The case against the LDS claim that other apostles had ordained Paul to be an apostle is actually quite simple. (1) Both Acts and Paul predicate Paul’s apostolic ministry to the Gentiles on Christ’s appearance to Paul (Acts 9, 22, 26; 1 Cor. 9:1; Gal. 1:15-16). (2) Paul’s description of his meetings with apostles following his conversion (Gal. 1-2) proves that the other apostles never ordained him. (3) Paul states explicitly that his apostleship was neither directly nor indirectly conferred on him by mortals (Gal. 1:1). I shall elaborate on these points in this post, giving special attention to the arguments of LDS scholar Richard Lloyd Anderson, who tries in his book Understanding Paul to show that Paul was subject to the direction of the Jerusalem apostles and ordained under their authority.

Christ’s Appearance to Paul

Acts and Paul both predicate Paul’s position as an apostle of Christ on the appearance of Christ to Paul that converted him from a persecutor to a proponent of the Christian faith. Acts presents a detailed account of this event, and reports two speeches by Paul in which he delivers similarly detailed, parallel accounts (Acts 9:1-19; 22:1-21; 26:2-23). While Saul (as he was then known) was on the road to Damascus to go persecute Christians, the Lord appeared to Saul and identified himself as Jesus (Acts 9:1-6; 22:5-10; 26:9-15). Paul reported that Jesus had appeared to him in order to make him his minister and witness to the Gentiles:

“But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me” (Acts 26:16-18 KJV).

This is, of course, what Paul spent the rest of his life doing. It describes his activities as an apostle of Christ, the “apostle to the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:13).

Paul also describes his conversion from opponent to apostle in his epistle to the Galatians, also pointing out that he had been actively persecuting the church until “it pleased God…to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen” (Gal. 1:15-16 KJV). Here again, Paul predicated his role as apostle to the Gentiles on Christ’s appearance to him.

I mentioned in my previous post Paul’s comment about his position as an apostle equal to those of the Jerusalem apostles in 1 Corinthians: “Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?” (1 Cor. 9:1 KJV).[1] Paul points out here that he had seen Jesus Christ because it was the basis for his position as an apostle. It is striking that neither here nor anywhere else, when defending his apostleship, does Paul appeal to his ordination by other apostles. Instead, he grounds his office of apostle on the fact that Christ had appeared to him.

The importance of this point cannot be overstated. If the LDS view were correct, the simplest and most compelling way for Paul to have asserted his apostleship would be to appeal to his ordination to that office. He would merely need to remind people that the apostles had ordained him. Indeed, suppose for the sake of argument that all of the new apostles were ordained in public ceremonies in which the existing apostles laid hands on them. Had there been such an institutional process for becoming an apostle, there would not have been any controversy at Corinth or elsewhere about Paul’s apostolic credentials. What made it possible for many people to question his claim to be an apostle is that his appointment to that office did not come from the other apostles. The argument here is not merely a fallacious appeal to silence, but an argument contrasting Paul’s silence about his supposed ordination with what Paul actually does say concerning the basis for his claim to be an apostle.

Paul’s First Meeting with Apostles

The book of Acts and the epistles of Paul dovetail at numerous points, allowing us to develop a detailed itinerary of Paul’s movements over the course of about thirty years. Of special interest are the occasions in which Paul had face-to-face encounters with the Jerusalem apostles.

If other apostles ordained Paul, they must have met with him and performed such ordination before he became active in his apostolic ministry. One might suppose that if the New Testament fails to mention such a meeting, we are left without enough information to say with any degree of confidence whether or not such a meeting took place. This supposition turns out to be disproven by the evidence. In his epistle to the Galatians, Paul tells us very specifically about each of the meetings he had with any of the apostles prior to his writing the epistle.

“But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ…. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother. Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not” (Gal. 1:11-12, 15-20 KJV).

According to Paul, his first meeting with any of the apostles did not come until about three years after his conversion. This meeting is also reported by Luke, who tells us that Barnabas had introduced Saul to “the apostles” (leaving unstated which ones or how many of them) because at first Christians in Jerusalem were afraid of Saul (Acts 9:26-29).

The timing and nature of this first meeting between Paul and other apostles shows not merely that Paul had not learned the gospel from the other apostles but that God had called him specifically to preach this gospel to the Gentiles independently of the other apostles. God had set him apart from his mother’s womb for this purpose (Gal. 1:15) and had revealed his Son to Paul so that Paul could preach him to the Gentiles (v. 16). Paul states at this point that he “conferred not with flesh and blood” (v. 16b KJV). The word translated “conferred” here, prosanethemên, in Paul’s day typically meant to consult a religious figure in search of an authoritative experience of one’s religious experience. (In pagan religion, this might mean a seer or priest; in Paul’s context, it would be a prophet or apostle.) Thus, Paul did not look to the Jerusalem apostles for an authoritative interpretation of his encounter with the risen Christ or for any authoritative direction as to how to carry out the mission Christ had revealed to him.[2]

Three years after his conversion, Paul spent fifteen days in Jerusalem with Peter, and the only other apostle he saw was James the Lord’s brother (vv. 18-19). Paul adamantly insists that he is not lying on this point (v. 20). We should ask here why Paul is so insistent that he had met only two of the apostles by that time. It seems likely that Paul is pressing the point that he had no formal meeting with the apostles as a group because such a meeting might have been seen as an occasion for the apostolic group to confer authority on Paul to preach the gospel.[3]

Paul is at pains here to emphasize his independence from the Jerusalem apostles as a revelational spokesman for Jesus Christ. He did not get his calling from the apostles; he did not get his gospel from the apostles; Christ’s revelation to him was not subject to the authoritative interpretation of other apostles; he had never even met any of the apostles until an informal meeting three years after his conversion. This emphasis on Paul’s independence from the Jerusalem apostles is very unlike what we would expect on the LDS model of apostolic authority, according to which Paul could not have become an apostle apart from an ordination by the other apostles.

Clearly, Paul did not receive any sort of ordination from the apostles on this visit with Peter and James. There was no “quorum” of apostles present, and in fact not even all three of the leading apostles (Peter, James, and John) were present, since Paul says that he only saw Peter and James. Paul says that he simply went to Jerusalem to see Peter, not to get ordained or receive any official authorization as an apostle. Paul’s entire line of argument would have been undermined if it had been known that he had to wait to be ordained to his office of apostle until after he had met with the apostles. His strongly emphatic assertion of independence from the Jerusalem apostles indicates that he did not view his apostolic authority as in any sense coming from them. No wonder Frank Matera, in his recent commentary on Galatians, entitled 1:18-20 “The Jerusalem Church Did Not Commission Paul.”[4]

Was Paul Acting on Orders from the Apostles?

Recognizing that Paul could not have been a humanly ordained apostle during these early years of his ministry, Anderson argues that Paul functioned during that period as a missionary under the direction of other church authorities:

Paul’s first three years of missionary labors had been under Damascus authorities, who were to tell Paul “all things which are appointed for you to do” (Acts 22:10, NKJB). Later, the apostles supervised Paul’s further assignments, since they “sent him forth to Tarsus” (Acts 9:30).[5]

This can be charitably described as a creative reading of the texts. In Acts 22:10, Paul does not specify that the “Damascus authorities” told him what his missionary assignments were. He simply says that the Lord Jesus had told him that in Damascus “you will be told all that is appointed for you to do” (KJV). The verb translated “is appointed,” tetaktai, is a perfect passive form; it expresses the idea that what Paul is supposed to do has already been appointed or determined. The one who had appointed Paul to do these things was Christ himself, not the Damascus church leaders. Paul expresses the same idea in different words when he says that God “separated me from my mother’s womb” (Gal. 1:15), a statement alluding to God’s prophetic call to Jeremiah (Jer. 1:5). Nothing in Acts indicates that Paul received any sort of commission from church leaders in Damascus or that he ever answered to them.

Acts 9:30 does not say that the apostles sent Paul to Tarsus on an assignment of their designation. In fact, it does not say that the apostles sent Paul to Tarsus at all. “And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him. Which when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus” (Acts 9:29-30 KJV). This is an action of fellow believers helping their brother in Christ to escape persecution, not an official act of apostles dispatching a missionary to his new assignment.

Anderson also claims that Paul “was transferred from Tarsus to Antioch because the apostles saw the need to supervise Gentile converts there.”[6] He bases this conclusion on the following statement in Acts: “Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch” (Acts 11:25-26a KJV). Anderson even speculates that “Paul could have been ordained as an apostle when Barnabas first came to Tarsus with his transfer to preside at Antioch.”[7] But again, Anderson is reading things into the text that simply are not there. Luke does not say that Barnabas, acting on orders from Jerusalem, reassigned Paul to Antioch. This sort of ecclesiastical church authoritarian structure is foreign to the early history of the New Testament church. All that Luke tells us is that Barnabas left Antioch to go find Paul and when he did, he brought him back to Antioch. It is just as plausible, if not more so, to suppose that Barnabas went to Tarsus to tell Paul about the open door for ministry in Antioch because he expected that Paul would be excited to be part of it. As for Paul being ordained at this time, Anderson’s suggestion would require Barnabas to have ordained Paul on his own. I do not think this will work even on the LDS model of apostolic ordination. Anderson himself drops the speculation as quickly as he presents it.

Paul’s Meeting with the “Pillar” Apostles

The next meeting that Paul recounts in Galatians with any of the apostles took place fourteen years later (Gal. 2:1). Unfortunately, biblical scholars do not all agree on how to correlate this visit with the book of Acts. The view typically associated with the early date of Galatians (some months prior to the Jerusalem Council in AD 49) understands this meeting to have taken place when Barnabas and Saul went from Antioch to Jerusalem with famine relief for the poor there (Acts 11:27-30). This is the view that I think is correct. (For defenses of this view, see the works cited in note 5 in my previous blog entry.) The view associated with the late date of Galatians (some years after the Jerusalem Council) understands the visit of Galatians 2 to be identical with the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). If this view is correct, Paul omits any reference to his famine relief visit to Jerusalem in his account in Galatians 1-2. Anderson, who defends this view,[8] suggests that “Paul could have been ordained an apostle…when Barnabas and Paul visited Jerusalem with the welfare supplies before the Gentile mission to Asia Minor.”[9]

It is crucial to the LDS view to suppose that Paul had one or meetings with apostles between the two visits mentioned in Galatians 1:18-20 and Galatians 2:1-10. As we have seen, it is not plausible to claim that the Jerusalem apostles ordained Paul when he visited with Peter and saw James the Lord’s brother. The suggestion that Barnabas ordained Paul on his own in Tarsus cannot be taken seriously. But by the time of the meeting described in Galatians 2, Paul was already an apostle of Christ.

According to Paul, this encounter with apostles was a private meeting with the “pillar” apostles Peter (Cephas), James, and John (Gal. 2:2, 9). The purpose of the meeting, which Paul initiated, was to make sure that the Jerusalem apostles were accurately informed as to the message Paul was preaching to the Gentiles, so that they would not be misled by Paul’s opponents into undermining his ministry:

“And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain” (Gal. 2:2 KJV).

Paul’s description of this second meeting also emphasizes his independence from the Jerusalem apostles. He did not submit his gospel ministry to a formal hearing or review by the apostolic “quorum,” but rather initiated a private meeting with the three leading apostles in the hope of reaching an understanding. Anderson quotes a standard Greek-English lexicon as saying that the Greek word translated “communicated” in the KJV here, anatithêmi, “means to ‘lay before,’ and it implies ‘the added idea that the person to whom a thing is referred is asked for his opinion.’ Thus, Paul wanted the ‘pillars,’ Peter, James, and John, to evaluate his procedure of not circumcising the Gentile converts.”[10] It is overreaching, though, to infer from Paul’s asking for the pillars’ opinion the further thought that he was asking for their evaluation, as if he was submitting to their judgment in the matter. The word anatithêmi does not carry this connotation. As James Dunn has shown, Greek writers used the word in a variety of contexts, including communications between friends and even a superior consulting with an inferior for the lesser authority’s counsel. Dunn cites as an example Acts 25:14, where the Roman procurator Festus seeks the counsel of the client king Agrippa on a matter involving the Jews.[11] Paul, of course, did not approach the pillar apostles as their superior, but he also did not view them as his superiors. The context shows that he approached them as an equal, as one whose ministry was essentially independent of theirs, but wanting to make sure that they did not undermine his ministry: “lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain” (Gal. 2:2b KJV).

Paul asserts that at this meeting the pillar apostles Peter, James, and John acknowledged that God had called him to be an apostle to the Gentiles:

“But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision” (Gal. 2:7-9 KJV)

The pillar apostles at this meeting acknowledged God had committed to Paul that the ministry of taking the gospel to the Gentiles (“the uncircumcision”) just as he had committed to Peter the ministry of taking the gospel to the Jews (“the circumcision”). The same mighty power that God displayed through Peter’s ministry as an apostle was also displayed in Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles (v. 8; cf. 2 Cor. 12:12). Anderson could not be more wrong when he claims that the pillar apostles “assigned Paul and Barnabas to Gentile missions.”[12] Paul states explicitly that the pillar apostles saw that Gentile missions had already been entrusted to him—meaning, in this context, by Christ. We know this is what Paul means because he tells us that James, Peter, and John “perceived the grace that was given” to Paul, by which Paul means the “grace” or spiritual gift of apostleship (cf. Rom. 1:5; 12:6; 15:15-16; 1 Cor. 3:10; 15:9-10; Eph. 3:8; 4:7). The pillar apostles did not confer this grace on Paul; rather, they confirmed that this grace had already been given to Paul. These apostles did not ordain Paul to become an apostle, nor did they “assign” him to the task of evangelizing the Gentiles, but they simply acknowledged that he already was an apostle with that specific calling. They extended their hands to Paul, not in a ritual of ordination to authorize him to function as an apostle, but in handshakes of camaraderie (“the right hands of fellowship”) in recognition of their common calling as apostles of Jesus Christ (v. 9). Again, Anderson’s assertion that “the ‘right hands of fellowship’ (Gal. 2:9) signified a ruling that Paul’s methods were acceptable”[13] misconstrues the very nature of the meeting and of Paul’s argument in Galatians. The issue, as far as Paul was concerned, was not his “methods,” but the very integrity of his gospel ministry, on which he was not prepared to yield for an instant (Gal. 2:5). The “right hand of fellowship” was “a handshake of partners signifying agreement and confirmation over the matter.”[14]

Did the Apostles Ordain Paul at Some Other Meeting?

The meeting in Galatians 2, then, cannot serve as the occasion for the apostles’ supposed ordination of Paul to be an apostle. Recognizing this, Anderson equates this meeting with the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 and contends that Paul simply omitted meetings with the apostles that were not directly relevant to the issue of circumcising Gentiles (the issue that dominates Galatians). “The ‘famine visit’ of Acts 11 is not relevant to Gentile requirements and is therefore omitted in Galatians 1:11.”[15] Of course, Paul’s meeting with Peter reported in Galatians 1:18-20 also did not involve the circumcision issue, yet Paul mentions it. Anderson explains that Paul mentions this first meeting for a different reason, namely, to establish “that he knew the gospel before that [visit] by revelation.”[16] However, we have seen that this does not adequately explain the significance of the two meetings in Paul’s argument. The theme that ties the two meetings together in Paul’s presentation is that they showed that his apostolic ministry to the Gentiles was independent of the Jerusalem apostles, though not in conflict with them.

Had Paul met with the apostles in another meeting taking place between the two he reports and, in particular, had the apostles at that meeting ordained him to become an apostle, his argument in Galatians 1-2 would have been disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst. As we have seen, Paul’s emphasis throughout these two chapters is on his independence from the Jerusalem apostles. He did not receive his gospel from them. He did not submit his revelation to them for authoritative interpretation or implementation. He did not meet any of them for three years and then only two of them. When he did meet with the three pillars, it was Paul who initiated the meeting to make sure that the Jerusalem apostles did not mistakenly oppose the apostolic ministry that Paul already had. This consistent claim to independence from the Jerusalem apostles on Paul’s part would be completely undermined if in fact those same apostles had ordained Paul to his office of apostle.

Furthermore, Paul’s claim in Galatians 2 is that when he met with the pillar apostles, they recognized, saw, and acknowledged that God had graced Paul with the apostolic ministry of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul’s argument here would make no sense if in a previous meeting the apostles had ordained Paul and commissioned him to preach to the Gentiles. Had they done so, there would be no need for them to recognize his apostolic ministry, since they would be the ones who had authorized it. Therefore, even if, hypothetically, Paul had met some of the apostles in a visit between the ones described in Galatians 1:18-20 and Galatians 2:1-10 (which I do not think happened), the apostles certainly did not ordain Paul as an apostle at such a visit.

I conclude, then, that the LDS claim that the Jerusalem apostles ordained Paul has no realistic hope of being correct. His first meeting was an informal visit with Peter, during which time Paul saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. His second meeting was initiated by Paul to make sure that the Jerusalem apostles did not undermine his apostolic ministry; the result of that meeting was that the pillar apostles acknowledged that God was already working mightily through Paul in apostolic ministry to the Gentiles and sent him on his way with their support. This evidence confirms what Paul in any case states emphatically at the beginning of his epistle to the Galatians:

“Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead)” (Gal. 1:1 KJV).

The apparent redundancy “not of men, neither by man,” is an emphatic way of excluding any possible dependency of Paul’s position as apostle on other mortal human beings. He was an apostle, “not of men,” that is, no group of human beings commissioned him; and “neither by man,” that is, no mortal human functioned as an agent to confer Paul’s office on him. Thus, neither directly (“not of men”) nor indirectly (“neither by man”) did other apostles ordain Paul to his office of apostle. He received his apostleship directly from God the Father through Jesus Christ himself.

 

NOTES

[1] In the earlier and better manuscripts, the question “am I not free” precedes the question “Am I not an apostle,” making the connection between Christ’s appearance to Paul and his status as an apostle even clearer. But the connection is clear enough in the manuscripts followed by the KJV.

[2] James D. G. Dunn, Jesus, Paul, and the Law: Studies in Mark and Galatians (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press), 109-10.

[3] So also Dunn, ibid., 118.

[4] Frank J. Matera, Galatians, Sacra Pagina (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2007), 65.

[5] Richard Lloyd Anderson, Understanding Paul (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1983), 31.

[6] Ibid., 32.

[7] Ibid., 35.

[8] Ibid., 38 n. 21, 156-58.

[9] Ibid., 35.

[10] Ibid., 157.

[11] Dunn, Jesus, Paul, and the Law, 114.

[12] Anderson, Understanding Paul, 139.

[13] Ibid., 157.

[14] Ronald Y. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 101.

[15] Ibid., 38 n. 21.

[16] Ibid.

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