The Apostle Paul

The Apostle Paul has always been a controversial figure. The first time we encounter him in the book of Acts he is holding the cloaks of those who are stoning Steven. (Acts 7:58) Soon after we read that he is actively persecuting the Church. (Acts 8:3) But, after his conversion he becomes the most prolific of the New Testament writers. As a result, some question his apostleship. The combination of Paul’s adversarial role against the early church and subsequent transformation into the most prolific New Testament writer makes him a favorite of gospel skeptics throughout the ages. That Paul spends some time in I Corinthians chapter 9 and Galatians chapter 1 defending himself against those that would degrade his God given authority is an indication of this common accusation. I would like to spend a little time examining what the scriptures can tell us about Paul’s qualifications to be an apostle. Paul said he was an apostle

Paul tells us he was an apostle. We must take his word as truth unless there is indisputable evidence that he was lying.

  1. Romans 1:1 “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,”

  2. 1Corinthians 1:1 “Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes”

  3. 2Corinthians 1:1 “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia:”

  4. Ephesians 1:1 “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:”

  5. Colossians 1:1 “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,”

  6. 1Timothy 1:1 “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope”

  7. 2Timothy 1:1 “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus”

  8. Galatians 1:1 “Paul, an apostle–not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead”

Paul in Arabia

Directly following his conversion, Paul spent a period of around three years in Arabia receiving his revelation from the Lord.

But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. Galatians 1:15-18


Paul could distribute the gifts of the Holy Spirit

In Acts 8:14-18 we learn that only Apostles had the authority to distribute the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. In Romans 1:11 Paul writes to the church in Rome: “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you–” That Paul had the power to distribute the gifts of the Holy Spirit, something only apostles could do, is another piece of evidence that Paul was an apostle.

Peter was rebuked by Paul and Authorized his writings.

In Galatians 2:11-14 we are given an account where Paul rebukes Peter for hypocrisy. If Paul wasn’t an Apostle, Peter would have had an excellent opportunity to denounce him. Instead Peter endorses his writings in II Peter 3:15-16. In fact Peter tells us that people twist the writings of Paul to their own destruction. If the writings of Paul were the writings of another man, would twisting them have such dire consequences?

Christ Appeared to Paul and gave him his revelation.

I Corinthians 15:3-8 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

Galatians 1:9-12 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. 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.

Paul was chosen by Christ to preach to the Gentiles

Acts 9:15-16 But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.

Paul received his commission at Damascus. He was in Arabia for three years where he received his instruction from the Lord. At the end of that time he had the full power and authority of an apostle.

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Richard Garbi Written by:


  1. Joshua
    June 16, 2011

    Appreciate your thoughts, Richard. I especially appreciated you making note of the fact that we ought to trust the word of Paul. It is certainly true we ought to test every spirit to see if it is from God. We also should “believe all things,” which I think means we have a certain level of trust in all men.
    I have a couple questions for you concerning the passage in Galatians 1. Where in the book of Acts would you place Paul’s journey to Arabia? Also, does the three year period spoken of in Galatians 1:18 include his time in both Arabia and Damascus?

  2. June 16, 2011

    @Joshua Thank you for the comment. Concerning Paul’s time in Arabia I would place that directly after his conversion. First Paul tells us in Galatians that directly after his conversion he did not consult anyone, and did not go to Jerusalem but rather went to Arabia. I would take this to mean that Paul went to Damascus where he was converted, then went to Arabia where he received instruction from the Lord, after which he returned to Damascus and from there went to Jerusalem. In my mind the timeline looks something like this:
    1. Saul is converted: Acts 9:18-20
    2. Saul Goes to Arabia Galatians 1:17
    3. Saul returns to Damascus Acts 9:22-23 (Note Saul increases in strength, indication of the effects of his instruction from the Lord. Also, verse 23 tells us “after many days”.)
    4. Saul goes to Jerusalem Acts 9:26, Galatians 1:18

    Paul says in Galatians 1:19 that he only saw Peter and James. In Acts 9:27 we are told that Paul was taken to see the apostles (plural). If you count James among one of the 12 then the two accounts mesh.

    What do you think?

  3. Joshua
    June 16, 2011

    @Richard Your timeline appears to make the best sense. For the two accounts to agree his trip to Arabia had to have happened somewhere between Acts 9:18 and Acts 9:26.

  4. June 16, 2011

    Another interesting aspect to all of this is that Paul received his instruction from the Lord for a period of around three years. Jesus was on the earth with the 12 for around the same period of time. So, Paul’s instruction was in no way inferior to the other apostles.

  5. October 26, 2014

    Before discussing Saul’s conversion we need to establish a point of fact. You cannot become a Christian and have unforgiven sins. If your sins have been forgiven you are a Christian. If you are a Christian then your sins have been forgiven. It is impossible to separate forgiveness, from being in Christ. How could you say I became a Christian last night but my sins were not forgiven? By the same reasoning you could not assert that I had my sins forgiven last night but I am not a Christian.

    What is true for us, was true for the apostle Paul.

    Acts 9:3-6 As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4 and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 And he said, “Who are You Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6 but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what to do.”

    Saul obviously believed in Jesus at this point, yet he was still not forgiven of his sins; therefore he was not a Christian. Paul was not saved by “FAITH ONLY.”

    Acts 9:9-11 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying,

    Saul believed that Jesus was Lord.
    Saul repented.
    Saul fasted and prayed for three days.
    After three days on the road to Damascus Saul was still not forgiven of his sins. Saul was not saved by faith alone, Saul was not saved by repenting alone. Saul was not saved by praying and fasting. SAUL WAS NOT SAVED ON THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS.

    Acts 22:12-16 “A certain Ananias….13 came to me….16 Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’

    Saul’s sins were forgiven after he was baptized in water, not before.

    Galatians 3:27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

    Saul was not a Christian until he was baptized into Christ.

    Mark 16:16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved……

    Saul was not saved until he was immersed in water.

    Acts 2:38…and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of you sins….

    Saul sins where not forgiven until he was baptized in water.

    Paul was saved the way all men are saved. FAITH John 3:16—REPENTANCE Acts 3:19—CONFESSION Romans 10:9-19—WATER BAPTISM Acts 2:38




  6. October 28, 2014

    @Steve Finnell You bring up a crucial point. The salvation taught by so many of our friends, a salvation that involves faith alone, runs contrary to the conversion accounts in the book of Acts, including the conversion of Paul. Ironically, the writings of Paul are the basis for a conversion experience that looks much different than what the author himself experienced.

  7. Craig H
    October 28, 2014

    @WadeI think some good advice to those that believe that baptism is a work: do some more study. It is like belief, in that, it is an act of faith. It is also an act of obedience that leads to access to blessings that God provides; one of which is the Gift of the Holy Spirit or salvation.

  8. gary
    February 14, 2015

    And his disciples took him by night and let him down over the wall, lowering him in a basket. And when he had come to Jerusalem he attempted to join the disciples but they are all afraid of him for they did not believe he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists; but they were seeking to kill him. And when the brethren knew it, they brought him down to Caesarea and set him off to Tarsus. (Acts 9:25-30)
    And (Ananias) . . .said, The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Just One and to hear a voice from his mouth; and you will be a witness for him to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now, why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name. When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple I fell into a trance and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get quickly out of Jerusalem, because they will not accept your testimony about me. And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in very synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believed in thee. And when the blood of Stephen thy witness was shed, I also was standing by and approving, and keeping the garments of those who killed him.’ And he said to me, ‘Depart; for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ (Acts 22:14-21)

    But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; and I still was not known by sight to the churches of Christ in Judea; they only heard it said, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy. (Galatians 1:15-23)

    My conclusion: Paul either had a very poor memory, was mentally ill, or lied about what he did in the weeks, months, and first few years after his conversion experience on the Damascus Road. Yet, Christians base their belief in the Resurrection, the pinnacle event of their faith, on this man’s testimony, which in his own words, was a “heavenly vision” of a talking, bright light…along with the writings of four anonymous first century authors, writing decades after the alleged event, in a foreign language, in far away foreign lands, for purposes we do not and will never know.

    That isn’t evidence, folks. That is speculation, superstition, and fantasy.

  9. February 15, 2015

    Hi Gary. I’m glad you felt comfortable sharing your point of view. I wonder if you would mind clarifying what you find in these three quotes that demonstrates Paul “had a very poor memory, was mentally ill, or lied about what he did in the weeks, months, and first few years after his conversion experience.”. I find that the three quotes harmonize quite nicely, but I may be overlooking something vital. Your help is appreciated! I look forward to a rigorous discussion if you are so inclined.

  10. Jesse
    June 4, 2015

    Wade, thank you for your respectful and loving reply to Gary. It is so important for Christians to reflect Christ when talking with the World. Unfortunately many Christians (including me at times) allow ourselves to focus on the argument and forget the soul of the person we are arguing with.
    There is a peace available to all if only they would be willing to surrender to Christ. Yet they can’t even imagine it until they get to that point in their faith. Philippians 4:7

  11. June 4, 2015

    Hi Jesse. Thanks for the encouraging words. I really enjoy talking to people like Gary and I wish he would reply. Perhaps he will soon.
    Thanks for stopping by. May God bless you as you seek to know and do His perfect will.

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