(1 Corinthians 1:1) Παῦλος κλητὸς ἀπόστολος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ διὰ θελήματος θεοῦ καὶ Σωσθένης ὁ ἀδελφὸς

(KJV) Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,

Note that “to be” is added in the English and does not appear in the original Greek. Thus, on the one hand, it would seem that “a called apostle” is a more literal translation of κλητὸς ἀπόστολος.

On the other hand, perhaps there is a rule of Greek grammar which allows κλητὸς ἀπόστολος to be interpreted as “called to be an apostle.” (Kind of like how a sentence in Hebrew is complete without needing a copula.)

To me, the two possible translations don’t have the same meaning, although the difference is subtle. Perhaps I am “called to be a professor,” but unless I actually become one as well, I’m not a “called-professor.”

  • Benson comments: The original expression, κλητος αποστολος Ιησου Χριστου, is literally, a called apostle of Jesus Christ, or Jesus Christ’s called apostle. Through the will of God — Termed the commandment of God, 1 Timothy 1:1. This was, to the churches, the ground of his authority; to Paul himself, of an humble and ready mind. By the mention of God, the authority of man is excluded, Galatians 1:1; by the mention of the will of God, the merit of Paul,
    – user25930
    Nov 14, 2018 at 23:29
  • 1
    In case it's not clear from the answers, "perhaps there is a rule of Greek grammar which allows κλητὸς ἀπόστολος to be interpreted as "called to be an apostle." -- yes, there certainly is. As in many languages, the null copula is common. The distinction between attributive and predicative adjectives is frequently subtle and at times ambiguous, as here, for that very reason.
    – Susan
    Nov 15, 2018 at 10:02
  • @Susan Thank you so much for responding! I am aware that in Greek we can have a null copula for the present indicative of ειμι, so the sentence Πετρος ανθροπος can have the exact same meaning as Πετρος εστι ανθροπος. But I didn't know that other forms of ειμι (subjunctive? participle? infinitive?) can have a null copula as well! Nov 15, 2018 at 14:53
  • @Susan Which "null copula" do you think would make the most sense in reconciling the Greek with the KJV and other translations? Would it be the infinitive, Παῦλος κλητὸς εἶναι ἀπόστολος? But then there seems to be a bit of a problem since the subject of an infinitive should be in the accusative case. Nov 15, 2018 at 14:56
  • See also Romans 1:6-7, 8:28, 9:7, 9:26, 11:29, as well as this.
    – Lucian
    Nov 17, 2018 at 12:17

4 Answers 4


The Argument

It is inquired whether the Greek phrase «κλητὸς ἀπόστολος» should be translated as “a called apostle” or “called to be an apostle.” The former, it is supposed, demonstrates a reality, while the latter a potentiality. That is to say, a “called apostle” is an apostle now, while one who is “called to be an apostle” is not now, but could be an apostle in the future. Consequently, “called to be an apostle” would seem to be an inaccurate translation if indeed Paul was an apostle at the time he wrote.

Examining the Grammar

First and foremost, «κλητὸς ἀπόστολος» can most certainly be translated as “a called apostle.” With that translation, Paul would be emphasizing his apostolic legitimacy “by the will of God,”1 unlike the “fake apostles” (ψευδαπόστολοι) he encounters throughout his missionary travels.2

That being said, “called to be an apostle” is a legitimate translation and it does not infringe on the fact of Paul’s present apostleship.

In the phrase “called to be an apostle,” the verbal “to be an apostle” functions as an adverbial infinitive modifying the quasi-verb “called.” I say “quasi-verb” because, while κλητὸς is technically an adjective (any lexicon would confirm so), many such adjectives ending in -τος (including κλητὸς) share the same meaning as a perfect passive participle. Indeed, they are referred to as verbal adjectives.

Herbert Weir Smyth wrote,3

Verbals in -τός, -τή, -τόν either (1) have the meaning of a perfect passive participle, as κρυπτός hidden, παιδευτός educated, or (2) express possibility, as νοητός thinkable, ὁρατός visible. Many have either signification, but some are passive only, as ποιητός done.

As such, the adverbial infinitive “to be an apostle” is timeless, because it does not function to tell us the time of Paul’s calling (i.e., when). Rather, it tells us why: “called to be an apostle.”

The only means by which we can determine the time of Paul’s calling (i.e., past, present, future) is if a conjugation of the verb “to be” preceded “called.” Read the following and appreciate the differences:

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In the aforementioned examples, the conjugation of the verb “be” preceding “called” tells us when the calling occurred. However, because «κλητὸς» isn’t a Greek verb but an adjective, and Greek adjectives do not decline according to tense, the English translations rightfully lack the “was,” “is,” and “will be” preceding “called.” So, is there any way we can know when the calling occurred?

A Hint Remains

If we read a bit further in v. 1, notice how Paul writes «ἀφωρισμένος εἰς εὐαγγέλιον θεοῦ». ἀφωρισμένος is a perfect participle. The perfect participle indicates an action that occurred in the past and remains effective in the present.4 As Smyth wrote, κλητὸς has the meaning of a perfect participle. In other words, it is likely that Paul’s calling occurred in the past, coinciding with his separation for God’s gospel, both remaining effective in the present and into the future.

Too Long; Didn’t Read

Both translations are acceptable; neither translation precludes Paul’s present apostleship at the time he authored the epistle. “Called apostle” emphasizes that Paul is a legitimate apostle; he is not a “fake apostle.” “Called to be an apostle” rather emphasizes the reason (the “why”) of the vocation. Personally, I prefer the translation “a called apostle.”


1 cf. 1 Cor. 1:1
2 cf. 2 Cor. 11:13
3 p. 157, §472
4 e.g., «τῇ χάριτί...σεσῳσμένοι»—“saved by grace”; cf. Eph. 2:8


Smyth, Herbert Weir. A Greek Grammar for Colleges. New York: American Book, 1920.


"called apostle" and "called to be an apostle" are not different things (to be a called apostle is to have been called to be an apostle; to be called to be an apostle is to be a called apostle). The difference is only in nuance (adjectival 'called' vs verbal 'called [i.e. to the end that I might be an apostle]').

  • There's a parallel case in 1 Corinthians 1:2 which I think probably makes the distinction clearer. Paul is writing to κλητοῖς ἁγίοις. Is he writing to "called saints" (i.e. people who who were called and are actually saints living a life of holiness), or merely to those who are "called to be saints" (but might have ignored their calling and chosen a life of sin)? Nov 15, 2018 at 1:11
  • 1
    Later technical uses of "saint" as denoting one in a state of grace are not to be imported in the New Testament retrospectively, wherein it essentially means "sanctified ones" ("the set apart," closer to its original Hebrew sense). This essentially means, "the called set apart ones." Nov 15, 2018 at 1:15
  • Good point. Even if the ἁγίοις refers to the the sanctified ones (those who have the indelible mark of baptism), would κλητοῖς ἁγίοις mean to those who have been both called and sanctified or could it possibly include also those who were called to be sanctified but nevertheless refused to accept baptism? (Given the context, I would expect κλητοῖς ἁγίοις to refer to the former, but I just want to know if the grammar itself demands it.) Nov 15, 2018 at 1:24
  • "Called" is an adjective describing a class of people already identified as "the sanctified" (or set apart). So since for our purposes "called" being an adjective is here entirely irrelevant to the fact that they are sanctified ones, they are called and sanctified—the objective true referents, not absolutely everyone in the congregation written to. P.S. "called to be" is an entirely warranted translation: "the saints [that were/have been/are] called" can mean this, just as "the encouraged x" can mean "that were encouraged," "who are encouraged" or "those who must do what is encouraged." Nov 15, 2018 at 1:36

Either definition meant Paul was called to be an apostle to the Gentile.

It is also important to note why Paul possibly spelled that out to the Corinthians who questioned his apostleship in the canonical first and second letter, even if they knew he had established the church in the first place. Perhaps it was because he was not a direct apostle of Christ and/or - despite his verbosity in letters - not a very good speaker (2 Corinthians 11:6)! Since the Corinthians were mostly rich and wealthy Roman citizens, this lack of lofty status for Paul did not intrigue them, hence their eventual questioning of him.

So perhaps Paul reiterated that quite obvious designation (a 'called-apostle' or 'called to be an apostle') to signify that he was an apostle, in fact the very same apostle that established the Corinthian church.


You seem to be asking about whether the phrase κλητὸς ἀπόστολος "called apostle" refers to:

  • an apostle who was called = an apostle (of many) who has been called (for a specific purpose)
  • called to be an apostle = a normal person (of many) who has been called to be an apostle (of many)

These phrases do have different meanings, contrary to what other answers claim. The difference is the group from which Paul was drawn, and the subgroup into which he was called. Being an apostle called to a further specialized purpose arguably, but not necessarily, includes being an ordinary person called to be an apostle. But the reverse is not true.

Even in English, the phrase "called apostle" is ambiguous. Although κλητὸς (Strongs 2822) does mean "called", it may also refer to being invited, summoned, appointed, named, etc. However, another of Paul's epistles (Romans 1:1) states, κλητὸς ἀπόστολος ἀφωρισμένος εἰς "called apostle separated for...", which seems to imply an apostle called for a specific purpose.

Either way, the exact meaning isn't theologically significant, since it is just part of the standard salutations of a letter. For the same reason, it doesn't make sense to read special meaning into the "blessings" often conferred in the openings and closings of epistles. They are basically equivalent to the modern, "I hope you're doing well."

Differences in style, however, could indicate redaction. For instance, if someone found a "lost" epistle written in modern block business letter format, it would clearly be a very bad forgery. It is unlikely that minor differences in how Paul identifies as a "called apostle" in the epistles is of redactional significance.

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