Apostle (Christian)  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

According to the Bible's New Testament, the Apostles were the primary disciples of Jesus, the central figure in Christianity. During the life and ministry of Jesus in the first century AD, the apostles were his closest followers and became the primary teachers of the gospel message of Jesus. The word "disciple" is sometimes used interchangeably with "apostle" for instance the Gospel of John makes no distinction between the two terms. In modern usage, prominent missionaries are identified as apostles a practice which stems from the Latin equivalent of apostle, missio, the source of the English word "missionary".

While Christian tradition often refers to the apostles as being twelve in number, different gospel writers give different names for the same individual, and apostles mentioned in one gospel are not mentioned in another. The commissioning of the Twelve Apostles during the ministry of Jesus is recorded in the Synoptic Gospels. After his resurrection, Jesus sent eleven of them (minus Judas Iscariot, who by then had died) by the Great Commission to spread his teachings to all nations—an event referred to as the "Dispersion of the Apostles". There is also an Eastern Christian tradition derived from the Gospel of Luke of there being as many as Seventy Apostles during the time of Jesus' ministry. Prominent figures in early Christianity were often called apostles even though their ministry or mission came after the life of Jesus.

The period of Early Christianity during the lifetimes of the apostles is called the Apostolic Age. During the first century, the apostles established churches throughout the territories of the Roman Empire and according to tradition through the Middle East, Africa, India, and modern-day Ukraine. The apostle Paul, a Jew named Saul of Tarsus, is considered "the apostle of the Gentiles", for his missions to spread the gospel message after his conversion. Although not one of the apostles commissioned during the life of Jesus, Paul claimed a special commission from the resurrected Jesus. In his writings, the epistles to Christian churches established throughout the Levant. Paul did not restrict the term "apostle" to the Twelve, and often refers to his mentor Barnabas as an apostle. The restricted usage appears in Revelation.

By the second century AD, association with the apostles was esteemed as an evidence of authority and such churches are known as Apostolic Sees. Paul's epistles were accepted as scripture, and two of the four gospels were associated with apostles, as were other New Testament works. Various Christian texts, such as the Didache and the Apostolic Constitutions, were attributed to the apostles. Bishops traced their lines of succession back to individual apostles, who were said to have dispersed from Jerusalem and established churches across great territories. Christian bishops have traditionally claimed authority deriving, by apostolic succession, from the Twelve. Early Church Fathers who came to be associated with apostles, such as Pope Clement I with Peter the Apostle, are referred to as Apostolic Fathers. The Apostles' Creed, popular in the West, was said to have been composed by the apostles themselves. The Twelve Apostles are also called the Twelve Disciples. Several Christian and local traditions honour major missionaries as apostles—for example, Saint Patrick (AD 373–463) as "Apostle of Ireland" or Saint Boniface (680–755) as "Apostle to the Germans".

See also

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