Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Apostles or apostles

There is some debate about the nature of the NT “apostle.” Is it a gift, an office, or both. Is it only historical or is it continuing?

There are some who hold to the idea of a “five-fold ministry” based on Ephesians 4:11, where Paul outlines the gifts of the risen Lord to the church. This five-fold ministry is abbreviated either as APEST or APEPT (using the first letter of each gift).

Those who hold this five-fold ministry believe that each of these gifts is ongoing. They would say the apostle here is a “little a” apostle. It is a gift, not an office. It is someone with gifts of proclamation and movement making ability (as in leading church planting movements or large churches). Some denominations have an official recognition of “Apostle.” Some people just put it on their business card.

Those who reject a five-fold ministry believe that some (usually two—apostle and prophet) of these gifts were uniquely first century gifts. They were needed in an age of ongoing revelation. With the ending of revelation, these gifts are no longer needed. Apostolic authority is conveyed through the Scripture, not through people. Revelation is conveyed through Scripture, not through prophets.

So what was Paul talking about? Is “apostle” an ongoing gift to the church?

My answer is no, given Paul’s usage particularly in Ephesians 2:20, where “apostles and prophets” are what the church was built on, and is now being built up on (cf. Ephesians 3:5). “Apostle” can mean “one sent” (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:23) But that meaning would have very little useful distinction in Ephesians 4:11, it seems to me. The distinction there is not between one who is sent, and the other four. All of them as “sent,” so to speak.

It is better to see Ephesians 4:11 as the apostolic office, and therefore a gift that keeps on giving in the Word, not in person.

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