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." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 14, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/apostle
"Apostle." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 14, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/apostle