Peter speaks of Paul’s wisdom as one that was given to him (2 Peter 3:15-16). Whether it was given to him by God or Christ or his own wisdom, it is not clarified. We know by reading from the scriptures that Paul had a wisdom. He understood the scriptures in a certain light, even in the light of Christ and was able to use natural things to explain spiritual things perfectly.
His ‘learnedness’ or knowledge was so high that it confused even some people in the faith who were nothing but illiterates. They couldn’t understand or absorb Paul’s teachings as he expected them to. He had many things to teach but because of their weakness of mind, he couldn’t teach many things which would have been helpful to us today.
There is this insinuation I see going on around in the scriptures, which seem to highlight the fact that the apostles had dissension but they did not blow it out so loud. However, the dissension cannot be overlooked as they helped shaped theology and the way in which doctrine was delivered. The dissension mainly was between the apostle Paul and the Twelve.
There is no doubt Paul knew the Gospel, as we see so many inferences of it in his epistles. According to Paul, he had or knew this Gospel by revelation from Jesus Christ and wasn’t taught it. Because of the dissension, he at some point called the Gospel of Jesus Christ his gospel, as though he laboured for it to be his own. There were points where even name-calling came into the scene of the scriptures, such as false gospel, false teachers, and so on. This affected the relationship between both parties.
Due to pride or high-mindedness, Paul didn’t even want to lay upon another man’s foundation because the Gospels which they preached was different. He didn’t want to contradict what the Twelve and their disciples were laying as the foundation. At least he believed that they were building the church but his was to the Gentiles.
When Peter spoke of Paul’s wisdom, he meant to say that Paul’s writings were not by inspiration but dogma. No wonder they were able to refute some of his treatise (views). The problem with Paul’s writings is that sometimes his views or personal opinions got in the way of Scripture. Compare these verses where there seem to be a blatant rebuke or reproof of Paul’s writings
- Romans 4:3-5 or Ephesians 2:8-9 and James 2:14-24
- 1 Corinthians 8:4-12 and Revelation 2:14-15
- 1 Corinthians 4:15-17 and Mathew 23:9
There is no disputing of Paul’s wisdom that he had a certain knowledge, and that knowledge is evident in his epistles, which to this date, sometimes I find difficult to understand. We all know that Paul’s understanding of the scriptures was because of his learnedness, which he claimed to be nothing. Though he says he did not preach with enticing words of man’s wisdom, we see sometimes in his epistles, some ‘excellency of speech’ that cannot be overlooked. We all know that it is one thing to say something and another thing doing it. His own words contradicted what he wanted. Was Paul then a liar? Maybe so (rf. 2 Corinthians 11:16).
There is somewhat some evidence that some thought Paul to be the thirteenth apostle or perhaps that he wanted to be the Twelfth Apostle. But rightly, Matthias was made the Twelfth Apostle to replace Judas Iscariot who fell away. Moreover, the title of the apostleship was only conferred on the Twelve (Luke 6:13-16). So asking, “Where did Paul get his apostleship from?” (cp. 1 Corinthians 9:2)
Paul laboured so much in order to rub shoulders with the Twelve so he would be accounted for as somewhat but all his labours were nothing before the eyes of his ‘co-equals’. We see rightly in Galatians 2 that Paul wanted to equate himself with the Twelve. In order to do this, he had to make their affiliation with Christ Jesus as nothing when it was all-important. Paul didn’t have regard for the Twelve, those whom Christ himself had chosen as his elect. Rather, because Christ had also called him all-spectacularly, he thought himself to be something equal with them or even above them.
Paul who strove so much did not even get to become the foundation of the church, neither was his name mentioned anywhere in the new heaven and earth. The Apostles, whose works are not even known except those who wrote epistles, have their names written on the twelve foundations of the kingdom (Revelation 21:14). As to what they did, we never know. What we know is that they laboured in secret and have been rewarded openly by the Father (Matthew 6:6). So we realize that it is not so much of faith or works but prayer- we will receive what we ask for (Matthew 7:8; cp. Matthew 20:20-24).
Paul who strove so much in Asia and Arabia, it seems he’s the one who was rather accursed (rf. Galatians 1:8-9). All his fruits in Christ have been turned to Islam, which is not a waste because some souls were saved (cp. 1 Corinthians 3:13-15). This teaches us that we ought to be careful with our words, what we say can have profound effect on us. When we think that we are doing something, we are actually doing nothing (cp. 1 Corinthians 10:12). It is God who judges righteously and knows/tests our hearts. We may say one thing with our mouths and convince hearers, but God tests our hearts to know our intentions.
I do not raise eyebrows against Paul’s words or deeds but the mere fact that his works was not even recognized by the Jesus Christ whom he laboured for or his apostles, how can we be so sure this man is called of God. All these could be because of what Christ said to him from the beginning of his ministry in Acts 9:15-16. It was to humble him for his over zealousness (cp. 2 Corinthians 12:7).
Paul was not without fault. In Revelation 2:14-15, we see that Jesus somewhat rebuked his teaching of eating foods offered to idols in 1 Corinthians 8. This does not mean Paul was apostate even though he called others apostate. What it means is that Christ loved him and didn’t want him in condemnation. If one error has been found in his epistles, can’t the rest be equally exposed? Nope, at best, we are to read his epistles side by side with the other epistles. At best, Paul’s letters isn’t self-sufficient and should be used as supplements to the Gospel. Like in medicine, supplements alone cannot sustain oneself unless it is used in conjunction with food, so are Paul’s epistles.
This article is not to downplay Paul’s apostleship but to address his some of his actions. We’re called by God but do not refer your special calling as better than others. We’re all called to work in the fold and will relate to other labourers, we just should not have fights with them whilst working. We’re to work together in unity, each on the portion that God has accorded him. We’re not to look on others’ works and compare it with ours, whether we did it well or that they’re doing theirs better. It’s God who calls us according to our ability though he equips us, and He’s the one who will judge whether we did our work faithfully. God bless you.