By Jon QuinnTerrace
As the Christian seeks to bring the lost to Jesus, he will always be confronted with abuses, misuses and misunderstandings of Scripture which so characterize the mass of society today. One area where such a misunderstanding is readily seen is the utter lack of regard for the teachings of the apostles in their epistles. In the denominational world today it seems that the apostles’ teaching has become merely “Paul’s opinion” or “Peter’s point of view” or “John’s idea”-no longer authoritative today, but just a convenient way to do things in the first century. Consequently, Paul, for example, has been labeled a “male chauvinist” by some because in several of his writings they contend he downgrades the place of woman. And I have heard Peter accused of being overly influenced by the Jewish practice of immersing proselytes. This caused him to demand the penitent believers to be baptized on the day of Pentecost. The fact is that the men who wrote the New Testament were recording more than the foolish, fallible viewpoints of men and their instructions are as authoritative as the instructions spoken directly by the Lord and printed in red in some Bibles.
Jesus foresaw the writing of the New Testament during His life on earth. In fact, not only did He foresee it, but also intended it. He deliberately made provision for it by appointing, teaching, authorizing and guiding the men who wrote it. The term “apostle” is the word Jesus used to apply to the twelve men selected by Him from among all His disciples. They were chosen for a specific work (Lk. 6:12-16). Mark adds that He “sent them out to preach” (Mk. 3:14). The verb, apostella means “to send.” The mission on which the apostles were sent was essentially a teaching and preaching mission. Of course, on a few occasions, the noun apostolos is used to apply to someone other than the chosen apostles of the Lord (Acts 8:23; 14:14) but nevertheless, its use almost universally applies to the “chosen twelve.”
The word apostolos seems to be the Greek equivalent to the Aramaic shaliach which means “the one who is sent as he who sent,” that is, the apostles’ authority was not their own, but instead they carried the authority of Christ in their teachings-that even “their” teachings were not in reality their own but rather the teachings of Christ. It is this point the Lord makes when he instructs His apostles, “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives Him who sent me” (Matt. 10:40; Jn. 13:20).
The apostles, then, were a unique group among the disciples. They were unique in that the Lord had personally selected them for a specific task; they were unique in that they were personally with Jesus and had witnessed the things concerning which they wrote; and they were unique in that they were directly inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Personal Selection and Commission
No apostle was self-appointed, nor was he selected by another man, group of men or even congregations. All were personally chosen by Jesus Christ. They were chosen by Jesus from among many disciples (Lk. 6:13). When the apostles sought for a disciple to take Judas’ place, even they dared not make the choice for themselves, but depended on the Lord to make the decision, and thus Matthias became an apostle (Acts 1:21-26). The qualifications to be met by a disciple in order to become-an apostle are given here: that he must have accompanied Jesus and witnessed His resurrection. When Jesus chose Paul to be an apostle, He appeared unto Him that he, too, might be literally an eyewitness to His resurrection (Acts 9:3-7; 1 Cor. 9:1; 15:4-9).
Jesus called His apostles for two reasons: (1) that they might be with Him and (2) that they might be sent out to preach (Mk. 3:14). These two reasons go together because much of the preaching that the apostles would be engaged in would be giving their eye-witness account concerning their experiences with Jesus. Jesus said to them, “You are my witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning” (Jn. 15:27; cf. Acts 1:22). This historical experience was necessary, and was kept in mind at the time Matthias was chosen to take the place of Judas. Paul was the exception to the rule and yet even Paul was granted a post-resurrection appearance of Christ that he also might be able to give his own eye-witness account concerning his own historical experience with Christ (Gal. 1:1; 1 Cor. 15:4-9). Nevertheless, Paul recognized that his eye-witness account was unique among the apostles-“as a child untimely born.”
While it is true that in one sense the Holy Spirit dwells in all Christians, the apostles were promised something more to aid them in their unique work of preaching and confirming the word of God. This was to insure that mankind would indeed receive the perfect and true will of God untarnished by human opinions, ideas and mistakes. Jesus promised the apostles the “keys of the kingdom” and “whatever you shall bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19, NASB). During the last week before Jesus’ death, He prepared His apostles for what was about to take place. He promised to send them the Comforter after He left who would teach them all things and bring to their remembrance all things that He had taught them (Jn. 14:25-26; 16:12-13). Jesus was providing that after His ascension, His apostles would continue the mission He began, and that they would not need to rely on their own fallible memories, opinions and ideas, but they would be guided to instruct others perfectly in the way of God that His word would be preserved forever. After His death and resurrection and just before He was lifted up into the clouds, Jesus again assured the apostles that the promise of the Comforter would be realized “not many days hence” (Acts 1:1-8).
This baptism of the Holy Spirit indeed became a reality on the day of Pentecost, just fifty-three days after Jesus had died for the sins of the world; it was with this special inspiration that the world was (and is) assured of receiving the pure word of God. His word was delivered to the world in the writing of the Gospels (in which the Holy Spirit guided the writers through giving them a perfect remembrance of the things that they had been taught personally by Christ) and in the writing of the epistles (in which the Holy Spirit supplemented the teachings of Christ).
So we see that Jesus purposefully prepared for the writing of the New Testament and that it was entirely written by inspired apostles or by those inspired men that were companions of the apostles (e.g., Luke, Mark). It was because of this inspiration that Paul was able to state that the message he taught was indeed “the word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13). And Peter could assure the Christians to which he wrote that the word they had obeyed was indeed God’s pure word which would never pass away (1 Pet. 1:22-25).
As we seek to teach God’s word to those about us, we might be wasting our time quoting Acts 2:38 or 22:16 et al. unless we first establish that the apostles’ words meant something, that they are more than mere opinion which we may take or leave. We need to establish that we reject Christ when we reject the apostles’ teachings. People who take only what Jesus directly instructed as He ministered in Palestine undermine all the preparation that He made in readying and teaching His apostles and deny that Jesus ever made good His promise to send the Holy Spirit which would guide the apostles “into all truth.” To reject any instructions for Christians simply because they are “only Paul’s opinions” is to reject Jesus Christ (Lk. 10:16). We do well to point people to the commands, examples and necessary inferences in the New Testament epistles, but we would do better to establish first that these epistles have authority for us today. “He that heareth you heareth me; and he that rejecteth you rejecteth me; and he that rejecteth me rejecteth Him who sent me” (Lk. 10:16).
Truth Magazine XXII: 13, pp. 218-220
March 30, 1978