Those who have been reading this blog lately know that I am very interested in the question of whether the office of apostle is supposed to be a continuing office in the church—a claim that is central to the religion of the Latter-day Saints, or Mormons. So I was interested in a paper given at ETS last week arguing for the continuation of the office of apostle. Frank Chan, a professor at Nyack College, does not accept the LDS claim that apostles in the sense of revelational spokesmen for Jesus Christ are supposed to be living and leading the church today. According to Chan, both traditional Christians and Mormons are mistaken in defining an apostle in this sense.
Chan’s paper at ETS last week was his third ETS paper developing his view. The first paper, “Apostles and Prophets as the Foundation of the Church: Rethinking a Popular Cessationist Reading of Ephesians 2:20,” was presented in 2005. His second, ““The Apostleship of Jesus as the Basis for Redefining Apostleship Along Non-Cessationist Lines,” was presented in 2006. The third paper, read last week, is “Flaws in J. B. Lightfoot’s Cessationist Concept of Apostleship: A Critique of the So-Called ‘Eyewitness of the Resurrection’ Requirement.” The thrust of this third paper is that while the Jerusalem apostles were expected to be eyewitnesses of the resurrection, other apostles, notably those associated in the NT with Antioch, were not required or expected to be such eyewitnesses. Chan concludes that while apostles like those in Jerusalem do not live in the church today, apostles like those associated with Antioch can and do. Contrary to Lightfoot, according to Chan, Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:1 was not affirming that the “eyewitness requirement” applied to all apostles, but merely paying “respectful lip service” to the requirement because it served his purpose to do so (since Paul happened to qualify on this basis).
In “Apostleship of Jesus,” Chan defines the term apostle as follows: “an apostle is an individual who has received divinely commissioned authority for some pioneering, foundation-building, gospel-related task, as validated by a variety of commonly recognized evidences” (p. 4, emphasis in original). If this is what one means by “apostle,” then I think most Christians would agree that such persons exist in the church today (although we might need to be careful to define what is meant by “divinely commissioned authority”). The question is whether this definition reflects NT usage, as Chan thinks.
I will not attempt to critique Chan’s arguments in this post. I do think it is important that evangelical scholars study these issues carefully and discuss them with each other. In later posts, as I continue the series on apostles and the LDS Church, I will comment as appropriate on relevant elements of Chan’s arguments.