Was Paul Arrogant?

There are multiple times in his epistles where Paul writes about ‘my gospel’ or ‘our gospel’ or ‘the gospel I preached unto you’ (Rom 16:25, 2 Cor 4:3, 1 Cor 15:1). As a result, many describe Paul as being either overly ambitious or arrogant. Paul even goes as far as to magnify his office:

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

Later, Paul tells the Corinthians to follow him as their doctrinal authority! What a seemingly arrogant statement when there were already the twelve apostles who had been with Christ ‘since the beginning’, and by whom was taught that there was a more ‘sure word of prophecy’ (2 Peter 1:19).

“Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.” – 1 Cor 4:16

“Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” – 1 Cor 11:1

Is this arrogance or is this language authorized by God?

Paul’s authority

The Scripture tells us that Paul may have had good reason to use such authoritative language. It was not because he was arrogant, but that he received a special revelation and authority from the Lord. Paul was the dispenser of a new message from God!
“For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me. “ – 1 Corinthians 9:17

“But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” – Galatians 1:11-12

“If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:” – Ephesians 3:2

As the dispenser of a new message and gospel, Paul was correct to assume authority over his audience. Much like Moses was the dispenser of the law, and all of Israel followed the ‘law of Moses’ (Josh 23:6), Paul is the dispenser of the grace of God for us today (Eph 3:2).

As a result Paul could boldly claim to preach ‘my gospel’ because it was ‘kept secret since the world began’ until revealed to him by Christ (Romans 16:25).

Paul’s competition

As Paul was facing competition from ‘vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision’, Paul charged his hearers to teach ‘no other doctrine’ other than what he taught (Titus 1:10, 1 Tim 1:3)!

Paul’s message of grace through the free justification by faith in Jesus was in opposition to the message of the Circumcision who were teaching the covenant law for righteousness (Gal 2:7-8, 1 Tim 1:7, Gal 4:21). Having the sole responsibility to dispense this ‘hidden wisdom’ to every creature, Paul had every reason to be authoritative and forceful in his charge (1 Cor 2:7-8, Col 1:23).

“For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed:” – 2 Cor 10:8

“But we will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure of the rule which God hath distributed to us, a measure to reach even unto you.” – 2 Cor 10:13

Paul’s humility

Paul was ambitious, bold, and even boastful in his God-given authority and position as the dispenser of Grace, but it would be imperceptive to relegate his special apostleship to an arrogant personality. Whenever he speaks of himself apart from his position, Paul exhibits the utmost humility.

“This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” – 1 Tim 1:15

He calls himself the least of all saints in Ephesians:

“Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; ” – Ephesians 3:8

Understanding the importance of his ministry and office we can understand why Paul says of his authority:

“For I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles.” – 2 Cor 11:5

However, in reference to his personal qualifications he states:

“For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” – 1 Cor 15:9

This dual representation is either evidence of Paul’s schizophrenia or of someone who was given an immense responsibility beyond their qualifications – such as being the apostle of the Gentiles. This spiritual humility in light of his immense responsibility, should be considered before we diminish the importance of his apostolic authority to personal arrogance.

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Published: Thursday, May 4th, 2006
Last Modified: April 1, 2016