Are Romans 10:14-15, 2 Corinthians 3:1-6 and Philippians 1:14-18 contradictory?

In Romans Paul seems to be saying that the only ones who can preach the gospel and stimulate faith in the hearers are the apostles:

Rom 10:14 How, then, can people call on someone they have not believed? And how can they believe in someone they have not heard about? And how can they hear without someone preaching? Rom 10:15 And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are those who bring the good news!"

In 2 Corinthians 3:1-6 Paul seems to say that his effectiveness in his preaching serves as divine credentials for his apostleship:

2Co 3:1 Are we beginning to recommend ourselves again? Unlike some people, we do not need letters of recommendation to you or from you, do we? 2Co 3:2 You are our letter, written in our hearts and known and read by everyone. 2Co 3:3 You are demonstrating that you are the Messiah's letter, produced by our service, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 2Co 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have in God through the Messiah. 2Co 3:5 By ourselves we are not qualified to claim that anything comes from us. Rather, our credentials come from God, 2Co 3:6 who has also qualified us to be ministers of a new covenant, which is not written but spiritual, because the written text brings death, but the Spirit gives life.

But both the authentic believers and the pretenders of Philippi seem to be welcomed by Paul for their "confirmation and defense of the gospel":

  • he reports happily that "the brothers" are boldly and courageously speaking the message:

Php 1:14 Moreover, because of my imprisonment the Lord has caused most of the brothers to become confident to speak God's word more boldly and courageously than ever before.

  • he shows little concern whether the people preaching are even believers:

Php 1:15 Some are preaching the Messiah because of jealousy and dissension, while others do so because of their good will. Php 1:16 The latter are motivated by love, because they know that I have been appointed to defend the gospel. Php 1:17 The former proclaim the Messiah because they are selfishly ambitious and insincere, thinking that they will stir up trouble for me during my imprisonment. Php 1:18 But so what? Just this—that in every way, whether by false or true motives, the Messiah is being proclaimed. Because of this, I rejoice and will continue to rejoice.

To my mind this seems to mark a shift in viewpoint in Paul from an apostle-centric one to a message-centered one.

Did Paul evolve in his views about the necessity of being an apostle to preach the gospel?

2 Answers 2



Mark D. Given says, in 'Paul and Writing', published in As It Is Written: Studying Paul's Use of Scripture, page 253, that for Paul, the mouth and ear are the proper media for his message, so for example:

Romans 10:17: So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

Likewise, on page 245, Given cites Furnish (II Corinthians) to say that Paul regards his own letters as but a poor substitute for his actual presence with those whom he addresses.

The first of the three epistles to be written is probably 2 Corinthians, so any evaluation of evolution should start there, then proceed to Philippians and finally Romans.

2 Corinthians

In 2 Corinthians 3:1, Paul reminds the Corinthians that his opponents came to Corinth with letters of commendation, and so asks should he also bring a letter of commendation or should they give Paul a letter of commendation in recognition of all he has done.

This quickly becomes a rhetorical question that Paul answers by saying that the Corinthians are his commendation, as all men can see. In verse 6, Paul says that God has made him a minister of the new testament, not by any letter, but by the spirit.

Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.


Paul writes the Epistle to the Philippians while in prison, in 'bonds'. He knows that other Christian preachers are made confident because of his bonds, and they can speak openly, without fear (Philippians 1:14). He knows that some preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others do so from good will. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, thinking that they will cause Paul trouble in his imprisonment. The others out of love, aware that he is imprisoned for defending the gospel.

In verse 1:18, Paul says their motives make no difference to him, as long as , whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is being preached. At this stage, Paul is not sure if he will be released or executed, so no doubt he would prefer something about Christ to be taught, even if he feels that in some cases what is preached is not entirely true.

Throughout Paul's letters we find many references to 'false apostles' and those who teach a different gospel, whom he opposes. The others might have been ambitious and jealous of Paul's success, but they apparently were Christians. Early Christianity must have been incredibly fragmented, evidence of which we also find in the gospels.


In Romans 10:13, Paul says that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. But then he asks, how they can believe in him if they had not heard, and how can they hear of Christ without a preacher. This can hardly be saying that only apostles can preach in Rome, because if so the Romans risk not hearing, and by not hearing they risk not believing. Once again, Paul is emphasising the importance of the spoken word in winning converts. Verse 15 simply says that for preachers to preach, they must be sent. Returning to verse 17:

Romans 10:17: So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.


There is no apparent contradiction among 2 Corinthians, Philippians and Romans, but each passage addresses a somewhat different concern. The passage in 2 Corinthians 3:1-6 is a denunciation of those who come with letters of commendation, seeking to preach a different gospel; Paul does not need any letter, but says he is a minister of the new testament by the will of God. At this stage, Paul is free and wants to be able to continue his mission unhindered by those who preach a different gospel. In Philippians, Paul is resigned to the possibility that he will never be released and, while he would prefer the true gospel to be taught, even pretence is better than no gospel. In much the same spirit, Romans 10:14-15 says that for people to be saved, preachers must be sent to them.

  • Regarding your last sentence... isn't that inverted? In order to preach, they must be sent, not the other way around: Mat_9:38 Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest. The idea that anyone, including a malicious, deceitful unbeliever, motivated by spite (or perhaps televangelist greed) is a suitable stand-in for an apostle is a far cry from 2 Cor 3.
    – user10231
    Aug 3, 2016 at 10:20
  • Hi @WoundedEgo My last sentence:I think we both agree Paul's timeline would be : i) send preachers; ii) preach; iii) listen; iv) believe; v) be saved, but my last sentence is looking at i) outcome; ii prerequisite. .../ Aug 3, 2016 at 21:38
  • .../ Those who preach in Philippians are not unbelievers, but believers of a different kind. Throughout Paul's letters we find many references to those who teach a different (Christian) gospel, whom he opposes. The others might have been ambitious and jealous of Paul's success, but they apparently were Christians. Early Christianity must have been incredibly fragmented, evidence of which we also find in the gospels. Aug 3, 2016 at 21:44
  • Can I get you to put that into your answer? Thanks.
    – user10231
    Aug 3, 2016 at 21:51

I don't see Romans 10:14-15 or any other Epistle that Paul wrote saying that the only ones who can preach the gospel and stimulate faith in the hearers are Apostles.

What Paul asks in Romans is, And how can people preach unless they are sent? It is true that the Apostles were sent directly by Christ, but they and their successors continued to send others to evangelize. In Acts 15:22, for example, we read that the Apostles and elders, with the whole Church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, choosing Judas/Barsabbas and Silas, who were not Apostles.

There might seem to be a contradiction between Romans 10:15 and Philippians 1:15ff, since the people whom Paul refers to - preaching out of jealousy and dissension - don't seem to have been properly sent. But Paul chooses his words carefully here. He doesn't endorse the behavior; he merely acquiesces. Theodoret of Cyrrus (393-457) commented:

Even against their will, Paul shows, the enemies of truth inadvertently cooperate with truth. Some are foolish enough to think that this can also be said about heresies. They ought to have perceived that the holy apostle’s statement here is not an imperative sentence but a declarative one. He did not say “Let it be preached” but “It is being preached.”

Augustine comments in a similar vein in his treatise, Against Lying:

There were in the times of the apostles some who were preaching truth but not in truth, that is, not in a true spirit. Of these the apostle says that their proclamation was not pure but was preached “through envy and rivalry.” Even though they were tolerated who proclaimed the truth without purity of mind, they were not praised ...

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