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Apostle (!)

By Charles H. Welch

The word is taken from the Greek apostolos which occurs in the New Testament 81 times, and is translated apostle 78, He that is sent once and messenger twice. The word is derived from apostello ‘I send’. This word is found both in the Greek version of the Old Testament, and in classical or common Greek used outside the Scriptures.

In classical Greek apostolos meant ‘a messenger, ambassador or envoy’, and, in later usage, ‘the commander of a naval force’. This rather limited meaning of the word is further seen in the use of stolos, ‘a fleet ready for sea, a naval squadron or expedition’. In the LXX apostolos occurs in 1 Kings 14:6 in the phrase, ‘I am sent to thee with heavy tidings’, where ‘sent’ translates the Hebrew shalach, which immediately connects with such missions as that of Joseph (Gen. 37:13), Moses (Exod. 3:14), and Isaiah (Isa. 6:8) and, generally, with the bearing of ‘tidings’, whether of deliverance or judgment. The composition of the word is simple. Apo is a preposition, and, like nearly all prepositions, carries with it a sense of motion, direction or rest. In this case the translation ‘from’ indicates origin, motion and direction. Stello is the verb ‘to send’, and so an apostle is one ‘sent from another’.

Apostello is used of the ‘sending forth’ of the twelve (Matt. 10:5), of John the Baptist (Mark 1:2; John 1:6), of preachers generally (Rom. 10:15), of angels (Heb. 1:14), and of Paul (Acts 26:17). There is, however, one other occasion where apostello and apostolos are used, that gives all subsequent apostles and messengers their true and only authority. Both words are used of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is pre-eminently ‘The Sent one’ (1 John 4:9,10,14); He is pre-eminently ‘The Apostle’.

‘Consider the APOSTLE and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus’ (Heb. 3:1).

Here, therefore, is revealed the character of the solemn office denoted by the title ‘apostle’. Here Paul’s insistence on the use of the word ‘me’ in 2 Timothy 2:2, is carried back to another and higher use of the pronoun, ‘He that receiveth you, receiveth ME’ (Matt. 10:40) and, through Him, to the ultimate source of all authority, God Himself.

Having therefore considered the meaning of the term apostle, we must now take the subject a stage further and inquire into the apostleship of Paul. First we must observe any difference there may be revealed between ‘The Twelve’ and Paul, and then collect all references that throw light upon the claim of the apostle to his office.

First we will see how Paul’s apostleship differs from that of the twelve in one great particular. The twelve were appointed early in the Lord’s public ministry (Matt. 10) before His Death, Resurrection or Ascension, whereas Paul’s apostleship is referred to the time when Christ ‘ascended up far above all heavens’ whence, as the ascended One, He ‘gave gifts unto men ... and He gave some apostles’ (Eph. 4:8-11). Here is indicated a most decided difference between the calling of these two orders of the apostles. The difference is recognized in 1 Corinthians 15, where the apostle gives successive witnesses to the Resurrection of Christ, among whom he numbers ‘The twelve’, but from which company he distinguishes his own calling by adding ‘and last of all he was seen by me ... for I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God’ (1 Cor. 15: 5-9). This intense humility and sense of undeservedness but heightens the fact that, in spite of all such limitations, Paul had a distinct apostleship which even humility could not deny.

There is another witness to Paul’s distinct apostleship which should weigh with us all, especially with any who deny or object to emphasis upon his distinctive calling: it is the testimony of Peter, James and John, recorded in Galatians:

‘When they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; (for He that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen (Gentiles), and they unto the circumcision’ (Gal. 2:7-9).

The apostleship of Paul is a distinct order, and must not be confused with ‘the twelve’. One outstanding difference is that already cited from Galatians 2, another is made evident in Ephesians 4:

‘And He has given some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the readjustment of the saints, with a view to (the) work of ministry, with a view to the building up of the body of Christ’ (11,12).

These are the gifts and their purpose. In 1 Corinthians 12, where the gifts are set out in detail, there is an inspired enumeration; firstly, secondly, thirdly. This order must be so placed for a purpose. To discount it is to despise the inspired Word; to add to it is to take unwarranted liberty. Before Acts 28 this is the God-given order:

First, apostles.
Secondarily, prophets.
Thirdly, teachers.
After that, miracles.
Then, gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues (1 Cor. 12:28).

This order is repeated in the verse that follows.
The order in Ephesians 4 however is:

(1) Apostles.       (3) Evangelists.
(2) Prophets.      (4) Pastors and Teachers.

The third one here is the evangelist whilst the teacher joined with the pastor is fourth. No other gifts follow, as they do in 1 Corinthians 12:28; we are evidently dealing with a different ministry.

APOSTLES. These were given after He had ‘ascended up on high’. Which of the apostles were thus given? In Matthew 10:2-4 we read:

‘Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alph -us, and Leb -us, whose surname was Thadd -us, Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him’.

Before the Lord ascended He was seen ‘of the twelve’ (1 Cor. 15:5). This therefore includes Matthias, for Judas never saw the risen Lord, and Matthias was a ‘witness of His resurrection’, and was ‘numbered with the eleven’ (Acts 1:15-26).

In any attempt to demonstrate the unique apostleship of Paul the case of Matthias is sure to intrude, and his place among the apostles must be settled before the way is clear to consider more intimately Paul’s own claims. We turn to Acts 1:15 to 2:13, which is the section containing the appointment of Matthias, and note first of all the structure:

A 1:15,16. a In those days.
                     b The 120.
                       c Together (epi to auto).
                         d The Holy Ghost (to pneuma to hagion).
                            e Spake by mouth of David.

B 1:17-19. f Dwellers at Jerusalem (katoikeo).
                     g In their proper tongue (te idia dialekto auton).

C 1:20-26. The appointment of Matthias.
                  The 12 Apostles.

A 2:1-4. a The day of Pentecost.
                  b All (i.e., the 12).
                    c In one place (epi to auto).
                      d Holy Ghost (pneuma hagion).
                         e Began to speak.

B 2:5-8. f Dwellers at Jerusalem (katoikeo).
                 g In his own language (te idia dialekto auton).

C 2:9-13. The representative nations.
                The 12 Countries.

Paul’s Apostleship, Gospel and Authority

It is clear that the appointment of Matthias is most intimately related to the making up of ‘the twelve’.

While we may give assent to the evidence of our eyes and agree that there is a verbal connection between the passages, it may not be very evident wherein the deeper connection thus indicated consists. Let us therefore look further. It is very evident that the apostle Peter and those who gathered with him realized that the gap in the number of the apostles occasioned by the fall of Judas was a matter for immediate concern. Of all things that it might have been expected would claim consideration and prayer consequent upon the Ascension of the Lord, the last to enter our unassisted minds would have been the matter of Judas and his successor. Not so the apostles. They were to tarry at Jerusalem and once more preach the kingdom. Should Israel repent and the kingdom be set up, the Lord would fulfil His promise that the twelve apostles should sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. While, however, the number of the apostles was incomplete it could not be said, ‘all things are ready’ (Matt. 22:4), therefore we can appreciate the fact that the apostles were rightly concerned about this matter.

The Jews gathered at Jerusalem to keep the feast were not, so far as is revealed, representative of the complete twelve tribes: all that is said is that they were gathered from the surrounding nations, and an examination reveals that the number of the nations was twelve. That is sufficient for the purpose: the link between Acts 1 and 2 is made evident, and the theme of this section, the restoration of Israel, is advanced. Whether Israel would repent and the kingdom be set up at that time, none of the apostles knew. It was not for them to know times and seasons. They were witnesses, and fully equipped for their work.

But in spite of the evident fitness of these two sections, there are those who maintain that Matthias was not appointed by God but by man, and that Peter and the rest were prompted by a zeal that was not according to knowledge. The matter is of great importance and must therefore be considered. Let us give heed to the word as we examine the matter. First of all, can we be certain that Peter was right when he said that the Psalms he quoted referred to Judas? We believe we can. But a few days before the Lord Himself had said:

‘I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me, hath lifted up his heel against Me. Now I tell you before it come, that when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am He’ (John 13:18,19).

Here the Lord not only quoted the Psalm as of Judas, but emphasized the point that He was informing them before it came to pass in order that their faith might be strengthened at the accomplishment of the event. Now it had come to pass, and they believed.

In addition to this we have recorded in Luke 24:44-48 the fact that the Lord not only passed in review the Old Testament Scriptures, including the Psalms, and dealt with those passages that spoke of Himself, but that He also ‘opened their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures’. When therefore Peter said, ‘This Scripture must needs have been fulfilled’, he was but repeating the lesson of Luke 24:26 and 46, for the self-same words there, ‘ought’ and ‘behoved,’ are translated ‘must needs be’ in Acts 1:16.

Even though it may be agreed that Peter’s quotation of the Psalm was appropriate, it is possible that some may entertain the suspicion that in selecting but two men the apostles were limiting the Lord. We shall, however, find, upon examination, that there was an important reason for this limitation. Referring once more to our Lord’s own instructions, we read:

‘But when the Comforter is come, Whom I will send unto you from the Father ... He shall testify of Me: and ye also shall bear witness, because YE HAVE BEEN WITH ME FROM THE BEGINNING’ (John 15:26,27).

The apostles were evidently acting with this qualification in mind, for Acts 1:21,22 reads:

‘Wherefore of these men which have companied with us ALL THE TIME that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 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’.

It was therefore not a matter of piety, learning, or fitness of character; what was essential was capacity to bear personal testimony.

It is generally taught that the words ‘that he might go to his own place’ (Acts 1:25), mean that Judas had been consigned to hell or perdition, but the passage bears another sense and should read:

‘... show whether of these two Thou hast chosen, that he may take part of this ministry and apostleship (from which Judas by transgression fell) that he might go to his own place ... and he was numbered with the eleven’.

The fact the Holy Spirit made no difference between Matthias and the rest of the apostles should silence all objection. That Paul himself speaks of ‘the twelve’ as separate from himself is eloquent testimony to the accuracy of the inclusion of Matthias among the twelve (1 Cor. 15:5). In face of these facts we believe that the appointment of Matthias was in complete harmony with the will of God, and that of necessity, therefore, Paul was an apostle of an entirely distinct and independent order.

The structure of Galatians 1 is a testimony to the independent apostleship of Paul, which we will now exhibit.



Paul’s Apostleship, Gospel and Authority

Galatians 1:1-24

Key words ‘Not’, ‘Neither’, ‘But’.


1:1-5. Independent APOSTLESHIP.

Not of men.
Neither by man.
But by Jesus Christ.

B 1:6-10.‘Ye received’.


1:11,12. Independent GOSPEL.

Not after man.
Neither received nor taught.
But by revelation.

B 1:13,14. ‘Ye heard’.


1:15-17. Independent AUTHORITY.

Not flesh and blood.
Neither apostles.
But unto Arabia.


B 1:18-24. ‘They had heard’.


There is a remarkable parallel between Galatians and 2 Corinthians where the issue once again is the validity of Paul’s apostleship



2 Corinthians
‘Seemed to be somewhat’ (2:6).
‘The extra super apostles’ (11:5).
‘Another gospel’ (1:6-9).
‘If he that cometh preacheth another Jesus ... another spirit ... another gospel’ (11:4).
‘False brethren’ (2:4).
‘False brethren’ (11:26).
‘He Who wrought effectually in Peter ... the same was mighty in me’ (2:8).
‘For I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles’ (11:5).
‘I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain ... I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you’ (4:11,20).
‘For I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would’ (11:3; 12:20).
‘I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded’ (5:10).
‘I rejoice therefore that I have confidence in you in all things’ (7:16).
‘From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus’ (6:17).
‘Forty stripes save one, five times: thrice beaten with rods: once stoned: thrice ship wrecked’ (11:24,25).
‘Behold, before God, I lie not’ (1:20).
‘The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not’ (11:31).
‘If ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another’ (5:15).
‘If a man devour you ... backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults’ (11:20; 12:20).
‘As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach ... ‘ (1:9).
‘I told you before, and foretell you, as if I were present, the second time’ (13:2).
‘Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?’ (3:3).
‘That as He had begun, so He would also finish (perfect) in you the same grace also’ (8:6).
‘For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature’ (6:15).
‘Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature’ (5:17).

The departure from the truth both doctrinally and practically in both churches is closely connected with doubting and denying the apostleship of Paul and the truth of his gospel. The self-same departure can be unhesitatingly deduced from the same cause today.

While a more complete list of parallels would be helpful, our immediate concern is with the revived controversy regarding the apostle Paul. In 1 Corinthians we realize that the elements of division are present; parties rally round the names of Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and even Christ. It is evident that the apostleship of Paul had been seriously questioned at Corinth, as Chapter 9 makes most manifest:

‘Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord? If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the SEAL OF MINE APOSTLESHIP are ye in the Lord. Mine answer to them that do examine me is this: Have we not power (a right) to eat and to drink? Have we not power (a right) to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power (the right) to forbear working? ... If others be partakers of this power (right) over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power (right); but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ ... when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power (do not use to the full my right) in the gospel. For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant (enslaved) unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law ... to them that are without law, as without law ... To the weak became I as weak ... I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some’ (1 Cor. 9:1-22).

This utter abandonment of self for the good of others was used against the apostle by the Judaizing party. In 2 Corinthians 12:12 he tells them that all the signs of an apostle were wrought among them, except this one thing, that the apostle abstained from his right of being supported by them. ‘Forgive me this wrong’, he says, ‘I will very gladly spend and be spent for you, though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved’. There a heavy heart is manifested for all the brave exterior. Quoting from the slanders in circulation about him, he repeats, ‘But be it so, I did not burden you; nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you with guile’ (verse 16). Hardly are the words penned than the apostle’s whole being revolts against the charge. Away with the thought. ‘Did I make gain of you by any of them whom I sent unto you? I desired Titus, and with him I sent a brother; did Titus make gain of you?’ (verses 17 and 18).

2 Corinthians 11 and 12 are occupied much in the same way as Galatians 1 and 2. The apostle, with much diffidence, calling his defence ‘folly’ and ‘foolish boasting’, is again plunged into the defence of his ministry, and the unchivalrous contention with Peter and others. The literary structure will again simplify the subject and keep us to the chief point:


2 Corinthians 11 and 12

A 11:1-4. The real deceiver. The Serpent; ‘subtility’ (panourgia).

B 11:5,6. KNOWLEDGE. ‘Not one whit behind the extra super apostles’.

C 11:7-21. SELF-ABASEMENT. Ministers of Satan.

D 11:22. EQUALITY. As to advantages of birth and religion.

D 11:23-33. SUPERIORITY. As to labour and sufferings.

C 12:1-10. VISIONS and REVELATIONS. A messenger of Satan.

B 12:11,12. SIGNS. ‘Not one whit behind the extra super apostles’.

A 12:13-18. The false charge. ‘Being crafty’ (panourgos).


While, therefore, the false teachers were saying of Paul that being crafty he caught them with guile, Paul exposes the real deceiver in the Serpent. And his servants - ministers of Satan, false apostles on the one hand and a stake in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, on the other hand, intensified the sufferings both mental and physical of the apostle to the Gentiles. The necessity of saving the Corinthians from the bondage of the Judaizers was urgent. Once more the apostle lays bare that which modesty would for ever have covered.


  1. His equality with the apostles of the circumcision.
    ‘Are they Hebrews?                                         So am I
    Are they Israelites?                                          So am I
    Are they the seed of Abraham?                        So am I’

  2. His superiority as to labours and sufferings.
    ‘Are they ministers of Christ                             I am MORE
             In labours MORE abundant
             In stripes ABOVE measure
             In prisons MORE frequent
             In deaths OFT
    Of the Jews FIVE times received I forty stripes save one,
                      THRICE was I beaten with rods,
                      ONCE was I stoned,
                      THRICE I suffered shipwreck,
    A DAY AND A NIGHT have I been in the deep;
    In journeyings OFTEN,
    In perils of waters, robbers, mine own countrymen,
        heathen, city, wilderness, sea, and false brethren;
        in weariness and painfulness, in watchings OFTEN;
        in hunger and thirst, in faintings OFTEN,
        in cold and nakedness;
        besides those things which are without,
        that which cometh upon me daily,

    Who is weak, and I am not weak?
    Who is offended, and I burn not?’


Twice does the apostle use a term that is reminiscent of Galatians 2, ‘the very chiefest apostles’ - ‘extra super’ as one has well rendered it - and he follows the line of Galatians 2 where he not only establishes equality with Peter, James, and John, but in the case of Peter, shows that he had to withstand him to the face. But in 2 Corinthians the apostle not only says ‘so am I’, but also ‘I more’.

It was for the establishing for all time of the personal integrity and the absolute apostleship of Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, that the Acts of the Apostles was written: and in humbler form, and in faulty fashion, but with the same end in view, this Analysis is largely penned. To rehabilitate Paul as the minister of the risen and ascended Christ to the Gentiles would of itself revolutionize Christianity today. We entertain no vain hopes, however. A little company has always guarded the sacred deposit, and will do so until the dispensation closes, but the generality of Christians care for none of these things.

On occasions Paul makes the specific claim that he was the apostle of the Gentiles.

‘I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office’ (Rom. 11:13).

‘I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity (truth)’ (1 Tim. 2:7).

‘I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles’ (2 Tim. 1:11).

Paul clearly recognized two things. He knew and taught that there was but one Lord, one Mediator, one Head, one Offering, one Saviour, Jesus Christ, and that he was but an earthen vessel, a planter, and in comparison ‘nothing’ (1 Cor. 3:7). On the other hand, he knew and taught that he was a chosen vessel, that neither Peter, James nor John had received the commission that he had received, and while he could not and would not magnify himself, he could and did magnify his office, for as one that had been chosen, separated and sent to the Gentiles he had no option but to faithfully discharge so solemn a trust.