Christ’s Resurrection and Paul’s Apostolic Authority

“Paul, an apostle.” The Epistle to the Galatians unveils, more than any other writing, the Apostle Paul’s understanding of his own calling and commission. Augustine mines Paul’s salutation for theological sustenance. In particular, he meditates on the ramifications of the apostle being not from human beings (non ab hominibus) nor through a human being (non per hominem). He exploits the difference between the Latin “ab,” indicating ultimate source, and “per,” indicating instrumentality. He is right to make this distinction, as the Latin reflects the Greek απο and δια.

Anyone sent from human beings is untruthful. Someone sent through a human being may be truthful, because God who is truthful may send through a human being. Therefore someone sent neither from human beings nor through a human being but through God is truthful because of him who makes truthful even those sent through a human being. Thus the earlier apostles, who were sent not from human beings but by God through a human being—that is, through Jesus Christ while he was still mortal—were truthful. And the last apostle, who was sent by Jesus Christ now wholly God after his resurrection, is also truthful. The earlier apostles are those sent by Christ while he was still in part a human being, that is, mortal; the last is the apostle Paul, sent by Christ now wholly God, that is, immortal in every respect. The authority of Paul’s witness should therefore be regarded as equal to theirs, since the glorification of the Lord compensated for any lack of honour attributable to the lateness of his commission. For this reason when he said, and God the Father, he added, who raised him from the dead, so as to state, if only briefly, that he was sent by the Glorified One.

Referring to Jesus as “still in part a human being” and “now wholly God” is alarming. However, Augustine doesn’t seem to intend anything by this except a distinction between Christ’s mortal human nature and his post-resurrection immortal nature.  “Mortal” and “divine”  are routinely contrasted in the Fathers. More interesting is the issue of Paul’s late calling. If Augustine is correct, Paul was executing an aikido throw, employing his opponent’s own momentum to disarm them.

Some Galatians might assume that the first apostles would rank higher than any subsequent apostles, just as some contemporary theologians rank the early Fathers higher than subsequent doctors of the Church. Perhaps later apostles would even derive their authority from earlier ones. However, Paul leverages his late apostolic status to his advantage by pointing out its source. Whereas the other apostles were commissioned during Christ’s period of humiliation, in which he took the form of a servant, Paul alone was appointed directly by the risen Christ, in the form of God.

Though neither Paul nor Augustine explicitly reference the Great Commission, it is there that the risen Christ declares that “all authority” (εξουσια) is given to him. We might read between both Augustine’s and Paul’s statements that, if push came to shove, a delegate of the risen Christ might be even more authoritative than the appointees of the mortal Jesus. In any case, Paul’s installation directly by Christ rules out any possibility of inferior status.

Published in: on June 21, 2011 at 2:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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