The old but still widely-held understanding of the term “apostle” restricts this ministry to a few persons in the first century. As the twelve plus Paul were appointed by the risen Christ as uniquely authoritative teachers and evangelists, they are not models for others to follow-except in the broadest sense. The new and more accurate understanding, on the other hand, allows the Bible to speak more directly and much more applicably to the contemporary situation.
It is true that the twelve held a unique, one-for-all role as the authenticating witnesses of the Word which brought the post- Pentecost Church into existence but the Gospels also showed that the twelve were first and foremost-as far as Jesus was concerned in his lifetime-disciples.
They were his closest companions whom he taught and trained and who formed the nucleus of the first community in which Jesus was Lord. The twelve therefore are not to be seen simply as an interesting group who belong to the past but rather as a model for discipleship and church membership for all time. Though dead, they still speak. The Gospel writers record the numerous stories about the disciples, not as historians with a rove for the past, but as evangelists who wanted the past to speak contemporaneously.
They wanted men and women who read what they had written to hear afresh the call to become a disciple and to see in the disciples something of what discipleship will always mean. Paul was the last to have seen the risen Jesus (1 Cor. 15:8) and he was personally commissioned for a specific task (Acts 9:15, 22:21; Gal. 16). But as we have seen, Paul gladly called others by the title “apostle.” Some of those mentioned-or all of them-had not seen the risen Christ.
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