An Apostle

“Now, I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and comrade in arms — also your apostle and a minister to my needs — for he was longing and anxious to be with you because you heard that he was seriously ill.”

(Philippians 2:25-26)

We are introduced to Epaphroditus; we don’t know much about him apart from what we read here, yet from that we can infer that Epaphroditus was the representative of the Philippian church who brought the love gift and stayed on for a season to help care for Paul. We also see that he had become ill — seriously ill — during that time, and Paul speaks further on that in the verses which follow.

What strikes me is the term that Paul uses to describe Epaphroditus…he is called an “apostle.” Some of our translations use the term “messenger” here, but that isn’t entirely accurate. Were Epaphroditus simply a messenger, we might expect Paul to use the term a¡ggeloß (angelos) or were he more of a courier, we might expect the term specoula/twr (spechoulator). Yet, in ancient times, an apostle was more than just one who brings a message on behalf of others; an apostle also carried with him the authority of the one who sent him — much like the modern notion of a political envoy.

The question is, are we then to understand Epaphroditus as an apostle in the same way that Paul was an apostle. The answer to that question is, ‘no.’ The reason for this answer is because we must also ask of whom a person is an apostolic representative. Paul refers to himself as an Apostle of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1, etc…). In turn, Paul refers to Epaphroditus as “your apostle.” Thus, Epaphroditus is serving as an apostle, an authoritative representative, of the church in Philippi. In addition, Epaphroditus is also a believer, a servant of Christ, which makes him Paul’s brother in Christ and a comrade in arms — spiritual soldiers against the powers and principalities of this world.

What is worth noting is that while some people call themselves “Apostles” in our modern times, that office has ceased with the establishment of the church and the close of the Canon. None of these so-called apostles speak with the authority of Jesus Christ and if they claim to, we must be wary. Indeed, they might claim to be apostles of their church if that authority is so given to them, but the Biblical term for those of us who lead churches is that of Shepherd — Pastor. And a Pastor is a servant first…terms like Apostle (at least when used today) only tend to reflect a person’s ego. Better to be called a fellow-worker.

Notice too, how important these people are to Paul. When one is incarcerated, to have contact with others is a gift of God’s grace. I would encourage you that if you know someone who is in prison — write them a letter today or make a plan to go visit them. Be that Epaphroditus to them; it will mean the world to them as they serve their time behind bars…and what a wonderful opportunity to witness the grace of Christ.

2 Comments

  1. David P. Ward

    I just can’t parse Ephesians 4:11 that way, especially considering the context, verses 12-16, more specifically verse 13, “till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Has the “till” happened yet? If not, then all these “gifts” are still in operation.

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    1. preacherwin

      David, good observation, but let me respond by saying that because the term apostolos was not an office unique to Christianity, but was something that people in the ancient Greek culture were familiar with…much like an envoy today…then we need to interpret both passages theologically as well as exegetically. In the case of Epaphroditus, it is clear that Paul is using the term to indicate that Epaphroditus was an envoy of the church (with the authority of the church) not an envoy of Jesus Christ as Paul was. I would suggest that history also supports that notion as Epaphroditus’ writings were never compiled as scripture as were Paul’s.

      In terms of Ephesians 4:11-13 and the cessation of the prophetic and apostolic offices in light of the word “until” or, in the Greek, meter, which is a simple marker of an extension of time…so, until the church has reached maturity, these gifts are given to the church.

      So, how do I parse the continuing effect of the apostle and prophet when I would continue the offices to have ceased? Their ongoing effect is through the scriptures. Ephesians 2:20 speaks of the church being built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles with Christ as the cornerstone. Thus, in building a house, once the foundation is laid, one ceases in the work of foundation building and begins building the actual building itself, yet the steady and firm foundation has an ongoing effect on the stability of the structure above it. So, though the office has ceased, the effects of the office are preserved in the scriptures for the governance and instruction of the church. Then, the normative offices of pastor, teacher, evangelist go on.

      This seems to again be the historical understanding of the church. Modern day Rome has developed a view of Apostolic succession in the Pope, but that was developed hundreds of years after the foundation of the church, none of the early church fathers spoke that way. Also, the church was very clear in its choice of canon — focused on the question of apostolicity — and cut the canon off with the end of the apostolic era.

      One could also explore the notion from the other direction. If the apostolic office were perpetual — thus, people still today spoke and act with the authority of Christ Jesus himself — then the scriptures would be ongoing and would be incomplete. While I know that some would view John’s anathema at the end of Revelation as applying only to Revelation, I would argue that John understood full well that he was closing out the Canon and thus the anathema is meant to all who would seek to add to the whole witness of Christ found in the books of the Bible. That is perhaps my inference, but I think I can make a sound argument for that view.

      Blessings, brother,

      Win

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