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The Greek text of Phil. 2:25 according to the Textus Receptus states,

ΚΕʹ Ἀναγκαῖον δὲ ἡγησάμην Ἐπαφρόδιτον τὸν ἀδελφὸν καὶ συνεργὸν καὶ συστρατιώτην μου ὑμῶν δὲ ἀπόστολον καὶ λειτουργὸν τῆς χρείας μου πέμψαι πρὸς ὑμᾶς TR, 1550

From my previous readings of the Greek New Testament, I recognize the Greek word «ἀπόστολον» as the accusative declension of the lemma «ἀπόστολος», from which the English word “apostle” is derived. This Greek word is translated into English as “apostle” in the KJV (1769) in 78 of its 81 occurrences (~96%).

The reason for the question is that some translations translate «ἀπόστολον» as “messenger” in Phil. 2:25, but statistically, it seems as though “apostle” is the preferred reading. But, of course, it’s rather simplistic to suggest that a particular Greek word must always be translated by the same English word for each occurrence. Nevertheless, why should it be translated as “messenger” here rather than “apostle”? Would translating it as “apostle” be considered absolutely erroneous, for some reason?

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The word "apostle" is a partial transliteration of the Greek ἀπόστολον or "apostolon." Due to our regular use of "apostle" in English, we have attached meaning to that word as if it were distinct from a word like messenger. However, "apostolon" means a messenger or one sent on a mission. In Greek, "apostolon" is used to refer to messengers as well as Jesus' closest disciples (the twelve).

As you point out, Paul uses the word "apostolon" in this passage in reference to Epaphroditus. In Greek, the idea is that Epaphroditus is being commissioned by Paul to be a minister to the church in Philippi. The confusion only lies in English where "apostle" could be mistaken to mean one of the twelve. So here is an example of a place where it is more appropriate to actually translate the word "apostolon" into English (as messenger) instead of transliterating it.

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  • But on what basis do you decide this usage means "messenger"? Clearly in some cases the word does mean something special, so I think you really need to justify from the context the chosen translation each time the word is used. You sort of allude to that, but don't really explain why you think "In Greek, the idea is that Epaphroditus is being commissioned by Paul to be a minister to the church in Philippi."
    – ThaddeusB
    Nov 4 '15 at 19:54
  • I guess I was a little vague. What I meant to say is that every single instance of "apostolon" in the Bible could just be translated as "messenger." It is only in English that we have differentiated between apostolon/apostle referring to one of the 12 Apostles and apostolon/messenger referring to everyone else. Nov 5 '15 at 20:28
  • OK, thanks for clarifying where you stand... You are going to have a hard time making me believe Paul had the ordinary meaning of "messenger" in mind in 1 Corinthians 9:1 though: Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? (ESV). (No need to reply, as we would be getting off-topic for this question pretty quickly.)
    – ThaddeusB
    Nov 5 '15 at 20:32
  • You're absolutely right! I do think he made a distinction there. I just mean that Epaphroditus was not one of the 12 "official" apostles, and so would be more aptly referred to generally as a messenger. Nov 5 '15 at 20:34
  • Hmm, are you then saying that we should decide the messenger/apostle translation based on what we know of the figure?
    – ThaddeusB
    Nov 5 '15 at 20:39

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