First of all, thank you for your kind offer to answer our questions here. I have several questions, mainly arising from discussions on other websites with Protestants, in particular Calvinists (or near-Calvinists) who insist that in the early Church there were only local Christian communities, each having its own elders/overseers, but without any hierarchical or diocesan structure and without any higher-ranking clergy.
My first question has to do with the people described in the Epistles as “apostoloi” in certain passages where most translations use a term such as “messengers” or “representatives”, as for example in these three verses (in the NIV):
Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. (Rom 16:7)
As for Titus, he is my partner and co-worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ. (2 Cor 8:23)
But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. (Phil 2:25)
In these passages, is the word apostolos being used simply in a general sense to refer to any “messenger” or “envoy,” or does it designate a specific position, function, status, or rank within Paul’s Church?
If it is being used in the latter sense, how long did the Church retain this position, function, status, or rank? By the time of Constantine’s reign, for instance, the term had already fallen into disuse, hadn’t it? Can anything more specific be said about the timing?