The word apostle (from the Greek apóstolos, ἀπόστολος ) literally means “someone sent away,” implying that someone with this title is sent to deliver a message. An English equivalent would be “messenger.” There is no such thing as priesthood called “apostle.” It is also an office in the LDS church institution, like that of relief society president, primary president, or scout leader. It is only an office in that church.1 Before 1835, the term apostle did not mean 12 men belonging to a quorum. It meant men who were ordained to the High Priesthood who had seen Christ. The June 1, 1833 revelation (see T&C 94:4) referred to the School of the Prophets as the school of my apostles. The school was to prepare mine apostles (par. 1). However, the identity of the apostles was expansive, including the officers, or in other words, those who are called to the ministry in the church, beginning at the high priests, even down to the deacon (T&C 87:1), describing those for whom the school of the prophets was to be built. After an appearance of Christ to members of the school of the prophets, Joseph declared: Brethren now you are prepared to be the Apostles of Jesus Christ, for you have seen both the Father and the Son, and know that They exist, and that They are two separate Personages.2 It was not membership in a “quorum,” but knowledge that originally defined the meaning of apostle when used in all notes, minutes, revelations, and preaching before 1835.3 The church originally organized in 1830, like the Book of Mormon church, had offices of elders, priests and teachers. Then the term “apostle” began to be used. But the term “apostle” did not mean the same thing in institutions then that it does today. A quorum of twelve apostles did not exist in Mormonism until February 1835. Prior to that, many individuals were identified as “apostles.” The term meant someone sent with a message from God.4 The term was originally used to identify all the missionaries sent to preach the Book of Mormon and restoration. The revelations given through Joseph Smith specifically identified a number of men as “apostles” before the organization of a quorum of twelve apostles in 1835: Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer in 1829; Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in 1830; Sidney Rigdon, Parley Pratt and Leman Copley in 1831. A series of revelations likewise referred to “apostles” and included admonitions, instructions, and commandments to different audiences composed of “apostles” before the organization of a quorum of twelve in 1835. The Seventy were also regarded as “apostles.5 The New Testament account of what qualifies an apostle included the necessary credential of witnessing Christ’s resurrection (see Acts 1:6).6See also TWELVE APOSTLES.
1 “The Holy Order,” Oct. 29, 2017, 18, paper.
2 JSP, Documents, Vol. 3:43n259.
3 Preserving the Restoration, 49n138.
4 “Was There An Original,” address given at Sunstone Symposium, Salt Lake City, July 29, 2016, paper, 18–19; 18n78. The LDS Historian’s Office acknowledges it meant, “A title indicating one sent forth to preach; later designated as a specific ecclesiastical office.” See JSP, Documents, Vol. 1:495; Glossary, s.v. “Apostle.”
5 “Was There An Original,” address given at Sunstone Symposium, Salt Lake City, July 29, 2016, paper, 18–19; 18n79,80. “On this day the council of the seventy meet to render an account of their travels and ministry, since they were ordained to that apostleship.” JSP, Journals Vol. 1:139.
6 Passing the Heavenly Gift, 61.