Dr. Couch, do you believe we have modern apostles ("ones sent with a message") in the church today?
ANSWER: No, not at all. After Ephesians 4:11, the word is used sixteen times but it is referring to "evil apostles" or a few who are sent with a message in a general sense. The concept of an apostle has to do with the Twelve, those who were had seen Christ (in actuality—they walked with Him), traveled with Him, verified Him, or in a vision had seen Him, such as Paul, and was then called to verify the gospel message. These could bear witness to His reality and they were commissioned to carry forth the gospel.
Paul was appointed to be part of the "witness-ers" along with the twelve. He wrote that "in no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I was a nobody" (2 Cor. 12:1). For "the signs of a true apostle were performed among you [by me] will all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles" (v. 12).
See also 1 Corinthians 15:6-11. Paul was the least of all the apostles. He's talking about the twelve who had a special place in witnessing of Christ and the gospel.
Some have questioned one verse about apostleship, and that is Romans 16:7 where Paul speaks about two men who "are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me." "Apostles" in this context has to do with many apostles who were sent with a message but the context is not speaking about the Twelve. These men are never labeled with the twelve as being part of the special apostles. They were simply messengers who were "also in Christ before me" as believers but not as part of the class of the twelve (v. 7). Paul was "called (to be) an apostle of Jesus to the Gentiles (Rom. 11:13, 1 Cor. 1:1). The twelve and Paul were the very "chiefest of the apostles" (2 Cor. 11:5; 12:11).
The apostles the NT is talking about as the chiefest apostles is explained in Ephesians 3:5-8. There Paul speaks of the special twelve "holy apostles" "of which Paul was made a minister (along with them) according to the gift of God's grace which was given to him according to the working of His power, to Paul who was the very least of all saints to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, to bring to light what is the dispensation of the mystery (of the church)."
Paul makes an interesting statement in 1 Corinthians 15:10b. In reference to the twelve apostles, he says that he "labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me." Of the twelve we only have mentioned Peter, James, and John. What were the others doing? They had a key role as witnessing of the actuality of Christ and of His ministry, and of His life, death, resurrection and ascension. Together then, Paul and the twelve "preached" the gospel and the Corinthians and others believed (v. 11). But they were not as vigorous as Paul in traveling about and working and giving the gospel. Not all have the same equal gifts or abilities. Whatever, Paul was not boasting, he was simply giving the facts.
Nicoll writes that Paul had ministered "over a region wider than all the Twelve had traversed up to this date." However, some say Paul is criticizing the apostles (minus Peter, James, and John) because they were more stationary than he. Whichever, the statement is interesting. Mitchell writes in my commentary series that Paul "has not yet recovered" from "the wonder of it all" that he should be elevated to the honor and office of apostleship, 'because I persecuted the church of God.'"
No matter what "the grace of God" was with Paul in placing him alongside the ministry of the Twelve.
Thanks for asking.
—Dr. Mal Couch (4/11)