We’ve spent the past 10 posts in the Book of Acts building a case for the connection Paul had directly to Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the 12 Apostles, and the disciples of Christ in Judea, Samaria and Syria. We’ve also demonstrated confirmation by the 12 Apostles of Paul’s call to be an apostle to the Gentiles. Not once in the Book of Acts do any of the 12 Apostles call Paul a fraud or apostate.
We come now to the direct challenge to Paul’s Apostleship. Many who believe Paul is a fraud use the “steamroller approach,” asking scores of questions accompanied by Scripture to give the questions an appearance of truth. Don’t be fooled by that technique. The proof is in the quality, not the quantity.
I’ve been contacted by multiple people about my quoting from Paul’s epistles, so I’ll take their questions in order.
“To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: ‘I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars.” Revelation 2:1-2
The first challenger to Paul’s apostleship asked questions as they relate to Revelation 2:1-2. Below is their list of questions exactly as they sent them to us.
o Does Paul indeed address those at Ephesus as an “apostle” in Ephesians 1:1?
Yes, Paul called himself an “apostle” in Ephesians 1:1.
o Rev 2:2 speaks in past tense of this occurrence. Was Paul’s ministry before or after 90AD when the vision of Revelation was given?
Paul’s ministry was before 90AD.
“Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” Revelation 21:14
o How can Paul be a 13th apostle when Revelation 21:14 says there are only twelve?
Paul is not “a 13th apostle.” He did not claim to be a 13th apostle and is not called a 13th apostle by anyone else in the New Testament. Paul’s name is not listed on the foundations to the walls of the New Jerusalem because he is not an apostle to the uncircumcised (Jews). Paul was an apostle to the circumcised (Gentiles).
“So Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Matthew 19:28
o If Paul is a 13th apostle, then why does Jesus tells us in Matthew 19:28 there are only twelve?
Paul is not “a 13th apostle.” Jesus said there were 12 apostles to Israel and Paul was not one of them. Jesus called Paul on the road to Damascus for a different mission than the 12.
o If Paul’s apostleship was not in dispute by believers, then why does he defend it in 1st Corinthians 9:1-3?
Paul’s apostleship was in dispute by the Judaizers who attacked him at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) and other Jews who opposed his ministry to the Gentiles in many cities across many countries. As we’ve already seen, the 12 Apostles, the Lord’s half-brother James, and other Jewish elders and disciples in Jerusalem confirmed the apostleship of Paul and Barnabas and the Holy Spirit’s opening the door of faith to the Gentiles through them.
The Christians in Corinth were among those the Judaizers impacted by pouring “poison in the ear” to turn them from spiritual freedom to spiritual captivity. You stopped your referencing at verse 3, which cuts off Paul in mid-sentence. Here’s the context of what he wrote in defense of his apostleship in 1 Corinthians 9. It’s clear from his explanation and his humility that his sole concern was to complete the work God had given him to do among the Gentiles.
“Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. My defense to those who examine me is this: Do we have no right to eat and drink? Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working? Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock? Do I say these things as a mere man? Or does not the law say the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.’ Is it oxen God is concerned about? Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel. But I have used none of these things, nor have I written these things that it should be done so to me; for it would be better for me to die than that anyone should make my boasting void. For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship. What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel.” 1 Corinthians 9:1-18
o Why does he speak in 1st Corinthians 9:3 of those who “try” him unless he was “tried” as Rev 2:2 alleges?
The problem Paul was facing with Judaizers attacking his apostleship is a different situation than what Jesus told the Ephesian Christians in Revelation 2. As we’ve already seen in Acts, Jesus called Paul for the ministry to the Gentiles (chapter 9) and John supported Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles (chapter 15). If Jesus wanted to call Paul out as a fraud by name, Revelation 2 would have been the perfect place to do it. The Holy Spirit called Paul to preach the Gospel in Ephesus and minister to the needs of the new Christians for at least two years. Since Jesus was personally addressing “the angel of the church of Ephesus” about testing “those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars,” He could have easily added Paul’s name as a prime example of someone who said he was an apostle, but wasn’t. However, Jesus didn’t mention Paul’s name in that context.
“This you know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me, among whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes.” 2 Timothy 1:15
o If Paul was not one whom the Ephesians found to be a liar in Rev 2:2, then why does Paul say in 2nd Timothy 1:15 that “all they which are in Asia have turned away from me.”?
The answer to your question is in the context of Paul’s letter to Timothy. Begin with verse 1 of 2 Timothy 1 and read through verse 14. What is the context? The issue is suffering and shame. Paul was in a Roman prison for preaching the Gospel (again) and he called on Timothy to not be ashamed of the testimony of Jesus or of Paul being “His prisoner.” Paul asked Timothy to share with him “in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God.” It was because of the Gospel, Paul wrote, that he was suffering, but he was not ashamed.
With Paul’s imprisonment as the context, read verse 15ff again.
“This you know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me, among whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes. The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but when he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very zealously and found me. The Lord grant to him that he may find mercy from the Lord in that Day—and you know very well how many ways he ministered to me at Ephesus.” 2 Timothy 1:15-18
Do you see why “all those in Asia” had turned away from him, including Phygellus and Hermogenes? Do you see why Paul asked that the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus since he was not ashamed of Paul’s imprisonment and had often refreshed him in prison? Context is an important key to making the right interpretation.
o If Paul was not called a liar about his apostleship as Rev 2:2 says, then why does he specifically say in 1st Timothy 2:7 he is not lying about his apostleship?
Your answer is in the context. Paul’s first letter to Timothy begins with a reminder about being truthful. In fact, Paul begins by calling Timothy “a true son in the faith.” (1 Timothy 1:2)
Paul’s concern was about the truth of the “doctrine” (teaching) about Jesus Christ.
“As I urged you when I went into Macedonia—remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith. Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm.” 1 Timothy 1:3-7
Paul reminded Timothy of the true purpose of the Mosaic Law.
“But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust.” 1 Timothy 1:8-11
Paul was under no illusion about who he was. He was the “chief” of sinners. He even shares a list of those sins (blasphemer, persecutor, insolent), but being a “liar” was not one of them. Paul told the truth about himself and showed how the Lord’s forgiveness of his sins was an example of God’s “mercy” and how Jesus showed “all longsuffering” toward him.
“And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Timothy 1:12-17
Paul emphasized having a good conscience before the Lord.
“This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.” 1 Timothy 1:18-20
Paul’s original letter had no chapter divisions, so chapter two is a continuation of his thoughts from chapter one. These next verses are the closest context to the verse in question (vs. 7).
“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle—I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying—a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” 1 Timothy 2:1-7
Paul is emphasizing the truthfulness and importance of all that he’s telling Timothy. We even use similar language today when emphasizing something that’s truthful and important. Our purpose is to emphasize the truth, not defend ourselves as liars.
More questions and answers next time as we continue to investigate whether Paul was an apostle or a fraud.
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”