The Twelve: Paul vs Richard Bauckham

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by Neil Godfrey

I discussed the reference in Paul’s epistles to the Twelve in my more detailed discussion on the Bauckham review, but am also adding what Paul informs us about the Twelve and the apostles here in slightly more depth. If I find on further reading Bauckham that addresses anything I have placed here then I may revise it. Till then . . . .

Much of the way the following section is put together owes some debt to Early Doherty’s The Jesus Puzzle.

I cannot imagine Paul taking kindly to Bauckham’s hypothesis about the Twelve being “the “authoritative” body of anything, least of all over him on any point about the Christ. He taught the same gospel, he wrote in Galatians 2:6-9, as at least two of the Twelve did (Cephas/Peter and John), and made it clear he did not accept their superior status. Cephas and John had nothing to add to Paul’s gospel. Yet Paul has scarcely a word to say in all his writings about the earthly Jesus or any related traditions.

It is also of interest that this pre-gospel letter of Paul’s does not have any knowledge of the Twelve, or at least Peter and John, going out to all nations and preaching. Paul makes it clear that Peter and John are not going to all nations but are confining themselves only to the Jews.

In 1 Corinthians Paul claimed he was an apostle in every sense that Cephas and the “other apostles” were. Paul had not seen Christ in the flesh, but he nevertheless claimed equal authoritative status with those he elsewhere appears to call the Twelve.

Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord? If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord. Mine answer to them that do examine me is this, Have we not power to eat and to drink? Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? (I Cor.9:1-5)

And Paul’s understanding of the grounds for apostleship? Having seen the resurrected Christ and having been responsible for the founding of churches. He also appears to say here that apostles were only apostles within certain defined boundaries. If Peter and John were apostles to the Jews then Paul was equally an apostle to the Corinthians.

If we take 1 Corinthians 15:5 as genuine, then Paul is directly saying that the Twelve are on an equal status with him by virtue of having seen the resurrected Jesus in exactly the same way he had. Acts tells us that Paul saw the resurrected Jesus as a spirit in vision. In Galatians 1:16 he spoke of his conversion experience as God having “revealed his son in (not ‘to’) me”. Paul knows of no earthly or physical appearance of the flesh and blood Jesus whom disciples could touch and eat with after the resurrection. Cephas, apparently in addition to the Twelve (the 12 thus presumably to Paul do not include Cephas nor do they permit of a Judas traitor), and 500 others, and James, all saw the resurrected Jesus on the same qualitative level as he did — in a heavenly vision (or “in him”).

And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (I Cor.15:4-9)

Paul thus knows of none of the supposedly apostolic and authoritative traditions of the Jesus story yet asserts those apostles had nothing to add to him, and that he was every bit their authoritative equal in every way.

Finally Paul gives his final chop to Bauckham’s hypothesis about the Twelve by denying any tradition that they were chosen by Jesus. The apostles, writes Paul, were an office appointed by God just as were other offices in the church — prophets, teachers, miracle-workers, healers, etc.

And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. (I Cor.12:28)

So, what room here for the “tradition” authoritatively passed on under the guarantorship of the Twelve that Jesus himself set the apostles when on the mountaintop in Galilee? No, Paul sees the apostleship in the same dimension exactly as he sees the other church offices — appointed by God, no doubt through human agencies in some ritual or accepted signs, perhaps visions of the resurrected Jesus.

Paul knew nothing of the Twelve having any special authoritative status for transmitting the traditions and story of Jesus. None of them added anything to Paul, none of them was any more qualified or authoritative as an apostle than Paul on any grounds, and the apostleship was no more “qualitatively special” than any other church office in its origins. At least that was Paul’s view.

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Neil Godfrey

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