What is an Apostle in the Bible?

Dr Noaman Serosh Answers “What is an Apostle in the Bible?

What is an Apostle in the Bible?

(Gk. apostolos). Envoy, ambassador, or messenger commissioned to carry out the instructions of the commissioning agent.

Pre-Christian Use of the Term “Apostle”

Pre-Christian use of apostolos in the sense of messenger is rare. More common is the verb apostello, referring to the sending of a fleet or an embassy. Only in Herodotus (1.21; 5.38) is it used of a personal envoy. Josephus employs it once (Antiquities17.11.1) in the classical sense of an embassy. Epictetus (Discourse 3.22) speaks of the ideal Cynic teacher as one “sent by Zeus” to be a messenger of the gods and an “overseer” of human affairs.

What is an Apostle in the Bible (Septuagint)?

The Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) uses apostello or exapostello some seven hundred times to translate the Hebrew salah (“stretch out,” “send”). More than the act of sending, this word includes the idea of the authorization of a messenger.

The noun apostolos is found only in 1 Kings 14:6, where the commissioning and empowering of the prophet is clearly in mind. Thus, the Septuagint uses the apostello word-group to denote the authorization of an individual to fulfill a particular function, with emphasis on the one who sends, not on the one who is sent.

What is an Apostle in the Bible (New Testament)?

The word “apostle” appears seventy-nine times in the New Testament (ten in the Gospels; twenty-eight in Acts; thirty-eight in the Epistles; and three in Revelation). The majority of these occurrences are found in Luke-Acts (thirty-four) and in the Pauline epistles (thirty-four), and refer to those appointed by Christ for a special function in the church.
In the New Testament apostolos is applied to Jesus as the Sent One of God (Hebrews 3:1), to those sent by God to preach to Israel (Luke 11:49), and to those appointed by the resurrected Christ to preach the gospel of the kingdom. Click here for a two minute YouTube video about modern day apostles.
The expression “all the apostles” in 1 Corinthians 15:7 seems to include more than the twelve referred to in verse 5. James (the half-brother of Jesus) is considered here and in Galatians 1:19 to be an apostle. Barnabas is referred to as an apostle in Acts 14:14. Paul calls Andronicus and Junias apostles in Romans 16:7.


Publisher’s Note: Thanks to Dr Noaman Serosh for his answer to the oft-asked question “What is an apostle in the Bible?”  For a thorough discussion of the question check out our book Local Churches Global Apostles: How Churches in the New Testament Era Related to Apostles and Why It Matters Now.


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