Anyone that has browsed my blog knows that I am a person full of questions. I constantly seek new knowledge and insight. I am definitely a believer in the saying “if you are not growing you are shrinking”. In that light I am going to do a few posts about Saint Paul and his many epistles in the New Testament.
From his writings and the many books subsequently written about him we know more about Saint Paul than any of the early Christian leader including the original twelve. I am going to be asking some questions about Paul that may make some of you uncomfortable. I do not mean to be disrespectful but they are questions that I think are pertinent to understanding how to view his writings and his overall importance in the very early Christian world. I am not embarrassed to ask these types of questions as I am a firm believer that Christianity should be able to answer any critical questions anyone may have of it. If it can’t hold up to scrutiny then its foundation are too weak and I believe they are very strong and up to any critical review.
Let’s get on with it. As I said these posts will be based around a series of questions.
- What portion of the Epistles did he write?
- Did Paul have any direct interaction with Jesus before the resurrection?
- Was Paul really an Apostle? What is the definition of an Apostle?
Saint Paul is identified as the probable writer of 13 of the 21 epistles or letters. It seems kind of strange today that many of these letters are still in question as to who actually wrote them. I need to do a few posts on the nuts and bolts of how all the epistles were actually determined to be worthy of New Testament status. If they didn’t know for sure who wrote them how could they have been included? Questions, questions, questions.. Anyway, that makes Paul the most prolific letter writer of the early leaders. On the other hand maybe the other leaders correspondence just didn’t survive the four hundred years between their writing and when the official Bible was put together. More on that in the next post.
On to question two. If I remember my stories right the only interaction that Paul had with Jesus was with his spirit on the road to Damascus as written in Act 9. Of course we learn from the book of Acts that Paul, otherwise named Saul at that point, was a high level authority in the Jewish hierarchy and chased Christians all over the area. It is generally believed that Saul’s conversion took place somewhere between two and five years after Jesus’ ascension. So it seems pretty unlikely that he ever had contact with the human side of Jesus. What he knew about Jesus was what is called hearsay today. That is it is from second hand sources. But then again both the Gospels of Mark and Luke were similarly written by people that did not have an actual physical relation with Jesus. I will be discussing this topic much more thoroughly in a couple of weeks.
Was Paul really an Apostle? Well the answer to that depends on what you believe the definition of the word “apostle” is. According to the dictionaries I have come across there are two possible definitions that stand out.
Let’s look at what I have gleaned about the answers to the questions above.
||any of the early followers of Jesus who carried the Christian message into the world.
||(sometimes initial capital letter) any of the original 12 disciples called by Jesus to preach the gospel: Simon Peter, the brothers James and John, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alpheus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas Iscariot
If we go by the first definition then Paul was definitely an apostle in that he was a clearly an early leader in the Christian world. If we go by the second definition then he was not an Apostle. Up until I started thinking about this recently I always believed that the Apostles were those that sat at Jesus’ feet for three years and interacted with him on a daily basis. I’m sure Jesus had much more to say than is recorded in the Gospels and the Apostles were the only ones to hear the vast majority of it and to gain insight from it. I know Peter, who the Catholics say was the head apostle, had quite a bit of initial trouble accepting Paul and his self proclaimed ministry. Later, I think he validated Paul’s ministry trips but I don’t know if he ever actually called him an apostle? Or for that matter if he even called the other ten apostles? I do have problems with some today who call their church leaders apostles. In some of the more radical churches around that almost seems to be a common occurrence. It was with this feeling that I have always said the Apostles were the ones actually who sat at Jesus’ feet. So, in my mind, there are no living apostles today. I believe that the only thing that makes a person call himself an Apostle today is self pride and that is a very dangerous thing for both himself and the people who follow him.
Next time we will get into the general topic of whether Paul believed that everything he wrote was meant as rules for eternity.