Vol. 19 New Series October, 1957 No. 5
THE APOSTLE PAUL'S COMMISSION

Mistakes and slips of the pen are notoriously easy to make; and we should always regard them with a lenient eye, provided that those who make them show willingness to correct them when they are pointed out.

On Page 65 of our April issue a remark was made which, unless clarified, might appear to be one; so therefore it should be amplified. It was about "the fact that after the commission of Paul and the start of his ministry there is no record of any independent ministry of the Twelve or of any evangelism by them." It should have been made clear that the unlocking of the Kingdom to the Gentiles by the Apostle Peter was carried out "after the commission of Paul" as Saul, but not "after the start of his ministry" as Paul; though the statement is correct with the two coupled together as they are. It is very unlikely that anyone has been misled by this, and there would hardly be any need to mention it but for the circumstance that it raises an interesting question.

Why was Saul converted and given in full the commission which he was, as Paul, to undertake for the Gentiles, before Peter had unlocked the Kingdom to the Gentiles, and even before Peter was sent for by Cornelius or had completed his ministry of miracles?

Perhaps we area little inclined to overlook Paul's own account in Galatians of what happened after his conversion when, to use his own words: "God calls me through His grace, to unveil His Son in me, that I may be evangelizing Him among the Gentiles" (Gal. 1:15, 16). Paul adds, "Immediately, I did not submit myself to flesh and blood, neither came I up to Jerusalem, toward those who were apostles before me, but I came away into Arabia; and again I return unto Damascus."

Conybeare and Howson (The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, p. 93) so read Acts 26:19, 20 as to mean that Paul "straightway preached in the synagogues" in Damascus; but this is not what Luke actually writes: "I did not become unyielding to the heavenly vision; but, both to those in Damascus—first—besides in Jerusalem also, besides the entire province of Judea, and to the Gentiles, I reported that they should be repenting and turning back on God, practising works worthy of their repentance." Putting the two accounts together, we get the conclusion that Paul's first active ministry was in Damascus, but that was preceded by a period of quiet preparation in Arabia.

This conclusion does not appear, at first sight, to be consistent with what is said in Acts 9:19-22. The apparent difficulty disappears, however, when we see that this is confined to a testimony that Jesus is the Son of God and not the fuller Damascus ministry detailed in Acts 26:19, 20. The considerable number of days" in Acts 9:23 cover most of the three years, including the period in Arabia.

Conybeare and Howson speak of "Saul in Arabia, preaching the Gospel in obscurity, or preparing for his varied work by the intuition of Sacred Truth" (p. 95); but we may take it as quite certain that the former of these two ideas of theirs is untenable. They also suggest that Petra might have been the location of Saul's sojourn; but that is, again, mere speculation. The only other mention of Arabia in the Greek Scriptures is in Gal. 4:25: "Mount Sinai in Arabia." It is therefore only reasonable to suppose that Saul retired there—a most suitable spot in view of past history in the Hebrew Scriptures. At the very place where the Law was given, Saul learnt what Paul was to proclaim—the full function and purpose of it. Lightfoot mentions other interpretations but rightly presses this one. He says :—"For if we suppose that the Apostle at this critical moment betook himself to the Sinaitic peninsula, the scene of the giving of the law, then his visit to Arabia becomes full of meaning. He was attracted thither by a spirit akin to that which formerly had driven Elijah to the same region." (1. Kings 19:8-18).

Then, after the second Damascus visit, comes the first visit to Jerusalem. We should read Acts 9:26-30 and Gal. 1:18-24 together. It is very evident from them that the Apostles there were represented by Peter and James only and that, if viewed as an attempt to join forces with the Twelve, the effort of Barnabas was a failure. Such a view is, therefore, incorrect; and in any case contrary to the whole tenor of the account; so we can take it that the primary purposes to acquaint Peter with Saul's commission and intentions and to get in touch with the Hellenists, was fulfilled. Reading through the two accounts casually, they must appear rather pointless. Only when one looks into them does their significance emerge. Then it is seen that the interview of Saul and Peter precipitated a crisis. Saul was, for the time being, got out of the way to Tarsus until Barnabas led him to Antioch (Acts 11:26); apart that is, from the visit of the two to Jerusalem as delegates and their return (11:30 and 12:25); and Peter once more comes into the foreground. Except for the above-mentioned references to Saul, the account from Acts 9:32 to 12:17 is filled by Peter; and except for the controversy about circumcision, that is the last we hear of him in the history.

It cannot be without significance that this 15-day visit of Saul to Peter was immediately followed by the latter's completion of his commission to unlock the Kingdom. There can be very little doubt that there must have been long and anxious discussion between the two men during this visit. Something must have occurred to induce Peter to make his strange and unexplained visit to Lydda. There is no obvious reason for it in the way Saul was treated during those 15 days; but the last verse in the account in Acts 22:17-21 gives the clue. It was at this point of time, in this vision, that the order to begin his active service as delegate to the Gentiles was given to Saul who was to become Paul. Is it, then, surprising that this point of crisis for Saul was promptly followed by immediate, and actually final, action on the part of Peter?

Just what it was that induced Peter's activity is not stated; but it is evident that God was directing his course, each act being a definite step towards the climax in unlocking the Kingdom to the Gentiles. There is in this a parallel between Paul and Peter. Each received his commission to the Gentiles intact; but for both there was a pause before the call to action came and to neither was it explained 'at the start what his commission involved.

In the light of all this we can see why the histories of these. two great apostles alternate in Acts 9 to 15 inclusive. They were to a considerable extent interdependent. Peter could not unlock the Kingdom to the Gentiles until the preparation of Paul, as Saul, was started. Saul could not start his active ministry as Paul until Peter had completed that unlocking which only he could accomplish. The partial and preliminary ministry of Saul, and the Kingdom ministry of Peter, opened the way to the ministry of Paul to the Gentiles.

Here arises an. important question. As Saul was converted and given his commission as Paul before Peter had unlocked the Kingdom to the Gentiles, and as this unlocking was what made possible any Kingdom ministry to the Gentiles at all, what had happened to make Paul's commission possible at so early a date?

Actually this question would be unlikely to arise if our minds were completely liberated from the notion of dispensational time-boundaries. In fact, for me it did not arise until my attention was drawn to Mr. Welch's reply to it. Part of the answer is that the account in Acts ought not to be viewed as a series of isolated events, but as a set interlocking together, as we have seen in this paper. Not only was Paul dependent on Peter's unlocking of the Kingdom, but Peter was dependent on Paul's readiness for action for his own important and critical step. Peter was not able to do more for the Gentiles than unlock the Kingdom to them; he could not well do so and leave them with the unlocking accomplished but with nobody commissioned to open the door. So Saul the Jew had to be called and commissioned first so that in due time he could as Paul the Gentile open the door of faith to the Gentiles.

Mr. Welch asks what had come in to make the difference, and answers, quite correctly, thus:—"One word, and one alone, viz., reconciliation fully answers the question, and one event of necessity preceded the vision of Joppa, and that was the vision on the road to Damascus." This might be queried on the ground that Acts does not mention reconciliation; but although this is true, it is beside the point; for though Acts relates history, and doctrine is only incidental; its doctrinal background is unalterable and does, in fact, determine the history. We were conciliated (or reconciled, if we follow Mr. Welch's rendering, for the question of how to translate this word is still an open one) through the death of God's Son (Rom. 5:10). Everything which has followed the death of God's Son has therefore been determined by the 'conciliation' or 'reconciliation' which took place then; so it follows that the Acts history must be one of those things thus determined. Furthermore, Israel's casting-away and world-conciliation are linked together (Rom. 11:25); and Paul's commission implies and indeed depends on Israel's casting-away. This fact suffices by itself to dispose of the idea that it was necessary to wait for any other event than this, such as a further casting away at the end of Acts. Mr. Welch's statement is undoubtedly correct, and he goes on to reinforce it as follows:—"In other words, Paul is converted and commissioned before Peter is sent for by Cornelius. Paul's conversion is a dispensational mark of supreme importance." (The Apostle of the Reconciliation, p. 68).

Note this well; and particularly well the word commissioned. For elsewhere (in what is evidently intended as a crushing reply to my paper in our October, 1952, issue, on pp. 227-229, of which he quotes 6½ lines only) Mr. Welch writes:—

What can anyone think of a teacher who contradicts himself in such a way as this? And what, indeed, when in so doing he has the effrontery to accuse someone else of "an evident perversion of judgment?" Whose judgment is perverted here? It is an almost incredible exhibition of rashness and rudeness.

Mr. Welch talks immediately after this of "a future revelation and commission to the Apostle Paul," and he adds that "not a hint is given in Acts 9 of a subsequent visit by the Lord or about a subsequent commission." How right he is; for Acts is silent about any such thing! He seems to hint .that this took place at or just before Acts 26; but, characteristically, he keeps it all very vague. He does, however, .commit himself to the' following pronouncement:—"Only after Paul needed to be delivered from the' Gentiles' as well as from the people of Israel do the words apply' Unto whom now I send thee.' Where in Acts 9 did Paul need to be delivered from the Gentiles?"

Well, it does not take us very long to discover Paul in trouble with Gentiles. We have only to look at Acts 14, 16, 17 and 19.

Further on in the same paper he quotes the A.V. of Acts 26:15-17 and sets in special emphasis the final words "unto whom now I send thee," and he adds the following comment:—

All this resounding trumpeting is in the face of two unassailable facts: first, the weight of evidence is heavily against the 'now' as part of the original Greek text, and even the Companion Bible, which supports the "Acts 28:28 frontier" theory notes that it should be omitted—but, even ignoring that, second, this speech was something said by the Lord Jesus to Saul" going to Damascus with authority and permission of the chief priest"; that is, something which happened at the point of time covered by Acts 9:1-6 and years before his "standing before Agrippa."

Nobody could discredit this teacher more completely than he has himself managed to do here.

Except for a very few texts, the Greek here reads simply: "Unto whom I am commissioning you." In our issue for October, 1953 (Vol. 15, No.5, pp. 199, 200) this alleged "future revelation and commission to the Apostle Paul" was discussed; and the question was asked:—"Did Paul's commission to the Gentiles date from Acts 9 or from Acts 26?" As already noted, many years ago Mr. Welch's answer was, correctly, the former. Although, in trying to discredit me, he has brought forward a "new commission" which he appears to think was given in Acts 26; he has never yet substantiated his claim or answered my searching question. The truth is, he cannot. He knows perfectly well that the matters related in the portion of his speech covered by Acts 26:12-18 took place in the journey to Damascus related first in Acts 9 and not in a subsequent journey to Damascus.

NOTE. Since the foregoing was drafted my attention has been drawn to two points which arise from it. First, Gal. 4:25 reads: "Now the Hagar Sinai mountain is, in the Arabia." In accordance with Greek usage, the Definite Article can on occasion be read as pointing back to the previous occurrence of a word, so that we can read here: "Now that 'Hagar' Sinai mountain is, in that Arabia" i.e. the 'Arabia' mentioned in Gal. 1:17. This is not conclusive, but merely a suggestion. Second, the idea here mentioned of the time when "conciliation" commenced raises some problems. I would ask readers to leave this point in suspense 'until "it can be discussed fully.

R.B.W. Last updated 13.6.2006