A New Testament look at its meaning and its affects on the body of Christ.
By Andy Zoppelt
Why am I doing this article on apostles? I have attempted many articles on apostles for the past 40 plus years, yet each time I felt something was missing. One morning I woke up and this word came to me, “Apostle is a noun without a verb.” Let me now explain and the difference it makes.
the word apostle
Whenever we find a Greek word transliterated into the English and not translated, we need to be suspicious and ask why. Why is the Greek word “apostolos” brought into our English bibles as apostle? In the original language apostolos related to a verb, in English apostle does not have a verb that would define the word apostle. By doing this the translators have created a title, office and thus some form of hierarchy. So when we in English see the word apostle, it is not what a Greek person would have seen if living during the times of the early assembly.
In a language a noun is normally understood by the way it is used in its relationship to the action of its verb. The Greek apostolos was separated from its verb (apostello), which would have given us a totally different understanding and the position of the intended meaning.
The Greek verb associated to the sent ones.
There are two primary Greek verbs used for sending a person: apostello and pempo. There is some discernable difference in their usage: pempo is used simply for “sending,” where apostello is used for sending a person with a commission representing the sender’s intent and purposes.
We understand the importance of nouns and verbs in how they relate to one another. A “runner” is a noun and is related to the verb “run,” so we know the runner by the verb run. A runner could not be a runner if he didn’t run. Could we imagine one saying they are a runner and we had no verb describing the noun; we would wonder what a runner was and maybe even create a title out of it. This is what has happened to apostolos or apostle and because of this we have lost the function and purpose of the noun. A person who is a runner says nothing about a position; it only speaks of a function…he runs. A person who runs for a king adds some dimension to the person who runs, but it doesn’t change the meaning.
In Steve Hill’s “Luke 10 manual” he had this to say about apostles:
“The new apostolic movements tried to stop the inevitable conflicts about direction, vision and allocation of resources in the local church by asserting strong central authority and control. They said this was a ‘restoration’ of what was in the early church but this was really the old papal system. Take pope, cardinal, bishop, priest and substitute apostle, prophet, pastor, elder. This creates many little popes, a lot of slaves, a lot of problems and has nothing to do with the early church. Pyramids are for dead people. Pyramids are built by slaves!
‘Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers of your joy; for by faith you stand.’ II Corinthians 1:24
“Throughout I and II Corinthians Paul is seeking to counsel and persuade the Corinthians to deal with their issues and bring discipline to a brother in sin. He does not write to the elders and command them to do this! He does not follow any protocol of delegated authority or chain of command. He writes to the whole church and pleads with the church to act according to what they know to be righteous since he loves them and has always served them at his own cost.”
“Whatever else we may think they are about, the five fold ministries are not about positions and power. They are about love and service. They are not about collecting churches and bringing them under our authority. They are about setting people free to their life and place in Christ. They fit into the new wine skin of friendship, example and influence, not the old wine skin of hierarchy, command and control.”
I think of the many people who see themselves as apostles, where in reality no such title existed in English. Think of how the word apostle can be used: Apostle Paul or Paul an apostle of Jesus Christ. The first is a title like Doctor Jones, the second is not as clear. Now let’s translate it as it would relate to the verb, Paul sent by Jesus Christ or a sent one of Jesus Christ. The “sent” gives us no idea of a title or special position in the form of hierarchy, the whole idea of a title or a superior office is gone.
There are two ways biblically a person can be sent: first, he can be sent directly by Jesus Himself, of which man has no control in the calling and sending, “Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father…” Gal 1:1.
Second, a person can be sent by a group like a city assembly for a specific purpose, of which man calls and sends…someone that we refer to as a missionary. “Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger [the Greek word there is apostolos] and the one who ministered to my need.” Philippians 2:25-26, NKJV
Epaphroditus was sent out by the city assembly at Philippi to serve Paul’s needs: why did the translators translate it as your “messenger” and not apostle? Both Paul and Epaphroditus are ones that were sent: Paul sent by Jesus and Epaphroditus sent by Philippi. The word “sent” gives us nothing except an action or function. Epaphroditus’ calling and commission was very different from Paul’s though both were sent or as we call them apostles. Sent for different reason and from different sources. There is a mindset when we use the word apostle, we think in terms of apostles having a higher calling or office. But biblically the importance of being sent is based only on who did the sending. We cannot lose sight of this if we are going to understand the person being sent according to scripture, this is absolutely important.
Biblically there can be no “apostles” as we call them and as we have established them over churches or movements. If we are thinking in terms of directly being called by Jesus, how could one function within the limits of a created division and have a title? Both are against God’s word.
The calling and the anointing of the disciples of Jesus differed greatly from those we call apostles today. Today we see a person with a revelation and some unique direction and we make him “our” apostle and he primarily functions as the father, the overseer or head of the movement. That movement creates a separate entity within the body outside of the whole. Let me explain something here, denominations, churches, movements, streams, networks all function the same. They all act independently within any given city. They usually have a unity defined separate from the body as a whole and they create a type of identity and authority weaving through the country. In the kingdom of God there is one King and He is over every city and thus each city should be united under His authority. Today we lack master builders who have the anointing to correct this major problem. What is sad is that most don’t even see this as a problem. If they did, they would repent.
We find others in the scriptures that were “sent” (apostolos), some for reason and functions unknown: James the Lord’s brother in Gal. 1:19; Barnabas along with Paul was sent out by the city assembly at Antioch (Acts 14:4, 14). Andronicus and Junia (a woman) are said to be of note among those who were sent (Rom. 16:7). Silvanus and Timothy seem to be included as sent ones in Paul's statement in I Thess. 2:6 and Epaphroditus being sent by Philippians.
Because we got apostolos wrong we have created another word: apostolic. Apostolic is an adjective related to the noun apostle, which in the Greek has no biblical meaning or place. Our English word “sent” is very, very rarely ever used as an adjective, but if we can create a noun with a title we can easily create an adjective to go with it. From the word apostle we get apostolic, we then create apostolic counsels that are totally foreign to scriptures. These apostolic counsels feel they have some special sense of leadership over the body, not only does this create a subtly form of hierarchy in denying others, but it usurps the function of the head over His body.
Those who have assumed the apostolic mantle today have in fact divided the city, eliminating the elders of the city? So what good is their counsel when they are in fact a part of the problem and not a part of the solution? Once they step out of their sphere (movement, network or chain of churches) they are nothing to the rest of the body…because “they” did the choosing and the calling and not Jesus personally Himself accompanied by His power according to Ephesians 4:11.
Words like apostolic move, apostolic church, apostolic counsel and apostolic message, would mean nothing if the word “sent” was used as it should. How could one have a sent counsel or sent message or sent church, etc...? If that sounds ridiculous, it is only because it is ridiculous. There never was a counsel on the basis of those who were sent in scripture. That only proves how far we have gotten off track in our understanding of the mistranslation of one word.
Those today who have spent years into this “apostolic” form of leadership will in the end be the hardest to change in the future. Wine skins if left for a long time in a static condition will become hard. New wine will not pour into an old wineskin and preserve the wine and the skin.
Because of this mystical atmosphere that surrounds the apostle and its importance to the body, “we” (not God) get this notion that we must restore this “apostolic” ministry so God can restore the assembly…I doubt that God is impressed. The logic goes like this: we have pastors, teachers and evangelist, now we need apostles and prophets. But that is a need we cannot fill. God calls and commissions those He sends and works with them with signs following. No group of human beings can restore a ministry that is directly sent by Jesus alone; although we put the labels on them just the same. It is a Jesus sent one that is in Ephesians 4:11 and not a man sent one.
The bride of Christ is more than an adjustment in revelation or the installation of some missing part. The bride of Christ is something that belongs personally to Him and the bride only has value when it is under His total authority.
Some “apostolic” patch is not going to fill the hole; I have watched this for some 47 years and even ignorantly went along with it. Those that Jesus sends will build one body in Christ being His bride under the authority and power of His will…this is the assembly without wrinkle and spot. This person will not create another movement, he will shatter all movements and call God’s people to come out and come in. We must stop this thinking that we have the answer when we are the problem.
Those sent by Jesus carried a high calling commissioned directly by Jesus Himself and their calling was validated by the fruit and the signs of power. “Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds.” 2 Cor 12:12
We too often forget that there are signs that accompany one who is specifically sent by Jesus.
The one that Jesus will personally send will always have his power under His authority…how could it be otherwise? Jesus would not send such a significant person with that kind of responsibility without His authority and power. On what basis then could such a person represent Him or on what basis would we believe he or she was sent directly by Him? Being successful? Raising up churches? Being a good speaker? Having a traveling ministry? No to all!!!
We need a strong word today, our movements today fall way short of representing the beautiful chaste bride of Christ that He intended… we have lost our way and the standard that was initially handed down to us.
If there is much confusion attached to the body of Christ today, it is because we do not have such men and women today. We are scrambling for restoration answers and are getting nowhere. We need to pray that God will send us men and women with His calling on them to bring about His purposes to the whole body. Such men will speak with power and signs and wonders. They will bring repentance to this Laodicean-man-center gospel that we have been presenting. It is coming and it will not come out of some apostolic counsel or some agenda of man. If it comes it is going to come out of weeping, repenting and a crying out to God.
Here are some examples of the use of the word sent:
John the Baptist was sent, “There was a man sent [apostello verb] from God, whose name was John.” John 1:6-7, NKJV
Jesus and his disciples were sent: "Peace to you! As the father has sent [apostello verb] Me, I also send [pempo] you." John 20:21,
“As You [Father] sent [apostello] Me into the world, I also have sent [apostello] them into the world.” John 17:18, NKJV
“And He called the twelve to Himself, and began to send [apostello] them out two by two, and gave them power over unclean spirits.” Mark 6:7, NKJV
Pharisees were sent: “Then they sent [apostello] to Him [Jesus] some of the Pharisees and the Herodians, to catch Him in His words.” Mark 12:13, NKJV
So were the Pharisees and Herodians apostles because they were sent? Were they Pharisee apostles? No one would make such a connection, so why do we?
Angels were sent: “And He will send [apostello] His angels with a great sound of a trumpet…” Matt 24:31, NKJV
Are angels apostles?
The general sending: “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent [apostello]?” Rom 10:14-15, NKJV
Therefore is everyone that is sent an apostle?
Apostello as a verb and it is used 143 times in the New Testament with no hint of being “apostolic”. Such a contrivance is for the purpose of creating a special position that biblically does not exist. It feeds more on the ego than the purposes of the Kingdom. The bible makes no special ministry out of the word “sent” no more than we do with our word sent, but makes a special ministry out of the one doing the sending.
In John 13, Jesus gives us the context of the noun and its verb together. We find in this chapter the first time where John uses this Greek word apostolos, but the translators did not translate it as apostle but “he who is sent” instead. It tells us that they clearly understood that apostolos meant “one who was sent” representing the verb and not a title.
"Do you know what I have done to you? [Jesus just washed the disciple’s feet] You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant [Gr. doulos bondservant or slave] is not greater than his master [Gr. kurios = Lord]; nor is he who is sent [Gr. Apostolos = one sent - a noun] greater than he [Jesus] who sent him [pempo]. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” John 13:12-17
Neither kind of sending, whether by Jesus or a group, has ever represented a position or title, but a task to be performed from the one doing the sending. An apostolos (sent one) must maintain and represent the purpose within the limits of his being sent and to the intent for which he was sent (apostello). The ones sent by Jesus are sent by His power to represent the gospel of the kingdom of God and not movements. Divisions, churches, networks and movements are not the kingdom of God. So why don’t we get this? We don’t want to get it because of the demands it would put on us based on what we have built. It’s like the pastor, he doesn’t want to find out there is no such person doing what he is doing in the NT, he will lose his career and position.
This false assumption has misled many into assuming a position that is not there and is not theirs. The logic and misunderstanding of such a title or position goes like this: “They were apostles, I am an apostle. The foundation of the assembly is built on apostles, I am an apostle and I am set in order to lay the foundation. Apostle was a key position among the gifts in the assembly and I am an apostle and therefore hold a key position in the assembly.” This is a total distortion of the truth of what the scriptures are saying about the word apostolos and a person called into the ministry.
All the gifts of Christ are interwoven functions within the one kingdom of God and are not positions within the confines of movements etc.. Our problem is that we can not get out from under our institutional roots handed down to us; we are bound by its thinking no matter what we do. Let’s get back to the bible and obey Jesus and His word explicitly and completely.
Honest and sincere men acting on the translations, believing the translators had accuracy in view, have been led down a path far from God’s intentions and the establishment of the kingdom of God. Words like church, baptism, apostles and office of a bishop, have been words that changed the world. We are still building churches, baptizing babies, calling apostles and now we see bishops now beginning to reappear. Today, even though we all know that church is not a translation of the Greek word ekklesia, we still translate it as church. We love hierarchy and celebrities and the Hierarchy and celebrities love it too! We have one Head and all direction come from a responsible, united body. Let’s acknowledge our sin, we can plead ignorance and then let us pray, plead, cry and weep to God for Him to send out those with power to straighten up this mess we created.