Matthias: the First Serious Error of the Apostles

The NT Office of Apostle: The Words Used

A study of the NT Office of Apostle must begin with a complete study of the verb and noun forms used; to “cherry pick” only a few, then draw conclusions based only on the defintions of the terms used, leads inevitably to error.

There are three words of interest: a single verb and a pair of nouns:

Verb: ἀποστέλλω [apostellō, G649]
Nouns: ἀπόστολος [apostolos, G652], ἀποστολή [apostolē, G651]


The verb ἀποστέλλω [apostellō, G649]

The verb ἀποστέλλω occurs more than 130 times in the NT. It is a general-purpose verb who meaning is “to send”, “to send away”, “to send out”. Here are but a few of the examples in a wide variety of contexts:

Expelling demons from the possessed:

Mat 8.31
The demons began to entreat Him, saying, “If You are going to cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.”

The sending out of the twelve by the Lord Christ:

Mat 10.5-6
These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: “Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.”

The sending out of John the Baptist:

Mat 11.10
This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’

The wife of Pontius Pilate sending him a message regarding the trial of the Lord Christ:

Mat 27.19
While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him a message, saying, “Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.”

The sending of servants to collect the harvest:

Mar 12.2
At the harvest time he sent a slave to the vine-growers, in order to receive some of the produce of the vineyard from the vine-growers.

The sending of Gabriel to Zacharias:

Luk 1.19
The angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.

The personal testimony of the Lord Christ that He had been sent by the Father:

Joh 7.29
I know Him, because I am from Him, and He sent Me.

The sending of the Lord Christ (while under arrest) by Annas to Caiaphas:

Joh 18.24
So Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

Zacharias being sent to Saul of Tarsus at his conversion:

Act 9.17
So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

The sending of the men to release Paul and his companions from jail in Philippi:

Act 16.35
Now when day came, the chief magistrates sent their policemen, saying, “Release those men.”

The Apostle Paul’s argument to the Corinthians regarding his representatives:

2 Cor 12.17
Certainly I have not taken advantage of you through any of those whom I have sent to you, have I?

The sending of the Lord Christ to mankind by the Father:

1 Joh 4.9
By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.

Only a tiny number of the uses of ἀποστέλλω actually refer to the sending of the Apostles by the Lord Christ. The overwhelming majority demonstrate that the verb simply meant “to send”.

This general nature of ἀποστέλλω will be crucial to understanding how the very meaning and implementation of the Office of Apostle was diluted during that first generation. This is especially true when we consider the use of the noun forms below.


The noun ἀπόστολος [apostolos, G652]

The noun ἀπόστολος is used 80 times in the NT; it means simply “one sent out”, “delegate”, “envoy”, “messenger”. Like the verb ἀποστέλλω, it is very general and it used to designate the person who was sent for some task.

Unfortunately, because of the general-purpose nature of this noun, there are careless “theologians” who wander into error concerning the office of Apostle by drawing invalid inferences (as will be shown in this series).

Because of the sheer number of occurrences of ἀπόστολος, the following is a simple and useful categorization to help us understand the scope of this noun.

[Remember, the purpose of this extended series is to demonstrate that there are exactly twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ for all time. The issue that we discover is that, particularly in the book of Acts, Luke does not always make an obvious distinction in the use of ἀπόστολος.He tends to favor the generic meaning, which is completely understandable: ἀπόστολος meant "messenger" and those to whom he referred were certainly "messengers" of Jesus Christ.]


References to the original twelve Apostles selected directly by the Lord Christ

Mat 10.2-4
Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him.

Luk 6.12-16
It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. And when day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles: Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James and John; and Philip and Bartholomew; and Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot; Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

[cf., Mar 6.30; Luk 9.10; 11.49; 17.5; 22.14; Joh 13.16]


References to the eleven Apostles after the death of Judas, but before the selection of Matthias

Luk 24.10
Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles.

Act 1.2
until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen.

Act 1.26
And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

References to the eleven Apostles including Matthias, but before Barnabas

Act 2.37
Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?”

[cf., Act 2.42-43; 4.33,35-37; 5.2,12,18,29,40; 6.6; 8.1,14,18; 9.27; 11.1]


References to the “Jerusalem Apostles and Elders”

[“Jerusalem Apostles” is a term I developed empirically during my study of this topic. I show in a later series that the group of Apostles who remained in Jerusalem gained enormous “Christian-political” influence (lacking a better term) with its attendant misuse of power in the early church. As a result, they allowed/enabled the denomination of “apostles and elders” who became increasingly legalistic and plagued Paul the Apostle throughout his legitimate ministry of the gospel of grace among the Gentiles. This group gave rise to the “false apostles” referred to in the Pauline Epistles.

The emergence—and great damage—of these “false apostles” from Jerusalem is seen throughout the Corinthian and Galatian epistles especially. There are also hints of their influence in the Ephesian and Colossian epistles.]

Act 15.2,4,6
And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue. … When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. … The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter.

Act 15.22-23
Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas—Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, … and they sent this letter by them, “The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings.

Act 16.4
Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe.

Gal 1.17
nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus.

Paul appears to use a euphemistic term for the “Jerusalem Apostles and Elders” in these texts:

2 Cor 11.5
For I consider myself not in the least inferior to the most eminent apostles.

2 Cor 12.11
I have become foolish; you yourselves compelled me. Actually I should have been commended by you, for in no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I am a nobody.

These references in the second letter to the Corinthians indicate something of the considerable power and influence that that select group in Jerusalem had developed. They would prove to be a considerable hinderance to the work of the Apostle Paul to the spread of the gospel among the Gentiles during that first generation as the "legalist" element in their midst gained influence.


References to Paul the Apostle of Jesus Christ

Rom 1.1
Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,

1 Cor 1.1
Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,

Gal 1.1
Paul, an apostle (not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead),

[cf., Rom 11.13; 1 Cor 4.9; 9.1-2; 1 Cor 15.9; 2 Cor 1.1; Eph 1.1; Col 1.1; 1 Tim 1.1; 2.7; 2 Tim 1.1,11; Tts 1.1]


References to Peter the Apostle of Jesus Christ

1 Pet 1.1
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen

2 Pet 1.1
Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.


The following are references to others who were called “apostles” in the NT, but (as this series will show) can’t and shouldn’t be considered true “Apostles of Jesus Christ” in the same way as the original eleven, then later by the divine calling of Saul/Paul.

[There are two possibilities regarding why and how this happened:

  1. The early church was confused regarding the office of Apostle and tended to use too broad a definition.
  2. The early church understood the distinction and was simply using the verb and noun forms in a way that was natural to them: those who went out with the gospel of Christ were “messengers”. The natural use of the language in that first century more than easily supports this option.

I tend to believe that both are in play: there was actually misunderstanding (or at least limited understanding) compounded by the common use of some very common words to mean “messenger”. It was a “perfect storm”, of sorts.]


References to the Lord Christ as an “Apostle”

Heb 3.1
Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession;
[It is obvious that the sender can't, at the same time, be the one sent. The Lord Christ commissioned and send His ambassadors; only in the sense that the Father sent the Lord Christ can He be considered an Apostle.]


References to Barnabas as an “Apostle”

Act 14.4
But the people of the city were divided; and some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles.

Act 14.14
But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out

[Luke is very consistent: as detalied in this series, an apostle is "one sent out". Paul and Barnabas had been sent out from Syrian Antioch (Act 13.1-3), and so were, in a very real sense, "apostles" of the church in Antioch.]


General references to other “Apostles”

Rom 16.7
Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.

2 Cor 8.23
As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brethren, they are messengers [lit., “apostles”] of the churches, a glory to Christ.

Phl 2.25
But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger [lit., “apostle”] and minister to my need;

Finally, there are a number of NT texts which refer to the noun ἀπόστολος, but emphasize the office of Apostle rather than the person who was called an Apostle. Some texts simply refer to the aggregate “Apostles”:

1 Cor 12.28-29
And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they?

2 Cor 12.12
The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.

Eph 2.20
having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone,

Eph 3.5
which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;

Eph 4.11
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,

1 The 2.6
nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority.

2 Pet 3.2
that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles.

Jde 1.17
But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Rev 18.20
Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her.

Rev 21.14
And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.


The noun ἀποστολή [apostolē, G651]

The noun ἀποστολή is used only 4 times in the NT. It means “apostleship”, “office of apostle”. Perhaps a good way to compare and contrast it to ἀπόστολος is that it emphasizes the position/office rather than the person.

Act 1.25
to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”

Rom 1.5
through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake,

1 Cor 9.2
If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

Gal 2.8
(for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles),



As I mentioned here, this series is based on this pivotal text:

Rev 21.14
And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

This verse teaches us unequivocally that there are twelve Apostles for all time.

[The New Jerusalem does not change over time; its gates and foundations are permanent! Therefore, the count of the tribes of Israel and “Apostles of the Lamb” are permanent.]

What I hoped to highlight with the enumerations above is that if all the texts above refer to “genuine Apostles of Jesus Christ” (as the original twelve were), then Rev 21.14 can’t be trusted; we therefore have a real contradiction in the Scripture. And, if that claim is proven to be true, then the Word of God is useless: this would be our hopeless realization, "let us eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die".

But on the other hand, how are we to handle the clear statements of some of the texts above that Matthias, Paul, Barnabas and others were regarded as “Apostles”?

As this series will prove from the Scripture, there is only a single requirement for the Office of “Apostle of Jesus Christ”: an apostle must be directly, personally appointed an Apostle by the Lord Christ Himself. All other references are likely the result of the natural use of three very common words.

Let me apply here an English-language nuance that I hope will make this clear:

  • everyone called an Apostle in the texts above certainly were “messengers”, but
  • only the original eleven (that is, those who remained after the death of Judas Iscariot) and Saul of Tarsus/Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles could be called “ambassadors”.

The latter term (at least in English) better conveys the uniqueness and authority of the office. 

That latter group alone were directly, personally appointed to their office by the Lord Christ Himself; they, alone, were the Lord’s “ambassadors” with unique authority and power. The others, undeniably faithful Christians and evangelists, nevertheless were not the Lord’s “ambassadors” in the same sense as the original eleven and Paul.