Friday, December 12, 2008

"Apostles" or "church messengers"?

Hopefully, those who read this post have read the first two posts on "the Resurrection of Junia." I just posted the article by David Jones at the website of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, so that those who desire to read the article will do so. Please take time to read the article before reading this one.

Today's topic will tackle another combative response of Wayne Grudem's from his book on "Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth" ( I want to again re-emphasize that, while I am not a complementarian, I am also not a feminist. I believe that both sexes should exercise their God-given gifts in the church.

But, as those of you who've read my posts may know, I am currently tackling the problem regarding Junia: who was this person-- male or female? And if Junia was female, was she really an apostle in the church at Rome? I dealt with those issues last night...but one issue still lingers on: what does the word "apostles" mean in this context? Were Andronicus and Junia apostles in the sense that they possessed a God-given ministry? or were they just church representatives passing through Rome?

To start off the debate, let's get a good quote from our "favorite" guy, the distinguished Dr. Wayne Grudem: "Answer 7.2e: The word translated 'apostles' could just mean 'church messengers' here as it does elsewhere in Paul's writings" (EFBT, 226).
Grudem then proceeds to point out a few passages where this meaning is present: John 13:16, 2 Corinthians 8:23, and Philippians 2:25 (not to mention, Romans 16:7, our most important passage for this post).
To be fair, let's examine these three passages outside of Romans 16 where the word "apostles" could really mean "church messengers."

First, we have John 13:16-- "Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him" (New American Standard Bible). Grudem believes that this refers to a messenger. And it does. At its basic definition, "apostle" means "one who is sent." The word comes from the Greek word "apostello," meaning "to send forth." It does mean "messenger", at its most basic definition. But note here that Christ is talking to those who would form the twelve apostles in the early church. In verse 17, Jesus says, "if you know these things, you are blessed if you do them." Notice that when He talks about "one who is sent" (v.16), He is referring to the twelve He would go on to give what we know as The Great Commission (Matthew 28). Jesus commissioned the twelve Himself and told them, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19). The twelve got their calling from God, not from a church. Notice also that in Matthew 16 when Jesus is talking to Peter, He tells Peter, "and upon this rock I will build my church..." (v.18). Jesus hadn't built His church before renaming Peter; He was starting to gather His church. To call the twelve "church messengers" is to read a later construction back into a text that is, to say the least, "pre-church."
Looking at Matthew 28 once more, there is one more significant thing that we cannot miss; it is found in the preceding verse, verse 18: "And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." It's funny that Jesus makes this pronouncement of having "all authority" before He sends out the twelve. This is what Paul makes reference to in our favorite gifts passage, "Ephesians 4," before mentioning the gifts. Let's read Paul's statement:
"Therefore it says, 'When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.'
(Now this expression, 'He ascended,' what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth?
He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers" (Eph. 4:8-11).

the verse that Paul quotes in Eph. 4:8 is a reference to Psalm 68:18 and Colossians 2:15. Read both verses in their contexts (surrounding verses), and you will see that in order to receive the gifts, Christ had to "disarm the rulers and authorities." And what happens when one ruler prevails over another? The defeated ruler in history had to pay tribute. This is where the saying, "To the victor belongs the spoils" was born. Whoever won the battle got the riches-- gold, silver, servants, women, etc. When Christ triumphed over Satan and his authorities, Christ received the authority (having defeated death, hell, and the grave) in order to give authority to His church. And the purpose for this was so that Christ could make good on His promise, "...upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it." In order for Christ to make this promise, He knew that He would go to the cross and defeat Satan and his kingdom. As a result, He had the power to then leave gifts with His church. Ephesians 4 lists the gifts.
Christ mentions His victory to the twelve before sending them out, which shows that they were not going out through the church, but because of Christ. They were going out in order to "build" Christ's church. In so doing, they had Christ's support (His power and authority) with them. In addition, this task was not for a limited time (as that of a church messenger); instead, this was a lifelong task of reaching the lost for Christ.

Next, we have 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 churches, a glory to Christ" (NASB). The word for "messengers" here is "apostolois." Context here dictates these men are some sort of church messengers. 2 Corinthians 9 tell us what the underlying situation is for 2 Corinthians 8: "Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all" (2 Cor. 9:13). So we find that the context of 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 involve the church at Corinth sending a contribution to the Macedonians (2 Cor. 9:2). These men involved are "appointed by the churches to travel with us in this gracious work" (2 Cor. 8:19), so the title of "apostle" here has more to do with church delegation than the spiritual office itself.

In Philippians 2:25, Epaphroditus is sent by Paul to the church at Philippi: "But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus...who is also your messenger and minister to my need." Paul calls Epaphroditus "your messenger" and "minister to my need." Epaphroditus is serving as a church messenger ("your messenger"); but notice that Paul says more about him: Epaphroditus is a "fellow soldier." Not only does he work alongside Paul ("fellow worker"), but he is also one who "battles" alongside Paul. An ordinary worker could work hard for Paul, as did Mary in Romans 16:6, but every worker beside Paul was not a "fellow soldier." The fact that Paul refers to Epaphroditus as such lets us know that Epaphroditus "fought" alongside Paul, did the work of ministry beside Paul, went where Paul went, did what Paul did. He was not just a simple church messenger, for if he was, he would have been appointed by the churches. Notice that Paul sends him to the church (2:25). Let's look at what Paul writes about Epaphroditus: "Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me" (Phil. 2:29-30). Paul tells the church to hold Epaphroditus in high regard. The fact that Paul makes him an example to follow shows that Epaphroditus was not just a mere church messenger. When Paul refers to Titus, for example, he calls him "my partner and fellow worker" (2 Cor. 8:23). What did Titus do as Paul's "fellow worker?" "for this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you" (Titus 1:5). Titus, as an apostle, was supposed to establish churches on the island of Crete. He was an apostle, just as much as Paul was. Even he was not a mere messenger. With Epaphroditus, Paul refers to him as a "minister to my need." Paul chose to send Epaphroditus because he was close to him, but also because Epaphroditus served in that same office-- as an apostle whose job consisted of watching over the churches. Paul did not just send ordinary people, those without a calling, to the churches. If a person was sent, it was because Paul had seen testimony of such a witness in their lives. This is best seen in how Paul was hesitant to allow John Mark to come along with he and Barnabas (Acts 15:37-38).

Last but not least, let's look at the passage from Romans 16:7. In context, there is nothing that would make one believe that Andronicus and Junias were church messengers. If they were church messengers, they would have been sent to another church or place for a set purpose. When Paul writes to the church at Rome about Phoebe, he says, "our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea" (16:1). Phoebe, then, is serving here as a church messenger, while also being a woman in leadership at her church. So even Phoebe, while serving as a church messenger, is not someone without spiritual authority in her church!! Phoebe wasn't just a church messenger without authority, and neither are Andronicus and Junia apostles without authority. Notice that in Romans 16:7, no other church is given. They are not representatives coming to Rome from another church-- they are believers in the church at Rome! Paul salutes them, then, not because they're "running errands" for churches-- but because they're apostles at Rome, a man and woman of spiritual authority in the church!

I think this post has dealt with the attack by Wayne Grudem, David Jones, and others about Andronicus and Junia being just church messengers. Don't worry-- in case more attacks come, more scriptural combat will follow.

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