The LXX as Fundamental Background for the NT Concept of Apostleship

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.

8 thoughts on “The LXX as Fundamental Background for the NT Concept of Apostleship”

  1. Sounds interesting
    The paper sounds interesting. I’m not familiar with the current state of the discussion, but the scholars that he notes are all somewhat (or very) dated, which raises methodological questions for me, especially given the lack of reference to LXX scholars relating to his analysis. However, there seems to be definite potential and it sounds like it would be focused on the contribution of the LXX rather than focused entirely on methodological issues, although Will has valid points on the need for a “decent method.” Can we give any feedback beyond an acceptance, perhaps encouraging him to engage with Lee or do we just need to save that for feedback in the session?

  2. Fine with it
    Perhaps I’m not clued into major debates on this, but at least within Gospel studies the “apostle” question doesn’t seem to be super enigmatic.

    Luke 4:18 – “The Lord has sent [ἀπέσταλκέν] me…” (from Isa 61:1) -> Jesus
    John 20:21 – “As the Father has sent me [ἀπέσταλκέν], even so I am sending you.” -> Transitive property of “sentness”
    Luke 9:2 – “He sent [ἀπέστειλεν] them to proclaim the kingdom of God” -> Jesus to apostles
    Mark 3:14 – He appointed twelve whom he named apostles [ἀποστόλους] tat they might be with him and he might send them out [ἀποστέλλῃ] to preach” -> Jesus to apostles

    So there’s obvious potential here in tracing this out further but my initial reaction was, “Well…yeah.”

  3. Fine with me
    I’m not sold yet. But it would be interesting to see where Bradley will take this.

    In agreement with Greg, I’m not sure you really need the Septuagint to demonstrate a connection between apostleship and prophetic calling. First, there already exist enough literary and thematic parallels between the called-prophets and the apostles to make the connection viable (Jer 1 in Gal 1 is easily recognized); Second, I’m not sure how helpful statistics will be in furthering this case. At first glance, there is enough semantic overlap between Heb. shalak and Gk. pempo/apostello to make alternations between the two insignificant. Hopefully Bradley will tease this out.

    However, I would still like to see the paper.
    With Will and Jen, it would be great if Bradley would interact with John Lee or Trevor Evans before the session to tighten up his methodology.


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