What about Paul? We have good reason to believe Jesus commissioned his twelve disciples to write the New Testament, in the same way God commissioned Old Testament prophets to communicate God’s Word in their time, without error. But Paul was not one of Jesus’ disciples. Yet he wrote over half the New Testament. Are his writings to be included in the inerrant Word of God?
Paul Meets the Same Criteria
While at first glance Paul appears to be an impostor, upon closer investigation it turns out he meets the same criteria as an apostle as the other disciples. Based on this the other disciples’ accepted Paul as an equal, and they accepted his writings on par with their own.
First, he too had been with Jesus and instructed by him. He asks rhetorically in I Corinthians 9:1, “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” Elsewhere he refers to Jesus appearing to him, though later than the others: “…and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one untimely born.” (I Corinthians 15:8) Paul here is referring to Jesus meeting him during his journey to Damascus, after Jesus’ resurrection:
Then I asked, “Who are you, Lord?” “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” the Lord replied. “Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:15-18)
It is important to note that here Jesus uses the same words of commissioning as he did with his other disciples (“ego apostello se” – literally “I apostle you” and translated here “I am sending you”).
Not only did he also see the risen Christ and receive a personal commissioning by him, Paul also received personal instruction from Jesus, just as the other disciples had received. Immediately after his conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 26 above), Paul went to Arabia (a region now contained within Jordan and Saudi Arabia) to be alone for three years. He recounts these years in Galatians 1:11-17:
I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. . . . 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.
Therefore it appears Paul meets the same conditions as the other disciples to be counted as an apostle, authorized to write the Word of God and do so without error.
This was certainly his conclusion. He puts his writings on a par with the other apostles, claiming his and their writings are to be believed as the Word of God, as opposed to what they are hearing from others who are not apostles:
Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. (II Thessalonians 2:2; see also Colossians 4:16 and I Thessalonians 5:27)
As one “untimely born” Paul still believed he met the two necessary and co-sufficient conditions of being an Apostle: called by Jesus as an apostle and taught directly by Jesus. He, therefore, believed he was also commissioned to write God’s Word without error.
The Other Apostles Accepted Paul
Of course, anyone can make these claims. What did the other apostles think of someone else coming along (especially someone who had been a vicious antagonist of Jesus and his followers) and all of a sudden saying he was one of them? We should expect them to quickly and fully reject Paul and renounce any of his writings. Yet they do just the opposite.
After Paul’s three years in Arabia, he does something very interesting. He goes directly to Jerusalem to meet with other apostles. He was not trying to hide anything. He was not trying to impersonate an apostle in some far-away land. No, “After three years he goes to Jerusalem and sees Peter and James.” (Gal. 1:18-9). Peter and James were seen as the “leaders among equals” of the apostles. Paul went to meet with them in person. The point of his visit was obvious: to tell them of his commissioning by Jesus and receive their blessing. This he apparently received, for he began preaching the Gospel and claiming to be an apostle in his writings.
Seventeen years passed, and he again visits Jerusalem to meet with the apostles once more, as recorded in Galatians 2:2:
It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain.
Again, the Apostles there validate his commissioning. They “added nothing to his message” (Galatians 2:6) and “extended him the right hand of fellowship” (Galatians 2:9), a sign of full acceptance. Though he was an apostle through unique means, he was an Apostle nonetheless.
Peter even includes in one of his books an endorsement that Paul’s writings are on par with his and the rest of Scripture (and thus inspired, authoritative, and inerrant):
Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. (II Peter 3:15-16, italics added)
The other apostles are in the best position to judge who should be counted as one of their select group. They conclude Paul has the necessary qualifications and therefore is a fellow apostle, equally authorized to write the Words of God without error. We should, therefore, conclude likewise. This is good reason to believe the books penned by Paul are part of the inerrant Word of God.
However, two books remain that were not penned by one of the twelve disciples or Paul: James and Jude. Why should we also accept their writings as part of God’s inerrant Word?
I’ll discuss these two authors next week. Until then, grace and peace.