarly - being claimed that all the Ephesians 4 church offices will always continue to exist, and plainly at many times and in many places those offices have not existed, should not this start to alert one to the fact that these are merely assumptions (however sincere) which just do not stack up theologically? They do not stack up because these assumptions are not really established in Scripture.

But specifically with regard to the office of Apostle, everything I have seen only confirms for me that this office was first century AD-specific, especially when one notes the qualities looked for in such apostles (primarily a witness to the first century message of Jesus, His sacrifice and resurrection).

Oh yes, I know that there are many out there claiming to be things like "end-time Apostles." I am unimpressed; these people are nearly always self-appointed, seriously lack humility and have a grandiose view of themselves. Moreover, 90% of the time they seem to preach various unbiblical heresies.
Robin A. Brace. February, 2011.

It is probably also essential to check out: