Jerry C. Brewer
The apostles were to be forever the teachers of the world. It was necessary, therefore, that what they taught was infallible. That did not mean they were infallible in their personal conduct, as was seen in Peter’s actions at Antioch (Gal. 2:11-14), but that what they taught was the infallible word of God. Jesus promised that they would be infallibly guided when they were brought before magistrates. “But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you” (Matt. 10:19-20). And on the night He was betrayed, Christ promised that He would send the Comforter—the Holy Spirit—to guide them into all truth and to recall to their minds all He had taught them (John 14:26; 16:13).
Christ also metaphorically referred to their apostolic authority as His spokesmen when He said, “Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28). That period which Christ called “the regeneration” referred to the gospel dispensation in which He would sit upon David’s throne and the “judging the twelve tribes of Israel” by the apostles would be concurrent with His reign. Their words would be the standard by which the people of God—called metaphorically, “the twelve tribes of Israel”—would be judged and regulated until Christ delivers the kingdom to the Father (1 Cor. 15:24). Hence their authority in the church would extend throughout the gospel dispensation by the word which they delivered in the first century. That word which is the very Word of God, is unchanged and unchangeable and through it the apostles of Christ wield authority as judges of “the twelve tribes of Israel”—the church—today.
They who wield this authority from Christ are a special class of men, as the word apostle indicates. Like many New Testament words, there is no special religious significance inherent in it. It is a combination of two Greek words—apo which means “away (from something near)” and stello, meaning “remove one’s self, withdraw one’s self, to depart” (Strong, 14; Thayer, 587). Rendered into English, the word apostle means “one sent,” i.e. one sent on a particular mission with authority and credentials to perform that for which he is sent. Therefore, one who was an apostle of Christ was one sent by Christ for a particular purpose and endowed with authority to accomplish that purpose.
That concept is described by another word—ambassador—exclusively applied to Christ’s apostles by Paul himself. “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20). An ambassador is one endowed by a sovereign power to speak in that power’s behalf with the ambassador’s words carrying the same weight as if the sovereign head of state himself were speaking.
In his second epistle to the Corinthians, Paul also referred to himself and the other apostles as “earthen vessels” (2 Cor. 4:7). In that letter, Paul also defended his apostleship, saying they had been given the “earnest of the Spirit in our hearts” (2 Cor. 2:22). This “earnest of the Spirit” is an apostolic term that refers to no one today, and is connected with Paul’s statement that “we have this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Cor. 4:7). At one time, the gospel was in the inspired man and that’s Paul’s meaning in using the term “earthen vessels” to describe the apostles. But now we have God’s word in the inspired Book. Consequently, there are no “earthen vessels” alive today. Those were the apostles who had the “earnest of the Spirit.”
That Paul referred to apostolic inspiration in the use of these terms can be seen from his use of pronouns in the Second Corinthian letter when he said, “Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God: who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts” (2 Cor. 1:21-22). That the words “anointed,” “sealed,” and “earnest” apply to Paul and the other apostles is seen in the contrasting pronouns, “us,” “our,” and “you” in this passage. The apostles were anointed in Holy Spirit baptism to guide them into all truth (John 16:12-13). The “earnest of the Spirit” was the truth in the inspired man, and the “seal” of the Spirit were the miraculous manifestations of the Spirit in them to confirm their preaching. When Paul said, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels,” he didn’t refer to the preaching of men today, but to the truth that was in the apostles through Holy Spirit baptism. He uses the pronouns “us” in 2 Corinthians 5:5, “we” in 2 Corinthians 5:11, “us” in 2 Corinthians 5:18, and “we” in 2 Corinthians 5:20, in reference to the apostles as “ambassadors” for Christ.
In all of these passages, Paul refers to inspiration in himself. He is not describing men today. There are no living “ambassadors for Christ” nor “earthen vessels” today. Those terms applied exclusively to men in the age of inspiration. The application of the terms “earnest” and “seal” to the Holy Spirit’s work belong to the apostolic period when the gospel was being revealed in parts and portions and define two necessary aspects of the gospel scheme of redemption—revelation and confirmation.
Purposed from eternity and hidden beneath the types and shadows of the old covenant, the scheme of redemption was a mystery that is now revealed.
…how that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words; whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ,) which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit (Eph. 3:3-4).
The word mystery in the above passage does not mean “mysterious” or “mystical.” It means unknowable through human reasoning and wisdom.
The word mystery in Revelation comports with the same meaning of the word as used elsewhere in the New Testament – that is, the spiritual truths not discoverable by human reason; understandable, but hidden from human knowledge until revealed. The word has the connotation of secret doctrine, hence prior to revelation it was a hidden thing; but when revealed, it was brought within human intelligence and understanding. …The word mystery did not mean mysterious. It meant that which could not be known until it was made known, or revealed, and it meant the gospel plan of salvation. The doctrine of the New Testament is, in this sense, called a mystery (Foy E. Wallace, Jr., The Book of Revelation, p. 82).
Undiscoverable by human wisdom, God’s plan could be known only by revelation which required inspiration, and inspiration required confirmation. The scheme of redemption was revealed in words, (1 Cor. 2:10-13), and confirmed by signs and wonders. (Heb. 2:1-4). Inspiration was the means God used to reveal his plan and miraculous gifts of the Spirit were to confirm that those through whom it was revealed spoke the word of God. This was the function of the Holy Spirit whose work of revelation and confirmation is expressed in the terms “seal” and “earnest.” The “earnest of the Spirit” relates to those gifts of partial revelation of which Paul spoke in 1 Corinthians 13 and is used only in 2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5 and Ephesians 1:14. From the Greek word arrhabon, it is defined as, “a pledge, i.e. part of the purchase-money or property given in advance as security for the rest: – earnest.” (Strong, 16). That which was given as an “earnest” was not the Holy Spirit, but that which the Spirit gave and that was partial knowledge of God’s word. The earnest of the Spirit constituted a partial revelation until the “redemption of the purchased possession” which was the completion of divine revelation. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. (1 Cor. 13:8-10). The partial revelation of the gospel, that was imparted to Christians in the first century, was an earnest or pledge of the full revelation to come. That partial knowledge would cease when those parts were gathered into the whole, which Paul styled “that which is perfect.” The revelation we now possess in the New Testament is the sum of the parts extant in the apostolic age. The word “perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13:10 means “completeness” and when the parts of the mystery were gathered into the whole, the full price was paid of which the earnest was a pledge. The Holy Spirit was not the earnest in the hearts of men in the first century, except in a metonymical sense where the cause was put for the effect. When Paul said God had “given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts,” he referred to that which the Spirit revealed, not the Spirit himself.
When Paul said God had “given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts,” (2 Cor. 1:22), he distinguished between himself and the Corinthians. The pronoun “you” in this passage refers to the Corinthians and the pronouns “us” and “our” refer to Paul. The anointing of the Holy Spirit was Holy Spirit baptism which the apostles received. He made the same distinction in the Ephesian epistle:
In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory (Eph. 1:11-14).
The Ephesians were sealed with the gift of tongues and given the earnest of prophecy when Paul laid hands on them after they were baptized. (Acts 19:1-6). Paul explains the purpose of the earnest and seal of the Spirit in the Ephesians in the following statement:
Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened… (Eph. 1:15-18).
The earnest of the Spirit was revelation which came through Holy Spirit baptism, and the seal of the Spirit was the confirmation of that revelation. When gifts of revelation were imparted through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, they were accompanied by miraculous powers for confirmation. The genuineness of the earnest of the Spirit, or the gospel that resided in inspired men, was attested by the Spirit’s seal of “signs and wonders and divers miracles” upon them. From the Greek sphragizo, the word “seal” is defined as, “to stamp (with a signet or private mark) for security or preservation…to keep secret, to attest… The stamp impressed (as a mark of privacy or genuineness), lit. or fig. : – seal.” (Strong, 70). This seal or sign was a visible attestation of the authority by which inspired men spoke. Those who claim this seal for Christians today cannot produce any visible sign of it. But what is the purpose of a seal of authority? The great seal of a state attests to and confirms the genuineness of documents issued by the state’s authority and is visible to all who read them. The seal of the Spirit were the signs worked by inspired men of the first century and visibly attested to their authority from God. The seal of the Spirit was not some invisible thing placed upon them for God’s benefit. Why would God have to attest ownership of Christians to himself? Does he not know them that are his without having some sort of mark placed upon them? The visible seal of the earnest of the Spirit was what Paul called “the signs of an apostle.” (2 Cor. 12:12). That was the sign or seal of his apostleship.
Thus, the apostles of Christ were special ambassadors sent by Christ to carry His message to the world. In so doing, He endued them with authority to speak in His name by sending the Holy Spirit upon them (Acts 2:1-4) and giving them miraculous powers as credentials of their calling. The apostles were, therefore, special representatives of Christ, personally called and commissioned by Him, and through whom the word of God was revealed and preached in the world. Paul had the same authority and credentials possessed by the other apostles (2 Cor. 12:12) and was not inferior to them in any way (2 Cor. 11:5). Like the other apostles, he was an “ambassador,” a “witness” of Christ, an “earthen vessel” containing the truth of God, and he could impart the “seal and earnest of the Spirit.” Paul was an apostle in every sense described by these terms. There has not been a living man to whom those terms applied since the apostles walked the earth and, despite Catholic and Mormon claims, the apostles of Jesus Christ had no successors. The apostolic office which Paul and the others occupied was, and remains, unique.
Note: This article is reprinted from “…Unto the Churches of Galatia”: A Commentary on Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, Brewer Publications, Elk City, OK, 2004.