Q&A: Paul Greatest or Least of the Apostles?

Paul Greatest or Least of the Apostles?

Question

In 2 Corinthians 11:5 Paul claims to be the greatest of the apostles, but in 1 Corinthians 15:9 the least. How can he be both?

Answer

2 Corinthians 11:5-6 I do not think I am in the least inferior to those "super-apostles." I may indeed be untrained as a speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way.

1 Corinthians 15:9-10 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them - yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

In the 2 Corinthians passage Paul is referring to his knowledge and his ability to teach, but in the 1 Corinthians passage he looks back at his past sin of persecuting the church (Gal. 1:13; Acts 8:54-9:1-2). Paul is looking at himself from two different perspectives. Note, though, how the 1 Corinthians passage confirms (in part) the 2 Corinthians passage - "I worked harder than all of them - yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me."

Paul had a healthy, balanced view of who he was and who he became. This tension helps to keep one humble. We too should have a similar view of our own personal lives. How are we the greatest and the least of all Christians? Do we have an honest (biblical) assessment of who we were BEFORE Christ? AFTER coming to Christ, can each of us say with Paul, "I am working harder than everyone else - yet not I, but the grace of God that is with me?"

So, Paul was the greatest AND the least of the apostles. Both can be and were true.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).