“Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;” – Eph 3:5
Ephesians 3:5 mentions apostles and prophets that know the mystery of Christ. Sincere saints are troubled at this verse thinking that it either discounts Paul’s special apostleship, or shows that the mystery was known before Paul.
There is no need to be troubled about this verse right in the middle of one of the clearest passages about the mystery of Christ in Paul’s letters.
These are not the twelve apostles of the prophesied kingdom gospel, nor are they the prophets of the Old Testament.
These are apostles and prophets belonging to the church, the Body of Christ.
Paul First of All
There is no doubt that Paul’s apostleship is unique, having been separated by the Lord himself.
The mystery of Christ was first revealed to Paul, who was a “chosen vessel” sent as an apostle of Jesus Christ with a new dispensation of the gospel (Acts 9:15, 1 Cor 9:17).
Just a couple verses before the “trouble verse” of Eph 3:5, Paul explains that the dispensation was given to him regarding the mystery:
“If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery…” – Eph 3:2-3
To the Corinthians Paul declares that he delivered the gospel unto them “first of all” (1 Cor 15:3).
To the Romans Paul claims to be a separated apostle (Rom 1:1), and magnifies his office as the dispenser of God’s grace to Gentiles:
“For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:” – Rom 11:13
However, although he was the first apostle of the church he was not the only apostle.
Apostles of the Church
The church the Body of Christ had many apostles and prophets when it began nearly two thousand years ago.
Paul could not be everywhere at once. While he traveled ministering his gospel, others were recruited by the Spirit to help.
We should not forget that the Spirit gave gifts of prophecy and positions of apostleship to others after Paul in the newly revealed church of Christ’s body.
“…To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy;…” – 1 Cor 12:10
“And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, …” – 1 Cor 12:28
Timothy, Silvanus, and Epaphroditus are all called apostles by Paul in his letters (1 Thess 2:6, Phil 2:25).
It was these Spirit filled church apostles who also prophesied mystery truths as they were laying the foundation of the early church wherever they were sent (Eph 2:20).
After the church was established in mystery truth, these foundational gifts were no longer needed (1 Cor 13:10-11).
“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith…” – Eph 4:11-12
Twelve Apostles Excluded
None of the twelve apostles of the kingdom were also apostles of the church. The only foundation they laid was of Jesus Christ according to prophecy. The twelve apostles were apostles of Israel’s twelve tribes in their earthly kingdom.
None of the Twelve knew the mystery when they were sent with their gospel. When they were chosen by the Lord they did not know that Christ needed to die, not to mention anything about the mystery preaching of the cross (Luke 18:34).
The Spirit gave the Twelve understanding of what the prophets spoke since the world began at Pentecost, but not a word was spoken about the mystery kept secret since the world began (Acts 3:21; Acts 3:24 vs. Rom 16:25).
The apostles and prophets of Ephesians 3:5 can not possibly be anything but church apostles and prophets since Paul was the first to receive the mystery of Christ, and the only apostles and prophets who have knowledge of the mystery come after Paul as part of the church not Israel’s kingdom.