Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A definition of “apostle”, and the New Testament canon as “the real heir of the apostles’ authority”

The message of redemption in Jesus Christ was entrusted to the apostles of Christ, to whom he gave his full authority and power: “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me” (Luke 10:16, pg 109).

In Kruger’s analysis, one of the “criteria for canonicity” is “Apostolic origins”. What does it mean if a writing has “apostolic origins”?

In the conflict between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, the point at which “the rubber meets the road” lies within terms like “apostolic authority” and “apostolic succession” and “apostolic tradition”. As I pointed out last time, Joseph Ratzinger was hanging the whole Roman Catholic ball of wax on the point that “The idea of a ‘New Testament’ as ‘Scripture’ is still quite inconceivable at this point—even when “office”, as the form of the paradosis (tradition), is already clearly taking shape”.

So then, then it makes sense to define and clarify our terms.

But I don’t want to give just a dictionary definition. I want to explore what really was meant by the term “apostle”. In later blog posts, Lord willing, I’ll look at terms like “authority” and “succession” and “tradition”. The word “apostolic” can serve as a modifier for those, but there are other modifiers, too, for those words.

Here is one definition of “apostle”, from the Lutheran writer Hans von Campenhausen, in his Ratzinger-approved work, Ecclesiastical Authority and Spiritual Power in the Church of the First Three Centuries, trans. J. A. Baker (London: Black, 1969, Hendrickson Edition, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. pgs 22-23).

In what then did the distinctive character and activity of an apostle consist? In every case the apostles are missionaries, and to that extent, the popular conception of apostolate and of ‘apostolic ministry’ is entirely correct. Preaching is of the essence of the apostolate; no apostles are known to us who are not at the same time missionaries. But the modern concept of a missionary is not wide enough to characterize fully the status and weight of apostolic authority. For the apostles are quite plainly vested with the direct power and dignity of their Lord himself. The very word ‘apostle’ is nothing other than a literal translation of a Jewish legal term with a definite meaning, namely shaliach, which denotes the person of a plenipotentiary representative, whose task it is to conduct business independently and responsibly for the one who has assigned him these powers for a particular service [emphasis added]. The apostles are thus the plenipotentiaries of their heavenly Lord; and their authority, therefore, does not derive from any human call or contingent developments…

I don’t believe any Roman Catholics would take issue with this at this point. The “calling” to be an apostle, von Campenhausen argues, is the result of “a call by the Risen Christ himself, who, we are told, appeared to Cephas, to the Twelve, to James, and also ‘to all the apostles’.

Apostles are “not simply preachers and teachers, but also founders of Christian communities, and as such know themselves, as Paul at least clearly indicates, to be permanently responsible for their congregations. As witnesses, messengers, and personal representatives of Christ the apostles are the principal and most eminent figures in the whole primitive Christian Church, and in Jerusalem and among the Gentile congregations alike theirs is the supreme authority” (22).

Is Paul Stuttering?
1 Cor 15:5-8: ... and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born …

What’s the difference between “the Twelve” and “all the apostles”?

… again and again the decisive factor is the encounter with the Risen Lord, which was frequently both experienced and understood as a special call or commission. The number of eye-witnesses who had seen the Risen Christ ran into hundreds; but the ‘apostolic’ men of the primitive community had not merely seen him, they had been constituted by him public witnesses to his resurrection and person. Ringed with the iron of their testimony, the Church’s faith in Christ could never be shattered. To this extent not only Peter and the Twelve, but also James and ‘all the apostles’, right through to Paul, the last apostle, are in fact part of the ‘gospel’. With their testimony, therefore, they are in truth earlier than the Church, which is based on that testimony, and must continually renew its relationship (23).

Again, in that last paragraph, the apostles, with their testimony, are earlier than “the Church”, and “the Church” must continually renew its relationship with “the testimony of the apostles”.

They are, indeed, the inaugurators and foundation stones of the Church, despite the fact that their importance, their position, and their personal quality vary considerably in other respects, and that not even their number can be established with certainty.

Directly implicit in this once-for-all character of their function is the fact that the rank and authority of the apostolate are restricted to the first ‘apostolic’ generation, and can be neither continued nor renewed once this has come to an end (23).

I don’t think that Roman Catholics would contest this, either.

The Resurrection is a unique event set in historical time, the certainty of which is not (as might be quite conceivable in the abstract) confirmed and kept alive by constantly repeated manifestations of Christ. Instead, once experienced and attested, it has simply to be handed on, ‘safeguarded’ and ‘believed’. It is true that the temptation to extend the apostolate beyond the apostolic generation was not entirely avoided; here and there attempts were made to turn the title of ‘apostle’ into a kind of professional designation for missionaries and for ascetic men of the spirit. In the long run, however, all these attempts proved abortive. The holders of the ‘apostolic’ office of bishop, who ultimately secured the government of the Church, did not describe themselves as apostles; they are simply the successors, or at most the representatives, of the apostles, and as such they too remain bound by the original apostolic word and witness, which finds its definitive form in the New Testament canon. It was the latter which in a certain sense became the real heir of the apostles’ authority (23-24). 

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