Paul as an Apostle

Antonio del Castillo y Saavedra (Córdoba 1616 - Córdoba 1668)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.

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, like the super apostles, who claimed authority as apostles but were not commissioned by the resurrected Jesus.

How would Paul’s status as an Apostle, but not one of the Twelve, effect his ministry? Did people consider him less-authoritative than Peter or James? Or is his apostleship associated with area of ministry (Gentiles as opposed to Jews)? Could this be geographical (Paul goes west, James stays in Jerusalem)?

17 thoughts on “Paul as an Apostle

  1. I think the sources for determining what an “Apostle” is (and if Paul was one) should be Jesus and the Apostles He appointed, in the text of the New Testament.

    In other words, the words and actions of Jesus recorded by the Gospel Writers, the words of the 3 Apostles who also were New Testament authors (Matthew, John, & Peter), and Luke’s record of the words and actions of the Original Apostles such as Peter in Acts 1.

    Jesus knows what an Apostle is and who the Apostles are. And Jesus spent over 3 years personally training His Apostles, led by Peter, so they all knew better than ANYONE ELSE what an Apostle is , and who the Apostles were. They didn’t need some stranger who came much later, like Paul the Pharisee, to explain it to them, amid his unsupported, boastful self-promoting claims about himself.

    I believe Jesus and the Original Apostles should be our sources for this topic.
    Not Paul’s unsupported testimony about himself.
    Not Lexicons or dictionaries
    Not Church tradition (from the Second Century heretic Marcion, or Constantine in the Fourth Century when he syncretized Marcionism and Christianity, or The Reformation or modern theologians.)

    • I disagree, words only have meaning in their context, not your theology. You sound pious, but you are imposing your own definition on the word without warrant and you dismiss any data that does not agree with you.

      Jesus never defined apostle, it was an already-existing word Jesus used to describe the Twelve on one occasion (Mark 3:13/Luke 6:13). Deal with it, agree to disagree and/or move on to bigger and better things. I am personally weary of your constant trolling this blog. Go play under another bridge for a while.

      • So let’s define them “in their context” – in the text of the New Testament canon alone.

        Not in your Lexicon outside the canon, where you impose your definition from your Lexicon on the word and dismiss any data in the NT canon text that does not agree with you.

        Jesus DID define apostle. And so did The Apostle Peter in Acts 1, in agreement with Jesus. But you won’t listen to Jesus or the Apostles Jesus appointed, you would rather listen to Paul and ignore Jesus.

        You have a lot of company – but the majority view is not always right, just as in the time of Jesus. The “one occasion (Mark 3:13/Luke 6:13” you mention is only one small part of the story- there is more than that, if you have ears to listen.

  2. I recall it was said here that “you can’t do theology unless you agree on the canon of books.” (I’m paraphrasing.) I agree with the basic thrust of this idea. If people do not agree to limit the discussion about their opinions to a limited number of specific sources, it is impossible to agree.

    If you “believe in the authority of the New Testament”, then how about we limit our discussion to the text of the NT to determine “what is an Apostle”? (Rather than sources outside the canon like lexicons?)

    Within the canon, there is a stark contrast in opinions about what an Apostle is. There is
    1) Paul’s opinions (plus a misinterpretation out of context of Luke’s passing editorial comments in Acts 14)
    2) Jesus and everyone else

    So within the canon, the choice is clear- listen to Paul, or listen to Jesus and everyone else.

    • Matthew, it seems you are trying to be a serious and good student. I don’t know what kinds of education you’ve had, whether self-directed or “formal” schooling or both. I’ve really tried to understand what your objection is about re. lexicons particularly. You may know they, in this context, are basically one-language-to-another dictionaries. They are indispensable. Even if one were a native speaker of Koine Greek (impossible now, and it’s probably NOT what Jesus generally spoke, but Aramaic), that person still would need to at least occasionally consult a dictionary… that’s just how language is… regional, changing, etc.

      You may know that Jesus and NT writers quote often from the Greek Septuagint translation of Heb. Scriptures… said to often not be a very literal translation (which was not the point in that day, anyway, as much as in the modern era; and even now “literalness” is STILL variable and somewhat subjective… I wrote my M.Div. thesis on Bible translation, tho now 40 yrs. ago).

      If you haven’t yet, I’d encourage you to take one or more languages, via classes particularly (such as Hebrew and Koine Greek); and study the translation process and the fields involved in interpreting either ancient or more recent texts… philology, semantics, etc. You also might want to dig deeper into the canonization process (if you want to get thoroughly perplexed :). And try to emulate me in this: enjoy it but don’t take it all TOO seriously. (I study seriously and can/will argue certain points I deem important, but I DO have fun and seldom get worked up or worry whether I’m getting everything right… or anyone else is… we’re ALL wrong a good bit of the time.)

  3. I think Paul truly was an apostle, even if he was not “one of the twelve”. Longenecker and Still define an apostle as “those commissioned by God to deliver the good news of the early Jesus movement” (380). Paul is just that. Paul states that he is the “least of the apostles” and that he is “unworthy to be called an apostle” because of his actions before following Christ (1 Cor 15:9) But the grace of God has made him an apostle and by grace he was chosen to preach the gospel to the gentiles (Acts 9:15-16)(TTP, 31). In Galatians 1:15-16, Paul supports that he was chosen by God: “God…was pleased to reveal his son to me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles” and in Galatians 2:20 he states that Christ lives in him (TTP, 93). Longenecker and Still state that Paul’s physical imprints that he received as a servant of God (such as whip marks on his back) should cause “others to think twice about challenging his worthiness as an apostle” for he is an “enfleshed” example of the “theological principle of ‘Christ is in me'” (94). Although Paul is not “one of the twelve”, he is an apostle for God revealed his son to him and he was selected and chosen by God to preach to the gentiles.

    • Hi Natalie,
      So your sources for what you think about Paul being an apostle,are:
      Longenecker and Still, (modern authors outside the canon), and
      Paul testifying about himself (with no second witness in the canon.)
      Do you have another witness in the canon?

      • Matthew, this is your last warning. I need you to drop your pursuit of this issue, harassing other commenters will not be tolerated any longer. Moderate yourself, or I will move your future comments to moderation. It is time you found a new site to visit.

    • I think a lot of this falls on the sort of “circular” argument that we all deal with on a daily basis regarding the Bible. “How do we know the Bible is true? It says so, etc..” I like that you presented the broader context of an apostle as well. It’s important to consider the title as also being less than divine and more human in language. An apostle could be loosely defined as anyone in the early church crying the message. Obviously today the title has a bit more weight to it than that, but really in it’s most broad sense anyone in that time period could have helped this message along. Wether or not Paul was an apostle he certainly did that much. He spent the entirety of his later life preaching the gospel to others!

  4. I note but don’t have time right now to read the Matthew Perri exchanges, but I catch their tenor quickly. Anyway, I don’t intend to do any “piling on” if there may be overlap. My quick note will be that it is an interesting intellectual/historical question about Paul’s apostleship. But the whole matter of apostolic authority is waaay overblown to most people (orthodox believers particularly), in my view. This may be hidden within the NT books read a certain way because of our traditions and the spin Luke put onto the first few decades of the Church, but the supposed authority of “apostleship” is mainly a literary device.

    It was employed, first by Paul as to time of writing of NT books, to confer authority, then employed by others. But there is, “between the lines” in the NT and shown in other church-circulated, authoritative texts of the same era, a complex development of even a named group of twelve (never named by Paul, and somewhat differing in the Gospels/Acts). With that, the authority was interposed backward to create the appearance of clear authority from Christ to Apostles to Bishops/overseers (and so on). There are many good sources on this but a couple of my fav’s are L. Michael White and Burton Mack. (The latter I know is thought overly speculative by many, which he can be at times, but my repeated reading and cross-checking of his insights keeps him holding up real well… and more insightful than most!)

  5. Paul’s position as an apostle, in my opinion could hold some merit to his ministry. I think that is important that he is considered to be an apostle, and not just a believer off of the street. If he were to have been seen as just a tent maker that publicized his beliefs of Jesus being the Messiah, he would have been chased out of every town and probably killed for saying things much quicker. But because Paul had the title of apostle, even not being one of the twelve, he definitely held some more authority than just a tent maker. “Paul reminds the church how he and his coworkers proclaimed the Gospel boldly among them with demonstrable success” (Longenecker, 66). This shows that he had come before and spoken with great influence, and no fear of the outcome. Paul’s calling by God was to reach the Gentiles with the good news of the Messiah. This was different than that of the twelve because they did not go to the Gentiles, but rather stuck with the Jewish culture, trying to convince them that the Messiah had already come, even though they felt that they were still waiting for him. The twelve and Paul technically had the same job, to share the Gospel with the people of the world. Divide and conquer is what comes to my mind when I think why they wouldn’t all be commissioned together. To reach everyone, they would need to attribute resources to the Gentiles as well as the Jews.

  6. It was nice getting a closer look at Paul as an apostle. Paul was an apostle, but as it was said he was not one of the twelve that Jesus appointed before the crucifixion. We know that he is an apostle by what Longenecker and Still tell us in their book, someone who is chosen to deliver the good news. I do not believe that Paul not being one of the twelve effected his ministry. In some cases I feel that maybe it made his ministry, and testimony stronger. When talking about if Paul’s authority, and if it was considered less than Peters of James’ I would say no. Because in Gal. 1:11-12 we are told that the gospel that he preaches “is not according to man…but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ”. What he was sharing with the people wasn’t something that was coming from himself, but from Jesus. Therefor I do not think that his authority on this would be any less then of the other apostles.

  7. How would Paul’s status as an Apostle, but not one of the Twelve, effect
    I think that Paul’s status as an Apostle, rather then as one of the Twelve, does affect the way that his ministry comes across to others. That he referred to himself as an apostle would have made people pay more attention to the gospel that he was trying to spread, even if he was not one of Jesus’s original twelve apostles, nor was he the newly appointed twelfth apostle. Their ministry would have been a little different, because the Twelve could only draw from their time with Jesus while He was alive, whereas Paul’s ministry started when Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus. Paul’s ministry came from the revelation and all the information he had learned about Jesus before and after that. Longenecker and Still make many statements in their book about Paul being an apostle, like when they wrote, “the apostle himself frequently builds the theological discourse of his letters from autobiographical elements sprinkled through out them,” showing that Paul the Apostle used his position and knowledge to carry his ministry to the Gentiles and Jews alike (TTP, 14). Additionally, in Acts 9 we are able to see that God gave His servant Ananias a vision about Paul, and also was showing Ananias that Paul was being appointed to minister to Gentiles and to the Jews, “But the Lord said, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel,” (Acts 9:15). This showed that even though Paul was not one of the Twelve appointed as Apostles by Jesus after His resurrection, that the Son of God had still obviously appointed Paul to be His apostolic tool, just as Jesus had done before when He reappeared to His followers after the resurrection. From what I read in the Bible, and from reading Longenecker and Still’s book, it seems that Paul was not lacking in authority compared to Peter and James, rather He seemed to have had a pretty even amount of authority matching their’s. It could have had something to do with geography how the different apostles were picked and sent, but I think it was more so about God’s plan of reaching the right people at the right time, so that the Gospel could be spread far and wide. The Gospel even made it all the way to the Americas and beyond eventually (here I am referring to modern times such as right now, not back then). All in all, it is obvious that the Apostle Paul did his ministry faithfully and that through his ministry many people came to Christ, and that many accepted the authority to preach that he had received from the Lord.

  8. An apostle was someone who was appointed by someone else to deliver a message to another person. It was a common word in the world in which both Jesus and Paul lived and the fact that Jesus used that word is very telling. Jesus chose His twelve and invested in time in training them. Paul, however, did not have that luxury, but he was no less chosen or sent. Paul did not need all the extra training like the Twelve because he already had a fantastic understanding from which to work, it just needed to be illuminated. Hence his encounter with Jesus in Acts 9. Peter even states that Paul’s writings are equivalent in authority to the Old Testament (2 Peter 3:14-16). Paul’s status as an Apostle but not one of the Twelve was a blessing. He was able to travel the world bringing the Gospel to the ends of the earth to both Jew and Gentile alike, going first to the synagogue and then to the non-Jews. Also, many of the Twelve didn’t leave the regions around Jerusalem, preferring to go to the Jews and leaving the Gentiles to Paul. Peter and Paul seemed on equal footing as far as authority (See the 2 Peter passage), but their ministries were to two seperate groups of people. I think it would have been very difficult for Paul to do Peter’s job because of his previous reputation with the Jews, and visa versa because Peter did not have Paul’s Roman citizenship or formal training to minister to the Greeks.

  9. When God chose Paul to be an apostle to the gentiles, it was no accident. Paul states in Galatians 1:12 “For I did not receive it from any man… I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” He then goes on to speak of his “former life in Judaism”, signifying that he has left it behind. He instantly began his ministry, without going to the apostles in Jerusalem. It seems apparent that Paul still thought of his ‘former life in Judaism’ at times. Given your fleshing out of the word ‘apostle’ in Greek, is it fair to continue to look at Paul’s apostleship as an ambassadorship? I think so. An ambassador is sent to a specific country to represent his own, to a people group that he can work best with. Paul was specifically called by God to be ‘an apostle to the Gentiles’, which fits well. In response to Paul and the ‘super-apostles’ I do feel bad for Paul. Could his ‘former life in Judaism’ be why God stated he must suffer for his (God’s) name? (Acts 9:16). At the same time it seems God worked through Paul’s suffering to develop a deeper compassion for the church and non-believers. It seems the Paul/super-apostle terminology is like the testimonies of two different GBC freshmen. One grew up in a nice Christian home, made hardly any mistakes, and wants to be a pastor. How nice. The other left a life of partying and rebellion. He accepted Christ only several years ago, yet was radically changed and has a passion for ministry. The way I see it, Paul could have travelled to specific locations due to his status as an apostle to the Gentiles, and he did minister to that particular group, but at times also ministered to Jews. I am not sure if they thought him less authoritative, given his multiple accounts of being called by God. He used his former life to catalyst himself into the lives of people.

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