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The term Apostle in the Gospels.

I SAID towards the close of my last lecture that the term ‘Apostles’ as applied to the Twelve was rare in the Gospels. Let us see what the passages are. The first is a very pregnant one, though simple enough in form, Mark iii. 13-16. Our Lord goes up into the mountain, and “calls to Him whom He Himself would, and they departed unto Him. And He made twelve, whom He also named Apostles, [such is assuredly the true reading, though the common texts create an artificial smoothness by omitting the last clause] that they should be with Him, and that He should send (ἀποστέλλῃ) them to preach and to have authority to cast out the demons; and He made the Twelve . . . Peter (giving this name to Simon) and James etc.” Here by what seems to be a double process of selection (though the 23word selection is not used), proceeding wholly from Himself, our Lord sets aside twelve for two great purposes, kept apart in the Greek by the double ἵνα: the first, personal nearness to Himself “that they should be with Him”: the second, “with a view to sending them forth”, this mission of theirs having two heads, to preach, and to have authority to cast out the ‘demons’, these two being precisely the two modes of action which St Mark has described in i. 39 as exercised by the Lord Himself in the synagogues of all Galilee, just as in the previous verses i. 14–34 he had described a succession of acts which came under these heads, the second head evidently including the healing of the sick. Lastly we learn that our Lord Himself, apparently on this occasion, called these twelve chosen men ‘Apostles’ or ‘envoys’.

Whether they were or were not sent forth immediately after this their selection, St Mark does not expressly tell us. But it is morally certain that he intended to represent the actual mission as not immediate. Such is the natural force of ἵνα ἀποστέλλῃ “with a view to sending them forth”, and moreover more than one hundred verses further on (vi. 7) we read how when our Lord was going round the villages teaching, He called to Himself the Twelve, “and began to send them forth by two and two”; and so, after a brief account of His charge to them we read (vi. 12 f.) “and they went 24out and preached that men should repent, and they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them”: — again the two heads of what they were to do when sent forth. Then comes the story of Herod and John the Baptist; and then (vi. 30) “and the Apostles are gathered together (συνάγονται) unto Jesus, and they told Him all things whatsoever they had done and whatsoever they had taught” (again the two heads emphatically distinguished). Henceforward the word ἀπόστολος disappears from St Mark’s Gospel; so that he evidently used it only in the strictest sense, with reference to this one typical mission to preach and to heal, at the beginning of it and at the end of it. When he wishes afterwards55See St Mark ix. 35; x. 32; xi. 11; xiv. 17: besides the Judas passages (xiv. 10, 20, 43). to mark them out sharply from the other disciples, he calls them “the Twelve.”

Next, St Luke’s Gospel is interesting both by its resemblances and by its differences. First comes a passage (vi. 12 ff.) which includes in itself both likeness and unlikeness to St Mark. “It came to pass in these days that He went out unto the mountain to pray, and He continued all night in His prayer to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples, and choosing from them twelve, whom He also named Apostles, Simon . . . , and going down with them, He stood on a level place.” Here 25the selection by our Lord is mentioned, and the name ‘Apostles’ which He gave: but nothing is said of either purpose or work. The selection is associated with the Sermon on the Mount. We do hear however (vi. 17 f.) of the great crowd who were present “to hear Him” (the correlative of preaching) “and to be healed of their diseases”, “unclean spirits” being mentioned in the next sentence. Then, after a considerable interval, we read (ix. 1) how He called together the Twelve (the addition “Apostles” has high authority but is probably only an Alexandrine reading), and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and sent them forth (ἀπέστειλεν) to preach the kingdom of God and to heal. After a charge of three verses only, we read (ix. 6) “And they going forth went throughout the villages, preaching good tidings and healing everywhere”. (Thus the two heads are twice repeated). Then Herod is spoken of for three verses, and in v. 10 (just as in Mark vi. 30) we have the Twelve on their return described as Apostles, “And the Apostles when they had returned recounted to Him what they had done.” If we pursue the narrative a little further, we shall hardly think this limitation of usage accidental. Two verses later (ix. 12) it is the Twelve who are said to come to our Lord and bid Him dismiss the multitude. In v. 14 they are called “His disciples”, in vv. 16, 18 “the disciples”, and so on.


In this Gospel however the term is not throughout confined to this limited usage. Three times afterwards66See St Luke xvii. 5; xxii. 14 (the right reading); xxiv. 10. it speaks of “the Apostles”, without any perceptible reference to that mission, while it also speaks of ‘the Twelve’ once77St Luke xviii. 31, besides the reference to Judas, xxii. 47. and of ‘the Eleven’ twice88St Luke xxiv. 9 (just before τοὺς ἀποστόλους), 33.. The explanation, I suppose, is that St Luke, having probably in his mind the writing of the Acts, which is (see Acts i. 1 f.) a kind of second part to the Gospel, in these three places used by anticipation the title which, as we shall see presently, acquired a fresh currency after the Ascension: in each of the three cases the accompanying language bears no trace of coming from a common source with anything in the other Gospels; so that the wording is probably entirely St Luke’s own. The anticipatory use thus supposed has no doubt an instructiveness of its own. It serves to remind us how all that period, in which the Twelve seemed to be only gathering in personal gains to heart and mind by their discipleship, was in truth the indispensable condition and, as it were, education for their future action upon others.

St Matthew on the other hand gives even less prominence to the title ‘Apostles’ than St Mark. He tells us (x. 1) that our Lord “calling His twelve disciples unto Him gave them authority over unclean 27spirits so as to cast them out and to heal every disease and every sickness.” “Now the names of the twelve Apostles,” he adds, “are these . . . .” In the other two Gospels we have had two separate incidents, the selection on the mountain, and the subsequent mission among the villages. Here in St Matthew the first incident is dropped altogether, so that in the first words of chap. x. “His twelve disciples” are spoken of as an already known or already existing body to whom powers are now given, and the list of names is prefixed to the account of their mission. We are not told that our Lord called them ‘Apostles’ nor is any other indication given that the term had a special meaning: nay, the word in this context might with at least as great propriety be translated ‘envoys’ as ‘Apostles’. The nature of their mission is not expressly described, though our Lord’s own previous action is spoken of (ix. 35) as “teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Gospel of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness.” But St Matthew places here the well-known charge, introducing it with the words “These twelve Jesus sent (ἀπέστειλεν) charging them saying,” etc., and the charge itself almost at once puts forward the same heads of mission which we have found in the other Gospels. Thenceforward St Matthew never uses the term ‘Apostle’. When he needs a precise designation, it is usually99See St Matt. x. 1; xi. 1; xx. 17 v. l.; xxvi. 20 v. 1., “His 28twelve disciples” or “the Twelve1010See St Matt. xx. 17 v. l.; xxvi. 20 v. 1. besides the Judas passages, xxvi. 14, 47.”, and once (xxviii. 16) “the eleven disciples”.

St John’s usage, as is well-known, is more remarkable still. He never calls the Twelve “Apostles”, unless it be by indirect allusion (xiii. 16) “A servant is not greater than his lord; neither an envoy (one sent) greater than he that sent him.” Of the Twelve he speaks in vi. 67, 70 “Jesus said therefore to the Twelve ‘Will ye also go?’” “Did not I choose you the Twelve, and one of you is a διάβολος?”; besides his use of the term to describe Judas (vi. 71) and Thomas (xx. 24).

Taking these facts together respecting the usage of the Gospels, we are led, I think, to the conclusion that in its original sense the term Apostle was not intended to describe the habitual relation of the Twelve to our Lord during the days of His ministry, but strictly speaking only that mission among the villages, of which the beginning and the end are recorded for us; just as in the Acts, Paul and Barnabas are called Apostles (i.e. of the Church of Antioch) with reference to that special mission which we call St Paul’s First Missionary Journey, and to that only. At the same time this limited apostleship was not heterogeneous from the apostleship of later days spoken of in the Acts, but a prelude to it, a preparation for it, and as 29it were a type of it. Such sayings as that difficult one (Matt. xix. 28 || Luke xxii. 30) about sitting on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel, are indications that a distinctive function was reserved for the Twelve throughout, over and above their function as the chiefest disciples. It remains true that the habitual, always appropriate, designations of the Twelve during our Lord’s ministry were simply “the disciples” or “the twelve” or “the twelve disciples”.

And this use of names points to corresponding facts. Discipleship, not apostleship, was the primary active function, so to speak, of the Twelve till the Ascension, and, as we shall see, it remained always their fundamental function. The purpose of their being with Him (with the Lord) stands first in that memorable sentence of St Mark, and is sharply distinguished from the Lord’s second purpose in forming them into a body, viz. the sending them forth to preach and to work acts of deliverance. But the distinction does not rest on those words alone. A far larger proportion of the Gospels is taken up with records of facts belonging to the discipleship than with records of facts belonging to the apostleship, so far as it is possible to distinguish them.

The Last Supper.

When the Ministry is over, and the end is beginning, the importance of the special discipleship of the 30Twelve in relation to the future Ecclesia soon comes to light. The Last Supper is the most solemn and characteristic gathering together of the Twelve with the Lord at their head. There in the upper room they are completely “with Him,” and completely separated from all others. The words and acts at this supper, which constitute the institution of the Holy Communion, were addressed to the Twelve, and no others are spoken of as recipients of the command. Whatever directions for the future are present here are contained within the simple imperatives addressed to the Twelve, “take,” “eat,” “drink,” and (if we add St Paul and the interpolation in St Luke’s text derived from him) “do this.” Of whom then in after times were the Twelve the representatives that evening? If they represented an apostolic order within the Ecclesia then the Holy Communion must have been intended only for members of that order, and the rest of the Ecclesia had no part in it. But if, as the men of the Apostolic age and subsequent ages believed without hesitation, the Holy Communion was meant for the Ecclesia at large, then the Twelve sat that evening as representatives of the Ecclesia at large: they were disciples more than they were Apostles.

That central event of the Last Supper, as we all know, is not mentioned by St John: but there is a close connexion between its meaning and much of the contents of those five chapters of his Gospel, from the thirteenth to the seventeenth, which begin with the 31washing of St Peter’s feet, and end with the Lord’s own last prayer before His departure from the city for the garden. Though the word ecclesia does not occur in these chapters, any more than in the rest of the Gospel, the inward characteristics of the Christian Ecclesia according to Christ’s intention are virtually expounded in not a few of their verses. The seclusion of the Twelve, soon becoming the Eleven, with their Lord away from all other men, makes itself felt throughout: but it is equally clear that the little band of chosen ones, with whom those marvellous discourses were held, was destined to become no mere partial order of men but a people of God, an Ecclesia like the ideal Israel. The feet-washing in act, and the new commandment in words, lay down the primary law for the mutual action of the members of the Ecclesia, humility and love; the similitude of the vine and the branches lays down their common relation to their Divine Head. The promise of the other Paraclete, the Spirit of the Truth, and the exposition of His working, are a new and pregnant revelation of life and light for the Ecclesia. In the last prayer the goal of unity is set forth in a sentence (xvii. 20) which expressly recognises the growth of the future Ecclesia from that little band: “Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word; that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send me.” 32These last words bring out the purpose of the Ecclesia in God’s counsels: it is to draw the rest of mankind to its own faith and love; to carry on a work of salvation, in the power of the salvation wrought by its Head: “as Thou didst send me into the world, I also sent them into the world.” The whole Ecclesia shares alike in that transmitted Mission.

The utterances after the Resurrection.

Before we pass from the Gospels we must look for a moment at one or two famous passages belonging to the days after the Resurrection, especially to the last five verses of St Matthew, and to our Lord’s appearance among the disciples on the evening of the first day of the week (John xx. 19-23), when He breathed on them and said “Receive ye the Holy Spirit. . . .” To discuss the contents of these passages would carry us into matters which it is happily not necessary to our purpose to examine in detail. But it is needful to point out the bearing of the results at which we have hitherto arrived, on the question as to the recipients of these two famous sets of words. Much stress is often laid on the supposed evidence afforded by the words of the evangelists that they were addressed exclusively to the Apostles. Dr Westcott has shown how, when we look below the surface, indications are not wanting that others were not improbably likewise present, at all events on the 33occasion recorded by St John, when his narrative is compared with that of St Luke (xxiv. 33 ff.).

But in such a matter the mere fact that doubt is possible is a striking one. It is in truth difficult to separate these cases from the frequent omission of the evangelists to distinguish the Twelve from other disciples; a manner of language which, as we have seen, explains itself at once when we recognise how large a part discipleship played in the function of the Twelve.

Granting that it was probably to the Eleven that our Lord directly and principally spoke on both these occasions (and even to them alone when He spoke the words at the end of St Matthew’s Gospel), yet it still has to be considered in what capacity they were addressed by Him. If at the Last Supper, and during the discourses which followed, when the Twelve or Eleven were most completely secluded from all other disciples as well as from the unbelieving Jews, they represented the whole Ecclesia of the future, it is but natural to suppose that it was likewise as representatives of the whole Ecclesia of the future, whether associated with other disciples or not, that they had given to them those two assurances and charges of our Lord, about the receiving of the Holy Spirit and the remitting or retaining of sins (howsoever we understand these words), and about His universal authority in heaven and on earth, on the strength of which He bids them bring all the 34nations into discipleship, and assures them of His own presence with them all the days even to the consummation of the age.

This interpretation is not affected by the special language used in Matt. xxviii. 19, where bringing all the nations into discipleship is coupled with baptizing them into the Threefold Name. In the most literal sense of these words, they apply to the bearers of the message of the Gospel, chief among whom, ideally at least, were the Apostles; though the personal act of baptizing is somewhat markedly disconnected from evangelistic work by St Paul in 1 Cor. i. 14-17. In a word, the action of the Apostles is the most obvious expression, so to speak, of the charge then given. But the work of the Ecclesia in relation to the world is itself a missionary work; and it is to the Ecclesia itself as the missionary body that Christ’s charge is ultimately addressed.

The new Apostolic mission.

On entering the Acts of the Apostles, we come at once to the term ‘apostles’. It continues with us all through the book with the rarest exceptions1111When the excitement caused by the miracle of Pentecost leads to St Peter’s first discourse to the people it is said, “And Peter standing with the Eleven lifted up his voice and spake forth to them.” So when the neglect of the Greek-speaking widows led to the appointment of the seven whom we call deacons, it is “the Twelve” who are said to call to them “the multitude of the disciples” (vi. 2). And once we have the compound term (i. 26), when Matthias is said to have been numbered “with the eleven Apostles”.. This 35fact suggests that a change has passed upon the work or office of the Twelve: and such we actually find.

Two points especially require notice. Their original mission, from which apparently proceeded the title ‘apostle’ given them by our Lord, was strictly confined to Judæa (Matt. x. 5 f.), “Go not into any way of the Gentiles, and enter not into any city of the Samaritans: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” And the same charge which opens with these words contains the remarkable and by no means easy sentence (Matt. x. 23), “When they persecute you in this city, flee into the next; for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone through the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.” The limitation of the original apostolic mission here indicated is maintained strictly in the Gospels throughout the Ministry. Whatever tokens or express declarations of the destination of the Gospel for all nations may be recorded by the Evangelists in this part of their books, in no case, I believe, is any reference there made to the agency of the Apostles in extending the sphere of the message of salvation. No doubt it is sometimes said that the prediction of the Apostles being brought before rulers and kings (ἡγεμόνες and βασιλεῖς), which St Matthew places in that same first charge to the Apostles which we have just been looking at (x. 18), and St Mark and St Luke in the discourse of judgement pronounced on the Mount of Olives in the last week (Mark xiii. 9; 36Luke xxi. 12), it is said, I say, that this prediction must refer to the heathen magistrates and potentates who withstood the Gospel in various parts of the Roman Empire. The words are however quite as naturally applicable to heathen rulers who, no less than the Jewish authorities, would be found hostile in Judæa itself. The allusion is, I strongly suspect, to the enemies of Jehovah and His Anointed, called in Ps. ii. 2 “the kings of the earth and the rulers” (LXX. ἄρχοντες), a description which the Apostles recognise as fulfilled in Herod and Pontius Pilate as gathered together against our Lord Himself (Acts iv. 27), thus making a hostile combination of Gentiles with Jews.

The extension of the range of the apostolic mission takes place between the Resurrection and the Ascension. Not to dwell again on the last charge at the end of St Matthew’s Gospel, nor to refer by more than a word to the version of it preserved in a record of such uncertain authority as the Appendix to St Mark’s Gospel, we read in Luke xxiv. 45 ff. how our Lord opened their mind to understand the Scriptures, and said to them that “thus it is written,” not only “that the Christ should suffer and rise again on the third day,” but also “that repentance unto remission of sins should be preached (or proclaimed) in His Name unto all the nations, beginning with Jerusalem.” “Ye are witnesses,” he adds, “of these things.”

This language is strikingly guarded. The going 37forth of the message of salvation is set forth as involved in the vision of the future which the prophets were permitted to see; but it is set forth wholly impersonally: nothing connects the Apostles themselves with it but the single saying “Ye are witnesses of these things”; a saying which perfectly well admits of meaning no more than that the fundamental testimony of “these things” (itself an elastic phrase) was to be given by the Apostles, without further implying that they were to be themselves the bearers of the message founded on that testimony to heathen lands.

Of less ambiguous import are the words which we read in Acts i. 8 as spoken to them by the Lord just before the Ascension, “Ye shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judæa and Samaria and unto the utmost part of the earth.” Here the utmost range seems to be given to the testimony which they are to bear in person; and this, the most obvious sense, is confirmed by the previous sentence, “But ye shall receive power by the Holy Spirit coming upon you,” such power from above being evidently intended to sustain them in their long and troubled course of bearing witness. Thus universality is a characteristic of the new apostolic mission.

In what manner the Twelve understood themselves afterwards to be charged with this enlarged responsibility, it is difficult to make out. The admission of the Gentiles was assuredly not accepted at once without hesitation as a necessary consequence of the terms of 38the Lord’s commission. But the mere recognition of His having at this solemn time so expressly dwelt on the ultimate world-wide destination of His Gospel, must have been enough to affect deeply the character of their work, even in its first and narrowest sphere at Jerusalem.

The second characteristic of the new apostolic mission is that which has already come before us in connexion with its universality, — its work of bearing witness. This comes out with especial clearness in St Peter’s address to the brethren respecting providing a successor to Judas: “Of the men,” he says (i. 21 f.), “that companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus came in and went out unto us, beginning from the baptism of John unto the day that He was received up from us, of these must one become a witness with us of His Resurrection.” This is the one essential condition mentioned, to be a witness of the Resurrection. The prayer that follows describes the office itself as “the place of this ministration and mission” (τῆς διακονίας ταύτης καὶ ἀποστολῆς) just as St Peter had previously (v. 17) called it “the lot of this ministration.” But this does not alter the statement as to the indispensable qualification. Nor does this passage stand alone. Everyone must remember the persistency with which this apostolic witness-bearing to the crowning events of Gospel history is reiterated in the Acts, and especially in the 39early speeches in the Acts (ii. 32, iii. 15, iv. 33, v. 32, x. 39-41, xiii. 31).

This mark of apostleship is evidently founded on direct personal discipleship; and as evidently it is incommunicable. Its whole meaning rested on immediate and unique experience; as St John says, “that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled” (1 John i. 1). Without a true perceptive faith, such a faith as shewed itself in St Peter, all this acquaintance through the bodily senses was in vain. But the truest faith of one who was a disciple only in the second degree, however precious in itself, could never qualify him for bearing the apostolic character.

Apart from this unique function of being witnesses of the Resurrection, it is difficult to find in the New Testament any clear definition of the Apostolic office from the records of the time between the Resurrection and the Ascension. In the second verse of the Acts we read of our Lord giving them command (ἐντειλάμενος) on the day of His Ascension: but what were the contents of that commandment we know not, unless it was the charge to continue at Jerusalem awaiting the promise of the Father, the Pentecostal gift (i. 4, 5; Luke xxiv. 49). So again in v. 3 we hear of His “appearing to them and saying to them the things concerning the kingdom of God”: but more than this we do not learn. What Scripture says, and what it 40leaves unsaid, together suggest that the new stage of Apostleship was inaugurated by no new act of appointment analogous to the original designation of the Twelve on the mountain, these commands and teachings that we hear of being rather like the subsequent charge to the Apostles on their going forth among the villages. On this view it was the Crucifixion (interpreted as always by the Resurrection) which constituted the real inauguration of the renewed apostleship. We saw the other day how the work assigned to the Twelve, when first sent forth among the villages, was a repetition, so to speak, of the work which our Lord Himself was then pursuing, consisting of two heads, preaching and casting out demons, including the healing of sickness; or in other words, proclaiming the kingdom of God by word, and manifesting and illustrating it by significant act. The work that lay before them when His Ministry on earth was ended was not in its essence different from before: they had still to make known the kingdom of God by words and by deeds; and this is the sole conception of their work put before us in the Acts. But there were two great changes. First, He Himself would no longer be visibly in their midst, so that the responsibility of guidance descended upon them, subject only to the indications of His Will, and enlightened by His Spirit. Moreover, this responsibility was not for a limited mission of short duration, but by its very nature was 41continuous and permanent. Second, He Himself, in His Death and His Resurrection, was now become a primary subject of their teaching and action: in the light of Him the kingdom of God put on a new meaning, and He was Himself the living representative of it.

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