The Work of the Spirit | pt. 9

Fallible Apostles

Fallible apostles exist and are gifted men of God. Many church planters, for example, may have the gifts of an apostle but they do not have authority over others even while they may have much influence. This is because whereas the gift of the apostle continues the office does not.[1]

Sometimes cessationists make the argument that all continuationists believe that at least the gift of the apostle has ceased.[2] I disagree with that caricature; I believe the office of Apostle has ceased.[3] There were other apostles in the New Testament, apparently, they were gifted, and that type of apostle is still around. Obviously, no one else fits the requirement of an Apostle and thus no one should hold the office of an Apostle but that does not, therefore, mean that there are none with the grace gift of an apostle.

As we saw above, MacArthur has tried to show that the rule of apostle has ceased and so then that means that the gifts have ceased. MacArthur does not, however, succeed at what he set out to accomplish. After all, Stephan, for example, was not an Apostle and yet he performed great signs and wonders (Acts 6:8 and perhaps Timothy cf. 1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6; 1 Thess 5:19-23; cf. Acts 8:6–7; 9:17–19; 10:44–46; 11:27-30; 19:6–7; 21:9-11).[4] So even if there are no more Apostles that does not mean that there are not still miraculous gifts. However, I do believe there are still apostles (I am not referring to the capital “A” Apostles here, I do believe they have ceased. No one today can meet their qualifications[5]).

But, the role of apostle still continues.[6] Ephesians tells us that Jesus “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:11-13). We have these five types of leaders (i.e. apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers) for how long? Paul says, essentially, until perfection (this sounds similar to 1 Cor 13:10), until “the fullness of Christ.” Further, there is no reason to think that we get to keep three of the five types of leaders and lose two (i.e. the apostles and prophets).

When we take these verses into consideration, there is no reason to think that just because the Apostles were the foundation of the church (Eph 2:20) that that means that there are no longer those today that can at times, according to the will of God, perform miraculous signs. Regarding Ephesians 4, Markus Barth rightly points out that it “does not contain the faintest hint that the charismatic character of all church ministries was restricted to a certain history and was later to die out.”[7] In fact, he says, “Ephesians distinctly presupposes that living apostles and prophets are essential to the church’s life.”[8]

There are many examples of charismatic leaders in the New Testament besides the Apostles. There are examples of those who fall into a more extended category of apostle. This includes Barnabas (Acts 14:4; 1 Cor 9:6), Andronicus, and Junia(s) (Rom 16:7). There were likely many more.[9] 

Some believe that 2 Corinthians 12:12 demonstrates the cessationist point. It says “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.” They basically say that the Apostolic signs were miraculous and since the Apostles are not around anymore then neither are their miracles.[10] However, we have already seen that there were various non-Apostolic people in the New Testament that performed miraculous signs. For instance, we looked at Stephan but we could also look at his associate Philip the evangelist (Acts 6:5; 8:4-8; 21:8 cf. 1 Cor 12-14; Gal 3:5). There are also examples that we could look at that are not from the book of Acts (see 1 Cor. 12—14; Gal 3:5; Jas 5:15).

In summary of this point, I believe there are still people with the gift of an apostle.[11] I believe one of them goes to my church. He planted multiple churches in a previously unreached tribal group. He is a sent one that has been gifted with the necessary abilities to do the work the Lord called him to do and I am very grateful for God’s empowerment on his life and for the hundreds that have been reached through his labor.[12]


[1] Fee points out that Paul’s “apostleship is received ‘from Christ’ (Rom 1:4-5) and ‘by the will of God’ (1 Cor 1:1); it is never suggested to be a ‘charism’ of the Holy Spirit, as though the Spirit gifted people for this ‘office’” (Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 192). Paul does say, however, that Jesus gave apostles to the church (Eph 4:11). I believe what Paul was referring to in Ephesians was not just those who hold the office of apostle such as Paul himself but those who are called and gifted to be “sent ones” (i.e. apostles).

[2] See e.g. Schreiner, Spiritual Gifts, loc. 1653.

[3] Yet it should be realized that all cessationists are continuationists when it comes to most of the grace gifts. It is false for one to say they do not believe in spiritual gifts or that they continue. Of course they continue! Or many of them! It is thus a categorical mistake to say that the gifts have ceased. Also, regarding the “office” of apostles. Storms correctly says, “Spiritual gifts are not offices. The term ‘office’ is not strictly a biblical one” (The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts, 24).

[4] “Some argue that only apostles performed signs and wonders, or exercised so-called miraculous gifts. But the New Testament says otherwise. Aside from the apostles, other average Christians who exercised miraculous gifts included 70 followers of Jesus who cast out demons (see Luke 10:9,19-20); at least 109 people among the 120 who were gathered in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, as well as Stephen—a deacon (see Acts 6–7); Philip (see Acts 8); and Ananias—an average layperson (see Acts 9). Church members in Antioch heard God’s voice and prophesied (see Acts 13:1). Followers of John the Baptist in Ephesus (see Acts 19:6) prophesied and spoke in tongues; four young, single women at Caesarea were prophetesses (see Acts 21:8-9); unnamed brethren of Galatia performed miracles (see Gal. 3:5); believers in Rome, Corinth and Thessalonica prophesied (see Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12–14; 1 Thess. 5:19-20) (Storms, The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts, 22-23).

[5] MacArthur rightly says that “The New Testament articulates at least three necessary criteria: (1) an apostle had to be a physical eyewitness of the resurrected Christ (Acts 1:22; 10:39-41; 1 Cor. 9:1; 15;7-8); (2) an apostle had to be personally appointed by the Lord Jesus Christ (Mark 3:14; Luke 6:13; Acts 1:2, 24; 10:41; Gal. 1:1); and (3) an apostle had to be able to authenticate his apostolic appointment with miraculous signs (Matt. 10:1-2; Acts 1:5-8; 2:43; 4:33; 5:12; 8:14; 2 Cor. 12:12; Heb. 2:3-4) (Ibid.92). “It is important to be exceedingly clear that no one today possesses the same level of authority as the Twelve or Paul” (Arnold, ”Ephesians,” 259). I do, however, think as Andrew Wilson shows that some people’s neat approach that makes a clean and clearly delineated contrast between Apostles and apostles is “somewhat less straightforward” (see “Apostle Apollos?” in JETS 56/2 (2013) 325-35).

[6] “Beyond the Twelve and Paul, there appear to have been apostles who functioned in a foundational rule in every church. Paul lists them as the first in the list of gifts in 1 Cor 12:28. Similarly, he uses the term ‘apostles’ in his list of gifts people God was giving the church (Eph 4:11). That list presupposes that God was still giving apostles and prophets to the churches in Ephesus and western and Asia Minor. This would suggest that Paul is also using the word in the broader sense of those who have been called by God to establish churches wherever he calls them. This usage is then similar to the way Luke uses the term of Barnabas (see Acts 14:14), who was not one of the Twelve but had an important role alongside Paul in planting churches” (Clinton E. Arnold, “Ephesians” in Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 170).

[7] Barth, Ephesians, 2:437.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Arnold, “Ephesians,” 257.

[10] However, “The majority of commentators understand “signs of a true apostle” to have a much broader meaning, including the qualities of Paul’s life and the character and results of his ministry” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 363n18).

[11] “The word [apostle] in a less technical sense may represent pioneer missionaries, where those who are sent don’t have the same authority as the apostles mentioned above” (Schreiner, Spiritual Gifts, location 330, ch. 2). “Others in the New Testament designated ‘apostles’ seem to have been messengers of the churches rather than eye-witnesses of risen Christ” (Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, 210). “Paul does not use the term exclusively in a tightly defined or technical sense” (Carson, Showing the Spirit, 88).

[12] I believe this brother has the gift of an apostle as a “sent one.” He was given to the church “to equip the saints” and build “up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11-12). The tribal group that he reached were built on the foundation of the Apostles (Paul, Peter, etc.) and their confession but my friend served as an apostle to them with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone (Eph 2:19-20). The foundation that no one else can lay is Christ (1 Cor 3:11) but that does not mean that no one can build on that foundation. If anything, we are called to build on the foundation (v. 10b). Paul’s ambition was to preach the gospel, not where Christ had already been named, lest he build on someone else’s foundation (Rom 15:20). My friend, in that sense, did not build on someone else’s foundation.

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About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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