17 Sep What is Paul’s Place in History?
“Put the whole world on one side of the scale and you will see that the soul of Paul outweighs it.”
-John Chrysostom (349-407)
The Apostle Paul is a towering figure in world history. Martin Luther called him “the wisest man after Christ.”2 Luther went on to say of Paul, “We should rejoice and take comfort and also thank God, who has called such a glorious apostle, Paul, for us Gentiles and has sent him to us. Paul himself testifies to this mission in his letter to Timothy when he says (2 Tim. 1:11) that he is appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher of the Gentiles in the faith and the truth. Therefore the beloved Paul is our apostle, although all the other apostles are also ours; for all have together received one and the same doctrine from Christ and have taught it.”3
Bible scholar Paul Barnett calls Paul the “first theologian in the early church, and arguably the greatest in the history of Christianity.”4 Early church father John Chrysostom wrote of Paul, “Put the whole world on one side of the scale and you will see that the soul of Paul outweighs it.”5
In roughly a decade of ministry Paul walked an average of nearly 20 miles a day, preaching a message hated by most everyone. He was single and didn’t have the comfort of a wife, and he was often suffering alone. He was often poor and would spend time working a job to keep himself alive so that He could continue preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 18:1-3).
Summarizing the life of Paul as a missionary of Jesus, theologian Paul Barnett says, “This ex-Pharisee brought the message about Jesus the Christ to the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire, and wanted to repeat this achievement in the western province, Spain. Apart from Paul’s Herculean efforts, it is difficult to imagine how the gospel of Christ would have taken root so comprehensively in the Greco-Roman world. Paul’s intrepid and energetic travels and tireless work, however, do not in themselves explain his achievements. Here we must understand that for Paul his relationship with Christ and his work for him were inseparable. He regarded all that he did as ‘the work of the Lord’ (1 Corinthians 15:58) that the risen Christ was doing ‘through’ his servant, Paul (Romans 15:18)…In short, to understand Paul’s achievements we need to appreciate his driving passion, which was that Christ loved him and seized him, and that he could never be separated from his love (Rom 8:35, 39), sinner though he was and persecutor though he had been.”6
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- Martin Luther, What Luther Says: An Anthology, comp. Ewald M. Plass (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), entry no. 3258, p. 1026.
- Martin Luther, What Luther Says: An Anthology, comp. Ewald M. Plass (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), entry no. 3268, p. 1028.
- Paul Barnett, Paul: Missionary of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 198.
- Quoted in Barnett, Paul, 198.
- Paul Barnett, Paul: Missionary of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 5-6.