Are There Still Apostles Today?
Updated: Jul 13, 2020
A quick Google search reveals that self-proclaimed apostles abound online. With the growth of many churches having roles of Apostles in their churches after having none in church history apart from the 12 and Paul, it is a valid question to ask if this role or office still exists in the church and what are Bible-believing Christians to think about all of this?
At the outset, we should note that by “apostles” we do not simply mean “sent ones” in the general sense. The bible uses the word apostle or sent out in the general sense for Timothy, Barnabas, Andronicus and Junias and some others because all of them were sent out to preach the Gospel. Rather, we are speaking of the office of Apostles. They are those select individuals directly appointed and authorized by Jesus Christ to be His immediate representatives on earth. In this sense, we are speaking of “capital A” apostles – such as the Twelve and the apostle Paul who had the office of an Apostle.
It is these type of “apostles” mentioned in Acts 1:20 – 25 and that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 2:20; 3:5; 4:11 and in 1 Corinthians 12:29–30. This is important because, especially in Ephesians 4 and in 1 Corinthians 12–14, and Acts 1:20 – 25. There are at least five reasons why we believe there are no longer any apostles in the church today (and in fact have not been since the death of the apostle John)
1. The Qualifications Necessary for Apostleship
First, and perhaps most basically, the qualifications necessary for apostleship preclude contemporary Christians from filling the apostolic office.
In order to be an in the office of an apostle, (Acts 1:20, Ps 109:8 For it is written in the Book of Psalms, “‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and “‘Let another take his office.’) one had to meet at least three necessary qualifications: (1) an apostle had to be an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ (Acts 1:22; 10:39–41; 1 Cor. 9:1; 15:7–8); (2) an apostle had to be directly appointed by Jesus Christ (Mark 3:14; Luke 6:13; Acts 1:2, 24; 10:41; Gal. 1:1); and (3) an apostle had to be able to confirm his mission and message with miraculous signs (Matt. 10:1–2; Acts 1:5–8; 2:43; 4:33; 5:12; 8:14; 2 Cor. 12:12; Heb. 2:3–4).
We might also note that, in choosing Matthias as a replacement for Judas, the eleven also looked for someone who had accompanied Jesus throughout His entire earthly ministry (Acts 1:21–22; 10:39–41).
Based on these qualifications alone, many continuationists (who believe that all the sign gifts are given to believer in the body of Christ today.) agree that there are no apostles in the church today. Thus, Wayne Grudem (a continuationist) notes in his Systematic Theology, “It seems that no apostles were appointed after Paul, and certainly, since no one today can meet the qualification of having seen the risen Christ with his own eyes, there are no apostles today” (p. 911).
2. The Uniqueness of Paul’s Apostleship
But what about the apostle Paul?
Some have contended that, in the same way that Paul was an apostle, there might still be apostles in the church today. But this ignores the uniqueness with which Paul viewed his own apostleship. Paul’s situation was not the norm, as he himself explains in 1 Corinthians 15:8-9 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
He saw himself as a one-of-a-kind anomaly, openly calling himself “the last” and “the least” of the apostles.
Someone may object that Christ could appear to someone today and appoint that person as an apostle. But the foundational nature of the office of apostle (Eph. 2:20; Rev. 21:14) and the fact that Paul views himself as the last one whom Christ appeared to and appointed as an apostle (“last of all, as to one untimely born,” 1 Cor. 15:8), indicate that this will not happen. Note also the other apostles acknowledged the apostleship of Paul. Galatians 2:8-9 for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles, 9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
Because Paul’s apostleship was unique, it is not a pattern that we should expect to see replicated in the church today. Also before we jump into a conclusion that maybe Barnabas too is an apostle in the verses above we need to see clearly that Barnabas was given the right hand of fellowship because he was with Paul and it was Paul who was the Apostle to the Gentiles and it was in him that the apostles James, Peter and John perceived grace that was given.
3. Apostolic Authority and the Closing of the Canon
It is our belief that, if we hold to a closed canon, we must also hold to the cessation of the apostolic office.
The New Testament apostles had a unique kind of authority in the early church: authority to speak and write words which were “words of God” in an absolute sense. To disbelieve or disobey them was to disbelieve or disobey God. The apostles, therefore, had the authority to write words which became words of Scripture. This fact in itself should suggest to us that there was something unique about the office of apostle, and that we would not expect it to continue today, for no one today can add words to the Bible and have them be counted as God’s very words or as part of Scripture. (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 905–906)
Hebrews 1:1–2 indicates that what God first revealed through the Old Testament, He later and more fully revealed through His Son. The New Testament, then, is Christ’s revelation to His church. It begins with His earthly ministry (in the four gospels), and continues through the epistles – letters that were written by His authorized representatives.
Thus, in John 14:26, Christ authorized His apostles to lead the church, promising them that the Helper would come and bring to their remembrance all that Jesus had taught them. The instruction they gave the church, then, was really an extension of Jesus’ ministry, as enabled by the Holy Spirit (cf. Eph. 3:5–6; 2 Pet. 1:20–21). Those in the early church generally understood apostolic instruction as authoritative and as being on par with the OT Scriptures (cf. 1 Thess. 2:13; 1 Cor. 14:37; Gal. 1:9; 2 Pet. 3:16).
For those who wonder what about Ephesians 4:11-13 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
This passage cannot be read outside of the context of the book of Ephesians and in the light of the foundational role of Apostles and Prophets already spoken of in Ephesians 2:20. It is clear to understand in place of living apostles present in the church to teach and govern it, we have instead the writings of the apostles in the books of the New Testament this is what Ephesians 4:11-13 in the light of Ephesians 2:20 implies on. This is how the saints are equipped for the work of ministry, until we all attain to the unity of the fait ie. through the writings of the Apostles.
The New Testament Scriptures fulfils for the church today the absolutely authoritative teaching and governing functions which were fulfilled by the apostles themselves during the early years of the church.
The doctrine of a closed canon is, therefore, largely predicated on the fact that the apostles were unique and are no longer here. After all, if there were still apostles in the church today, with the same authority as the New Testament apostles, how could we definitively claim that the canon is closed?
But since there are no longer apostles in the church today, and since new inscripturated revelation must be accompanied by apostolic authority and approval, it is not possible to have new inscripturated revelation today.
The closing of the canon and the non-continuation of apostles are two concepts that necessarily go hand-in-hand.
4. The Foundational Role of the Apostles
Closely related to the above is the fact that the apostles were part of the foundation period of the church (Eph. 2:20). Since (following the construction metaphor) the foundation stage precedes the superstructure, it is appropriate to infer that the apostles were given to the church for its beginning stages.
Our interpretation of “foundation” (as a reference to past period within the church’s history) is strengthened by the evidence from the earliest church fathers. The foundation stage was something the fathers referred to in the past tense, indicating that they understood it as past. Also we should be aware that the interpretation of foundation that is mentioned in Ephesians is for the church as a whole and not individual foundations for each local church. The structure for a local churches can be found in Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 and also in Acts 14:23, Acts 6. And this has been the interpretation of those text from the very beginning all throughout church history.
Thus, Ignatius a disciple of John (c. 35–115) in his Epistle to the Magnesians Chapter X, wrote (speaking in the past tense):
“The people shall be called by a new name, which the Lord shall name them, and shall be a holy people.” This was first fulfilled in Syria; for “the disciples were
called Christians at Antioch,” when Paul and Peter were laying the foundations of the Church.
Irenaeus (c. 130–202) in Against Heresies, echoes the past tense understanding that Peter and Paul laid the foundations of the Church (in Book3 Chapter1.Point1) and later refers to the twelve apostles as “the twelve-pillared foundation of the church” (in Book 4.Chapter21.Point3).
Tertullian (c. 155–230), in The Five Books Against Marcion (chapter 21), notes the importance of holding to apostolic doctrine, even in a post-apostolic age:
No doubt, after the time of the apostles, the truth respecting the belief of God suffered corruption, but it is equally certain that during the life of the apostles their teaching on this great article did not suffer at all; so that no other teaching will have the right of being received as apostolic than that which is at the present day proclaimed in the churches of apostolic foundation.
Lactantius (c. 240–320), also, in The Divine Institutes (Book4.Chapter21) refers to a past time in which the foundations of the church were laid:
But the disciples, being dispersed through the provinces, everywhere laid the foundations of the Church, themselves also in the name of their divine Master doing many and almost incredible miracles; for at His departure He had endowed them with power and strength, by which the system of their new announcement might be founded and confirmed.
Other examples could also be added from the later Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Chrysostom, for instance, would be another such source (from his Homilies on Ephesians).
The earliest church fathers, from just after the apostolic era, understood the work of the apostles to constitute a unique, “foundational” stage of the church. The fact that they reference this in the past tense, as something distinct from their own ministries, indicates that they understood that the apostolic age had passed, and thus the foundation stage was over.
5. The Historical Testimony of Those Following the Apostles
In our previous point, we contended that the apostles were given for the foundation stage of the church (Eph. 2:20), and that the early church recognized this foundation stage as a specific time-period that did not continue past the first century.
But it is important to go one step further, and note that the earliest church fathers saw the apostles as a unique group of men, distinct from all who would follow after them.
(A) Those who came after the apostles did not view themselves or their contemporaries as apostles.
According to their own self-testimony, the Christian leaders who followed the apostles were not apostles themselves, but were the “disciples of the apostles” (The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, 11; Fragments of Papias, 5; cf. The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, 6; Ignatius, Against Heresies, 1.10), the elders and deacons of the churches.
Thus, Clement (late first century disciple of Paul) in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1 Clement 42:1 – 4, notes that:
The apostles have preached the Gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ [has done so] from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first-fruits [of their labors], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe.
Ignatius (Disciple of John), for instance, purposely avoided equating himself with the apostles. Thus, he wrote, “I do not issue commands on these points as if I were an apostle; but, as your fellow-servant, I put you in mind of them” (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Antiochians, 11).
(B) Those who followed the apostles viewed apostolic writings as both unique and authoritative.
Moreover, in keeping with our third point (above), it was “the doctrine of the apostles” (cf. The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians, 13; The Epistle of Ignatius to the Antiochians, 1) that was to be guarded, taught, and heeded. Thus, the “memoirs of the apostles” were held as canonical and authoritative within the early church (cf. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.2.5; Victorinus, Commentary on the Apocalypse, 10.9).
Along these lines, Justin writes:
And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things (The First Apology of Justin, 67).
The doctrine and writing of the apostles was unique, having been written by the authoritative representatives of Christ Himself.
(C) Those who followed the apostles saw the apostolic age as a unique and unrepeated period of church history.
The fathers saw the “times of the apostles” as a distinct, non-repeateable period of church history (cf. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, 3.36.54; Reply to Faustus, 32.13; On Baptism, 14.16; et al). Thus, Chrysostom wrote on the uniqueness of fellowship during the apostolic age:
I wish to give you an example of friendship. Friends, that is, friends according to Christ, surpass fathers and sons. For tell me not of friends of the present day, since this good thing also has past away with others. But consider, in the time of the Apostles, I speak not of the chief men, but of the believers themselves generally; “all,” he says, “were of one heart and soul. and not one of them said that aught of the things which he possessed was his own… and distribution was made unto each, according as any one had need.” (Acts 4:32, 35) There were then no such words as “mine” and “thine.” This is friendship, that a man should not consider his goods his own, but his neighbor’s, that his possessions belong to another; that he
should be as careful of his friend’s soul, as of his own; and the friend likewise. (Homily on 1 Thess. 1:8-10)
Chrysostom looked back to the deep affection that characterized the apostolic era to provide a contrast to the relative lovelessness of the church in his day. In so doing, he underscores the fact that he understood the apostolic age to be long past. One additional passage might be cited in this regard:
I know that ye open wide your mouths and are amazed, at being to hear that it is in your power to have a greater gift than raising the dead, and giving eyes to the blind, doing the same things which were done in the time of the Apostles. And it seems to you past belief. What then is this gift? charity. (Homily on Heb. 1:6-8)
Many more examples from church history could be given. Eusebius’s whole history is based on the progression of church history from the “times of the apostles” (Ecclesiastical History, Book 8, introduction). Basil, in his work On the Spirit, points to previous leaders from church history (specifically Irenaeus) as those “who lived near the times of the Apostles” (29.72). Tertullian spoke of events that occurred “after the times of the apostles” (The Five Books Against Marcion, 21) Polycarp (Disciple of John) “Let us therefore so serve Him with fear and all reverence, as He himself gave commandment and the Apostles who preached the Gospel to us and the prophets who proclaimed beforehand the coming of our Lord.” (Polycarp - Epistle to The Philippians)
Consistently, the fathers (from the earliest times) mark the apostolic age (and the apostles themselves) as unique. Their writings were regarded as unique and authoritative. Those that followed them were not considered to be apostles. Nor did the Apostles themselves elect their disciples to be apostles in their place. The best example is of Polycarp and Ignatius who were the disciples of John and Clement of Rome who was a disciple of Paul who lived during the times of the Apostles yet did not succeed in their office of apostleship rather were Bishops of their region.
Few quotes and belief on Apostles today:
Assemblies of God: (Largest Pentecostal Denomination) Since the New Testament does not provide guidance for the appointment of future apostles, such contemporary offices are not essential to the health and growth of the church, nor its apostolic nature.
We would probably do well to avoid using the term today for missionaries and church planters, because using it may well create a confusion that could serve to lessen the unique authority of original apostolic teaching. Less than apostolic,
It is noteworthy that no major leader in the history of the church – not Athanasius or Augustine, not Luther or Calvin, not Wesley or Whitefield – has taken to himself the title of “apostle” or let himself be called an apostle. If any in modern times want to take the title “apostle” to themselves, the immediately raise the suspicion that they may be motivated by inappropriate pride and desires for self exaltation, along with excessive ambition and a desire for much more authority in the church than any one person should rightfully have. Wayne Grudem - Systematic Theology, 911
In our day, some have claimed to be apostles. However, when we understand the foundational role of the apostles, we understand that there are no apostles today. As today’s passage tells us, they, along with the prophets, provided the foundation of the church, and a foundation once laid does not need to be laid again. Today, the church is called not to lay the foundation again but to continue building the church of God through obedience to the apostolic writings of Scripture. R.C. Sproul https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/apostles/
Which denominations believe in the cessation of Apostles: All in the Reformed Presbyterian and Baptist churches, almost all the Lutheran, Anglican, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Pentecostal churches and some in the Charismatic Churches. Most people who believe in this view are from cults like the Word of Faith and New Apostolic Reformation.
Therefore we can conclude both Biblically and Historically clearly there are no Apostles in the church today. If someone wants to use the word apostle for those sent out to plant churches and oversee churches and preach the Gospel we can also conclude like we have seen above that both biblically and historically that role is not to be confused with the role of an Apostle and its best not to use that name as it is confusing to people. Furthermore with so many using the name Apostle for different reasons both right and wrong it adds to the confusion. Some who are very few in number would understand that the office is not meant for today and try to pursue the gifts and when they study from scripture and learn from Paul or others who held the office they end up applying almost all that is supposed to be for the office of an Apostle. So when in understanding they deny the office, in practice they have embraced it. In conclusion to honor the teaching of Christ and the true and only Apostles and to honor the Holy Spirit who both inspired scripture and helps us understand scriptures and to learn from the early church fathers (Pastors who were part of the early church after the apostles, some even disciples of the Apostles themselves.) and the ones who followed them it is best not to use the word Apostle today to specify any role in church.
Less then apostle and a disciple of Christ, Mario Peter.
*edited and adapted from Nathan Busenitz's Article (Cripplegate)