Was Stephen an Apostle?

Question: I noticed in your software Bible trivia game "Scripture Challenge" that you have the following question:

Who was the second apostle to die a martyr?

According to your software, the correct answer is "Stephen."

I agree that Stephen was the first to die a martyr, but he was not an apostle according to the scripture.

According to Acts 6:2 there were only twelve apostles:

So the Twelve [apostles] convened the multitude of the disciples and said, It is not seemly or desirable or right that we should have to give up or neglect [preaching] the Word of God in order to attend to serving at tables and superintending the distribution of food. (Amplified Version)

Stephen was a deacon and that would therefore make James the 1st Apostle to die a martyr and not Stephen. However, in the context of the scripture can you say that Stephen was the 1st apostle martyred?


Answer: The Greek word translated in our English versions as "apostle" is ap-os'-tol-os. The meaning of this Greek word is: a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders.

The word has been used in the Bible to specifically refer  to the twelve apostles of Christ, however, in a broader sense the word has been applied to other eminent Christian teachers.  For example, of Barnabas (Acts 14:14), and of Timothy and Silvanus (1Th 2:7), and of Epaphroditus (Phi. 2:25), and others (2Co 8:23).

With respect to the Bible passage you quote in Acts 6:2, keep in mind that words in [ ] brackets are not found in the original Greek text. They are inserted by the English translators and are not part of the original text.

The word ap-os'-tol-os. simply refers to one who has been sent out by another for the commission of a duty. Paul and Barnabas were sent forth by the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:2). As such, Barnabas was an apostle.

In his writings, Paul also described himself as an apostle (e.g. Romans 1:1 and other letters); specifically he referred to himself as 'the Apostle to the Gentiles' (Romans 11:13). He also described some of his companions as apostles (Romans 16:7). As the Catholic Encyclopedia states it, "It is at once evident that in a Christian sense, everyone who had received a mission from God, or Christ, to man could be called 'Apostle'".

Reasoning from the "we" of 1 Thessalonians 2:7 we probably should include Silvanus. Epaphroditus is called an apostle in Philippians 2:25.  Even Jesus is called an apostle in Hebrews 3:1.

In 2 Cor. 8:23 and Phil. 2:25 the word "messenger" is the rendering of the same Greek word, elsewhere rendered "apostle." 

And lastly, you may find the following exercise useful.  To see that a large number of other people consider Stephen an apostle, go to Google.com and type the following:

"the apostle Stephen"

(make sure to include the double quotes).

Then try: "Stephen the apostle"