Was Paul A True Apostle of Jesus Christ?
Paul in his epistles says he was appointed by Jesus as an apostle of His.
But in the 3 vision accounts in Acts, the person Paul met saying "I am Jesus" outside Damascus says only that Paul will be a 'martus' -- a witness. That person saying "I am Jesus" never appoints Paul as an Apostle. See Acts chs. 9:4-7, 22, and 26.
For this reason, scholars concur that Luke has a different view than Paul does about whether Paul was an actual appointed apostle of Jesus - an Apostle with a capital "A."
First, Wikipedia in the article "Historical Reliability of Acts," notes the disparity between Luke's Acts and Paul's claims, including about his supposed apostleship:
A key contested issue is the historicity of Luke's depiction of Paul. According to the majority viewpoint, Acts described Paul differently from how Paul describes himself, both factually and theologically. Acts differed with Paul's letters on important issues, such as the Law, Paul's own APOSTLESHIP, and his relation to the JERUSALEM CHURCH.
John Crossan and Jonathan Reed, in their latest work of 2004, explain the nature of this disparity, and notes Luke does not call Paul an Apostle with a capital A:
[I]n all his letters, Paul sees himself as an apostle sent from God through Christ. The very vocation for which Paul lives is denied him by Luke. He is, to be sure, an important missionary....But he is not an apostle equal to the Twelve. (John Crossan & Jonathan Reed, In Search of Paul: How Jesus' Apostle Opposed Rome's Empire with God's Kingdom (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2004) at 29.)
Furthermore, Crossan & Reed make the point that Luke's account in Acts 1 of how Matthias replaced Judas excludes the possibility of a thirteenth apostle such as Paul. They write:
Luke insists in Acts 1 that, after Jesus' resurrection, there were still, always, and only `the twelve apostles.'...For Luke, Paul is simply not an apostle. Without Matthias' explicit selection, one might have imagined that Luke's Paul was at least implicitly Judas' replacement as the twelfth apostle. With it, Luke implies that Paul was not an apostle and could never be one....[H]e could never be the one thing Paul always insisted that he was, namely, an apostle sent by God through a revelation of the risen Lord. (Id., at 29.)
Similarly we read from conservative evangelical scholars that for the same reasons:
"In Acts...Paul is denied the title of Apostle." (Hengel & Schwemer, Paul between Damascus and Antioch (John Knox Press, 1997) at at 321 n. 3.))
Thus, the only person to say Paul is an apostle of Jesus Christ in the entire New Testament is Paul himself.
Yet, we know that Jesus said if He alone bore witness to Himself, then His witness would be untrue. (John 5:31, "If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.")
In Jesus' case, God spoke from heaven twice in front of multiple witnesses at Jesus' baptism and transfiguration that Jesus was God's Son. God from Heaven also said "listen to him." Paul must meet a similar confirmation that an important title was given of "Apostle" in front of two witnesses by Jesus. In the vision accounts, the "Jesus' whom Paul meets, which is recounted 3 times in Acts, never says Paul is an "Apostle" of Jesus.
Why must we follow Jesus' requirement of two witnesses for a significant appointment as "Apostle?" Jesus was simply extending the Law's principle, so that two witnesses were necessary to establish not only a wrong, but also anything as important as God sending someone for a special role. In fact, Jesus in Revelation 2:2 clearly agrees a self-serving claim to be His apostle is insufficient. Jesus commended the Ephesians for finding those claiming to be apostles were not. Hence, in that case, there was only self-serving proof, and Jesus commended the Ephesians for rejecting that as sufficient proof. Thus, Paul's claim to being an apostle suffers from being self-serving. By a Biblical standard from Jesus Himself, Paul's self-witness "is not true." We will discuss this principle from Revelation 2:2 below in more depth. But first we need to address a counter argument.
The Lesson About the Benjamites in Judges Chapter 20
Nor should we forget the lesson of how the Benjamites misconstrued twice prophetic messages to their captain to go "fight," and then the Benjamites were dismayed when they lost. But God did not say they would win; He only told them to fight. The Benjamites implied into God's words something never stated or implied, just as Paul or Paul's followers read into the words of the "Jesus" who spoke to Paul on the Road to Damascus that Paul would be an "apostle" rather than what this "Jesus" actually said -- Paul would be a "witness" - a witness to the resurrection of Jesus. As St. John of the Cross wrote in 1591 AD in the Ascent of Mount Carmel (available in full PDF at this link) in book 2 ch 19, part 4:
4. In the Judges again [ch. 20, vv 12 et seq.], we read that, when all the tribes of Israel had come together to make war against the tribe of Benjamin, in order to punish a certain evil to which that tribe had been consenting, they were so certain of victory because God had appointed them a captain for the war, that, when twenty-two thousand of their men were conquered and slain, they marvelled very greatly; and, going into the presence of God, they wept all that day, knowing not the cause of the fall, since they had understood that the victory was to be theirs. And, when they enquired of God if they should give battle again or no, He answered that they should go and fight against them. This time they considered victory to be theirs already, and went out with great boldness, and were conquered again the second time, with the loss of eighteen thousand of their men. Thereat they were greatly confused, and knew not what to do, seeing that God had commanded them to fight and yet each time they were vanquished, though they were superior to their enemies in number and strength, for the men of Benjamin were no more than twenty-five thousand and seven hundred and they were four hundred thousand. And in this way they were mistaken in their manner of understanding the words of God. His words were not deceptive, for He had not told them that they would conquer, but that they should fight; for by these defeats God wished to chastise a certain neglect and presumption of theirs, and thus to humble them.
Hence, the Benjamite Paul who apparently read into what this "Jesus" of Damascus says to imply Paul is more than a "witness" committed the same fatal flaw of his ancestors -- the Benjamites of Judges. And God allowed that as a test in Judges, to prove their "mistaken...manner of understanding the words of God." God allowed this for it served to "chastise" them for their "presumption" -- and that same ancestral pride which appears over and over in Paul's writings. And this is how Paul more than likely came to think he was a true apostle: misconstruing an appointment as a "witness" as meaning Paul was appointed as an "apostle" which means "messenger." But a messenger is far different than a witness.
What About Acts 14:4, 14 -- Does Luke Call Paul An Apostle of Jesus Christ?
While scholars may believe Paul's claim of apostleship is more valid than Luke's own account, including that Paul's letters are more valid than Luke's account, we cannot side with Paul's letters out of conventional thinking. As believers, we must act instead like good Bereans. We consider what problem arises that Paul's claim of apostleship with a capital A is uncorroborated by Luke, and implicitly negated.
But some challenge whether Luke perhaps does call Paul an apostle in Acts 14:4. There Luke says Paul and Barnabas were sent from the church at Antioch as "apostles" to go to Jerusalem to meet the leaders of Christianity there to resolve the issue whether gentiles had to be circumcised.
However, in reading Acts 14:4, one must first realize APOSTOLOS is an ordinary Greek word meaning 'messenger.' One has to see the context to decide whether Luke intended us to understand the title of "Apostle of Jesus Christ" or not. The first hint that it is not used in the title sense is that had Acts 14:4 that meaning of Apostle of Jesus Christ, then Barnabas should also be regarded as an apostle of Jesus Christ. Not simply Paul. But the proof no one ever understood Acts 14:4 this way is that no one in the early church ever made the claim that Barnabas was an "Apostle of Jesus Christ." We never hear of "Apostle Barnabas." As Melissa Cutler, a fan of Paul and Marcion, even admits:
"That verse (Acts 14:14) mentions 'the apostles Barnabas and Paul,' since Barnabas is not an apostle in the more specific sense of the word, even here the author is not acknowledging Paul’s status as an apostle." (Marcionite Scripture)
The reason is clear because in context, Paul and Barnabas are simply described in Acts 14:4 as messengers of the Antioch church on the issue of circumcision just as Barnabas is described.... They are apostles with a small letter 'a'---not a capital "A."
As Christian historian BenWitherington explains: "The use of the term apostoli in [Acts] 14:4 and 14 seems to indicate that Paul and Barnabas are being viewed as agents/apostles of the Antioch church (cf. 2 Cor. 8:23), not apostles with a capital A." (Witherington, New Testament History (Baker Academic: 2001) at 229.)
Revelation 2:2 Sets The Standard & Arguably Was Used In Paul's Case
It is hard to imagine that Paul's claim of apostleship never came to the attention of any of the twelve apostles. One would expect to find some testing by the apostles of Paul's claims to be an apostle.
Jesus in Revelation 2:2 mentions a trial at Ephesus of persons who told the Ephesians they were apostles. The verdict found those "saying they were apostles" were not true apostles, proving Jesus concurs that a self-serving claim to apostleship does not suffice to prove it is so. Jesus told the Ephesians:
I have known thy works, and thy labour, and thy endurance, and that thou art not able to bear evil ones, and that thou hast tried those saying themselves to be apostles and are not, and hast found them liars. (Rev. 2:2. YLT)
In Revelation, Jesus did not say the same thing to any of the other six churches whom He addressed. Jesus made this remark to the only church among the seven whom we know Paul visited: the church at Ephesus. And among the seven churches, it was only the church at Ephesus whom we know Paul told that he was an apostle. (Eph. 1:1.) Paul wrote this church:
From Paul, chosen by God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus. To God's people who live in Ephesus and are faithful followers of Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 1:1 ASV.)
If Paul were the object of Jesus' remarks in Rev. 2:2, it then makes sense that only the church at Ephesus would be commended for trying someone who told the Ephesians that he was an apostle. To the Ephesians, and to them alone, Jesus commends them for testing the ones who "said" they were apostles and are not, but are "liars." Now it was to the Ephesians that we likewise know Paul `said he was an apostle....'
Was Paul not an apostle, thus bringing Revelation 2:2 directly to bear on Paul?
Indeed, as demonstrated above, there is no evidence for Paul being an apostle, except from Paul's own mouth. As Segal mentions, in Acts "Luke makes no reference [to the twelve accepting Paul's apostalate]." (Alan F. Segal, Paul the Convert (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990) at 189.) Of course, the four gospel accounts have no mention of Paul, and thus offer no basis to confirm Paul as an apostle.
Could There Ever Be A 13th Apostle With A Capital A?
It is also clear from Acts that the Apostles themselves understood their number was set at twelve, but that this did not include Paul. Long before Revelation 2:2 was written, we know from Acts 1:21-26 that the twelfth apostle--Matthias--was chosen to replace Judas. The apostles' criteria for the replacement was that it had to be someone who was with the others from the beginning of Jesus' ministry. Luke reveals therefore that the eleven had a criteria that would likewise exclude adding Paul as an apostle.
Then Jesus in the Book of Revelation reveals twelve is the number of apostles for all time. The verse of Revelation 21:14 follows the mention of the twelve gates of the New Jerusalem. Each gate has a name of the twelve tribes of Israel on it. Revelation 21:14 then says:
The city was built on twelve foundation stones. On each of the stones was written the name of one of the Lamb's twelve apostles. (Rev. 21:14 CEV.)
There is a clear correspondence of one apostle for each of the twelve tribes, gates, and foundation stones. The number each time is only twelve. It implies there are not supposed to be more than twelve apostles. You cannot have thirteen or fourteen apostles judging the twelve tribes. Jesus made this clear during His earthly ministry as well. Jesus said the role of the twelve apostles was to "sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." (Matt. 19:28.)
The apostles understood it the same way. When Judas fell away and was lost, they added Matthias to bring their number back to twelve. (Acts 1:22-26.) When apostles were martyred later, such as Apostle James (the brother of John), mentioned in Acts 12:2, the apostles did not replace him. Had they done so, this would bring their number to thirteen in the resurrection ruling over the New Jerusalem. The apostles must have seen the mis-match which a thirteenth apostle would represent in fulfilling their role as twelve judges over the twelve tribes into eternity.
Alan Johnson in the Calvinist Expositor's Bible Commentator agrees the early church treated the offices of the twelve apostles as dying with them. They were not to be replaced. Their number of twelve was unique.
As to whether the authoritative function of apostles continued after the first century, the apostolic fathers are instructive. In no case do the many references to apostles in the writings of Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Barnabas, and the Shepherd of Hermas relate to any recognized apostles other than those associated with the NT. The Fathers apparently understood the special apostolic function [on earth] to have ceased with the end of the apostolic era. (Alan Johnson, "Revelation," Hebrews-Revelation in The Expositor's Bible Commentary (Ed. F.E. Gaebelein)(Zondervan: 1981) Vol. 12 at 434.)
Luke in Acts made it evident there were only twelve apostles for all time, and this excluded Paul. Never does Paul claim in Acts to be an apostle of Jesus. Never do the apostles describe Paul as an apostle. This has been recognized by all Pauline scholars.
As a final word, this truth has been long recognized in the church. Tertullian explained in Against Marcion (207 AD) -- an early orthodox commentary -- that Paul was not on par with the 12, and was their inferior, proven by Paul's submission to them in Acts 15. In the same context, Tertullian wrote Jesus only appointed 12 apostles, and that was the fixed number for all time. This statement (quoted next) mathematically eliminates Paul as a 13th apostle. (Tertullian discreetly did not directly point out that implication.) So we read in Book 1, ch. XIII, that Tertullian is emphatic there are only 12 apostles for all time:
"But why was it that he chose twelve apostles, and not some other numbers? ...For of this number, I find figurative hints up and down the Creator's dispensation in the twelve springs of Elfin; in the twelve gems of Aaron's priestly vestments; and in the twelve stones appointed by Joshua to be taken out of the Jordan, and set up the ark of the covenant. Now, the same number of apostles was thus portended."
Tertullian's Points About Paul
In 207 AD, the early orthodox church was resisting a Paul-only movement known as Marcionism. (See our article.) This movement held Paul is the only apostle for the current dispensation and all the Law given Moses was abrogated and belonged to a prior dispensation. Also, as Romans 7:1-7 plausibly can be read, Marcion claimed that the Husband-God who gave the Law was dead and gone, thereby ending the Law between Himself and His betrothed people, but now Jesus represents the Good God of the New Testament who resurrected and to whom we now are permitted to marry as our new husband. As Paul expressly taught, the Law given Moses only was binding while the Father-husband still lived. (On Romans 7:1-7 as supporting Marcion's thesis, see our article.)
Tertullian countered Marcion in two ways. First in Against Marcion written in 207, Tertullian proved the impossibility that there can ever be two gods -- there is always only exclusively one God.
Second, Tertullian challenged the validity of the authority which Marcion invested in Paul as an apostle and / or prophet, relying heavily on Acts, especially chapter 15.
While beginning Against Marcion seemingly accepting of Paul, Tertullian finally gets to the "Elephant in the Room" -- Paul, and makes the following sobering points about Paul:
- Jesus never made Paul an apostle from the records that we can read.
- Paul's claim to apostleship solely relies upon Paul's veracity.
- If Paul were a true apostle, he is still an inferior apostle because Paul in Acts 15 submitted his doctrine to the twelve.
- If Paul later varied from the twelve, we must regard the twelve as more authoritative than Paul because he came later.
- Paul's claim of being selected as an apostle later by Jesus seems implausible. That story asks us to believe Jesus had not planned things adequately with the twelve.
- Lastly, Jesus warned us of false prophets who would come doing miracles in His name and signs and wonders, and Paul perfectly matches that prophesied type of prophet.
The key quote with most of these points is the following passage from Tertullian -- written in 207 A.D. in Against Marcion:
I desire to hear from Marcion the origin of Paul the apostle. I am a sort of new disciple, having had instruction from no other teacher. For the moment my only belief is that nothing ought to be believed without good reason, and that is believed without good reason which is believed without knowledge of its origin: and I must with the best of reasons approach this inquiry with uneasiness when I find one affirmed to be an apostle, of whom in the list of the apostles in the gospel I find no trace. So when I am told that he [i.e., Paul] was subsequently promoted by our Lord, by now at rest in heaven, I find some lack of foresight in the fact that Christ did not know beforehand that he would have need of him, but after setting in order the office of apostleship and sending them out upon their duties, considered it necessary, on an impulse and not by deliberation, to add another, by compulsion so to speak and not by design [i.e., on the Road to Damascus]. So then, shipmaster out of Pontus [i.e., Marcion], supposing you have never accepted into your craft any smuggled or illicit merchandise, have never appropriated or adulterated any cargo, and in the things of God are even more careful and trustworthy, will you please tell us under what bill of lading you accepted Paul as apostle, who had stamped him with that mark of distinction, who commended him to you, and who put him in your charge? Only so may you with confidence disembark him [i.e., Paul]: only so can he avoid being proved to belong to him who has put in evidence all the documents that attest his apostleship. He [i.e., Paul] himself, says Marcion, claims to be an apostle, and that not from men nor through any man, but through Jesus Christ. Clearly any man can make claims for himself: but his claim is confirmed by another person’s attestation. One person writes the document, another signs it, a third attests the signature, and a fourth enters it in the records. No man is for himself both claimant and witness. Besides this, you have found it written that many will come and say, I am Christ. If there is one that makes a false claim to be Christ, much more can there be one who professes that he is an apostle of Christ.... [L]et the apostle, belong to your other god:.... (Tertullian, Against Marcion (Oxford University Press, 1972) at 509, 511, reprinted online at http://www.tertullian.org/articles/evans_marc/evans_marc_12book5_eng.htm .)
Earlier, in Book 4, chapter 2 of Tertullian's Against Marcion (ca. 207 A.D.), Tertullian had also clearly said Paul's authority is inferior to that of the twelve apostles. Tertullian explains Paul's gospel is only valid so long as it is consistent with Jesus and the twelve.
First, Tertullian starts out by emphasizing the priority of the gospels written by the actual twelve apostles, namely the gospels of Matthew and John. Those of Luke and Mark were inferior because they were produced merely by disciples of their teachers. (Tertullian was partly addressing Marcion's apparent claim that our Luke was altered, and thus Marcion's version was the true Luke and it was approved by Paul.) Later Tertullian identifies Luke and Mark as "apostolic men," but not apostles. Tertullian writes:
I lay it down to begin with that the documents of the gospel have the apostles for their authors, and that this task of promulgating the gospel was imposed upon them by our Lord himself. If they also have for their authors apostolic men [i.e., Luke and Mark], yet these stand not alone, but as companions of apostles or followers of apostles: because the preaching of disciples [i.e., Luke or Mark] might be made suspect of the desire of vainglory, unless there stood by it the authority of their teachers [i.e., the twelve apostles], or rather the authority of Christ, which made the apostles teachers. In short, from among the apostles the faith is introduced to us by John and by Matthew, while from among apostolic men Luke and Mark give it renewal, <all of them> beginning with the same rules <of belief>, as far as relates to the one only God, the Creator, and to his Christ, born of a virgin, the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.****Marcion seems to have singled out Luke for his mutilating process [i.e., writing a gospel apparently based on Luke but altering it]. Luke, however, was not an apostle, but only an apostolic man; not a master, but a disciple, and so inferior to a master.... [link]
This unquestionably puts Luke below the other Gospels of Matthew and John. Thus, Tertullian was saying that (a) to the extent Marcion is using Luke legitimately then (b) Luke is still inferior to the gospel accounts of Matthew and John.
Tertullian's quote below continues from the last quote above. In this next quote, Tertullian starts out by making clear that Luke is inferior to the apostles' gospel because Luke's Master (Teacher) was Paul, and Paul was a "lesser" apostle than the twelve, i.e., apostle with a small "A." Tertullian then explains Paul (a) could not come with another gospel than the twelve and (b) Paul's authority derived from the twelve and Paul was inferior to them. Tertullian cites Acts chapter 15 as proof. Tertullian explains:
Now Luke was not an apostle but an apostolic man, not a master but a disciple, in any case less than his master [i.e., Paul], and assuredly even more of lesser account as being the follower of a later apostle, Paul, to be sure: so that even if Marcion had introduced his gospel under the name of Paul in person, that one single document would not be adequate for our faith, if destitute of the support of his [i.e., Paul's] predecessors [the twelve apostles]. For we should demand the production of that gospel also which Paul found <in existence>, that to which he gave his assent, that with which shortly afterwards he was anxious that his own should agree: for his intention in going up to Jerusalem to know and to consult the apostles, was lest perchance he had run in vain--that is, lest perchance he had not believed as they did, or were not preaching the gospel in their manner. At length, when he [i.e., Paul] had conferred with the original <apostles>, and there was agreement concerning the rule of the faith, they joined the right hands <of fellowship>....If he [i.e., Paul] therefore who gave the light to Luke chose to have his pre-decessors' authority [i.e., the twelve] for his faith as well as his preaching, much more must I require for Luke's gospel the authority [i.e., from the twelve] which was necessary for the gospel of his master [i.e., Paul]. (Tertullian (ed. Evans), Against Marcion, supra, at 263, 265, Book IV, ch.2.)
Tertullian could not be more clear. Paul's authority was not recognized as direct from Jesus or by revelation. The book of Acts by Luke proves it only derived from Paul's recognition by the twelve apostles. He was their disciple, and they were Paul's masters. If Paul created a gospel text, Tertullian responds that Paul's conduct in Acts chapter 15 reveals Paul's authority could not exceed the words and guidance of the twelve. Paul was not allowed to run beyond the teaching of Christ that the twelve had. Thus, if Paul was Luke's source for his gospel, then Luke's gospel still must be consistent with the apostolic canon of Matthew and John or otherwise it is invalid. This means that for Tertullian, Paul was not free to utter doctrines that were inconsistent with the gospels of Matthew or John.
Scholars now concur with Tertullian's view of Acts -- Paul is never called an apostle of Jesus Christ with a capital A. Only Matthias filled the last and final spot to complete the number at 12. Hence, whatever authority belongs to an apostle of Jesus Christ, Luke did not recognize Paul had it. Rather, Luke undermined it, and gave that final office -- the only available space after Judas' betrayal -- to Matthias. Paul's claim of apostleship with a capital A (if he meant that) rests solely on his own word. Jesus told us in Rev. 2:2 that self-reporting is not enough. Because Paul also used the term "apostle" loosely -- in its ordinary 'messenger' sense -- one cannot prove Paul deliberately lied unless we read Jesus telling us that in Rev. 2:2. (See "Paul's Loose use of the term Apostle.") However, if one concedes that Paul used the term 'apostle' loosely, then one must regard Paul's claim of "apostleship" only had a very loose meaning to it. Paul thus would have no authority of that title. Hence, whichever way you interpret Paul's words - as apostle with a capital A or not, simply remember that whenever you hear the oft repeated title "Apostle Paul," it is misleading. It is being used in a title sense which is untrue for Paul. The last apostle appointed to fill their number back out at 12 -- chosen by the Holy Spirit (per Acts 1) -- was Matthias.
A friend of our ministry wrote a good piece How Many Apostles of Jesus Christ in the Bible that is another approach to supporting the conclusion of the article above.