Many Protestants, and I’d guarantee some Catholics, think that St. Paul became an apostle on the road to Damascus when he was struck down, when Jesus spoke to him and converted him: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Since this happens in Acts 9, and the Council of Jerusalem happens in Acts 15, it seems like the time line is very short. But we know that Paul, after the scales came off of his eyes in the home of Ananais, and had recovered his strength, he preached in Damascus, so strongly that the Jews desired to kill him. He was lowered in a basket to escape, and Barnabas took charge of him in Jerusalem-this was his first meeting with the apostles, but they were wary of him. After another plot to kill him was discovered, they sent him to his home town of Tarsus. Acts then shifts the scene to Peter, but what of Paul?
The answer is in the book of Galatians. Galatians 1, after Paul’s introduction, verse 13, Paul says “You heard about my former actions in Judaism”, then gives a timeline-he says he did not go back to Jerusalem ‘to those apostles who were before me, rather I went into Arabia and then returned to Damascus. After three years he went up to Jerusalem to confer with Cephas, Peter, and stayed with him for 15 days, not seeing any of the other apostles. Then he went to Syria and Cilicia, and was unknown to the churches of Judea. Chapter 2 starts off “After 14 years…and presented to them the gospel I was preaching. Verses 7-9 is when the apostles “recognized the grace bestowed upon me”, “gave me and Barnabas their right hands in partnership, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.”
This is when Paul became an apostle. To recap, he was converted (not his own word), went into the desert, then after three years went to Jerusalem, then after 14 years, he went back to confer with the apostles, at which time they laid hands on him, which is really when Paul becomes an apostle.
This shows a couple of things…it shows clearly what Paul demonstrates in the letters to Timothy about what is required to be a bishop, a successor of the apostles. It requires laying on of hands. This is why our Protestant bretheren don’t have valid holy orders. Secondly, it shows how we must sometimes reconstruct the way things happened-piecing together what we know in order to figure out things that aren’t so readily apparent. Third, it shows how the Catholic Church is really the Church Jesus founded. It also disputes what anti-Catholics might claim, that Paul should have been seen as the founder of the Christian Church.