W. C. Linss says ἀπόστολος is used of Jesus’ closest twelve disciples simply “because they were sent out” (“Ministry in the New Testament,” 8). He says its use for an office developed later (“Ministry in the New Testament,” 8). Understanding ἀπόστολος this way is similar to understanding Jesus’ use of ἐκκλησία in its generic sense (Matt 16:18; 18:17; see Merkle, “The Meaning of Ἐκκλησία in Matthew 16:18 and 18:17”). The generic sense of ἐκκλησία is clearly seen by looking at one of Paul’s earliest letters. He needed to delineate who his audience was by more than just calling them “the church.” In 1 Thess 1:1, Paul had to add three phrases ( “of the Thessalonians,” Θεσσαλονικέων;  “in God the Father,” ἐν θεῷ πατρί;  “in the Lord Jesus Christ,” κυρίῳ Ἰησοῦ Χριστῷ) to distinguish them from other groups to which the word ἐκκλησία could refer. This is different from expressions like the one in Eph 5:25, where Paul says “Christ loved the Church” (ὁ Χριστὸς ἠγάπησεν τὴν ἐκκλησίαν; emphasis added).
Just because the concept of ἀπόστολος is undeveloped in the Gospels does not mean that Jesus did not instruct the disciples on this matter prior to his ascension. Recording such information was not the purpose of the Gospels. Beyond that, they are in no way exhaustive. Jesus taught more than what is included; and He definitely did more than what is recorded (John 21:25). What is certain is that Christians have everything they need for life, godliness, and every good work (2 Pet 1:3–4; 2 Tim 3:16–17). While questions about the historicity of Luke 6:13 abound, Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19 shows that he was not just selecting twelve individual men to be his sent-ambassadors (see also Rev 21:14). He promises the Twelve that they will each sit upon a throne and judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt 19:28). These men (minus Judas Iscariot) are given a glimpse of what some of their future ministry involves. This promise is unique to these individuals. It cannot be in any way symbolic. Jesus will sit on a literal throne, on a literal earth, and govern a literal kingdom. The reference in Rev 21:14 (and Matt 10:2), according to Linss, “strongly suggests that the number is closed, that no other people deserve to be called apostles” (“Ministry in the New Testament,” 9).
What about other disciples who were not named as “apostles” in Luke 6? Well, Jesus’ followers included many more than just these twelve men. There is Nicodemus, the healed-Gadarene, Joseph of Arimathea, and many more (e.g., Acts 1:15). In addition to them, Jesus had a number of female disciples, something contrary to first-century Judaic customs (Hudgins, Luke 6:40 and the Theme of Likeness Education, 1 n.2). Jesus’ promise in Matt 19:29 would certainly apply to them, namely that they would receive much more than what they had left or lost for the sake of the gospel. The Twelve are clearly distinct, though. This is something that can be maintained even from the Gospels. They are chosen from among the other disciples, after an intense night of prayer, for more than just the missions found in Matthew 10 and Luke 10.
What about Paul’s understanding of apostles? Well, Paul and Jesus do not have distinct views. Paul clearly develops the concept the most in the New Testament, but he is doing so in submission to and by the direction of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Church's architect (Matt 16:18; Col 1:18). The literature unfortunately disconnects Paul from Jesus at times. The apostles, like prophets, enjoyed the benefit of receiving direct instruction from the Lord as he laid the foundation of the Church. In fact, Paul mentions this foundation in Eph 2:20: “having been built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets” (ἐποικοδομηθέντες ἐπὶ τῷ θεμελίῳ τῶν ἀποστόλων καὶ προφητῶν). With the New Testament not yet complete, the apostles and prophets functioned as mediators of direct revelation, by which the Lord could build, lead, and instruct the Church from the right hand of His Father (P. T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, 214). These men were among those spiritually gifted for an equipping ministry (Eph 4:11–13). They included eleven of the apostles mentioned in Luke 6, but also a number of other individuals who were called following Jesus’ resurrection (e.g., Barnabas, Acts 14:14; James [the Lord’s brother], 1 Cor 15:7). Those mentioned in Eph 2:20 are the same group of men mentioned in Eph 4:11.
Paul recognized that his apostleship was not qualitatively different than any of the other apostles, including those initially named by Jesus in Luke 6. The only difference between him and the initial twelve is they will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel, per Jesus’ words. Paul intentionally tempered his own claim to the rights of an apostle by exercising humility (e.g., 1 Cor 15:8–10), even at personal loss (1 Cor 9:14–15), and choosing to better identify himself as a “slave” (δοῦλος; e.g., Phil 1:1) of the Lord. He recognized that the basis for his apostleship came directly from the Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father (Gal 1:1). And he believed that the greatest witness to his apostleship was not the stature or giftedness, but the proof of his commitment to the call manifested in the lives of those who were transformed by the gospel (1 Cor 9:2).
Paul understood that he, as an apostle, was set apart for a particular mission. Just as the remaining initial eleven apostles were commissioned to be his witnesses from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8), Paul received his marching orders directly from the Lord. Jesus told Ananias, “He is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles, kings, and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:15). The initial apostles were commissioned geographically (i.e., concentric circles representing regions moving outward from Jerusalem). Paul’s commission lists people, of whom Gentiles are listed first. It is no wonder Paul viewed his mission as a mission to the Gentiles (Gal 1:16; 2:2–15). He also viewed his mission globally, just as the initial eleven apostles must have viewed theirs (Acts 1:8). Paul was intentional about taking the gospel far and to people that no other apostle had ministered among (Rom 15:20). He even intended to go to Spain (Rom 15:24, 28), the furthest point west in the world of the first century.
Is there some sort of intermediary ministry after the apostles? As Paul’s ministry drew near its end (2 Tim 4:7), he recognized the amount of work that remained unfinished. His race was coming to a close, but the work of the gospel remained. Timothy’s ministry is one of an apprentice, the best translation for the word μαθητής in the New Testament. Timothy followed Paul on his missionary travels (e.g., Acts 16:1–22). As their relationship matured, Paul was able to dispatch Timothy to certain areas to accomplish work on his behalf (e.g., 1 Cor 16:10; Phil 2:19; 1 Thess 3:2–6). Does Timothy’s ministry, though, represent the institution of an episcopate in the life of the Church? Of Timothy’s ministry, P. J. Hession writes, “[W]e are well on the way to the monarchial episcopate with Timothy’s mission as Paul’s representative” (Reconciliation, Healing, and Restoration of the Church, 139). This may be true historically. But it is not true theologically. There is nothing in the New Testament that sanctions or necessitates such an institution. Timothy’s ministry continued in and around Ephesus after Paul’s martyrdom. The whole of 2 Timothy represents what Paul expected of Timothy and his ministry after his ministry. Just as there was no formal episcopate in the first century, none need exist today.
The apostles were intent about extending the reach of the gospel. Timothy’s ministry, and also that of Titus, was a strengthening ministry for those places where the gospel had been taken but no pastoral leadership had been identified and established (1 Tim 3:1–7; Tit 1:5). Referring to Acts 12:17, C. L. Blomberg writes, “Perhaps we find some corroboration here for the idea that the elders have already replaced the apostles as the local authorities in the Jewish capital” (C. L. Blomberg, From Pentecost to Patmos, 47). On Crete and in the undisclosed regions that Paul intended for Timothy to labor, the goal was not to establish any sort of episcopate. The goal was to identify elders who met the qualifications given in Paul’s letters. Once those men were identified, Titus and Timothy had a ministry of teaching, equipping those individuals with sound teaching so that they could faithfully lead the local assemblies charged to their care (e.g., 2 Tim 2:2). In their travels, their teaching ministry reflected Paul’s ministry in Acts 18:23: “strengthening all the disciples.”
Blomberg, C. L. From Pentecost to Patmos: An Introduction to Acts through Revelation. Nashville, TN: B&H, 2006.
Brown, R. E. “Episkopē and Episkopos: The New Testament Evidence.” TS 41 (1980): 322–338.
Brown, S. “Apostleship in the New Testament as an Historical and Theological Problem.” NTS 30 (1984): 474–480.
Eckhardt, J. Ordinary People, Extraordinary Power. Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2010.
Hession, P. J. Reconciliation, Healing, and Restoration of the Church. Noisseh Publishing, 2012.
Hudgins, T. W. Luke 6:40 and the Theme of Likeness Education in the New Testament. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2014.
Linss, W. C. “Ministry in the New Testament: ‘In the Beginning . . .” Currents in Theology and Mission 17:1 (Fall 1990): 6–14.
MacArthur, J. 2 Timothy. The Macarthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1995.
Merkle, B. L. “The Meaning of Ἐκκλησία in Matthew 16:18 and 18:17.” BibSac 167 (July–September 2010): 281–291.
O’Brien, P. T. The Letter to the Ephesians. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1999.
Olson, R. E. The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1999.
Schütz, J. H. Paul and the Anatomy of Apostolic Authority. Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 26. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975.
Turner, C. H. “Apostolic Succession.” Pages 93–214 in Essays on the Early History of the Church and the Ministry. Edited by H. B. Swete. London: Macmillan, 1918.