The word apostle (Greek apostolos) is a common term for someone sent forth or sent out, as an emissary. In the formal Christian sense, it is the title attributed to the Apostles of Jesus Christ. As the Bible says, "And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles" (Luke 6:13, ESV). Probably Galilean Jewish men (10 names are Aramaic, 4 names are Greek) chosen from among the disciples, they were "sent forth" by Jesus to be his special witnesses in spreading the gospel.
"If anyone does not agree with [the apostles' teaching,] he despises the companions of the Lord, he despises Christ the Lord himself, he even despises the Father, and he is self-condemned, resisting and refusing his own salvation, as all the heretics do." - Irenaeus
The twelve Apostles
According to the Gospel of Matthew (10:1-4), the Gospel of Mark (3:13-19), and the Gospel according to Luke (6:12-16), the "twelve" chosen by Jesus near the beginning of his ministry, those "whom he named Apostles", were:
- Simon Peter, also known as Simon bar-Jonah, named Cephas (Aram.) by Jesus, a fisherman from Bethsaida "of Galilee" (John 1:44; cf. John 12:21).
- Andrew, brother of Peter, a Bethsaida fisherman and disciple of John the Baptist.
- John, son of Zebedee, self-identified as the "disciple whom Jesus loved."
- James, together with his brother John called Boanerges (an Aramaic name explained in Mark 3:17 as "Sons of Thunder") by Jesus.
- Philip, from Bethsaida "of Galilee" (John 1:44, John 12:21).
- Bartholomew, in Aramaic "bar-Tolemai" (i.e. "son of Tolemai" or "from Ptolemais"), usually identified with Nathanael.
- Matthew, the tax collector, sometimes identified with Levi, son of Alphaeus.
- Thomas, also known as Judas Thomas Didymus, Aramaic T'oma', "twin", Greek Didymous, "twin".
- James, son of Alphaeus
- Simon, a Canaanite, called in Luke and Acts "Simon the Zealot" .
- Thaddaeus, in some manuscripts of Matthew "Lebbaeus" or "Judas the Zealot" and in Luke Judas, son of James.
- Judas Iscariot, "the traitor"; name Iscariot may refer to the Judaean towns of Kerioth or to the sicarii, Jewish nationalist insurrectionists.
Matthias, Apostle 13?
In Acts 1, Matthias is chosen to replace Judas Iscariot who had committed suicide. Peter calls for the election of a replacement and two men are nominated. Matthias is chosen after casting lots, but is never heard from again in Holy Scripture.
There is some question as to the method of how Matthias was picked. Some have taken his lack of further appearances as proof that the disciples chose him in a wrong manner and that Paul was intended to be the Apostle who recompleted the circle. Others cite the Apostle's prayer in Acts 1:24 as a model for godliness in choosing Office Bearers.
Saul who became Paul
In his writings, Saul, later known as Paul, though not one of the Twelve, described himself as an apostle, one "untimely born" (e.g. Romans 1:1 and other letters), claimed he was appointed by the resurrected Jesus himself during his road to Damascus vision; specifically he referred to himself as the Apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 11:13).
Since Paul claimed to have received the Gospel through a revelation of Jesus Christ (cf. Gal 1:12; Acts 9:3-19, 26-27) after Christ's death and resurrection (rather than knowing Christ before his resurrection like the Twelve had), he was often obliged to defend his apostolic authority and proclaim that he had seen and was anointed by Jesus while on the road to Damascus; but James, Peter and John in Jerusalem accepted his apostleship to the Gentiles as of equal authority as Peter's ministry to the Jews according to Paul ( Galatians 2:7-9).
The Office of the Apostle
There has been a move to diffentiate what some call 'The Office of the Apostle' and apostlic leadership. The reasoning for this is found in Ephesians 4:11 where Paul lists five "leadership styles," and of those one is being an apostle. The category includes all those Jesus named along with those who saw the risen Christ and wrote scripture. Some see Acts 13:2 as effectively naming Barnabas as an Apostle other than the twelve.
- ? Selections from the Work Against Heresies by Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons: "The Refutation and Overthrow of the Knowledge Falsely So Called"