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1 Corinthians 15:3-9 (ESV):

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

By saying "last of all" (v8), was Paul implying that he was the absolutely last apostle of all time, and that there would be no more apostles after him?

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    No - the two questions are unrelated. No more apostles? No more missionary activity? No more people being sent? Humbug!! Paul is simply saying that he was the last apostle (then living) to have been called, or more likely, that he was the "least of all apostles" as V9 makes clear.
    – Dottard
    Sep 7 at 3:24
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    @Dottard, I've always understood an apostle in the New Testament sense, was someone sent personally by Jesus. I don't think it means someone who works in a mission field, otherwise, it can be argued that every Christian is an apostle sent into the world to represent him in the ministry of reconciliation and thus all are ambassadors (2 Cor 5:17-20).
    – Austin
    Sep 7 at 4:39
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    @Austin - Many modern missionaries have "seen" Jesus in the same way that Paul did. Further, there are many modern miracles by many.
    – Dottard
    Sep 7 at 8:33
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    It appears that some people are very keen to kill off the work of the Holy Spirit in the modern Church. Let us be very clear that without the Holy Spirit, there is no church, only people trying or pretending to do church. I have personally seen too many miracles and direct workings of the Holy Spirit to be persuaded otherwise.
    – Dottard
    Sep 7 at 8:35
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    @Dottard it is only necessary that the Spirit works in Christians to renew their inner man and declare them sons (Rom 8). It is not necessary that the Spirit work outward miracles in Christian for their salvation (Mat 7:21-23). Implying church isn't real without outward miracles seems to go beyond the scriptures. When you say "seen" just as Paul did. Are you saying Paul didn't actually see Jesus?
    – Austin
    Sep 9 at 8:08
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Can 1 Corinthians 15:3-9, particularly verse 8, be used as a proof-text for the claim that there are no more apostles after Paul?

No.

1 Corinthians 15:8

8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

"Last of all" relates contextually to Paul being the least of all those Jesus personally appeared to since he is a murderer of the body of Christ.

"One untimely born" is more literally "abortive birth" this may refer to the hideousness of the circumstances of his rebirth in Christ - being visited by Christ as he was on his way to murder more Christians.

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No.

Paul was the last in the series of Jesus' post resurrection appearances which he has just finished enumerating as part of the Gospel which he preached to them. These appearances do not and can not always represent the occasion of the calling to apostleship since the appearances listed were to Cephas (an apostle already), the Twelve (apostles already), 500 of the brethren (arguably not all apostles), James (likely the Lord's brother and not usually listed as an Apostle), and all the apostles (arguably, in a list format, different than the Twelve), and then, last of all (of the post resurrection appearances) to Paul.

This appearance was the occasion of Paul's calling, along with the follow up visit from Simon, but Paul's point is not that he is the last one called but, rather, that he considers himself the least of those called.

The word "lastly" is referencing the sequence of Jesus' post resurrection appearances.

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Verse 8. The Greek word that was translated “born out of due time” is “EKTROMA.” This is the only time this word is used in Scripture, and it means “a miscarriage (abortion), i.e. (by analogy) untimely birth” (Strong’s Concordance). Paul was saying that in the same way that it would be unusual for a miscarried child to live, likewise, it was abnormal for him to be an apostle. This led right in to his next statement about being the least of the apostles (1 Corinthians 15:9).

Paul certainly was not the least apostle as far as his accomplishments went. Scripture records him as reaching more people with the Gospel than any of the other apostles. Paul said of himself, “For I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:5), and “in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing” (2 Corinthians 12:11). Therefore, Paul’s statement here must be interpreted as being a reference to him being the least deserving of all to be an apostle, because of his persecution of the church.

So let’s return back to verse 7. The twelve apostles had already been mentioned, and here, Paul said Jesus appeared to all the apostles. This makes it very clear that there were more than just twelve apostles. James, the half brother of Jesus, was called an apostle (Galatians 1:19). Just two sentences later, Paul called himself an apostle (1 Corinthians 15:9). Barnabas was also called an apostle (Acts 14:14).

Some people have believed that for individuals to be apostles, they had to be witnesses of Jesus’ earthly ministry, which leads these people to believe there are no apostles today. This is based on Peter’s statement in Acts 1:21-22, when they were selecting a replacement for Judas. However, there were hundreds of thousands who saw Jesus during His earthly ministry. Did that make them apostles? Certainly not. There was more to being an apostle than just seeing Jesus during His physical ministry here on earth.

When Paul was defending his apostleship to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 12:12, he put more emphasis on the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit as evidence of apostleship. In Scripture, apostles are the highest authority in the church, with what many today would call a missionary calling (Corinthians 12:28). These individuals still exist today.

Ephesians 4:11 lists the apostle as one of the ministry gifts given unto the church. In Ephesians 4:13, Paul made it very clear that this gift of the apostle was given “till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” That certainly hasn’t happened yet, so we can be assured that God is still gifting people with the calling of an apostle.

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"Last" in v. 8 refers not to the notion of and noun of "apostle" but to the notion and verb of "appeared". It is not at all necessary for being an apostle to have seen the Lord with physical eyes, as Paul and other apostles whom Paul mentions did.

Moreover, since the Lord Himself says that those are more blessed who have believed in His resurrection without seeing Him with physical eyes and perceiving Him with physical senses (John 20:29), then we can safely assume that future preachers and establishers of churches who would believe simply by hearing and reading the Gospel would be even more blessed than Paul, Peter and all those to whom the Lord appeared.

Apostle's function is to preach and establish churches, thus throughout history we have so many apostles! How wrong is to think that Paul could have believed that he and the other apostles living in his time were the last ones and no other apostles would rise after their death; then greater part of the inhabited world would remain devoid of preaching, which could not be the will of the Lord (cf. Matthew 24:14).

My country, Georgia, was converted in early 4th century by preaching of a woman Nino who came from Jerusalem. She is called "equal to apostles", for indeed, she did the same as the apostles of the Lord and even more, for they managed to convert small parts of population of cities of the Roman Empire, whereas Nino managed to convert the entire Kingdom of Iberia (then name of Georgia).

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Can 1 Corinthians 15:3-9, particularly verse 8, be used as a proof-text for the claim that there are no more apostles after Paul?

This is a matter of definition. How does one define apostle? One could use 1 Corinthians 15:8 as the definition of an apostle. Then by definition, Paul was the last one. But I think this definition is too strict and wrong.

There is also a loose definition of apostle.

Strong's Concordance

Definition: a messenger, one sent on a mission, an apostle

HELPS Word-studies

Cognate: 652 apóstolos (from 649 /apostéllō, "to commission, send forth") – properly, someone sent (commissioned), focusing back on the authority (commissioning) of the sender (note the prefix, apo); apostle.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apostle

There is also a tradition in the Eastern Churches of "Seventy Apostles", derived from the seventy-two disciples mentioned in the Gospel of Luke.

I think this definition is too loose and is also wrong. I'd prefer a definition that is somewhere in between these two extremes.

By saying "last of all" (v8), was Paul implying that he was the absolutely last apostle of all time, and that there would be no more apostles after him?

No, not according to my sense of the word "apostle".

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The idea of God limiting the spiritual gift of apostleship is yet another in a long, at times desperate, list of attempts to limit the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit to the first century. [Some other attempts have included the idea that there could only be 12 apostles and 12 disciples, etc - all fail on closer examination.]

In 1 Cor 15:8 we have Paul saying this:

Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

Whatever way we understand this passage, it cannot mean that Paul was the last of the apostles for the following reasons:

  • there appears to have been mores apostles after Paul including: Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25), Titus and other brothers (2 Cor 8:23), Andonicus and Junia (Rom 16:7).
  • Paul instructed the Corinthian church to eagerly desire the spiritual gift of apostleship as per 1 Cor 12:28-31 -

And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, and those with gifts of healing, helping, administration, and various tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts.

According to this very passage, the greater gifts include, first and foremost, the gift of being an apostle - Paul cannot here mean that apostleship was no longer available!

So what is Paul saying in 1 Cor 15:8 that Christ appeared last of all to him (Paul)? Ellicott offers these comments:

(8) Was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.—Better, Last of all, as to an untimely born one he appeared also to me. The Apostle here distinctly states that he saw the Lord at the time of his conversion as really as St. Peter and others had seen him, though with touching pathos and strongly marked emphasis he adds that it was not at the same time as the “firstborn” had seen Him, but only as an “untimely born” one.

Jesus personally appeared to Paul on that famous Damascus road incident and was issued a personal invitation to apostleship (Acts 9:15) - Paul had been sent (ie, was an apostle), just like all the other apostles before and after him, including Titus, Epaphroditus, Andonicus and Junia.

That is, the "last of all" applies to the personal appearance of Jesus to Paul to confirm His resurrection, not his calling an an apostle.

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No, not from 1 Cor. 15:8. The word "last" in that verse refers to the verb appeared.

However, there is clear indication that Paul was the last apostle. While the word "apostolos" -Strong's Gr. 652 - does mean a messenger, or one who is sent, it has the added meaning of being specially selected and appointed by Christ. (1)

"and when it became day, he called near his disciples, and having chosen from them twelve, whom also he named apostles," (Luke 6:13, YLT)

"And when the hour come, he reclined (at meat), and the twelve apostles with him," (Luke 22:14, YLT)

The scriptures clearly distinguish the twelve from the rest of the disciples.

When Peter spoke of the need to replace Judas, and the "lot" fell on Matthias (Acts 1: 15-26) it was not an appointment by Christ. And, Matthias fades from the scene. Acts 1:22-23 are the only two verses in the NT that mention him.

But there is an important qualification Peter made in that selection, and that is whoever was selected had to have been a witness of Christ's resurrection. They had to have seen him in person, face to face after Christ rose from the grave.

"beginning from the baptism of John, unto the day in which he was received up from us, one of these to become with us a witness of his rising again.'" (Acts 1:22, YLT)

While there were many disciples in the first century AD who saw Jesus after His death on the cross, how many after the first century AD can make that claim? Can anyone today claim to have witnessed Jesus' resurrection?

The word "appeared" in 1 Cor. 15:8 is Strong's Gr. 3708 "harao", and its usage in vs. 8 is found under definition 5 as "I was seen, showed myself, appeared" after Christ's resurrection. (2)

Paul was chosen by Jesus to be an apostle. Paul was a witness to Jesus and to His resurrection. Jesus' instruction to Ananias are clear.

"And the Lord said unto him, `Be going on, because a choice vessel to Me is this one, to bear My name before nations and kings -- the sons also of Israel;" (Acts. 9:15, YLT)

Therefore, Paul was the last apostle whom Christ chose.

The new covenant, the new "heaven (God) and earth (man)" agreement / contract between God and man was established by the blood of Christ as the last blood sacrifice that would ever be required by God, and was published, preached and made known by the 12 chosen apostles of Christ whom He sent for that mission / purpose.

"Paul, a called apostle of Jesus Christ,..." (1 Cor. 1:1, YLT)

"Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God,..." (Col. 1:1, YLT)

"Paul, an apostle -- not from men, nor through man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who did raise him out of the dead " (Gal. 1:1, YLT)

Some others here refer to the mention in Rom. 16:7 of Andronicas and Junias as being apostles because Paul named them with him. But they are misreading the text. Paul stated that they were noted by the other apostles, not that they were apostles. Their work with Paul was great enough to be known to the other eleven apostles.

The old Mosaic covenant, the old heaven and earth was established according to the promise to Abraham with his offspring upon the the 12 tribes. The new covenant was carried forth from God to the world by the "chosen" 12 apostles of Jesus Christ. And, both together are the 24 elders of Revelation representing the totality of the faithful from both covenants.

Paul himself showed the order / hierarchy.

"28 And some, indeed, did God set in the assembly, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers, afterwards powers, afterwards gifts of healings, helpings, governings, divers kinds of tongues;

29 [are] all apostles? [are] all prophets? [are] all teachers? [are] all powers?

30 have all gifts of healings? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?" (1 Cor. 12: 28-30, YLT)

The apostles were the highest authority established by Jesus Christ for the assemblies, and that is the true meaning of Rom. 13 which has been completely twisted and misused for centuries. (3) Not all of the disciples had this authority or power.

As a side note - Paul himself stated that the gifts of the Holy Spirit would become useless, or fade away (1 Cor. 13:8-10). The spiritual gifts were for the building up of the assemblies (1 Cor. 14:12). They were given through the laying on of the hands of the apostles (Acts 5:12; 8:17-18; 19:1-6).

Having already established that an apostle was defined as one having witnessed the resurrection of Christ, as one having been directly appointed by Christ, how then does the laying on of hands by those apostles continue past the first century AD?

Notes:

  1. Apostolos, Strong's Gr. 652 Biblehub

  2. Horao, Strong's Gr. 3708 Biblehub

  3. The First Audience Perspective of Romans 13 - ShreddingTheVeil

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