What did Paul mean by "chiefest of the apostles"?




What did Paul mean by "chiefest of the apostles" in II Corinthians 11:5?

The context of this verse reads:

"Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly--and indeed you do bear with me. For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted--you may well put up with it! For I consider that I am not at all inferior to the most eminent apostles. Even though I am untrained in speech, yet I am not in knowledge. But we have been thoroughly manifested among you in all things. Did I commit sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge? I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you. And when I was present with you, and in need, I was a burden to no one, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied. And in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself. As the truth of Christ is in me, no one shall stop me from this boasting in the regions of Achaia." (2 Corinthians 11:1-10).

In this section of the Corinthian letter, Paul is defending his apostleship against those spreading doubt. One way that doubt was seeded was the agument that Paul wasn't accepting pay as an apostle, perhaps with the implication that Paul knew he did not have the right to such pay. Yet Paul counters that he was paid but not by the congregation where he was preaching. He accepted aid from other congregations so that no one where he actively taught could accuse him of only preaching for the money.

Another line of attack appears to be reminisant of the division in Corinth that Paul mentioned in I Corinthians 1:11-13. People were divided and using selected teachings from various men to bolster their positions. The fact is that none of the apostles taught anything different from one another. And Paul is declaring that his message is no less than any other apostle. Here "eminent apostles" or "chiefest apostles" refers to the weighting these local false teachers were giving to the various apostles. If a statement by Peter could be misconstruded to appear to give support to a false doctrine, then those who advocated the false doctrine would declare that Peter was a more important apostle, so if another apostle, such as Paul, appeared to contradict Peter, then Peter's words carried greater weight. The flaw in the argument is that all the apostles were inspired of God and they spoke not their own words, but God's. "But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:11-12). Or, as Paul said in another place, "If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord" (I Corinthians 11:37).

Albert Barnes, in his commentary on this verse states, "I think that I gave as good evidence that I was commissioned by God as the most eminent of the apostles. In the miracles which I performed; in the abundance of my labours, and in my success, I suppose that I did not fall behind any of them. If so, I ought to be regarded and treated as an apostle; and if so, then the false teachers should not be allowed to supplant me in your affections, or to seduce you from the doctrines which I have taught. On the evidence that Paul was equal to others in the proper proof of a commission from God."

See the article "Apostleship" and the sermon "Apostles" for additional information on what constitutes an apostle.


March 15, 2005