Jesus had a large group of disciples. From among them he chose twelve, whom He “designated”/“named” apostles. To be a disciple of the Lord — even a “sent” (apostello) disciple, which we will see in Luke 10:1-2 below — is not necessarily the same as to be an apostle of the Lord.
We see the aforementioned Greek words used in these verses — The twelve apostles (apostolos) were chosen by Jesus from among His many disciples, and He sent (apostello) them out on ministry assignments. However, let’s look now at the Scripture below concerning Jesus’ larger group of disciples, and this entire issue of who are apostles becomes clear.
Like the twelve apostles, these “workers” were sent (apostello) into the harvest fields. So you might properly say that they were "sent ones." But that sending did not make them apostles, nor were they called such. It was the Twelve chosen from among His disciples that Jesus had “designated ... named” as apostles (apostolos). In sum, Jesus had a larger group of disciples (Luke 10:1ff) whom He sent out as kingdom “workers.” But from this larger group Jesus had chosen twelve, whom He “designated apostles” (Luke 6:13). The difference? There were (and still are today) many sent disciples, many sent workers, but only a smaller number of named, designated apostles.
You can be a faithful “worker” in the Lord’s harvest field, whether at home or on the mission field. But that does not make you a biblical apostle. It did not do so in Christ’s time on earth, and it does not now. An apostle is a specific, unique ministry designation, one of the five ministries of Ephesians 4:11 given by Jesus: “And he gave some, apostles [apostolos]; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers” (KJV). Prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers may indeed be “sent” by the Lord to their God-given ministries. But that does not make them apostles. And they were not called apostles by Paul merely because they may have been sent.
Go with me to some Scriptures where the Greek verb apostello is used. You will see that it is a very common, multipurpose word for send in the Greek language. It is by no means restricted to apostles, or even to believers. Nor does the use of the verb apostello make a sent person an apostle. Again, it was just a common verb in the language of that day.
An angel is not a biblical apostle just because God “sends” Him on assignment.
So God “sending” someone doesn’t make him an apostle. In this verse He sends (apostello) prophets and apostles. The apostles were designated such by Jesus. The prophets were called exactly what they were — prophets! — and were not wrongly called apostles by virtue of God having sent them.
God sent John the Baptist, but he wasn’t an apostle. John was a prophet and was called such by Jesus (Luke 7:28). Again, simply being sent in ministry for the Lord does not thereby make you a biblical apostle.
The prophets, sages, and teachers were “sent” ones, but were not apostles and were not called such in the Bible.
The unsaved disciples of the Pharisees, “sent” with malicious intent, were certainly not apostles.
The temple guards arresting Jesus were not apostles by virtue of having been sent (apostello).
The executioner who beheaded John the Baptist was sent (apostello) to the task, but was not an apostle! I think enough examples have been given. To be “sent” on a mission, a task, an assignment, a ministry, or the like does not make the person who is sent an apostle.
Gospel preachers are sent to their ministries by God. That does not make each preacher an apostle. Paul said of himself in 2 Timothy 1:11, KJV “…I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle [apostolos], and a teacher of the Gentiles.” Preachers are “sent” (apostello) by God for sure. Paul was a preacher. Paul said also (“AND”) that he was an apostle. Being a “sent” preacher did not in and of itself make Paul an apostle, nor does it do so today. No, but rather Paul himself said that he was “a preacher and an apostle. Being a preacher sent by God — even as missionaries to the foreign field — does not make that person an apostle, which is a distinct fivefold (Ephesians 4:11) calling of its own. Paul said specifically that he was “called to be an apostle [apostolos]” (Romans 1:1). The apostle is a specific, distinct Ephesians 4:11 calling.
In Ephesians 4:11 Paul lists what are commonly called today the “fivefold ministries” — apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher. In that same Ephesian epistle Paul lists only two foundational ministries (apostles and prophets) from among those five. With much respect to the other three mentioned ministries of evangelist, pastor, and teacher, Paul spoke only of the apostles and prophets as having foundational stature in the Lord’s work.
The Church today must be careful not to devalue the biblical office of apostle by assigning it casually to anyone called and “sent” in ministry. Multitudes of sincere, dedicated Christians are sent by the Lord into ministry situations. A much smaller number are called by Jesus and “designated” by Him to be apostles and foundational ministries in the body of Christ.
I’ve limited this study to exposing the modern error of casually calling “sent” Christians apostles. But I do firmly believe that there are genuine, God-called apostles today. For those interested in a more detailed study on the ministry office of apostles today, I refer you to my bible study on Modern-Day Apostles and Prophets. Thank you and God bless!
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©2017, James H. Feeney.
Pentecostal Sermons and
Bible Studies by
Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.