From Apostle to the Gentiles to Apostle of the Church: Images of Paul at the End of the First Century

Gregory E Sterling 1
  • 1 Dept. of Theology, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, 46556 USA.


Ferdinand Christian Baur delivered one of the most famous judgments about Christian origins. He wrote: “That Christianity, in the universal historical importance which it achieved, was the work of the Apostle Paul is undeniably a matter of historical fact.” He did, however, recognize that the process was not entirely straightforward: “but in what manner he brought this about, how we are to conceive of his relations with the other Apostles, whether it was in harmony with them or in contradiction and opposition to them … this still requires a more thorough and searching inquiry.” Baur's view was not new. At the end of the first century CE, two early Christian authors came to the conclusion that the church as they knew it was largely the result of the labors or thought of Paul. One of these authors lived within the circle of Pauline disciples and the other did not. One elected to write a pseudepigraphon in the form of a letter modeled and based on letters in the Pauline tradition, the other chose to compose an extended narrative in two scrolls that included a vita of Paul in the latter half of the second scroll. One created an image of Paul along the lines of a vita contemplativa, the other along the lines of a vita activa. The portraits are thus strikingly similar in some ways and dissimilar in others.

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A highly reputed journal published since 1900, the Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft is an international journal for the exegesis of the New Testament and knowledge of the early church (patristics).