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What are apostles and do we need them?

November 22, 2009

One of the reasons that people join the LDS church from other denominations is the LDS church’s claim that they have the correct biblical structure. Their church is run by twelve apostles just like the original church established by Christ. Boyd Packer makes this statement, “The most precious thing lost in the Apostasy was the authority held by the Twelve—the priesthood keys. For the Church to be His Church, there must be a Quorum of the Twelve who hold the keys and confer them on others.” Protestant churches don’t often claim to have twelve apostles.  Is this a problem?

The apostle Paul lists the spiritual gifts in Ephesians 4:11.

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.

In the gospels the apostles are mentioned frequently.  They were Jesus’ closest companions and were eye witnesses of His ministry.  After His death the book of Acts records their ministry over the church in leading the evangelistic effort of the Great Commission.  The word apostle means “messenger” or “he that is sent.” The original calling of the disciples is recorded in Mark 6:7-11 and Luke 9:1-6. After the death of Judas, the twelve appointed Matthias to replace him (Acts 1:26).  Paul was chosen to be an apostle to the Gentiles (Rom. 1:11 Cor. 15:8-9Gal. 1:1).   One of the evidences for the LDS theory of a Great Apostasy is the failure of the apostles to confer the position to other men after one of their own died.

Can the LDS Quorum of Twelve claim to have the authority of apostles?  Note the key requirement of an apostle:  He must have seen the resurrected Christ.  Paul defends himself against the Corinthian believers who attacked his authority to be an apostle.

Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord? (1 Cor. 9:1)

In this sense, it would be impossible for the early church to have conferred the gift of apostleship upon worthy members.  First, they were never charged to confer the keys of apostleship upon another group of men.  Second, younger generations would not have witnessed the resurrected Christ.  Do the Quorum of Twelve claim to have seen Jesus Christ?  If not, how do they qualify to hold this position?

Another key role of the apostles was as a witness of the works of Jesus Christ. They were not sharing a message that they had simply heard about from others. Theirs was a testimony that they shared from first-hand experience.  They watched Him walk on water, heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, and ultimately rise from the dead Himself.

In fact, when the apostles moved to replace Judas (Acts 1:15-26), Peter stated that the selection was to be made from an exclusive group:

Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection (Acts 1:21-22).

Further, unlike the structure of the LDS church in which the “apostles” direct missionary activities from a central hub, the original apostles were sent out in pairs of two, preaching wherever they went.  After the death of Christ these apostles spread out to share the good news of the gospel.  We have no early example of a tiered organization that resembles anything like the LDS church structure.  In the case of the original apostles, they themselves were the missionaries, and their message was what they themselves had seen!

Their works also were evidence of their special authority.  Christ gave them the power to perform miracles, signs and wonders.  In fact, Paul stated that the performance of miracles were the “signs of an apostle.

  • 2 Corinthians 12:12 Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.
  • Matthew 10:1 And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.
  • Mark 3:15 And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils:
  • Mark 6:13 And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.
  • Luke 9:1 Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases.
  • Luke 9:2 And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick.
  • Luke 9:6 And they departed, and went through the towns, preaching the gospel, and healing every where.
  • Acts 2:43 And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.

Along with preaching the gospel, the disciples were known for miracles.  Can anything even remotely similar be said of the Quorum of the Twelve?  If the gift of apostleship has been restored to the earth, why do we not see the miracles that were originally so prevalent among the disciples?

But what about the role of an apostle that Paul claims is a gift of the Holy Spirit? It is listed among other gifts that the church does use today such as teaching, preaching and evangelism.  In this sense, the gift of being an apostle is still employed.  Those who are sent are missionaries and church planters sent by the church to an area of need.  But the role of an apostle of Christ was specific to the original disciples.  The position was one of sacrifice and service but will be regarded with much honor in heaven.  In John’s Revelation he describes seeing the New Jerusalem.

And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (Rev. 21:14).

Which twelve apostles, you might ask?  Russell Ballard, Dallin Oaks and Boyd Packer of the current Quorum?  What about worthy apostles who have served in the past?  Will God make the decision to overlook doubting Thomas and instead inscribe the names “Brigham Young” or “Heber C. Kimball” upon the foundation? No.  It seems quite clear from the context of the passage that the names listed will be the original disciples (with the possible exception of Judas).

The New Testament indicates that the role of the apostle is distinct to the early church.  These were the men who saw the risen Christ, witnessed His works, performed miracles, and were sent to preach the gospel.  Is there any evidence that the members of the Quorum of the Twelve have seen the risen Christ or have the authority and power to perform the miracles of an apostle of the Lamb of God?

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. faithoffathers permalink
    November 23, 2009 4:04 pm

    Stephanie,

    A few points where I believe you are reading into the scriptures things that are not there. And you apparently conclude that the NT contains every detail of the Apostles’ ministry.

    You quote “Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord? (1 Cor. 9:1)

    You assume that the first question is dependent upon those that follow. Why? Would your assumption also not apply to the question “Am I not free?” If so, did the apostles stop being apostles when they were imprisoned?

    There were many Christians who had seen Christ and who were engaged in the “work in the Lord.” Were they also apostles?

    Logic does not necessarily support your conclusion in this verse.

    And did Peter really say that in order to be an apostle, a man must have accompanied them since the baptism of John? No. He is describing the men from whom they were going to appoint a replacement of Judas. You are jumping to conclusions. Why was Paul then appointed?

    Also- you say an apostle was required to have seen the works and miracles of Jesus during his ministry. Again, what about Paul- he clearly did not witness those things. How do you support such a claim.

    Are you familiar with the duties and activities of the modern apostles. Do you know how much of their time is spent travelling the world? I invite you to research this point a bit. They spend very little time at home. I submit that there are few, if any, other groups of men who travel the world more widely and consistently.

    You also conclude that because the NT does not include the actual instruction to appoint and call new apostles that it never happened. You have no proof either way. There are many things that are not in the NT. What do you think Christ taught the Apostles during the forty day period? Such instruction was clearly very important, but is not included in the NT. Why your conclusion?

    As to your last question and point, the BOM explains that the twelve apostles of the Nephites would answer to the “original” twelve apostles who were with Christ in his ministry. The same will be true of all other apostles. It is really not an issue or point of confusion.

    fof

  2. Peter permalink
    November 23, 2009 7:30 pm

    A couple of more comments:

    1. Concerning missionary work; In this age, elders are called and sent all around the world to preach the gospel to the world before the second coming just as Christ said would happen. Isaiah said that God would send many fishers and hunters. “Elder” is a sacred title that refers to the twelve. The elders who are called to preach the gospel have a special calling. They are called to represent the twelve apostles.

    2. Spiritual gifts are everywhere in the church, not just with the twelve apostles. Healings take place every day. We are told that spiritual gifts accompany those who have faith.

  3. Stephanie permalink
    November 24, 2009 1:03 am

    FOF

    You said:
    You quote “Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord? (1 Cor. 9:1)
    You assume that the first question is dependent upon those that follow. Why? Would your assumption also not apply to the question “Am I not free?” If so, did the apostles stop being apostles when they were imprisoned?

    What assumption can we make that the freedom that he is referring to here is physical freedom? This is what commentator Adam Clarke has to say about this passage.

    Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? – These questions are all designed as assertions of the affirmative: I am an apostle; and I am free – possessed of all the rights and privileges of an apostle.

    Have I not seen Jesus Christ – From whom in his personal appearance to me, I have received my apostolic commission. This was judged essentially necessary to constitute an apostle. See Ac 22:14, Ac 22:15; 26:16.

    There were many Christians who had seen Christ and who were engaged in the “work in the Lord.” Were they also apostles?

    Jesus had a very large following but He specifically called twelve men as his disciples. These men were the very closest to Him and it was to them that He gave power to perform signs and wonders. This was a very special gift that provided a credible witness that what the men said was true. Not only did they proclaim the gospel of the risen Christ, they also had the power to heal the sick, cause the blind to see, make the lame to walk. There is a big difference between being involved in the Lord’s work and being an apostle. I’m a follower of Christ but I’m not an apostle.

    You are jumping to conclusions. Why was Paul then appointed?

    Paul was never appointed to the “twelve” but was an apostle to the Gentiles. He had not served with Christ because he was a persecutor–a zealous Pharisee who didn’t convert until he had a personal experience with Jesus.

    Also- you say an apostle was required to have seen the works and miracles of Jesus during his ministry. Again, what about Paul- he clearly did not witness those things. How do you support such a claim.

    Paul was not one of the twelve apostles. He was given special authority to be an apostle to the Gentiles. Luke records this about the selection of a replacement apostle, “Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22).

  4. Stephanie permalink
    November 24, 2009 1:06 am

    Peter

    Welcome! 🙂

    You said:
    Spiritual gifts are everywhere in the church, not just with the twelve apostles. Healings take place every day. We are told that spiritual gifts accompany those who have faith.

    This is a statement that could be said about many churches. I’ve known people who have experienced a miraculous healing. The original twelve were given special authority to perform signs and wonders. Do you have any examples to share of the LDS Quorum of Twelve and their ministry of signs and wonders?

    Stephanie

  5. faithoffathers permalink
    November 24, 2009 3:24 pm

    Stephanie,

    There are tens of thousands of examples of miracles- outright miracles- that have been performed by priesthood holders in the church. I know of literally hundreds that have been performed by the apostles- some on a very personal level.

    I fear that comparing these miracles with those outside the church would become a “my daddy is tougher than your daddy” contest. And I doubt the Lord provides such miracles, in or out of the church, for such a pissing match to result.

    You said “There is a big difference between being involved in the Lord’s work and being an apostle. I’m a follower of Christ but I’m not an apostle.” That was the very point I was trying to make. I was suggesting that the question “Am I not an apostle” was not followed by questions that qualified one for or defined the apostleship? Make sense.

    As for being a witness of the resurrected Christ- I am a witness of the resurrected Christ. Have I seen the resurrected Lord? No. But I am very much a witness of Him and His resurrection. I think you are too probably. So I think you may be seeing lines where there are no lines.

    fof

  6. Stephanie permalink
    November 25, 2009 12:30 am

    FOF

    I fear that comparing these miracles with those outside the church would become a “my daddy is tougher than your daddy” contest. And I doubt the Lord provides such miracles, in or out of the church, for such a pissing match to result.

    I can understand your point of view and I also think it would be a silly comparison to pit one miracle against another. However I also think its really important how we define a miracle. I often think that sometimes we too broadly define this event. For example, a couple who has struggled with infertility for ten years suddenly finds themselves expecting. A miracle! But the woman had lost 100 pounds and had sought fertility treatments- -both plausible explanations for her pregnancy. Or the old lady in church who gets bronchitis and recovers after much prayer and a ten day course of antibiotics. A miracle! A limping elderly man has a total hip replacement and suddenly finds he can walk without a cane. A miracle! A baby is born. The miracle of life! All of these events could be supernatural, but few of them truly are. I’m not discounting the “miracles” that happen every day, but I am saying that there should be certain evidence that God’s supernatural intervention is the only explanation for an unexplainable event.

    There are also false miracles. Benny Hinn’s “faith healing” is a great example. People with a variety of maladies come to him and find themselves cured. Notice that he usually doesn’t provide before-and-after x-rays or lab data. We’re just supposed to “believe” that the person healed really did have back pain, or cancer, or whatever.

    On another note, I receive frequent updates from Gospel for Asia. I send support to native missionaries and their reports are truly encouraging. Interestingly, one of the missionaries that I support is a woman and she has written of the miracles that have occured- -even freedom from demon possession- -among the local people that she ministers to. I do believe that genuine miracles occur in the church today. I personally have witnessed many miracles that could not be explained in any other way but as a supernatural event.

    Dallin Oaks wrote an Ensign article on miracles and explained why little is heard about miracles in the LDS church.

    Most of the miracles we experience are not to be shared. Consistent with the teachings of the scriptures, we hold them sacred and share them only when the Spirit prompts us to do so.

    It may be that miracles are meant to be kept sacred, but the gift of miracles given to the apostles was specifically for the purpose of people seeing! You mention miracles being performed by “priesthood holders” but this is not what the NT talks about. While it is possible for other people (men and women) to have the gift of miracles, the apostles were chosen to perform signs and wonders. Surely those are not to be kept secret! I’m not diminishing the miracles that we see in our lives on a daily basis- -God protecting me from being killed by reckless drivers, God opening the eyes of a sinner to his need for Christ, encounters that leave us encouraged and spiritually fed, etc. But if I experience those events as a member of the apostate church and you experience those from The One True Church how do we know that you have the “restored gospel?’ If the Quorum of Twelve claims to be the leadership of the church patterned after the twelve disciples of Jesus they should be able to produce what Paul called the signs of an apostle.

    That was the very point I was trying to make. I was suggesting that the question “Am I not an apostle” was not followed by questions that qualified one for or defined the apostleship? Make sense.

    Yes, I can understand the point you are making. I would ask you how you would interpret Paul’s meaning if it does not mean that being a apostle meant seeing the risen Christ. From the context, we see that the Corinthian believers had multiple accusations against Paul, one of them was that he couldn’t be an apostle because he hadn’t seen Christ. The apostles were those who saw the Lord. Note the change in definition between the Bible and the D&C on this point.

    Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection (Acts 1:22).

    The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling (D&C 107:23).

    There is a big difference between being a witness of the resurrection and a witness of the name of Christ. My Christian life is a result of His resurrection. I feel the effects of His resurrection–giving me peace and joy through the Holy Spirit. But I am not a witness of that resurrection in the same sense that the apostles were. If this point didn’t matter, why did the apostles specifically choose a person who had been a physical witness and had been with Christ since the beginning?

    Stephanie

    P.S. I will be gone for Thanksgiving and may not be able to respond until next week. I hope you have a wonderful holiday with your family and safe traveling weather if you are traveling! 🙂

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