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The New Testament regularly refers to a group known as "the apostles", using an article, e.g. οἱ ἀπόστολοι

A couple examples:

14 Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out (Acts 14:14)

19 But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother. (Galatians 1:19)

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The word "apostle" means "one who is sent out" (source), and the New Testament also regularly uses the term to refer to someone who is sent as a messenger, without the article.

A few examples:

Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants. (Philippians 2:25 KJV, note that messenger is used in English but it's the same Greek word, ἀπόστολον.

23 Whether any do inquire of Titus, he is my partner and fellowhelper concerning you: or our brethren be inquired of, they are the messengers of the churches, and the glory of Christ. (2 Corinthians 8:23 KJV, again note that the Greek word behind the English "messengers" is ἀπόστολοι. Note also that the article "the" is supplied in English but is absent in Greek).

Translators choose whether to render the word as "apostle" or "messenger" in English, but the underlying Greek word is the same.

  • Why is "apostle" used in some contexts and "messenger" in others?
  • Is this purely the interpretive decision of the translator? or
  • Does "the apostles" refer to a defined, select group, distinct from "apostle" as a generic term for any messenger?
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  • See my previous answer.
    – Dottard
    Dec 14, 2023 at 3:49
  • @Dottard this answer was in fact what inspired this question. I had never heard of Epaphroditus being grouped with "the apostles" so I was looking for some clarity on whether the translation decision was dictated by the grammar. Dec 14, 2023 at 4:00
  • I think the question answers itself. Using the article locates apostleship to a specific group of titled persons. Without the locative article, reference is being made to the quality of apostleship being exhibited, not necessarily attached to the aforesaid titled group. I recommend Daniel B Wallace's eighty-four page section on 'The Article' in his book 'Beyond the Basics'.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 14, 2023 at 8:29

2 Answers 2

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I think the question answers itself. Using the article locates apostleship to a specific group of titled persons.

Without the locative article, reference is being made to the quality of apostleship being exhibited, not necessarily attached to the aforesaid titled group.

I recommend Daniel B Wallace's eighty-four page section on 'The Article' in his book 'Beyond the Basics'.

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  • Look at the data as listed in my answer. You conclusion is not supported by the facts.
    – Dottard
    Dec 14, 2023 at 9:07
  • @Dottard I have glanced at your data and I do not understand what it is conveying. You have not distinguished when the twelve are being considered, or the eleven, or individuals (Peter, Paul) or other individuals such as Barnabas. My answer relates to specific instances of relevance, of titleship or quality. Yes, more research would be useful but yours is not definitive enough (for myself).
    – Nigel J
    Dec 14, 2023 at 11:47
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    @Dottard 2 Corinthians 8:23 (stated by the question) is a case in point where Paul uses 'apostles' without article when he refers to 'Titus ... or our brethren' who are not of the twelve. The quality is stated but not a locatively articled title.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 14, 2023 at 12:07
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There is no consistent pattern in the distinction between ἀπόστολος being translated as "apostle" or "messenger" regarding the presence of the article. More specifically,

Translation/meaning With article Without article
Plural, "apostles" Mark 6:30, Luke 9:10, 11:49, 17:5, 10, 24:10, Acts 1:2, 26, 2:42, 43, 4:33, 35, 37, 5:2, 12, 18, 29, 40, 6:6, 8:1, 18, 9:27, 11:1, 14:4, 14, 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 16;4, Rom 16:7, Gal 1:19, etc Matt 10:2, Mark 3:14, Acts 8:14, 1 Cor 12:28, 29, 2 Cor 11:13, Rev 2:2
Singular, "apostle" 2 Cor 12:12, Heb 3:1 Rom 1:1, 11:13, 1 Cor 9:1, 2, 15:9, 2 Cor 1:1, Gal 1:1, Eph 1:1, (Phil 2:25?), Col 1:1, 1 Thess 2:6, 1 Tim 1:1, 2:7, 2 Tim 1:1, 11, Titus 1:1, 1 Peter 1:1, 2 Peter 1:1
Plural, "messengers" -- 2 Cor 8:23 (several versions render this "apostles" as per BLB, Aramaic in Plain English, DRB, LSV, NAB, WEB, YLT, etc)
Singular, "messenger" -- John 13:16, (Phil 2:25?)

This analysis is telling - it makes one seriously question whether the common translation of "messenger/s" is actually valid when:

  • 77, 78 or 79 times out of 80 the word is "apostle/s"
  • the original language makes no such distinction between "apostle" and "messenger".

Perhaps it might have been better to uniformly translate ἀπόστολος as "messenger" rather than distinguish where the Greek does not? However such a solution would not distinguish "apostolos" from "angelos" = "messenger".

Thus, the safest is to uniformly translate "apostolos" as "apostle"??

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