Paul and Authority

Jana Reiss had up an interesting post last week where she suggested Mormons don’t know what to do with Paul as an apostle. In particular she claimed, “it’s discomfiting to realize that Paul’s apostleship was entirely of the self-proclaimed, charismatic variety.” I’d take some exception to this. A few brief thoughts.

First, after Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus (Acts 9) Jesus in vision says, “now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” He goes to Ananias. He preaches after that, but it’s interesting that he’s not independent but has to go elsewhere to be healed and directed. That’s prior to his rise to leadership, but it strongly goes against the view of Paul as independent. Throughout his epistles and Acts we find him interacting with leadership.

After he’d been preaching for a little bit he goes to Jerusalem to try and meet the Apostles. While most were afraid of him, Barnabas introduces him to the Apostles and he stays with them. Again, hardly independent.

The usual appeal for independent authority is Galatians 1. “But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.” However he continues, “I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles–only James, the Lord’s brother.”

First off one can certainly preach without authority – everyone who shares the gospel with others does that. However it is significant that he did go to meet with the Apostles even if he only saw Peter and James, the two main figures in the Church. I’d make a distinction between having authority and merely sharing the gospel. One can and should always be doing the latter regardless of authority. However Paul’s significant role seems not tied to that. His letters are not significant as a kind of independent authority. Taking Galatians 1:1 as that seems wrong. We know that he regularly consulted with the Apostles. We know that Paul gave the “gift of God” to Timothy through the laying on of hands. (1 Tim 4:14, 2 Tim 1:6) We know Paul goes to consult with Peter and the Apostles over doctrine. (Acts 15:1-2) We know that he says that “I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle.” (1 Tim 2:7)

It’s certainly true that in the early Palestinian Church apostle was a broader term than how we think of it in terms of priesthood office. That’s true in the early restored Church as well. However I don’t think it follows that Paul is somehow independent of the 12. I don’t think it’s clear if Paul was a member of the 12. I suspect he wasn’t but we don’t know. The counter argument is in scriptures like Romans 11:13 where he talks of magnifying his office and the afore mentioned 1 Tim 4:14. However while I think it clear he was ordained to something it’s not clear if it’s the 12.

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