According to the Bible's New Testament, the Apostles are the primary disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, the central figure in Christianity. During the life and ministry of Jesus in the first century AD, the apostles were his closest followers and became the primary teachers of the gospel message of Jesus. Often the word "disciple" is used interchangeably with "apostle" – for instance the Gospel of John makes no distinction between the two terms. In modern usage, prominent missionaries are identified as apostles – a practice which stems from the Latin equivalent of apostle, missio, the source of the English word "missionary".
While Christian tradition often refers to the apostles as being twelve in number, different gospel writers give different names for the same individual, and apostles mentioned in one gospel are not mentioned in another. The commissioning of the Twelve Apostles during the ministry of Jesus is recorded in the Synoptic Gospels. After his resurrection, Jesus sent eleven of them (minus Judas Iscariot, who by then had died) by the Great Commission to spread his teachings to all nations—an event referred to as the "Dispersion of the Apostles". There is also an Eastern Christian tradition derived from the Gospel of Luke of there being as many as Seventy Apostles during the time of Jesus' ministry. Prominent figures in early Christianity were often called apostles even though their ministry or mission came after the life of Jesus.
The period of Early Christianity during the lifetimes of the apostles is called the Apostolic Age. During the first century, the apostles established churches throughout the territories of the Roman Empire and according to tradition through the Middle East, Africa, India, and modern-day Ukraine. The apostle Paul, a Jew named Saul of Tarsus, is considered "the apostle of the Gentiles", for his missions to spread the gospel message after his conversion. Although not one of the apostles commissioned during the life of Jesus, Paul claimed a special commission from the resurrected Jesus. In his writings, the epistles to Christian churches established throughout the Levant Paul did not restrict the term "apostle" to the Twelve, and often refers to his mentor Barnabas as an apostle. The restricted usage appears in Revelation.
By the second century AD, association with the apostles was esteemed as evidence of authority and such churches are known as Apostolic Sees. Paul's epistles were accepted as scripture, and two of the four gospels were associated with apostles, as were other New Testament works. Various Christian texts, such as the Didache and the Apostolic Constitutions, were attributed to the apostles. Bishops traced their lines of succession back to individual apostles, who were said to have dispersed from Jerusalem and established churches across great territories. Christian bishops have traditionally claimed authority deriving, by apostolic succession, from the Twelve. Early Church Fathers who came to be associated with apostles, such as Pope Clement I with Peter the Apostle, are referred to as Apostolic Fathers. The Apostles' Creed, popular in the West, was said to have been composed by the apostles themselves. The Twelve Apostles are also called the Twelve Disciples. Several Christian and local traditions honour major missionaries as apostles—for example, Saint Patrick (AD 373–463) as "Apostle of Ireland" or Saint Boniface (680–755) as "Apostle to the Germans".
- Background 1
The twelve apostles 2
- The four New Testament Gospels 2.1
- Calling by Jesus 2.2
- Replacement of Judas 2.3
- First Epistle to the Corinthians 2.4
- Deaths of the Twelve Apostles 2.5
- Tombs of the apostles 2.6
- The Apostle of the Gentiles: Paul the Apostle 3
- Other apostles mentioned in the New Testament 4
Later Christianizing apostles 5
- "Apostle to the apostles" 5.1
- "Equal to the apostles" 5.2
- See also 6
- References 7
- Further reading 8
- External links 9
The word "apostle" comes from the Greek word ἀπόστολος (apóstolos), formed from the prefix ἀπό- (apó-, "from") and root στέλλω (stéllō, "I send", "I depart") and originally meaning "messenger, envoy". It has, however, a stronger sense than the word messenger, and is closer to a "delegate". The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament argues that its Christian use translated a Jewish position known in Hebrew as the sheliach (שליח). This ecclesiastical meaning of the word was later translated into Latin as missio, the source of the English "missionary".
In the New Testament, the names of the majority of the apostles are Hebrew names, although some had Greek names. Even Paul, the "apostle of the Gentiles", who said that Jesus revealed himself to him only after his ascension and appointed him to his mission, was a Jew by birth and proud of it, although after his conversion he adopted the Roman cognomen Paulus, rendered in English as Paul, as his name. Paul claimed with much insistency this title and its rights, and made his case to the Corinthian Church that he was an apostle by the evidence of God's power working through him.
Mark 6:7-13 states that Jesus initially sent out these twelve in pairs (cf. Mt 10:5-42, Lk 9:1-6) to towns in Galilee. The text states that their initial instructions were to heal the sick and drive out demons. They are also instructed to "take nothing for their journey, except a staff only: no bread, no wallet, no money in their purse, but to wear sandals, and not put on two tunics", and that if any town rejects them they ought to shake the dust off their feet as they leave, a gesture which some scholars think was meant as a contemptuous threat (Miller 26). Their carrying of just a staff (Matthew and Luke say not even a staff) is sometimes given as the reason for the use by Christian bishops of a staff of office, in those denominations that believe they maintain an apostolic succession.
Later in the Gospel narratives the twelve apostles are described as having been commissioned to preach the Gospel to "all the nations," regardless of whether Jew or Gentile. Paul emphasized the important role of the apostles in the church of God when he said that the household of God is "built upon the foundation of apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone".
Each of the four listings of apostles in the New Testament (Mark 3:13-19, Matthew 10:1-4, Luke 6:12-16, and Acts 1:13) indicate that all the apostles were men. While the names vary in the four lists, the male identity is uniform. Classicist Evelyn Stagg and theologian Frank Stagg argue that this is strong evidence against Jesus viewing women and men as equals.
The twelve apostles
The four New Testament Gospels
The Canonical gospels give varying names of the twelve apostles. The list in the Gospel of Luke differs from Matthew and Mark at two points. It lists "Judas the son of James" instead of "Thaddeus". (For more information, see Jude the Apostle.) In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus selected Peter, James, and John to witness his transfiguration and to be near him when he prayed at Gethsemane. In Mark, the twelve are obtuse, failing to understand the importance of Jesus' miracles and parables.
Unlike the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John does not offer a formal list of apostles. Although it refers to "the Twelve" (John 6:67-71), the gospel does not present any elaboration of who these twelve actually were and the author of the Gospel of John only mentioned a few of them by name. There is also no separation of the terms "apostles" and "disciples" in John.
Those "whom he also named apostles" were:
|Gospel of Matthew||Gospel of Mark||Gospel of Luke||Gospel of John|
|Simon ("who is called Peter")||Simon ("to whom he gave the name Peter")||Simon ("whom he named Peter")||Simon Peter / Cephas|
|Andrew ("his [Peter's] brother")||Andrew||Andrew ("his brother")||Andrew ("brother of Simon Peter")|
|James ("son of Zebedee")||James ("son of Zebedee") / one of the "Boanerges"||James||one of the "sons of Zebedee"|
|John ("his [James's] brother")||John ("brother of James") / one of the "Boanerges"||John||one of the "sons of Zebedee" / thought to be the "disciple whom Jesus loved"|
|Thomas||Thomas||Thomas||Thomas ("also called Didymus")|
|Matthew ("the tax collector")||Levi||Levi||not mentioned|
|James ("son of Alphaeus")||James ("son of Alphaeus")||James ("son of Alphaeus")||not mentioned|
|Thaddaeus||Thaddaeus||Jude ("son of James")||Jude ("not Iscariot")|
|Simon ("the Cananean")||Simon ("the Cananean")||Simon ("who was called the Zealot")||not mentioned|
|Judas Iscariot||Judas Iscariot||Judas Iscariot||Judas ("son of Simon Iscariot")|
Calling by Jesus
The three Synoptic Gospels record the circumstances in which some of the disciples were recruited, Matthew only describing the recruitment of Simon, Andrew, James, and John. All three Synoptic Gospels state that these four were recruited fairly soon after Jesus returned from being tempted by the devil.
Despite Jesus only briefly requesting that they join him, they are all described as immediately consenting, and abandoning their nets to do so. Traditionally the immediacy of their consent was viewed as an example of divine power, although this statement isn't made in the text itself. The alternative and much more ordinary solution is that Jesus was simply friends with the individuals beforehand, as implied by the Gospel of John, which states that Andrew and an unnamed other had been a disciple of John the Baptist, and started following Jesus as soon as Jesus had been baptized. The Bible identifies Jesus as a tekton, a Greek word meaning builder or artisan, traditionally translated as carpenter. Considering this profession, it is plausible that Jesus had been employed to build and repair fishing vessels, thus having many opportunities to interact with and befriend such fishermen.
Albright and Mann extrapolate from Simon's and Andrew's abandonment of their nets, that Matthew is emphasizing the importance of renunciation by converting to Christianity, since fishing was profitable, though required large start-up costs, and abandoning everything would have been an important sacrifice. Regardless, Simon and Andrew's abandonment of what were effectively their most important worldly possessions was taken as a model by later Christian ascetics.
Matthew describes Jesus meeting James and John, also fishermen and brothers, very shortly after recruiting Simon and Andrew. Matthew and Mark identify James and John as sons of Zebedee. Luke adds to Matthew and Mark that James and John worked as a team with Simon and Andrew. Matthew states that at the time of the encounter, James and John were repairing their nets, but readily joined Jesus without hesitation.
This parallels the accounts of Mark and Luke, but Matthew implies that the men have also abandoned their father (since he is present in the ship they abandon behind them), and Carter feels this should be interpreted to mean that Matthew's view of Jesus is one of a figure rejecting the traditional patriarchal structure of society, where the father had command over his children; most scholars, however, just interpret it to mean that Matthew intended these two to be seen as even more devoted than the other pair.
The synoptics go on to describe that much later, after Jesus had later begun his ministry, Jesus noticed, while teaching, a tax collector in his booth. The tax collector, Levi according to some Gospels, Matthew according to others, is asked by Jesus to become one of his disciples. Matthew/Levi is stated to have accepted and then invited Jesus for a meal with his friends. Tax collectors were seen as villains in Jewish society, and the Pharisees are described by the synoptics as asking Jesus why he is having a meal with such disreputable people. The reply Jesus gives to this is now well known: it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.
Replacement of Judas
After Judas Iscariot betrayed Christ and then in guilt committed suicide before Christ's resurrection (in one Gospel account), the apostles numbered eleven. When Jesus had been taken up from them, in preparation for the coming of the Holy Spirit that he had promised them, Peter advised the brethren:
Judas, who was guide to those who took Jesus ... For he was numbered with us, and received his portion in this ministry ... For it is written in the book of Psalms, 'Let his habitation be made desolate, Let no one dwell therein', and, 'Let another take his office'... So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day he was taken up from us, must become with us a witness to his resurrection—Acts 1:15-26
So, between the ascension of Christ and the day of Pentecost, the remaining apostles elected a twelfth apostle by casting lots, a traditional Israelite way to determine the Will of God. (see Proverbs 16:33) The lot fell upon Matthias.
This is one of several verses used by the Orthodox Churches (including Catholic, Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox Churches) in support of their teaching of Apostolic Succession, and by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in support of the Great Apostasy.
First Epistle to the Corinthians
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.—1Corinthians 15:3-8
The text has some unresolved issues. Paul does not refer to "the twelve" anywhere else in his surviving writings, nor did he ever limit the usage of the word "apostle" to the twelve disciples who by definition were the ones appointed as apostles.
Deaths of the Twelve Apostles
Matthew 27:5 says that Judas Iscariot threw the silver he received for betraying Jesus down in the Temple, then went and hanged himself. Acts 1:18 says that he purchased a field, then "falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out".
According to Edward Gibbon, primary Christians believed that only St. Peter, St. Paul and St. James (son of Zebedee) were martyred. The rest of claims of martyred apostles do not rely upon historical evidence.
Tombs of the apostles
Out of the eleven apostles excluding Judas Iscariot, the burial sites of only seven have been identified by Christian tradition.
The Apostle of the Gentiles: Paul the Apostle
In his writings, Paul, originally named Saul, though not one of the original twelve, described himself as an apostle, one "born out of due time" (e.g., Romans 1:1, 1 Corinthians 15:8 and other letters). He was called by the resurrected Jesus himself during his Road to Damascus vision and given the name "Paul." With Barnabas, he was allotted the role of apostle in the church. He referred to himself as the apostle of the Gentiles.
As the Catholic Encyclopedia states, "It is at once evident that in a Christian sense, everyone who had received a mission from God, or Christ, to man could be called 'Apostle'"; thus extending the original sense beyond the twelve.
Since Paul claimed to have received the gospel through a revelation of Jesus Christ after the latter's death and resurrection (rather than before like the twelve), he was often obliged to defend his apostolic authority (1 Cor. 9:1 "Am I not an apostle?") and proclaim that he had seen and was anointed by Jesus while on the road to Damascus.
James, Peter and John in Jerusalem accepted his calling to the apostleship from the Lord to the Gentiles (specifically those not circumcised) as of equal authority as Peter's to the Jews (specifically those circumcised) according to Paul. "James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars ... agreed that we [Paul and Barnabas] should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews."
Paul, despite his divine calling as an apostle, considered himself perhaps inferior to the other apostles because he had originally persecuted Christ's followers. In addition, despite the Little Commission of Matthew 10, the twelve did not limit their mission to solely Jews as Cornelius the Centurion is widely considered the first Gentile convert and he was converted by Peter, and the Great Commission of the Resurrected Jesus is specifically to "all nations".
Other apostles mentioned in the New Testament
|Person called apostle||Where in Scripture||Notes|
|Andronicus and Junia||Rom 16:7||
Paul states that Andronicus and Junia were "of note among the apostles." This has been traditionally interpreted in one of two ways:
In the first view it is believed that Paul is referring to a female apostle. Unhappy with reference to a female apostle, editors and translators have often changed the name to "Junias," the masculine version of Junia, as in the Revised Standard Version. While "Junia" was a common name, "Junias" was not.
In the second view, it is believed that Paul is simply making mention of the outstanding character of these two people which was acknowledged by the apostles.
Historically it has been virtually impossible to tell which of the two views were correct. The second view, in recent years, has been defended from a scholarly perspective by Daniel Wallace and Michael Burer.
|Silas||1 Thes. 1:1,||Referred to as one along with Timothy and Paul, he also performs the functioning of an apostle as Paul's companion in Paul's second missionary journey in Acts 15:40ff.|
|Timothy||1 Thes. 1:1,||Timothy is referred to as an apostle in along with Silas and Paul. However, in 2 Cor. 1:1 he is only called a "brother" when Paul refers to himself as "an apostle of Christ". Timothy performs many of the functions of an apostle in the commissioning of Paul in 1st and 2nd Timothy, though in those epistles Paul refers to him as his "son" in the faith.|
|Apollos||1 Cor. 4:9||Included among "us apostles" along with Paul and Cephas (Peter). (see also: , , and )|
Later Christianizing apostles
"Apostle to the apostles"
Harvard theologian Karen King cites references in the Gospel of John that the risen Jesus gives Mary Magdalene special teaching and commissions her as an "Apostle to the Apostles." Mary is the first to announce the resurrection and to fulfill the role of an apostle─someone sent by Jesus with a special message or commission, to spread the gospel ("good news") and to lead the early church. The first message she was given was to announce to Peter and the others that "He is risen!"(Mt. 28:7 Mk. 16:9-11 Lk. 24:10 Jn. 20:2) Although the term is not specifically used of her in the New Testament, Eastern Christianity refers to her as "equal to the apostles", and later traditions named her as "the apostle to the apostles." King writes that the strength of this literary tradition makes it possible to suggest that historically Mary was a prophetic visionary and leader within one sector of the early Christian movement after the death of Jesus.
"Equal to the apostles"
Some Eastern Orthodox saints are given the title isapostolos ("equal-to-the-apostles"; Russian: равноапостольный), e.g., Saint Cosmas and Princess Olga of Kiev. Beginning with Saint Constantine, this was also a frequent title of Byzantine Emperors.The Emperor Constantine the Great, sometimes considered founder of the Byzantine Empire, formally recognized Christianity in the Roman Empire in the Edict of Milan in 313 (see also Constantine I and Christianity). According to Philip Schaff's History of the Christian Church:
Soon after his death, Eusebius set him above the greatest princes of all times; from the fifth century he began to be recognized in the East as a saint; and the Greek and Russian church to this day celebrates his memory under the extravagant title of "Isapostolos", the "Equal of the apostles". The Latin church, on the contrary, has never placed him among the saints, but has been content with naming him "the Great," in remembrance of his services to the cause of Christianity and civilization. Comp the Acta Sact. ad 21 Maii, p. 13 sq. Niebuhr remarks: "When certain oriental writers call Constantine 'equal to the apostles', they do not know what they are saying; and to speak of him as a 'saint' is a profanation of the word.
- Apostles' Fast
- Apostolic Council
- Apostolic Fathers
- Apostolic succession
- Commissioning the twelve apostles
- Disciple (Christianity)
- Disciples of Jesus in Islam
- Dispersion of the apostles
- Female disciples of Jesus
- Great Commission
- New Apostolic Church
- New Testament
- Old Apostolic Church
- Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (LDS Church)
- Seventy Disciples
- Twelve Imams
- "Apostle." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005. ISBN 0-19-280290-9
- Revelation 21:14.
- Coppieters, Honoré. "Apostles." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 9 Aug. 2014
- As was not uncommon for Jews at the time, some of them had two names, one Hebrew/Aramaic and the other Greek. Hence the lists of Jesus' twelve apostles contains 14 names not 12; the 4 Greek names are Andrew, Philip, Thaddaeus and Lebbaeus. Reference: John P. Meier's A Marginal Jew.
- Acts 9:1-19 Gal 1:11-12
- Mt 28:19 Mk 13:10
- cf. also Acts 15:1-31, Galatians 2:7-9, Acts 1:4-8, Acts 10:1-11:18.
- Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985. "Mark" pp. 285–296.
- An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon. The Seventh Edition of Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon. Clarendon Press: Oxford, p. 797.
- http://ehrmanblog.org/were-the-disciples-martyred-for-believing-the-resurrection/ (behind paywall).
- Tomb of Jesus' Apostle Found In Turkey?
- cf. Gal 1:12; Acts 9:3-19, , ,
- May, Herbert G. and Bruce M. Metzger. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. 1977.
- Crossan, J. D. and Reed, J. L., In Search of Paul, Harper San Francisco (2004), pp. 115–116. ISBN 978-0-06-051457-0.
- Ehrman, Bart. Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend. Oxford University Press, USA. 2006. ISBN 978-0-19-530013-0.
- See Daniel B. Wallace and Michael H. Burer, "Was Junia Really an Apostle?" NTS 47 (2001): 76-91.
- King, Karen I. "Women in Ancient Christianity: the New Discoveries - Frontline: From Jesus to Christ—The First Christians.". Public Broadcasting System (PBS). Retrieved 01–11–2008.
- "History Of The Christian Church*". Ccel.org. Retrieved 2013-09-03.
- Th Navarre Bible. (RSV, Catholic Edition), Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1999.
- Albright, W.F. and C.S. Mann. "Matthew." The Anchor Bible Series. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1971.
- Pope Benedict XVI, The Apostles. Full title is The Origins of the Church – The Apostles and Their Co-Workers. published 2007, in the US: ISBN 978-1-59276-405-1; different edition published in the UK under the title: Christ and His Church – Seeing the face of Jesus in the Church of the Apostles, ISBN 978-1-86082-441-8.
- Carson, D.A. "The Limits of Functional Equivalence in Bible Translation - and other Limits Too." in The Challenge of Bible Translation: Communicating God's Word to the World. edited by Glen G Scorgie, Mark L. Strauss, Steven M. Voth.
- Carter, Warren. "Matthew 4:18-22 and Matthean Discipleship: An Audience-Oriented Perspective." Catholic Bible Quarterly. Vol. 59. No. 1. 1997.
- Clarke, Howard W. The Gospel of Matthew and its Readers: A Historical Introduction to the First Gospel. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003.
- "Fishers of Men." A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature. David Lyle Jeffrey, general editor. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992.
- France, R.T. The Gospel According to Matthew: an Introduction and Commentary. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1985.
- Karrer, Martin. "Apostle, Apostolate." In The Encyclopedia of Christianity, edited by Erwin Fahlbusch and Geoffrey William Bromiley, 107-108. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1999. ISBN 0-8028-2413-7
- Manek, Jindrich. "Fishers of Men." Novum Testamentum. 1958 pg. 138
- Schweizer, Eduard. The Good News According to Matthew. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1975
- Wuellner, Wilhelm H. The Meaning of "Fishers of Men". Westminster Press, 1967.
- The Lost Gospel - The Book of Q. by Burton L Mack
- Apostle in the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica
- Apostle article from Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge
Texts on Wikisource:
- "Apostles". The New Student's Reference Work. 1914.
- Coppieters, Honoré-Joseph (1913). "Apostles".
- Liddell & Scott
- Strong's G652
- Apostle and Apostleship article from Jewish Encyclopedia
- The Twelve Apostles The Biographies of The Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ, the son of God.
- Apostles.com Biographies of Christ's Apostles
- Cast Your Nets: Fishing at the Time of Jesus
- The Fishing Economy in Galilee
- The Twelve Apostles an Eastern Orthodox perspective by Rev. George Mastrantonis
- Apostle article from OrthodoxWiki
- Christian History: The Twelve Apostles
- Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
- "The Twelve Apostles" at the Christian Iconography website
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