Definition of Apostle, as found in an 1868 Bible Dictionary
Are Apostles Still Here Today?
of the Bible
Antiquities, Biography, Geography,
Numerous Illustrations and maps, engraved expressly for this work
Edited by William Smith
Classical Examiner of the University of London
National Publishing company
Apostle (one sent forth), in the New Testament, originally the official name of those Twelve of the disciples whom Jesus chose to send forth first to preach the Gospel, and to be with Him during the course of his ministry on earth. the word also appears to have been used in a non-official sense to designate a much wider circle of Christian messengers and teachers (see 2 Cor. viii. 23; Phil ii. 25). It is only of those who were officially designated Apostles that we treat in this article.
The original qualification of an Apostle, as stated by St. Peter, on occasion of electing a successor to the traitor Judas, was, that he should have been personally acquainted with the whole ministerial course of our Lord, from his baptism by John till the day when He was taken up into heaven. He himself describes them as “they that had contained with Him in his temptations” (Luke xxii. 28). By this close personal intercourse with Him, they were peculiarly fitted to give testimony to the facts of redemption; and we gather, from his own words in John xiv. 26, xv. 26-27, xvi. 13, that an especial bestowal of the Spirit’s influence was granted them, by which their memories were quickened, and their power of reproducing that which they had heard from Him increased above the ordinary measure of man.
The Apostles were from the lower ranks of life, simple and uneducated; some of them were related to Jesus according to the flesh; some had previously been disciples of John the Baptist, Our Lord chose them early in his public career, though it is uncertain precisely at what time. Some of them had certainly partly attached themselves to Him before; but after their call as Apostles they appear to have been continuously with Him, or in his service. They seem to have been all on an equality, Both during and after the ministry of Christ on earth. We find one indeed, St. Peter, from fervor of personal character, unusually prominent among them, and distinguished by having the first place assigned him in founding the Jewish and Gentile churches [Peter]; but we never find the slightest trace in Scripture of any superiority or primacy being in consequence accorded to him. We also find that he and two others, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, are admitted to the inner privacy of our Lord’s acts and sufferings on several occasions (Matt xvii. 1-9, xxvi. 37; Mark v. 37); but this is no proof of superiority in rank or office. Early in our Lord’s ministry, He sent them out two and two to preach repentance, and perform miracles in his name (Matt. x.; Luke ix.). This their mission was of the nature of a solemn call to the children of Israel, to whom it was confined (Matt. x. 5-6).
The Apostles were early warned by their Master of the solemn nature and the danger of their calling (Matt. x. 17). They accompanied Him in his journeys of teaching and to the Jewish feasts, saw his wonderful works, beard his discourses addressed to the people (Matt v. , vii., xxiii.; Luke vi. 13-49) or those which be held with learned Jews (Matt xix. 13 ff.; Luke x. 25 ff.), made inquiries of Him on religious matters, sometimes concerning his own sayings, sometimes of a general nature (Matt. xlii. 10 ff., xv. 15 ff., xviii. 1 ff.; Luke viii. 9 ff., xii, 41, xvii. 5; John ix. 2 ff., xiv. 5, 22, &c.): sometimes they worked miracles (Mark vi. 13; Like ix. 20), and ascribed to Him supernatural power (Luke ix. 54); but in the recognition of the spiritual teaching and mission of Christ, they made very slow progress, held back as they were by weakness of apprehension and by national prejudices (Matt. xv. 16, xvi. 22, xvii. 20, 21; Luke ix. 54, xxiv. 25; John xvi. 12): they were compelled to ask of Him the explanation of even his simplest parables (Mark viii. 14 ff.; Luke xii. 41 ff.), and openly confessed their weakness of faith (Luke xvii. 5). Even at the removal of our Lord from the earth they were yet weak in their knowledge (Luke xiv. 21; John xvi. 12), though He had for so long been carefully preparing and instructing them. And when that happened of which He had so often forewarned them – his apprehension by the chief priests and Pharisees – they all forsook Him and fled (Matt xxvi. 56). They left his burial to one who was not of their number and to the women, and wee only convinced of his resurrection on the very plainest proofs furnished by Himself.
It was first when this fact became undeniable that light seems to have entered their minds, and not even then without His own special aid, opening their understandings that they might understand the Scriptures. Even after that, many of them returned to their common occupations (John xxi. 3 ff.), and it required a new direction from the Lord to recall them to their mission, and re-unite them in Jerusalem (Acts i. 4). Before the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Church, Peter, at least, seems to have been specially inspired by Him to declare the prophetic sense of Scripture respecting the traitor Judas, and direct his place to be filled up. On the Feast of Pentecost, ten days after our Lord’s ascension, the Holy Spirit came down on the assembled church (Acts ii); and from that time the Apostles became altogether different men, giving witness with power of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus as he had declared they should (Luke xxiv. 48; Acts i. 8, 22, ii. 32, iii. 15, v. 32, xiii. 31). First of all the mother-church at Jerusalem grew up under their hands (Acts iii.-vii.), and their superior dignity and power were universally acknowledged by the rulers and the people (Acts v. 12 ff.). Even the persecution which arose about Stephen, and put the first check on the spread of the Gospel in Jedaea, does not seem to have brought peril to the Apostles (Acts viii. 1).
Their first mission out of Jerusalem was to Samaria (Acts viii. 5-25), where the Lord himself had, during his ministry, sown the seed of the Gospel. Here ends, properly speaking (or rather perhaps with the general visitation hinted at in Acts ix. 31), the first period of the Apostles’ agency, during which its centre is Jerusalem, and the prominent figure is that of St. Peter. Agreeably to the promise of our Lord to him (Matt. xvi. 18), which we conceive it impossible to understand otherwise than in a personal sense, he among the twelve foundations (Rev. xxi. 14) was the stone on whom the Church was first built; and it was his privilege first to open the doors of the kingdom of heaven to Jews (Acts ii. 14, 22) and to Gentiles (Acts x. 11). – The centre of the second period of the apostolic agency is Antioch, where a church soon was built up, consisting of Jews and Gentiles; and the central figure of this and of the subsequent period is St. Paul, a convert not originally belonging to the number of the Twelve, but wonderfully prepared and miraculously won for the high office [Paul]. This period, whose history (all that we know of it) is related in Acts xi. 19-30, xiii. 1-5, was marked by the united working of Paul and the other Apostles, in the co-operation and intercourse of the two churches of Antioch and Jerusalem.
From this time the third apostolic period opens, marked by the almost entire disappearance of the Twelve from the sacred narrative, and the exclusive agency of St. Paul, the great apostle of the Gentiles. The whole of the remaining narrative of the Acts is occupied with his missionary journeys; and when we leave him at Rome, all the Gentile churches from Jerusalem round about unto Illyricum owe to him their foundation, and look to him for supervision. Of the missionary agency of the rest of the Twelve, we know absolutely nothing from the sacred narrative. Some notices we have of their personal history, which will be found under their respective names, together with the principal legends, trustworthy or untrustworthy, which have come down to us respecting then [See Peter, James, John especially.] – As regards the apostolic office, it seems to have been per-eminently that of founding the churches, and upholding them by supernatural power specially bestowed for that purpose. It ceased, as a matter of course, with its first holder; all continuation of it, form the very conditions of its existence (cf. 1 Cor. ix. 1), being impossible. The bishops of the ancient churches coexisted with and did not in any sense succeed, the Apostles; and when it is claimed for bishops or any church officers that they are their successors, it can be understood only chronologically, and not officially.