“In discussing the Apostle Paul, the historian is dealing with a subject important for its own sake, even aside from the importance of what if presupposes about Jesus. Unquestionable, Paul was a notable man whose influence has been felt throughout all subsequent history. That influence has been exerted in two ways. It was exerted, in the first place, during the lifetime of Paul; and it has been exerted, in the second place, upon subsequent generations through the medium of the Pauline Epistles.” Dr. J. Gresham Machen
Beginning this study of the life, conversion, ministry and theology of the Apostle Paul, I became curious as to what were his most common statements when identifying himself? How did he view himself? What words did he most frequently use to summarize his life, ministry and theology following his conversion?
I began to read each of Paul’s Epistles in order to glean from his opening statements the answers I sought for the questions I had. What follows is what I discovered.
- “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.” (Romans 1:1).
- “Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus,” (I Corinthians 1:1).
- “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,” (2 Corinthians 1:1).
- “Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— “(Galatians 1:1).
- “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,” (Ephesians 1:1).
- “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 1:1).
- “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,” (Colossians 1:1).
- “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,” (1 Thessalonians 1:1).
- “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,” (2 Thessalonians 1:1).
- “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope,” (1 Timothy 1:1).
- “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus,” (2 Timothy 1:1).
- “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness,” (Titus 1:1)
- “Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,” (Philemon 1).
First, Paul’s most frequent self-identification is the word apostle. An apostle, from the Greek word ἀπόστολος; apostolos, means, in a general sense, a special messenger, an envoy, or an individual who is sent by someone to herald a message. This word is found in nine introductions of Paul’s 13 epistles.
However, the word apostle also refers to a select number of individuals who held the office of apostle. It was a select and restricted group, the exact number variously totaled (Matthew 10:2; Acts 1:2, 26; Acts 14:14; 1Corinthians 12:28, 29). It also should be noted that the office and responsibility of an apostle was sourced and originated from God alone.
It should be observed that both the office, and function, of apostle was obtained at the discretion of the individual. You did not apply or volunteer to be an apostle. God sovereignly called individuals to be an apostle. Paul frequently used the phrase “by the will or command of God” to properly convey the idea that the position and responsibility he had was not his own choice, but rather the LORD’s.
The second most frequent title Paul used in referring to himself was the word servant. In all occurrences (Romans 1:1; Galatians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1), the word for servant is the Greek word δοῦλος; doulos meaning a willing slave or bondservant. Like the word apostle, Paul referred to himself as a servant belonging solely to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The third and final designation was the word prisoner. A prisoner (δέσμιος; desmios) refers to one under arrest (Matthew 27:15; Mark 15:6; Acts 16:25; 23:18; 25:14; Ephesians 3:1; 4:1; 2Timothy 1:8; Philemon 1, 9). In Paul’s case. He was arrested by either the Roman of Jewish governments. His crime was for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
All three designations were used by Paul to communicate a humble servant who God called for a particular task and responsibility. Our perspective in serving the LORD should be the same. Let us seek to follow the example of the Apostle Paul, who followed the example of Jesus Christ.
Soli deo Gloria!