To challenge the Apostleship of Paul is not new. Paul himself had to deal with doubters in his day, and the Church has had to answer it many times over the past 2,000 years. It has again become fashionable in our day to challenge his Apostleship with the New Perspectives on Paul Movement. Though it claims to be new, the “New Perspectives” are in reality old, and the same answers that the Church has historically given are even now sufficient to deal with this issue. Many answers, in fact, are given by Paul himself. We will examine his writings – specifically his letters to the Corinthians – and discover at least ten proofs that Paul is a true Apostle of Jesus Christ.
These proofs will be based on two assumptions: 1) that Scripture, in its totality, is true, and 2) that Paul is a true Apostle and his writings are Scripture. To assume Paul’s Apostleship using his own words to prove the same may sound like fallacious circular reasoning, but we must examine Paul’s words to see if they stand up under examination. Just like we must sit in a chair in order to find out if it will support our weight, we will test Paul’s claim and see if it can support the weight of scrutiny. We will also see how his claims are corroborated by others, so we will not solely look at Paul’s testimony. So with that, let’s begin.
1. The One Who called him (1 Cor. 1:1)
This point should actually end the debate. Paul was directly and personally commissioned by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself as told to us by Luke in the ninth chapter of Acts. Whoever tries to say that Paul was a false apostle is also calling Luke, and, more importantly, Jesus Christ, liars.
2. The churches he founded (1 Cor. 9:1-6, 2 Cor. 3:2)
Paul founded many churches, but he writes especially to the Corinthians that they, above all, should not have believed those who challenged his Apostleship because of how he behaved when he was with them and how long he remained with them. (1)
3. The Gospel he preached (1 Cor. 15:1-8)
Paul says he taught only that which he received, both from Jesus and from the rest of the Apostles. He preached the same Gospel they did. Some will claim that Paul taught a different Gospel than James or Peter, but any perceived discrepancies in their messages can be reconciled with deeper study. Incidentally, both of them endorse Paul. (2)
4. The provision and victory he enjoyed (2 Cor. 6:3-10)
Everything he endured in the ministry, from his trials (v. 4-5), to the divine provision he experienced in those trials (v. 6-7), to his victory over them (v. 8-10), prove his genuine Apostleship.
The next two proofs are a bit unorthodox. In 2 Corinthians 10, Paul writes that we do not wage war according to worldly standards. Then, in chapters 11 and 12, he defends his Apostleship by methods that appear foolish by worldly standards but demonstrate wisdom from God.
5. The sufferings he endured (2 Cor. 11:23-31)
Paul essentially says that he is a “better” servant of Christ because of how much he has suffered. Worldly wisdom would suggest that suffering is a sign of failure or falsehood, but Jesus said that the false prophets would be loved while His true followers would be hated and persecuted. (3) Further, Jesus also told Ananias He would show Paul how greatly he would suffer for His sake, (4) so these sufferings are a sign of Paul’s true Apostleship.
6. The chastening and power of God in his life (2 Cor. 12:1-10)
Again, in unorthodox fashion, instead of citing the “abundance of the revelations” he received to prove his Apostleship, Paul cites his God-given thorn in the flesh. God provided Paul with a thorn to keep him from becoming prideful, and we know God only chastens His true children. (5) People can lie about receiving visions and revelations from the Lord, but people generally don’t lie about things that display their weakness. Paul, contrary to worldly reasoning, boasts in his weaknesses and in God’s power. God also gave Paul the grace to endure his thorn, whatever it was.
7. The signs he worked (2 Cor. 12:12)
The rest of the Apostles performed miracles for the purpose of lending credibility to their testimony. Likewise, the miracles Paul performed by the power of God prove his Apostleship. (6)
8. Personal witnesses
There were many witnesses to Paul’s conversion and Apostleship, both Believers and unbelievers. Some of the Believers include Ananias (to whom the Lord appeared and said that He was calling Paul), travel companions Barnabas (Acts 9:27) and Luke (2 Tim. 4:11), and other fellow laborers such as Silas, Timothy, Titus, and Epaphras. They all lived and worked closely with Paul, and none of them doubted his sincerity.
Even unbelievers knew that Paul had been converted. Some of them would include the elders and priests whom Paul was a part of before his conversion and gave him permission to persecute Christians in Damascus (Acts 9:2). This would also include those who heard his preaching after his conversion (Acts 9:21). As nonbelievers, they would not have been concerned about whether or not Paul was an Apostle, but even they could tell a change had occurred in him.
9. The testimony of other Apostles (2 Peter 3:15-16)
As alluded to in point #3, other Apostles testify to Paul’s status. In his second epistle, Peter defends Paul, calling those who oppose him “unlearned and unstable” and refers to Paul’s writings as Scripture. Peter adds that those who twist the Scriptures do so “to their own destruction.” Strong’s Concordance defines the Greek word translated “destruction” as “the destruction which consists of eternal misery in hell.” So this tells us a couple of things about Paul’s opponents. First, they twist Scripture. They have to in order to make their arguments that Paul was a false apostle. And second, they are in danger of eternal hell. Why? Because to reject Paul is to reject Paul’s Gospel, the same Gospel preached by Jesus and the Apostles. It is the only Gospel that can save.
10. The testimony of Church history
Historically, only heretics have questioned his status. No orthodox Church Father ever questioned whether or not Paul was a true Apostle. Second century Church Father Irenaeus, for example, writes:
“But again, we allege the same against those who do not recognize Paul as an apostle: that they should either reject the other words of the Gospel which we have come to know through Luke alone, and not make use of them; or else, if they do not receive all these, they must necessarily admit also that testimony concerning Paul, when he (Luke) tells us that the Lord spoke at first to him from heaven: ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? I am Jesus Christ, whom thou persecutest;’ and then to Ananias, saying regarding him: ‘Go thy way; for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name among the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him, from this time, how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.’ Those, therefore, who do not accept of him [as a teacher], who was chosen by God for this purpose, that he might boldly bear His name, as being sent to the [aforementioned] nations, do despise the election of God, and separate themselves from the company of the apostles. For neither can they contend that Paul was no apostle, when he was chosen for this purpose; nor can they prove Luke guilty of falsehood, when he proclaims the truth to us with all diligence.” (7)
Irenaeus wrote this against Ebionite Gnostics who doubted Paul’s Apostleship, and he echoes Peter’s condemnation of those who deny it when he writes that they “separate themselves from the company of the apostles.”
In addition to Paul’s two canonized letters to the Corinthians, he wrote two more letters to them which were not canonized. (8) Later in the first century, Church Father Clement also had to write to the Corinthian church in order to correct some of the same issues Paul did. In addressing them, the bishop and disciple of the Apostles reminds them of Paul’s letters written “under inspiration of the Spirit” and encourages them to “take up the epistle of the blessed Apostle Paul.” (9)
In his humility, Paul refers to himself as the “least of the apostles,” (10) meaning the least in importance or authority. He freely admitted that he was not one of the Twelve. (11) Nevertheless, he does have the credentials of an Apostle. His claim to the office of Apostle indeed stands up to scrutiny.
(1) See Acts 18:1-17
(2) Acts 15:22-26, Galatians 1:18-19, 2 Peter 3:15-16
(3) Luke 6:22-23, 26
(4) Acts 9:16
(5) See Hebrews 12:5-11
(6) Acts 13:10-11; 14:9-10; 16:18; 19:11-12; 20:9-12; 28:3-6, 8-9
(7) Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book III, Ch. XV.1
(8) 1 Corinthians 5:9 indicates there was an epistle written prior to it. This epistle has been lost. A manuscript known as Third Corinthians exists and has been canonized in some codices. Due to some dubious aspects of its nature, it has not been universally accepted.
(9) The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Ch. XLVII
(10) 1 Corinthians 15:9
(11) 1 Corinthians 15:5-8