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Why is Jesus called an ‘apostle’?

by
14 August 2015

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Why is Jesus called an "apostle" in Hebrews 3.1

The designation of Jesus as an "apostle" in Hebrews 3.1 is unique in the New Testament, and the importance of this single reference must not be overlooked.

The word "apostle" (from the Greek verb apostellein = to send out) occurs 79 times in the New Testament, and was the translation equivalent of the Hebrew shaliach, which described the Jewish legal institution of representative envoys, who were sent with plenipotentiary authority of their senders — hence the rabbinic saying that "the one whom a man sends is the equivalent of himself."

The author of the Hebrews would have been conversant with the practice and exploited the idea fully in relation to Jesus: this is, perhaps helpfully reflected in the NEB marginal translation as "of him whom we confess as God’s Envoy and High Priest" (Hebrews 3.1).

In its context, the author was concerned to encourage a more confident faith in his readers by offering this succinct phrase ("our confession", homologia) that spelt out and encapsulated the Christrocentric teaching already introduced in the opening paragraph of his Letter.

Jesus is the Apostle-Envoy or shaliach of God: he is the Son through whom "in these last days God has spoken" his final word. Just as the high priest on the day of Atonement acted as the shaliach of the whole congregation, so has Jesus made the final atonement "when he had made purification for sins" (Hebrews 1.1-5).

This explains why Jesus is acknowledged as the one who speaks and acts with the complete imprimatur of divine authority, and is called Apostle and High Priest. A comparable message, but without use of actual title "Apostle", which speaks of God’s sending Jesus into the world, pervades the St John’s Gospel with its repeated use of the expression "the one who sent me" in the discourses, and, above all, in the commission, "as the Father has sent me, so I send you" (John 20.21b).

Prior to the apostolic mission of the Church was the missio Dei — that sending/mission for which God was responsible in taking the initiative in his Apostle Jesus; and here is the additional insight that behind the apostles of Christ is Christ himself, the Apostle of God, and that the Church is truly apostolic precisely because of his apostolic office. Hebrew 3.1 suggests a creative meeting-point between the Christian doctrine of Jesus Christ and the mission of the church.


(Canon) Terry Palmer
Magor, Monmouthshire

 

Given that the 1988 Lambeth Conference resolution 33 against capital punishment saw it as incompatible with "the divine dignity of every human being [being] respected", is it still possible to defend the Old Testament Hebrew people from the charge of genocide?

The book of Joshua belongs to the world of Islamic State. Jesus repudiated such violence, and was crucified because the crowd preferred the jihadist Barabbas. The only person in Joshua commended in the New Testament is his ancestor Rahab the Harlot. Only those claiming Joshua is God’s word for us today can be accused of supporting genocide.


(Canon) John Goodchild
Liverpool

 

When is it too late to be ordained?

When you put your clock back an hour, everyone else puts theirs forward, and by the time you arrive at the cathedral, the Bishop has gone home.


(The Revd) Tricia Shuler, Chester

 

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