Apostle (one sent forth), in the New Testament originally the official name of those twelve of the disciples whom Jesus chose to send forth first to preach the gospel and to be with him during the course of his ministry on earth. The word also appears to have been used in a nonofficial sense to designate a much wider circle of Christian messengers and teachers. See 2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25. It is only of those who were officially designated apostles that we treat in this article. Their names are given in Matt. 10:2-4, and Christ’s charge to them in the rest of the chapter.
Their office.—(1) The original qualification of an apostle, as stated by St. Peter on the occasion of electing a successor to the traitor Judas, was that he should have been personally acquainted with the whole ministerial course of our Lord, from his baptism by John till the day when he was taken up into heaven. (2) They were chosen by Christ himself. (3) They had the power of working miracles. (4) They were inspired. John 16:13. (5) Their work seems to have been preeminently that of founding the churches and upholding them by supernatural power specially bestowed for that purpose. (6) The office ceased, as a matter of course, with its first holders; all continuation of it, from the very conditions of its existence (cf. 1 Cor. 9:1), being impossible.
Early history and training.—The apostles were from the lower ranks of life, simple and uneducated; some of them were related to Jesus according to the flesh; some had previously been disciples of John the Baptist. Our Lord chose them early in his public career. They seem to have been all on an equality, both during and after the ministry of Christ on earth. Early in our Lord’s ministry he sent them out two and two to preach repentance and to perform miracles in his name. Matt. 10; Luke 9. They accompanied him in his journeys, saw his wonderful works, heard his discourses addressed to the people, and made inquiries of him on religious matters. They recognized him as the Christ of God, Matt. 16:16; Luke 9:20, and ascribed to him supernatural power, Luke 9:54; but in the recognition of the spiritual teaching and mission of Christ they made very slow progress, held back as they were by weakness of apprehension and by national prejudices. Even at the removal of our Lord from the earth they were yet weak in their knowledge, Luke 24:21; John 16:12, though he had for so long been carefully preparing and instructing them. On the feast of Pentecost, ten days after our Lord’s ascension, the Holy Spirit came down on the assembled church, Acts 2; and from that time the apostles became altogether different men, giving witness with power of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, as he had declared they should. Luke 24:48; Acts 1:8, 22; 2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 13:31.
Later labors and history.—First of all the mother-church at Jerusalem grew up under their hands, Acts 3-7, and their superior dignity and power were universally acknowledged by the rulers and the people. Acts 5:12ff. Their first mission out of Jerusalem was to Samaria, Acts 8:5-25, where the Lord himself had, during his ministry, sown the seed of the gospel. Here ends the first period of the apostles’ agency, during which its centre is Jerusalem and the prominent figure is that of St. Peter. The centre of the second period of the apostolic agency is Antioch, where a church soon was built up, consisting of Jews and Gentiles; and the central figure of this and of the subsequent period is St. Paul. The third apostolic period is marked by the almost entire disappearance of the twelve from the sacred narrative, and the exclusive agency of St. Paul, the great apostle of the Gentiles. Of the missionary work of the rest of the twelve we know absolutely nothing from the sacred narrative.