The answer to the question of the origin of the concept of apostleship in the New Testament is far from settled. Some (e.g., Lightfoot and Rengstorf) have pointed out the parallels between NT apostleship and rabbinic shaliach concept, while others (e.g., Schmithals) have argued for the concept’s gnostic origins. Broader scholarship, however, has pointed out the key weaknesses of these proposals. Therefore, it is worth considering a new answer to this old question.
Overall, finding origins in Jewish tradition makes sense, but instead of looking ahead to the rabbinic material, it seems more appropriate to look back to the Septuagint. So this paper will argue that the origin of the NT apostle concept can be traced back to LXX tradition of YHWH’s divine choosing, commissioning, and sending of Israel’s prophets.
The LXX has often been overlooked in this discussion because the noun ἀπόστολος is found only once (in a textual variant, nevertheless). The verb ἀποστέλλω, however, is used over 600 times despite the fact that the body of literature was composed during a time when πέμπω was the broader Greek literature’s preferred term to depict sending and sending conventions.
A closer look at these uses reveals that ἀποστέλλω is used most frequently to describe YHWH’s sending of an individual to carry out a particular purpose. Many of these instances specifically depict YHWH sending a prophet, usually to bring a certain message. Some noteworthy instances include YHWH’s calling of Moses and Isaiah. These sections of the LXX include a consistent use of the verb ἀποστέλλω, and they show YHWH directly commissioning the prophets for a unique role in Israel—specifically to bring his message.
The NT apostles share much in common with the LXX prophets. Both YHWH in the LXX and Jesus in the NT both are presented as divine figures sending messengers for particular purposes. The LXX prophets play a key role in the kingdom of Israel, The NT apostles play a key role in the Kingdom of God. Both groups share God-given messages, and they receive unique power to validate their respective messages.
Based on these factors, it seems best to find the origin of the NT apostle concept in the sending conventions of Israel’s prophets as depicted in the LXX.