Understanding Paul’s Early Ministry

by Shawn Brasseaux

If you are a Berean Bible student who is familiar with right division (dispensational Bible study), you understand that Paul’s ministry is separate from Peter and the eleven’s ministry to the nation Israel. You know that Israel always wanted to see signs, miracles, and wonders before they would believe (John 4:48; 1 Corinthians 1:22); thus, the Lord Jesus Christ gave the twelve apostles of Israel the power to cast out devils, heal the sick, and raise the dead (Matthew 10:5-8; Mark 16:17-20). He also told them to go strictly to the nation Israel—Peter and the eleven had no ministry to Gentiles/non-Jews. However, when we come to the Apostle Paul, the Lord sends this one man to preach a new Gospel, the Gospel of the Grace of God, to the Gentiles (Romans 11:13; Romans 15:16; 2 Timothy 1:11).

The power to perform miracles was given to the twelve apostles because they were sent to Israel, yet Paul as the apostle of the Gentiles is performing miracles such as casting out devils and healing sickness and disease (Acts 15:12, Acts 19:11-12, Acts 28:8-9, and 2 Corinthians 12:12). Why is Paul doing this? A more difficult question to answer is why is Paul unable to heal sick bodies in 1 Timothy 5:23 and 2 Timothy 4:20?

Why did Paul write, “Christ sent me not to [water] baptize” in 1 Corinthians 1:17, yet in the previous verses of 14-16 he wrote that he did water baptize (see also Acts 18:8)? (For some time, this confused me.) Why did Paul speak with “tongues,” or languages he never formally learned, if he was sent to Gentiles (1 Corinthians 14:18)? After all, tongues was a spiritual gift for Israel (Mark 16:17; Acts 2:4).

Is the Bible contradicting itself? Those who hate mid-Acts (Pauline) dispensationalism will ask these questions in an attempt to discourage and trick you. Fortunately for us—and unfortunately for them!—these questions enhance our understanding and believing right division, not discredit it! God’s Word rightly divided is not in error, and hopefully you will understand the three reasons why Paul water baptized and performed miracles in the first place.

 

1. TO PROVOKE ISRAEL TO JEALOUSY

The book of Acts is a “transitional book;” to wit, God is in the process of temporarily suspending Israel’s prophetic program and the Dispensation of Grace—God’s dealings with the Gentile world through Paul’s ministry—is gradually being established. God did not set Israel aside overnight: it took several years.

Israel was guilty of rejecting and killing their Messiah-King, but God the Father has forgiven them (Luke 23:34). Although they stumbled, they did not fall (Romans 11:11a). So, as the book of Acts opens, God is giving the nation Israel a renewed opportunity for repentance—every Jew is commanded to repent and embrace this Jesus of Nazareth they rejected as their Lord, Christ, and King (Acts 2:36-38). The first eight chapters of Acts demonstrate God’s patience during the first year following the events of Calvary and Christ’s resurrection. The Holy Spirit is still speaking to Israel through the twelve apostles and the prophet Stephen, but most of Israel refuses (this is the unpardonable sin spoken of in Matthew 12:31-32). This cannot be forgiven, so God begins to set Israel aside as they murder Stephen in Acts chapter 7.

God is now going to turn to the Gentiles without Israel being entirely converted. Furthermore, the Lord will now provoke Israel to jealousy by giving Israel’s spiritual gifts to Gentiles. From the Jews’ perspective, those Gentiles were uncircumcised dogs—they ate unclean foods, worshipped false gods, and had poor hygiene. The Jews would most certainly get upset to see such people receive their gifts and have fellowship with their JEHOVAH (the name by which Israel knew the LORD God of the Bible). Look at Romans 11:11 KJV: “I say then, Have they [Israel] stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them [Israel] to jealousy.”

In his first epistle to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 14:21,22): “In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord. Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.”

This is a quote from Isaiah 28:11,12 and “this people” is the nation Israel. The gift of tongues given to early Gentile believers was God’s way of speaking to the nation Israel (it was a sign), which for the most part was still in unbelief. At the time of Paul, the Lord had been dealing with Israel for 2,000 years (since Abraham)—Israel was being rebellious and mostly stayed in unbelief, so God was showing them He was now turning to the Gentiles despite the Jews’ disobedience. This was God’s judgment on them for blaspheming against the Holy Spirit in the first eight chapters of Acts.

 

2. TO DEMONSTRATE PROGRESSIVE REVELATION

The second reason why Paul did what he did was to demonstrate progressive revelation. Prior to his salvation, Paul was a Pharisee (Jewish religious leader; Philippians 3:3-8). He knew the Old Testament: the washing of the Levitical priests and the parting of the Red Sea, for instance. Considering Paul’s Jewish heritage, and the dispensation in which he grew up, he and the rest of Israel were accustomed to miracles. Moreover, immediately after his conversion, Paul was also water baptized (Acts 9:18). Eventually, the Lord revealed to Paul that water baptism was no longer necessary, and that water baptism was divisive and should be avoided (1 Corinthians 1:12-16). Gentiles would have no need for Israel’s water baptism; today, the Holy Spirit supernaturally performs the only baptism that counts when He places a believer into the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 4:5).

“The revelation of the mystery” (the Body of Christ, the rapture, temporal fall of Israel, Gospel of Grace, Gentiles saved by faith apart from the Mosaic Law, et cetera) was gradually revealed to Paul. This is why Paul could honestly write, “for we know in part, and we prophesy in part” (1 Corinthians 13:8-12). There were some things Paul did not know at that time because God’s Word was not completely written down—we call this “progressive revelation.”

In Acts 26:16 KJV, Paul repeats to King Agrippa what Christ told him shortly after his conversion near Damascus: “But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee;” The Lord was going to appear to Paul in the future, to reveal more information to him when the time came (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:1).

Now that we have the completed and preserved Word of God, the King James Bible, we no longer need signs, miracles, wonders, prophesying, and tongues (1 Corinthians 13:8-13). We have the revealed Word of God; there is no longer any need for prophets, apostles, angelic appearances, and so on. Everything that the Lord has to say is in the Bible, written and preserved forever (2 Timothy 3:15-17)! Read it.

 

3. TO VALIDATE PAUL’S APOSTLESHIP

A third reason why Paul performed miracles was to validate his apostleship. Just like the Lord Jesus Christ performed miracles in order to prove to Israel that He was their promised Messiah-King, the Holy Spirit empowered Paul to perform miracles so that his apostleship would be proven as legitimate and God-ordained.

While Paul mentions his miracle working in Romans 15:18,19, I want you to see what he wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:11,12 KJV: “I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing. Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.”

Do not accuse Paul of being arrogant or egotistical. Those two verses are God’s inspired, infallible Word. The Holy Spirit is commending Paul—this is not Paul bragging. During his ministry, Paul faced much opposition, especially from his fellow kinsman the Jews (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16). People would belittle Paul, claiming that he never spent three years with Christ like Peter and the eleven. We hear the same thing about Paul today from people who hate him so much they have thrown away his epistles—some are professing Christians, too! But, Paul was no self-proclaimed apostle like today’s false teachers: he was an apostle of God (Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1; et cetera).

God’s handpicked man to the Gentiles was Paul, a little Jew who once hated the name of Jesus of Nazareth and imprisoned or killed anyone who embraced Jesus as Messiah-King. Now, as God’s chosen vessel to the Gentiles, the Lord was using him to promote the Gospel of Grace that was entrusted to his ministry. Paul’s converts were formerly pagan Gentiles; now, they were serving the one true living God! Paul was not an egotist; the Holy Spirit, in the above passage, commended Paul.

In fact, in order for the twelve apostles of Israel to understand God was now going to do something different with another Apostle Paul, the Lord had Paul perform miracles to prove to Peter, James, John, and the others that God was using him to go to the Gentiles. Look at Acts 15:12 KJV: “Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.”

 

CONCLUSION

So, there are three reasons why Paul performed miracles and water baptized in the early part of his ministry:

  1. The miracle working given to Paul’s ministry and those early Gentile believers were used to provoke unbelieving Israel to jealousy, to show Israel that God was moving away from her and ministering to the Gentiles through Paul.
  2. Paul grew up in the dispensation in which Israel’s miracles and water baptism were necessary. The concept of “progressive revelation” tells us that the Lord gradually revealed doctrine to Paul, eventually telling the apostle it is no longer necessary to water baptize. Miracles and spiritual gifts were done away with when the Word of God was completed.
  3. For any Jews, unbelieving or believing, Paul’s miracle working validated his apostleship.

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