Each issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
The Other Apostles
Can you name the apostles? If you are old enough to
remember memorizing the list of apostles from the Baltimore Catechism,
you would probably begin with "Peter, Andrew, James and John"
and work your way through the list of the Twelve.
Indeed, the Synoptic Gospels each give a list of
twelve apostles (Mark 3:13-19; Matthew 10:1-4; Luke 6:13-16) as
does Acts 1:13-14, each of which varies slightly. This is, however,
only a part of the picture of the apostolic ministry in the early
Church. In this issue of Scripture From Scratch we take
a broader look at the apostles.
The noun "apostle" (apostolos) derives from
the Greek verb apostello, which means "to send." Accordingly,
an apostle is "one sent," that is, an envoy or a missionary. The
word did not originate with Christians, but is found in secular
Greek literature, where it refers to a bearer of a message (e.g.,
Herodotus 1.21; Plato, Ep. 7.346a).
The verb is also found in the Septuagint (the Greek
translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) at Ezra 7:14 and Daniel
5:24. In the early third century Origen defined the term this
way: "Everyone who is sent by someone is an apostle of the one
who sent them" (Jo 32:17). In the New Testament, the purpose for
the sending is to carry on the mission of Jesus.
The Synoptic Gospels
In the New Testament there are differing understandings
of how one gets to be an apostle. In the Synoptic Gospels there
are twelve men called by Jesus "to be with him" and sent "to preach
and to have authority to drive out demons" (Mark 3:15; similarly
Matthew 10:1-2; Luke 6:13; 9:1-2).
Yet these functions are not exclusive to the Twelve.
In Mark's Gospel, for example, there are many others in addition
to the Twelve who follow Jesus, including Bartimaeus (10:52) and
crowds (2:15; 3:7; 5:24; 8:34; 11:9). Mary Magdalene, Mary the
mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome followed
both in Galilee and all the way to Jesus' crucifixion in Jerusalem
(15:40-41). And another exorcist who is not one of the Twelve
is able to drive out demons, though this does not sit well with
Jesus' followers (Mark 9:38-41).
As for proclaiming the Good News, the Twelve are
not the only followers who are commissioned by Jesus to do so.
When the man who had been healed of a legion of demons wanted
to stay with Jesus, he sent him instead, saying, "Go home to your
family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has
done for you." The man then went off "and began to proclaim (keryssein)
in the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him; and all were amazed"
Similarly, the man who had been healed of leprosy
(1:45) and the one healed of deafness and a speech impediment
(7:36) proclaimed (keryssein) what Jesus had done, though
in these latter instances, they were not sent by Jesus to do so.
In the closing scene of Mark's Gospel the heavenly
messenger clothed in white commissions Mary Magdalene, Mary, the
mother of James, and Salome to "go and tell [Jesus'] disciples
and Peter, 'He is going before you to Galilee; there you will
see him, as he told you'" (16:7). This Gospel ends, however, with
the women saying nothing to anyone out of fear. In this way Mark
leaves the story open-ended, inviting his readers to take up the
commission to go forth and proclaim.
In the Gospel of Matthew the women are commissioned
to tell the other disciples both by the angel at the tomb (28:7)
and directly by the risen Christ (28:10). That they do fulfill
this directive is implied by 28:8, where they run to tell the
disciples, and 28:16, where the eleven go to Galilee as they were
directed. Luke relates that the women "told all this to the eleven
and to the rest" (24:9-10) but they were not believed (24:11).
The Gospel of John
In the Fourth Gospel the word apostle never
appears. Likewise, the Twelve do not play the role that they have
in the Synoptic tradition. There is no story of the call of the
Twelve (although there is an allusion to it in 6:70), nor of their
being sent out on mission. The Twelve only appear in the scene
after the feeding of the 5,000, where Jesus asks them if they
also want to go away (6:67). In this same episode Judas, son of
Simon Iscariot, is identified as one of the Twelve, as is Thomas
the doubter in the postresurrection appearance of Jesus to the
disciples (20:24). These few allusions to the Twelve appear to
be traces that have remained from the evangelist's source, since
the Twelve do not have a distinct function in the Fourth Gospel.
The characters who best exemplify apostleship in
the Gospel of John are the Samaritan woman (4:4-42) and Mary Magdalene
(20:1-2, 11-18). The woman who Jesus meets at the well engages
in theological discussion with him, as she comes to deeper and
deeper understanding of who he is. She moves from identification
of him simply as a Jew (4:9), to the possibility that he is "greater
than our father Jacob" (4:12), a "prophet" (4:19), "Messiah" (4:25,
29), and finally, "savior of the world" (4:42). Just as the fishermen
in the Synoptic Gospels leave behind their nets to follow Jesus
and to be sent as apostles, so the Samaritan woman leaves her
water jar at the well and goes to testify about him to all her
townspeople (4:28). Just as the Twelve experience initial success
in their mission (e.g., Mark 6:30-33) and cause people to come
to Jesus, so does the Samaritan woman (4:39-42).
The account of the empty tomb in the Gospel of John
is distinctive in the way it portrays Mary Magdalene as apostle
to the apostles. In this Gospel it is not the heavenly messengers
who send her to proclaim to the others, but Jesus himself appears
to her and commissions her, "go to my brothers and sisters and
say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to
my God and your God.' " (20:17). The episode concludes with Mary
going and saying to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord" and
telling them the things he had said to her (20:18).
Acts and Paul
Although Luke relays the tradition that Jesus sent
a further seventy[-two] on mission (Luke 10:1-12), he generally
equates the Twelve with "apostles" (Luke 6:13). He tells in Acts
1:15-26 how the Twelve were reconstituted after the death of Judas.
Luke's criterion for Judas' replacement is that he be a male (aner)
member of the company of believers, who has been an eyewitness
from the beginning (1:21-22). Paul, however, clearly has a different
understanding of qualifications for apostolic ministry. Interestingly,
after James is killed by Herod (Acts 12:1) no replacement is chosen
for him. The Twelve disappear from the story after Acts 6:2, and
Peter fades from view as spokesperson after 15:7, when James takes
over as the leader of the community in Jerusalem, along with the
apostles and elders (15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4).
In the letters of Paul there is mention of a number
of apostles who are not on the list of the Twelve. The most obvious
is Paul himself, who begins most of his letters with a reminder
of his apostolic credentials, "Paul, . . . called to be an apostle"
(Rom 1:1; similarly 1 Cor 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1; Gal 1:1; Eph 1:1; Col
1:1; 1 Tim 1:1; 2 Tim 1:1; Tit). In 1 Cor 9:1-27, where Paul is
defending his apostleship, he asserts that his experience of the
risen Christ and his commission to proclaim the gospel (which
can be inferred from the fact that the Corinthians have, indeed,
been brought to faith by his preaching), are evidence of his call
to be an apostle. In his second letter to that community, when
his authority is being challenged by others whom Paul asserts
are "false apostles" (2 Cor 11:13), he reminds the Corinthians
that his authority has been confirmed by the "signs and wonders
and mighty works" of a true apostle that were performed among
them (2 Cor 12:12). In his letter to the Galatians Paul is particularly
insistent that his apostolic commission came directly from Jesus
Christ and God the Father (Gal 1:1). Paul understands his particular
mission to be apostle to the Gentiles (Rom 11:13; Gal 2:8). He
recognizes his unworthiness to be an apostle because of having
persecuted the church, but claims the grace of God to be the hard-working
apostle he is (1 Cor 15:9-10).
In the same context as this last reference to his
unworthiness to be an apostle, Paul lists also Cephas (the Aramaic
name for Peter) and the Twelve as apostles (1 Cor 15:5), but mentions
as well "James and all the apostles" and the "more than five hundred
brothers and sisters" to whom the risen Christ appeared (1 Cor
15:6-7). He also mentions "James the brother of the Lord" in Gal
1:19. Other apostles to whom Paul refers include Apollos (1 Cor
4:9), Barnabas (1 Cor 9:5-6; so also mentioned in Acts 14:4, 14),
Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25, note that some translations render apostolos
here as "messenger"), Silvanus and Timothy (1 Thessalonians 2:7
with 1:1), and Andronicus and Junia, who were "prominent among
the apostles" (Romans 16:7). It is notable that Junia was a woman.
Unfortunately we know nothing more of these two "prominent" apostles
who were relatives of Paul.
Early Christian Tradition
In the early Church and into the Middle Ages Christian
tradition preserved the memory of other apostles in addition to
the Twelve. In commentaries on Scripture, liturgical works, novels
and literature about the saints, figures such as Thecla, Nino,
the Samaritan woman and Mary Magdalene are spoken of approvingly
Origen (185-ca.251), for example, spoke of the Samaritan
woman as an apostle and evangelist: "Christ sends the woman as
an apostle to the inhabitants of the city because his words have
inflamed this woman" (Comm. S. Jean 4, 26-27). Such an
estimation of her as apostolos as well as "anointed with
priesthood" is found in the writings of Theophylact (ca. 1050-1108),
the archbishop of Bulgaria (Joh. 4, 28ff [MPG 123, 1241D]). Hippolytus
of Rome, who died ca. 235, interprets the empty tomb tradition,
"so that women, too, would be Christ's apostles" (Kommentar
zum Hohenlied XV 3,1-4 (GCS 1, 350-55).
In the Acts of Thecla, written in Asia Minor in
the late second century, Thecla is depicted as an apostle accompanying
Paul in his missionary work. A fifth-century work entitled Acts
of the Holy Apostle and Witness of Christ, Thecla, attests
to the ongoing popularity of the cult of the apostle Thecla. Several
works preserve the traditions about Nino, a woman apostle who
received her theological education from a woman teacher in Jerusalem,
and then was given a cross and commissioned with a blessing by
Juvenal of Jerusalem to proclaim the resurrection wherever she
may go. Her missionary travels took her to Georgia, where she
preached the gospel as a prisoner of war during the reign of Constantine.
Numerous legends and artwork dating into the Middle
Ages elaborate on the tradition of Mary Magdalene as apostle to
the apostles. In southern France, for example, legends arose about
the missionary work there of both Mary Magdalene and Martha, who
are said to preach, convert and baptize. Stained-glass windows
of the late 13th century in the cathedral at Semur in Burgundy
preserved images of these two women preaching.
What is clear from the New Testament evidence and
the ongoing Christian tradition is that the definition of "apostle"
was not uniform in the first communities of believers. While the
Gospels narrate the call and sending of Twelve, the picture from
Paul's letters is of a whole contingent of apostles sent out to
preach and evangelize. There are not yet fixed "job descriptions"
for ministers in the early Church. Some, like apostles, are sent
away from home to proclaim to others. Others, like the healed
man in Mark 5:20, and hosts of house churches, such as Mary (Acts
12:12), Nympha (Col 4:14), and Lydia (Acts 16:40), are to remain
at home and announce God's goodness there.
When we try, then, to name the apostles, it is a
much bigger challenge than trying to memorize the list of the
Twelve. There were also Andronicus, Junia, Barnabas, Apollos,
Epaphroditus, Paul, James the brother of the Lord, Silvanus, Timothy,
Mary Magdalene, the Samaritan woman, Thecla, Nino and countless
others, whose names are now lost to us.