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The Apostolic Overseer

Did you know that apostles were imperative in the first 300 years of the Church? Are we still meant to have apostles today, and more importantly, what qualifies someone to be an apostle?

Within the Church today, there is much controversy and ignorance concerning the Apostolic office. There is a major disconnect when it comes to understanding who qualifies for the office of an apostle. There are some denominations that believe there are no longer any true apostles, only false ones, and there are others who believe that there are still apostles, however the definition of the office is murky at best. To rectify this, we shall see what the Word of God states, and explore how it was practised within the Early Church (pre 325 AD).

The qualification of an apostle is referenced in the book of Acts, stating the following: “Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.” (Acts 1:21-22). This Scripture creates a conundrum as the Apostle Paul was not among the twelve apostles and Jesus, from the beginning of the baptism of John, until the death and resurrection. If those denominations who believe an apostle had to be present with Jesus, stand by this claim, then by their own reproof they would disqualify Paul, and his thirteen epistles. Acts 1:21-22 was not referring to the qualifications to become an apostle, it was an outline of the qualification to fulfill the office left vacant by Judas. By an acrobatic twist of words, this scripture can be grossly misused according to man’s opinion, disregarding the true intention of the author. To verify this, one must look at the preceding verse: “For it is written in the book of Psalms, let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishopric let another take.” (Acts 1:20).

As we see so far, the office they were seeking to fulfill was that of a bishop (episkopē in Greek), a position that Judas once held. The word “apostle” (apóstolos in Greek) was not used concerning the vacant office that was prophesied to later need filling. The author choicely used the word bishop (episkopē) to clearly show that it is synonymous with the office of an apostle (apóstolos). Acts 1:20 is referring to the prophecy found in Psalm 109:8 “Let his days be few; and let another take his office.” The Hebrew word for office is “pequddāh” and refers to a chief overseer and the role of the overseer is to watch over, direct, command, chastise, review and count those in his charge for the purpose of producing work. (1) The Hebrew definition coincides with the Greek definition of bishop (episkopē). They both speak of chief overseers; one who inspects. The LXX translation (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) of Psalm 109:8 uses the word “episkopē”.

If the office of the Apostle/Bishop was limited only to the twelve apostles, why would the Apostle Paul write “This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.” (1 Timothy 3:1). This reveals that the apostolic office is meant to be carried on, not to be limited to the time of the twelve, or simply the number twelve. If the office was only limited to those who “companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22), then why would anyone desire a position that they would not be able to attain, being absent from the entire ministry of Christ on the earth? This certainly creates a gaping hole in the theory that an apostle is only qualified by being present at the ministry of Christ. 

The Apostle Paul writes, “Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers.” (1 Corinthians 12:27-28). Now we must ask ourselves, why would God amputate His own body? Apostles and prophets are a part of the body of Christ, so why amputate members of His own body? Some have made the dispute that the bible warns against false apostles and prophets, however, they conveniently leave out how the same bible also warns against false teachers. This office (teachers) is not met with the same hostility. One cannot be a part of the body of Christ unless it is under the apostolic order that God (not man) has ordained. Irenaeus, a disciple of Polycarp (who learned from the Apostle John), stated in his writing on Against Heresies:

“For in the Church,” it is said, “God hath set apostles, prophets, teachers,” (1Co 12:28) and all the other means through which the Spirit works; of which all those are not partakers who do not join themselves to the Church, but defraud themselves of life through their perverse opinions and infamous behavior. For where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church, and every kind of grace; but the Spirit is truth. Those, therefore, who do not partake of Him, are neither nourished into life from the mother’s breasts, nor do they enjoy that most limpid fountain which issues from the body of Christ; but they dig for themselves broken cisterns (Jer 2:13) out of earthly trenches, and drink putrid water out of the mire, fleeing from the faith of the Church lest they be convicted; and rejecting the Spirit, that they may not be instructed. Alienated thus from the truth, they do deservedly wallow in all error, tossed to and fro by it, thinking differently in regard to the same things at different times, and never attaining to a well-grounded knowledge, being more anxious to be sophists of words than disciples of the truth. (2)

According to Irenaeus, those who have separated from the body of Christ have separated from the apostolic order God has set, having perverse opinions, those who are versed in the wisdom of this age rather than a student of truth. 

The role of the Apostle/Bishop was the head overseer of the church, which is the role of the high priest in the Old Testament. The priesthood is still in effect today. Peter says that we are a royal priesthood that ought to offer spiritual sacrifices (1 Peter 2:5, 9), so if we are a priesthood that means there is a high priesthood. Ignatius, a disciple of the Apostle John taught, “The priests indeed, and the ministers of the word, are good; but the High Priest is better, to whom the holy of holies has been committed, and who alone has been entrusted with the secrets of God.” (3) Paul explains that the office of the apostle and prophet is to reveal the mystery of Christ to the church (Ephesians 3:2-5) and elsewhere Paul also describes his office stating, “as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” (1 Corinthians 4:1). This certainly coincides with how Ignatius describes the office of the High Priest in the New Testament church. 

The apostolic office was still thriving as the head of the church, and in fact the Apostles raised up Bishops at every church they established. This is called Apostolic Succession (link article “Apostolic Tradition” from Jan 2020, to the words Apostolic Succession), which we read Paul referencing, “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2). St. Clement, who had learned from both Peter and Paul in Rome, stated the succession of the apostles was being carried out after they went on to be with the Lord. He writes, 

Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect foreknowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry. We are of opinion, therefore, that those appointed by them, or afterwards by other eminent men, with the consent of the whole Church, and who have blamelessly served the flock of Christ in a humble, peaceable, and disinterested spirit, and have for a long time possessed the good opinion of all, cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry. For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties. (4)

St. Clement single handedly decimates the theory that the apostolic office was only for the time of the twelve, but was instead always meant to continue. St. Clement used the Greek word for Bishop “episkopē” emphasizing that this office was a major sin if it was ejected. 

For the body of Christ to be found perfect and whole at the coming of our Lord, it is imperative to have the apostolic Bishop in place to bring us to the unity of the faith and come to the perfect man (Ephesians 4:13). It is a fact that the apostolic office continued, by the will of God, as the evidence has revealed. Through the writings of the Ante Nicene Fathers (the Early Church), having continued the apostolic order in the church, we see that the qualifications of the office of an apostle are not consistent with today’s modern theologians. It has been man, not God, that has amputated this imperative member of the body and has wallowed in error. The apostolic office of Bishop is here in the body of Christ to stay, until we come to the perfect man. Onto perfection it is. 


  1. Ancient Hebrew Lexicon 
  2. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Ch. XXIV
  3. Ignatius, Epistle to the Philadelphians, Ch. IX
  4. St. Clement, Epistle to the Corinthians, Ch. XLIV