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?

13 thoughts on “Was Paul as an Apostle?

  1. Acts 22:17-21, Acts 26:16-18, Acts 9:15-16 are all versions of the sending, or making of an apostle. John 13:20 is a very important verse in this regard, because in it the Lord Himself states very clearly who we are accepting or rejecting when we do so with one who is sent by Him. All of these references are “red letters” in red-letter Bibles.

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  2. Even though Paul never calls himself an apostle, I think it is fair to confirm that he still acted as one and was still called by Christ in a unique way to do a unique task; preaching the gospel to the gentiles. Looking at his conversion/calling in Acts 9, we see that the voice of Jesus doesn’t specifically call him an apostle nor give him his specific task yet. Instead he uses Ananias to reveal him his mission. In Acts 9:17, Ananias himself uses the word apostello (in greek), our english word sent, when revealing his mission; to reveal Paul’s mission. The 12 apostles were different in that they were with Jesus from the beginning, and their original intended mission was different; preaching the gospel to the Jews, not gentiles. This makes Paul kind of a unique apostle; not one of the 12, but still sent on a mission.

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    • He does call himself an apostle several times, see Galatians 1:1, for example. Luke only calls him an apostle once.

      But you point about Ananias is excellent, the verb “to send” in Acts 9 is certainly the same idea, he is God’s representative to the Gentiles.

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  3. With the way, Paul starts many of his letters it is clear that he is an apostle. He was not one of the 12 who walked and talked with Jesus, however, he received a perhaps more clear revelation of who Jesus really was, Just as Peter did in Matthew 16:16. So even though Paul did not walk alongside Jesus he still received a revelation of Jesus Christ. I think having that encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus helped consider him to be an apostle. For he saw Jesus in His radiance. Now I think there is validity in Paul being sent by God through the disciple Ananias. Paul’s mission was clear now that he was not only to preach the Gospel to the Jews but also to the Gentiles.
    I find it noteworthy that in l Corinthians 15 Paul says ” For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.” and that He, “labored more abundantly than they all-” (v 9-10). I think this takes down the proposed insult of “super-Cristian”.

    Though Paul does not record that he is an apostle in l Thessalonians, he, however, does walk with the authority of Jesus Christ and as an ambassador carrying out the mission and representing Jesus with His very own authority.

    I would also like to point out that Peter mentions that it is hard for him to understand some of Pauls letters. I personally believe this is because Paul was in deeper into the depth of God’s wisdom and knowledge. So it can be misleading to say that the 12 were more intimate and knowing of Jesus Christ simply because they walked with Him.

    Lastly, I would propose that Paul was in Thessalonica for awhile and perhaps he did not have to let them know that he was an apostle? According to Thinking Through Paul, it says, “It is unclear how long Paul’s founding visit to Thessalonica lasted.” later saying that he likely forged good relationships with the people and that he worked as a leather worker. (TTP, 61).

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  4. After reading this post my thoughts go right to the concept that if an individual is a leader with a specific title, it does not mean they are not capable of what another leader, who has another title, can do. What I mean by this, from my own understanding, is coming from a personal experience. I am a Team Lead at Chick-Fil-A and I have been working there for over two years now. I got promoted with the intentions that the next leadership position for me would be Team Lead. The experience I had, and familiarity brought me to a point where I started being trained on the things a manager would do. Currently I am a Team Lead, but I could fall into the role of a manager because of my experience.
    When I think about Paul and his journey of calling himself an apostle, but not being one of the twelve, it is as if we would say he is qualified to be because of his experience. God had a very specific calling on his life through ministry. Paul does not call himself an apostle because he is choosing to be humble. Apostles are recognized for having walked with Jesus and perhaps he does not think he is worthy of that calling. For Paul during his time of ministry it could have been more of a personal preference. God may have spoke to him regarding being an apostle. Paul is used as a perfect example of turning from his wicked ways and into the glory of God. God used him to show that where he was in ministry was enough for him and that, that was exactly where He wanted Paul to be. In 1 Thessalonians Paul’s encouragement to the Thessalonians is how he is recognized as an apostle. The way he carried himself and how he spoke, was a direct assumption that he very likely could be a part of the twelve. In 1 Thessalonians Paul allows us to believe and trust in his leading as an apostle. “.. and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith” (1 Thess. 3:2). Paul as a leader is training up others in the way God also wants them to go. Without having to say it in this chapter, Paul is an apostle and has been given the ability to lead others. Just as Jesus led the disciples and prepared them the best He could for His death and resurrection. Paul uses his calling for ministry to proclaim what Jesus has left and that Jesus will return.
    At Chick-Fil-A, it is not the same as Paul’s ministry, but I see it as part of my ministry right now. Just as God choice Paul to be an apostle, He has called me to be a leader. At times we can be considered more than what meets the eye and that is okay. Jesus sees us and not everyone needs to see every little thing we do to serve. At the end of the day, we are all serving the same God and all glory goes to Him.

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    • I love the aspects and concepts that you presented within this post. The aspect of you making the ideas within the blog more personal to help get your point across. By you providing this personal experience helps to better understand the point your trying to get across. I totally agree with your idea of how Paul was experienced in terms being qualified as an apostle. Paul being called in a unique way to embark on a unique journey to minister specifically to the Gentiles, kings and son’s of Israel is a pivotal part to his experience (Acts 9:15). Being an experience individual in God’s word is what separates some people as Christians on different levels. For example, one who has been recently baptized and saved by God cannot go and start ministering His word the same day. I’m not saying like this sort of accusation or example is impossible but it is highly unlikely to reach people. Such as, if one was trying to connect to individuals who haven’t accepted Christ yet it would be very hard for them to accept what that person was trying to say due to the lack of experience. Many people who are uncertain about things want credible research among accepting something. Therefore, one who doesn’t have that much experience in some cases are lacking credibility in the eyes of some people. That’s why experience is so vital in terms to reach others and we see this idea through Paul. Paul’s experience all in all makes him a credible source that would make individuals want to follow him and what he is trying to say.

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    • Probably less suffering at Chik-Fli-A! But I do appreciate this point, being a humble servant at any job is a form of ministry. God brings people into your life even in that context.

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  5. Throughout Paul’s ministry, people recognized him as an apostle. However, in Paul’s eyes, he did not see it that way. The following message comes from 1 Corinthians 5:19, “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (NIV). In essence, Paul is acting humbly in this moment, and recognizing that his actions should disqualify him being an apostle. At the same time, however, he is also making the case that he is not an apostle because he has not honored God throughout his life, which is the result of his past persecution of the Church. Moreover, it is also clear that Paul is proclaiming such a statement in relationship to the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. According to Longenecker, “Ultimately shattering the coalition of spiritual forces intent on wresting God’s good creation out of his hands” (Longenecker, p. 133). In other words, Paul is acting in a humble manner in this part of 1 Corinthians, which is about something bigger than him. Also, it is transparent that Paul’s actions represent the will of the one true God.

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  6. In my opinion, Paul should definitely be considered an Apostle. Though he is not considered one of the twelve disciples that are famously known and considered, Paul’s missionary work, along with his missionary purpose definitely qualifies him to be an Apostle. To address the first question, when Paul calls himself an Apostle, I believe he is referring to his call to mission work. In the first couple weeks of this course, we learn about Paul’s missionary work in Thessalonica and Galatia. I view 1 Thessalonians 1 as an example of Paul displaying how he views about his missionary work in Thessalonica and how it was necessary and critical. 1 Thessalonians 1:5 mentions that this missionary work in the city of Thessalonica was done for the “sake” of the Thessalonians. I believe Paul views his missionary work as a call. One of the highly debated topics of Paul was whether or not he was “called” to Christianity or whether he was “converted” to Christianity after his Damascus Road experience. Whether or not one views Paul’s commitment to a life with Christ as the result of a call or a conversion, it is clear that Paul’s experience on the Damascus Road and his commitment to Christ becomes a motivating reason for him to conduct this missionary work. Therefore, rather than Paul being an Apostle sent from Antioch or another city of his time, I believe Paul is claiming that he is an Apostle for Christ Jesus or from Him.

    Paul had a distinct relationship with Jesus Christ. His experience on the Damascus Road is a clear testament to that notion. Because of that distinct relationship with Jesus Christ, along with his missionary work in cities, Paul is qualified to be considered an Apostle even though his is not one of the main twelve.

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  7. When it comes to the question about whether or not Paul is an apostle, I would say yes. I know there are many people who will disagree with Paul’s status. However, just like it is mentioned in the post the term apostle means, “Ambassador, messenger, and delegate”. So, when we look back at Paul’s Journey and mission there is no denying the works he did and completed in God’s name. Ever since he met Jesus and underwent his conversion, Paul, dedicated his life to becoming a messenger of God. He was faithful to God and His Kingdom ever since that pivotal moment of his life. No, Paul may not be considered one of the twelve, but he is still one of the most influential people in the Bible that we know about. We cannot take away everything he accomplished within the New Testament. Paul, did the work many people during biblical times and now would never do. As Paul talks about being an apostle I believe he was referring to the term of an ambassador. Everywhere he went his main goal was to preach to God children and pray that they would find salvation before it was too late. Now, when referring to 1 Thessalonians I think he did not use the title for a specific reason. My thought is that he wanted the people of Thessalonica to know that they were not beneath him. I think this made him become more personable/approachable when people saw him as another person and not just as an apostle. Usually, when people hold honorary or high titles like, King, Chief, Lieutenant, and President etc… They can be pretty intimidating to listen to and get to know.

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  8. When it comes to the question about whether or not Paul is an apostle, I would say yes. I know there are many people who will disagree with Paul’s status. However, just like it is mentioned in the post the term apostle means, “Ambassador, messenger, and delegate”. So, when we look back at Paul’s Journey and mission there is no denying the works he did and completed in God’s name. Ever since he met Jesus and underwent his conversion, Paul, dedicated his life to becoming a messenger of God. He was faithful to God and His Kingdom ever since that pivotal moment of his life. No, Paul may not be considered one of the twelve, but he is still one of the most influential people in the Bible that we know about. We cannot take away everything he accomplished within the New Testament. Paul, did the work many people during biblical times and now would never do. As Paul talks about being an apostle I believe he was referring to the term of an ambassador. Everywhere he went his main goal was to preach to God children and pray that they would find salvation before it was too late. Now, when referring to 1 Thessalonians I think he did not use the title for a specific reason. My thought is that he wanted the people of Thessalonica to know that they were not beneath him. I think this made him become more personable/approachable when people saw him as another person and not just as an apostle. Usually, when people hold honorary or high titles like, King, Chief, Lieutenant, and President etc… They can be pretty intimidating to listen to and get to know.

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  9. I think that Galatians 1:1 is a great example of what Paul is claiming by calling himself an Apostle. With this designation, Paul is making a statement of authority for his message. Because he is an apostle (or “ambassador” as you mentioned) of God rather than man, his message should naturally hold more weight and be trustworthy. Furthermore, Paul is able to claim that he is an apostle because he was called by God to go to the apostles in Acts 9:15-16.

    I find it interesting that Paul does not introduce himself as an apostle to the Thessalonians. I wonder if at least part of this reason is because there was some suspicion in Thessalonica about whether Paul was a faithful follower of God or merely a glory seeker or swindler as is indicated in Paul’s defense of his ministry in 1 Thessalonians 2. After all, it could make sense for someone who wanted quick fame to declare themselves the apostle of God Himself with new, exciting revelation or for someone who wanted some extra wealth to make demands or suggest “charitable donations” which Paul could have done as indicated in verse 6. For this reason, it could make sense for Paul not only to restrain from making too big of a deal about his apostolic authority while in Thessalonica but also when he writes to them.

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  10. As I examine the concepts and thoughts provided in this blog there were numerous things that open the eye to the importance of being a follower of Christ. A pivotal element that came to mind with this blog is that of repentance, and we see this through Paul’s “apostleship”. Such as, when Paul calls himself an apostle he meant not being a part of chosen twelve but being actually being an apostle in his own writing. This is because Paul actually went through and met the different qualifications or events that it takes to be an apostle. Those distinct qualifications consist of being personally called by Christ, taught by Him directly for several years, and have seen him alive after his resurrection (Acts 1: 17-25). Paul went through these in his own unique way and was ultimately sent by God. Paul felt as if his apostleship was unique because he was sent directly by Christ on his road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-31). This allowed for us to see how the idea of repentance comes into place. This idea of repenting is something that Paul went through to cleanse his soul and accept Christ. This idea of repentance and accepting Christ is pivotal to understanding why Paul didn’t use the title of being an apostle in 1 Thessalonians. Paul didn’t utilize his God given title because he felt as if it wasn’t necessary for them to know he was an apostle. As doubt about certain things concerning the teachings of Christ in Thessalonica circulated Paul wanted them to know the exact truth of things. He wanted them to know that he was once like them until God intervened in his life and he repented. In which God could do the same within their life. Furthermore, Paul didn’t want to pull rank and make it seem as if they should follow what he said because of his title but more so following what he said because it is right.

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