Q. Since an apostle is a witness of Christ and Christ’s resurrection from the dead, how can Latter-day men qualify as apostles? Have they seen Christ? If so why don’t they say so?
A. (by Cooper Johnson) This is a fair question and one that deserves attention. It is necessary to point out, however, that all who believe in and have faith in Jesus Christ and have made covenants to take upon themselves the name of Christ are to be witnesses of Christ, His gospel, His doctrines, His life, His death, and His resurrection. I consider myself to be a witness of Christ. Many reading this will consider themselves to be witnesses of Christ. However, I have never seen Christ in this life. I don’t believe I’ve ever audibly heard His voice. But I am, nonetheless, a witness of Him.
Apostles are certainly more than a “regular” witness of Christ. They are rightly considered “special witnesses.” Apostles are also placed in a position to lead and guide the Church and the Saints. They are called of God and are deemed by Him to be worthy and equal to the task. This has not changed in 2000 years.
However, what are the criteria to be considered an apostle? Beyond what we have already stated, I can think of nothing. They are called and ordained by God, through other apostles. But, does the descriptor of “special witness” mean that they have literally seen the resurrected Savior? Is this a requirement or some kind of automatic benefit for becoming an apostle?
While many people may have varying opinions on the matter, the scriptures are silent on the matter, and other prophetic utterances that may confirm or deny such a belief are unavailable. In other words, to consider a literal viewing of Christ as an apostolic requirement has no doctrinal basis.
I for one, however, believe that all apostles have some kind of special and unique spiritual experience that qualifies them to receive the title of “special witness” and “apostle.” I must say however, such is merely my speculation. I do not present it as the official Church teaching.
Proclaiming Visions and Experiences
Further, it must be noted that many of the modern-day apostles have spoken of these special experiences, as special witnesses, although very carefully. That the apostles exercise great care in proclaiming these experiences is not surprising, when one considers that these must be held as most sacred as pearls of their testimonies. We are all familiar with the command from the Master not to cast our pearls before the swine (Matthew 7:6).
So, it is no surprise to me that modern day apostles do not shout from the rooftops or speak to reporters or even in General Conferences about such experiences. Of course, this doesn’t mean that they don’t share them at all. They simply choose to do so in a more private setting, in regional or stake conferences or in other more private situations.
For example, Allen Wyatt, of FAIR, shares this entry in his personal journal from February 3, 1990,
Today is the first day of our stake conference. I am the executive secretary of our stake. Elder James E. Faust is here to replace our stake presidency. I was sitting in the priesthood leadership session, and Elder Faust was bearing his testimony. It is, without a doubt, the strongest testimony I have ever heard. He said (paraphrasing) ‘I have always believed in the Church; I come from good blood. But through thousands of spiritual experiences, so many now that I have at least one a day–we had one earlier today (referring to meeting with the new stake presidency)–I have gained a testimony to the point I can say, as did the brother of Jared, “I saw the finger of the Lord and the veil could not withhold Him from me, therefore I no longer believed, for I had knowledge.” As the brother of Jared stated, so say I–I know that Jesus is the Christ.’
Is it a requirement? We don’t know, nor do we have a basis for concluding that it is. Does it happen? Personally, I believe it does.
The Bible and Apostolic Requirements
Many of our Christian brothers and sisters use this supposed requirement to eliminate the LDS apostles as real apostles, and they attempt to use the Bible as the basis for their rejection. How do we respond? Let us take a look at what the Bible says regarding the matter. Most of the critics will use Acts 1:21-26:
Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
The problem here is Acts 1 does not lay down this criterion for all future apostles. Paul, of course, would not meet this requirement, yet I’ve never met a Christian that didn’t view Paul as an apostle.
Regarding the replacement of Judas, it appears that there was a group of men who did indeed met this criterion, from which they selected Barsabas and Mathias. Now if this is all we knew about additional apostles, it might be a tough call. But this is not the case.
Most LDS critics will admit that Paul was an exception. And while doing so, declare the requirements stated in Acts 1 null and void for future apostles. Paul did not accompany the original apostles from the baptism by John to the day He ascended into heaven.
For some reason, however, the critics claim that this is the lone exception and thus, the Lord would not allow any others. Certainly, one is free to make such a claim, but the Bible contains no foundation for it.
Regardless, all can usually agree that Paul is an exception.
But were there other Apostles? Did we see the pattern continue? Well, up to now, we are certain of 14 Apostles (the original 12, Matthias and Paul). Let’s take a look. First, there was Barnabas. Acts 14:14 records,
“Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out,”
There was also Apollos, mentioned in 1 Corinthians 4:6-9,
And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another…For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.
Then, there was James, the brother of Jesus Christ, who was not one of the original Twelve (there were two other apostles named James). Galatians 1:19, Paul says, “But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.” And there was Silvanus and Timotheus. This one slips by some people. In 1 Thessalonians, we find Paul, Silvanus, and Timotheus, writing to those in Thessalonica:
Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; (1 Thessalonians 1:1-2)
Then later, we find them referencing themselves as Apostles…
But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness: Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ. (1 Thessalonians 2:4-6)
There are two others that could be considered apostles, but it’s not absolutely clear, given the language used by Paul in Romans 16:7. But that could be another two.
So, let’s see, where does that leave us? Using the New Testament text, we have found at least 19, perhaps 21, men with the title of apostle. Did all 19 or 21 see the resurrected Lord? We don’t know. If they did, it is not recorded in our current New Testament.
Suffice it to say, there were several other Apostles, in addition to the original 12. And while the original 11 (minus Judas) were chosen from men who had been with Christ throughout His ministry, this was never declared a universal requirement and we have numerous examples of apostles who don’t meet that requirement.
Apostles are special witnesses of Christ, chosen by God to testify, to lead and teach His children and to manage the affairs of His Church. Whether it be 2000 years ago when they wore robes and sandals, or today when they wear suits and ties, apostles are special witnesses of Christ and we are blessed to have them on the Earth today.