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Apostle

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Altar mosaic by Ed W via Flickr

Apostle (Greek: Apostolos, derived from apo [away] + stellein [to send])

According to Christian tradition, the Apostles were, for the most part, ordinary folk transformed by Jesus Christ to assist and continue in his spiritual mission. For Christians, the number twelve suggests that the apostles are a divinely chosen group since this number parallels the twelve tribes of Israel, as outlined in the Old Testament.

Collectively the apostles are: Simon Peter, James, John, Andrew, Philip, Bartholemew (possibly Nathanael), Matthew (possibly Levi), Thomas, James the Less, Thaddaeus (possibly Judas the son of James), Simon the Zealot or Cananean, and Judas Iscariot. Judas Iscariot, who helped with the accounting, was the one who betrayed Jesus. Matthias was chosen to replace Judas after his death by suicide. Saul of Tarsus was another later addition. He became Paul after a powerful conversion experience which apparently “knocked him off his horse,” an image with obvious symbolic import.

Judas küsst Jesus (Fresko in der Capella degli...

Judas küsst Jesus (Fresko in der Capella degli Scrovegni, Padua, 1304-1306) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since one apostle went afoul and two new apostles were added, critics say that the emphasis on the number twelve does not really make sense. Biblical defenders reply with various theological arguments, which in essence say that apparent discrepancies such as these amplify rather than nullify the “Living Word.”

Most Bishops claim their authority on the basis of apostolic succession, where grace is said to be transmitted by the laying on of hands, through the ages, going right back to the first apostles. Although this claim is generally dismissed by Protestants, it’s not beyond the range of reason. The early apostles spread out from Jerusalem and set up in various parts of the ancient world, in effect, spearheading what would become the Christian Church. And since Christianity is largely about grace from heaven (at least, those aspects of Christianity that don’t try to fit their religion into their own secular self-image) it makes sense that grace could be conferred through the ages via the laying on of hands—provided, again, that one is able to look at religion from the perspective of spirituality and not worldly thinking.

Today, the word apostle is sometimes informally used to describe great Christian figures like St. Patrick, who’s often called the “Apostle to Ireland” and St. Vincent de Paul, “Apostle to the Poor.”

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