Are There Apostles and Prophets in the Church Today?
Something that is often debated in the Church today is the idea of modern-day apostles or prophets. Now, I want to put up a disclaimer here saying this, I am not the ultimate authority of Scripture, that is for the Word made flesh Himself, Jesus the Christ, but based on my own research, Scripture reading, and spiritual discernment, I think that the true answer to this question is some-what loaded, though to keep you from suspense I'll just say that the answer is "yes" and "no".
Who were the Apostles? The Apostles were the eleven disciples of Jesus (minus Judas Iscariot) as well as Matthias (after praying that the Lord would replace Judas in Acts 1). These twelve men had a commission from Christ Himself to become the foundation of the Church (Ephesians 2:19-22) and to preach the Gospel wherever they went (Matthew 28:19-20) as well as perform signs and wonders aka miracles (2 Corinthians 12:11-12). In fact, one of the requirements for being an Apostle at all was to have seen the resurrected Christ (Acts 1:21, 1 Corinthians 9:1, 15:8)!
These Twelve Apostles are the Apostles of the Lamb (Acts 1:26, Revelation 21:14).
Now, Paul was a special case when it came to being an Apostle as he was not one of the Twelve. He only saw Christ AFTER the Ascension in which Jesus appeared to him, thus qualifying him as being an Apostle (Acts 9), which he himself claimed to be, through Christ, on multiple occasions (1 Timothy 1:1, Ephesians 1:1, Galatians 1:1, etc.). Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles, the added branches engrafted into the promises of Christ that were meant originally for the Jews (Romans 9-10).
This all being said, the Apostles that Christ appointed to be the "foundation" of the Church were specific to that time and seeing as how the Church was "established" (though today there seems to be hardly any unity in this "body" at all...), the need for these thirteen Apostles was rendered mute. But before we get into modern day apostles, let us first clarify two false teachings that don't have any solid basis in Scripture.
- That Spiritual Gifts were only for the Apostles
- That the Resurrected Christ cannot be seen today
Addressing Spiritual Gifts, there are nine mentioned in Scripture that are specific to sharing the Gospel of Christ and edifying the Church as seen in 1 Corinthians 12, they are words of wisdom, words of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discerning spirits, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues. Let's make this abundantly clear, Hebrews 13:8 says that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever". We know that Christ is always the same, His character, power, and work never changes. We also know that the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9), therefore He does not change either. We also know that until Jesus ascended, the Holy Spirit only dwelt in certain people at certain times (he left Saul in 1 Samuel 16:14), but after Pentecost, when the Apostles and other disciples of Christ present in Jerusalem were gathered in prayer, they were all filled with the Holy Ghost and immediately spoke in tongues (Acts 2). We also know that other believers throughout the New Testament, once filled with the Spirit, spoke in tongues and prophesied (Acts 19:5-7), now these were not the Apostles or even prophets, but they were believers filled with the Spirit! Not to mention Acts 2:17-19 literally talks about how dreams, visions, and prophecies would become common during the Last Days (most people say that this is the time between Jesus' First and Second Coming while some argue it's only during the End Times of Revelation). In fact, when writing to the Church of Corinth in 1 Corinthians, Paul spends THREE CHAPTERS (12-14) on Spiritual Gifts and HOW they are to be used in the Church (of which there was no Apostle present by the way... He was writing this to the Church members themselves!). Interesting stuff and if you want more, check out my article on the Holy Spirit HERE.
As for the second teaching listed, let's just read Acts 1 and then Acts 9. We see in Acts 1 that Jesus ascends and says that He will send the Spirit to guide the Apostles and to help them begin the Church. Then in Acts 9, Jesus appears to Saul (later Paul) and commissioned him to follow Him. Let's take a step back for a moment and think about this. If Paul's conversion happened today, what would the corporate church think? They would believe him to be a heretic, it's that simple. They call those to practice deliverance and spiritual gifts today heretics, so they would most certainly call Paul one. However, he is considered by some to be the "Greatest Apostle" (though he considered himself the least). Nobody today questions Paul's authority or his conversion to Christ, so why do we? There are plenty of testimonies out there about people who lived so far away from God that one day the Lord Himself (Jesus) appeared to them in a dream, vision, or whatever as He did for Paul and either gave them a commission or just shared with them that He is real. In fact, I know one such person who's life has been radically changed because of a personal encounter with Jesus (he would NOT claim to be an Apostle by the way), and because of this encounter he has been serving the Lord faithfully for over forty years now. We do need to confront the elephant in the room though that is 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, which states that Paul was the LAST that Jesus appeared to. Well, in context, Paul is talking about those who were witnesses to the resurrection of Christ and became either the 12 Apostles of the Lamb (which he mentions) or believers/disciples. This doesn't mean that Jesus could or would never appear to anyone again in a dream, vision, or whatever, but that Paul was the last one (specifically at this time) to be chosen for apostolic authority. Here, Paul isn't saying "No, Jesus will NEVER appear to ANYONE again", he's saying, "He appeared to me after all of these people, me, a sinner, least of all of them, and redeemed me". It's humility that he's sharing here. Amazing stuff really, but most "church" people today would label something like this today a "false conversion" and would call someone like Paul here a "heretic". Sad.
All that being said, let's move onto what "apostle" really means, and I'll show you exactly why there are apostles today...
The Greek word apostolos, from which we get our word "apostle", means "one who is sent away" or "messenger" or "ambassador". If this sounds familiar to you at all, it's because it kind of sounds like what we today would call a "missionary". Some define "apostle" as "one sent as an authoritative delegate".
Now, according to GotQuestions.org (not the most reliable source on Scripture by the way, but not totally terrible), there is a difference between the OFFICE of Apostle (the Twelve plus Paul) and the "spiritual gift" of apostle (the other apostles mentioned in Scripture). This is something that they say, but it isn't actually something that is ever brought up in Scripture, in fact, an apostle, like stated above, was just someone who was "sent out" to do the Lord's work, usually/hopefully prompted by the Holy Spirit, much like the classic thirteen Apostles were.
In this sense, apostles still exist today for sure! We have already established that spiritual gifts are something that the Holy Spirit still uses to proclaim Christ and to edify the Church (at least in churches where the Holy Spirit is allowed, of which there seem to be very few nowadays) and that we as believers are to "desire" these gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1); and we also know that, as we saw in Acts 9 with Saul's conversion into Paul the Apostle (not to mention countless other conversion stories since then), that is IS possible to see the resurrected Christ ONLY IF He will reveal Himself to you (which He might, who knows!).
Those two things being said, if the Spirit has prompted you to go somewhere specific and do something for Him, to be a messenger or ambassador in a specific sense, and He sends you out, then by definition you're an apostle and you have been given that authority by God! Again, this is not in the sense of the thirteen appointed Apostles that went out and built up the Church or had complete doctrinal authority, that job has been (more or less) completed.
However, there are more than just thirteen apostles mentioned in the New Testament, here are some others (often called the Apostles of the Church, who do seem to have spiritual authority by the way, not on the Apostles of the Lamb or Paul's level of doctrinal/scriptural authority, but some sort nevertheless): Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Apollos (1 Corinthians 4:6-9), James the brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:19), Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25, the KJV translates this as "messenger" but the greek word "apostolon" translates to "apostle"), two unnamed men called "messengers" in the translation but possibly could refer to "apostles" in 2 Corinthians 8:23, Timothy and Silvanius in 1 Thessalonians 1:1 and 2:6 as they're roped in with Paul's authority, and possibly (though this one somewhat unlikely) Andronicus and Junia of Romans 16:7 which refers to them as "of note among the apostles" (where or not this includes them AS apostles is up for debate).
Of course, then there is Jesus Himself called "Apostle and High Priest" in Hebrews 3:1.
As we can see, although the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb and Paul the Apostle of the Gentiles were meant only for the beginnings of the Church to build it up (go back to Ephesians 2), we can also see that other apostles (Apostles of the Church) are not only seen throughout the New Testament, but also had spiritual authority and power (and Scripture never said they went away). We also know that by definition, apostles, or at least some form of them, can certainly exist today, based off of what we see here in Scripture.
Prophets are a little trickier to talk about, for a few reasons. First, Prophets have been around since Genesis. Some say that because of Jesus' mention of Abel in Luke 11:51, that he would be considered a prophet, even if not, God clearly calls Abraham one in Genesis 20 thus showing us that prophets have LITERALLY been around since the beginning of the Bible until the end with John, the false prophets, the two witnesses, and Jesus in Revelation. We'll get there.
Prophets are interesting because prophesying the future was only part of their job. Prophets were essentially mouthpieces for the LORD during the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 18:18-19). The english word prophet actually comes from the greek word "prophetes" which means "one who speaks forth" or "advocate". Sometimes prophets are also called "seers" because of their prophetic insight into the future because of God.
Prophets are charged with the power of the Holy Spirit to be mouthpieces for God here on the Earth. In the Old Testament, the prophets were used to guide Israel in obedience to God (whether or not they followed the prophet's words were up to them). They also prophesied the coming of Christ. One of my favorite prophetic chapters in the Bible is that of Isaiah 53, in which the prophet Isaiah somewhat graphically illustrates Jesus' death on the cross. In fact, the Christian rock band Stryper has engrafted Isaiah 53:5 into their logo for this reason, to share the Gospel. As Jesus hadn't come yet, people couldn't believe in Him as the propitiation for their sins, but they could believe in the coming Messiah who would. The Book of Daniel closely mirrors other prophetic books in Scripture such as Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Revelation, all pointing to the Second Coming of Christ (and some pointing back to His First Coming as well) showing what still needs to be fulfilled.
In the New Testament, prophets basically did the same thing they did in the Old, except they weren't ministering specifically to Israel, they were ministering to the Church and would help preach the Gospel, as is the job of ALL believers! John the Baptist had been prophesying about the Lamb of God (Matthew 3), Christ, at the beginning of the New Testament, and the end is all about the Revelation of Jesus Christ as given to John the Apostle about the future, end times world that is coming soon to a planet near you. As we saw in Ephesians 2 with apostles, prophets were also instrumental in building up the early Church as they had spiritual authority where the apostles had doctrinal authority (though these were of course somewhat interchangeable).
Jesus spends a lot of time warning about false teachers and prophets (Matthew 7, 12:33, 24:24), and so to His disciples/Apostles (2 Timothy 2:3, Jude 17-18, 2 Peter 3:3, 1 John 2:22, Galatians 1:9, etc.). Clearly false "gospels", teachers, and prophets were all bad news. In fact, we know that the False Prophet himself, the "Agent of the Beast" will ussher in the Antichrist (the Beast), who was set up by Satan (the Dragon) to deceive the whole world (Revelation). So clearly, false prophets are bad. So how do we know if a prophet is true? Well, we'll get there, but first let's establish that prophets do exist today.
Remember when we were talking about Apostles above and I mentioned that Jesus never changes and that because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, then neither does He? Well, the same applies here to Prophets too. Not only that, but if we go back to Acts 2 again, we'll see in verses 17-19 that it is very clear the visions, dreams, and prophecies should be a natural occurrence as we are living in the "last days" according to most biblical scholars (it's also worth noting that this verse is fulfillment of Joel's prophecy in Joel 1:1). But it's not just said or seen there, we see other prophets besides the two Johns and the other Apostles in the New Testament who work to edify the Church, including Anna & Simeon (Luke 2:34-38), Barnabas (Acts 13:1), the disciples at Ephesus (Acts 19:6), Judas and Silas (Acts 15:23), Zacharias (Luke 1:67), and of course the Two Witnesses of Revelation (and probably many more throughout the New Testament that I'm missing).
Jesus also prophesied about his Second Coming and the Jews place during that time in Matthew 24-25.
It's also very clear in 1 Corinthians 12 that prophecy (as well as working of miracles) is a part of the list of Nine Spiritual Gifts, and as we obviously know that the Holy Spirit's power doesn't just go away, we can see that prophecy is something that the Church was to use to edify their members! In fact, many go to 1 Thessalonians 5 for advice on "Christian living", which talks about praying continually, rejoicing always, and giving thanks to Jesus, but what people ALWAYS refuse to mention is verses 19-22 which tell the Church to not quench the Spirit, to not despise prophecy, to prove all things especially what is good, and to abstain from all appearances of evil. Interesting that this is what people often skip or fail to mention when talking about this passage.
Prophecy is also something Paul says we should desire. He starts off 1 Corinthians 14 by telling the Church to "desire spiritual gifts" (the same nine he mentioned earlier), but then he says "especially the gift of prophecy", explaining that while some speak in tongues that only the Spirit knows the meaning to, prophecy can actually bless others!
Let's finally move onto how to identify false prophets though, because this will become an important skill in the days ahead as Jesus says.
- If they deny Christ, they are a false prophet
- Do they have godly character?
- Do their predictions come true?
- Are their words consistent with Scripture?
- Do people benefit from their ministry?
This first test is really simple and I shouldn't even need to use Scripture to prove this point, however, 1 John 2:22 says that someone who denies Christ or the Gospel is anti-Christ and as Paul warns the Galatians in Galatians 1:9, those people will "be accursed".
Jesus talks all about false teachers and prophets in Matthew 7, but when confronted with the concept of these false prophets Jesus tells his disciples that they will look like sheep, but actually will be "ravenous wolves". In verse 20 He says that you will know them by their fruits, this means their "godly character".
One of the biggest things about prophecy or prophets is that if they're speaking truth from God then it will come true, no matter what. God does not deceive us and God does not lie. 2 Chronicles 18:13 quotes Micaiah when he basically says that "whatever God says, I'll speak". A true prophet should be willing to speak truth and only the truth. False prophets will tell you what you want to hear and will predict things that may or may not come to pass (Deuteronomy 18:22). One of my closest friends has the gift of prophecy and has only used it when the Lord has prompted him to. The one thing he will always say is, "look, this is what the Lord wants me to say, that's it". He doesn't promote himself, he only says what God would have him say. In fact, two summers ago, he told me that the Lord told him that my Dad would have a heart attack if he did not quit smoking. Although I pleaded with my Dad, he wouldn't stop and about eight months later my Dad had a massive heart attack that actually had left him dead for ten whole minutes, though the Lord was faithful to all our prayers and brought him back to life. You can read more about that amazing story HERE.
If a prophet's words are not consistent with Scripture, it's entirely possible that they're a false prophet. 2 Peter 1:20 is clear that prophets do not speak of their own word or will, it's all based on God.
While there are definitely prophecies that are conditional or are "bad" in nature (those of Jonah for instance, if Nineveh had not repented, they would've been destroyed), ultimately the prophetic ministry of a prophet should be a productive one bearing good fruit. Jeremiah 23:32 is in the context of false prophets misleading His people, in this verse He says that those who try to lead others astray will not benefit them at all. I think it's very clear that a prophetic ministry should be one of edifying the Church, as we see in 1 Corinthians and Ephesians, as that is what spiritual gifts themselves are meant to do.
Special thanks to "Life, Hope, and Truth" for help with some of those verses.
All this to say, aside from the passages in Acts 2 that clearly state the presence of prophets from Pentecost to the present, Scripture would not talk so much about the spiritual gift of prophecy, prophets and their roles, and the dangers of false prophets if these were things that would not benefit the Church today. "But we need to remember Michael, that these books of the Bible were written to a certain audience at a certain time with a certain culture..." Well, excuse my language, but to hell they were! Sure, the human authors had a specific message to write, but we need to remember who was behind the scenes, inspiring Scripture as a whole from the beginning, the Holy Spirit, God Himself. We forget that God is outside of time, and that although we only see things in the present, and maybe the past, He sees everything at once and places certain things in the past so that we can learn them now in the present.
The conclusion to the original question of "are there apostles and prophets in the church today?" has been answered. Although there may not be the Apostles of the Lamb or the Apostle to the Gentiles today, specific Apostles of doctrinal authority (or of the Church), apostles in their classic sense still exist. We see many apostles throughout the New Testament aside from the "set apart" thirteen and we see that the Lord still meets people where they're at and sends them out to do His work, which is really what an apostle is anyway. We also see that while Old Testament Prophets that "boss around" nations don't necessarily exist anymore, prophets in their New Testament context of edifying the Church DO! Not only that, but will continue to exist in the end as we see from the Two Witnesses in Revelation.
Although we have answered this question and see that it is both "yes" and "no", I want to bring up one more Scripture that was brought to my attention tonight. Ephesians 4:11-13 says lays down the specific Church leadership, in order of importance, starting with apostles and prophets and then moving onto evangelists, pastors, and teachers. These verses go onto say that these "offices" are meant to help "the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ". Now, here comes the controversial part, "Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." I don't know about you, but I do NOT see total unity in the Church, in fact, I think in the times that we live in the Church couldn't be more broken and divided on the Word and the Knowledge of the Son of God.
This is not to say that the offices of the Twelve Apostles (plus Paul) and the Old Testament Prophets are to be filled today, in fact I truly don't have an answer on that, but I do want to point out that I am not here to argue, I am here to look at Scripture and discern what it has to say. Please do not take my word for anything written here, please go to the Scriptures themselves and do the research as I have. All I can say based on that Ephesians verse is that this is not yet a reality, and as I believe we've seen by looking at apostles and prophets here today, their roles are not yet finished.