Home » Mormonism » What’s an apostle? What’s a special witness?

What’s an apostle? What’s a special witness?

12apostlesI was recently reminded of a question over at Wheat and Tares in the form of a poll.  I brought up a couple of questions in the comments and some interesting thoughts shook out of the discussion.  “What is an Apostle?”  The immediate Mormon stock answer might be:  “A special witness of Christ.”  I’m not sure what the immediate Orthodox answer might be (though I’ve found that in Orthodoxy there are very few “immediate answers”), but let’s unpack the Mormon answer.

What is special about the witness of the current 12 Apostles of the LDS church?

We could answer that question easily for the Original 12 Apostles:  they were actual eyewitnesses of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.  Even Matthias, who took the place of Judas, was very likely an eyewitness, at least to some events of Jesus’ life, as he was taken from the new Christian faithful immediately after Christ’s death.  So if we take the word “witness” to mean something similar to what happens in a court of law, it is easy to see how the Original 12 are witnesses.

Was Saint Paul a witness in this way?  Not really in the same way.  He saw Christ in a vision, true, and was immediately blessed by the Apostles.  So, though Paul was called an Apostle, he wasn’t a witness in the same way that the Original 12 were witnesses (at least, we don’t have direct evidence that he witnessed events in Christ’s life, though it’s not impossible).  So he wasn’t a witness to the resurrection of Jesus, but he was a witness to the vision of Jesus he had and his special calling by the Apostles.

Finally we come to the current 12 Apostles of the LDS church.  What are they witnesses to?  Well, none of the current 12 have reported any visions in the same sense that Paul did, and none of them were present to witness Christ’s life or resurrection.  Many Mormons, in my experience, do insinuate or speculate that the General Authorities have seen Jesus.  Maybe so.  But if they don’t tell us about it, how exactly are they “witnesses?”  A witness testimony that is withheld from a court of law is no witness at all.

The answer may be that the current 12 Apostles aren’t necessarily witnesses to some special vision of Jesus, but rather they have experienced a witness from the Holy Spirit.  But how is that witness special?  In other words, how is that witness different, or unique, compared to the witness from some other member of the LDS church?  If they are both subjective, spiritual feelings of truth, then I’m not sure which one is “special.”

Perhaps the strongest answer is that LDS apostles are specially called to present the witness of their testimonies to the entire world.  On this view, “special” is a question of jurisdiction.  So, while an LDS Sunday School teacher is not necessarily instructed to bear his or her testimony to the entire world, an LDS apostle is.  This answer still needs elaboration, I think, but it’s probably the strongest candidate to answer why the current 12 Apostles of the LDS church are “special” witnesses.


12 thoughts on “What’s an apostle? What’s a special witness?

  1. The requirement to be one of the 12 apostles is given by Peter in the first chapter of Acts:

    “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us — one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”

    So Matthias was not only an eyewitness to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, but he was also a disciple right from the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.

    Needless to say, none of the LDS 12 apostles can meet this requirement. Not even Joseph Smith – a reputed vision of Jesus isn’t enough.

  2. In a discussion I once had with a religion professor at BYU, this same verse was used by him to argue that Peter didn’t expect the church to continue existing for very long since he laid down such an impossible requirement for future generations of believers to fulfill. The great apostasy was a set-up! Thanks, Peter, for sabatoging the church. Some rock …

  3. The Greek word ‘apostolos’ means messenger or envoy. In this sense it seems that the title ‘apostle’ is just as suitable for the missionaries the LDS church sends out to share their faith, just as it can be applied to anyone who proclaims the Gospel message.

    As for what distinguishes the LDS ’12 Apostles’ from any other apostles, it seems that they merely hold a higher position in the hierarchy of LDS government; however this has nothing to do with what it means to be an apostle.

  4. I find it interesting that when you say you have this blog to share the beliefs of the Eastern Orthodox, what you really mean is try and prove the LDS religion wrong. What a waste of time!

  5. I never said that I have this blog to share the beliefs of the Eastern Orthodox – the tagline is that this blog is an exploration of Mormonism and Eastern Orthodoxy. That means compare and contrast. This blog is not intended to “prove” anything. It’s just an exploration. If I get an idea about Mormonism, I’ll explore it. Same with Orthodoxy. You’re free to challenge my reasoning – in fact I encourage it. That’s what an exploration is.

  6. If I truly felt Mormonism had been proven wrong, I wouldn’t be a Mormon. I can’t help what the blog “seems like” to you.

    But I do know that the blog would be a lot more helpful and informative for everyone if comments focused on my actual arguments, such as how you think they’re correct or incorrect. I am completely open to being wrong about anything.

  7. I have family who are Orthodox. I have questions for them but they seem to get defensive when I ask. Do you attend the Orthodox church or Mormon? If you don’t mind me asking

  8. I attend the Mormon church, and even have taught Institute and early-Morning Seminary for three years as a volunteer. I go to an Orthodox church when I can, but the closest one is 45 minutes away.

    And I don’t want to offend you, but your first comment on this blog was an accusation that I was dishonest in presenting the purpose of the blog, followed by a comment that it’s a waste of time, followed by an accusation that it seems like it’s trying to “prove Mormonism wrong” (which it isn’t).

    If that’s how you interact with new ideas right out of the starting gate, then I understand why your Orthodox family seems to get defensive when you ask.

  9. My apologies for the assumptions. I am not offended, I get the anti Mormon stuff a lot and at first glance on this particular article, it seemed like a blog discuss against the LDS 12 apostles and their “Special Witness.” I do really want to know about Orthodox and where that part of my family is coming from. But I don’t feel comfortable asking them. So if you can answer a few questions. I have been to the Orthodox church on many occasions. I feel just like most religions, if its members followed the teachings, they would be followers of Christ. I always pick out what they have in common with my beliefs. Anyway, here are something that concern me:

    1. What are the beliefs of Orthodox on what happens to an infant who dies without being baptized?

    2. Does the church or belief system have a stance on abortion and Gay marriage?

    Thanks in advance

  10. I’ll answer to the best of my ability, but to be clear, I’m not Orthodox.

    1. Since the Orthodox never adopted the Western/Augustinian view of Original Sin, they never had to wrestle with the idea that infants who die without baptism are going to Hell. This is mostly a Roman Catholic idea. However, in general the Orthodox attitude is to be very careful what you say about things we just don’t know. So most would say that we cannot be very sure who is going to heaven after this life – save the saints that are venerated. Most would say that God is free to save anyone He wishes to save, even those who have not been baptized. I believe that if you ask individual Orthodox, most would hold the opinion that babies who die without baptism are saved, however, they would not be at the same level of progression (theosis) as a person who spent their life doing good and progressing towards God.

    2. Every Orthodox statement I’ve seen is that abortion is the taking of a human life (and therefore sinful), and that gay marriage is contrary to God’s will for human sexuality (and therefore sinful). The Orthodox are not as strict on contraception as the Catholics are (some are though, but some aren’t), but all will oppose abortion of any kind. Gay marriage is trickier, since I think that all the Orthodox churches officially condemn gay marriage (especially in Russia) but that some of the Orthodox laity either support it or do not condemn it.

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