The Office of Apostle

Office of Apostle

Andrew Willet (1562-1621)
Commentary Upon the Most Divine Epistle of the
Holy Apostle St. Paul to the Romans

Quest. 8. Of the office and calling of an Apostle, what it was.

1. The word Apostle is taken, either aequivoce, in an equivocal and improper sense—and either in the better sort, as Andronicus and Junia are said to be notable among the Apostles (Rom. 16:7), where the word is generally taken for one that is sent—or in the worse, as some are called false Apostles (2 Cor. 11:13). Or the word is used univoce, properly—and that either in a kind of excellency, as Christ is called our High Priest and Apostle (Heb. 3:1), or else it is applied to the chief ministers of the New Testament, which were properly called Apostles (J. Gryneus).

2. Jerome maketh four kinds of Apostles, that is of such as were sent, as the word signifieth. 1. Some were only sent from God, as the Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, with the rest. 2. Some were ordained of God, but by men, as Moses consecrated Aaron to be High Priest, and Joshua to succeed him. 3. Some are sent by men, and not of God, as they which enter by corruption and bribes. 4. Some intrude themselves being neither sent of God, nor by men.

3. The word “Apostle” generally signifieth any that is sent, yet it properly also expresseth the highest office and dignity of Apostles in the New Testament: as St. Paul saith (1 Cor. 12:20). God hath ordained some in the Church: as first, Apostles, secondly Prophets, thirdly teachers.

4. And though St. Paul were none of the 12 Apostles, yet he and Barnabas were also ordained of Christ, to be Apostles, of equal authority with the twelve.

Quest. 9. Diverse points, wherein consisted the excellency of the Apostleship.

1. The Apostles were such as were immediately called by Christ, to preach his gospel through the world, as Mat. 28:20. “Go and teach all nations…

2. They were such as had known Christ in the flesh, and were eyewitnesses of his miracles, and heard his sermons, as St. John saith, “That which we have seen, and heard, declare we unto you” (1 John 1:3). And St. Paul, though he had not known Christ in the days of his flesh, yet he saw him now being immortal and in glory by revelation.

3. They had the keys of the kingdom of heaven after a more special manner—that whatsoever they bound or loosed in earth, should be bound and loosed in heaven, as Peter did bind up the sin of Simon Magus, and gave sentence against Ananias and Saphira, his wife.

4. They had authority both to discern the canonical Scripture from that which was not canonical, as also to write new canonical books: as Paul, Matthew, Peter, John, Jude.

5. They had power to work miracles, to heal all manner of diseases, and to cast out devils—yea the very shadow of Peter as he passed by was able to heal the sick (Acts 5:15), and the partlets and napkins that were brought from Paul’s body to the sick, helped them (Acts 19:12).

6. They had the gift to speak with diverse tongues and languages. Pererius here addeth further that they had another special grace: that speaking but in their own tongue, yet men of diverse languages did so understand them, as if they had spoken diverse languages. Of the same opinion is Erasmus (annot. Acts 2:8). But Beza well objecteth, that if this had been so, the miracle had not been in the Apostles’ speaking, but in the peoples’ understanding. Neither yet is it to be thought, that they spake diverse languages, at one and the same instant (as Erasmus objecteth) but that they spake diversely, unto several people of diverse languages as they were offered unto them.

7. This special prerogative the Apostles had, to be judges of men at the latter day, as our Saviour saith (Mat. 19:28). That they shall sit upon 12 seats and judge the 12 tribes of Israel, not that they shall sit as Judges to give sentence, but by the word and doctrine which they had preached, and the world refused, shall men be judged as our blessed Saviour in this sense saith, “He that refuseth me, and receiveth not my words, the word that I have spoken, it shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48).

8. The Apostles had power, by laying on of their hands, to give the Holy Ghost—which Simon Magus seeing, would by money have purchased the like power (Acts 8).

9. It was given them in all their doctrine to be free from error, as Christ promiseth that the Spirit should lead them in all truth (John 16:13).

10. The Apostles exceeded all others in the knowledge of the mysteries and high things of the Gospel, as St. Paul saith, “According to his rich grace, whereby he hath been abundant toward us in all wisdom and understanding” (Eph. 1:7b-8).

11. Two other prerogatives Pererius addeth, the one uncertain, the other false. First he saith that the Apostles composed and framed the symbol, containing the 12 articles of the faith, commonly called the Apostles’ Creed; which is not certain both because some of the articles, as that of the descension came in many years after the Apostles, as is elsewhere shewed (see Synops. p. 2055, edit 3), and if the Apostles had set down this rule of faith, it is not likely that diverse churches would after them have framed so many diverse forms beside of the Creed.

12. But the last privilege, that the Apostles post acceptum spiritum sanctum fuerint impeccabiles quantum ad peccatum mortale, after they had received the Spirit, were without sin, etc. For 1. In this sense, that distinction of venial and mortal sin is not to be allowed, that some are venial in their own nature—by the grace of God all sins were venial to the Apostles, and to all other believers—but in its own nature every sin deserveth death, and so is mortal (Rom. 6:23). 2. That the Apostles were apt to sin is evident by Peter’s oversight, for the which he was openly rebuked of Paul, where he saith, “he was to be blamed” (Gal. 2:11).

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