The Glossary of Terms



Young People's Bible Dictionary

by Barbara Smith (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965)

apostle, meaning "messenger" or "ambassador." In the Gospels, the twelve disciples* of Jesus. Mark 6:30; Luke 6:13. In The Acts, often used for the twelve, with Matthias taking the place of Judas. Acts 1:23-26; 4:33. The term also includes other persons, such as Paul and Barnabas, and others. Acts 14:4; 1 Cor. 15:5-9; 2 Tim. 1:11.

Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition, edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms,, or

apostle, the English transliteration of a Greek word meaning ‘one who is sent out.’ An apostle is a personal messenger or envoy, commissioned to transmit the message or otherwise carry out the instructions of the commissioning agent.

In the nt Gospels, the term is commonly associated with the special inner circle of Jesus’ disciples, chosen and commissioned by him to accompany him during his ministry, to receive his teachings and observe his actions, and to follow his instructions. Thus, they are uniquely qualified both to authenticate his message and to carry on his work through the ministry of the church.

Apostolic lists appear in Matt. 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:13-16; and Acts 1:13. Each of the lists contains twelve* names, but not always the same twelve. The number twelve probably refers to God’s elect, the twelve tribes of Israel, who settled Canaan after the Exodus. If so, then twelve is a symbolic number, signifying God’s saving activity in Jesus and his followers.

The exact nature of ‘apostleship’ in the early church is obscure. In Acts 1:21-26, the qualification for Matthias, chosen an apostle after Judas’s death, is that of being an eyewitness: he was present with Jesus from the time of John the Baptist through the death and resurrection of Jesus. ‘Peter and the apostles,’ centered in Jerusalem, are the recognized leaders and guiding force of the development of the church according to the early chapters of Acts. Paul the apostle is also an eyewitness (1 Cor. 9:1), but probably only of the risen, not the earthly, Jesus (see 1 Cor. 15:8). Further proof of his apostleship was derived from the nature and role he occupied in the mission and expansion of the church among the Gentiles (Acts 9:15-16; 15:1-35; Gal. 2:1-10). Although Acts is hesitant to refer to Paul as an apostle (but see 14:14), he himself, in his Letters, insists on the title (esp. Gal. 1:1; cf. vv. 11-12). The designation of Barnabas (Acts 14:14) and Andronicus and Junias (Rom. 16:7) as apostles is more difficult to explain except in more general etymological terms. By the second century, the term no longer identifies an office of the church.

In Heb. 3:1, Jesus is the ‘apostle,’ the one sent by God.

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