Currently, I’m dealing with objections that are usually brought forward against the notion that Jesus continues to gift people as apostles in the present day. I have posted two articles thus far: here and here.
In my last post, I specifically dealt with the claim that all apostles were hand-picked by Jesus himself. Not that he had to physically tap them on the shoulder (though, noting Jewish culture, I would not be surprised if he touched each of them in selecting them), but that apostles had to be physically selected by Jesus while he was on earth. I think this is mainly a misunderstanding of passages like Acts 1:1-3.
Again, I believe all apostles are hand-selected by Christ – the twelve, Paul, other New Testament apostles and present-day apostles. There is no doubt, since he is the one who gifts with these ministries (see Ephesians 4:7-16). But such people as Barnabas, Apollos, Silas, Timothy, as well as those throughout the centuries who have functioned in such a ministry, might have never had a physical, post-resurrection appearance and selecting by Jesus. But Jesus keeps gifting these people to complete the apostolic work he began. But you can read more in the previous article.
This argument is actually connected to a much larger argument against apostles today: all apostles received a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus Christ. This is mainly built around these words of Peter, which precede the choice of Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot:
21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us – one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection. (Acts 1:21-22)
In the context, Peter has had a revelation that it would be good and right to find a replacement for Judas. His understanding had come from either a reading or spontaneous revelation around the passage Psalm 109:8 – ‘Let another take his office.’
It does not say this specifically within the text, but such a replacement is probably seen as important to completing the circle of the twelve. The group of the ‘twelve apostles of the Lamb’ (Revelation 21:14) stood as a declaration that Messiah had initiated a restoration of Israel. So the circle of twelve was important in launching the reality of the gospel and what Christ had done.
Again, it is this Scripture in Acts 1 that is seen as holding one of the, if not the, main qualification for being an apostle. Such a claim is also connected with Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:3-9, and we will look at those in just a moment. But let’s, first, examine the text in Acts.
The end of vs22 states, ‘one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection’. As with other passages, I also believe this is misunderstood. If we read the words carefully, I think it is quite easy to see that Peter is simply making a declaration of what the twelve were going to be doing. There were going to be testifying to the fact that their Lord had risen from the dead.
Read the words carefully – ‘one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection’.
You see, when Peter had said these words, the post-resurrection appearances over the 40-days before the ascension (see Acts 1:1-3) would have already happened. And these words are pointing to a future event, namely that they would become witnesses of the resurrection, telling others about it. And, with their faithfulness with such a task, all those who respond to the gospel would be doing the same thing, even down to this day.
Thus, I believe that Acts 1:21-22 does not state that apostles must have had a post-resurrection appearance of Christ. If that is a requirement for apostolic ministry, we must quote another verse. But we cannot quote Acts 1 for this.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (1 Corinthians 15:3-9)
The claim is that, in this passage, we find more support that all apostles were ones who personally saw Christ after His resurrection. This is heightened by Paul’s words in vs8 about the appearance of Christ to himself on the Damascus road.
With the phrase, ‘Last of all,’ many claim that this proves that Paul would be the final apostle, since he was the last one to receive an appearance from Christ.
First of all, we must note that the major point of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-9 is to give an apologetic for Christ’s resurrection, especially considering vs3-4. He is giving reasonable evidence for the resurrection of Jesus – He appeared to over 500 people, and some saw Him more than once! That’s the main thesis.
Even more, though we could quibble over whether or not people like Apollos, Silas, Timothy, Titus and others were apostles (though I believe they are), we cannot do so with Barnabas. He is undoubtedly an apostle, as it is stated in Acts 14:14, as well as noting some kind of co-apostolic commission with Paul in Acts 13:1-4.
These things are important to remember because, amazingly, nowhere in all of Scripture are we specifically told that Barnabas saw Christ in a post-resurrection appearance. Now, it is true that Barnabas could have been one of those 500 spoken of in 1 Corinthians 15:6. But we don’t know.
If a post-resurrection appearance of Christ was the major qualification for being an apostle, as most will claim, we are left wondering about Barnabas.
Yet, worth noting is that, in the Corinthians passage, Paul is sharing all of these post-resurrection appearances in what seems like an orderly fashion. Christ appeared to Peter, then the twelve, then 500, then… And before appearing to Paul, we read that Christ appeared to James and then to all of the apostles (vs7).
Now, some will be quick to point out that this would have included Barnabas, because he was an apostle. But, let’s think some things through here. It seems most likely that all of these appearances Paul is referring to (albeit his own) seem to have happened in that 40-day period before Christ ascended to the Father (see Acts 1:1-3 again). Then, quite a few years later, we read of Paul’s exceptional experience on the road to Damascus.
Could Barnabas have been in that group of 500 that received an appearance or that group of all of the apostles? Sure. Barnabas was an apostle and it says Jesus, then, appeared to all of the apostles. I’m ok with this. I really am.
Ah, so my case falls, right?
Well, I don’t believe so. And this is why?
1) We’ve misunderstand Acts 1:21-22. Again, it is not stating that apostles must have received a post-resurrection appearance of Christ. That is not the meaning of the passage at all. Peter was telling them what they would be doing – testifying to the resurrection of the Lord.
2) If Acts 1:21-22 does not say what we originally thought it said, then we have to re-consider the implications of 1 Corinthians 15:3-9. And if we read 1 Corinthians 15:3-9 again, it never ever claims that apostles must have seen Christ post-resurrection. It might implicate that they all have as we consider vs7. But it does not state that they must. Such a claim comes from a misreading of the Acts passage and such has been debunked already.
3) Finally, I pointed out that hundreds of people saw the resurrected Christ. Even the other guy put side-by-side with Matthias (his name was Joseph Barsabbas) seems to have had the same qualifications. Why not give him such an apostolic ministry as the twelve or Paul or Barnabas or James or the others? Because it has to specifically do with calling and gifting by the risen Christ, not who saw him.
So, what was Paul getting at in his statement in 1 Corinthians 15:8 about Christ’s appearance to himself? You know, he said, ‘Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.’
I believe he was pointing out that the other apostles (the twelve, James, etc.), as well as the other 500 people to whom Christ appeared, had all seen Christ during that 40-day period before His ascension. But, as for Paul, he did not receive his own appearance of Christ until some 4 or 5 years later. There was a little time difference there. Consequently, this is why he says he was one ‘untimely born’.
Now, I do understand that we might say that Paul was the ‘last of all’ to receive an appearance of such an exceptional nature. Though some, by the active Spirit of God, have had visions of the resurrected Christ (as Acts 2:17-18 states God’s people could have such visions), we might be able to conclude that none have had such an appearance as the twelve, Paul, James and the other 500 – a literal, physical appearance.
But, even with this, I would encourage us to steer clear of being dogmatic. He is Lord, not us. I wouldn’t put it out of Jesus’ ability to physically appear to someone. Still, I am sure some would not be too open to this, and such is fine.
So I would conclude that having a post-resurrection appearance of Christ is not necessarily a hard-nosed requirement for an apostolic calling. As with most cases, it usually comes down to a misunderstanding or misreading of the text. And I believe this is what has happened with Acts 1:21-22, which has set us into a tailspin with understanding passages like 1 Corinthians 15:3-9.
I continually turn back to the important passage of Ephesians 4:11-16 which states that we need all five of those giftings until we reach unity and maturity as a body. We are not quite there yet. And, so, we are called, in the power of the Spirit, to continue the work that Christ started. He will continue to gift apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers until we complete that to which he has called us.