Bible Questions and Answers: Apostle Paul
Q: Who do you believe wrote the epistle of Hebrews?
A: Paul wrote Romans-Philemon for us in this dispensation of grace, whether we are Jew or Gentile. I also believe that Paul wrote Hebrews to the early Jews for their dispensation. Some people perceive a conflict with the idea of Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, writing a letter to a group of assemblies composed only of Jews. But I see no conflict with Paul being the author. After all, he preached to Jews in Damascus in Acts 9 and also to the Jews in Jerusalem in the latter parts of Acts. He did not even preach to any Gentiles until Acts 13. Here is why I believe Paul is the author:
1. The author knows Timothy well enough to be his traveling companion (Hebrews 13:23). Timothy and Paul had traveled together on Paul's second and third journeys.
2. The Hebrews had compassion on the writer when he was a prisoner (Hebrew 10:34). So we know that the author was once in prison, most likely in Israel. Paul had been a prisoner in Israel from 58-60 AD.
3. Paul ends all of his letters with "Grace be with you all" (Hebrew 13:25) or some similar phrase.
4. The doctrine has evidence of Paul's knowledge of the sacrificial nature of Christ's death, which had been a mystery until it was revealed to Paul.
5. The author was not a disciple of Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry (Hebrew 2:3-4). That rules out any of the twelve as being the author.
6. Deep Old Testament knowledge shows the author was a well studied Jew. Paul was a Jew and a Pharisee, learned in the law of Moses under the highly respected teacher Gamaliel. Paul said in Acts 22:3, "I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers ...." In Philippians 3:5 Paul wrote that he was, "Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee ...."
7. The author is in or has been to Italy (Hebrew 13:24). Paul was a prisoner there from 61-63 AD.
Paul meets all seven of these qualifications, and I am not aware of any other person who does. Also, we definitely know that Paul wrote at least one letter to the Hebrews from what Peter says when writing to Jews in 2 Peter 3:15-16, "And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; 16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction." The author of Hebrews did not sign his name, so I can see how some may still have a little doubt. But I believe that it was Paul to a very high level of probability.
Q: What was Apostle Paul's "thorn in the flesh"?
A: In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 Paul writes, "And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong."
The scriptures never really nail it down in any one place. However, based upon hints that are provided in the following passages, I believe that Paul had a problem with his eyes that resulted in poor vision.
(1) In Galatians 4:13-15, Paul said while discussing his infirmity, "... through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you ... my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not ... if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me." It is possible that this was only an expression of how much the Galatians loved Paul. However, it is more likely intended not only as an expression of their love, but also as a reference to the part of Paul's flesh (his eyes) which was most infirm.
(2) Even though Paul was learned in both Hebrew and Greek, he usually had others write down his letters for him. In the salutations of Romans 16, Tertius interjects in verse 22, "I Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in the Lord."
(3) When Paul had to write the letters himself, he wrote with very large lettering. Galatians 6:11 (NASV) says, "See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand." Some say that this verse refers to the overall size of the letter he wrote to the Galatians, rather than to the size of the characters Paul used. But Galatians is a rather small letter, much smaller than either of the Corinthian letters or the one to the Romans.
(4) In Acts 23:2-5, Paul was unable to recognize the high priest who was very likely arrayed in his most unique and unmistakable robe. "... the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth. Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law? And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God's high priest? Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people."
(5) Acts 28:3 says, "... when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand." Perhaps it was poor vision that kept Paul from seeing the snake in the bundle of sticks.
(6) As we saw in 2 Corinthians 12:7 above, the thorn in the flesh was given to Paul to keep him from being exalted. It would seem that the most logical time for this to have happened would have been when Paul became a believer. It was at that time that God touched Paul's eyes (Acts 9:8 & 18). Paul was blinded, and scales fell from his eyes when his sight was restored. Perhaps, like Jacob's thigh in Genesis 32:24-32, Paul's vision was never the same after that day.
These six different hints seem to concur pretty conclusively that the thorn in Paul's flesh was or at least included poor vision, but there may still be a little room for disagreement.
Q: Who took the place of Judas Iscariot as the twelfth apostle, Matthias or Paul?
A: It was prophesied back in the Old Testament that the one who betrayed the Messiah would lose his position of authority, and it would be given to another. Peter said in Acts 1:20, "For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick (office as overseer) let another take." Acts 1:15-26 describes how Matthias was chosen to replace Judas.
Now there are many teachers who say that the 11 apostles were out of line for filling that twelfth spot in Acts 1, and that God later chose Paul to take the place vacated by Judas Iscariot. But close examination of the scriptures shows that this is not at all reasonable.
Acts 2:4 says, "... they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." God did not leave out Matthias, but confirmed his apostleship along with the others as the 12 spoke to the multitude. Acts 2:14 says, "Peter, standing up with the eleven (11 + 1 = 12), lifted up his voice ...." This confirms that Matthias was included in the twelve.
Acts 2:43 says that "... many signs and wonders were done by the apostles." If Matthias had not performed signs and wonders like the other 11 apostles, it would have been obvious that God was not working through him. But God confirmed the authority of Matthias with signs and wonders just like the other 11 apostles.
Acts 6:2 says, "... the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them ...." This shows that Matthias was one of the twelve, since Judas Iscariot was dead, and Paul was not yet even a believer. This is even confirmed by Paul himself in 1 Corinthians 15:4-5, "... he (Jesus Christ) rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas (Peter), then of the twelve ...." Again, Judas Iscariot was already dead, and Paul was not yet a believer.
God called Paul to a separate ministry as "the apostle of the Gentiles" (Romans 11:13), whereas the twelve were called to "the apostleship of the circumcision (Israelites)" (Galatians 2:8). Indeed, Paul did not meet the qualifications to be one of the twelve. The qualifications from Acts 1:21-22 included, "... men which have companied with us (the other apostles) all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection." This clearly does not apply to Paul who was not even a believer at any time during Jesus Christ's earthly ministry.
Q: Did Paul receive his doctrines from the other apostles or directly from the Lord?
A: In Galatians 1:11-12 Paul wrote, "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." Continuing in Galatians 1:15-17 he added, "But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen (the Gentiles); immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus." So here Paul makes it very clear that his gospel came to him through direct revelation from the ascended Lord Jesus Christ. It did not come from the other Apostles or any other person. I often hear people say, "I go by what Jesus said, not by what Paul said." The problem with that reasoning is that Paul's teachings did come from Jesus, after the Lord had ascended to heaven. So if they are not going by Paul's teaching, then they are not going by Jesus Christ's teaching.
Paul speaks more on the revelations that he received form the Lord in 2 Corinthians 12:1-7, "It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities. For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me. And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure." Here we see that there were a great many revelations from the Lord that Paul received over a long period of time.
Also in Ephesians 3:1-4 Paul wrote, "For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) ...."
Peter also recognized and wrote about the wisdom that God had revealed to Paul. In 2 Peter 3:15-16 he says, "And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood ...."
Our Apostle Paul's teachings come from the ascended Lord Jesus Christ in heaven, not from man.
Q: Was Paul the first of the apostles to be made aware of our Lord paying for our sins through His death and shed blood?
A: Yes. The blood of Jesus Christ was shed for atonement for our sins. But this fact was a mystery, until our risen Lord Jesus Christ revealed it to our Apostle Paul.
From Matthew 16:21-22, Luke 18:33-34, and John 20:9, we know that during Christ's earthly ministry, the twelve apostles did not know that Jesus Christ was going to die and rise again from the dead. It was hidden from them by God.
Paul received the gospel of grace by direct revelation from our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul wrote in Galatians 1:11-12, "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." He was appointed as the apostle of the Gentiles to reveal mysteries previously kept hidden. One of these is the mystery of the gospel. Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:18-20, "Praying always ... for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel for which I am an ambassador in bonds ...." Paul's gospel had been a mystery. It had not been known to anyone before God revealed it to him.
Paul's letter to the Ephesians was written around 62 AD, about 30 years after Jesus Christ had ascended into heaven. Paul had already completed his first three missionary journeys. In Ephesians chapter 3, Paul wrote in verses 1-4, "For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery: (as I wrote afore in few words Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) ...." So we see that God by "revelation" showed Paul the "mystery" which no one knew before. This is why Paul calls it "my knowledge". "Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and the prophets by the Spirit ..." (Ephesians 3:5). Note the change in tense here. Compare the present tense of "is now revealed" (to the apostles around 62 AD) with the past tense of "he made known unto me" (Paul) by revelation at an earlier time. Then in Ephesians 3:9 he wrote, "And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ ...."
In about 66 AD, Peter, near his death, acknowledged that God had revealed many things to Paul. He writes in 2 Peter 3:15-16, "And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him (not "unto us", but "unto him") hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things hard to be understood ...."
From Romans 16:25, it is evident that the what Paul calls "my gospel", was a mystery until God showed it to him by revelation. "Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began ...."
Why did God keep our gospel a secret for so long? Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 2:7-8, "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory". No one was allowed to know it, not Peter, the apostles, Judas, Pilate, the demons, or even Satan himself. Thus the crucifixion of Jesus as payment for our sins took place as God planned.
Q: When and where did Paul die? What were the circumstances of his martyrdom?
A: The scriptures do not provide a much detail here. But Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 4:6, "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing." From Paul's mention of his chain in 2 Timothy 1:16, and Rome in verse 17, it seems he was in prison in Rome. He was apparently executed around 67 AD or so, shortly after writing 2 Timothy.
Q: Why do you think that Paul's meeting with the other apostles in Galatians 2:1-10 was the same meeting as the one that took place in Jerusalem in Acts 15:4-29, rather than some other meeting?
A: First, by process of elimination, we can rule out all of the other meetings Paul had in Jerusalem that are recorded in the book of Acts. Second, we can confirm that Galatians 2:1-10 and Acts 15:4-29 are the same meeting examining the commonalities of Paul's account in Galatians 2 and Luke's account in Acts 15.
After Paul's conversion in Acts 9, four visits that Paul made to Jerusalem are recorded in the book of Acts. Besides the one in Acts 15 the other three were:
1. Acts 9:26 - Paul made this trip to Jerusalem just 3 years after his conversion as he records in Galatians 1:18-19. But the Galatians 2 trip was 14 years after his conversion according to Galatians 2:1. Also, Paul just met Barnabas in Jerusalem in Acts 9, whereas they traveled to Jerusalem together in Galatians 2. So Acts 9:26 and Galatians 2:1-10 are not the same trip to Jerusalem.
2. Acts 11:29-30 - As stated above, the Galatians 2 trip was 14 years after Paul's conversion. However, the Acts 11 trip was also long before that. Paul made this trip to Jerusalem at the time of the death of Herod Agrippa I in 44 AD. Herod's death is recorded in Acts 12:20-23, and the return of Paul and Barnabas to Antioch is recorded in the next 2 verses. Subtracting 14 years from 44 AD takes us back to 30 AD, prior to Christ's crucifixion. But we know that Paul's conversion came well after Christ's crucifixion. Since Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 11:32 that Aretas was king when Paul left Damascus, we know that Paul's conversion was around 37 AD. So Acts 11:29-30 and Galatians 2:1-10 are not the same trip to Jerusalem.
3. Acts 21:17 - Paul made this trip to Jerusalem at the end of his third missionary journey. We know that this was not the trip recorded in Galatians 2 because Barnabas was not traveling with Paul in Acts 21. Barnabas went to Jerusalem with Paul in the Galatians 2:1. But Barnabas was not with Paul in Acts 21, since he and Paul had parted ways in Acts 15:38-41. Also, Paul was thrown in prison for two years at the end of the Acts 21 visit, but he was not thrown in prison at the end of the Galatians 2 visit. So Acts 21:17 and Galatians 2:1-10 are not the same trip to Jerusalem.
That leaves us with Acts 15. Below are several commonalities between the Acts 15 and Galatians 2 accounts that let us know that they are indeed the same meeting.
1. In each account, the Jews had a doctrinal dispute with what Paul was teaching. See Acts 15:1-2 and Galatians 2:4-5.
2. In each account, Barnabas went with Paul to Jerusalem. See Acts 15:2 and Galatians 2:1.
3. In each account, the discussion was over whether the Gentiles should be required to keep the law of Moses. See Acts 15:1 and 15:5 and Galatians 2:3-4.
4. In each account, grace has to be contended for. See Acts 15:7-12 and Galatians 2:5.
5. In each account, Peter and James are both present. See Acts 15:7 and 15:13 and Galatians 2:9.
6. In each account, they come to an agreement that the Gentiles are not to be required to keep the law of Moses. See Acts 15:10 15:19 and Galatians 2:6-9.
With all other known visits to Jerusalem ruled out, and with all of the commonalities that there are between Acts 15 and Galatians 2, it seems quite conclusive that Acts 15 and Galatians 2 record the same meeting in Jerusalem.
Q: Why did Paul go to the synagogues first to share the gospel with the Jews, and then afterward go to the Gentiles?
A: It is true that in his journeys, Paul normally preached first to the Jews at the synagogue, and then went to the Gentiles second. We see this pattern in Acts 13:14-48, Acts 17:1-4, 17:15-18, Acts 18:4-8, and Acts 18:19. Paul's ministry was not to "Gentiles exclusively". He went to the Gentiles and the Jews that were scattered among the Gentiles. So it was to mostly Gentiles, but not exclusively, by any means.
Paul was being led by the Holy Spirit in his ministry, and probably was guided to present the gospel to the different groups in the order that he did. Not only that, but logically, it would make sense to preach to the Jews first. Try to consider the mindset of Jews in the first century. With the old testament as their backdrop, they saw themselves as God's covenant people and the Gentiles as unclean, pagan dogs. The Jews would not eat with Gentiles nor go into their homes. Once some Jews, in a particular Gentile city, came to believe Paul's gospel, Paul could then extend the ministry to the Gentiles. But if Paul were to convert hundreds of Gentiles in that city first, then the Jews in that city would begin to perceive Paul's message as a religion of the unclean pagan dogs, before the Jews had even been presented with the grace gospel. Thus, they would probably be more likely to reject Paul's message, than if Paul had gone to the Jews first. By going to the Jews first Paul was able to show them (and convince many) that his gospel message was from the same God that led Israel out of Egypt, gave Israel the Law of Moses, and established Israel as a nation.
Copyright © 1999 Matthew McGee. All rights reserved.