We do a disservice to the term, “apostle,” by overwhelmingly embracing Paul to the point of diminishing any and every other apostle. Even though Luke’s writings provide us the best and most complete picture of “apostle” as a person, all apostles are not like Paul. And, our overwhelming embrace of Paul as the master model deforms “apostle” in its many, varied interpretations in the personalities, assignments, lifestyles, communication modes, and spiritual revelations of other authentic apostles.
No Scripture leaves us with the impression that Paul provides us the highest, best, fullest, or most appropriate apostolic model; even if it did, it would still be a model, not a mold. Leaving the impression or perception that Paul is the highest or “bestests” apostle sets a false standard for measuring apostle authenticity. We set check lists for authenticity, usually entitled “signs of an apostle,” in this false impression.
Since Luke provides the most complete insight into apostolic personality, power, and production, we may fall prey to the false impression that Paul represents some type of “final product” or “highest form” in apostolic ministry. He does not, for several obvious and practical reasons; in fact, Paul makes it clear that his uniqueness isn’t a standard by which to measure, that he has taken upon himself forms of ministry that are not essential or even practical for all apostles. He has no wife. He volunteers for financial function inconsistent with apostolic support. He moves on when others would be prone to stay because of his personal and specific assignment to stand before kings and finish his shortened apostolic witness in Rome.
These aren’t “signs of the apostle” that apply to every apostle, nor should the sum total of Paul’s apostolic style become the only, or even the highest, measurement of “an apostle.” At least, we have no such presupposition from Scripture or the words of Jesus.
John remains alive during Paul’s apostolic life and extends his ministry beyond Paul’s apostolic leadership. John’s apostolic life and leadership certainly does not diminish being around Paul or following up in Ephesus upon Paul’s prior apostolic founding in that strategic city and region. John could be Jesus’ favorite in many regards, and he could become our choice for “highest” and “best” if we had the same volume of historic narrative as Paul is given through Luke. (Certainly by the assignment and decision of Holy Spirit, of course, but not as a revelation, “God wanted to emphasize Paul at the expense of any other apostle.)
Perhaps we point all our indicators toward Paul simply because he is the star of the show in Acts and Holy Spirit gave us more of his writings in New Testament canon. Nothing I’m saying diminishes that, but my point remains valid, I think, that Holy Spirit never says, “You should all look at Paul at the expense of every other example when you paint a portrait of ‘apostle.'”
Let me say this: Paul isn’t perfect. Discussion of his methods and manner could be filled with “Paul made a mistake there” in Acts where Luke records history without making comments as to the perfection of Pauline leadership dynamics. Many discuss Paul and Barnabas in conflict over John Mark in this context: “Paul got in the flesh when he should have been more kind.” Similarly, other says, “Barnabas was too merciful by nature and disappears because he was in error,” with some measure of “Paul is the standard of proper leadership” mixed into that conclusion. (I would still maintain that neither position clarifies what happened in this instance; that neither viewpoint tell us if Paul was right or wrong, in other words.)
Implications for Pauline Exaggeration
Once we step back from a Pauline standard of measurement for apostolic leadership, we open the discussion to allow for broader application of apostolic ministry to all the dispositional types, callings, Providential pathways, and gift mixes that mark other apostles. We may apply some of the cold compresses to fevered insistence upon “signs of an apostle” from an overt Pauline exaggeration. That is, not every apostle can be recognized by comparison to Paul’s leadership, life, and lifestyle.
Take for example the insistence that apostles travel around establishing churches and opening new territories as one of the check list criteria. Does this apply to John or Simon Peter? And, if not, does this mean they weren’t apostles? Or, does that mean Paul matured the apostolic past the first twelve in some way because he was an apostle to the nations instead of Israel? (John isn’t characterized by “apostle to Jews” as Simon Peter, so he cannot be measured in this way.)
By “Pauline Exaggeration” I mean the subtle jump to conclusion that comes when we assume Paul to be the highest or best example of apostle based upon the sheer volume of New Testament exposure given to his life and ministry. While we certainly cannot ignore God’s strategic decision to include this in Scripture, we must also halt ourselves before jumping off the cliff of presumption about His intentions. And, we certainly cannot arrive at the foot of drop off with “we should ignore all other apostolic models since Paul has become the only portrait left in the “Hall of Apostles.”
We have to step back, take a deep breath, and discuss how what we learn from Scripture about John, Simon Peter, Barnabas, James of Jerusalem, young apostle Timothy, and other apostles, with strong emphasis upon the apostolic training of the Twelve to include Matthew and (gasp) Judas.
When we write the “How to Train an Apostle” manual or the “Apostolic Ministry for Dummies” volume, we need to answer to God’s creative purposes in the disposition, calling, charismatic gifting, and Providential pathway of preparation for authentic apostles.