Are there apostles and prophets in the Church today?
The Greek noun apostolos, normally translated “apostle”, simply means “one who is sent” or a “messenger”. It is used in both a general sense and a more limited, specific one as a gift, (Eph. 4: 11). Epaphroditus was no apostle, and yet the word translated “messenger” in “your messenger and minister to my need”, (Phil. 2: 25), is apostolos. Again the “deputed messengers of assemblies”, (2 Cor. 8: 23), is another use of apostolos. 1 Thess. 1: 1 reads “Paul and Silvanus and Timotheus to the assembly” and later, (2: 6), we read “when we might have been a charge as Christ’s apostles”. Were Silvanus and Timotheus apostles? Only in the general sense of being sent, not in the specific sense of having that distinctive gift for in Col. 1: 1 we read “Paul, apostle of Christ Jesus,... and Timotheus the brother”. Timothy was not an apostle. Possibly the word is also used in the general sense of “messengers” in Acts 14: 14 where we read of “the apostles Barnabas and Paul” because there is nothing elsewhere to indicate that Barnabas was an apostle.
The noun apostolos has a related verb apostello: to “send”. It is used, for example, in Rom. 10: 15: “and how shall they preach unless they have been sent?” Every preacher should be sent, not asked. So does the Lord still send out His servants today? Without question! Yet that does not mean that every preacher has the gift of apostleship! Just because a man is sent does not mean that he is an apostle; nor likewise that one that gives a prophetic word has the gift of prophesy. Sawing a piece of wood in two does not make me a carpenter, nor mending a fuse qualify me as an electrician.
Now the Spirit of God repeatedly employs two models: the agricultural model and the architectural model. “Ye are God’s husbandry, God’s building”, (1 Cor. 3: 9). Paul goes on in that chapter to view the assembly as a temple, with himself as the wise architect, laying Jesus Christ as the foundation, on which others were building. Now this cannot be the assembly in its universal setting, for that was in existence before Paul was even called. This is the assembly in Corinth, in the local setting, where Paul laboured for a year and six months, (Acts 18: 11), establishing it there. In this context Paul is an architect and Jesus Christ the foundation and then he says, (1 Cor. 3: 11), “For other foundation can no man lay besides that which [is] laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Note these words. It is impossible to lay the foundation a second time. Foundations are laid once, and once only.
Now turn to Eph. 2: 20–22. Again we have the architectural model and the Assembly viewed as a temple, but Jesus Christ now as the corner–stone not the foundation. Why? Because the viewpoint is different. The view here is not a local one but a universal one, of the Assembly in its entirety. It is Jew and Gentile builded in together to form a holy temple, and so that it will be “four square”, (Rev. 21: 16), Christ must be the corner–stone. But what of the foundations, foundations which are laid but once, and which when the building begins to rise disappear from sight never to be seen again? Eph. 2: 20 speaks of “the foundation of the apostles and prophets”, the first two in the gifts of Eph. 4: 11. No evangelist or teacher has a place in this foundation, it is apostles and prophets only. The service of these were initial in establishing the assembly: they were foundational gifts. The ministry peculiar to the assembly came directly from God to them. The N.T. Scriptures did not exist. So when Paul speaks of this “mystery of the Christ”, (Eph. 3: 4, 5), he says “as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets”. Later the inspired epistles were written, and those that contain teaching peculiar to the Assembly are Paul’s. His epistles completed the Word of God, (Col. 1: 25), not in the historical sense of being written last, (which were John’s), but in the sense of completing the subject matter of the Bible, for only Paul speaks of the Assembly as the body of Christ. Hence the gifts of apostle and prophet are no longer in existence.
In Peter’s final epistle, (2 Pet. 3:2), he exhorts his readers “to be mindful of the words spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of the Lord and Saviour by your apostles”. It is not what they are still saying but what they have spoken. Back in 2 Pet. 2: 1 he says “But there were false prophets also among the people, as there shall be also among you false teachers”. He compares false O.T. prophets with false N.T. teachers. Why does Peter change from prophets to teachers? Because the N.T. prophets have gone but the gift of teaching will remain until the Lord comes. Hence although the apostles and prophets have gone the evangelists and the teachers remain “until we all arrive...at [the] measure of the stature of the fullness of the Christ”, (Eph. 4: 13).