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Apostles Doctrine 2 - The Name

George E. Markakis
20. June 2013

Evangelists evangelise; Prophets prophesy; Pastors pastor; Teachers teach... But... what do Apostles do? Do they ... apostolise? asks George E. Markakis, who not only lives in Greece, but he is a thoroughbred Greek!

This is the 2nd article of this brief teaching series; in the 1st article I wrote about it:

“Apostles-Doctrine 102”? Now that will be a challenge...! When everyone takes for granted that “apostle” means “sent”, it is a challenge to propose a “new theory” that claims that “apostle” does not mean “sent” at all! Greek Grammar is clear about that; can it be wrong? Well, even if Greek Grammar could be wrong, can the Scriptures also be wrong? Let’s find out!

In this article we shall examine the Hellenic (Greek) word “Apostolos” (Apostle, in English). I will provide overwhelming Grammatical and Scriptural evidence that the noun (or substantive) ‘Apostolos’ is not an adjective (or epiphet) grammatically derived from the verb ‘apostello’ (to send, in English) and it is therefore misleading to associate it with the concept of “sending”. 1

Do Apostles ... apostolise?

Looking at the five ministries that Christ has given according to Ephesians 4:11, four of them receive their identity by the function, which they are called to perform. Not so with Apostles!

In response to a question “why not?” one would probably say: “well, apostles are sent”, but:

“There was a man sent from God, his name John” is written in John 1:6; so that should then be ‘apostolos’. The original Hellenic text does not use the word “apostolos” in that verse but the word “apestalmenos” (that is found 10 times in Westcott-Hort’s Hellenic text version).

In the midst of a universally accepted ‘theory’ that ‘apostolos’ means ‘sent’, I really need you to bear with me as we get technical on this one... In Hellenic Grammar there is no declination variation of the verb ‘apostello’ (to send) that includes ‘apostolos’. The Past Participle for ‘a sent one’ is ‘apestalmenos’. In John 3:28, John the Baptist says of himself “I am not the Christ, but, that I am sent before him” using the word “apestalmenos”. In Acts 11:11 Peter speaks of three men sent to him from Caesarea using the word “apestalmenos” (in plural in that verse).

‘Apestalmenos’ is an adjective (or epiphet) grammatically derived from the verb ‘apostello’ and exists in masculine, feminine and neuter as would be expected of adjectives. In direct contrast, ‘apostolos’ is not listed in any variation of the verb ‘apostello’ in any Voice, and is not an adjective; ‘apostolos’ is a noun which is further confirmed by the fact that it does not exist in feminine or neuter (you can’t say apostolos-apostoli-apostolon). But enough of Grammar, let’s turn to the Authority of Scripture for the exegesis of the word in its scriptural context. 

Jesus was appointed the Apostle of our confession

Hebrews 3:1 Therefore, holy brothers and companions in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession; 2 He was faithful to the One who appointed Him, just as Moses was in all God’s household.

We recognise that Jesus is everything! He is God, our Saviour, Pastor, King; He was sent by God to earth as a Prophet, etc. But the above verse Hebrews 3:1 establishes His highest identity for which He came to earth in the form of a bondservant: Apostle and High Priest! Everything else that Jesus was and did, proceeded from His position as Apostle and High Priest.

He functioned as a Prophet, a Pastor, a Teacher, because He was the Apostle of God. He functioned as a Priest to God because He was called to become the High Priest (Heb.4:14-5:10)

The Epistle of Hebrews further establishes the understanding that Jesus became the Apostle and High Priest by God’s appointment. It is clearly stated in Hebrews 3:2 and in more places later in the same Epistle. His position of Apostle and High Priest was not merely a description of His function(s), but an identity of His appointed office of authority!

Jesus was both: sent by God and appointed as Apostle – two different things

Jesus was indeed sent by God, but that is not the reason why He was appointed as Apostle and High Priest. He was sent for the purpose of becoming the Apostle and High Priest, in order to fulfill God’s will. Then Jesus delegated some of His authority to certain individuals:

Luke 6:13 “and when it became day, he called near his disciples, and having chosen from them twelve, whom also he named apostles”.

Earlier in this article we proposed that “Apostolos” is a noun – that is almost equivalent to a name. The Scriptures hereby attest to that: “Apostolos” is a name that Jesus gave to certain disciples. It is not merely a descriptive word of a function (e.g. to be sent, or as Pastors are described by function). That is actually the reason why I believe we should write Apostolos with capital A – because it is a name, and in modern English names are written with capital letters.

I really need you to see this! Both Grammar and Scriptures agree that “Apostolos” does not mean “one who is sent”, but identify “Apostolos” as a positional identity of Jesus, and, a name that Jesus gave to specific individuals whom He chose for that delegated position of authority. Listen, I understand if this is a bit of a shock for you! I understand if you are trying hard to identify what is wrong with this “teaching”... (that is why in-depth research is needed here).

But.. why do we need to know all that!? some might ask...

...may I respond? When the Scriptural noun “Apostolos” is associated in our minds with sending, traveling, missions, many errors can follow. The most significant error I would suggest is the loss of the original purpose for which Jesus named certain disciples “Apostles”.

That purpose has to do with delegated power and authority to represent the Kingdom of Jesus on earth in ambassadorial capacity on behalf of the King. All of God’s sons on earth have a degree of authority and heavenly power by mere nature of being “sons of God”! But that was equally true in the days of the early disciples of Jesus; yet He only named Apostles a select few.

That differentiation is strongly established in Luke chapters 9 and 10. In Luke ch. 9 He summoned the 12 (who are called Apostles in v.10). In Luke ch. 10 He identified another 70 (or 72) whom He sent two by two. The Bible is not clear if those additional 70 (or 72) were also Apostles. Luke identifies them as “workers”, and the text shows that they were certainly different than the first 12. Moreover, in v.17 they are still ‘the seventy’ without further identification.

Moreover, in Acts 1:15-26 we see that the early disciples considered the Apostleship as a positional identity of an office that needed to be occupied by a person; at Peter’s exhortation they used an Old Covenant principle of asking God to reveal His person of choice by casting lots.

He sent them off (but that does not qualify Apostolic calling)

In Luke 9:2 Jesus sent off the twelve. In Luke 10:2 He sent off the 70 (or 72). Does that establish a doctrine that whoever is sent off is also an Apostle? The answer is simple in the light of how many different people were sent off to do a work of the Kingdom without being Apostles. Among the most prominent examples are Judas and Silas who were sent off from Jerusalem (Acts 15:22, 27), but they were not Apostles; Acts 15:32 says that they were Prophets!

It is therefore an error to associate the word “apostolic” with delegates sent off by Denominations or local churches to branch out to new locations, etc. Side effects of such errors may include the defaming of the office/ministry of the Apostles through missionaries who have not been endowed with divine authority to operate in such capacity. The common error of associating missionaries with the apostolic ministry is also due to the case of Antioch, Acts 13.

Did Antioch “send off” Paul and Barnabas?

In the 1st article I had made mention of Acts 13:3 “Then, having fasted and prayed, and having laid [their] hands on them, they let [them] go”. We shall briefly examine it here.

The elders of Antioch did not send off Barnabas and Paul; they let them go. Most English translations (e.g. KJV, NKJV, NIV, NASB, NASU, NRS, RSV, BBE, ASV) of Acts 13:3 read “they sent [them] away”. There are some, however (e.g. Darby, Weymouth), that reflected the original verb ‘apoluo’ more accurately as “they let [them] go”.

BDB/Thayers #630 lists "apoluo as derived from #575 'apo' and #3089 'luo', which means to loose someone or something that was tied or fastened. Release, let go, set at liberty, let depart, dismiss, to detain no longer, to loose the hands of one captive and give him liberty to depart".

The message is clear: the Church of Antioch did NOT send Paul and Barnabas away but RELEASED them to depart for the work to which the Holy Spirit had called them. It is therefore unsupported by Scripture to claim that "a local church sends Apostles off to missions", or, that, "if a church sends missionaries off, then they are Apostles".

Finally... do Apostles ... apostolise?

Apostles are named and appointed by Jesus into the office of Apostleship not because of what they do but because of who they are called to be – same as Jesus. What Apostles are called to do is what we shall examine in the 3rd article. In this article we wanted to establish a scriptural foundation for a doctrine on the name, and therefore identity, of the Apostles.

We have proposed that the Scriptures reveal that the name Apostle identifies a person who has been chosen and called by God to occupy a position of authority, representing the Kingdom of Jesus on earth in ambassadorial capacity. For clarity, that authority is within certain definite spheres apportioned by Jesus to each of His Apostles. 


Note 1: 1 Clarification: it is important to say that etymologically ‘apostolos’ may have originally been a derivative of the verb ‘apostello’ but etymology is not the same as grammatical declination. Etymology does not determine the meaning of a word by a particular generation, whereas grammatical declination ties the meaning of the word to the actual verb (in its infinitive form). That means that even if etymologically the noun ‘apostolos’ can be proven to originate out of the verb ‘apostello’, that does not determine how that noun was used by the generation of Jesus, or, by Jesus Himself. Exegetically we need to refer to the use of the word in the context of the Scriptures in order to determine what the word communicated as Jesus used it. That is what we do in this article. 

©George E. Markakis 2013

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