Apostleship & The Authority of Scripture
“Give me Jesus, forget about Paul.”
In the contemporary culture that floods our churches and conversations today, we hear a multitude of “new” doctrines floating around that claim to offer a fresh perspective on the holy scriptures. I say “new” in that many of these theological claims have already been refuted in years past and are now resurfacing. One of the most troubling contemporary false doctrines regards the authority of scripture.
A couple of months ago, a good friend of mine raised alarm to claims I made regarding the divine authority of the writers of the Bible, specifically Paul. He stated, “It’s only Paul, it didn’t come from Christ himself.” Unfortunately, many people take this stance today because of a misogynistic, hateful, angry, and false portrayal of the apostle Paul.
What I set out to accomplish in this article is to unpack why the term “apostle” is so important in the NT context. This will then make clear that Paul is not explicitly opposed to women or unjust compared to the specific teachings of Christ in the gospels. You can’t have Jesus and not have Paul. You also can’t have Jesus and reject the writings of Peter. This can be said for all of the writers of scripture. Their writings carry an intentional divine weight, and we are to guard against any false doctrine that says otherwise.
*Before I begin, I’ll note that I use Paul as my primary example in this article, but one could insert any writer of the divine scriptures and such a treatment would be sufficient.
So we know that Paul self identifies as an apostle. He pens in his greeting to the Galatians:
“Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” Galatians 1:1-5
What does that mean, and why does it matter? We hear this term all the time, apostle. We also hear the word disciple frequently used in the Church. Although these words are sometimes used to describe the same people, they don’t carry the same meaning.
Disciple means learner, student, or follower. Apostle means something entirely different and more significant in the NT context.
The Greek for apostle is Απόστολος (apóstolos), meaning one who has been sent.¹ An apostle is not an everyday messenger for a daily task, like a kid sent by the post office to deliver your mail from his bike. Instead, apostles are sent by a particular person under particular authority.
In the ancient world, apostles were authorized to speak in the name of a specific ruler. When they spoke, their expression carried the same weight as that ruler. In light of this, we know that Jesus chose from amongst his 70+ disciples twelve apostles. He conferred the authority and office of apostleship to these twelve. They were more than simple learners, students, or followers. They were granted apostleship by Christ the son through God the father.
If one were to ask out of these twelve who was the greatest, many would answer Peter or Paul. This is a misunderstanding as the supreme apostle is Christ Jesus himself. We read in Hebrews:
“Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God's house”. Hebrews 3:1-2
Christ is truly the chief apostle. He was sent into the world by God the father’s authority, was empowered by the Holy Spirit, and was the one who took upon himself human nature to fulfill the task that the father had given him. Now, when God the Son then chooses His specific twelve apostles, such authority is bestowed to them. Their penmanship and speech now carry a weight & significance not from man himself, but from God the Father.
This authority is confirmed as mentioned earlier. Paul writes to the Galatians:
“. . . not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.” (Gal. 1:1)
Furthermore, if we examine the additional Pauline epistle greetings, we find that this theme is consistent throughout his writings to the various churches and peoples:
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God. . . ”Romans 1:1
“Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes. . .” 1 Corinthians 1:1
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother. . .”
2 Corinthians 1:1
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God. . . ”
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother. . . ”
Now we could debate Paul’s authority as the early church once did. Paul didn’t know Jesus according to the flesh. Additionally, he wasn’t an eyewitness to the crucifixion or resurrection. Nonetheless, the most critical criterion for apostleship is the direct and immediate call from Jesus. According to this criterion, Saul’s/Paul’s call from Christ in the book of Acts on the Damascus road is fitting.
The Lord says to the disciple Ananias regarding Saul (Paul):
“Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and the Kings and the Children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
Paul doesn’t get his call from Peter, James, John, or anyone else. He is elected as an apostle through Christ by God the Father. Therefore, Paul’s authority is supreme. Although he is a man, he is a chosen instrument operating under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit. His word is the veritable word of God the father. Therefore we must receive it with the full authority that it bears for our lives. So when Paul writes “Paul, an Apostle,” we must not brush over this declaration. He is claiming authority and can impose duty and obligation on anyone who hears his voice or written word.
Additionally, the Old Testament writings serve in defense against the dangerous false doctrine mentioned earlier. Ancient Prophets were entitled to make announcements because God had called them to do so. This is why we read time and time again, “Thus says the Lord” in the OT. Furthermore, these prophetic messages are spoken and recorded by the flesh of man, but divinely ordained. In the same fashion that the OT Prophets were an agent of revelation, so are Paul, Peter, and the rest of the NT writers. Because of this, the Holy Scriptures carry the utmost weight imaginable: Eternal Significance and Eternal Consequence. Why? (and this is my main point)
If you don’t like Paul, and you don’t like Peter, then you reject God the Son's authority. And if you reject the authority of God the Son, you reject the authority of God the Father.
We, as Christians, believe in one, holy catholic (universal), apostolic church. If you shake that foundation, if you question that authority, you are questioning Jesus. Unfortunately, this is what is happening every day in our contemporary culture. “Give me Jesus, forget about Paul.”
I ask that if you ever hear a beloved brother or sister take such a stance that you guard against it with a loving and persistent heart. Paul may appear flippant or arrogant in his writing to some, but this is certainly not the case. As theologian R.C. Sproul states in a lecture on Galatians, the apostle writes with a spirit of “righteous indignation”.² We must not take this indignation as careless, rather, we must receive it with reverence and awe, as it is the righteous, holy word of God.
“Apostle - Apostolos (Greek Word Study).” Precept Austin. Accessed April 29, 2022. https://www.preceptaustin.org/apostle_-_apostolos.
“Galatians by R.C. Sproul.” Ligonier Ministries. Accessed April 29, 2022. https://www.ligonier.org/learn/series/galatians/.
The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version. Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2015.
“What Is an Apostle? Bible Definition and Meaning.” biblestudytools.com. Accessed April 29, 2022. https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/apostle/.
“What Was an Apostle?: Reformed Bible Studies & Devotionals at Ligonier.org: Reformed Bible Studies & Devotionals at Ligonier.org.” Ligonier Ministries. Accessed April 29, 2022. https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/what-was-an-apostle.
“Apostles: Reformed Bible Studies & Devotionals at Ligonier.org: Reformed Bible Studies & Devotionals at Ligonier.org.” Ligonier Ministries. Accessed April 29, 2022. https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/apostles/.