Home > Uncategorized > What is the biblical equivalent of a “missionary” in the NT?

What is the biblical equivalent of a “missionary” in the NT?

Many people in the house church movement have been good to point out to us that the Pastor (as-we-know-it-today) is not in the New Testament. The NT had elders who were involved in local house churches. Pastors were part of the five-fold gifts of Christ (Eph 4). Elders on the other hand were appointed and chosen because of personal character issues and leading a family (Titus 1/ I Tim 3). To be an elder is never called a gift!

The word missionary is not found in the NT and yet today we call everybody who goes overseas to do almost any type of service missionaries. Actually, a missionary can be a missionary in his hometown. What is the biblical equivalent of a missionary to the scriptures: is it apostle? I don’t think so…

This is my question: “Is being a missionary, as we know them, a biblical concept?”

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. unklee
    November 27, 2007 at 10:21 PM

    I really don’t think this question is all that important, I’m sorry. At the most simplistic level, the word “missionary” isn’t in the Bible because that word is in English and the Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek. This is obvious and pedantic, but the point is that we are dealing with translation, so words are only roughly equivalent in meaning. So I suggest the common activity of christians drawing fine meanings out of words may be a bit pointless.

    We can further make the equally obvious point that cars and printing presses and computers and blogs are not in the Bible either, but that doesn’t mean we will stop using them or having this discussion.

    So what is the real question? I’m not sure what your purpose was in making this blog entry, but I know you will have had something worthwhile in mind. But my suggestion is that:

    (1) Jesus gives us all the command to love God & our neighbours, and that will involve serving them, sharing the good news with them in appropriate ways, and discipling them. If you call that missionary (one who has been sent), or obedient christian or something else I don’t mind.

    (2) If we pray and are open-minded, the Holy Spirit will surely give us the appropriate methods and structures to do that, as I believe he has already begun to show you and you are sharing with those of us with eyes to see. The Biblical teaching on elders and gifts is surely part of that Spirit-given structure, but I wouldn’t think we need to be too strict and legalistic about the details (which I don’t think you are).

    Have I missed your point entirely? I hope not!

    BTW, the font size in this reply box is very small and difficult for me to read (I don’t have 20/20 vision!) and if you were able to notch it up a point or two that would be great please.

  2. jeff
    November 29, 2007 at 7:11 PM

    The NT calls modern missionaries Apostles and they were few in number, most were uniquely hand-picked (Acts 16:3) and they were always traveling about in small bands never staying in the same place very long.

    On the other hand, huge numbers of missionaries have flooded the world on every continent today. Many stay their whole careers (20 years or more) in the same city! This year over 1 million short-term missionaries (2 weeks 1 year) will leave the shores of the USA! Add another million to the group from Europe and Australia.

    Somewhere we have to admit the math just doesn’t add up! Of course, in saying all this we are not pointing fingers at what people have done for the sake of Christ in foreign fields since William Carey left for India, we are just examining the apostolic principles that are laid down for us in Scriptures.

    Paul considered his apostolic mission finished when there was just a fledgling group of believers gathering together in Christ in a given location. He considered that area reached and he pressed on further to the utter most ends of the earth. There is no more place for me to work in these regions (Rom 15:23)

    Yours for the least in the Kingdom,

    Jeff and Maria Gilbertson

  3. December 3, 2007 at 10:42 AM

    Well, I have written on this on my blog before but to sum up I think it is an important question indeed. It has to do with our identity and our function. If we do not know who we are we will not fulfill our function. The pastor needs to feel his gifting and act on it in faith. The missionary likewise. The problems are many for tackling this issue. First, we need to let the word apostle stand as it is defined biblically. The modern word missionary carries a lot of historical baggage that is not found in the NT. At the heart of the word apostle is the basic meaning of ‘sent one’. This is why so many in the West want to relegate this position to the first century- they don’t see a need for this position so they discount it altogether. This is a huge mistake. The original apostles were very specifically chosen but others are called apostles in the NT outside of the original 12 and Eph specifically says that God has chosen apostles to serve the church. I don’t think he was referring to just the original 12 here anymore than the teachers and pastors were limited to the first century.
    Apostles are barrier crossers. We cross barriers physically, culturally and most important spiritually. A lot has been made of the time modern missionaries spend and real evaluation must be made but Paul never spent the same amount of time any place. He was three months in some towns and three years in others. He stayed as long as it took. I think there are barriers that will take twenty years to cross. But the issue is to cross the barrier. Most missionaries stay twenty years because of lots of unhealthy reasons like dependency and personal comfort, not because that is how long it takes to do the job.
    You also mention that missionary and apostle are not the same and you are correct. Today many cross-cultural workers are not the barrier crossers but are gifted in other ways to build up the body. I am fine with continuing to use the word missionary for them as they are sent out but not necessarily to bring a ministry across a significant spiritual barrier. I am the apostle for my team, there are others on my team who are clearly apostles but there are some who are support personnel- one who is even an evangelist- who are needed to help bring the ministry the God desires here to Middle Earth. I am not so concerned that the word missionary is not in the Bible as I am concerned that we recognize what our identity in Christ is and that we act on it.
    I feel that I have raised more issues than I have settled. Oh well….. let’s keep talking.

  4. unklee
    December 6, 2007 at 1:20 AM


    I have been very impressed by your discussion of the modern but less effective practice of sending masses of missionaries who make people dependent rather than set up independent churches and then leave. I just think that we shouldn’t draw too much from the NT use of the word apostle, as Strider has indicated (hi, son of Arathorn!). That it is true and is detrimental is quite sufficient reason for me.

    December 7, 2013 at 6:44 AM

    A word was used “pedantic,” LoL…
    I have know Missionaries that have had the call to go, and great things did occur through faith. So what is my point? I prayerfully believe there is an Apostolic Anointing that is given to those GOD has ordained to be Apostles. Yet the call to spread the good news where ever you can/are led to according to Acts 8:1 are the result of the indwelling of the HOLY SPIRIT. The term Missionary by definition and past missionaries seems to apply to those who are Anointed for Assignment(s) that have specific needs; most likely more outside than inside their community. Although as it pertains to the HOLY SPIRIT, we should be mindful if we were born in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria or abroad; that charity starts at home…

    December 7, 2013 at 6:46 AM

    Excuse me “Typo” Act 1:8 not 8:1

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: