One of the 12 intimate followers of Jesus who were commissioned by Him to preach His gospel. This article will first treat of the Biblical data on the Apostles and then consider the theological significance of their office in the Church that Christ founded.
1. In the Bible
In classical Greek the word ἀπóστολος (from the verb ἀποστέλλω, to send away, to send out) is used several
times in the meaning of a naval "expedition," but seldom in the meaning of "one sent," a messenger, an envoy. In the Greek New Testament, besides being used to designate a messenger in general (Jn 13.16; 2 Cor 8.23; Phil 2.25) and a messenger from God in particular (Lk 11.49; Heb 3.1—in this case of Christ as God's messenger), it is most frequently used in a special sense to designate the twelve whom Jesus chose from among His disciples to assist Him in His earthly mission and to be its continuators under the leadership of Saint peter, His vicar.
The Greek word as used in the New Testament is no doubt a translation of the Aramaic word šelîḥā', "one sent." But its change of meaning from a term connoting a temporary function of anyone sent on any mission to a title of a permanent office is strictly a New Testament development. The Talmudic use of the Hebrew word šlîaḥ in a similar sense for the Jewish officials who acted as contact men between the Jews of Palestine and those of the Diaspora is post-Christian and perhaps due to Christian influence. In the New Testament the broader usage that includes any Christian missionary (e.g., Barnabas in Acts 14.13; 1 Cor 9.6) is older than its technical usage as limited to the Twelve and Paul, who puts himself on a par with them. In the latter sense it is used only once in Matthew (10.2) and Mark (6.30) and never in John, but it is common in the Epistles, Acts, and Luke, who ascribes to Jesus Himself the attribution of this title to the Twelve: "He chose twelve, whom he also named apostles" (Lk 6.13). Treatment will be made here of the call of the Apostles by Jesus, the lists of their names, and their office.
Call of the Apostles. Andrew, John, Simon (Peter), Philip, and Nathaniel (Bartholomew) were on intimate terms with Jesus before He formally chose the Twelve. They first met Him at the Jordan, where they had been disciples of John the Baptist (Jn 1.35–51). They were witnesses of His first public miracle at Cana (Jn 2.1–11), and they stayed in His company when He made His headquarters at Capharnaum (Jn 2.12). Where the other Apostles first met Jesus is not known, except for Matthew (Levi), who, as he was sitting in his tax collector's place, received from Jesus the simple call, "Follow me" (Mk 2.13–14 and parallels).
Later, after spending a night in prayer, Jesus summoned all His Disciples and from among them selected twelve (Mt 10.1; Mk 3.13–14; Lk 6.12–13). Mark and Luke situate the event on "a mountain," but Matthew does not connect it with his Sermon on the Mount. From then on the Twelve formed a special inner circle within the general group of Jesus' Disciples, preparing for an unexampled work, to be Christ's envoys as He was the envoy of His Father (Jn 17.18; 20.21).
Scriptural Lists of the Apostles. The names of the twelve Apostles are listed four times in the New Testament, once in each of the three Synoptic Gospels and once in Acts. The relatively fixed nature of the lists, with minor variations in each one, shows that they represent four variant forms of a single early oral tradition. The need that was felt for a knowledge of the names of the Twelve among the early Christians is an indication of the reverence in which the early Church held them.
In each of the four lists the names fall into three groups of four names each, the first name in each group being constant. On the assumption that Jude, the brother of James, is the same as Thaddeus, the same men are mentioned in each of the three groups of the four lists (see jude thaddeus, st.). But the order of the names varies somewhat in each group, with the exception that Judas Iscariot is named last by all three Synoptics (and naturally is missing from the list of Acts). The greatest variation occurs in the third group, where the lists distinguish between an Apostle already mentioned and another with a similar name. (For the epithet of St. simon the Apostle, see zealots.)
Apostolic Office. The essence of the apostolic office lies in the sending or commission of the Apostles by Christ. As one who is sent (the meaning of the Greek term for Apostle), an Apostle is Christ's envoy ambassador, or vicar, with full power to act in His name. Hence the stress that is laid in the New Testament on the sending by Christ of His Apostles (Mt 28.19: Mk 3.14 and parallels); He sends them just as He has been sent by His Father (Mt 10.40; Jn 13.20). Matthias cannot take the place of Judas among the Apostles until God has designated him by lot for this commission (Acts 1.21–26). The Apostles do not receive their commission from the Church (Gal 1.1), and therefore they are above the Church and not subject to its tribunal (1 Cor 4.3). They are the official witnesses of Christ, especially of His Resurrection (Lk 24.48; Acts 1.8, 21–22; 13.31); Paul can rank as Apostle because he too saw the risen Lord (Acts 9.3–5; 1 Cor 15.8). Yet the mere fact of having seen Christ risen from the dead does not make a man an Apostle (1 Cor 15.5–6).
As God's envoys and spokesmen, the Apostles have the right to be heard (2 Cor 5.20; 1 Thes 2.13) and to be received as if they were Christ Himself (Gal 4.14). In the same capacity they perform the liturgical functions of the Church—baptizing (Acts 2.41), celebrating the Eucharist (Acts 20.7–11), and laying their hands on other men in Confirmation and Ordination (Acts 6.6; 8.15–17). In God's name they can forgive sins (Mt 18.18; Jn 20.23). With the fullness of Christ's power they can work miracles (Mk 3.15; 6.7 and parallels; Acts 2.43; 5.12; Rom 15.19; 2 Cor 12.12; Heb 2.4).
The Apostles are thus the ministers and fellow workers of God and of Christ (Rom 1.9; 15.15–16; 1 Cor 3.9; 2 Cor 6.1; Col 1.23; 1 Thes 3.2). As such, they can demand the obedience of the community (Rom 15.18; 1 Cor 14.37; 2 Cor 10.8; 13.1–3). Yet they must be willing to forego their personal privileges (1 Cor 9.12–19; 1 Thes 2.7), for they are not the lords but the servants of the Church (Mk 10.42–45; Mt 24.45–51; 2 Cor 1.24; 4.5), its shepherds or pastors (Jn 21.15–17; Acts 20.28; Eph 4.11; 1 Pt 5.2–4), and its fathers (1 Cor 4.15). Theirs is a ministry of service (Acts 20.24; Rom 11.13; 12.7). They preside over the faithful, not as rulers over subjects, but as fellow members of the same community (Acts 15.22; 1 Cor 5.4; 2 Cor 2.5–10). They serve as models for them (1 Cor 4.16; 1 Thes 1.6; 2 Thes 3.9; 1 Pt 5.3), and the Church is built upon the Apostles as an edifice on its foundation (Mt 16.18; Eph 2.20; Rv 21.14).
Bibliography: a. mÉdebielle, Dictionnaire de la Bible suppl. ed. l. pirot et al. (Paris 1928–) 1:533–88. Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963), from a. van den born Bijbels Woordenboek 115–20. k. h. rengstorf, g. kittel, Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament (Stuttgart 1935–) 1:397–448. k. e. kirk, ed., The Apostolic Ministry (London 1957). k. h. schelkle, Jüngerschaft und Apostelamt (Freiburg 1957).
[m. l. held]
2. In Theology
The Twelve. According to Catholic tradition the college of the Twelve is an institution of Jesus historically significant in the economy of salvation for the Church, for office in the Church, and for the deposit of faith entrusted to the Church.
While alive the Twelve were first witnesses of the resurrection of christ (Acts 1.21–22; 10.41; Lk 1.2; 24.36–43; Jn 20.24–29; 1 Jn 1.1–3) and guarantors of "the continuity between the risen and historical Jesus" (O. Cullmann), who authorized them (Acts 1.8, 24–26; Mt 28.18–20; Mk 16.15–18; Lk 24.47–49; Jn 21.15–17). They were the nucleus of the primitive Church in Jerusalem under the guidance of Peter (Acts 1–6; 9–12; 15; 1 Cor 15.5; Gal 1.18–19). Their missionary activity hardly extended beyond Judea, Galilee, and Samaria according to Acts 8–11. Because of persecution Peter "went into another place" (Acts 12.17). After the "council of jerusalem" (Acts 15.30; 16.4) further details are lacking. The first mention of the missionary journeys is in the apocrypha.
Even after death the Twelve, apart from their eschatological significance (Mt 19.28; Lk 22.30; Rv 7.4–8; 21.12–14), are "the foundation and origin of the Church" (P. Gaechter; ct. Eph 2.20; Rv 21.14; H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. A. Schönmetzer 468–69, 2886–88). From the Apostles it receives doctrine and fundamental structure (Acts 2.42; 5.28; Gal 2.2); to them are referred creeds (Apostles' Creed; cf. Rufinus, Expositio symb. 2.10–15, Corpus Christianorum. Series latina 20:134) and Church regulations; even heretics appeal to them. Hence the care for reliable apostolic tradition (2 Thessalonians 2.15) and the κοινωνία of the Churches among themselves.
It is thus that the Twelve stand between Jesus and the Church. They preach what they have received from the Lord by revelation, not by tradition; the Church preaches what has been entrusted to it by the preaching of the Apostles (1 Tm 6.20; 2 Tm 1.12, 14; 2.2; 3.14; Ti 2.1). Despite the difference between "Age of the Apostles" and "Age of the Church," between apostolic and postapostolic (ecclesiastical) tradition, the latter tradition also can be normative, even infallible, because of the presence of the Lord (Mt 28.20; Jn 16.8–15; cf. Cullmann).
Bibliography: a. michel, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50) 16:216–18. h. bacht, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 1:736–38. e. m. kredel, Bibeltheologisches Wörterbuch, ed. j. b. bauer, 2 v. (2d ed. enL. Graz 1962) 1:61–69. a. kolping, h. fries, ed., Handbuch theologischer Grundbegriffe, 2 v. (Munich 1962–63) 1:68–74. j. brosch, Charismen und Amter in der Urkirche (Bonn 1951). g. sÖhngen, Die Einheit in der Theologie (Munich 1952) 305–22. h. von campenhausen, Kirchliches Amt und geistliche Vollmacht in den ersten drei Jahrhunderten (Tübingen 1953), bibliography. o. cullmann, Die Tradition als exegetisches, historisches und theologisches Problem, tr. p. schÖnenbeger (Zürich 1954). t. zapelena, De ecclesia Christi, 2 v. (5th ed. Rome 1950–54). p. gaechter, Petrus und seine Zeit (Innsbruck 1958). g. klein, Die zwölf Apostel (Göttingen 1961), bibliography. k. rahner and j. ratzinger, The Episcopate and the Primacy, tr. k. barker et al. (New York 1962). w. schmithals, Das kirchliche Apostelamt (Göttingen 1961), bibliography. f. klostermann, Das Christliche Apostolat (Innsbruck 1962), bibliography. h. küng, Strukturen der Kirche (Freiburg 1962), bibliography.
APOSTLE (Gr. "messenger"), in early Christian usage, term applied to the disciples of *Jesus whom he had sent out to preach his message, and occasionally also applied to other missionaries of the early period. Outside the New Testament the noun ἁπόστολος was not common in Greek, though the verb ἁποστέλλω was. The term is equivalent to the Hebrew shali'aḥ and some scholars have suggested that the early Christian apostolate was indebted to Jewish precedent (e.g., the custom of sending messengers not singly but in pairs). The alleged similarity between John 20:21 ("As my father has sent me, so I send you") and the rabbinic rule (Ber. 5:5) "A person's messenger is as himself" is more apparent than real. The word "apostle" occurs 79 times in the New Testament. While in a few instances its meaning was an actual messenger, it mainly denoted a person of eminent position and capacity. But even in this latter sense, the precise import was not everywhere the same, and some of the ambiguities have led to scholarly differences of opinion. One of these difficulties was due to the fact that occasionally the term apostle was identical with that of disciple (equivalent to the Hebrew talmid). In Christian tradition, the immediate followers of Jesus number 12, most probably a symbolic number signifying the 12 tribes of Israel. The Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and John called these immediate followers disciples, but Mark and Matthew often called them apostles, though without any clear differentiation. In Luke, however, there is a clear distinction, attributing to Jesus countless disciples, of whom 12 were designated apostles. Luke, moreover, contains an account (10:1–17), absent from the other Gospels, that Jesus sent out 70 followers to heal the sick and proclaim the kingdom of God; some explained the number 70 as symbolic of the "nations of the world," as in rabbinic sources. Luke, who thus clearly distinguished among disciples, apostles, and the 70, also emphasized the number 12, by his account of the death of Judas. Mark and John were silent about Judas' death; Matthew 27:5 related that he committed suicide by hanging. According to Luke, who wrote both his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, Judas died only after the crucifixion through falling head-long and splitting (Acts 1:17–18). In order to replace Judas and make up again the number 12, two out of the countless disciples were nominated and one of these was elected (Acts 1:23–26).
While many New Testament scholars consider the account in Acts as a somewhat tendentious and idealized portrait of the early Church rather than as an exact historical record, it is generally agreed that apostleship in the strict sense implied a special type of authority. This authority derived from the fact that the apostle was a witness to the life and resurrection of Jesus, and in the case of Paul (who did not know Jesus personally) from the inner experience of a direct calling.
The original association of "The Twelve" with the tribes of Israel, is held by some scholars to have had an eschatological significance (cf. Matt. 19:28: "When the son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon 12 thrones, judging the 12 tribes of Israel," and Rev. 21:12) which seems to be related to the eschatological symbolism of the Qumran sect. But this eschatological dimension is no longer prominent in Acts which was more concerned with describing the early Church as guided, both in its inner affairs and in its outward expansion, by "apostles." The office of apostle did not endure and the term was confined in Christian writings to the early period. No dignitaries of a later period were called apostles.
The Apostolic Age
The period immediately after Jesus was commonly referred to as the Apostolic Age. During that period the question of the admission of Gentiles to the Church (which still was a Jewish sect) and of the binding character of the Law came to a head. For male Gentiles accepting the Christian message, it was especially the problem of circumcision which required an authoritative ruling. To settle the disputes that had arisen on this subject the "apostles and elders" came together in Jerusalem in what is known as the "Apostolic Council." The account of the meeting which discussed the question of the Jewish mitzvah is found in Acts 15, where Peter appears as the advocate of the admission of Gentiles. In Galatians, however, Paul represents himself as the advocate of the Gentiles, who is opposed by Cephas – Peter. James, the brother of Jesus, presided over the meeting and also announced its decision, which is known as the Apostolic Decree. The Decree by implication abrogated the mitzvot and enacted instead four prohibitions: food offered to idols, blood, things strangled, and fornication. This list of prohibitions is reminiscent of the rabbinic "seven Noachian laws," but scholarly opinion is divided regarding the nature and significance of this similarity. Some New Testament scholars (see James Moffat, Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament (19183), 307) completely rejected the historicity of the Council and of the Decree. Such a conclusion, if justified, increases the obscurity about the widening breach between Judaism and early Christianity. The traditional Christian conception of priesthood assumes "apostolic succession," an unbroken continuity in the chain of ordination going back to the apostles and through them ultimately to Jesus. (The basic conception was similar to that underlying the juridical and non-sacerdotal Jewish semikhah.) Catholic scholars generally affirm the factual historicity of apostolic succession, but Protestants, except some Anglicans, do not.
Gavin, in: Anglican Theological Review, 9 (1927), 250–9; T.W. Manson, Church's Ministry (1948); idb, 1 (1962), s.v.Apostle and Disciple; G. Kittel (ed.), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 1 (1964), 406–46; Vogelstein, in: huca, 2 (1925), 99–123; Flusser, in: C.J. Bleeker (ed.), Initiation (1965).
apostle (əpŏs´əl) [Gr.,=envoy], one of the prime missionaries of Christianity. The apostles of the first rank are saints Peter, Andrew, James (the Greater), John, Thomas, James (the Less), Jude (or Thaddaeus), Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon, and Matthias (replacing Judas Iscariot). Traditionally the list of the Twelve Disciples includes Judas and not Matthias, and the list of the Twelve Apostles includes Matthias and not Judas. St. Paul is always classed as an apostle, and so sometimes are a few others, such as St. Barnabas. The principal missionary to any country is often called its apostle, e.g., St. Patrick is the apostle of Ireland, and St. Augustine of Canterbury the apostle of England. For the Apostles' Creed, see creed; for the Teaching of the Apostles, see Didache; for the earliest account of their activities, see Acts of the Apostles.
See E. J. Goodspeed, The Twelve: The Story of Christ's Apostles (1957, repr. 1962).
The term is also applied to any important early Christian teacher, especially St Paul, and to the first successful Christian missionary in a country or to a people. Thus St Boniface is known as the Apostle of Germany, St James the Great as the Apostle of Spain, St Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, St Francis Xavier, the Apostle of the Indies, and St Cyril and St Methodius, the Apostles of the Slavs.
Apostle also denotes a member of an exclusive society in the University of Cambridge (officially ‘The Cambridge Conversazione Society’) formed in Cambridge in 1820, for the purpose of friendship and formal discussion. Members are elected for life.
Recorded from Old English (in form apostol) the word comes via ecclesiastical Latin from Greek apostolos ‘messenger’, from apostellein ‘send forth’.
Apostle spoon a teaspoon with the figure of an Apostle or saint on the handle.
Apostles' Creed is a statement of Christian belief used in the Western Church, dating from the 4th century and traditionally ascribed to the twelve Apostles.
a·pos·tle / əˈpäsəl/ • n. (often Apostle) each of the twelve chief disciples of Jesus Christ. ∎ any important early Christian teacher, esp. St. Paul. ∎ (Apostle of) the first successful Christian missionary in a country or to a people: Kiril and Metodije, the Apostles of the Slavs. ∎ a vigorous and pioneering advocate or supporter of a particular policy, idea, or cause. ∎ a messenger or representative: apostles of doom. ∎ one of the twelve administrative officers of the Mormon church. DERIVATIVES: a·pos·tle·ship / -ˌship/ n.
So apostolic XII, apostolical XV.