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Apostles and Prophets

I was asked, "What is your teaching on apostles and prophets?"


Our books consistently maintain 4-star and better ratings despite the occasional 1- and 2-star ratings from people angry because we have no respect for sacred cows.

This was my answer:

I have a blog post on the subject, but it’s not very thorough. You’ll get to the part about early church tradition on apostles and prophets very quickly.

In that post, I didn’t give my opinion, just the teaching of the early church as the Catholic and Orthodox explain it. I will add one quote to support their view that the only post-apostolic apostles are the bishops that the original apostles left in their place:

[The apostles] wanted these men to be very perfect and blameless in all things, the ones they were leaving behind as their successor. They delivered up their own place of government to these men. If these men carried out their services honestly, they would be a great boon, but if they  should fall away, the direst calamity. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies III:3:1, c AD 185

I don't agree this quote, and several others like it, limits the role of "apostle" to the successors of the apostles in the churches. Also, if you follow the context of the quote above, you will see that Irenaeus included not only bishops, but elders as well, in that succession.

See also my YouTube video on the authority of the apostles. Very enlightening.

Here is what I would add to the Roman Catholic/Orthodox view.


First, there are Apostles with a capital A. Those are the twelve, Paul and Barnabas, Timothy and Titus, and other "apostolic men" as Tertullian liked to call them. They left us with writings that we call the New Testament.

There are prophets, such as Moses, Samuel, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc., who brought the message of God and left us with the Writings Jesus called the Law and the Prophets.

These are the foundational apostles and prophets mentioned in Ephesians 2:20.

Then there are apostles with a small a, mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11. These are not of the 12, nor even of the 70. They are gifts from God for the expansion of Jesus' kingdom.

From my own study, I conclude apostles have two gifts. They have both the gift of evangelism and shepherding. They are church planters. They are gifted:

  • to preach the Gospel
  • to train new converts.

Their job is to come in preach the Gospel, train them in the basics, warn them to continue on the path, and then leave them in the hands of elders as soon as they have men who have grown up into elders.

Paul did this a couple ways. With Barnabas, he preached, got thrown out of town, moved to the next town, and he did the same thing. He had to leave those churches with very little teaching. However, he and Barnabas came back to strengthen them and to tell them that it is through many tribulations that we enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:21-23).

With Timothy and Titus, he left them behind in Ephesus and in Crete, respectively, to build the churches until they could appoint elders. Apparently, he thought this could be done in a year or less, based on how the letters sound.

But beware ...

I have also found that most men who claim to be apostles have nothing appropriate to show for their claim. They are men who love authority and praise, wear robes, and write “apostle” on their business card or their church marquis.

If someone says he is an apostle, ask for his letter of recommendation. His letter of recommendation should be a congregation, built up together in love, walking in the way of truth. If he can show you such a people, even if it is only ten families or so, and he has really raised them up, then he is an apostle by definition, in my opinion (2 Cor. 3:1-3.


Moses said, "I wish all God's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them."

God did one better. In the New Covenant, as prophesied by Joel, God put his Spirit in all his people, and promised that they would all prophesy (Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:16-18).

Paul agrees, telling the Corinthians that they could all prophesy one by one (1 Cor. 14:31). He even tells us we should "covet" to prophesy (v. 39).

I would argue that the Spirit should be operating in us all the time. It is not only in meetings that Christians should prophesy. Most prophecy should happen outside the meetings because we live much more life outside of the meetings.

I would also argue, from experience with true prophets, that the act of standing and proclaiming, "Thus saith the Lord," in a meeting is too much for those who suppose their spiritual gift is prophecy. True prophets are more subtle unless God has called them to proclaim something publicly.

I say this on scriptural authority. We read a lot of the public proclamation of the Hebrew prophets, but there is much private prophecy, too. Isaiah, for example, sent word to Hezekiah rather than showing up in the palace with a proclamation. Elisha had numerous non-public encounters, such as Naaman the Syrian, Jereboam's wife, and the Israelite women who kept a room for him.

But beware ...

Today many or most who claim to be prophets prophesy for money and to obtain glory for themselves. Those are false prophets.

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