Today, I will be addressing a recently proposed question concerning Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Church. Let me begin however, to remind you [and some do not know] that 1 Corinthians was not Paul’s first letter to the church there. We know this because Paul himself, in 1 Corinthians, refers to his previous letter, (1 Cor 5:9). Unfortunately, we do not have a copy of this first letter which Paul wrote.
Now, the question, posed is, “Paul uses the wording ‘called to be an apostle.’ [In] 2 Corinthians 1:1 he uses the wording ‘an apostle.’ Same in Galatians 1:1, and Ephesians 1:1, and Colossians 1:1. What happened between 1 & 2 Corinthians that gave him the confidence booster to be an apostle? Not just ‘called to be.’”
Quite honestly, even as one specializing in Paul’s writings, I had never given any thought to this difference in salutations. That said, it is an excellent question.
Let me point out that this is not the only time Paul used this term, “called to be an apostle.” The term is also used in his salutation to the church in Rome, (Rom 1:1). Also make note that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians while staying in Ephesus between AD 51-52, about three years before writing 2 Corinthians.
Although Paul faced much opposition and questioning of his apostolic authority from Corinth, this opposition did not come from within the church.
Paul established the church in Corinth but was forced to withdraw and take up residence in Ephesus. It was while in Ephesus that the church in Corinth first wrote to the apostle out of concerns of division among church members.
There are some who believe that Paul’s writing of 1 Corinthians is about apologetics, about defending his authority over the church in Corinth, but that is far from the case. Paul’s writing here, is done in a more didactic manner, that is, he is writing to correct some errors occurring within the church; as a teacher correcting students.
In a number of bible translations, the verb, “to be” is given in italics. Also, in some you will find the word “as” in italics as well. This means “to be” and “as” are not in original manuscripts. It should read simply, “Paul called an apostle.”
You will find throughout Paul’s writings that he went to great lengths to distinguish himself and his calling from that of the other apostles. And this is what he was doing. He was not doing this in an “I’m better than they” attitude.
Paul’s intention was simply to convey the type of apostle he was. It was well known that the “apostles” were men who personally knew Jesus, who lived with and shared meals with him, and who were direct witnesses of his resurrection.
Paul shared none of these apostolic attributes, but rather, he was “called an apostle” by Christ Jesus Himself. Paul had a different encounter with Jesus than did the known apostles. While the apostles had spent intimate years with Jesus, Paul had never known him in His earthly life.
Now, as an obvious third party from without looking in, I must ask myself which of the two experiences I would have preferred (if given a choice). And I am honestly torn between the two.
As I said, the apostles spent years living and traveling with Christ. God had given them the privilege of personally witnessing the physical resurrection (which later became a requirement to be called an apostle) of Christ as well as His physical ascension up to Heaven.
On the other hand, Paul experienced Christ Jesus through a spiritual revelation up into the third Heaven, (possibly even coming face-to-face with God Himself), (2 Cor 12:2), of which he was never allowed to speak certain things, the things he had seen and heard.
Although we understand that Paul is not permitted to say these things, we are never told in the bible that he “forgot” these things. Again, I would be torn between the two if a choice had been presented. But Paul and the apostles were not given this choice and Paul experienced Christ Jesus along the “road to Damascus.”
Keep in mind that Paul’s encounter with Jesus was not a “Hey Saul, how are you doing?” moment; in other words, it was not a “Hallmark” moment. It was probably many times worse than you or I being called to the Principal’s office at school.
Next, Paul was not taught the gospel by the physical Christ. Paul had gone away and was given his instruction by the “risen Christ,” likely through the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, Paul’s story begins with being called by God through Christ to be an apostle. Paul was made an apostle by “the will of God,” (1 Cor 1:1 and Col 1:1), not by any other means.
So once again, Paul is not pressing his apostolic authority or even exhibiting a higher level of confidence, but rather distinguishing himself and his apostleship from that of the others. It is in this light we now understand what Paul was doing.
Now, why didn’t Paul use the same term in writing to the church; 2 Corinthians? Remember, 2 Corinthians was written up to three years after 1 Corinthians and I am confident that many communications between Paul and the church in Corinthians had occurred between these two major writings.
As much as Paul’s writings are similar in many ways, I have no problem with his choice of words in his salutations to churches he established and came to know well over the years.
In answer to this great question, No. There is no change in the level of confidence with which Paul writes. His salutation (greeting) has nothing to do with the level of his confidence. By the time Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, they have probably already become well versed in how he came to be an apostle.
And in the end, this letter to the Corinthian church had little to do with apologetics and defending himself. His letter is about Christ Jesus and the need for the centrality of Christ in the church as well as addressing the inquires made to him by those in the church.
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