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Posted by John D. Kennington on 2005-03-28 22:56:33

WHAT DO WE MEAN BY AN “APOSTLE”?

 Does this word always mean the same thing? Do words possess a constant meaning or definition? Is there a difference between a technical definition of a word and the way it would be used in every day language? Some differences on this subject are resolved by observing the different and legitimate ways the word is used in the N.T. The scope of this study is limited to Scriptures usage.

Have you ever worked with an Oxford English Dictionary to study the evolution of word meanings? If so, you will understand that language is not static. At the same time we need to limit ourselves to linguistic development within Bible times, particularly is this so since classical Greek is often quite different from N.T. Greek (koine).

One thing we observe, cults frequently use biblical words but change their definitions as they introduce unorthodox teachings. Sometimes teachers, other than cultists, also “muddy the stream” of discussion by doing the same.

USAGE DETERMINES DEFINTIONS. We have a very valuable resource in our Bibles since it provides us with multiple situations in which words are used, thus providing us with a very valuable “dictionary” by which we may study the meaning of words in the Bible. Thus, the Bible, in many ways, is its own dictionary.

THE ETYMOLOGY OF THE WORD “APOSTLE”: (Etymology as defined in an English dictionary means the history of changes in the meaning of words.)

To do our study of the word APOSTLE I have selected Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, which surveys the contemporary secular usage of the word, summarizes the Hebrew equivalent in the O.T. (as translated into Greek Septuagint O.T.), and its usage in our Greek New Testament. (We will use anglicized spellings so it will be plain to the English reader, and in doing so we will usually follow Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words.

Including some other sources: Apostle – apostolos, a contraction of apo (from) and stello (to send). This word occurs over 700 times in the Septuagint O.T., and 60 times in the N.T. Another form of this word could be translated apostolate (Leon Morris, and is used of the apostolate of the circumcision in Galatians 2:8) Apostello, the verb, meaning to send occurs over 100 times in the N.T. A related word sometimes used interchangeably and translated “to send” is pipto or pempo, and it occurs just over 80 times. The reason these numbers are mentioned is that these are the places, which must be compared to determine accurate definitions. (These present varying contexts are essential to concluding what is an accurate and workable definition.)

APOSTLE AND ITS SYNONYMS

 In the secular world: (p. 398-400 Kittel)

     “…The fact of sending, as in takes place from a specific and unique standpoint”

     “unites … the sender either the person or object sent” “one who is divinely sent”

     “a technical term for one divinely sent”

     “a divine authorization”

 In the LXX and Judaism (p. 400-403)

     “In the LXX occurs more than 700 times”

     “predominantly used where it is a matter of commissioning with a message or a task”

     “is a technical term for the sending of a messenger with a special task”

     “The emphasis rests on the fact of sending, not on the one who is sent”

     “(Isa. 6) someone whom he (God) sends as His plenipotentiary (full power), …expressed in Isaiah’s brief declaration of readiness”

In the N.T (403 – 406)

  Apostello and pempto

     “Outside of the Gospels and Acts it is found only 12 times”

     “Pempein is the normal word throughout Luke is “normal word of ‘to send’ in Luke.
     specific usage (of) apostellein and pempein seems to use the words as synonyms.”

     “At any rate we can say in general that when pempein is used in the NT the
     emphasis is on the sending, whereas when apostellein is used it rests on the
     commission linked to it, no matter whether the one who sends or the one
     who is sent claims prior interest”

     “a special position is obviously occupied by John’s Gospel. Here apostellein
     seems to be used indiscriminately with pempein. Thus to denote His full
     authority both to the Jews and the disciples.”

     “Jesus uses apostellein, since He thereby shows that behind His words and
     thereby stand God and not merely his own pretension.”

     “Jesus uses pempeinin speaking of His sending by God”

     “This usage is wholly restricted to God, being sometimes amplified to
     O pempas me pater.” (There is one exception in John’s Gospel and that is of the
     sending of John the Baptist to baptize in water.)

Some relevant references in Judaism (p. 413 – 420)

     “The term is legal rather than religions”

     “None can be sent but one who is under orders. Thus with the commission
     goes the responsibility for the one who receives it.”

     “the one sent by a man is as the man himself”

     “it must be emphasized most strongly that Jewish missionaries of whom
     there are quite a number in the time of Jesus, are never called apostles”

     “in offering sacrifices the priest was the commissioned minister of God and
     not of the Jewish community.”

     “The one authoritatively commissioned is as the one who commissions him.”

     “Moses, Elijah, Elisha and Ezekiel are called sent of God because there took
     place through them things normally reserved for God.”

     “These four were distinguished by the miracles which God empowered them
     to perform and which He normally reserved for Himself.”

     “If we take missionaries and prophets together, we are forced to the view
     that the term was avoided in these cases because, although they speak
     about God and in the name of God, they are not His representatives in so
     far as they perform no action.”

 The use of apostolos in the N.T. (p. 420 – 424)

     “There are 79 fully attested occurrences.”

     “There is no trace of the common use of apostolos outside of the N.T.”

     “In the N.T. apostolos never means the act of sending… It always denotes
     a man who is sent and sent with full authority.”

     “Finally, apostoloi is a comprehensive term for ‘bearers of the N.T. message.”

     “Yet the name is also applied to the first Christian missionaries” (Acts 14:14),
     or their most prominent representatives, including some who did not belong
     even to the wider groups of disciples.”

     “In this connection we have side by side both sending by a congregation (e.g.
     Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13:2), and the more precise description of
     Apostolos’ of Jesus Christ in the Pauline salutations.”

(This brings us to JESUS CHRIST THE APOSTLE AND HIGH PRIEST OF OUR CONFESSION (Heb. 3) which will be the subject of our next posting.)

John D. Kennington, Coordinator

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Apostles Past and Present by John D. Kennington posted 2005-03-28