Are There Only Twelve Apostles?
A common teaching among those who reject Paul as an apostle (anti-Paulists) is that there can only be twelve apostles. All others would be false apostles. This conclusion is arrived at based on two main beliefs:
1) Only Messiah Yeshua can appoint apostles2) Revelation 21:14 shows New Jerusalem has only twelve foundations and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
Let’s examine point #1.
Messiah Yeshua did indeed appoint twelve apostles as recorded in Luke 6:13. That was the full number he needed during his earthly ministry in which he was dealing with the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Here is the commission he gave the twelve:
These twelve Yeshua sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter you not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely you have received, freely give. (Matthew 10:5-8)
When one of the twelve died (Judas Iscariot), he was replaced by Matthias (Acts 1:26). However, it appears that Matthias was selected by Yahweh rather than Yeshua. After selecting two disciples to replace Judas, the apostles prayed for guidance.
And they prayed, and said, You, Lord, which knows the hearts of all men, show whether of these two you have chosen, that he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. (Acts 1:24-26)
Since both Yahweh and Yeshua are called “Lord” in the New Testament and both know the hearts of men, one point leads me to believe it was Yahweh who chose Matthias; the lot.
Proverbs 16:33 - The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of Yahweh.
One can believe it was Yeshua who disposed of the lot, but that would require assuming he now controls the lot rather than Yahweh. It can be argued that the Son has been given all authority and power, including controlling the lot. However, Yahweh is still in control of things as well. For example, the Son is sitting by Yahweh’s side while Yahweh makes his enemies his footstool (Psalm 110:1).
Later, in Acts 9, we read about Saul’s (Paul’s) meeting with the Master on the road to Damascus, his ensuing conversion and his proposed commissioning as an apostle.
Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Master, went to the high priest,
and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him;
and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?"
And he said, "Who are You, Master?" And He said, "I am Yeshua whom you are persecuting,
but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do."
The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one.
Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus.
And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Master said to him in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am, Master."
And the Master said to him, "Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying,
and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight."
But Ananias answered, "Master, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem;
and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name."
But the Master said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel;
for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake."
The key verses are 15-16. Yeshua specifically chose Saul to bear his name before the Gentiles, kings and Israel through the preaching of the Gospel. This was the same commission Yeshua gave the eleven apostles in Mark 16:15;
And he said unto them, Go you into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
The words in Acts 9 were written by Luke. It is not clear how he received the information he wrote about. Perhaps it was first, second or even third hand knowledge or perhaps he was inspired to write what the Spirit told him. However, if we do as the anti-Paulists do and reject this account in Acts 9, on what grounds do we do so? On the grounds that there were no eye witnesses giving testimony? That is an assumption. Perhaps Ananias was the eye witness telling Luke what Yeshua said to him. Do we reject it on the grounds that Luke was Paul’s “sidekick”, as one anti-Paulist put it, and not to be trusted? If that is the case, then everything written in the Gospel of Luke and Acts becomes suspect and nothing to be trusted. Do we reject it on the grounds that it doesn’t agree perfectly with the conversion account in Acts 26? If so, then we should reject all the gospel accounts of Yeshua’s death and resurrection since they do not agree perfectly either.
It is obvious that the anti-Paulist road is indeed a slippery slope without a firm foundation.
In Acts 13:1-4, we find the fulfillment of Yeshua’s words from Acts 9:15-16.
Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."
Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus.
Some would say that Paul was not an “Apostle of Yeshua” because we are not told he is anywhere in the Bible. Although the New Testament calls Paul an “Apostle of Yeshua” about eight times, anti-Paulists reject these instances because Paul was writing that about himself. However, here we see the Holy Spirit separating Saul and Barnabas from other believers and sending them out into the world to do the work of preaching the Gospel. The meaning of the Greek word “apostolos” is “"one sent forth" (apo, "from," stello, "to send").” (Vine’s Dictionary of New Testament Words).
Luke recorded at least 6 witnesses of Paul’s apostleship that anti-Paulists reject because the word "apostle" is not used by Yeshua. Even though Yeshua described what he was sending Paul to do which is exactlythe workan apostle would do, and even though Paul was sent by and filled with the Holy Spirit and did great miracles and great works beyond those mentioned by any other apostles, and even though he is called an "apostle" by Luke, they still reject his apostleship.
To sum up what we see so far; Yeshua tells Ananias that he has chosen Saul to bear his name throughout the world; Saul will be “sent” by Yeshua; The Holy Spirit then separates Saul and Barnabas for a work and sends them off.
In the next chapter, we find Luke calling both Saul and Barnabas “apostles”.
In Iconium they entered the synagogue of the Jews together, and spoke in such a manner that a large number of people believed, both of Jews and of Greeks.
But the Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against the brethren.
Therefore they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands.
But the people of the city were divided; and some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles. (Acts 14:1-4)
But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, . . . (Acts 14:14)
The anti-Paulists attack these verses in two ways:
Point #1 was addressed earlier, but it goes to show how anti-Paulists have a total disregard for a person’s good name and will slander someone in order to promote their false teaching. It also shows their disregard for the New Testament in that they will discredit it and bring its validity into question to suit their ends. If we cannot trust Luke’s accounts concerning Paul, it brings all of Luke’s other writings into question. If we cannot trust the writings of Paul it brings all other New Testament writings into question. This, of course, does not hinder the anti-Paulists, many of whom reject all New Testament writings except the words of Yeshua as recorded in the Gospels. Many don’t even accept the Gospel narratives believing they have contradictions and error in them. They only accept Yeshua’s words recorded therein.
Point #2 is far more palatable than Point #1, but it is problematic as well. The same argument is used of “angels”. When people promote Yeshua as the “angel of Yahweh” and are referred to Hebrews 2:5 showing Yahweh did not subject the world to come to angels, they say the Greek word “aggelos” should be translated “messengers”. However, the context of Hebrews 1-2 is clearly referring to angelic beings and not to mere messengers.
The Greek word “aggelos” was translated “messenger” in Matthew, Mark and Luke referring to John the Baptist. If “messenger” was meant in Acts 14:4;14, why not use “aggelos” instead of “apostolos”? “Apostolos” was used 81 times in the New Testament. It was translated “apostle” 78 times. It was translated “sent” once, which is the meaning of “apostolos”. It was translated “messenger” and “messengers” once each.
2 Corinthians 8:23 As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brethren, they are messengers of the assemblies, a glory to Messiah.
Philippians 2:25 But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need;
Epaphroditus was sent by the Philippians to Paul. In that sense he was the Philippians’ apostle since they are the ones that sent him. The same would hold true for the “messengers” in 2 Corinthians 8:23. They were messengers/apostles sent by the assemblies. However, in Acts 14:4;14, Paul and Barnabas were sent by the Holy Spirit to fulfill Yeshua’s words that he would send Paul throughout the world to bear his name. Therefore, Paul and Barnabas are apostles of Yeshua through the Holy Spirit’s will and power. That is what Paul declared at the beginning of most of his epistles such as Galatians 1:1:
“Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Yeshua Messiah, and Elohim the Father, who raised him from the dead;)”
Here are more quotes by Paul who understood exactly what Yeshua called him to be and do. The anti-Paulists reject these “self-proclamations”, but hopefully you will not.
Romans 1:1 - Paul, a servant of Yeshua Messiah, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of Elohim,
1 Corinthians 1:1 - Paul, called to be an apostle of Yeshua Messiah through the will of Elohim, . . .
Ephesians 1:1 - Paul, an apostle of Yeshua Messiah by the will of Elohim, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Messiah Yeshua:
Colossians 1:1 - Paul, an apostle of Yeshua Messiah by the will of Elohim, . . .
1 Timothy 1:1 - Paul, an apostle of Yeshua Messiah by the commandment of Elohim our Saviour, and Master Yeshua Messiah, which is our hope;
2 Timothy 1:1 - Paul, an apostle of Yeshua Messiah by the will of Elohim, according to the promise of life which is in Messiah Yeshua,
Titus 1:1 - Paul, a servant of Elohim, and an apostle of Yeshua Messiah, according to the faith of Elohim's elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after piety;
These greetings are no different than those used by the Apostle Peter.
1 Peter 1:1 - Peter, an apostle of Yeshua Messiah, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,
2 Peter 1:1 - Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Yeshua Messiah, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of Elohim and our Saviour Yeshua Messiah:
That there are other apostles besides the twelve can be seen in an early writing called “The Didache” or “The Teachings of the Twelve Apostles”. It is dated around the late first century or early second century.
Chapter 11. Concerning Teachers, Apostles, and Prophets.Whosoever, therefore, comes and teaches you all these things that have been said before, receive him. But if the teacher himself turns and teaches another doctrine to the destruction of this, hear him not. But if he teaches so as to increase righteousness and the knowledge of the Lord, receive him as the Lord. But concerning the apostles and prophets, act according to the decree of the Gospel. Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord. But he shall not remain more than one day; or two days, if there's a need. But if he remains three days, he is a false prophet. And when the apostle goes away, let him take nothing but bread until he lodges. If he asks for money, he is a false prophet.
This passage cannot refer to only the original twelve apostles. If an “apostle” is identified as a “false prophet”, then by extension he is a “false apostle” as well.
2 Corinthians 11:13 and Revelation 2:2 mention false apostles.
“For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Messiah.”
“I know thy works, and thy labor, and thy patience, and how you cannot bear them which are evil: and you have tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and have found them liars:”
If the anti-Paulist view is correct that there can only be twelve apostles, why would anyone dare to come to an assembly claiming to be an apostle? Surely everyone knew there could only be twelve. They would be laughed right out of the place.
In Revelation 2:2, false apostles were “tried” or "put to the test". No test would be necessary if there could only be twelve apostles and everyone knew who they were. The Ephesians somehow tested these so-called apostles to see if they really were apostles (other than the twelve), but they failed the test and were found false.
If Paul was a false apostle (which designation would include self-proclaimed apostles), why didn't the Ephesians find him false? The last record we have of the Ephesians ever seeing Paul's face is found in Acts 20:25,36-38:
Acts 20:25 "And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face.
Acts 20:36-38 When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they were accompanying him to the ship.
The Ephesian elders obviously loved Paul dearly. Is that how one treats false apostles?
Galatians 2:8-9 (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.
This passage seems to show that James, Peter and John realized Paul was indeed an apostle to the Gentiles and therefore, gave him the right hand of fellowship. This is not a fellowship as part of the Body of Messiah that all believers share, but a fellowship within the ranks of the Apostles.
These three great apostles so understood Paul and Barnabas’ calling as apostles to the Gentiles that they were willing to limit their preaching to the Jews even though Yeshua told them to go unto all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. Does that mean they willfully disobeyed Yeshua’s command? Not at all. We do not know if the Holy Spirit impressed upon them to do that or not. We give them the benefit of the doubt and do not accuse them. The anti-Paulists, however, do not give Paul the benefit of the doubt. They just falsely accuse him on point after point without fully understanding the issues.
Another passage to consider is 1 Thessalonians 2:5-6:
“For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed--Elohim is witness, nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Messiah we might have asserted our authority.”
This epistle was written to the Thessalonians by Paul, Slyvanus and Timothy (1 Thessalonians 1:1). Therefore, the “we” in this passage applies to all three men as does the phrase “as apostles of Messiah”. This suggests that all three men were apostles of Messiah Yeshua.
Consider, also, Hebrews 3:1:
“Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Yeshua, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession;”
Yeshua is called an “Apostle” and rightly so because he was “sent” by Yahweh. Should we deny this title to Yeshua because there can only be twelve apostles? It is obvious that at this time in history the term “apostle” had a much broader definition than just the twelve apostles of Yeshua. After Yeshua’s resurrection, he appointed other apostles as well such as Saul, Barnabas, Sylvanus, and Timothy.
Now let’s look at point #2:
Revelation 21:14 shows New Jerusalem has only twelve foundations and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
The anti-Paulists read this verse and correctly understand that New Jerusalem only has twelve foundations corresponding to the twelve apostles Yeshua appointed during his earthly ministry. However, they incorrectly conclude that this eliminates anyone else from being an apostle, including Paul.
I totally agree that Paul is not one of the apostles that form the foundation of New Jerusalem. He is a stone that was built upon them. Those he led to Yeshua will be stones built upon him, etc.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of Elohim's household,
having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Messiah Yeshua himself being the corner stone,
in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Master,
in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of Elohim in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
Yeshua is the chief foundational corner stone and the twelve apostles he appointed during his earthly ministry are part of that foundation upon which all the saints are built. Why are the twelve part of the foundation? Because they were the first stones Yeshua used to build this temple. Can this temple have other apostles and prophets in its construction, yet not be part of the foundation? Yes.
And he gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,
for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Messiah;
until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of Elohim, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Messiah. (Ephesians 4:11-13)
This temple is an ongoing building project. Yeshua will continue to provide apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers until it is completed. Each one will be another stone built upon the foundation. The Apostle Paul is one of those stones and one of those apostles who Yeshua provided for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry and for the edifying of the Body of Messiah.
Based on the info provided in this study, why is Paul being attacked as a false apostle? Simple. If you want to discredit the message, discredit the messenger. If they can show Paul was not an apostle, then his message/teachings become suspect. Anti-Paulists cannot harmonize Paul’s teachings on several subjects. As a result, they view him as a false teacher. It is much easier to expose a false teacher that is not an apostle than to expose one that is because his teachings would not be backed by the authority of Yeshua.
This wrestling with Paul’s teachings was addressed in 2 Peter 3:14-16:
Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by him in peace, spotless and blameless,
and regard the patience of our Master as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you,
as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.
Of course, anti-Paulists argue that 2 Peter does not belong in the New Testament. I suspect that if this passage was not in 2 Peter, they would have no problem with this epistle.
I hope you will seriously consider this issue and not become one who rejects the Apostle Paul’s apostleship and writings.