The Apostle Paul

Doctrine of the Apostle Paul

Updated 6/18/2012

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Introduction

Paul is the Roman name of the Jew named Saul of Tarsus. Saul was known as Paul all his life. Because he lived in Jewish circles, he generally did not use his Roman name. His Roman name, Paul was given to him at his birth by his father. In those days, fathers named their children. Saul was named after his ancestor King Saul. The Roman name Paul occurs first in Acts 13:9.

But Saul, who was also known as Paul, having been filled with the Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and spoke. Acts 13:9

Paul and Barnabas were on the island of Paphos during Paul’s first missionary journey. Having been either invited or commanded by Sergius Paulus, the governor, to speak, they encountered a sorcerer who tried to discredit their message. Paul laid into him, not mincing words, accusing him of all kinds of evil, and then caused blindness to overcome him. This was a pivotal event when Paul took the central role of leadership of the missionary band.
Paul was a third-generation citizen of Rome. While he was a Jew, he was also the greatest Roman ever because he did more than any other Roman for Rome. He was responsible for Rome becoming the first Gentile client nation to God, and for its perpetuation through 500 years of history. Because so many believers matured spiritually in Rome, thereby fulfilling God’s plan for their lives, using their spiritual gifts as God intended, He was able to set Rome aside as a nation which would serve Him. Such a nation serves as a custodian for the Word of God, serves as a haven for Jews, sends out missionaries and becomes the foundation for prosperity to the entire world. Paul was the only Roman citizen who was responsible for the establishment of such a pivot or collection of mature believers around which a nation revolves.
Paul was the only Roman citizen who was also a Jewish Pharisee. As a Jew, he was also one of the most successful young men in the Jewish body politic in Judea. At a very early age, he became a Pharisee. As Saul of Tarsus, he became the #1 man in the Sanhedrin. In fact, he held all the offices of the Jews except that of high priest, for which his tribe of Benjamin was not qualified. Luke documented Paul’s Roman citizenship in the Book of Acts:

The commander came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman?” And he said, “Yes.”  The commander answered, “I acquired this citizenship with a large sum of money.” And Paul said, “But I was actually born a citizen.” Acts 22:27- 28

The brigade commander he was addressing was over the Mark Antony Barracks who rescued Paul from the riot in the Temple in Jerusalem.  That Paul was a Roman citizen meant that he would not be scourged during his interrogation.

Paul mentioned his Pharisee roots in his Letter to the Philippians:

…circumcised on the eighth day, [born] out from the race of Israel and from the tribe of Benjamin, an outstanding Hebrew; with reference to the Law, a Pharisee. Philippians 3:5

Paul and the Spiritual Gift of Apostleship

The gift of apostleship is the first and highest of all spiritual gifts ever bestowed to a Church Age believer. It is the first spiritual gift in order of merit:

Furthermore, God has appointed first apostles.” 1 Corinthians 12:28

Matthew named the original twelve apostles, the apostles to Israel, in Matthew.

Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him. Matthew 10:2-4

The apostles to the Church were eleven of the 12 carried over from being the apostles to Israel. There is a distinction between the two categories of apostles even though in all but one case they were the same people. The only one not carried over on the Apostles to Israel roster was Judas Iscariot. Paul replaced Judas Iscariot.

For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 1 Corinthians 15:9

Though Peter piously prayed for the election proceedings by which the upper room congregation choose Matthias, God never intended him to replace Judas.  God chooses to whom He bestows spiritual gifts.  That congregation did not understand that God gifts those whom He gifts, then places them into certain fields of ministry as a result of their spiritual growth.  A congregation’s vote does not determine or often even represent God’s will!  Matthias did not receive the gift of apostleship, though, as Peter pointed out, he witnessed our Lord’s ministry.  Notice that the Scripture never again mentions Matthias!  The Lord may have given him a successful pastoral, evangelistic or helps ministry but the Scripture is silent on that.

So they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles. Acts 1:23-26

The Bible distinguishes between the apostles to Israel and the apostles to the Church. Christ sent the former out to the villages of Israel to announce the Kingdom to Israel, while the latter ministered to the Church in the new Dispensation of the Church. In the early Church Age, the spiritual gift of apostleship carried the highest authority God has ever delegated. The apostle had authority over all local churches, in contrast to the pastor, whose authority extends over only one local church. Absolute apostolic authority was restricted to the pre-Canon period of the Church Age, from 30 to 96 A.D.

The spiritual gift of apostleship carried this authority for five purposes. Those who held this gift and office were responsible for the formation of the New Testament portion of the Canon of Scripture. They also carried the authority to establish local churches. These apostles were also charged to communicate new Church Age doctrines to the churches as well as maintain orthodoxy of that doctrine until the Canon of Scripture was completely written and distributed. The training of pastors and sending out missionaries to other countries also fell within their sphere of responsibilities. They also, to the degree that fell within the realm of doctrinal protocol, delineated and clarified Church policy prior to New Testament completion. The spiritual gift of apostleship was temporary and discontinued after the completion of the Canon. The removal of this temporary gift began with the post-Canon period of the Church Age.

Christ did not appoint apostles until after His resurrection. Until His session at the right hand of the Father there were no apostles. On one hand, Scriptural documentation seems to indicate that our Lord made initial spiritual gift distributions, but that subsequent distributions fall under the Spirit’s ministry. On the other hand, these passages may indicate that our Lord decides who receives certain gifts whereas the Spirit makes the actual distribution.

And He has distributed spiritual gifts to men. Ephesians 4:8

And He gave some apostles. Ephesians 4:11

But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. 1 Corinthians 12:11

One of the requirements for this spiritual gift was that the apostle must see the resurrected Christ. Paul saw Him on at least three different occasions. Paul first saw Him on the Damascus Road where he as saved:

As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. Acts 9:3-8

Paul also saw our Lord in the Temple:

It happened when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, and I saw Him saying to me, “Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me…And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ” Acts 22:17…21

This dialog between our Lord and Paul took place presumably took place during his first trip to Jerusalem after his conversion on the Damascus Road. Note at this early stage in him ministry, our Lord personally told him to go to the Gentiles.

Finally, while in prison, Paul saw our Lord:

But on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.” Acts 23:11

Paul described himself as the worst of all sinners before his salvation. We know his testimony is true because the Holy Spirit inspired the very words he wrote! As an unbeliever, Paul murdered many Christians, yet he became the greatest Church Age Christian!

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who made me strong, because He considered me faithful, putting me into the ministry. And even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor, but I have received mercy because, being ignorant, I did it in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was superabundant with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 1 Timothy 1:12-14

Again, being inspired by the Spirit, he described himself as the “least of all saints…”

To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ… Ephesians 3:8.

We can learn three great lessons from these two facts. First, humility, the ability to be taught, is the secret to attaining greatness. No matter what the field of endeavor, without humility, that is, the ability to be taught, no one can achieve or, even more importantly, sustain greatness. If a person chooses to take credit for his own success, he becomes arrogant. This arrogance creates a tragic flaw that destroys anyone’s success or prosperity.

Paul’s Imprisonments

The most important perspective in life is that of divine viewpoint. We as believers in this Church Age must be able interpret our lives and history from God’s perspective. We must learn to see life from the perspective of the angelic conflict and our role in it. Often we may look at occurrences in history not understanding why God would allow them. Paul’s imprisonments fit this category. Why did God allow Paul, the foremost communicator of Church Age doctrine, the greatest missionary of his era, to be imprisoned for so long a period of time? To understand this, we must look at history from God’s perspective. We need to understand that Paul was the only apostle to understand the complete realm of Church Age doctrine and its significance to the new dispensation. The other apostles were distracted from many facets of the Church Age because of their focus on Judaism. They did not understand that God separated the Church Age from the Age of Israel. Paul uniquely understood that God’s plan for the human race took a sharp turn from the His ritual plan to the Age of Grace. So He took Paul away from mainstream Christianity as it then existed, from his evangelistic travels, to sit and write his understanding of the new dispensation. God chose Paul to present the mechanics and modus vivendi of the new Church Age, putting him in a place where he could do nothing else but write. Paul wrote the New Testament epistles as a prisoner of Jesus Christ so that we would have his Spirit-inspired doctrines.
The Roman authorities incarcerated Paul three times in three different places. They temporarily retained him in the Mark Anthony barracks in Jerusalem for his own protection when forty Jewish assassins took an oath to assassinate him before they would eat again. The temple riot, the assassination plot and subsequent imprisonments were in response to both a Nazarene vow he took and his introduction of a Gentile into the Temple. He did these things to impress the Jews. His motivation and methods he used trying to gain the Jew’s approbation were in violation of Church Age doctrine he knew. The vow the Ephesian gentile was to make in the Temple infuriated certain Jews who rioted, creating havoc in the Temple square. This necessitated the intervention of a Roman Army brigade which was charged with keeping the peace. The Roman guards took him into custody for his own safety until the authorities determined what to do with him.
They then moved him and imprisoned him for two years, from 59 to 60 A.D., in Caesarea, the Roman capital of the Province of Judea. His imprisonment continued in Rome between 61-62 A.D., during which time he wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, which we call the prison epistles. While Paul was imprisoned on other occasions for the cause of Christ, these three are related to Paul’s greatest failure as a mature believer. He almost lost his life when he took that vow, but God preserved him. Paul failed spiritually, when, in a moment of emotional irrationality, he made a sentimental journey to Jerusalem contrary to the will of God.

We may wonder why Paul took this emotional trip to Jerusalem when he’d been told and further, had come to the conclusion that his ministry was to the Gentiles. Remember that he was, before his conversion to Christianity, a “Pharisee of the Pharisees.” He had much history of being influential to the Jews. He’s always had a tremendous burden for them. Now, he was seeing Gentile believers grasping the spiritual life of the Church Age, which is so much richer than the spiritual life of any past or future dispensations. He desperately wanted the Jews of his day to understand the magnificent truths of Church Age mystery doctrine. He also wanted to show the Jews that he was still being true to Judaism in that Christianity is the fulfillment of the Old Testament scripture. So he planned and took a trip to Jerusalem present these truths, and the reception of these truths by Gentile believer and remote Jewish believers to the council of churches in Jerusalem.

Luke wrote this narrative about Agabus, a prophet met Paul on his way to this fifth visit to Jerusalem. He warned Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Paul, so clouded over by his emotional concern for both unsaved Jews and believer Jews who didn’t understand this new dispensation, refused to see the error of his ways. He was to suffer greatly for his misapplication of God’s will for him:

As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, “The will of the Lord be done!” Acts 21:10-14

Paul did get to Jerusalem to make his presentation to the council. It was over joyed at the reception of the Gospel among the Gentiles but was not happy that Paul’s converts were told that they did not need to keep the Mosaic Law. The problem with many Jewish converts in Jerusalem was that they were sill “zealous for the Law,” as per Acts 21:20. They did not understand the Jesus had fulfilled the Law and that Church Age believers were to live in this Age of Grace beyond the Law. So the council recommended that Paul join 4 others in taking a Nazarite vow, paying their expenses, as well. The idea was to demonstrate to the Jews that he was “he was not false to the ancient faith.” (4000 Questions and Answers on the Bible, p. 127) Those who accused Paul also assumed that he’d taken the Ephesian believer who accompanied him into the Temple as well, but there is no documentation to substantiate that.
Where did Paul go wrong? Beyond his emotional motivation to go to Jerusalem, he violated a principle of grace: there is no place for vows in the new grace plan of this Church Age. Paul should not have returned to the ritual of the Age of Israel as an application of his Church Age spiritual life. The Church Age spiritual life consists of thinking Bible doctrine under the ministry of God the Holy Spirit, never offering vows pertaining to the previous dispensation. Paul arrogantly tried to appeal to the Jews by returning to a system of legalism that was rejecting the new spiritual life of the Church Age. Vows have no place in the spiritual life of the Church Age. Now, we do customarily take marriage vows. However, even those vows are meaningless and often impossible to humanly sustain without virtue gained from Bible doctrine circulating though out your thinking.

In addition to violating the separation between dispensation, this trip to Jerusalem with the vow in the Temple violated two principles related to the ministry of every Church Age pastor or evangelist. First, God provides a place of ministry for each pastor. God choose Paul to minister to Gentiles, not Jews. Secondly, God provides the circumstances under which a prepared pastor or evangelist ministers. No pastor or evangelist should ever resort to un-Biblical marketing techniques to gain a congregation or ministry!

Paul’s mistaken use of the ritual vow caused a temple riot, which almost cost Paul his life. A squad of Roman soldiers from the nearby Mark Anthony barracks rescued him, then took him into custody; first in Jerusalem, then in Caesarea, and finally in Rome itself.

Paul’s Recovery from Spiritual Failure

Paul failed spiritually, but God gave him the opportunity to recover and to continue his spiritual growth. Whenever a Church Age believer grows up spiritually, either initially, or in recovery from spiritual failure, he must advance through four categories of spiritual momentum testing. Though it is not the purpose of this study to delineate the path to spiritual maturity, to occupation with Christ, we will make note of the categories of momentum testing and Paul’s experience with them. Before he failed in this emotional trip to Jerusalem, he had advanced through two out of four categories of momentum testing on his way to spiritual maturity. He failed in thought testing, becoming overcome by emotion, then fell into reversionism. He recovered during his two years in Caesarea and during the shipwreck on the Mediterranean. By the time, he wrote this letter to the Philippians, he had passed all four parts of momentum testing, becoming spiritually mature.

Paul experienced and passed all four categories of spiritual momentum testing. The first test he passed was people testing which came from the Jews, the Romans and Idumeans. He faced the vicious attitude of the high priest Ananias:

Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.” The high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?” Acts 23:1-3

Idumean King Herod Agrippa II, his sister Bernice as well as the crowd that attended them, rejected Paul’s Gospel presentation while he was in Caesarea. Luke narrated this in Acts 25:13-26:32. These people’s response to Paul was a challenge to his thinking, tempting him to react to them instead of staying focused on the Lord. Though I don’t think that anyone of us will face that test because we’re not released from prison or because our Gospel presentation is rejected by the President! Our people testing usually comes in much more personal forms. Are you ever disappointed by any of your personal relationships? Do people not treat you the way you want to be treated?

You, as a growing believer, can recognize people testing by their attitude toward you. Is it based upon personal prejudice or a preconceived notion of who and what you are. This attack can come in the form of either or both excessive praise and flattery or criticism and hostility. If either of those tend to make you react, get mad, hurt or make you fat headed, and prideful, changing your focus from our Lord to yourself then you know you’ve failed the test. The solution to people testing lies in those doctrines that develop virtue love in the thinking of the believer. When using this spiritual skill, the believer emulates our Lord’s attitude of love toward those who crucifying Him. He said, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” His attitude toward them did not result from their attitude toward Him but from His own love and care for them. This love reflected His virtue.

His system testing came from the malfunction of Roman justice system under the Procurators Felix and Festus. They did not release him, setting him free, though they understood that he was innocent of the charges accused of him. They could have set him free as early as his Caesarean imprisonment. This kind of testing comes from organizational policy, often developed by short-sighted bureaucrats. You may be fired or disciplined in a job for no reason. The solution to this category of testing comes from your occupation with our Lord and your understanding that He has provided perfectly for you, no matter what the situation. Your understanding and belief in God’s plan for your life must supersede how you are treated. Bitterness and self-pity can destroy your ability to pass this test.

Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. Colossians 3:17

Paul faced and passed thought testing by demonstrating a dynamic mental attitude when he was bitten by the very poisonous snake of Acts 28:3-6. He also applied this dynamic attitude when rejected by the Jews in Rome, described in Acts 23:23-31. This concept is reflected in this verse:

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. Romans 12:3

 …for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, 2 Corinthians 10:4-5

Disaster testing can come in many shapes and forms, being personal, national or historical. It’s easy to recognize it. On the way to Rome, Paul faced and passed disaster testing in experiencing the storm at sea and the shipwreck onto the island of Malta, Acts 27. What was his attitude and reality of his thinking?

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Romans 8:35

After spending the winter in Malta, in A.D. 61, he resumed his voyage to Rome. Paul landed in Putioli as a mature believer and from there traveled to Rome where the authorities delivered him to the famous Prefect of the Praetorian Guard, Burus, who put him under house arrest. During the four-year Roman imprisonment, Paul did not waste his life, because during that time he pulled together in the most fantastic detail the mystery doctrine of the Church Age. The prison epistles, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians along with Romans, present the complete realm of Church Age doctrine.
We can glean some principles from Paul’s imprisonments. First, every believer needs to live by the reality that God’s timing is perfect. Paul got out of the cycle of God’s timing by going on his own to Jerusalem totally apart from God’s will. He made a fantastic and quick recovery. To get back into God’s timing, he wrote the prison epistles. He did this, motivated by the Holy Spirit, so that we, and the rest of the Church Age, would have these unique doctrines. Secondly, in the Christian way of life, God allows setbacks in our lives for our advance to spiritual maturity. If you recover from these setbacks, you will succeed as never before. However, do not willingly walk into spiritual failure planning to recover. If you fail to recover, you will have wasted your life. David almost lost his life, as did Paul. It took fierce determination to succeed spiritually combined with fantastic grace for these men to recover spiritually. Thirdly, as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, Paul refused to succumb to self-pity. This is the first problem most active people have when they are unjustly imprisoned. Paul did not regard himself as a victim of Jewish injustice or of assassination conspiracy. For note that in Ephesians 3:1, he did not call himself the “prisoner of Jewish conspiracy, the victim of injustice.” That kind of self-pity would have ruined his recovery from reversionism. Paul was the equivalent of a pastor-teacher, but on a greater scale. Therefore, God provided the place of ministry for prepared Paul. For Paul to have the most effective ministry of all time and to be able to deal with many congregations, he had to suffer imprisonment in Rome where he could not look out at people. He had to pick up the pen, which is not only mightier than the sword but also mightier than the tongue. The ink dries and remains; while the tongue and its owner die.

Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles

By these three imprisonments God showed Paul that his ministry was to be directed the Gentiles. He was the only apostle who was a Roman citizen and therefore was the apostle to the Gentiles. It took Paul four years of imprisonment to finally discover that his ministry was not to the Jews, as he had attempted to prove in his diversion to Jerusalem. Having been a famous Jewish unbeliever himself, he desired to lead the Jews to the Lord. He always had a burden for the Jews, but they were not to be the objects of his ministry. In fact, the opposite occurred. The Jews followed him all around the world, trying to destroy his ministry. The power of God overruled the Jews. Paul’s was a ministry of Bible doctrine, and regardless of his failures or sins, God protected him from the Judaizers and others who tried to destroy his ministry.

Paul had been a visible hero among the Jews as an unbeliever. Now he would become an invisible hero and do the greatest thing that would ever be done in all the Church Age: sit down and write the prison epistles under the ministry of God the Holy Spirit. Three of them contain all the details of the protocol plan of God, all the mechanics, and everything that is significant in the great power experiment of the Hypostatic Union, that is, this Church Age, all be directed toward Gentiles. Paul would become the greatest communicator of Bible Doctrine who ever lived. While he was a great speaker, it would really become his pen, under the ministry and guidance of the Spirit, which would be his greatest impact.

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