The phrase “apostles and prophets” appears in the Bible about eight times. It pleased our wise and holy God to use gifted men in these offices to pen down the Scriptures for the benefit of mankind. These men played a cardinal role in the history of divine redemption, starting from the Old Testament to the book of Revelation in the New Testament. Many Christians today hold divergent views about who the apostles and prophets are. The most controversial point on this subject is whether the office of apostles and prophets continued through the history of the church. Hence the question, “Are there apostles and prophets today?”

The Bible gives us enough information to understand the office of apostles and prophets. This subject is of particular importance to any Bible believer. It was through these men that God saw it fit to make his eternal plan of salvation clearly known to mankind. Therefore, it is incumbent upon every person calling himself a Christian to strive to understand who these men were. What role did they play? What was the purpose of their existence?

Meaning and use of the terms

Apostles in the Bible

The word “apostle” is derived from the Greek word “apostolos.” It means one who is sent forth. In Matthew 10:1-5, Jesus gave his disciples a mandate, “And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; son the Cananaen, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. These twelve, Jesus sent out, instructing them…”

Lightfoot (1866; 92–100) discusses in detail the qualifications of an apostle. First, he was one who had seen Jesus after his resurrection. Second, an apostle was one who had been specifically commissioned by Christ. If that is true, it means that there could be no apostles today. Those people who could have possessed these qualifications all died by the end of the first century.

This fact should suggest to us that there was something unique about the office of apostle, and that we would not expect it to continue today. The Bible mostly uses this term strictly to refer to the eleven disciples of Christ plus the apostle Paul.

More about Apostles in the Bible

The term apostle can be used in a broad and narrow sense. In a broad sense, it can refer to an affective church planter or significant missionary pioneer like William Carrey who went to India. In the narrow sense, it strictly refers to the twelve men including Paul who were specifically chosen and sent by Christ (Grudem, 1994).

The Broad Sense

The New Testament has three verses in which the word “apostle” is used in a broad sense. It is not to any specific church office but simply to the messenger. In Philippians 2:25, Paul calls Epaphroditus “your messenger [Gk: apostolos] and minister to my need.” In 2 Corinthians 8:23, Paul refers to those who accompanied the offering that he was taking to Jerusalem as “messengers” (Gk: apostolos) of the churches. And in John 13:16, Jesus says “nor is he who is sent (Gk: apostolos) greater than he who sent him” (Grudem, 1994).

The Narrow Sense

However, in the New Testament, the word apostle is used more frequently in a strict sense. And when it is used in this sense, the word refers to a specific office of apostle of Jesus Christ.

James Strong’s Greek Concordance explains the word “apostle” as having been derived from the word “delegate”; specifically, an ambassador of the gospel; officially a commissioner or one who is sent.

In the New Testament, the narrow sense usually refers to those who were sent by Christ (the Twelve – 1Cor. 15:5). They had seen the risen Christ (Acts 1:21-26), and he sent them to preach the gospel. They taught the things that they had heard from Christ (Pilgrim Bible Notes, July 2016, p.5).

The Apostleship of Jesus

Jesus Christ carries the label “Apostle” as one of his descriptive titles (Heb. 3:1). God the Father sent him to this earth with his authoritative message, which he faithfully delivered (Jn. 17:1-5). The Bible is replete with texts attesting to the apostleship of Jesus Christ (for example, Jn. 13:18; 20:21). In line with the Scriptures, we can say that Jesus is truly an apostle in the most basic sense of the term “messenger” or “one who is sent.”

The book of Hebrews explains that while God had spoken through the prophets in the Old Testament, he had more recently spoken to us through his Son (Heb. 1:1-2; Rev. 1:1).

The Twelve Apostles

Jesus Christ selected the twelve apostles, and he trained them for over three years. The apostles witnessed the power and glory of Jesus Christ. After their training, they were sent out to preach the gospel (Mk. 13:4). Strictly, the apostles whom Christ called, trained, and sent out were twelve. These men continued to spread Christ’s message after he ascended back to his Father.

While on the earth, Jesus was the first one to declare salvation (Mk. 1:14-15; Matt. 4:12-17, 23-25). Thereafter, the message of salvation in Christ alone was declared by the apostles. They were acquainted with Jesus. They heard him speak, saw his miracles and were witnesses of his resurrection (Acts 1:22-23; 10:39-42).

Specific Role of Apostles

The apostolic office was mandated with a unique task of laying the foundation of the church. In a sense, their role was only secondary to that of Christ himself (Eph. 2:19-20). After the apostles laid the foundation, the church could be built. The doctrine of the apostles came from the Old Testament writings which had already been given, and new revelation that was being given to them by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 3:1-5). Apostles did not only lay the foundation for the church, but they spoke and wrote the word of God we now call the New Testament. God showed his approval was upon them by enabling them to demonstrate his power through signs, wonders and miracles.

Apostles Today

I will conclude with Wayne Grudem’s words of caution on this subject from his systematic theology. He says, “Though some may use the word ‘apostle’ in English today to refer to very effective church planters or evangelists, it seems inappropriate and unhelpful to do so, for it simply confuses people who read the New Testament and see the high authority that is attributed to the office of ‘apostle’ there. It is noteworthy that no major leader in the history of the church—not Athanasius or Augustine, not Luther or Calvin, not Wesley or Whitefield—has taken to himself the title of ‘apostle’ or let himself be called an apostle. If any in modern times want to take the title ‘apostle’ to themselves, they immediately raise the suspicion that they may be motivated by inappropriate pride and desire for self-exaltation, along with excessive ambition and a desire for much more authority in the church than any one person should rightly have” (p.911–912).

Prophets in the Bible

From the beginning of human history, God has revealed himself as the Creator of the universe and everything in it. He has revealed himself to humans in several ways; through signs, wonders and miracles, nature, and more specifically the Bible. God has an eternal plan (Isa. 46:9–10), part of which he wishes to reveal to mankind. He revealed his mysteries to the prophets through the Holy Spirit (Jn. 16:13; Acts 28:25; 1Tim. 4:1).

When a prophet received a revelation from God, he was obligated to share that message with the intended audience. This audience was either his contemporaries or the people hundreds or even thousands of years into the future. Many of the prophets recorded the words they were given, and some of these writings have been preserved as Holy Scripture.

The Meaning of the term “Prophet”

Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary defines “Prophet” as one who speaks forth or openly, a proclaimer of a divine message. A prophet was denoted among the Greeks as an interpreter of the oracles of the gods. The Greek Old Testament version of the Bible uses the word “roeh” [a seer] in 1 Samuel 9:9, which indicates that the prophet was one who had immediate contact with God. Another word for prophet used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) carries the meaning of either one in whom the message from God springs forth or one to whom anything is secretly communicated. Hence, in general, a prophet was one upon whom the Spirit of God rested, (Num. 11:17-29) (p.493).

The message of prophets in the Old Testament was largely the proclamation of the divine purpose of salvation and the glory to be accomplished in the future. The prophesying of the New Testament prophets was both a preaching of the divine counsels of grace already accomplished and the foretelling of the purposes of God in future (Vine, p.493).

The Nature of Prophesy

Prophecy can be understood from two points of view. First, from the realm of preaching where a prophet would communicate the mind of God to his contemporaries through exhortation, reproof, warning, edification and comfort. Second, another form of prophecy is prediction and this refers to speaking the mind of God about the future. In many cases, the purpose of this was to bring about godliness in the lives of their audience.

Old and New Testament Prophecy

This word “prophet” is used in the New Testament, but there are some striking differences with its usage in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, prophets played a vital role in the lives of God’s people by facilitating communication with God. The Spirit of God had not yet been made available for all, and so the Old Testament prophets were especially used in guidance, direction, and inquiry of the mind and will of God. It was these men that God used to pen down Scripture (2 Pet. 1:20, 21). Notable among these men were Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, and others.

The New Testament had men who were called prophets, but they take a very low profile compared to their Old Testament counterparts. In the New Testament, it is the apostles who take up that role of being God’s mouthpiece to the people (1 Pet. 1:10-12). They spoke with divine authority, founded the church and wrote scripture. Those who are called prophets in the New Testament played a very passive part. Their role had diminished very much and it seems their position had also reduced to that of confirming the already known and revealed will for God. Therefore, the so-called prophets today have no authority in our lives at all. Everything God wanted to communicate through his Son to mankind has been revealed and written down in the Bible (Heb. 1:1–2). The Bible is sufficient in all matters of Christian faith and practice. The Holy Spirit is at work today opening people’s hearts, illuminating and persuading their hearts and minds. Now the people of God must get guidance and direction from the infallible written Word of God.

How should Christians understand apostles and prophets today?


We have said that there are two ways of looking at who apostles are: The general sense and a narrow sense. In a narrow sense, apostles refer to the twelve who were specially chosen by Christ including Paul. In that sense, there are no apostles today. Their task was to lay the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20). Their role was to receive, declare, and write God’s word (Eph. 3:5; Acts 11:28; 21:10–11).

However, the term “apostle” in the Bible is larger than the twelve and Paul. It includes James (1Cor. 9:7), Barnabas (Acts 14:4,14; 1Cor. 9:6), Andronicus and Junias (Rom.16:7), Silas and Timothy (1 Thess. 1:1, 2:7) and Apollos (1 Cor. 4:6,9). This latter group had the gift of apostleship, but not the apostolic office. They were called messengers or apostles of the churches, but did not have the apostolic office in the sense of calling. After serving their purpose, there is no record of any apostle who died being replaced. Hence, they did not exist after the first generation of believers. So, in a general sense we can use the term “apostle” today to refer to missionaries or evangelists.


The New Testament prophets provided edification, exhortation, and comfort (1 Cor. 14:3). Their role was to confirm God’s will to the church before the Bible was completed. The MacArthur ESV Study Bible comments on the subject of prophets saying, “These had a significant role in the early years of the church. They were preachers of God’s word and were responsible in the early years of the church to instruct local congregations…a function that ended with the cessation of the temporary sign gifts. Their office was also replaced by pastor-teachers and evangelists.” Therefore, the kind of prophecy we have today is preaching. It is forth telling. The preacher speaks for God to the people. He communicates the mind of God for the present, using the Bible under the illumination of the Holy Spirit.


Grudem Wayne (1994). Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Vine W.E. Merrill F. Unger, and William White, Jr. (1986). Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. Nashville, Tennessee.

Grace Baptist Mission (2009). Preacher’s study papers: Hebrews book 1, Chapters 1-7.

Pilgrim Bible Notes (July, 2016). Bible readings from 1 Corinthians chapters 1-11.

“What are the Biblical qualifications for apostles” – Bible Questions Answered (retrieved 12.04.2016)