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APOSTLE (“One Sent [of God]”): A name applied in the Old Testament to the chosen organs of the divine revelation (Num. xvi. 28; Isa. vi. 8; Jer. xxvi. 5).

The Twelve.

In the New Testament it is used not only in a special sense for Jesus himself, but also for John the Baptist (John i. 6) and for those whom Jesus sent forth (cf. Luke xi. 49 with Matt. xxiii. 34, 37). It would seem that the name was chosen by Jesus himself for the Twelve, since it came so early into use as a definite term for a definite body of men, and then for others who held or claimed a similar position (Acts xiv. 4, 14; II Cor. xi. 5, xii. 11; I Thess. ii. 6; Rev. ii. 2). The training of the Twelve shows that they had a future mission, which was fully opened to them by the appearance and teaching of the risen Christ (Acts i. 2-11); they are to be witnesses to him, and especially to his resurrection, before all peoples. Their number, corresponding to that of the twelve tribes, shows that they are destined primarily to work among the children of Israel, to whom, accordingly, they make their first appeal in Jerusalem. By degrees they collect around them a distinct community, in which they hold the position of appointed leaders (Acts ii. 42, iv. 35, v. 1-2, vi. 1-2), and after persecution begins to spread the Gospel throughout Palestine and its neighborhood, they remain mostly in Jerusalem, thence exercising supervision over the Church of the Circumcision (Acts viii. 14, ix. 32-43), and providing for the performance of some of their internal duties by the choice of deacons and the formation of the college of presbyters under James.


The original apostles are still occupied with the Jews when their number receives an addition; the manner of Saul’s conversion shows that he is destined to a similar work, but especially among the Gentiles (Acts ix. 1-31; Gal. i. 11-24). This involves, despite Paul’s consciousness of equal authority and independence, no breach with the earlier organization. His ministry, begun by a miracle, develops itself in perfect continuity and in unity with that of the older apostles. His very conversion and call do not take place without the intervention of a member of the existing community (Acts ix. 10-18, xxii. 12-16); only after an unsuccessful attempt to work among the Jews does he turn to the Gentiles (Acts ix. 20-31, xxii. 17-21), and even then he enters the work already founded from Jerusalem as an auxiliary of Barnabas, who is sent thence (Acts xi. 25); he is sent out only with Barnabas by the combined Jewish and Gentile community, with his attention directed first to the conversion of the Jews (Acts xiii.), and only the stubborn opposition of the synagogues causes him to decide in favor of the direct mission to the Gentiles (verse 46). He is, however, fully recognized at the Apostolic Council at Jerusalem by the older apostles and the representatives of Jewish Christianity as an independent apostle to the Gentiles; and no opposition from Jewish Christians in Galatia or at Corinth makes them recede from this attitude. In all his far-reaching activity as head of the Gentile Church, he never forgets the welfare and the future of his own countrymen (Rom. xi. 13-14); nor is there any division between the Gentile Church and the older apostles, to his unity with whom Paul constantly appeals in teaching his converts (I Cor. xv. 3; Eph. ii. 20, iii. 5).


Later Use of the Term.

The work of the Twelve was by no means confined to the Circumcision. At the end of the Pauline period Peter was still, both in person and by letters, exercising apostolic influence among the Gentiles, and after Paul’s death, John took the place of leader among them. Yet the special relation of the Twelve to the work among the twelve tribes is emphasized by the promise for the future in Matt. xix. 28. Though the word “apostle” is used in the New Testament in a wider sense, properly it is limited to the first and highest office in the Church, distinct from all other offices (I Cor. xii. 28; Eph. iv. 11), to be filled only by those personally chosen by the Lord; and after their death no others filled exactly the same place. [The word was used also in the early Church as a convenient term by which to refer to the epistolary literature of the New Testament (see Evangeliarium). It has been employed to designate the first or the principal missionary to a people, as Columba, Augustine of Canterbury, and others. It is used also in some modern Churches as the title of high dignitaries, as among the Mormons.]

(K. Schmidt.)

Bibliography: J. B. Lightfoot, Galatians, Excursus on The Name and Office of an Apostle, London, 1887 (opened up new views on the subject, and should be supplemented by A. Harnack in TU, ii. 1, pp. 93-118, Leipsic, 1884); C. Weizsäcker, Apostolisches Zeitalter, pp. 584-590, Tübingen, 1901, Eng. transl. of earlier ed., 2 vols., Edinburgh, 1894; J. F. A. Hort, The Christian Ecclesia, London, 1897 (contains important contributions); E. Haupt, Zum Verständniss des Apostolats, Halle, 1896; A. V. G. Allen, Christian Institutions, consult Index, New York, 1897; A. C. McGiffert, Hist. of Christianity in the Apostolic Age, New York, 1897; A. Harnack, Mission und Ausbreitung des Christentums, book iii., chap. 1, § 1, Berlin, 1902, Eng., transl., Expansion of Christianity, New York, 1904; DB, i. 126; EB, i. 264 sqq.

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