When and how did St. Paul become an apostle?

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.


20 thoughts on “When and how did St. Paul become an apostle?

  1. I love your blog! Thanks for stopping by mine and leaving a comment (www.alittlebitcatholic.com). I’ll be sure to follow yours.

    I am curious as to how you stumbled upon our site, let me know!

    Pax Christi,

  2. Thanks, Lauren, and welcome. If you’re on WordPress, there’s a link under your Dashboard called Readomatic. You can go there and subscribe to different blogs, or search for different tags. I believe your tag for the post was “Catholic” and that’s one of the top ones I monitor. I exist here in the blogosphere to help Catholics maintain their faith in an orthodox way, I try to lean neither to the right nor to the left (because if we do that we usually fall out of the barque of Peter), but to present the faith. I also use that tool to find out what misconceptions others have about our faith, and try to show charitably how they’re wrong.

    This particular post is just my opinion. One of my mentors tells me we actually just don’t know exactly when Paul became an apostle. My belief is that, because bishops and priests become ordained by the laying on of hands, that here, in Galatians, Paul gives us a timeline of exactly when this happens for him.

    Thanks for stopping by. Sometimes I get too busy to write, or at times too lazy. I’m often around, though, so if you have a question or comment, I will get it quickly…

  3. The apostles were those closest to Christ, the disciples, to my mind, were followers, but maybe they didn’t give their lives to His mission.

    Regarding Bible authorship, the Bible never really affirms who physically authored the books. But Hebrews, scholarly opinion says, we just don’t know. I hope that helps.

  4. Thanks for the storyline! Even though I am not catholic I can appreciate what you have shared.

  5. I have really been struggling with some issues concerning Paul recently and would like another opinion.

    Why is Paul listed as an Apostle if Jesus never appointed him as one? Jesus, in fact, had less interaction with Paul than He did Zaccheus or many, many others. I understand that Paul was one of the most prominent speakers and missionaries during his time, but John the Baptist was as well and he was never spoken of as an Apostle despite conferring with Jesus on numerous occasions. The other Apostles all walked and learned from Jesus before His crucifixion. Paul is the only person that I am aware of listed in the Bible referred to as an Apostle that was not present during any of His parables or teachings.

    Also, doesn’t the Bible consistently refer to the number of actual Apostles as twelve. Jesus states in Matthew 19:28, “you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, . . .” And Revelations 21:14 says, “Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” If Matthias was cast lots upon by the remaining eleven Apostles after Jesus’ death to replace Judas as the twelfth Apostle, then how is Paul also referred by this high distinction? Especially since Matthias was present with Christ throughout His journeys and teachings.

    The more I study and research the more I find myself questioning certain aspects of what I am reading, how it was and is translated to me, and how it either instructs/reinforces/contradicts what I believe and have been taught as a Christian. I am emphatically a Christ follower, but I also know how messed up the Apostles were at times and how Jesus often needed to teach/remind them of the love and acceptance provided by our Father through Him. I also know that there were several false teachers and prophets during this time that claimed the Word of God but were not fully aware or understanding of Christ’s complete message.

    Please trust that I am NOT calling Paul a false prophet. I am only seeking some clarity around this issue. I think it important to have a comfortable understanding about Paul since he is the overwhelming majority writer of books in the New Testament and the main advisory voice, aside from Jesus Himself, on how to or not to be and act as a Christian despite never speaking to Jesus in His earthly flesh.

    Any and all help will be greatly appreciated.

  6. Well, I believe that Jesus did appoint Paul as an apostle, but Jesus’ appointment appears not to be required. Remember, in Acts, Matthias was chosen to replace Judas as an apostle…I think what’s important, and this is my own opinion, in any ordination, is the laying on of hands by one appointed to do so. That’s where the Catholic Church’s doctrine of apostolic succession comes in. Paul was appointed, chosen, by Christ, but ordained by Peter and the other apostles. Let me know if that helps or not.

  7. Terry,

    I belive that an apostle is catagorized in two ways. First, an apostle is a special witness of the resurection of Christ. Paul was a witness of the resurected Lord. He did in fact see Him and knew for a fact that Jesus did in fact have a resurected body. As an eye witness, his testimony was born with much power to everyone he spoke with.

    Second, a follower or desiple of Jesus becomes an apostle only if they are selected by revelation and then must be given authority by the laying on of hands by those who already posess the authoroty to act in the name of God on earth, to bind in heaven that which he binds on earth, that it may be of effect after the death of the mortal body.

    I believe that Paul was given authority when the right hand of “partnership” was extended to himself and Barnabas. Partnership in what? Partnership in holding the authority. Eventhough it doesn’t say that they laid hands on him, the verse in Galations 2 is good enough for me. The reason it is good enough for me is because of the word Partnership. It is important in my estimation as it is the same type of language used by Peter when he rebuked Simon for trying to buy the authority. Peter said, “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: For your heart is not right in the sight of God.” Simon was not given part in “this matter.” What matter were they referencing? Being able to use the authority of Jesus to bind in heaven and earth. Simon was not given any authority or a part in the ministery. Paul was given part in this matter.

    Your question about the twelve I think should be viewed in light of the verse in Romans 11:13 when Paul distinguishes himself as being “the apostle of the Gentiles” and references his office or apointment by the apostles to that office, to be a special witness to the Gentiles while the twelve concentrated more on the Jews or the circumcision. It should also be considered that in the vision where the Lord apeared to Ananias he declared that, “he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.” But he mentions the Gentiles and kings first. While Peter and the other apostels were better suited to deal with the Jews, it seems to me that Paul had a hard time dealing with the Jews. Paul tells the Jews that he has done all he can, that their blood in on their own heads not his, and that he is fed up with the Jews and from now on he will preach only to the Gentiles.(Acts 18:6). Paul had a gift for preaching to the Gentiles.

    Acts 14:14
    It is clear to me that while not part of the Twelve, Paul and Barnabas were regarded as Aposles to the Gentiles and were given authority to act with the same authority as members of the twelve, by the counsil of the twelve. They had apastolic authority but were not members of the Twelve.

  8. So many Catholics are so mislead, religion does not get you to heaven, what’s important is your relationship with Jesus!

  9. Many people, in general, are mislead. You’re right, religion doesn’t get one into heaven. Religion is a faith system. What gets you into heaven is your belief in God, and, as you say, your relationship with Jesus. What Catholics don’t realize is that they have the most intimate relationship with Jesus…they consume him in the Eucharst. But it’s just bread to many, which is sad…

  10. Jesus has more authority than the apostles to make Paul an apostle. That is what he did on the road in Damascus. If Jesus thought the laying of hands on was necessary I am sure he would have said so to Paul or the others but he did not. That is the problem with the Catholic especially and many other churches. They have placed themselves as if they are gods on earth and that their words over ride the words of the almighty himself who still lives. What right do they do this? Because an apostle started the church? Doesn’t matter. We have lost sight who we worship it is not the church or man-made rules of edict. We worship the living Lord who no longer hangs on the cross but resides in glory. His Holy Spirit sent to guide us here on earth not the church! If Jesus appoints you to anything then there is no need for anyone to edify that not even the Pope himself! Beware of who you really worship and do not lead people astray to worship false idols or people dressed in finery. When the true Lord lives and if you don’t believe in him then your casting your pearls to the pigs. He is all you need to make it to heaven John 3:16

  11. Thanks for your thoughtful response, Loretta.

    Christ ordained the apostles by teaching them and laying on hands. Then he gave them the authority to teach and lay on hands. On the road to Damascus, Jesus converted Paul, and Paul spent many years being taught, in the desert, and everywhere he went. My theory is that it wasn’t official until hands were laid upon him. The same way, a seminarian spends many years in formation before becoming a priest. But up until the time of laying on of hands by the bishop, that priesthood is not his.
    Paul himself mentions laying on of hands being a requirement a couple of times in the pastoral letters to Timothy, so Paul himself must have been taught this.
    Catholics hierarchy are not gods on earth. They, the bishops, are representatives of God, having been granted authority by Christ Himself.
    Without the cross, there is no resurrection.
    The Holy Spirit is the one who actually ordains priests, bishops, and chooses one to be the head of Christ’s Church.
    Beware, yourself, of judging who or what we worship. Worship is due to God alone. If you think we don’t know that, you’re kidding yourself.

  12. As I said before David. John 3:16 it is as simple and as complicated as that. A personal relationship with Christ I’ve seen his miracles before my very eyes. I have never confessed my sins to a priest yet I know I have been forgiven by Christ himself. Yet still I would never venture to say as you have in other posts that because of my RELIGION I have more of a chance to go to heaven than you do. And anyone who is being called by the Lord to do his work and waits around for approval from other humans before they follow the Lords calling is definitely kidding themselves in thinking they are doing right. People will lead you astray from what God wants and Satan will use people to do it. Christ said leave everything behind and follow him…….God bless you David

  13. 1.Ya know, I experience Christ’s miracles every minute of every day.
    2.If you believe that confession is required for God to forgive our sins, you’re sorely mistaken. Confession is considered a sacrament of healing. It’s for the penitent, not for God.
    3. Can you point me to a post where I said it’s because of my religion that I’m saved? Or that I, as a Catholic, have more chance to go to heaven because I’m Catholic? Honestly, if I’ve said that, and you can prove it, I’ll take the post down or retract that statement.
    4. Who must wait for approval before they follow God’s calling? Priests? That’s not the purpose of ordination. Also, it’s not “people” that ordain a priest or a deacon. It’s the Holy Spirit that does that, and He never leads us astray.

  14. Wow, no apology necessary. Can’t we all Love Jesus and not get too caught up in that church thing?

  15. Thank u for the clear answer. I will refer to your site when I get stuck in “ the Jeff Cravens bible time time study. Do u have an app?

  16. Paul makes it clear in Galatians 1:1 that he is an apostle, “not from man or through men” but through Jesus Christ. His point is that he was not appointed by men, the disciples. What, after all, is an apostle? It is one who has seen the resurrected Christ (as Paul did on the road to Damascus) and who has been given a commission by Christ. That’s how the disciples became apostles, and that’s how Paul became an apostle, not by being appointed by the other apostles.
    Only a vision of the resurrection could make one an apostle — which is why Mary Magdalene is often called “the apostle to the apostles,” for she was the first person to have a vision of the resurrected Lord, and was told by him to tell the disciples.
    Paul’s whole point in the opening of Galatians is that he is not appointed by men. If he was appointed by the disciples, then he is subordinate to them. But he is arguing with those who knew Jesus during Jesus’ lifetime. In order to be on an equal footing with Peter, James, and John (Gal. 2:9) he must establish his independence from them in order to demonstrate that his authority is equal to theirs. He’s not a priest arguing with his bishop, he’s an apostle arguing with equals. That’s why he was preaching long before he even bothered to meet the disciples. He believed he didn’t need their approval. His apostleship came directly from God, “who was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles….” (Gal. 1:16).

  17. Hi, Mark. Thanks for contributing, and sorry I didn’t reply sooner. When Paul wrote Galatians, he was an apostle, for sure. But when did he become an apostle? The part of Galatians I’m referring to is the first part, where he recounts his journey thus far. And certainly, Jesus commissioned Paul. But here’s the thing: In Acts, when the apostles asked the Holy Spirit to choose a replacement for Judas, the Holy Spirit chose Matthias, and he became an apostle by the laying on of hands, the same way priests and bishops have hands laid on today. So it is my interpretation, and I don’t know anyone else who’s thought this, that Paul became ‘officially’ an apostle when he went to the other apostles and related what he was teaching, and they laid hands on him.

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