Satan Has Blocked Our Way (1 Thessalonians 2:17-20)

When Paul started the church at Thessalonica he was opposed by the Jewish community as well as the secular authorities (Acts 17:1-8). The Jews reacted to Paul’s message that Jesus was the messiah who was crucified and raised to life by God. The city officials in Thessalonica reacted against Paul’s rejection of Caesar as Lord. The idea that there is another king besides Caesar was politically dangerous. If Paul also taught Jesus was returning soon to judge the word (which 1 Thess 4:17-5:10 and 2 Thess 2 imply), the secular authorities may have interpreted this as a prophecy against the emperor and against Rome. As a result, he was forced to leave the city before he had fully prepared the church, and certainly before he wanted to leave. Acts 17:10 says the believer’s in Thessalonica sent Paul and Silas away at night, certainly not the way Paul would have liked to leave these new Christians.

In 1 Thessalonians 2:17 Paul describes this sudden departure as being “torn away” from the new Christians. The verb ἀπορφανίζω has the sense of a child that is orphaned, but also a parent who has lost a child. This is a separation under great emotional distress. Paul did not want to leave, he was forced to leave under threat from the local officials. Notice the verb is passive: Paul did not cause his own departure, he was the victim of circumstances beyond his control.

The letter was written after a short time after his forced departure and Paul thinks of the church often. The introduction to the letter says Paul prays for the church each day and in 2:17 he says he thinks of the church often. Even though Paul’s desire was to return it is possible his enemies were slandering him by saying he never intended to revisit the church. They accuse Paul of taking all the money he could could from the church and then left them on their own to face a black lash from the Thessalonian officials. The opponents are likely blaming Paul for any persecution the church faces.

Paul says he has a strong desire to return.The word for this desire is one of the strongest words for desire available to Paul, it means to “crave” something, usually in an especially inordinate way. In other places the word ἐπιθυμία is translated “lust.” This strong desire makes him make an effort to return. The verb σπουδάζω is not a light or a token effort, but rather doing “something with intense effort and motivation. Elsewhere the word is translated as “be eager to….” (Gal 2:10, Eph 4:3). His one burning desire was to return to the small community of new believers in Thessalonica and continue to build them up spiritually so they would continue the work of the Gospel in the whole region of Macedonia and Achaia (1 Thess 1:7).

Even though he has made every effort to return, Satan stopped him. The word“hinder” (ἐγκόπτω) has the sense of“tearing up the road.” If an army wanted to hinder another army from pursuing them they would tear up the road, burn the bridges, etc. Paul sees Satan’s operation as making any progress Paul might make very difficult. The book of Acts does not describe this Paul’s travels in Acts 17-18 as hindered by Satan, although it is possible Paul saw the ongoing threat of further persecution at the hands of the Jews and civil authorities in Thessalonica as a reason not to return. On the other hand, Paul does not usually avoid ministry because of the threat of persecution. He may have in mind his short time in Athens (Acts 17:16-34) where he was distressed at the idolatry of the city (17:16-17) and did not have much success (17:33, no church is formed). The important thing to observe here is that Paul sees any circumstances which kept him from returning to Thessalonica as spiritual warfare.

This hindrance may have been more subtle. Paul’s efforts to travel back to the city were slowed by what seemed to be coincidental problems or bureaucratic nonsense. It is easy for a Christian to read “Satan hindered me” in 1 Thessalonians 2:18 and assume there was some epic spiritual battle. Satan does not need to appear on the road in the form of a great red dragon breathing fire to destroy Paul and SIlas (in fact, does he ever really do that?) More often than not, Satan is in the details. Travel papers are lost, roads are closed, a minor bureaucrat refuses to sign a paper, luggage is lost, etc.

The important thing to see here is that the source of Paul inability to return is Satan. The church is not suffering because of the civil authorities in Thessalonica, nor are they suffering because of jealousy from the synagogue, they suffer because they are engaged in spiritual warfare. As he says in Ephesians 6:10, the struggle is not against  flesh and blood, but against the spiritual powers of darkness. And sometimes those spiritual powers of darkness take very subtle forms in order to hinder the Gospel.

Like a Mother, Like a Father (1 Thessalonians 2:6-12)

Although he was an apostle, Paul says he was never a burden to the church. Paul may have taught his churches that apostles were worthy respect. If someone like Peter visited the church, the church should take care of his needs. But Paul never abused his apostleship as a demand for respect. It is even possible (based on 2 Corinthians) that there were some apostles that did insist on support from the churches in which they ministered.

Rather than being a financial burden, Paul was gentle, as a mother. The metaphor highlights a mother caring for her new born baby. There is a gentleness in the touch, trying to do what the child needs to grow properly. Obviously a new mother doesn’t toss her child around, she is gentle and tender.

Since Paul loved the church, he was delighted to share his life with them. The ESV’s “affectionately desirous” is a bit cumbersome, but the verb ὁμείρομαι has the sense of deep affection: “to experience a yearning affection for someone” (L&N). Psalm 63:1 (LXX 62:2) uses the verb, “my soul yearns / thirsts for God.”

Because of this deep love, Paul was delighted to share the Gospel. The preaching of the gospel was a pleasure for him. Some people have subjects that they love to talk about, and if you bring up that subject they will babble on for a long time, just pleased that you brought it up. A grandmother asked about her grand-kids, for example. They always seem to have “brag books.”

More than just sharing the Gospel, Paul was willing to share himself with the congregation. He did not simply “do the job,” he gave everything he had to the congregation. In sports, players talking about leaving it all on the field, holding nothing back. That is the way Paul did ministry, giving everything he had to reach his congregation.

Paul describes his work in the church as “toil and hardship.” Paul’s time in Thessalonica was short, and it was not an easy time. He had to work hard to support himself and his ministry. Planting church is very difficult work, doubly so in Paul’s case because he was planting a church in a city that had never even heard of Christianity.

Coaching BaseballMost people do not think of the “ministry” as toil or hard work. (You only work for an hour a week, etc.) While it is sadly true that some Pastors are not particularly hard workers, they are the exception and not the ideal to which most pastors aspire. There is a great deal of effort that goes into be an excellent pastor, and while it is different than other jobs, it is still a skill which ought to be respected by the church served by the pastor.

Paul was successful in Thessalonica because he had pure motives, because he was gentle like a mother, but also because he was encouraging like a father. The classic stereotype is that the mother is loving and caring, but the father is a stern disciplinarian. A father’s encouragement, however, can be one of the greatest motivations in a child’s life, just as is a mother’s love and compassion. Paul uses three participles to describe how he was like a father to the Thessalonian church.

First, Paul states that he exhorted the church. The differences between the meaning of “to exhort” (ESV), or “encourage” (NIV, παρακαλέω) and “to encourage” (ESV), or “to comfort” (παραμυθέομαι) are very close, the two Greek words can both be translated as encourage.  The verb “exhort”  means something like “to prod toward a particular action.” If I urge you to do something, that has a bit more punch than “I encourage you,” but the Greek word is the same. A similar word is used in Romans 12:1, where Paul “begs” his readers to present their bodies as living sacrifices.

Exhortation is something like a cheerleader, someone that builds another up and says “you can do it!” Think of the father who is trying to encourage his child to have confidence playing baseball for the first time – he builds the kid up and pushes just a bit so that there is confidence to “step up to the plate.”  Paul had to do that with his congregation:  He prodded them and pushed them to live  a life honoring to God, especially since some aspects of the Christian life are strange to the Greco-Roman world.

Second, Paul comforted the church. By comfort, Paul is looking more at cheering someone up, consoling, or helping someone who is experiencing a difficult time. The verb is used in the context of comforting someone who has suffered a loss, a death or other tragic event. For example, in John 11:19 people came to comfort Mary and Martha after the death of Lazarus.

Striking OutNotice how closely related the concept of encouragement and comfort are related in Paul’s ministry. He could, as a father, encourage his congregation to excel in godliness, then comfort them in their weaknesses. Taking the baseball analogy from above, the father might “exhort” his child to step up to the plate, but when they strike out on three pitches without swinging the bat, he needs to comfort the child after a failure.

Third, Paul charged you to live lives worthy of God. Paul’s “urge” is “to be emphatic in stating an opinion or desire; to insist on” (L&N). When your father expressed his opinion on a topic, he often was not offering something for discussion, he was telling you what you ought to be doing, perhaps phrased in the form of an opinion. That is what Paul did as well. He showed from the Scripture how the new believers ought to believe and behave. This was not “his opinion” which was open for discussion, something to be accepted or rejected. Paul was telling his congregation how they ought to live.

The content of Paul’s insistence is that his readers live lives worthy of God. Imagine in your mind a scale, with God’s requirements on one side and our actions on the other. “Worthy” describes the balance of those scales, something that is impossible in our own power. Paul is urging his readers to set this lofty goal of spiritual growth for themselves, that they be worthy of the one that called us.

If God is your Father, then the goal of the Christian life ought to be living in a way which makes your Father in Heaven proud to call you his child.

Paul’s Motivation for Ministry (1 Thessalonians 2:1-6)

Snake OilIn the first chapter of 1 Thessalonians Paul tells the church they ought to imitate him as he imitates Christ. In fact, the church is doing just that: they have become a model for other congregations in Macedonia and Achaia. But the prayer does not really explain what Paul means by “imitate me,” he begins to outline some of the ways the church can follow his model in chapter 2. Paul reminds the church how he conducted himself when he was in the city, providing some details on what he sorts of things he models for them in imitate. Abraham Mahlrebe suggested that this description of Paul’s motivations for ministry are not really apologetic, but rather he intends to present himself as an example of moral behavior he expects out of his congregation. Although this might sound arrogant to the modern reader, Greco-Roman philosophers often set themselves as a moral examples for their students to follow.

But Paul is also trying to separate himself from the typical traveling teacher that plagued the ancient world. For Example, the sophist used their oration skills to gain popularity and wealth. Paul contrasts his motives with those of the sophists or other philosophical mountebanks. Like snake-oil salesmen in the American old west, the traveling teacher was a well-known character in the Greco-Roman world. Bruce Winter suggested that Paul was distancing himself “from the habits of the sophists, who entered the cities of the empire with great pomp in order to gain an audience and disciples for their teaching” (Cited by Green, 112). Gene Green cites Dio Chrysostom as an example of a philosopher who set himself up as a model to be followed (in contrast to other philosophers and sophists):

But to find a man who in plain terms and without guile speaks his mind with frankness, and neither for the sake of reputation nor for gain makes false pretensions, but out of good will and concern for his fellow- man stands ready, if need be, to submit to ridicule and to the disorder and the uproar of the mob—to find such a man as that is not easy, but rather the good fortune of a very lucky city, so great is the dearth of noble, independent souls and such the abundance of toadies [flatterers], mountebanks, and sophists. (Dio Chrysostom , 32.11)

In 1 Thessalonians 2:3 Paul claims he did not have “Impure motives” or a moral error (ἀκαθαρσία). When he preached the Gospel, Paul was not trying to get people to believe his message out of a desire to use them immorally. The noun is used for uncleanliness, for dirt and refuse, even the contents of a grave (which a Jew would have considered very unclean). Not surprisingly the word has a connotation of sexual sin, Paul uses the term elsewhere for “every kind of immorality” (Wannemaker, 95).

It is an unfortunate fact that people who attain power use it to sin sexually. This is quite evident that high government officials seem to use their power to be immoral, whether for sexual affairs or quasi-legal bribery. Unfortunately this is as true for religious leaders in our own day. There are people who take advantage of their position in the church to gain sexual favors; it was true in Paul’s day, and it is true in our day.

Paul also says he was “not trying to trick you” when he preached the Gospel in Thessalonica. A snake-oil salesman intends to trick the audience. This word (δόλος) is often translated as “deceit” or “treachery” (BAGD). In non-biblical Greek, the word is used for baiting a hook, a cunning plan to deceive. The most obvious example in the Greek world was the Trojan horse. Paul is not trying to trick people into accepting the Gospel so he can later hit them up for huge donations. Paul had no other motive that to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There was no trick involved, no catch, no hidden clause or fine print. What Paul taught was all there was, and he was successful in Thessalonica because of this.

It is possible Paul is responding to attacks against his character made by opponents either by Jews from the synagogue or the Thessalonicans themselves. It is even possible people in the congregation wonder about Paul’s motivation for preaching the Gospel in their city and founding the church. After all, Paul was only in the city for a short and he left under suspicion of “turning the world upside-down” (Acts 17:5-9). He left Thessalonica after Jason posted bond, possible giving credence to the rumor that Paul was preaching the gospel for the money and did not really care about the church.

One way to define yourself is to describe what you are not. For example, I might say I am a Christian, but not like those guys on TV or like those people who predict the end of the world. In saying this, my intention is to define accurately what I do believe by contrasting myself to more well known “characters” from our culture. Paul does not want to be seen as a sophist anymore than I want to be seen as goofy people claiming to be Christians.Paul’s point in these verses is to remind the readers he is different than the popular philosophers and hucksters they knew well, he genuinely cared for them as he preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, it is easy to dismiss the Gospel because people who claim to be Christians have used their power to to terrible things. People use religion to con people into giving them political power which they abuse to enrich themselves. But not every Christian is trying to manipulate people for money and power! How does the contemporary church convince the culture it is “not like those people?” If Paul is a model in this passage, how do we follow that model and avoid moral and intellectual error?

Turning from Idols to Serve the True God (1 Thessalonians 1:9)

What was the social setting of the church at Thessalonica?  John Pollhill has a good summary of the usual arguments for the church being primarily Gentile (Paul and His Letters. 185). But this is problematic because Acts tells us the congregation was formed after a period of time teaching in the Synagogue. In addition, Jews stirred up trouble for Paul out of jealousy, presumably because of his success in their synagogue.

The argument the recipients of the letters are Gentiles rests on three observations. First, they are said to have turned “to God from idols.” Paul would not describe a Jewish convert as “turning from an idol.” Second, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 describes some sexual ethics problems in the church. This would be more typical of a Gentile congregation than Jewish. Third, Paul does not quote from the Old Testament in 1 Thessalonians implying a primarily Gentile church which would not be expected to resonate with biblical quotations or subtle allusions to the Hebrew Bible.

If the church is primarily Gentile, where did they come from? If the Gentile converts were God-fearers from the synagogue, then it is also unlikely they could be described as having turned from idols. In addition, a Gentile God-fearer might be expected to know as much of the Hebrew Bible as a Jewish person. The fact the second letter is laced with allusions to the Hebrew Bible makes me think there are other reasons for the lack in 1 Thessalonians. Paul was only in the city for a short time and there is no reference to evangelism in the marketplace, but he may have made contacts there which Luke chose not to report in the book of Acts.

Roman Coin, the goddess Roma

I think the answer goes back to the persecution faced by the church. If they are persecuted for “rejecting Rome,” perhaps some of the “prominent people” Luke mentions in Acts 17:4 left the Christian church and returned to the synagogue, or to secular life. Those who remained “turned from idols,” specifically, imperial Roman cult. See this post on the charges against Paul, he was “turning the world upside down.”

Peter Oakes makes a similar point.  He says “Christian failure to honour the gods would have included central Roman deities such as Jupiter, but also the deified Caesars” (p. 309).  Someone like Jason was able to use wealth and power to deal with the court system in the city, so there is at least an implication that he was wealthy and connected politically.  Perhaps Jason or other wealthy persons had left the church by the time Paul writes (suggested by Adolf Deissmann, c.f., Malherbe, 65).

Was there an Imperial Cult center at Thessalonica? Oakes observes that no remains of an imperial cult site have been found at Thessalonica because very little of ancient Thessalonica has been excavated. But the city was a provincial capital and the presence of an imperial cult can be seen in early coinage that called Caesar God (p. 308). Even if there was no cult temple, the city of Thessalonica was thoroughly Roman.

In Acts 17, Luke reported the charges against Paul as “preaching another king besides Caesar.” If the church continued preaching Paul’s gospel, then the Gentile converts would have certainly found themselves in a difficult political and social position.

Bibliography: Peter Oakes, “Remapping the Universe: Paul and the Emperor in 1 Thessalonians and Philippians,” JSNT 27 (2005): 301-22.

Main Themes of 2 Thessalonians

The situation in Thessalonica has changed since Paul wrote his first letter to the church. In fact, the second letter is so different from the first that some scholars suggest it was actually the first letter Paul wrote to the church and the order was reversed as the early church gathered the Pauline letters into a collection. It is true the whole collection is not chronological, and the general order of the letters is from longest (Romans) to the shortest (Philemon). So it is possible the smaller 2 Thessalonians was placed after the first letter simply because it was shorter. In the absence of evidence, this reversal of the letters is too speculative, and it really does not take into account 1 Thessalonians fits well into the context of Acts.

The Apostle Paul with SwordAs for the situation of the letter, the consensus view is that the church received a letter claiming to come from Paul has circulated to the church. This letter claimed the “Day of the Lord” has already occurred. Paul writes to calm their fears and to assure then that the Day of the Lord has not yet arrived since the “Man of Lawlessness” has not been revealed.

But there is more in the background than a false letter claiming the “end times” have begun. It is possible the persecution the church faced has caused some in the congregation to wonder if they are suffering because they have sinned (and are being punished) or perhaps have believed the wrong things about Jesus. Much of the Greco-Roman world was motivated by pursuit of honor and avoiding shame. The suffering the church is facing appears to be “shame” rather than an “honor.” Paul taught them Jesus would return soon and render judgment, yet he has not returned to rescue the Thessalonians from their troubles.

Why does Paul write 2 Thessalonians?

First, Paul writes this second letter to clarify that Christians might suffer before the return of the Lord. First, suffering cannot be taken as an indication that the Great Tribulation has begun because God has an appointed time when the restraining power of God is removed from the world, permitting the Lawless One to be revealed.

Second, suffering should not be taken as an indication of divine disfavor. Nor should the Christian think they are dishonored because they are being persecuted. This sort of suffering is the lot of the Christian and the endurance the church has already demonstrated is a worthy testimony of the Lord’s work in their church and is a source of boasting for Paul. Paul is pleased that they are steadfast as they endure persecution (1:4).

Third, the source of the suffering which the church is experiencing is not God, but rather Satan. God is not punishing them at all. Since they are a successful, growing church, Satan is attempting to distract them from their calling as a church. They are engaged in serious spiritual warfare, so they ought to “stand firm and hold fast to the teachings” Paul had already passed on to them (2:15).

Fourth, the central problem in 2 Thessalonians is the false report about the return of Christ (2:1-12). Paul first must remind the Thessalonians of what he has already taught them, that the Lord will not return until “the man of lawlessness” is revealed, and this person cannot be revealed until “the restraining force” is taken out of the way. The identity of the Restrainer is one of the more difficult issues in Pauline studies (here are a few comments on what Paul might be talking about). Setting aside the precise identity of the Restrainer, Paul main encouragement to the Thessalonican church is that they need to be afraid they have entered into the “last days” and ought to encourage one another and be “strengthened in every good deed and word” (2:16)

Main Themes of 1 Thessalonians

Paul arrived in the Thessalonica after a short time in Philippi (Acts 17:1-9). In Philippi he was arrested illegally and released when he informed the Philippian magistrates he was a Roman citizen. As is typical for Paul he visits the local synagogue and “reasoned from the Scripture” that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer, die, and rise from the dead. Luke indicates some Jews were persuaded, but also a “large number of God-fearing Gentiles and quite a few prominent women” (Acts 17:4).

Encourage one anotherBecause of this success, the Jews stir up a mob to “start a riot” and drive Paul out of the town. They seize Jason, a prominent Thessalonian who was hosting Paul and Silas in his home. The Jews bring Jason before the city officials and claim Paul has been “turning the world upside down,” defying Caesar’s decrees and claiming there is another king, Jesus. Paul is forced to leave the city and these opponents follow Paul to Berea (Acts 17:10-15). Paul is forced to travel alone to Athens (Acts 17:16-34) and eventually to Corinth (Acts 18). Silas and Timothy returned to Thessalonica and re-joined Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:5). In 1 Thessalonians 3:6, Paul says Timothy had just “just now come from you” and reported good news: the church has continued to grow in faith and love and has stood against the attacks made against it. Timothy may have delivered a letter from the Thessalonians to which Paul now responds in First Thessalonians.

First, Paul must defend himself against unnamed opponents who are slandering him. Based on his defense in chapter 2, these opponents acclaim Paul has no divine authority and may be using the local church to enrich himself. It is true Paul was forced to leave Thessalonica under the cover of darkness (Acts 17:10), leaving Jason with some legal and financial burdens (Acts 17:9, Jason posted bail for Paul). Paul says his appeal to his readers did not “spring up from error or impure motives” (2:3) nor did he use the slick rhetoric of the Sophists to trick his readers into believing the Gospel (2:5). The church itself is a witness to Paul’s behavior in Thessalonica, so the opponents have no basis for making these charges.

Second, although Timothy gave an “encouraging report” (1 Thess 3:6-10), he also seems to have reported on two or three problems for the church. In 4:3-8 Paul deals with sexual immorality, encouraging people to control themselves and live in an honorable way. In 4:9-12 Paul instructs the Thessalonican believers to live a “quiet life” and to work to provide for their own needs. It may be the case some members of the congregation were abusing the generosity of others, no longer working while they waiting for the soon arrival of the Lord Jesus. In both of these cases, Paul encourages the readers to live lives which “win the respect of outsiders” (4:12).

Third, Paul addresses some concerns about the return of the Lord (1 Thess 4:13-5:11). Since Paul’s time was cut short, he may not have had the time to answer all the questions the church may have had about the imminent return of Jesus. What is more, some members of the church have died prior to the expected return of the Lord. Paul first must comfort the community by explaining that those who have died in Christ will certainly participate in the resurrection from the dead prior to the return of the Lord. In fact, they will rise first and join those who are still living as they are caught up to meet the Lord in the air (4:15). In chapter 5 Paul points out that the day of the Lord will come unexpectedly, so the “children of light” ought to live their lives in sober anticipation of the return of the Lord. Both of these teachings conclude with “therefore encourage one another.” This is the main point of any teaching on the return of the Lord, encouragement to living godly lives which “win the respect of outsiders” (4:12).

Although 1 Thessalonians is remembered as the “Rapture book” in popular teaching, the main theme of the book is “encourage one another.” Since the Thessalonian church was small and had to endure some pressure from both secular authorities and their cousins in the Jewish synagogue, they may have felt as though their new faith in Jesus was not worth the trouble. The congregation must comfort one another and encourage each member of their small group to continue living out their faith in Jesus as children of God.

Was Paul as an Apostle?

Paul claims to be called to be an apostle in each of the undisputed letters (Rom 1:1, 1 Cor 1:1, 2 Cor 1:1, Gal 1:1) as well as several other letters (Eph 1:1, Col 1:1, 1-2 Tim, Titus). In addition to the headings of these letters, Paul refers to his apostleship in several other contexts. In Rom 11:13 he calls himself the “apostle to the Gentiles” and in 1 Corinthians 9 Paul defends his status as an apostle on a par with Peter or Barnabas. But Paul never claims to be one of the Twelve. With the exception of Matthias, the replacement for Judas, this group were chosen by Jesus before the crucifixion.

Was Paul as an Apostle?In fact, in Galatians 1 Paul emphasizes his commission as an apostle but distinct from the Twelve.  An “apostle” is someone who is sent as a representative of another, usually some kind of a group.  Most lexicons suggests the English “ambassador, delegate, messenger” for the Greek concept of an apostle.  Most scholars now associate the Greek apostolos (ἀπόστολος) with the Hebrew shaliach. A person who was sent as a representative or agent acts on the same authority of the sending group.

For example, when the Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to Antioch, it is possible he was send as a shaliach or apostle of the Jerusalem church (Acts 11:22).  He would have acted as their representative on the scene should questions arise. Paul is not an apostle sent by the church of Antioch to the churches of Galatia, nor is he an agent sent out by the Jerusalem church. He never claims to be one of the Twelve Apostles, in fact Galatians 1-2 make it clear he is not part of that particular group. Paul’s claim in Galatians is that is an apostle of Jesus Christ and God the Father.

In 1 Corinthians 15:9 Paul alludes to his status as an apostle in his discussion of the resurrection. Paul was not a follower of Jesus until his encounter in Acts 9. As is well known, he was a persecutor of Jesus’ followers prior to the resurrection appearance of Jesus. Paul claims in in 1 Cor 15 to be an eye-witness to the resurrection, albeit one with different credentials than Peter or James since he did not know Jesus before the resurrection.

This experience was like an “untimely birth” (ESV). This word (ἔκτρωμα) is used for a stillborn child or a miscarriage. Many commentators think this is an insult Paul faced in his ministry, he is not just a “Johnny-come-lately” or someone who is trying to “jump on the band-wagon,” or that he has some spiritual deficiency disqualifying him from being considered a “real apostle.” Rather than responding to an attack, Paul is simply listing himself as the final witness because he was the final witness, and his experience is unique among the apostles. But again, he does not claim to be one of the Twelve; like James, the Lord’s Brother, he is commissioned by the resurrected Jesus to be an apostle, but NOT one of the Twelve.

In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul sarcastically refers to his opponents in Corinth as “super-apostles.” But since this rare word can mean superior, it is possible the opponents considered themselves to be superior to Paul and described themselves as his superiors to the members of the Corinthian church. Some have argued this is a reference to the apostles in Jerusalem, but it seems unlikely Paul would refer the Twelve with this snarky title (like added “so-called” to something to question its authority). More likely the super apostles are Greeks in Corinth who have accepted the Gospel but are now behaving like Greek intellectuals. Like many of the other issues in Corinth, Paul is dealing with a pagan worldview in the church.

By way of summary, there was a group called the Twelve who were apostles, and a few other people who were commissioned by Jesus after the resurrection (James and Paul) and were therefore also considered apostles. There were others who claimed to be apostles, like the super apostles mentioned in 2 Corinthians who claimed authority as apostles but were not commissioned by the resurrected Jesus.

What is Paul claiming when he calls himself an Apostle?  What does it mean for a letter like 1 Thessalonians, where he does not use the title but then says he could have made demands as an apostle of Christ?