Leading New Testament Scholar Reveals How to Recognize False Apostles by CRAIG KENNER for Charisma Mag
Author’s note: This is a guest column by my friend, Craig Keener, one of the world’s leading New Testament scholars.
As I speak in various countries, there is increasing concern about “apostles” who compete with each other in rival miracle claims, followings and income. They view apostleship as a high-status and lucrative office to which they may be promoted if successful in lower roles. The complaint is not about using the title “apostle” simply for overseers, the way some churches use “bishop” or “superintendent.” The complaint is about those who demand special recognition.
I do not deny the importance of genuine apostleship. Biblically, it is among the gifts that Christ’s church needs to bring us to maturity (Eph 4:11-13). Although the Twelve Apostles are no longer with us, Paul clearly uses the term “apostle” more broadly than that (Rom 11:13, 16:7; 1 Cor. 15:5-7; Gal 1:19; 1 Thess. 2:6). He probably applies it to those involved in cutting-edge, sacrificial, groundbreaking evangelism that lays foundations in new spheres (see Rom. 15:20).
Yet Paul, an apostle, denounced false apostles (2 Cor. 11:13). Jesus commended an ancient church for testing those who claim to be apostles and calling out those who were false (Rev. 2:2). Similarly, Jeremiah, a true prophet, denounced false prophecy, clearly dissociating the true from the false. “‘For what has straw to do with grain?’ declares the Lord” (Jer. 23:28, NIV).
What are some criteria that can help us distinguish true from false apostles?
First, false apostles seek their own honor. They promote themselves more than Jesus. Paul’s rivals in Corinth boasted in themselves (2 Cor. 10:17-18, 11:12), and indeed were flashier speakers than Paul (11:6). Yet Paul warns that these “super-apostles” (11:5) are false apostles (11:13), servants of Satan (11:14-15).
Paul also warned church elders that some of them would “arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30; see Mark 3:19). That they draw disciples after themselves, rather than after the Lord Jesus, reveals their deadly error. Jesus warns against seeking titles for ourselves (Matt 23:7-11); the truly greatest must be the servant (Mark 9:35; 10:43). Although true apostles are first in role (1 Cor 12:28), they appear last in terms of worldly status (4:9). As Rolland and Heidi Baker put it, “Our desired direction is always lower still. The apostle is in the lowest position of all.”