The Credibility of the Apostles
By Pastor Ron Jones © The Titus Institute, 2002
I. The authority and identity of the twelve and Paul, apostles of Jesus Christ
God has spoken to the prophets and now has spoken by His Son. The O.T. prophets had the authority to speak from God and Jesus Christ has the authority as the Son of God to speak for God.
But Jesus Christ did not choose to write down his words, instead He chose twelve men and as we shall see later Paul, the thirteenth apostle to speak His revelation with the authority of Jesus Christ Himself.
When Paul calls himself and "apostle of Jesus Christ" he is appealing to his authority as an apostle to speak for Jesus Christ and God the Father.
v. 1 "apostle" - Grk word itself means "messenger, one sent out on a mission"
The word used of individuals in two different ways in the N.T.
1. The twelve apostles and Paul - apostles of Jesus Christ for the foundation of the church
Lu.6:13 Paul was later chosen by Jesus to be added to this group.
2. Of others who have been sent out for missionary service who were prominent in Christian ministry
Rom.16:7 Andronicus and Junias
"outstanding among the apostles" - that is term used in a wider sense - Andronicus and Junias could hardly have been called that in relation to the twelve apostles
apostles, Barnabus and Saul
"As apostles (includes Timothy and Silas) of Christ..."
This is evident also from the fact that there were false apostles wandering around deceiving the churches which was not possible if the term "apostle" only applied to the twelve and Paul.
Unless they were pretending to be John or Matthew, which is not likely
Of false teachers claiming apostleship
Similar to the way we can use the term minister -
Generally of someone who is ministering at a church or someone who is a paid minister/pastor
But when Paul uses the term he is referring to the twelve and himself who were especially appointed to be apostles by Jesus Christ.
And only these men had apostolic authority to speak and act for Jesus Christ in carrying out his mission on earth.
These twelve had several qualifications as apostles of Jesus Christ:
1. Appointed by Jesus Christ to be an apostle
Jesus chose twelve men while he was on earth to be his apostles to carry on his mission to the world.
2. Received direct revelation from the Holy Spirit to teach
He promised to them that the Holy Spirit would come upon them and give to them special revelation and bring to their remembrance all that He had told them.
Jn.14:26 Promise of revelation and supernatural memory
This promise was for the apostles and is not a general one for believers.
3. Witnessed Him resurrected from the dead
Matthias replaced Judas to keep the number at twelve, God's ordained amount of apostles.
They had also been with him since the beginning of his ministry which gave them a well-rounded view of him.
This is why Paul calls himself in 1 Cor.15:8, "as one abnormally born" - he "came out" later after Jesus Christ's resurrection rather than at the beginning.
4. Able to perform the signs of an apostle - miracles and healings
Heb.2:2-4 miracles authenticated their words and claimed authority
These were the twelve apostles. When Paul calls himself an apostle in his letters, Paul is not talking about being a general apostle or minister of Jesus Christ, he is establishing his authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ equal in authority to the twelve as Christ's representative to lay the foundation of the church.
How do we know that Paul was an apostle - the 13th equal to the twelve?
Why a 13th apostle, or why an apostle for the Gentiles?
Because the apostles were given primarily for Israel although their ministry stretched to the Gentiles.
Why twelve apostles? Because there were twelve tribes. Apostles stayed in Jerusalem which was their headquarters until it was destroyed in 70 A.D. Paul was grafted in as a 13th apostle whose primary ministry would be for the Gentiles who were grafted in to the tree of salvation.
v. 13 apostle to the gentiles, v.17 grafted in as we were
What were Paul's qualifications to be the 13th and only other apostle of Jesus Christ?
1. Paul was appointed by Jesus Christ to be the apostle to the Gentiles.
Acts 9 :15
2. He received revelation from Jesus Christ
Paul was not a "johnny-come-lately" who got his gospel from the true apostles and then changed it to eliminate the Jewish parts of it.
3. Witnessed the resurrected Christ
Acts 26 - already seen
"Have I not seen Jesus our Lord."
4. Paul performed the signs of an apostle.
Doctrinal and practical foundation of the church
5. Confirmed by the right hand of fellowship of the twelve
Later Peter confirmed Paul's inspiration in 2 Pet.3:15-16
II. The authority and ministry of the twelve and Paul, apostles of Jesus Christ
What was the purpose of the apostles, the twelve and Paul?
This was their authority and ministry.
A. To lay the foundation of the church in doctrine and revelation.
The prophets mentioned here are the N.T. prophets who also spoke direct revelation, but their ministry assisted the apostles in laying the foundation of the church.
Thus, the teaching of the apostles became the authoritative teaching of the church.
This is crucial because the N.T. revelation is the apostolic revelation whether it was written down by one of the apostles or one of the associates of the apostles.
It is the teaching of the apostles that form the N.T.
Everything is tested against their teaching.
B. They spoke and wrote with authority from Jesus Christ which only they had.
Jesus promised to give them rememberance and truth so they wouldn't make things up and put words into Jesus' mouth.
Jesus appeared to Paul for the same purpose.
To say that the writers of the N.T. who were either apostles or associates of the apostles that put words into Jesus' mouth or made things up is totally bogus.
In fact, it was to reduce the spread of falsehoods that caused many of Paul's letters to be written.
Paul spoke and wrote with authority.
C. The apostles who wrote expected their writings to be shared with others.
John wrote the gospel to be shared. (John did not write everything that happened in Christ's life
Jn.21:24-25 - Jn identifies himself
Luke 1:1-4 and Acts 1:1-2 tells why he wrote
Paul instructed his letters to be read in the churches.
1 Thess. 5:27 thru 1:1 Thess. only
Col. 4:16 through 1:1 only Col.
Phil. 1:1 to all the saints at Philippi
Eph. 1:1 " " Ephesus
Gal. 1:1 to the churches in Galatia
2 Cor. 1:1 to the church of God in Corinth, together with all the saints throughout Achaia
1 Cor. 1:1 to the church of God in Corinth... with all those everywhere
Rom. 1:6 to Romans only - none in 1:1
Paul's letter to one church could be applied to others.
The other apostles and writers expected their letters to be read to other churches as well.
James - to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations - denotes wide circulation.
If they were scattered among the nations, then James expected his letter to be copied and widely circulated.
1 Peter - to God's elect stranger... scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, Bithynia. That encompasses a whole region with many cities in it.
Jude - to believers
Jude, the brother of James; Matt. 13:55 and Mark 6:3
Jude distinguishes himself from the apostles v. 17
James, leader of Jerusalem church; Gal. 1:19,
Acts 12:17; 15:13-21; 21:18 not believers during; John 7:3-8; Acts 1:14 brothers at prayer time
Paul's letters began circulating among the churches immediately as he had directed.
Since the average believer could not afford to copy a letter, they were probably copied by the leaders of the church and then sent out to other churches.
They were then read to the churches and explained by the leaders much as we do today.
Soon there developed a corpus of the four gospels and Paul's letters that were widely circulated.
There were also the apostles and other eye-witnesses who could verify these facts as these gospels and letters were being circulated.
In fact, Paul appears to verify the vearcity of Luke's gospel in 1 Tim.5:17-18
Notice "Scripture" says
The first quote is from Deut.25:4 the second is from Luke 10:7.
Paul uses the exact wording from the gospel of Luke in the Greek quoting Jesus.
It is very possible since Paul calls this quote from Jesus - Scripture - that near the end of his life he had Luke's gospel before him and Paul was already calling it Scripture.
Peter refers to Paul's letters as Scripture.
There was already a recognition of the authority of the apostles and their close associates to write Scripture.
There were other works circulating that were read and learned from, as we have Christian books today, but they did not become a part of the N.T. canon.
Oral tradition of the eye-witnesses and the authority of the apostles was so powerful during the last half of the first century when the N.T. was written that it kept out false works and doctrine from the canon of the N.T.
D. The early church after the death of the twelve and Paul recognized the uniqueness of their authority as apostles of Jesus Christ and their authority in writing Scripture and formed the canon of the N.T. on the basis of that authtority.
Note: Quotes are taken from the following books:
1. Patzia, Arthur G., The Making of the New Testament, Intervarsity Press, 1995
2. Bruce, F.F., The Canon of Scripture, Intervarsity Press, 1988
3. Harris, R. Laird, The Inspiration and Canoncity of the Bible, Zondervan, 1969
The Apostolic Fathers - AD 70-120
Clement - Bishop of Rome AD 95 wrote a letter to the church of Corinth and said,
"Take up the letter of the blessed Paul the apostle...in truth he spiritually charged you..." Harris p. 210
"The apostles have preached the gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ: Jesus Christ has done so from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ... being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and established in the Word of God with full assurance of the Holy Ghost."
Ignatius, bishop of Antioch martyred before 117 A.D. wrote while he was on his way to martyrdom:
"I do not, as Peter and Paul issue commandments unto you. They were apostles, I am but a condemned man."
Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna wrote around A.D. 117 or 118, shortly after the martyrdom of Ignatius.
Polycarp was a disciple of John the apostle and heard other apostles as well. He was martyred in A.D. 155-156. Harris, p.215
Polycarp on Paul "For neither I nor any other such one, can come up to the wisdom of the blessed and glorified Paul. He, when among you accurately and steadfastly taught the word of truth in the presence of those who were then alive. And when absent from you, he wrote you a letter, which if you carefully study, you will find to be the means of building you up..."
"Let us therefore so serve Him (God) with fear and all reverence as He Himself gave commandment and the apostles who preached the gospel to us and the prophets who proclaimed beforehand the coming of our Lord."
Polycarp puts the apostles on par in this quote with the O.T. prophets.
Justin Martyr, a Christian apologist of that day martyred in 148 A.D. in speaking of the twelve wrote "For from Jesus there went out into the world, men, twelve in number and these illiterate, of no ability in speaking, but by the power of God they proclaimed to every race of men that they were sent by Christ to teach all the Word of God."
Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (in France), who wrote around 177 A.D. refers to the writings of the evangelists and the apostles which the Gnostics twist as they also do "the Law and the prophets."
"Thus did the apostles, simply and without respect of persons, deliver to all what they had themselves learned from the Lord."
In another quote, "The apostles, likewise being disciples of the truth, are above all falsehood."
He further writes, "For the Lord of all gave to his apostles the power of the gospel through whom also we have known the truth, that is, the doctrine of the Son of God..."
The authority of the apostles is the basis of the forming of the canon, the collection of N.T. books we have today.
By the time Justin Martyr and Irenaeus are writing, around 150 -170 A.D. most of the N.T. was already together in a collection of authoritative Scriptures which were accepted by the churches of Jesus Christ because they were written by the twelve and Paul or one of their associates.
The entire N.T. is written by only nine authors. Four of them were apostles, Matt, Jn., Paul, and Peter. Four of them were close associates of the apostles. Mark wrote what he heard from Peter, Luke was a close associate of Paul, James and Jude were the Lord's brothers in the physical realm and close to the apostolic band.
Hebrews the only one without the author certain, although many believed Paul wrote it. The writer (if not Paul) was "associated with" the apostles (Heb.2:3-4) and moved in the same ministry circles as Timothy (Heb.13:23).
Hebrews was not accepted just because the churches thought Paul wrote it, but also because of its content.
Justin Martyr refers to Matt., Mark, Luke, John, Romans, 1 & 2 Cor., Col., 2 Thess., Heb., Rev. Justin refers 17 times to these works as the "memoirs" or "memoirs of the apostles." He uses "memoirs" as a term that unbelievers could understand.
He says in his First Apology, "For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them..." (there follows the institution of the Lord’s Supper).
He also describes a Sunday worship service, "On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things."
He also refers to the gospel of Mark as the memoirs of Peter.
By 170 A.D. a list of N.T. inspired writings was published. This is just 75 years after they were written.
It was called the Muratorian Canon (published by Muratori, hence the name) dated around 170 A.D. Harris, p.229
The first lines are gone, but Luke is called the 3rd gospel, John the fourth gospel.
Therefore, Matthew and Mark must have been the first two, since they do not appear.
The gospels are said to be a unity: "Though various ideas are taught in each of the gospels, it makes no difference to the faith of believers, since in all of them all things are declared by one leading Spirit."
Acts follows, with 13 epistles of Paul introduced with short comments.
He says, "These (Paul’s epistles) are hallowed in the esteem of the Catholic (universal) church and in the regulation of ecclesiastical discipline.
He then takes occasion to deny certain spurious books, an epistle to the Laodicians and one to the Alexandrians "forged under the name of Paul and addressed in accordance with the heresy of Marcion and others."
He then mentions Jude and two letters with John’s name on it and the Revelation of John.
He mentions another work that may be read the Revelation of Peter, but says that some won’t allow it read in the churches.
Omitted are Hebrew, James and one of the letters of John (either 2nd or 3rd) and 2nd Peter.
The end of the document is missing so if he mentions any of these books we don’t have it.
The Muratorian Canon shows that there was a body of NT works accepted by churches of Jesus Christ, that the NT books had become an authoritative collection just 75 years after the death of the last apostle.
And this was a collection not arbitrarily chosen, but based on what the churches had for years been studying based on the authorship of the apostles or their close associates.
By the first part of the third century - 200 A.D. very strong statements are being made concerning much of the N.T.
Tertullian (c.160-220), a native of Carthage in Africa, acknowledges all four gospels and indicates that they were written either by the apostles or by associates of the apostles. (Patzia, p.66)
Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea in Palestine from about 314-339 A.D. wrote a church history. In it he writes of Origen, (c.184-235), recognized as the greatest theologian and Biblical scholar of his day
He says, "But in the first book of his commentaries on the gospel of Matthew...he attests that he knows of only four gospels, which are the only undisputed ones in the whole church of God throughout the world. The first is written according to Matthew...an apostle of Jesus Christ... The second is according to Mark, who composed it, as Peter explained it to him..And the thrid, according to Luke, the gospel commended by Paul, which was written to the converts from the Gentiles, and last of all the gospel according to John." (Patzia, p.66)
He also mentions Acts, the Pauline epistles, 1 Peter, 1 John, and Revelation as undisputed books.
He says that Hebrews, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, James and Jude were disputed which means that all the churches were not agreed that these should be part of the canon.
The probable reason - the author of Hebrews was unknown, although some thought it was Paul. This made some of the churches unsure in their use of it.
The other four epistles, James, Jude, 2 and 3rd John were not widely circulated and their were concerns about the authorship of those epistles, part of it due to the lack of circulation.
In A.D. 367, Athanaius, bishop of Alexandria, listed all 27 books as the N.T. and after that wrote,
"These are the springs of salvation so that one who is thirsty may be satisfied with the oracles which are in them. In these alone is the teaching of
true religion proclaimed as good news. Let no one add to these or take anything from them..." (Bruce, p.209)
Jerome in 383 and following years produced a Latin translation of the Bible. He lists the 27 books of the N.T. as we have them today.
By the third council of Carthage that met in 397 A.D. the leaders of the churches endorsed the 27 books officially.
But this was just recognizing churchwide what had been accepted for centuries for the majority of the N.T.
And was bringing to rest the concerns of six of the 27 books of the N.T.
FF.Bruce "In the early church as a whole the predomant criterion appears to have been apostolic authority, if not apostolic authorship."
B.F. Westcott "Step by step the books which were stamped with apostolic authority were separated from the mass of other works which contained the traditions or opinions of less authoritative teachers." (Harris, p.278)
Why is understanding the unique authority of the apostles important?
This gives to us our standard to measure truth by - the N.T. along with the O.T.
This also means that
1. There are no modern day apostles.
Within the ranks of some churches there is a belief that there are apostles who wield authority similar to the twelve and Paul.
That is simply not true. The apostles have passed away.
2. There are no successors to the apostles with the same authority of the apostles.
The apostles appointed elders in the church who would exercise leadership in the local church, but they had no direct revelation and their authority extended only to the local church they served.
They are the true successors of the apostles, but they do not exercise apostolic authority.
This is important because the basis of the authority of the RCC is what they call apostolic succession.
Succession does exist, the elders succeeded the apostles, but they do no and cannot wield the "same teaching authority" of the apostles as they say the bishops and pope do.
3. No one has any authority today to question what the apostles and their close associates wrote.
The apostles were the ones given authority to speak and write about Jesus Christ, no one has the authority from God to overturn their authority.
4. We must hold onto the apostles' teaching as contained in the N.T. and everything that we believe must be tested against it.
5. There is no more direct revelation from God
The apostolic age was just that, an apostolic age.
Once God laid the foundation of the church nothing was added to that revelation. It is a done deal. God is no longer giving direct revelation today.
The false "Christian religions" that exist today all say they can trace their roots back to the N.T., but if you look carefully you will find that where they have gone into error can be traced back to a supposed vision of an angel or someone else or to a supposed prophet or someone else in authority equal to the twelve and Paul, who were apostles of Jesus Christ.
They do not and cannot speak for God.
They are all false.