Doctrinal Matters: Difficult Passages
Meaning of “Apostles” in 1 Corinthians 15
“In 1 Corinthians 15:3-9, where Paul talks about those who had seen Jesus after his resurrection, in verse 5 he says that he was seen of Cephas and then of the twelve. But then in verse 7, he says he was seen of James; then all of the apostles. Do we know if he was just referring to the twelve 'official' apostles again, or other men like Barnabas and James the brother of Jesus, who are also referred to as apostles in the Bible?”
Four observations help to clear up this confusion:
(1) The appearance to Cephas is referred to in Luke 24:34, but we have no way of knowing the circumstances/occasion;
(2) “The Twelve” was an official designation for the original 12 apostles, though at the time Jesus was seen by them, Judas was deceased leaving only 11. This appearance occurred in John 20:26-29;
(3) The reference to James in verse 7 is a reference to “James the Just” who was a physical brother of Jesus and not one of the Twelve (though designated an “apostle,” a term which was applied to others besides the Twelve since apostolos simply means “one sent”). This is the James who wrote the book of James;
(4) The phrase “all the apostles” in verse 7 refers to one of the appearances noted in Acts 1:3. Verse 2 makes it clear that these appearances occurred with reference to “these men,” i.e., the original apostles.