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Leonardo da Vinci: The Last Supper - The mural shows the twelve apostles: Bartholomäus, Jakobus d. J., Andreas, Judas, Petrus, Johannes, Thomas, Jakobus d. Ä., Philip, Matthew, Thaddäus and Simon Zelotes
The twelve apostles by Christian Schmid (17th century)
Fresco "Jesus and the twelve apostles" with Christ monogram , Domitilla catacombs , Rome

An apostle (from ancient Greek ἀπόστολος apóstolos , German ' envoy , messenger' ) is, in the understanding of the tradition of Christianity, someone who was directly commissioned by Jesus Christ with the mission of preaching the faith. The term apostle is important within the New Testament in the letters of Paul of Tarsus as well as in the Gospel of Luke and in the Acts of the Apostles .

Biblical occurrence

The concept of the apostle is represented very unevenly in the writings of the New Testament. 24 references in the genuine Pauline letters and 34 references in the Lukan double work ( Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles ) contrasts with a conspicuous avoidance of the word apostle in the Gospel of John (only Jn 13:16  EU ). In the Gospel of Mark , only one occurrence is textually secured ( Mk 6.30  EU ), and Matthew probably adopted it from here in the heading of his list of twelve ( Matt 10.2  EU ), without the term being common in the Matthean congregation.

In the Gospels

In the synoptic gospels a selection of Jesus' disciples is reported, who are first called "the twelve apostles", "the twelve messengers" or "the twelve" for short in the Gospel of Luke . The Gospel of Luke reports that Jesus himself chose the twelve disciples and installed them as apostles ( Lk 6:13  EU ; from here the phrase "whom he also called apostles" penetrated into many text witnesses of Mk 3:14  EU ). The lists of names handed down in the Gospels do not give a uniform picture of the fact that the total number of all apostles is limited to 12: The Gospel of Luke essentially corresponds to this list (6.13 ff). Instead of Thaddeus, however, it calls "Judas, son of James" (this is probably James, the son of Alphaeus), and Simon (Canaanäus) is referred to as Zealot , ie "zealot".

There is no formal list of the apostles in John's Gospel . There a Nathanael appears twice ( Joh 1,45  EU  ff; 21,2), which does not appear in the other Gospels. He is not called an apostle, but in John 21: 2 he is in their company after the resurrection of Jesus. In the same episode in the Acts of the Apostles ( Acts 1.13  EU ) Bartholomew is listed in his place .

It is historically controversial whether Jesus chose a narrow, leading circle of twelve. The fact that Jude is referred to as "one of the twelve" indicates that it is not a later stylization of early Christianity . The wills of the twelve patriarchs and other documents indicate the importance of the twelve tribes of Israel also in the time of Jesus. These should rule on earth if God were to restore Israel's political autonomy. If Jesus actually gave his followers such a structure, this underlines, according to James H. Charlesworth, his non-violent political claim, which at the time of the Jewish Second Temple was inseparable from religious goals.

The twelve apostles or twelve messengers

Tabular comparison of the Apostellists:

# Gospel of Matthew Gospel of Mark Gospel of Luke Acts of the Apostles Remarks
1 Simon Peter Simon Peter Simon Peter Peter  
2 Andreas, "his brother" Andreas (# 4) Andreas, "his brother" Andreas (# 4) Brother of Simon Peter
3 James the son of Zebedee James the son of Zebedee (# 2) James James James the Elder
4th Johannes, "his brother" Johannes, "his brother" (# 3) John John (# 2) Like James the Elder, a son of Zebedee ; the early church tradition according to the author of the Gospel of John
5 Philip Philip Philip Philip  
6th Bartholomew Bartholomew Bartholomew Bartholomew (# 7) Bartholomäus (nickname) probably identical with Nathanael (nickname) from the Gospel of John
7th Thomas Thomas (# 8) Thomas (# 8) Thomas (# 6) Didymos Judas Thomas
8th Matthew, the (former) tax farmer Matthew (# 7) Matthew (# 7) Matthew Identical to the early church tradition according to the author of the Gospel of Matthew and to Levi mentioned in the Gospel of Luke
9 James the son of Alphaeus James the son of Alphaeus James the son of Alphaeus James the son of Alphaeus James the Younger
10 Squidward Squidward Judas, "son [or brother] of James" (# 11) Judas son of James (# 11) With James is probably meant the son of Alphaeus. Jude and Thaddäus could also be different people, but are traditionally identified with one another.
11 Simon Kananäus Simon Kananäus Simon Zelotes (# 10) Simon the Zealot (# 10) Kananäus: name of origin. Zelotes ("zealots", member of an independence movement): nickname
12 Judas Iscariot Judas Iscariot Judas Iscariot Iscariot “Man from Cariot” (more likely) or “ Sicarian ” (“knife fighter”: member of an independence movement, less likely): nickname

In the Acts of the Apostles

After Judas Iscariot killed himself after betraying Jesus, shortly after the ascension of Jesus Matthias was determined by lot as one of the twelve ( Acts 1.15 ff  EU ). The report on the selection before drawing lots names the requirements that a member of the apostolic group of twelve had to meet at the latest at the time the Acts of the Apostles were written:

“That must be one of the men who have been with us [the other twelve] during all the time that the Lord Jesus came and went with us, from the baptism of John until that day which he was recorded . With us he shall become a witness of his resurrection . "

- Acts 1: 21-22

The biography of the Apostle Paul did not meet these requirements . He didn't meet Jesus Christ until after Pentecost . As for the “historical” Jesus, Paul was dependent on information from the other apostles and disciples as well as on special revelations . In Rom 11.13  EU (and often), Paul called anyway "apostle of the Gentiles " and describes his particular service job he according to his statements already in his conversion had received. In the Acts of the Apostles, on the other hand, Luke seldom grants Paul the title “Apostle”; he counts him to the extended circle of "apostles and elders" (e.g. Acts 15 and so on).

Other uses of the term apostle

This is not about the chosen twelve apostles, but the term "apostle" is used in the literal sense - messenger. The difference in time between the letters of Paul (written around 45–60 AD) and the lists of the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, which, according to popular opinion, were probably not written until 66–90 AD, is certainly important for this different use of language .

  • In the Acts of the Apostles (14 : 4 and 14) Barnabas and Paul are referred to as apostles . According to Acts 13: 1-4, Barnabas had previously been chosen with Paul to do the work to which the Lord had called them.
  • In almost all the beginning of the letter (e.g. Rom 1,1  EU , Gal 1,1  EU ) and in various other places Paul describes himself as an apostle.
  • In Rom. 16,7  EU Andronicus and Junia are mentioned, who are "respected apostles", literally ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις epísēmoi en toīs apostólois “respected among the apostles”. The female name Junia is interpreted by some as a short form for Junianus / Junias (male). The translation of the Good News Bible and the Luther translation , however, understand Junia as an apostle. In the explanations of the good news on the keyword Junia it says: “Another argument in favor of a woman is that the woman's name Junia is often used in non-biblical ancient literature, but a man's name Junia has not yet been proven. The view that the person in question was a man named Junias was first held in the 13th century in the Latin-speaking Church of the West. It quickly became the common property of the interpreters and has remained so to this day, while the Eastern Orthodox Churches still adhere to the traditional view. "In the latest editions of the Luther revision, a note on the point reads" Probably the name was originally (female ) Junia. In the old church and until the 13th century it was understood as a woman's name. ”The first exegete in whom the name Junias appears is Aegidius Romanus (1245–1316). The rediscovery of the apostle Junia goes back to a detailed study by Bernadette Brooten.
  • Paul calls James , "the Lord's brother", an apostle ( Gal 1.19  EU ).
  • Silvanus and Timotheus call themselves together with Paul "Christ's Apostle" ( 1 Thess 2,6  EU in connection with 1 Thess 1,1  EU )
  • In Eph 4.11  EU , the “office of the apostle”, together with the offices of prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, is described as one of the fundamental ministries of the church.
  • In Heb 3,1  EU is Jesus Christ himself as the Apostle and High Priest of our profession referred.
  • In 2 Cor 8,23  EU and Phil 2,25  EU there is talk of "apostles of the congregations", which were sent out by the congregations for a certain task.
  • Missionaries were also sometimes referred to as apostles. In the 8th century the Anglo-Saxon Boniface was also called "Apostle of the Germans", in the 9th century Cyril and Method as "Apostle of the Slavs". Saint Ansgar is also called the "apostle of the north".
  • Some saints , including Nino , are referred to as "apostle-like". In the 3rd century Hippolytus of Rome gave Mary Magdalene the honorable designation Apostola apostolorum ("Apostle of the Apostles"), because she had brought the message of the empty tomb to the apostles on Easter morning.

In his letters Paul emphasizes again and again that - in contrast to the "church apostles" and other missionaries - he was called directly to be an apostle by Christ (cf. Gal 1,1  EU and 1 Cor 9,1  EU ). For Paul, an apostle is first and foremost a preacher of the Gospel who, as a credible witness of Christ's resurrection, vouches for its truth (cf. 1 Cor 15: 1 ff. And Acts 22:15  EU ).

Seventy disciples

The seventy or seventy-two disciples are only mentioned in the Gospel of Luke ( Lk 10.1  EU ). According to Luke, they were chosen by Jesus Christ and sent in pairs to preach his message. In the Western Church, they are usually called disciples, while the Orthodox Churches call them apostles .

Church history

The last disciples of the apostles died around the year 130 AD ; this ended an important period in early church history . The transmission of oral and written testimonies was of crucial importance in the early church after the death of the last contemporary witnesses and their students.

The apostleship

Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Churches

In the Roman Catholic Church and in the Orthodox Churches, the bishops are considered to be the successors of the apostles, since their authority includes the continuous and unadulterated reproduction of the apostles' teaching (→ apostolic succession ).

Protestant churches

Some evangelical churches, especially those of the Pentecostal movement , know the ministry of the apostle in their congregations (together with the ministries of teachers, shepherds , prophets and evangelists ) according to Eph 4:11  EU . They see this office as a function without special privileges.

Apostolic Churches

A so-called “Apostle ministry of the modern age” was established in the Catholic-Apostolic congregations around 1832. According to their own statements, they referred to a direct instruction from God. The numerous successor organizations of these congregations are also mostly familiar with the apostleship.

The New Apostolic Church (NAK) as the best-known split knows the office of Chief Apostle and the Apostles, which is passed on within the Church. As the supreme spiritual authority of all New Apostolic District Churches in the world, the Chief Apostle leads the Church as a whole (New Apostolic Church International) in all religious matters; he calls his successor as well as the District Apostles and Apostles who are subordinate to him .

The Dutch “ Apostolisch Genootschap ” and the communities united in the Association of Apostolic Congregations, such as the German Apostolic Community , also know the Apostle ministry, but with a different meaning and authority.
Likewise, in the Old Apostolic Church Germany (AAK) or Old Apostolic Church (OAC) there is the official designation "Apostle" as the first servant of God in modern times. The decisive factor is the gift (or calling) that is conferred on a person through divine revelations. Just as in the OAC, it is in the Church of the Apostle Ministry of Jesus Christ K. d. O. R., where the apostles are regarded as the first servants of God and endowed with special gifts.


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) also has an apostolic ministry. Of the fifteen or less apostles, twelve form the quorum of the twelve apostles and three make up the "first presidency" ; where the president has to hold the apostolic office, his counselors not necessarily. Other Mormon churches, such as the Communion of Christ and the Church of Christ with the Elijah Message, also have apostles. There are also several quorums of seventy that refer to the seventy disciples in the gospels.


See also

Web links

Commons : Apostle  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Apostle  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Jörg Frey : Concept of the apostle, Apostle ministry and apostolicity New Testament perspectives on the question of the “apostolicity” of the church . In: Theodor Schneider , Gunther Wenz (Hrsg.): The church office in apostolic succession. I. (= dialogue of the churches, 12). Freiburg - Göttingen 2004, pp. 113–115.
  2. Joachim Gnilka : EKK II / 1, Zurich et al. 1978, p. 139 Note 18: "The addition, which he also called an apostle, is well documented in the text, but should be deleted as an influence of Luke 6.13."
  3. James H. Charlesworth: The Historical Jesus. An Essential Guide . Abingdon, Nashville 2008, p. 107, ISBN 978-0-687-02167-3 .
  4. A short version is available under the title Junia […] outstanding among the apostles (Rom 16: 7). In: Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel (Ed.): Women liberation. Biblical and Theological Arguments . Munich 1982, pp. 148-151.