One of my favourite blogs to follow lately is Cryptotheology (recently added to my blogroll here). Matthew Malcomb does a fantastic job at posting short, informative, eminently readable posts that frequently delve into how the original readers of the New Testament may have read certain terms differently than we.
Case in point, he recently published a short post titled, “What does ‘apostolos’ mean?” in which he quotes Benjamin Edsall’s Paul’s Witness to Formative Early Christian Instruction:
[There is an] absence of an analogous use of the term [that is, analogous to Paul’s use] in Greek literature, where it is used with a variety of meanings and only rarely in reference to a messenger of any kind. (p123)
As in Herodotus Hist. 1.21.4; 5.38.8; Plutarch Phoc. 11.1. Other meanings include an expedition (military and naval), a list of colonists and a colony in Dionysius of Halicarnassus Ant. rom. 7.5.3, 9.59.2; and 7.13.3 respectively. Note also the ‘sending’ of Jewish emissaries: Josephus A.J. 17.300. See Regstorf 1964, 407-408. (p123, n.7)
“Perhaps, then, it might have meant something like ‘delegation’??” Malcomb asks.
Actually, the definition of expeditionaries and colonists make perfect sense. Apostles aren’t just messengers who go out, deliver the message, and come back–they are going forth to colonize the world in the name of the Kingdom of Heaven, to conquer the local “gods” and demons in the name of the Messiah.
Which means that we do still have apostles today (in the general sense, not the The Twelve sense). We just call them missionaries. Having grown up around missionaries who received their calling in literal visions and who saw Acts-of-the-Apostles-level miracles and spiritual warfare on the field, that makes perfect sense to me.