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Are Barnabas and Paul Apostles of Jesus Christ Because of Acts 14:4, 14?

Adam's Email December 24, 2010


In general, how do you look at the book of Acts (reliable historical witness, purposely skewed to paint Paul in a good light, or what?)?

And specifically, what do you think of Acts 14:14 where Luke uses the term “apostles” for Paul and Barnabas?  Why do you think Luke would have done this?



My Response December 24, 2010

Hi Adam

I think Luke tried to give a balanced -- two-sided view -- of Paul. He was not neutral -- he was a fan. But Luke gave the good with the bad. And thus Acts is suprisingly negative on Paul if you read it with care. See

For Paul to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, we need someone to hear this from Jesus Christ or the other apostles saying that is fact. The three vision accounts in Acts 9, 22 and 26 have Jesus Christ only saying Paul is a MARTUS (witness)--which I have no problem accepting--and does not say APOSTOLOS -- Greek for messenger.

Now as to 14:4, one must realize APOSTOLOS is an ordinary Greek word meaning 'messenger.' One has to see the context to decide whether Luke intended us to understand the title of Apostle of Jesus Christ or not. If of Jesus Christ, then Barnabas should also be regarded as an apostle of Jesus Christ. But the proof no one ever understood Acts 14:4 this way is that no one in early church ever made the claim that Barnabas was an "Apostle of Jesus Christ." We never hear of "Apostle Barnabas." As Melissa Cutler, a fan of Paul and Marcion, even admits:

"That verse (Acts 14:14) mentions 'the apostles Barnabas and Paul,' since Barnabas is not an apostle in the more specific sense of the word, even here the author is not acknowledging Paul’s status as an apostle." (Marcionite Scripture)

The reason is clear because in context, Paul and Barnabas are simply described in Acts 14:4 as messengers of the Antioch church on the issue of circumcision just as Barnabas is described.... They are apostles with a small letter 'a'---not a capital "A"--as Christian scholar Ben Witherington concedes in the quote below.

Here is my extended explanation of 14:4 from fn 6 of my book JWO:

Luke does describe Paul and Barnabas as messengers from the church at Antioch. In Acts 14:4 and 14, the Greek word for messenger is used for them,apostoli. However, as the Christian historian Ben Witherington explains: "The use of the term apostoli in [Acts] 14:4 and 14 seems to indicate that Paul and Barnabas are being viewed as agents/apostles of the Antioch church (cf. 2 Cor. 8:23), not apostles with a capital A." (Witherington, New Testament History (Baker Academic: 2001) at 229.)

In fact, the context clearly shows Paul was merely a messenger (apostolos) of the church of Antioch. Paul was not one of the apostoli of Jesus. Even if Luke had called Paul an apostle of Jesus, Luke does not attribute such title as coming from the twelve apostles, or from Jesus in any vision that Paul relates. Thus, it would have been Luke's remark alone. Luke never claims he himself is a prophet. Nor even if he was a prophet, we still lack the second witness. Nevertheless, Luke's meaning was apostoli with a small a. Paul was a messenger from Antioch. That's all. Regardless, I believe Luke was a friend of Paul's, as Paul himself states. But Luke never says he is reporting under inspiration...and in fact disavows that in Luke 1:1 which is part 1 with Acts as part 2 (see Acts 1:1). .... Luke went to witnesses, not the Holy Spirit for the account.... So here Luke is likely relying upon Paul and/or Barnabas for Acts 14:4, but we know of no other. But in the Law, and Jesus's words, a self-witness is not sufficient.  

Furthermore, Barnabas did not understand himself to be an apostle, and he knew that there were only 12. Barnabas in his Epistle which was never canonised because Barnabas is not an official apostle wrote:  
"[The Apostles] to whom he gave the power of the Gospel to preach; and there are twelve as a testimony to the tribes, because there are twelve tribes of Israel." (Epistle of Barnabas8:3).
Blessings and Shalom

 See also our article Was Paul A True Apostle of Jesus Christ?