This week's question comes from Jesse of Georgia. "In the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar the apostles sing Always thought that I'd be an apostle. Knew that I would make it if I tried.' How could the apostles have wanted to become apostles? I thought there weren't any until Jesus called the twelve."
Before we get to Jesse's question, it may be wise to form an understanding of what an apostle is, who they were, and what the difference is between an apostle and a disciple.
The meaning of the word "apostle" is literally one who is sent. The term was used by the gospel writers to speak of the twelve, specially called, disciples. These apostles were: Peter, Andrew, James son of Zebedee, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddeus, Simon of Canan, and Judas (Matthew 10.2-4). The earliest church, the church of Jerusalem, understood an apostle as one who had been specifically chosen by Christ to do certain ministry tasks from among the many disciples who followed him. After Judas committed suicide, the eleven apostles decided Judas' vacancy had to be filled. His replacement was to be "one of those who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us" (Acts 1:21-22). The apostles then cast lots (threw dice) to determine who would fulfill the duties of the missing twelfth. Matthias was the apostle chosen (though, we never hear about Matthias after he was chosen). Later, Paul claimed to be an apostle because of his miraculous vision of Jesus recorded in Acts 9. However, some contend the choosing of Matthias was out of line and only Christ could choose his apostles--and Christ chose Paul, not Matthias. In any event, the Bible specifically names 14 apostles. The twelve, Matthias, and Paul.
Okay, enough about who the apostles were--what's the difference between an apostle and a disciple? The word "disciple" literally means learner. During the first century, advanced education was offered by teachers, called Rabbis in Judaism. Many Rabbis would walk or wander as they taught and students would follow them as they walked. These students were called disciples; therefore, those who followed Jesus as he taught were also called disciples. All the apostles were also disciples (with the exception of Paul), though, as we've seen above, not all the disciples were apostles.
Okay, now to answer more specifically Jesse's question. Tim Rice, the composer for Jesus Christ Superstar utilized a great deal of literary license in his Broadway production. In the opera, the twelve apostles reflect upon their careers during the Last Supper. In the musical score they indicate they've always wanted to be apostles and knew they could "make it" if they tried. However, as we've seen, there were no apostles until Christ specifically chose the twelve from among the many disciples who followed him. So, Jesse, you were right. There were no apostles until Jesus called the apostles--regardless of what the opera implies.
When we study the ancient past we should remember to use primary sources (first-hand participants) first, and then move on to study secondary sources (witnesses) before we rely on sources that are tertiary or beyond. As a source for understanding the time and the works of Christ, Rice's Superstar definitely qualifies as "tertiary or beyond."