Apostolos (Greek for apostle) is a compound word made up of apo, from, and stello, to send; hence, one sent forth (W.E. Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). Apostle is used officially to denote the twelve (fourteen in all) and unofficially to simply designate one who was commissioned or sent forth (Matt. 10: 2; Heb. 3: 1).
The twelve apostles. Any serious study of Christianity necessarily involves a study of the apostles (more later). The twelve apostles are named in such passages as: Matthew 10: 2-4; Mark 3: 16-19; Luke 6: 14-16, and Acts 1: 13. You will observe that the lists of the apostles are grouped by fours into three groups. Peter heads all the lists and Judas Iscariot is last in the Gospel lists. Philip heads the list of the second group in all four of the lists, and James of Alphaeus heads the list of the last group in all four of the lists. Matthias (replacement for Judas who fell) was apostle number thirteen and Paul number fourteen (Acts 1: 15-26; Gal. 1: 1, I Cor. 15; 8 ff).
It is evident that there were differences in age, leadership ability, and cultural background (there was no Pope among them). Peter himself was married (as were most of the apostles, I Cor. 9: 5). Peter accepted no special recognition and had to be rebuked by Paul because he sinned (Acts 10: 25, 26; Gal. 2: 11-14).
Qualifications for being an apostle. The qualification is stated in Acts 1: 21, 22. A man in order to be an apostle had to "companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us" and " be a witness with us of his resurrection." Hence, there are no apostles today. Paul was "one born out of due time" (I Cor. 15: 8). However, Paul had seen the resurrected Lord (Acts 26: 14-18). There were miraculous signs characteristic of an apostles that evidenced their apostleship (2 Cor. 12: 11, 12).
The apostles had miraculous power. The apostles possessed miraculous ability as early as the Limited Commission (Matt. 10: 8). They manifestly possessed inspiration and infallibility in their teaching (Matt. 10: 19). However, they were later endowed with greater ability when they were baptized in the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14: 17, notice par umin ,with you; and en umin ,shall be in you, cp. Acts 1: 5-8). The apostles appeared to have possessed all nine gifts of the Spirit and could also impart miracle working ability to others (I Cor. 12: 7-10; Acts 6: 5-8, 8: 13-18). Thus, with the death of the apostles the imparting of miracle working ability ceased (see also I Cor. 13: 8-10). Until Acts 6, only the apostles are said to have performed miracles (Acts 2: 43, 3:6-10, 4: 16, 33, 5: 12).
The apostles were important to the infant church. During the initial stage of the Lord's church, the word was in "earthen vessels" (the apostles, 2 Cor. 4: 5-8, I Cor. 14: 37). The truth (all the truth) was to be revealed through the apostles (Jn. 14 - 16). Beginning in Acts 2, the apostles inerrantly articulated the truths of God as the Spirit provided the very words (I Cor. 2: 13). Hence, Paul said "Built upon the foundation of the apostles " (Eph. 2: 20). The church today continues to be built on the same foundation, as we subject to Jesus' headship and abide in the apostle's doctrine (Eph. 1: 22, 23; Acts 2: 42, 2 Jn. 9-11).
The apostles not only provided the truth and scriptures for the early church, but they challenged and refuted all extant error (Acts 15, Phil. 1: 7, 17). The apostles organized local churches by appointing elders to oversee them (Acts 14: 23, Tit. 1: 5 ff, Phili. 1: 1).
The apostles were exemplars for First Century Christians and Christians today (Phili. 4: 9). The apostles especially serve as examples for preachers (cp. 2 Tim. 1: 13). Preachers today cannot raise the dead and do some of the other works peculiar to the apostolic function, but they can present the same word, challenge error, and commit the same word to faithful men who will teach others (Acts 20: 9 ff; 2 Tim. 2: 1, 2).
The apostle's conduct was not infallible. While the teaching and writings of the apostles were inspired and infallible, their conduct or manner of life was not. The apostles as men were often wrong and had to be rebuked by Jesus, especially in the beginning (Matt. 18: 1-3). The apostles exhibited weakness when they all forsook Jesus when he was crucified (Matt. 26: 56). Peter had to be publicly rebuked because of his sin (Gal. 2: 11-14). In the First Century, as well as today, there were "false apostles" (2 Cor. 11: 12, 13-15). By a simple test, however, false apostles can be exposed (Rev. 2: 2).
Some additional facts concerning the apostles. Peter appears to be the older and is always mentioned first. John's gospel focuses on Andrew more than the other apostles. James and John were cousins of Jesus and known for their animated dispositions (Mk. 15: 40, Matt. 27: 56, Jn. 19: 25; Mk. 3: 17). James, John, and Peter had been partners in a commercial fishing business (Lk. 5: 10). Peter and John (believed to have been the youngest) appear especially close during the early stages of their work (Acts 4, 5). Peter, James, and John constituted the "inner circle" (Matt. 17: 1-8). John was especially loved by Jesus (Jn. 13: 22 ff). James (John's brother) was the first martyr among the apostles (Acts 12: 2, ca. 44 AD). James/John and Peter/Andrew were brothers (Mk. 3: 17; Matt. 4: 18). There are those who believe that James the less and Matthew were also brothers (Matt. 10: 3, Mk. 2: 14). Thomas was a twin (Jn. 11: 16). There appear to be two apostles by the name of Judas, Judas Iscariot and Thaddaeus (Lk. 6: 16, some believe Thaddaeus was also named Judas, based on this verse and some other comparative deductions). Peter appears to have been the most prolific among the apostles during the first 12 years of Christianity and Paul during the next 17 years (based on Acts 2-13 and 14-28). Paul "labored more abundantly than they all" (I Cor. 15: 10).
Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, committed suicide (Matt. 27: 5, 10: 4). Tradition tells us that all but one of the apostles experienced a violent death because of their convictions. Peter reportedly was crucified in 67 AD when he was 75 years old (all references are to Fox's Book of Martyrs), Andrew was also crucified, Philip was reported to have been beaten and crucified in AD 54, Bartholomew was said to have been also beaten and crucified, Thomas was thrust through with a sword, and Matthew was martyred in AD 60. History tells us James the less was stoned and beaten to death with a fuller's club when he was 39, Thaddaeus was crucified in AD 72, and Simon the Canaanite in AD 74. John reportedly lived a long life and died of old age. While the history of the deaths of the apostles is not infallible, Jesus did indicate his apostles would experience unnatural and violet ends to their lives (Matt. 10: 22, 23, Jn. 16: 2). They were intensely hated simply because they taught the truth and would not tolerate error (cp. Jn. 8: 45, 15: 18).
The apostles were instruments through whom God worked to reveal the soul saving gospel and to establish his Kingdom. They were fisherman (Lk. 5: 10), some appeared to have been disciples of John the Baptist (Jn. 1: 35-41), one was a Zealot (Lk. 6: 15), and one had been a tax collector (Matt. 10: 3). Compared to the orators of the day, many of these men were "unlearned and ignorant" (Acts 4: 13). However, these men played a major part in the launching of the greatest, most humanly important movement this world has ever know, Christianity. In view of the role of the apostles, it is no wonder "And God hath set some in the church, first apostles " (I Cor. 12: 28). We continue to benefit from the great work the apostles accomplished in receiving and revealing God's eternal truth that can set us free (Jn. 8: 32).