Was Paul A Missionary?

Justin Johnson

On most maps recording Paul’s travels you will find the title, “Paul’s Missionary Journeys.”

Most people think Paul was merely a missionary, but was he?

Since Paul traveled to foreign countries, preaching the gospel, and starting churches this title seems to be appropriate. That is, until you consider the implications.

Paul’s Gospel

For example, a missionary is not someone with a new message, but someone spreading an already existing message to other peoples and places.

However, Paul did have something new, a dispensation of the gospel was committed unto him (1 Cor 9:17).

He emphasizes to the Galatians that he did not receive his gospel from man, nor was he taught it (Gal 1:11-12). He received it by revelation of Jesus Christ.

A missionary might say, “here is the message my church preaches back home,” or “here is what the saints have been preaching for years.”

If you hear a missionary say, “I did not receive this nor was I taught it”, it is clear that he is starting a new thing, and he is not doing missionary work, he is laying a new foundation claiming new revelation.

Paul’s “Home”

A missionary is typically one sent out to foreign places from a home location. Where was Paul’s “home”? Where did he come from?

You might think Antioch, and that would be the best answer since Paul was sent by the Holy Ghost from Antioch to go on his first journey (Acts 13:1-3). Paul often returned back to Antioch throughout his ministry (Acts 14:26).

However, there are a few things to know about Antioch.

  1. Antioch was a Gentile city, not a city of Israel. It was already a city of the nations (Acts 11:19-20).
  2. Paul helped establish the church in Antioch along with Barnabas (Acts 11:25-26). The kingdom saints that arrived first preached to Jews only, and when some others ministered to Grecians, Barnabas was sent. Barnabas sought Paul’s help precisely because Paul had been given the commission to go to Gentiles and was dwelling in Gentile Tarsus.
  3. When Peter came to Antioch, Paul defended the Gentile ministry against Peter “who was to be blamed” (Gal 2:11).
  4. The Antiochan church was not under the law as was the church in Jerusalem, but was under grace. Paul fought for this position under grace and it was acknowledged both in Antioch and in Jerusalem (Acts 15:26-29).

One thing is certain, Paul’s ministry did not begin in Jerusalem nor did it come out of the church in Jerusalem. It began among the Gentiles.

Paul was the first apostle called outside of Israel. His journeys launched from the Jew-Gentile church in Antioch, which he helped establish according to what Christ revealed to him.

Ever since the first day of Paul’s conversion we find him in Gentile nations. Though he was a Jew, Gentile nations were not foreign to this Tarsus born Roman citizen (Acts 21:39; Acts 22:25).

Paul’s Apostleship

Not once in the Bible is Paul called a missionary. Many times you see him called an apostle. He had more than just a mission, he had an apostleship.

Christ sent him to be the first to establish the church among the Gentiles according to the revelation of the mystery. This is the work of an apostle.

Calling Paul a missionary implies that his message and ministry was an extension of what began at Pentecost in Jerusalem. This is not the reality.

His work was not a ministry extension of that in Jerusalem, but was something new among the Gentiles (Acts 22:21; Rom 15:16; Gal 2:2; Eph 3:8; Col 1:27).

He was given the dispensation of the grace of God toward Gentiles and told not to go to Jerusalem (Eph 3:1-2; Acts 22:18).

When Paul was traveling he was not doing mere missionary work as is implied by calling his travels “missionary journeys”. He is doing apostolic foundation laying work for the body of Christ.

The one body of Christ made of Jew and Gentile did not begin in Jerusalem; it began outside Israel among the nations. The apostle Paul was laying that foundation.

“For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:” – Romans 11:13

The Twelve apostles were the apostles of the twelve tribes. Paul was the apostle to the Corinthians, Galatians, Romans, Philippians, and Ephesians.

Instead of “Paul’s Missionary Journeys”, the maps in your Bible would be more clear to say, “Paul’s Apostolic Journeys.”

“According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.” – 1 Corinthians 3:10

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Published: June 10, 2017
Last Modified: September 18, 2019
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