Other than the original twelve apostles and Matthias, who replaced Judas Iscariot, the New Testament identifies several other men as apostles, among them Barnabas, Paul, James and Jude the Lord’s brothers, and (probably) Silas (also called Silvanus). However, of these additional apostles beyond the Twelve, only in the case of Paul do we have any description or account of how he came to be an apostle. The appointment of Paul to be an apostle, then, turns out to be an important test case in determining whether apostles subsequent to the Twelve came into that office through a ritual of ordination performed by the apostles.

The standard LDS doctrine of apostles requires Mormons to assume that the apostles must have ordained Paul to his apostolic office. For example, Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:

We are extremely lacking in information in relation to many important details that failed to seep through the ages to our day, and we are left in darkness to know when and where Paul was ordained. But this is not strange when we think of the fragmentary information that has been received.
If it had not been for the faithful recording by Luke, the chances are that we would have as little about the activities of Paul as we have about Peter and John and the other original members of the council of the apostles. The fact may be correctly surmised that Paul did find time to mingle with his brethren and that through the divine inspiration the apostleship was conferred on him by their action. It is evidently true also that Barnabas likewise was by them ordained; also James, the Lord’s brother, and others if we had the record.[1]

Leland Gentry, in a transcript published by the LDS apologetics organization FARMS, cited Joseph Fielding Smith and agreed with him on this point:

Although we have no record of the ordination of these brethren to the apostleship nor of their addition to the Quorum of the Twelve, we may assume with safety that they were ordained by Peter and his brethren of the Twelve.

Evidence for Paul’s Late Ordination from His Epistles?

Wilfred Griggs, in another transcript published by FARMS, asserts:

The New Testament gives no record of Paul’s ordination, yet there are strong indications that he received his office at the end of his second journey.

Just what are these “strong indications”? Griggs offers two arguments in support of his conclusion:

In his two letters to the Thessalonian saints, written from Corinth during the second journey, Paul does not refer to himself as an apostle in the introduction. Beginning with the correspondence of the third journey, however, Paul begins his epistles with “Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ” or some similarly worded phrase. (The exceptions are Philippians and Philemon, written from Rome during Paul’s imprisonment.) Further evidence may be seen in the Corinthian letters, written during the third journey, in which Paul defends his apostolic calling to a church that may still remember him as not being an apostle during his 18-month stay in the second journey.

Griggs’s first argument is nothing more than an argument from silence. In fact, it’s even less: it is an argument based on a selectively constructed appearance of silence. Notice that Griggs qualifies his observation by saying that in the Thessalonian epistles “Paul does not refer to himself as an apostle in the introduction.” The qualification is important because Paul refers to himself and at least one of his companions as apostles: “Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ” (1 Thess. 2:6 KJV).[2] Here Paul refers to himself and probably Silvanus (see 1:1; compare Acts 15:32)[3] as apostles of Christ.[4]

Throughout the rest of the Thessalonian epistles, Paul speaks with the same apostolic authority he claims in his later epistles. He speaks of their message as “our gospel” (1 Thess. 1:5; 2 Thess. 2:14) and reminds his readers that his ministry came in power and the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 1:5). Paul says that God had approved him to be entrusted with the gospel (2:4). Paul commends the Thessalonians for receiving his preaching rightly as the very word of God (2:13). Paul had the authority to give them commands from the Lord Jesus (1 Thess. 4:2; 2 Thess. 3:6, 12). He presents to them teaching on the future as a revelation from the Lord (1 Thess. 4:15). He charges the Thessalonians to have his letter read to all of the believers there (5:27). Paul warns them not to be shaken in their faith by a message or letter purportedly from him or his associate (2 Thess. 2:1-2). This warning assumes that already by that time false teachers may have been trying to pass off their views as coming from Paul—which assumes that he had divine authority. Disobedience to Paul’s instruction is grounds for dissociating from a brother (2 Thess. 3:15). All of these statements confirm that already by this time—about AD 50-51—Paul was an apostle of Christ, as he plainly says he was (1 Thess. 2:7 [2:6 KJV]).

Griggs’s second argument is no better. He suggests that Paul found it necessary to defend his status as an apostle in his epistles to the Corinthians because when he had founded the church in Corinth he was not an apostle. Such an argument can seem plausible only if one fails to engage the specific statements that Paul makes in the Corinthian correspondence regarding his position as an apostle. Thus, in 1 Corinthians, Paul writes, “Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord? If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord” (1 Cor. 9:1-2 KJV). The four questions are, of course, rhetorical questions to which the understood answer is Yes. Paul refers here to his work of starting and establishing the church in Corinth. His point here is that they knew of his status as an apostle firsthand because of the work that he did among them in leading them to Christ and establishing their church. The Corinthians could only be described as a “seal” of Paul’s “apostleship” if he had been an apostle when he was with the Corinthians! Even if others did not consider him an apostle, Paul is saying, the Corinthians can hardly deny it without impugning their own faith, since they became Christians through his ministry.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul says, “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds” (2 Cor. 12:12 KJV). Paul refers here to the fact that when he was in Corinth, he performed “the signs of an apostle,” that is, the miraculous works, the “signs and wonders” associated with apostles of Christ. This statement clearly means that Paul was an apostle when he was in Corinth establishing the church there.

If we could be sure of the early date of Galatians, which many conservative scholars date shortly before the Jerusalem Council (that is, about AD 48/49), we would have proof of Paul referring to himself as an apostle before he wrote to the Thessalonians. However, since biblical scholars are divided on this question, with many favoring a date for Galatians around AD 53-56, we cannot rest too much on this point.[5] Fortunately, it is not necessary, because Paul refers to himself as an apostle in 1 Thessalonians 2:7, and Luke designates him as one of the apostles in Acts 14, which would mean Paul was an apostle several years before he wrote any of his epistles.

The Evidence from Acts

Griggs’s speculation that Paul became an apostle at the end of his second missionary journey flatly disagrees with the book of Acts, which refers to Paul and Barnabas as “the apostles” during their first missionary journey (Acts 14:4, 14). Griggs is aware of the problem, and explains, “Although Barnabas and Paul are called apostles in Acts 14:4 and 14:14, the term there likely refers to a missionary calling, since they were set apart by men who were not members of the Twelve.” Such an explanation (which refers to Acts 13:1-3, on which see below) assumes what needs to be proved, namely, that apostles of Christ had to be ordained by members of the Twelve. Throughout the book of Acts, Luke uses the term “apostles” with reference to full-fledged apostles of Christ (Acts 1:2, 25, 26; 2:37, 42, 43; 4:33, 35, 36, 37; 5:2, 12, 18, 29, 40; 6:6; 8:1, 14, 18; 9:27; 11:1; 14:4, 14; 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4), unless Barnabas and Paul are the only exceptions.[6] Besides, since Mormons agree that Paul was an apostle of Christ, at least at some point, it would be odd indeed for Luke to refer to Paul and Barnabas as “apostles” without qualification if they were not apostles of Christ in the usual sense. The New Testament nowhere uses the word apostle in the modern sense of a missionary; thus, Griggs’s explanation is actually anachronistic.

Curiously, Acts does describe an incident involving Paul that some might construe as an “ordination” rite, but it does not fit the LDS model:

“Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away” (Acts 13:1-3 KJV).

The text says nothing about this event assigning to Barnabas and Saul a particular office. Barnabas and Saul were already part of a group of men recognized as “prophets and teachers.”[7] The group as a whole reached its decision to send the two men on their mission independently of any direction from the Jerusalem Church. Nor did the group determine for the first time what Paul’s mission should be. Rather, the group discerned that the time had come for the two men to start out on the mission to which God had already called them (v. 2). (We know this is the correct understanding of verse 2 because Acts reports that Paul already knew what his mission was, as I will argue in my next post.) The act of laying hands on them (v. 3) need not be understood as a formal or ceremonial religious rite. In context it appears to be an informal group act of encouragement, support, and blessing. In any case, as Griggs points out, this incident cannot be the occasion of Paul’s ordination to the office of apostle—certainly not according to the LDS model, in which only apostles can ordain others to be apostles.

Is it possible, though, that the apostles did at some point ordain Paul to be an apostle, but that this event happens not to be reported in the New Testament? As I shall show in my next installment in this series, there is no realistic chance of this supposition being correct.



[1] Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions 4:99-100.

[2] Biblical quotations are taken from the KJV, since this is the official Bible version of the LDS Church. In most modern English Bibles, the verse divisions are slightly different here, so that Paul calls himself and his companion “apostles” in verse 7 rather than in verse 6.

[3] Timothy is not one of the apostles here, since Paul distinguishes Timothy from himself and Silvanus (1 Thess. 3:2).

[4] As LDS scholar Richard Lloyd Anderson points out, Understanding Paul (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1983), 72.

[5] On this issue, see the helpful and thorough review of the debate in Greg Herrick, “The Date and Destination of Galatians.” The relevant literature is enormous; see, for example, F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 43-56; Ronald Y. K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 9-28; Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 86-97; Moises Silva, Interpreting Galatians: Explorations in Exegetical Method, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 129-40.

[6] Anderson, agreeing that the term apostolos has its usual sense of an apostle of Jesus Christ in Acts 14:4, 14, thinks that since everywhere else in Luke and Acts the term refers to one of the Twelve, Paul was also a member of the Twelve: Understanding Paul, 35. Anderson’s argument here confuses sense and reference. Acts clearly distinguishes Paul from the Jerusalem apostles and elders (Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22-23), the body of leaders in the Jerusalem church.

[7] We cannot tell from the wording here whether Paul was considered a prophet, a teacher, or both (the Greek wording, prophêtai kai didaskaloi, leaves the matter grammatically ambiguous). It appears from other NT references to Christian prophets that the category of “prophets” included but was not limited to apostles; that is, all apostles were prophets but not all prophets were apostles. Likewise, all prophets were teachers but not all teachers were prophets (1 Cor. 12:28-29; 14:29-40; Eph. 2:20; 3:5; 4:11; compare Acts 11:27; 15:32; 21:9-10). In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul identifies himself as a preacher or herald (kêrux), an apostle (apostolos), and a teacher (didaskalos) (1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11).

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