First apostles?

First Corinthians 12: 27-28 says this: 

All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church:

   first are apostles,
   second are prophets,
   third are teachers,
   then those who do miracles,
   those who have the gift of healing,
   those who can help others,
   those who have the gift of leadership,
   those who speak in unknown languages

What many people take from this is that apostles hold the most important position in the church, the top of the hierarchy. Prophets are second most important,  teachers third etc. So to be an apostle is to be the most important person in leadership. Like this:

First, second, third

The problem with this view is that leadership in the New Testament is not positional, but functional. Another way to view it would be like building a house. First you need an architect, then someone to lay the slab, then someone to frame the house. Later would come plumbers and electricians etc. It's a question of function. The architect is essential to lay the plans for the house, and his work comes before the work of the electricians and plumbers, but without all these other functions, the house would not be built.

An apostle is one who is sent out (meaning of the Greek word apostello). He/she is the one who is usually the first person in a place or people group with the good news of the Kingdom. 

10 replies on “First apostles?”

Thanks Felicity for one of the simplest and clearest explanations of this often misunderstood verse. We don’t need apostles thinking they are more important than others. We need apostles being sent out to lay foundations for the Church under the leadership of Jesus the Lord of the harvest.

Your excellent explanation reminds me of Jesus’ words to the first ones He sent out: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

Felicity, great article and really enjoyed your brief visit to Adelaide. I was just thinking how strange it is to try to describe the Lords upside down kingdom to someone and then put a hierarchy / pyramid on top. The apostles seem to be those who break new ground…..

The apostles were also eye witnesses to Jesus and hand picked/named by him personally; Acts 1:2. They must have witnessed the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord and be named by him. Jesus picked 12, the same number for the tribes of Judah. Since Judas Iscariot committed suicide, the 11 apostles tried to elect among themselves the 12th apostle by casting lots; Acts 1:23, and the chose Matthias. But after that you never hear from Matthias again. It wasn’t until Jesus appeared to Saul, who later became Paul that the 12th apostle came to be. Paul also had a special 3 year encounter with Jesus before he started to work with the rest of the apostles: 2 Cor 12:1-4, Gal 1:18, which makes him to meet the requirements of apostleship. After John of Patmos the apostolic office closed. No more apostles. Now you know to beware of false apostles. The proof is found in Revelation 21:14.

There are other apostles mentioned in the Scriptures who weren’t among the 11 plus Paul. Barnabas (Acts 14:2-3, 14) is an example.

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