SEED & BREAD
WHAT DOES apostellO MEAN?
Even those who know nothing of New Testament Greek will have the feeling
that the word apostellO is somewhat familiar. And they are right for
this is the verb from which comes the adjective apostolos which is so
often used as a substantive in the New Testament and is usually
In seeking the true understanding of the thirty-three unique and
important years of which the book of Acts is the history, there is no
word more important than the Greek verb apostellO. This history is "The
Acts of the Apostles," and if this word is misunderstood, everything in
the Acts period will be thrown out of line. And it is not enough for the
student to have some simple definition of this word. He must master it,
get inside of it, know all that there is to know concerning it.
This word has been sorely neglected; its true meaning has been clouded;
it has been stultified by weak translations and renderings which are
mere transliterations. Much truth has been lost because of this.
Consideration of a few occurrences will show the importance of this
* I am not sent (apostellO) but unto the lost sheep of the house of
Israel. Matt. 15:24.
* I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also for therefore am
I sent (apostellO). Luke 4:43.
* There was a man sent (apostellO) from God. John 1:6.
* And He shall send (apostellO) Jesus Christ. Acts 3 :20.
* The word which God sent (apostellO) unto the children of Israel. Acts
* Men and brethren, sons of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among
you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent (apostellO).
* How shall they preach except they be sent (apostellO). Rom. 10:15.
* For Christ sent (apostellO) me not to baptize, but to preach the
gospel. 1 Cor. 1:17.
* The Father sent (apostellO) the Son to be the Saviour of the World. 1
A review of these nine passages will show that great and important
truths are expressed by this word, and this should exercise our minds to
understand this verb as fully as it can be understood.
The word apostellO is found 133 times in the New Testament. See
Englishman's Greek Concordance, page 76, for a complete list. It is
translated send 110 times, send forth 15, send away 4, send out 2, put
in 1, and set 1 time. Thus it can be seen that the word send is used as
a translation in all but two occurrences. To some this might seem to
settle its meaning, but it does not. The word send as a translation of
apostellO is weak, misleading, and inadequate. It dims the glory of this
important word. It holds down much of the truth that the Spirit of God
The Greek word that means "to send" is pempO. This is found 81 times in
the New Testament and is translated "send" in all but two of these. This
is the word that can be used of causing to go in any manner. A man's
wife now and then will send him to the store or postoffice. The ancient
Greek would use the word pempO to describe an act such as this, but
never the word apostellO. A study of the 81 occurrences of pempO will
bring the realisation that this term has to do with what might be
described as a physical sending, a causing to go. Any ideas expressed in
the passages that are beyond this would have to come from the context,
as nothing more than a physical sending is inherent in this word.
The inadequacy of the King James translator's treatment of the words
apostellO and apostolos is seen in the fact that the word apostle shows
no relationship to the word sent. What reader of the English Bible would
know that these are father and son? For example in English we have do
and from this we get doer and doing, from play we get player and
playing, and from give we get giver and giving. Thus the relationship
between these words is obvious. But there is no obvious connection
between the words send and apostle. ApostellO is the parent and
apostolos is the off-spring, and the relationship between these two
words should not be obscured. Any rendering that does this is misleading
In one case the translator did preserve the relationship. In John 13:16
apostolos is translated "he that is sent." Between "send" and "he that
is sent" the relationship is plain. However, apostellO and apostolos
mean far more than "sent" and "a sent one."
Many lexicons follow the example of the King James Version and define
apostellO as meaning "to send forth" or "to send away from, while the
sender remains behind," but some lexicographers have dared to abandon
this superficial definition, realising that those who are the recipients
of this action are not always sent from one place to another.
While the lexicons have been consulted, especially Kittel's, no attempt
will be made to establish the meaning of this word through them. The
meaning of any word in any language is determined by the use of it. It
is possible to discover the meaning of any word if it can be seen in a
dozen clear sentences. We find the word apostellO in 133 sentences and
the substantive that is derived from it (apostolos) in eighty-one. If
the meaning cannot be determined from these occurrences, then there is
no way of determining the meaning of any word in any language. Even a
dictionary cannot define a word. It can merely report the usage of a
word by careful and capable writers. In defining apostellO it will be
our purpose to do it from the usage made of it by the inspired writers
of the New Testament. When all occurrences are examined the following
facts stand out.
Apostello means to commission, in the sense of authorising and
instructing someone to perform a definite task. The ideas of authority
and authorising are always basic in it. A commission can be very simple
involving a very small task, or it can be very complex involving great
service and responsibilities.
It has been said that the office of Notary Public is the least a man can
have under our [U.S.] government. Nevertheless, a Notary Public has been
commissioned; he has a commission and is a commissioned one. He is
authorised to take acknowledgements of legal papers, which he does under
the seal of his office, usually adding a note that his commission
expires on a certain date in order to show that it is an active one. The
Greeks would use the word apostellO to describe the action of the
governor that authorised such, and the word apostolos to describe the
result -- a commissioned one.
The word apostellO never has to do with the appointment of anyone to an
office. It has to do with a service that is to be performed by one
authorised. Thus its real meaning is to commission with authority.
However, this definition applies only when it is used in connection with
men or angels. When it is used in connection with animals or inanimate
things it takes on a more limited meaning. When so used it means to
authorise, that is, to make freely available. Both meanings of this word
are seen in the following passage, where the first reference is to men
and the second is to animals.
* And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage,
unto the mount of Olives, then sent (apostellO) Jesus two disciples,
saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway
ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them and bring
them unto Me. And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord
hath need of them; and straightway he will send (apostellO) them. Matt.
Thus two of His disciples are commissioned for what seemed to be a very
small task, and for a short time they were commissioned ones (apostles).
If anyone questioned their right to take these animals they are to say,
"The Lord has need of them" and the owner would authorise the use of
these; that is, he would make them freely available.
Thus we see that to grant or allow by proper authority is the meaning of
apostellO when it is used of animals or inanimate things. This usage is
found nine times in the New Testament, and in these passages apostellO
should read as follows:
* Matt. 21:3 -- straightway he will authorise them
* Mark 4:29-- immediately he authorises the sickle
* Mark 11:3 -- straightway he will authorise it
* John 9:7 -- which is by interpretation, authorised
* Acts 10:36 -- the word He authorises to the sons of Israel
* Acts 11:30 -- authorising it to the elders
* Acts 13:26 -- the word of this salvation authorised
* Acts 28:28 -- is authorised to the nations
* Rev. 1:1 -- He authorised and signified it
A third meaning of apostellO, which is a derived meaning, is to dismiss,
to send away, to banish. But this is always an authoritative dismissal
or banishment. This is found in five places; Mark 5:10; Mark 12:3,4 & 6;
We can now summarise our findings. Commission, authorisation, and
direction are the ideas inherent in the word apostellO when applied to
men or to angels. The idea of authorisation in the sense of making
freely available becomes paramount when it is used of animals or
inanimate things. The word apostolos should never be hardened into an
office to which men are appointed. The word denotes a commission and
authorisation that is limited in time and is concerned only with the
business at hand, not with the status of a person discharging it. A
personal commission is the sole ground of being a commissioned one (an
apostle). None of those who was commissioned by Jesus Christ ever felt
he had attained to an office of indelible or life-time character.
In the house of Cornelius, Peter declared that the word which proclaimed
peace through Jesus Christ had been authorised to the sons of Israel
(Acts 10:36). In Acts 13:26 Paul emphatically declares that it was to
the sons of Abraham and the God-fearing men among them that "the word of
this salvation" had been made freely available. Paul was authorised to
speak to the Gentiles, but only after it was proclaimed to Israel first.
See Rom. 1:16. In Acts 28:28 Paul announces that "the salvation-bringing
message of God had been made freely available (authorised) to the
nations," with the further guarantee that it will get through to them.
These words indicate one great and important feature in the
dispensational change that took place at Acts 28:28. It became freely
available to all when God inspired John to write a record of the Son of
God that is without priority or discrimination of any kind.
Issue no. 005