In I Cor. 4:9,

For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.

Paul said that they were the last apostles. I believe this since this is explicitly and directly written in the Bible.

However, some religions nowadays claim that their preachers are apostles, and these preachers may have millions of followers. This question occurred to me because there are false prophets, as prophesied by Christ Himself. What can you say about this? I told this to a friend and he did not believe me.

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    This question (while ultimately doctrinal) is per comments in the answer below seeking a higher level understanding of the textual issues with this verse.
    – wax eagle
    Nov 6, 2013 at 13:15
  • Revelation 2:2: "I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars" - If Paul and the twelve were the only apostles, then there wouldn't have been a need to try those claiming that they were apostles and later find that they were liars. The only thing, which would've been needed is to check if the one making such a claim is Paul or one of the twelve.
    – brilliant
    Nov 7, 2013 at 0:17
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    This question shows poor research - a modern version more correctly reads, "For it seems to me that God has displayed us apostles at the end of the procession, like prisoners appointed for death. We have become a spectacle to the whole world, to angels as well as to men." The apostles were not the last to be apostles at all.
    – Dottard
    Jun 16, 2020 at 9:44

4 Answers 4


I've been brought up to believe the apostles were a special breed of disciples, and that Peter's "job description" for apostleship as laid out in Acts 1 seems to suggest that the number one criterion for being an apostle is the following (in bold print):

"'Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us--beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us--one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.' So they put forward two men . . . and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles" (Acts 1:21-26, excerpts).

Significantly, Matthias "was added to the eleven apostles" (v.26) following Judas's demise, to make the number of apostles twelve in number once again. That the number of apostles and the number of the tribes of Israel is 12 is also not a coincidence, I suggest.

Be that as it may, where does that leave Paul? In his own words:

"and last of all, as to one untimely born, [Jesus] appeared to me also" (1 Corinthians 15:8 NASB).

According to the NET Bible Notes, "The Greek word used here (ἔκτρωμα, ektrwma) refers to a premature birth, a miscarriage, or an aborted child. Paul uses it as a powerful figure of the unexpected, abnormal nature of his apostolic call."

When Paul speaks of his "untimely birth" as an apostle, then, he is saying in effect,

"I am not worthy even to be in the company of the Twelve, since I was a persecutor of the church when the 'real apostles' were just getting started in their world-wide mission. I even held the garments of the men who stoned the Apostle Stephen to death! So apart from God's grace you would be justified in saying I was an abnormally-born, bottom-of-the-barrel apostle!"

Why God chose Paul to "sneak under the wire," so to speak, I do not know--other than to say He did so for His own sovereign purposes (see Galatians 1:15). Some Christians, I suggest, have gone out on a limb by saying the eleven's selection of Matthias by lots was a mistake, and that Paul, not Matthias, should have been the twelfth apostle, if the eleven had only waited on the Lord! I do not give this argument any credence, however, and I chalk up Paul's being "unlucky 13" to God's election of him as number 13!

As for whether we have modern-day apostles, I think the answer is clearly no! I am not saying Jesus could not (and has not) appeared to people since the time He appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus. I am saying God in his wisdom wanted there to be only 12 apostles and one mutt, a "special case," the runt of the litter, the Apostle Paul! Thank God for him, too!


In Greek, the word "us" is in direct apposition to the word "apostles" - that is, the "us" are the same as the apostles. Paul may be referring to the twelve apostles, but is more likely using the Greek word "apostolos" to mean "messenger / sent one", as it usually does. In this sense of the word, Paul, Silas, and Timothy were all "apostles", in the same sense as the same word is used in 2 Cor 8:23, "And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ."

The word translated "last" means pretty much the same as the English word "last": it can refer to a low rank/position, or being the final in a series (in time/space) (BDAG). Here most translations rightly understand it to mean last in rank, as the context makes abundantly clear: "We both hunger and thirst, and are poorly clothed, beaten, homeless" (v10).

In summary: Paul is not talking about the apostolic gift of the twelve, but rather using the word "apostle" in a more generic sense. Moreover, "last" refers to a lowly state, not chronological finality. This verse therefore has no implications upon whether or not the apostolic gift ended with the twelve. And while I find the theological discussion of the cessation of apostleship interesting, it is not a question suited for a hermeneutics forum. But I'd love to discuss it on the Christianity SE!

  • @Niobius-I like your comment as it puts the distinction between 'sent' ones, and the original disciples of Christ-'Apostolos'. There was bad in both batches, so we can't make a conclusion that all modern 'sent ones' are bad. "You will know them by their fruits" seems a pretty good indicator of both.
    – Tau
    Nov 8, 2013 at 6:07
  • @Niobius I made a small edit but I'm pretty sure it's what you meant to say ;)
    – Dan
    Nov 8, 2013 at 18:53

That's one interpretation of that passage, but I think it is not correct. (The version you are quoting is possibly ambiguous.) Here is the Amplified version:

For it seems to me that God has made an exhibit of us apostles, exposing us to view last [of all, like men in a triumphal procession who are] sentenced to death [and displayed at the end of the line]. For we have become a spectacle to the world [a show in the world’s amphitheater] with both men and angels [as spectators].

Other versions, eg NIV agree with this interpretation:

For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings.

It seems for 1 Thessalonians that Paul considered others (beyond himself and the original 11 + Matthias). In 1 Thessalonians 2:6 he writes:

We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority.

Who is the "we" in this sentence? Presumably the authors: Paul, Silas and Timothy.

Romans 16:7 may to point to other apostles as well (though note the footnote there).

Note that even Jesus is named as an apostle in Scripture!

Conclusion: There is some evidence that the word "apostle" can be applied to more than just the New Twelve + Paul. But it is by no means conclusive.

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    Hi. I understand what you are pointing here. But I will be more convinced if you quoted from the original languages such as Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic. If the version of the Bible that I used is not translated correct, then possibly your references too. Do I make sense? Nov 6, 2013 at 10:56
  • Note - this answer was originally posted (with the question) on Christianity SE. Therefore, it might not be appropriate here. I will remove if advised to. Nov 6, 2013 at 13:34

Maybe this will help.

(NKJV) I Corinthians 4:9-21

9 For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored! 11 To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. 12 And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; 13 being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now. 14 I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. 15 For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you, imitate me. 17 For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church. 18 Now some are puffed up, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord wills, and I will know, not the word of those who are puffed up, but the power. 20 For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power. 21 What do you want? Shall I come to you with a rod, or in love and a spirit of gentleness?

Paul is not saying that he is the last apostle. You have to think about all the things God did throughout the Bible to prove he was the one true God. The apostles (the ambassadors of Christ) who went forth and continued to teach the teachings of Christ. Even though they were hunted and imprisoned beaten and humiliated they turned the other cheek and loved their neighbor and walked in Christ, continued to see that the church kept the teachings of Christ and did not go astray. The last to be used by God to spread the word of God, if you get what I am saying. 1 Corinthians is a letter Paul wrote to the church of the Corinthians while he was imprisoned in Ephesus because they had gone astray. To find out more about the letters and a timeline of his works so to speak check this out.

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