Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,Romans 1:1 ASV
Otherwise, it would have been necessary to unroll the entire scroll to find the name of the sender.
Therefore, Paul followed the custom of the times in placing his name along with the salutation in the beginning of the epistle.
Up until the time of his conversion, Paul was known as Saul of Tarsus.
SAUL, the first name under which this great man appears in the New Testament, means DEMANDED, and ranks among the great names in Jewish history, that being the name of their first king.
PAUL, on the other hand, means LITTLE, and could have signified Paul’s smallness of stature; however, the name is Gentile, being the name of the apostle’s first distinguished convert, Sergius Paulus, proconsul of Cyprus, and Charles Hodge suggested the possibility that the new Gentile name of the apostle derived from that conversion.
The first use of the name PAUL for this apostle is recorded in Acts 13:9 upon the occasion of the proconsul’s conversion; but, significantly, it appears to be a name that was already his, and is mentioned before the conversion took place.
Despite this, the dramatic switch from one name to another certainly took place on that occasion; and if, indeed, the name PAUL was adopted at that time out of regard to so distinguished a convert, this great apostle reminds one of Hercules, who, in the first great labor of strangling the Nemean lion, took the lion’s skin and wore it ever afterwards, Paul forever afterwards wearing the name of the proconsul of Cyprus.
Both names were appropriate for the great ambassador to the Gentiles, and it is altogether possible that his parents gave him both names, providentially, and that his great mission to the Gentiles naturally resulted in the shift of emphasis to his Gentile name.
Servant of Jesus Christ …
The Greek word [DOULOS], from which the English translation “servant” is taken, actually means BONDSLAVE and is a very strong word indicating a number or very important things.
It means that, as Christ’s slave, Paul was entitled to hearing and obedience on the part of all people, it being an ancient axiom that the honor and dignity of the owner were inherent in his slave, mistreatment of the slave being legally construed as mistreatment of the owner.
Thus at the very outset, Paul announced the premise upon which he was entitled to be heard even in Rome.
In the third place, due to the frequent use of this word in conjunction with APOSTLE, it implies an official capacity in the person so designated (2 Peter 1:1 etc.).
Therefore, Paul was not claiming by use of this word, merely that he was living the Christian life, but that as a bondslave of Christ he had a message from God that all people are obligated to heed.
That such was his intent derives from the fact that he immediately connected the office of a bondslave with that of an apostle.
Called to be an apostle …
The words “to be” are usually printed in italics to show that they were not in the Greek and were merely supplied by the translators; and in this instance they would have been better left out.
Paul was not telling what he was called to be, but what he was! Although the title of apostle has been somewhat loosely applied, the meaning is rather strict.
In this context, it should be noted that Christ himself is the one who selected the apostles and conferred upon them that name. “And of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles” (Luke 6:13).
It is precisely in that strictest meaning of the title that Paul’s salutation and identification of himself as an apostle should be understood.
He was a “called” apostle, not by men, but by Christ himself; and he invariably laid claim to the full authority of the office.
The apostles of Jesus Christ constituted the most interesting group of men ever to live upon earth.
Their relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ, however, projected them into the spotlight and focal center of all subsequent history.
For nearly two thousand years already, children have learned with eagerness the names of the Twelve Apostles, and gray-headed men and women have gone down to the grave repeating the blessed words these men delivered to the human race.
It must be conceded that the apostles of Christ have exerted and continue to exert a greater influence upon humanity than that which may be attributed to any other human source.
Who were permitted to serve as apostles?
(1) Only those whom Jesus chose for this office were ever, in any real sense, apostles, this being a necessary deduction from Acts 1:24, “Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show of these two the one whom thou hast chosen.”
In that remarkable event, the apostles themselves had been able to narrow the choice for Judas’ successor to the two men alone who fulfilled the other qualifications for the apostleship;
(2) having been companions of the Master from the time of John’s baptism until Christ’s ascension (Acts 1:22); and
(3) having been witnesses of the resurrection of Christ, that is, having seen him alive after his death and burial (Acts 1:22).
Paul’s apostleship was different only in this, that he had not been a personal companion of Jesus during the Lord’s ministry, as were the others; but, by special appearances to Paul, the Lord commissioned him as a true “witness” of the resurrection (Acts 26:16), that commission as an apostle being by Christ himself and not by men (Galatians 1:1).
What were their powers?
They were infallible teachers of God’s word, being inspired in the highest sense of that word, their infallibility being attested by the signs and miracles that accompanied their preaching (Mark 16:20).
Peter raised the dead to life again (Acts 9:41); Paul suffered no hurt from the vicious bite of a deadly viper (Acts 28:5); and many other signs and miracles were wrought by them and all the apostles.
They could convey the gift of the Holy Spirit, through the laying on of their hands; and one must agree with Charles Hodge that it was:
The power of working miracles in confirmation of their mission … (It was) this power they could communicate to others by the laying on of their hands.
Who were their successors?
Only one of the apostles ever had a successor, namely, Judas Iscariot, whose successor, Matthias, was chosen by the Lord to take the office from which Judas “by transgression, fell” (Acts 1:25 KJV), the significance of this arising out of the circumstance that the death of two of the apostles is recorded in the New Testament, whereas only one of them required a successor, it being nowhere recorded that any successor was chosen for James (Acts 12:2).
The difference in there having been chosen a successor for Judas, but none for James, may be explained only by the fact that the scriptures attribute the removal of Judas from his office to his transgression, and not to his death, which leads to the conclusion that death never removed, and indeed cannot remove, an apostle from his office.
It is this tremendous truth that underlies the promise of Jesus to the Twelve that, “In the times of the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28).
This promise of the Master established the principle that death could not remove an apostle, nor interfere with the discharge of their apostolic duties, their reign being co-extensive with that of Christ himself.
That the apostolic office was unique and limited, absolutely, to the Twelve plus Paul, is further corroborated by the apostle John’s vision of the foundations of the Eternal City, upon which are inscribed “the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:14)
Separated unto the gospel of God …
This reference to separation corresponds to the setting apart of the prophets of the Old Testament for their divine mission, as mentioned in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5), and strongly suggests the parity of honor and authority which the apostles of the New Testament enjoyed, along with the mighty prophets of the Old Testament.
This oneness of dignity, embracing both prophets and apostles, was mentioned by Peter, thus: “Ye should remember the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and the commandment of the Lord and Saviour through your apostles” (2 Peter 3:2).
There is, of course, a certain sense in which all Christians are separated, or sanctified; but far more is intended here.
On Paul’s part, there was a total, absolute, and unvarying dedication to the work of preaching Christ to all people.