In my study this morning I came across your Q/A about Paul (the apostle). You say that John does not mention him in Revelation.  John started the church in Ephesus and it was later “taken over” or “led” by Paul.   This led me to a quandry.  First, Paul would make the apostles number grow to 13.  Second, Paul is only directly mentioned by Luke, the author of the gospel of Luke and Acts.  Luke mentioned Paul in his Gospel and the book of Acts.  This brought me to the Book of Revelation that is attributed to John. Revelation speaks of 12 foundations of the church. not thirteen.  It also regards the number 13 as rebellion and lawlessness.  Surely, then, there cannot be 13 apostles.  Paul also talks about  “lawlessness” in his teachings, comparing salvation of those under the law and by works.  Do you think John was talking about Paul in Revelation 2:2?


I am afraid that you have an error or two here, in understanding the history of the early church and perhaps in understanding what I said.  I sincerely hope I do not offend you by pointing this out!  First of all, we can be sure that the apostle John did not start the church in Ephesus.  It was Paul who started the church and who spent much time there–about three years (Acts 19).  To be precise, Paul may not have actually founded this church because when he arrived, he found some disciples already there (Acts 19:1).   John did not arrive in Ephesus until probably at least the 70s AD, whereas Paul was there from about AD 54-57.   Paul is described as an apostle multiple times, both by himself and by others.   Peter seems to consider him an apostle in 2 Peter 3:14-16.  By the way, Peter’s mention of Paul shows your statement that he is only directly mentioned by Luke to be incorrect.  Also, your statement that Luke mentions Paul in his gospel is also incorrect.

I can see how you might be thrown off by the fact that, with Paul, there were arguably 13 rather than 12 apostles.    With the appointment of Matthias in Acts 1, the number of apostles returned to twelve, which is of great symbolic importance to the Jews for several reasons.  You are probably correct that John uses the twelve apostles metaphorically in the book of Revelation.  However, you should be aware that the word apostle is used in more than one sense in the New Testament.   The world apostle, literally, means messenger.  Paul refers to himself as an apostle “abnormally born.” (1 Corinthians 15:8).  Barnabas is referred to as an apostle. (Acts 14:14).   

I think that we would be well-advised to not get too caught up in the exact biblical definition of an apostle.   There is no doubt that Paul is identified as an apostle in the New Testament and that he was considered one by the primitive church, as we can see this from many early church writers.   Was Paul an apostle in exactly the same sense as “the twelve?”  Probably not.  Technically, he did not even meet all the qualifications listed in Acts 1:21-22.  He was not with Jesus during his entire ministry, although he did meet Jesus personally.   Because Paul was not an apostle in the technical sense of Acts 1, one can argue that there were the symbolically required twelve apostles, plus an apostle “abnormally born,” plus others who were given the title apostle/messenger, such as Barnabus who, as far as  we know, was never officially appointed as an apostle.  

Sorry, but I am afraid we are left with a somewhat confusing state of affairs!  The word apostle is used in more than one way in the New Testament, and we cannot absolutely define the term, biblically.

Here is the bottom line, as I see it.  All the books of the New Testament are inspired.  We have the authoritative Word of God at our disposal.  Luke was not an apostle, but his books are inspired.  James was not an apostle, but his book is inspired.  Paul was an apostle, but not one of “the twelve,” yet the books he wrote are inspired and Peter, an apostle confirms this.   To me, whether or not a particular individual was an “apostle” or not is not as relevant as whether what he taught is authoritative and inspired.  To me, this question is clear.  

Another point.  You say that the number 13 represents rebellion and lawlessness.   As far as I know, the idea that 13 is a number representing evil is not found in the Bible.   In Hebrew numerology, the number six does represent incompleteness, imperfection and, in some cases, evil.   However, like I said, the number 13 is not used in that way in the Near East.   The idea that the number 13 is unlucky or associated with evil comes from Western Europe, not the Near East.  The Egyptians  actually considered it a lucky number.  I believe you can dismiss the idea that Paul being a 13th apostle has any theological significance.  The Bible does not support this at all.   In any case, he is not a 13th apostle of the same kind.  Instead, he is an apostle of another kind.  It is more like twelve plus one than thirteen apostles.

What I can say with great confidence is that John does not have Paul in mind in Revelation 2:2 “[I know]that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not and have found them false.”  I know this for two reasons.  1. All the early church leaders, after the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) accepted Paul as an apostle, even if not as one of “the twelve”. All the early church fathers who wrote to the churches also agreed that Paul was a genuine apostle.  and  2. Paul had been dead for at least 15 if not 20 or 25 years when Revelation was written, so John would not be referring to him anyway.

John Oakes

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