Apostles Today?



Culver, Robert D. 

“Apostles and the Apostolate in the New Testament”.

Bibliotheca Sacra (April 1977):  131-143.

THEO 510 LUO (Fall 2013)

Survey of Theology

Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary

Rick Mangrum (ID#21757355)

September 17, 2013




INTRODUCTION                                                                                                                 1

SUMMARY                                                                                                                           1

CRITICAL INTERACTION                                                                                                 2

CONCLUSION                                                                                                                     3

BIBLIOGRAPHY                                                                                                                 4


            This is a critique of Culver’s “Apostles and the Apostolate in the New Testament” published in June of 1977 in Bibliotheca Sacra, a theological journal of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Dallas Theological Seminary.  The study of the New Testament office of Apostle is part of the systematic theology discipline of ecclesiology, or the doctrine of the church.[1]  Understanding this church office and its role both in New Testament times and today is important in insuring we both establish and support the church intended by Christ for our time.

            This critique will first present a brief summary of the article, detailing its thesis and overall content.  A critical interaction will follow to detail the author’s central points of discussion and the theological issues at stake.  A conclusion will then be presented with thoughts on how well the author achieved his goals.          


            Culver’s thesis is simple.  An examination of biblical data leads to the conclusion that the office of Apostle started and ended in New Testament times.  Although many “missionaries and strong religious leaders” appear to fulfill the requirements of the office, they do not.[2]  An examination of both the language of the Bible and the apolostic writings support the idea that this office established in the time of Christ and ended with the earthly deaths of the original apostles.

            Culver begins the presentation of his point of view with a summary of the linguistic background of the word apostle, both Hebrew and Greek.  He then presents biblical references for the occurrences of the office and its origin, along with a timeline of the original twelve both

during the life of Jesus and after his death.  He gives great detail on the features of the apostolate and the qualifications for the office.  Culver details the lives of those other than the original twelve described biblically as apostles.  He then deals with the current point of view of modern scholars on the “alleged perpetual apostolate and succession” after the death of Christ.[3]


            Culver begins with the assertion that many today represent themselves or members of their churches as modern-day apostles.  He asks the question as to the validity of this claim.  He is open to the idea that based on the linguistic origin of the word apostle, “the reader of the Bible must decide what it means from the way it is used.”[4]

            Culver breaks down the linguistic origin and use of the word through both the Old and New Testament, moving to emphasize the New Testament use after a brief discussion of Old Testament origins.  He outlines the original use of the term as a military description, an impersonal expression of a person or group of persons sent away to project or represent.  He then moves to its use in common Jewish life, in both biblical and modern times.

            A detailed summary of apostle in the New Testament is then presented, starting with the origin of the original twelve.  A description of the original twelve during the life of Jesus and the group formed after his death supports the beginning of Culver’s position that only those living during the time of Christ can truly be considered apostles.  He used the words of Jesus to outline the three essential purposes of an apostle.  The first is to preach his word while healing the sick and casting out devils.  Second, an apostle is to announce the coming kingdom of the “Messiah-King”.[5]  The third purpose is to perform miracles.  Since the Earthly announcement of the kingdom of Jesus has now been accomplished, Culver starts to show his coming conclusion that only those that lived in the time of Christ were truly apostles.  He puts the office of apostle into the spiritual-gift group of revelatory gifts, which are “only temporary” and pass away when they are no longer needed.[6]

            Culver’s position continues to be supported in his summary of the six “essential features of the apostolate”, some of which are also qualifications.[7] The list is highly supported with biblical references and examples.  Of the six presented, three can only have been fulfilled by someone living in the time of Christ.  Culver ends his work with a discussion of several modern positions for current-day apostles and how each is contradicted by his list of six qualifications and features of the office.


            Culver’s writing is convincing. From a solid foundation of linguistic biblical data to his summary of the six essential qualifications and features of an apostle, there are multiple biblical references. The lack of modern references or supporting material used to support his position of biblical-era-only apostleship leads the credibility of his conclusion. 

            At times he does make unsupported statements that are confusing to this amateur biblical student.  “New Testament use alone is decisive for the meaning of an apostle” is the first one in his work.  Although he supports in great detail the New Testament support of the meaning of the word, he does not explain the assertion that this is the only data needed.  This style generates some minor questions about the objectivity of his work while overall his position was well supported.



Robert D. Culver, “Apostles and the Apostolate in the New Testament,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 134   no 534, (Ap-Je 1977):  131-143.

Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, Chicago, IL:  Moody Publishers, 2008.

James W. Scott, “The Time When Revelatory Gifts Cease”, Westminster Theological Journal,       Vol. 72, (2010):   267-289.

[1] Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, (Chicago, IL:  Moody Publishers, 2008), 359.

[2] Robert D. Culver, “Apostles and the Apostolate in the New Testament”, Bibliotheca Sacra, 134 no 534, Ap-Je 1977, 131.


[3] Culver, 138.

[4] Culver, 131.

[5] Culver, 135.                                                            

[6] James W. Scott,  , “The Time When Revelatory Gifts Cease”, Westminster Theological Journal, Vol. 72, (2010), 274.

[7] Culver, 136.

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