What’s the nature of the self awareness of Paul regarding his office of “Apostle of Gentiles”? Can we say that in Paul’s mind he is appointed the office singularly or exclusively as no one else can say the same in the same sense, or he think he is just one among many laborers? (Ephesians 3:1-2)

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3 Answers 3


Paul claimed to be "the apostle to the Gentiles" a number of times:

  • Rom 11:13 - I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry
  • Rom 15:16 - to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
  • Gal 2:8, 9 - For the One who was at work in Peter’s apostleship to the circumcised was also at work in my apostleship to the Gentiles. And recognizing the grace that I had been given, James, Cephas, and John—those reputed to be pillars—gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised.
  • Acts 13:47 - For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ”

This also appears to allude to some OT passages as well:

  • Isa 49:6 - He says: “It is not enough for You to be My Servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the protected ones of Israel. I will also make You a light for the Gentiles, to bring My salvation to the ends of the earth.”
  • Ps 98:2 - The LORD has proclaimed His salvation and revealed His righteousness to the nations/Gentiles.

Eph 1:22, 23

Note that Paul is claiming a special, personal revelation from God concerning the mystery of Godliness and the mystery of Christ:

Eph 3:1-6 - 1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles... 2Surely you have heard about the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus.

Thus, Paul is effectively claiming that his ministry to the Gentiles about the mystery of Christ:

  • in accord with that revealed in the OT (see above references)
  • given to him personally by the Holy Spirit
  • that, thus, Paul was also like the prophets of old who were "carried along by the Holy Spirit", 2 Peter 1:19-21.
  • Thank you for the excellent answer. I am studying it slowly. I feel Paul understood he is entrusted with the evangelization of gentiles like no one else, and accordingly, no one was given the revelation with that depth of understanding, but I don’t have enough text proof and some texts suggest otherwise like other replies pointed out.
    – EastOfEden
    Apr 2 at 14:17
  • @EastOfEden - Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles but several others were also sent to the gentiles such as silas, Barnabas, timothy, Apollos, etc.
    – Dottard
    Apr 2 at 21:00

Relying on Acts 15:22, we are informed that both Paul and Barnabas were "sent" (the verb from which "apostle" is derived) to Antioch to minister to the Gentiles, and between the two, Barnabas was originally the senior, being a Levite and having joined the church much earlier (Acts 4:36).

Also, Acts 14:14 specifically refers to both men as "apostles:"

But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out among the multitude

From the above we know that Acts considered at least one person besides Paul to be an apostle. But Paul never read Acts and the question is whether Paul, in his own mind, considered himself unique as the Apostle to the Gentiles. Although he does not specifically use this title in regard to Barnabas, he certainly knew that Barnabas, as his elder brother in the faith, had been sent back to Antioch with him by the elder apostles with the same mission as Paul. (Acts 15) Also, as the OP points out, Paul definitely acknowledges others beside himself to be legitimate ministers of the Gospel among the Gentile churches.

So we may conclude that Paul may have considered Barnabas in some sense to be his co-apostle in bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles. Beyond that, we have to speculate. Certainly Paul knew that others ministered to the Gentiles, presumably having been authorized by the elders in Jerusalem, as he himself was. However, in references to such ministers in his letters, Paul acknowledges no one other than himself as "apostle to the Gentiles." Indeed, the famous "men from James" (Gal. 2) sent to Antioch are specifically denigrated by Paul as false teachers who negatively influenced even Barnabas, his co-minister. We are left with the OP question unresolved.

  • Excellent analysis thank you. It seems the word apostle is used more loosely in New Testament time then we probably use now. Maybe I should phrase the question this way: can we say that Paul in his own mind think that he is given the burden, revelation, task and authority to the gentile church, uniquely, singularly, like no one else, has no equal?
    – EastOfEden
    Apr 2 at 14:56

The question seems to be answered later in the chapter, as we read on into it.

Yes, Paul is a prisoner "on behalf of" the Gentiles he's addressing (v1 RSV), and he has a stewardship of God's grace "for you" (v2), but neither of those is necessarily exclusive.

Then in vv4-6 he speaks of the "mystery of Christ". This is the secret of the fact that the Gentiles are "fellow-heirs" of the Jews, and "partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus". On the one hand, this mystery was "not made known to the sons of men in other generations". They were excluded from this knowledge by being born too soon. On the other hand, "it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit". Not just revealed to himself.

Since there are many others who have been shown the secret, the implication is that many others may be involved in teaching it. Indeed, when Paul calls himself "minister" of the gospel to the Gentiles (v7),the noun comes without a definite article. He does not claim to be THE minister.

Now, in practice, as the leadership recognised (Galatians ch2 v9) God was steering Paul rather than the other leaders towards this task. At the same time, though, we learn from Acts and from greetings in the epistles that Paul was doing this work in company with men like Barnabas and Timothy and countless others. For that matter, Paul's ministry to the Gentiles did not entirely block out his witness towards the Jews. A large part of the epistle to the Romans is a direct address to the unconverted Jews.

In both ways, Paul's mission to the Gentiles is a matter of emphasis rather than an exclusive task.

  • Then how do you explain the term 'apostle' being confined to 'twelve' in several places in holy writ ?
    – Nigel J
    Apr 2 at 6:49
  • @Nigel J Paul calls himself an apostle in 1 Corinthians ch9 vv1-2 and 1 Corinthians ch15v9. In the second passage, he admits to being a late arrival on the list, so that could account for the discrepancy. Apr 2 at 7:04
  • Yes, indeed. So Paul is number twelve. I agree . . . . . and then there are no more.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 2 at 9:20
  • 1
    Thank you for your excellent answer. I try to reconcile the two views. Maybe the degree of the revelation, the level of understanding given is different between Paul and the other people who are burdened in the labor and for the gentiles church. it seems to me Paul has a consciousness that he is THE apostle to the gentiles. For example, when he begins his episodes introducing himself, one reading it would not tend to think that he is one of 200 apostles to the Gentiles.
    – EastOfEden
    Apr 2 at 14:42
  • @EastOfEden Certainly he was the prime mover in that campaign. Apr 2 at 14:50

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