Embraced  by  Truth . . .
                                    reflections on theology and life

Theology > Church > Church Government > Foundation of the Apostles and Prophets


In one sense all of the followers of Christ are equal with no distinction in their position; all are in Christ and have a standing of acceptance before the Father. For each individual sin has been forgiven and reconciliation with God has been effected, therefore, there is no fear of the future. There is a mutual and collective expectation of glorification and union with the Lord for all eternity.

In another sense the followers of Christ have varying responsibilities within the body of Christ; all are not the hand and all do not form the foot. Beneath the Head there is order, and the order is not complex but simple and practical. It is spiritual and is revealed in the Scriptures. After the Head we find: Apostles and Prophets; Elders/Bishops/Pastors; Deacons; and the individual Believers.

According to the Scriptures the Church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,” with Christ Himself “being the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20); additionally, the mystery of the inclusion of the Gentiles in Christ was “revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Eph. 3:5; see: I Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11). Thus, the apostles and the prophets were crucial in the early days following the Ascension of Christ, so much so, that the Church is said to be built on their foundation. Some thoughts regarding the Apostles and Prophets:

Apostles – (Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22)

Apostle is the transliteration of the Gr. word apostolos, meaning “sent from”; the word appears approximately 80 times in the NT, mostly in Acts and the Epistles; the word seems to be used in a somewhat technical sense in the NT, as well as in a general sense.

Apostles, in the specific or technical understanding, seem to be those who were with Christ throughout His earthly ministry and had witnessed the risen Christ (Acts 1:21-22) and/or had been appointed by Him to that position; although these two facts are referenced in the Scriptures as being true of those who were called apostles, there is no reference to the fact that these are the two qualifications for apostles; these two points are not directly stated.

The twelve chosen by Christ were called “His twelve disciples” as well as “the twelve apostles” (Matt. 10:1-2; Mk. 3:14; 6:30, 35); therefore, a question arises as to whether either word is a technical word which speaks of a specific office, or whether both words are simply generic words which speak of a specific aspect of what it means to be a follower of Christ; Luke states that Jesus gave to the twelve the designation of apostle (6:13), and the book of Revelation makes reference to “the twelve apostles” (Rev. 21:14).

Other believers in the NT, perhaps in a general sense, are spoken of as apostles; “Paul and Barnabas” are called apostles (Acts 14:14); James was an apostle (Gal. 2:9; I Cor. 15:7-9); Silas and Timothy were possibly apostles (I Thess. 1:1; 2:6); the question is whether these individuals were, therefore, part of a special group holding the office of apostle, or whether the word is simply a reference to a particular aspect of their discipleship, that is, in their following Christ they were sent from him with tasks appropriate to each one; and in this latter sense all believers are apostles.

Jesus is the Apostle (Heb. 3:1; word is used only here of Christ); this designation teaches that  Christ is the One sent into the world by the Father in order to fulfill a mission; Jesus stated that He came to do the Father’s will; we are told that Christ “was faithful to Him who appointed Him” (Heb. 3:2; see: 10:5-7); all apostles are subservient to Christ and their authority comes from His apostleship.

General use of the word: Jo. 13:16; II Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25; question of Rom. 16:7, and whether two men who possibly were numbered with the apostles is meant, or whether a husband and wife is intended.

Specific use of the word: Acts 1:2, 21-26; 9:5-6; 26:15-18; I Cor. 12:28; 15:7-9; I Thess. 2:6; II Pet. 3:1-2.

Teaching regarding the importance of apostles in the early days of the Church: Eph. 2:20; 3:5; 4:11.

Question: Does apostle speak of the original twelve, and additional appointed individuals of the First Century, and with their passing the office is no more; or does the word speak of anyone who has been sent from Christ, and so, it is not to be understood as a specialized office that appeared and is no more?

Prophets – (Eph. 2:20; 3:5; 4:11)

Prophets are prominent in both Testaments, though more is known of the OT prophets than the NT prophets, but surely there are similarities between the two offices or functions.

A prophet is one who is given a word from God to speak to the people, and he is one who speaks that word in obedience; the call or appointment of the prophet is from God and the prophet is answerable to God; the message is varied: teaching, condemning, calling, predicting.

The NT speaks frequently of the prophets of the OT: Matt. 5:17; 7:12; 16:29; Acts 10:43; Rom. 3:21.

There is the danger of false prophets: Matt. 24:11; I Jo. 4:1.

Question: Is the office of prophet a continuing office, or did it come to an end with the Canon?

The NT teaches that the “foundation” for the Church is “the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20; 3:5); exactly what is meant by foundation is not specifically stated; several possibilities:

One, foundation refers to the word of God—a normative word—that was given to the apostles and prophets in order that they might establish the beliefs and life of the Church;

Two, the foundation speaks of the combined work and influence of these two groups in the early days of the Church;

Three, the foundation is very explicit in that it is the unambiguous revelation that God gave to them that the Church would include Jew and Gentile, and it was their responsibility to establish this precedent.

Return to: Church Government; Next Article: Leadership of Elders

For overview of THEOLOGY, see: Site Map - Theology
Copyright © Embraced by Truth
All rights reserved.
Materials may be freely copied for personal and academic use;
appropriate reference must be made to this site.
Links are invited.