Print

The term "Apostle"

Can you please explain how the term “Apostle” should be used today in light of its usage in the New Testament?

Jesus Christ is the only individual who is referred to in Scripture as “the” Apostle (Hebrews 3:1). Paul and Peter refer to themselves as “an” apostle,” or, as “an apostle of Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1; 9:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; 12:12; Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1 Timothy 1:1; 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:1; 1:11; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1).

The Authorized Version translates Romans 11:13 this way, “I [Paul] am the apostle of the Gentiles.” However, in the Greek, there is no definite article (“the”) in front of the word, “apostle.” By contrast, in Hebrews 3:1, in reference to Jesus Christ, there is a definite article (“the”) in the Greek in front of the word, “Apostle.” Many translations, including the New King James Bible, or the Revised Standard Version, translate Romans 11:13, in this way, “I am an apostle to the Gentiles.”

When referred to apostles as a collective group, we find many times the expression, “the apostles.” (Matthew 10:2; Mark 6:30; Luke 9:10; 17:5; 22:14; 24:10; Acts 1:2, 26; 2:37, 42, 43; 4:33, etc.). The designation as “the apostles,” when referring to more than one individual, does include apostles in addition to the original twelve (Acts 14:14, “…when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this…”).

The designation as “apostle” is derived from “the” Apostle, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God (Luke 6:13; Revelation 21:14).

Since the designation of “the Apostle” is scripturally reserved for Jesus Christ only, we should not refer, then, to any individual or particular apostle as “the” apostle. Rather, following Scripture, an individual (as distinguished from a group) may and should be referred to as “an” apostle.