Christ as an Apostle

We often hear that the apostle’s calling is to be a special witness of Jesus Christ. A few interesting questions about apostles came up in Priesthood this Sunday. One of them was how we are to reconcile the calling of an apostle, as a special witness of Christ, with the statement in Hebrews 3:1 that Christ himself is an Apostle.

It seems that there are a few different possibilities:

1. Christ, as an Apostle, acts as a witness of his own divinity. This makes some sense. After all, who is in a better position to testify of Christ’s divinity than the Lord himself?

However, this possibility seems a little intuitively strange. Is there an implication that an apostle is someone who testifies of another, not himself? I’m not sure. It seems possible to believe that the witnesses of an event should be persons other than the interested parties. And there is an element of this idea in the gospel; we see (for example) that Joseph Smith was not himself one of the formal Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon. Similarly, it seems possible that Christ, as an Apostle, does not have the same calling as a special witness of Himself.

What, then, might his role be?

2. Perhaps Christ, as an Apostle, bears witness of his Father. This is an interesting possibility. Perhaps an apostle is not necessarily one who bears witness of Christ, but rather who bears witness of one greater than he. If this is the case, then perhaps Jesus, in his calling as Apostle, bears witness of his Father.

3. Or perhaps apostles are not intrinsically linked to bearing witness. They simply do as they are directed. Modern apostles such as Gordon B. Hinckley bear witness of Christ, not because that’s what apostles _do_ in some general sense, but because that’s what _they_ have been asked to do, individually. If they were directed to do something else, their role would change. And maybe Jesus, in his role as Apostle, simply did as _He_ was directed, as well, which was a different set of responsibilities than modern apostles are given.

Are there other possibilities that I’m missing? The verse in Hebrews is a fascinating one, and I’m still not completely sure how to read it.

13 comments for “Christ as an Apostle

  1. The early Christian usage of “apostle” was broader than ours. In terms of function, it was very clear. “Apostle” comes to us directly from the Greek apostellw, “to send someone with a comission or authorized message.” Thus, we find the group of 12 Apostles, but we also find a wider group to whom the term was applied, and they seem to have been missionaries, people who were authorized and sent with the gospel message. This may or may not be how the term is applied to Paul. This may also be how the term is used in a few of the early D&C sections ( before the office of apostle was restored) in which people are designated apostles and then sent on missions.

    Christ, of course, was the authorized messenger of the Gospel from the Father to earth. Jesus says in John 20:21, “As the Father has sent me (apostellw), so I send you (apostellw).” I believe this is the sense being used in Hebrews 3:1.

  2. Here are my footnotes to the verse, in case they are useful to you. (I agree with Ben’s comments above):

    1 WHEREFORE,[97] holy brethren,[98] partakers of the heavenly calling,[99] consider the Apostle[100] and High Priest[101] of our profession,[102] Christ Jesus;

    97 IE continuing the argument from ch. 2.
    98 Members of the Christian community (including women).
    99 This calling both originates from heaven and will lead us to heaven.
    100 tovn ajpovstolon ton apostolon one who has been sent; emissary.
    101 That Jesus was a High Priest is a major theme of Hebrews.
    102 Not in an occupational sense, but rather “that which we profess.”

  3. Is not a leader of men also a man? (Unless, of course, he is a woman.)

    Perhaps Paul was trying to avoid the “us vs. them” mentality by including Christ within the circle of Apostles.

  4. Christ held the keys of apostleship. Why wouldn’t he be considered an apostle?

  5. Interesting item, Kaimi.

    The online Catholic Encyclopedia contains useful information about the word Apostle and the various meanings and functions in the New Testament.
    As to the specific question raised in this post, the CA only says:
    “In the Epistle to the Hebrews (iii, 1) the name is applied even to Christ, in the original meaning of a delegate sent from God to preach revealed truth to the world.”

  6. He also held the keys of the Deacon’s quorum presidency. Why should he not be considered a Deacon?

    I agree with Ben, Kevin and Wilfried, and the Catholic Encyclopedia–it seems that Paul is referring to Christ as an apostle in the generic sense of “one sent forth” as opposed to referring to a specific priesthood office.

  7. Mark B. He also held the keys of the Deacon’s quorum presidency. Why should he not be considered a Deacon?

    I think you’re making a category mistake. A deacon’s quorum president is called and set apart, and can therefore be released. A deacon (as an apostle) is ordained, which is to say that (like a Federal Judge) he retains his office during good behavior. Of course, the mere office of deacon does not hold active keys, though the mere office of apostle does. And presidents of both quorums hold keys peculiar to the presidency of the quorum, but these keys cease to be active when (or if) the president is released.

    That said, I see no reason why Christ should not also be considered a deacon if he was ordained a deacon. And I’m curious what reasoning you would provide to justify excluding Jesus from the office of deacon.

    I’m still a deacon, though it may seem odd to say so. Certainly, the President of the Church could re-organize the priesthood so that we were all in Deacons quorums. Indeed, Brigham Young did just that during the City of Joseph period in Nauvoo.

  8. The D&C 107: 23 states that “The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, or special witnesses of the *name* of Christ in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling.” Elder D.H. Oaks wrote an excellent but unfortunately now out of print book–a long an substantially scripturally footnoted article, really–entitled “In His Holy Name”. That work examines several senses of what the “name of Christ” means. The Savior was an apostle in that he was a witness of everything that Hs name stands for. The Oaks book is definitely worth reading.

  9. Arturo,

    I’m not sure that you’re correct that the office of apostle inherently carries keys. Alvin R. Dyer was ordained an apostle, and was a member of the 1st Presidency in the late 1960’s, but was never a member of the quorum of the 12. Did he hold any keys? I don’t know, but I doubt it.

    I was not suggesting that Christ was not a deacon. My point was that since he holds the fulness of the priesthood, and all the keys of the priesthood, he could indeed be called a deacon and a deacons quorum president.

  10. The challenge for latter-day saints is to not diminish the Savior’s role. The Book of Mormon warns against such patterns and practices. The first step of apostacy is to diminish the Savior and His standing in the Godhead and eternity. We hear continually Him being referred to as our elder brother, when no such title is ever given in scripture. Scripture rather refers to the holy priesthood as the Holy Priesthood after the order of the Son of God. The Book of Mormon defines Him as the Father of those who have accepted Him and have been converted.

    The title of Apostle, is given due to His witness of the Godhead, but it in no way makes him equal or comparable to living or past Apostles. They hold an office in the priesthood, His priesthood. He the King of King, and Lord or Lords, He is the only one who loved enough and declare to all here I am, send me. He was the only one qualified to make the complete and total sacrifice to provide an eternal atonement. The scriptures constantly remind us of His true station and office, He is the only source of our salvation, the only name given under Heaven by which we can be saved and exalted.


  11. So since I’ve resurrected one dormant thread this afternoon for no very good reason, I might as well go for two. Kaimi, this post reminds me of a heated discussion in Sunday School once about whether or not God and Christ hold the priesthood: if the priesthood is the power to act as God’s proxy, and is a holy order after the Son of God, it was argued, it would be absurd for God and Christ to hold the priesthood (a proxy or imitation) when they are the source of the power itself. Tempers flared a bit, as I recall.

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