Tuesday, June 11, 2013

There were more than twelve apostles? What does it take to be an apostle?

June 11, Feast of St. Barnabas
St. Barnabas is honored in the Church and in the Scriptures as an apostle. While not one of the twelve, he is given this title (together with St. Paul) in Acts 14:13 – The apostles Barnabas and Paul.
In her liturgy, the Church commemorates St. Barnabas as an apostle, though not with the same solemnity with which she honors St. Paul and St. Matthias or any of the Twelve.
Can we say that St. Barnabas is truly an apostle? If so, how many apostles are there? And, is St. Barnabas an apostle like St. Peter? Is he an apostle like St. Paul?

The twelve apostles, and two others
St. Matthew specifically employs the phrase “the twelve apostles,” when he lists their names in Matthew 10:2ff. St. John does the same in Revelation 21:14. While, St. Luke speaks of how our Savior chose twelve disciples and named them apostles (cf. Luke 6:13), there are no other passages which specifically use the phrase “the twelve apostles.”
However, although both Sts. Matthew and John refer to the concept of “the twelve apostles,” and although this concept is quite familiar to our thought, it is quite obvious that there are more than twelve men whom we honor as apostles.
Indeed, we must admit that there are at least fourteen, or perhaps even fifteen, apostles. Certainly, St. Matthias, who was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot, is rightly numbered among the twelve as an apostle. Furthermore, even St. Paul (who is never numbered among the twelve) must be called an apostle – indeed, we generally call St. Paul the Apostle!
Now, we certainly are correct in stating that there were “twelve apostles,” insofar as our Savior called those twelve men to the apostolic college during his sojourn upon earth. However, there can be no doubt that Sts. Matthias and Paul are “apostles” equal to the twelve. Though Matthias was not chosen by Jesus during his life, he was chosen by the Holy Spirit to replace Judas in the days between the Ascension of our Savior and Pentecost.
St. Paul, on the other hand, was chosen directly by our Savior and appointed by him as an apostle. This is what makes the apparition of Jesus to St. Paul so unique – unlike every other vision or apparition of Jesus since the Ascension, our Savior appeared to St. Paul in his own proper body and in his natural species. Whenever the Lord appears to a mystic, it is not in his own real body, but only by mode of vision (or by use of some other matter, after the manner in which angels have appeared in bodily form). However, St. Paul saw Jesus in his glorified body, just as really and truly as did St. Peter and the other apostles.
[for more on this point, see our earlier article (here)]
The conditions of the apostolate
Considering Sts. Matthias and Paul, we may recognize certain conditions and requirements of being an “apostle” in the strict sense of the term.
It is clear that an apostle must have seen the risen Lord. This was the one great condition placed on the election of a successor to Judas.
There are men who have walked in our company all through the time when the Lord Jesus came and went among us, from the time when John used to baptize to the day when he, Jesus, was taken from us. One of these ought to be added to our number as a witness of his resurrection. (Acts of the Apostles 1:21-22)
St. Matthias was one of these who had been with the Lord from the beginning, through the Passion, and he was further a witness to the Lord’s Resurrection and Ascension. It was necessary for him to have been present for these events, so that he could properly bear witness to the truth of the Resurrection. Any who were not eyewitnesses to these things could not be numbered among the twelve.
St. Paul, on the other hand, did not know Jesus during his earthly life. However, because he was a witness to the Resurrection of Jesus by means of this wholly exceptional bodily apparition of our Savior to St. Paul (something which will not occur again until the Last Judgment), St. Paul was indeed considered to be a true apostle.
While it is true that St. Paul was not with Jesus through his ministry and preaching, we must also affirm that the Apostle did receive the Gospel directly from our Lord just as the other apostles had. St. Paul affirms as much:
Let me tell you this, brethren; the gospel I preached to you is not a thing of man’s dictation; it was not from man that I inherited or learned it, it came to me by a revelation from Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:11-12)
From this, we may ascertain the two major conditions of the apostolate: That he be a witness to our Lord’s Resurrection by having actually seen the risen Jesus, and that he have received the Gospel directly from our Savior and not through any medium.
We further specify that only men could be numbered among the apostles, as only men could properly hold the apostolic office of governing, teaching, and sanctifying in the Church, obviously.
Is St. Barnabas a true apostle?
This, then, brings us to the question of St. Barnabas. Is he truly an apostle in the same sense that Sts. Peter, Matthias, and Paul are apostles?
While it is true that he is honored by the Church as an apostle, and certainly has a share in the dignity of the apostles, it does not seem that we can consider St. Barnabas to be an apostle in the same way as St. Paul or St. Peter.
Although Clement of Alexandria claims that St. Barnabas was among the seventy disciples who were commissioned by our Savior, this seems to contradict Acts of the Apostles where Barnabas is presented as a new convert to the faith sometime after Pentecost.
There was a Levite called Joseph, a Cypriot by birth, to whom the apostles gave the fresh name of Barnabas, which means, the man of encouragement; he had an estate, which he sold, and brought the purchase-money to lay it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts of the Apostles 4:36-37)
Now, Acts is certainly not conclusive. It is possible that Barnabas was among the seventy and could therefore have been a witness to Jesus’ resurrection just as Matthias was. However, it is noteworthy that the Scriptures never present him as such.
One might object: But the Church honors him as an apostle! To this we reply that the Church does indeed give him the title of “apostle,” after the fashion of the Scriptures. However, his feast in the Church has never been kept with the same solemnity as those of the other apostles. While St. Matthias even is honored with a proper “feast,” St. Barnabas’ commemoration is only a “memorial” (we refer to the revised calendar, but the same holds true in the more ancient liturgical calendar as well).
Thus, while it is true that the Church honors Barnabas as an apostle, it is also true that she seems to indicate something of a difference between Barnabas and the others.
Why call him an apostle?
Still, although it is most likely that St. Barnabas cannot qualify as an apostle in the strict sense of the term, he is still rightly honored as an apostle on account of the fact that he was among the most prominent missionaries in the first days of the Church.
Furthermore, we must recall that it was St. Barnabas who testified in behalf of St. Paul and defended the authenticity of his calling as an apostle. Again, it was St. Barnabas who encouraged St. Mark (or John Mark) even when St. Paul had rejected him on account of his having abandoned an early mission.
Thus, because of his close association with the apostles, and most especially because of the manner in which he secured St. Paul’s acceptance as an apostle, St. Barnabas has rightly been honored with the dignity of an apostle (even if he did not strictly share in the office).

St. Barnabas, pray for us!


Pam H. said...

Barnabas couldn't possibly be a recent convert because the Apostles chose him as one of those to draw lots between, and the condition was that those not be recent converts. More probably there was more than one Barnabas. They gave the second one that name.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You are terribly confused ... that was Matthias, not Barnabas ... please re-read Acts 1 and also the above article...

Jack Quirk said...

That wasn't Barnabas but "Joseph called Barsabas," which you will see by re-reading the first chapter of Acts.

Matthias said...

Or Barsabas, perhaps? (Acts 1:23)

Anonymous said...

Rev. Father,

I wonder to which "more ancient liturgical calendar" you refer, since many (not excluding the Roman!) give Barnabas the same "class" as Matthias. A reference would be very helpful. Thank you!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Please use a pseudonym or name...

Not sure which ordo you are looking at ... in 1962 Barnabas is III Class while Matthias is II Class - so Matthias is higher.
Likewise, the ancient Benedictine office gives Barnabas III Class and Matthias II Class ...

Could you give a reference?
... because it is quite clear that the Roman calendars do give Matthias a higher class of feast than Barnabas ...

Alessandro said...

Doesn't the Church use the word "apostle" in general for every preacher who brought Christianism for the first time into some land? E.g., Saint Willibrord is knows as "apostle of the Frisians". Could that apply to Barnabas, too, because he spread Christianity throughout the world?

Anonymous said...

Dear Father,

many thanks for the instructive article. Two questions:

1. I´ve been reflecting upon the difference between apostles in the strict sense of the world and the other apostles. If I understand it well, only the apsotles in the strict sense are originators of the apostolic tradition ("holders" of the Revelation) and of the apostolic succession of our bishops. Thus there can be a line of apostolic succession having St. Matthias or St. Paul as its beginning, but not St. Barnabas. Is that right?

2. In Rev 21, 14 we read about the heavenly Jerusalem: "And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them, the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb." Which twelve apostles coul be meant here? The Eleven plus St. Matthias? Why are there not rather thirteen foundations with the names of thirteen apostles (the Eleven plus St. Matthias plus St. Paul)?


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

1) Yes, sounds right to me ... however, we note that none of the apostles other than Peter have a true "apostolic line" ... i.e. we don't have any bishop trace his line back to St Thomas or St. Matthew ... the only successor of an individual apostle is the Pope who is successor of St. Peter ... the other bishops are successors to all the apostles.

2) While Matthias was added to the number of the apostles (i.e. he is one of the twelve), it doesn't seem that St Paul is truly one of the twelve ... though he is a member of the apostolic college.
Hence, if we speak of the Twelve, I think we mean Matthias, but not Paul...

Peace! +

David Shepherd said...

Great exegesis. Apostolic authority was derived from the unmediated personal mentoring and commissioning by Christ to be foundational witnesses to His message.

In the New Testament, there do appear to be two distinct types of visions. One is a strengthening revelation that does not interact with its recipient.

In contrast, St. Paul did indeed see and interact with Christ in His glorified body. Yet, Paul says of the experience, 'I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision'. It is the same language that is used of Zechariah's angelic vision: optasia.

What is notable in both cases is that those visions involved a direct experience of the divine, rather than just an effect on the consciousness wrought by supernatural power. The subject of the vision can interact and affect natural phenomena. As you say, the same is true of St. Peter's rescue from Herod's imprisonment.

In contrast, Moses and Elijah do not directly interact with the apostles on the Mount of Transfiguration. Although, this also described as a vision (horama). Again, Joel's prophecy of the general outpouring of the Holy Spirit promises 'your young men shall see visions (horaseis).

John the Baptist's witness at Jesus' baptism was a physically audible voice from heaven and a Messiah-affirming descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.

For a short while, the transcendent voice of God spoke once again into the natural world. as in the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.

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