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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) by the Great Commission to spread his teachings to all nations. There is also an Eastern Christian tradition derived from the Gospel of Luke of seventy apostles.
Paul the Apostle (Saul of Tarsus), not one of the Twelve or the Seventy but a later convert, "the apostle of the Gentiles",[Romans 11:13] claimed a special commission from the resurrected Jesus, separate from the Great Commission given to the Twelve. Paul did not restrict the term apostle to the Twelve, he referred to his mentor Barnabas as an apostle. The restricted usage appears in Revelation.
The sub-period of Early Christianity during the lifetimes of the apostles is called the Apostolic Age. In the 2nd century, 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 that 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.
The word "apostle" comes from the Greek word ἀπόστολος (apóstólos), formed from the prefix ἀπό- (apó-, "from") and root στέλλω (stéllō, "I send", "I depart") and originally meaning "messenger, envoy". 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 always proud of it,[1:14] although after his conversion he adopted the Roman cognomen Paulus, rendered in English as Paul, as his name.[Acts 13:9]
Paul made his case to the Corinthian Church that he was an apostle by the evidence of God's power working through him, "The things that mark an apostle—signs, wonders and miracles—were done among you with great perseverance."[2 Co. 12:12]
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, and in the Gospel of Matthew to raise the dead. 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".[Ephesians 2:19-20]
The Canonical gospels give varying names of the twelve apostles. According to the lists occurring in each of the three Synoptic Gospels, the twelve, some of whom chose to follow Jesus and some who were called by Jesus near the beginning of his ministry, those "whom he also named apostles", were:
|Matthew [Mt 10:1–4]||Mark [Mk 3:13–19]||Luke [Lk 6:12–16]|
|Simon, who is called Peter||Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter)||Simon, whom he named Peter|
|Andrew, his brother||Andrew||Andrew his brother|
|James the son of Zebedee||James the son of Zebedee||James|
|John, his brother||John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges)||John|
|Matthew, the tax collector||Matthew||Matthew|
|James the son of Alphaeus||James the son of Alphaeus||James the son of Alphaeus|
|Thaddaeus||Thaddaeus||Judas the son of James|
|Simon the Zealot||Simon the Zealot||Simon who was called the Zealot|
|Judas Iscariot||Judas Iscariot||Judas Iscariot|
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" in a single scene (John 6:67-71). However, the gospel does not present any elaboration of who "the twelve" actually were. There is also no separation of "apostles" and "disciples" in John. Only the following disciples are mentioned:
Of these, only Nathanael is not in the lists in the other gospels.
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,[Mk 6:3] 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.[Mk 2:17]
Each of the four listings in the New Testament (Mark 3:13-19, Matthew 10:1-4, Luke 6:12-16, and Acts 1:13) indicate that all were men. While the names vary in the four lists, the male identity is uniform. Why were the twelve all men? Classicist Evelyn Stagg and Theologian Frank Stagg concluded that "this is the strongest single evidence against a clear breakthrough on the part of Jesus in the recognition of the full equality of women with men".
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
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.
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.
The text has some unresolved issues. Paul does not refer to "the twelve" anywhere else in his 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.
Christian tradition has generally passed down that all but one were martyred, with John surviving into old age. Only the death of James, son of Zebedee is described in the New Testament, and the details of the other deaths are the subject of pious legends of varying authenticity. In some cases there is near unanimity in the tradition, and in other cases, there are widely varying and inconsistent accounts.
Judas Iscariot, originally one of the twelve, died after Jesus' trial. Matthew 27:5 says that he hanged himself, and Acts 1:18 says that he fell, burst open, and his "bowels gushed out." Matthias was elected to take his place as one of the twelve.
Out of the eleven apostles excluding Judas Iscariot, the burial sites of only seven have been identified by Christian tradition.
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."[Acts 9:1-9] With Barnabas, he was allotted the role of apostle in the church.[Acts 13:2] He referred to himself as the apostle of the Gentiles.[Rom 11:13]
He also described some of his companions as being called of the Lord as apostles (Barnabas, Silas, Apollos, Andronicus and Junia). 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.[Gal 2:7-9] "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."[Gal 2:9]
Paul, despite his divine calling as an apostle, considered himself perhaps inferior to the other apostles because he had originally persecuted Christ's followers.[1 Cor. 15:9] 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".
In 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:
1) That Andronicus and Junia were "of note among the apostles," that is, distinguished apostles.
2) That Andronicus and Junia were "well known among the apostles" meaning "well known to the apostles".
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. Following an examination of this Greek phrase (episēmoi + the preposition en) in biblical Greek, patristic Greek, papyri, inscriptions as well as Hellenistic and classical Greek texts, they conclude that the normal way one would attempt to convey the meaning to the apostles rather than among the apostles was employed by Paul.
Silas is referred to as an apostle in 1 Thes. 1:1 and 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 is referred to as an apostle in 1 Thes. 1:1 and 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.
Epaphroditus is referred to as "your apostle" in Philippians 2:25. Although it is often translated as "your messenger," the word used is apostle (ἀπόστολος.)
A number of successful pioneering missionaries are known as apostles. In this sense, in the traditional list below, the apostle either first brought Christianity to a land or a people, or spread the faith in places where a few struggling Christian communities did already exist.
Analogous use for non-Catholic missionaries:
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.
Some Eastern Orthodox saints are given the title isapostolos ("equal-to-the-apostles"; Russian: равноапостольный), e.g., Saint Cosmas. 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.
The fivefold ministry states that the apostle continues to be a valid and active office in the contemporary church. C. Peter Wagner has been especially prominent in the New Apostolic Reformation, which argues that God is restoring the lost offices of prophet and apostle.
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