The following passage relates the "Great Commission" that Jesus gave to 11 disciples:


But Paul, a man who never met Jesus during his life, seems to have taken up the mantle all by himself:

13I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry 14in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. 15For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.

In Acts 10, Cornelius comes to Peter, and he is already following God. And then Peter baptizes him. OK, but that's hardly "going out and making disciples of all the nations".

In Acts 15, Peter seems to recall that he (alone?) was supposed to be apostle to the Gentiles. He concludes by saying:

19“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”

So it was only then decided what the gentiles should do. Which means that this whole time, it was mostly Paul converting the gentiles. What happened to the 11 apostles? Where are their epistles? Who were they converting among the gentiles? According to the Great Commission, they should be baptizing them in the name of the trinity. Why was Paul given the job?

Is part of the explanation that the Great Commission was added later to the Gospel of Matthew?

  • 1
    After reading your question a couple times, I'm still at a loss to pinpoint the question you are asking. I recommend you rethink and edit--pare down, mostly--the question you want answered. Don Jan 1, 2015 at 15:19
  • How is it that the decision of what Gentile Christians should do only occurred when Paul visited Jerusalem, 14 years after Paul's conversion was supposed to have occurred and many years after the Great Commission was given? Paul was given the task to go to the Gentiles and the leaders of the Church to the circumcized. But what about the Great Commission? And Pentecost? Jan 19, 2015 at 7:04

3 Answers 3


Throughout the Gospels, the apostles at times seem absurdly hard-headed and unable to understand what Jesus is telling them. This only continues in Acts, and it seems that the author wants readers to think the apostles slow to understand. But the Holy Spirit had his own ideas for the church, and the apostles were blown along. I don't think the argument about Matthew's ending being added later is valid since Luke's ending is similar: Jesus says, "Thus it stands written that the Christ would suffer and would rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem." (Luke 24:46-47)

Then in Acts 2, the disciples are gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. "Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven residing in Jerusalem." (Acts 2:5) People from all nations are there, but they all happen to be Jews! Can you see why it may not have occurred to the disciples yet that the Gospel is to be preached to Gentiles? But God wasn't done. He brought a Gentile, Cornelius, to Peter in Acts 10. It was puzzling at first, but you can almost see the light-bulb above Peter's head as he describes his acceptance of Cornelius' conversion (Acts 10:34-39,47):

I now truly understand that God does not show favoritism in dealing with people, but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is welcomed before him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, proclaiming the good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all)— you know what happened throughout Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John announced: with respect to Jesus from Nazareth, that God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, because God was with him. We are witnesses of all the things he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. ... No one can withhold the water for these people to be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?

It's to this incident that Peter refers in Acts 15:7-9 when he says, "God chose me to preach to the Gentiles so they would hear the message of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, has testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between them and us, cleansing their hearts by faith."

Paul reports that the apostles accepted him as one of their rank (Galatians 2:7-10; also reported by Luke in Acts 15:22-27):

When they saw that I was entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised just as Peter was entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who empowered Peter for his apostleship to the circumcised also empowered me for my apostleship to the Gentiles) and when James, Cephas, and John, who had a reputation as pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we would go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They requested only that we remember the poor, the very thing I also was eager to do.

So yes, it seems that there weren't large-scale missions to the Gentiles until Paul came along. But there was Philip and the eunuch from Ethiopia, Peter and Cornelius, and so on.

The question that then arises (and is implicit already in your original question) is, why didn't the other apostles start preaching to the Gentiles once they realized it was the mission of the church? There are a few angles to this question.

First of all, Paul never went on his missions alone. In his letters he frequently mentions Apollos, Barnabas (who is also a Jew), Mark, Timothy, Titus, and Silas. Mark, incidentally, is also affectionately mentioned by Peter in one of his epistles. This is definitely not even close to an exhaustive list of his fellow laborers.

Secondly, just because we don't have Biblical evidence of the original 12 apostles' missions to the Gentiles, doesn't mean no such missions happened. But most of them do have extensive traditional biographies (hagiographies) that place them in exotic far-away lands preaching the Gospel. Perhaps most famous is Peter himself (becoming bishop of Rome) and Thomas (carrying the Gospel to India). And traditionally John ended up residing in Ephesus. Of course, John and Peter both have NT epistles attributed to them, written to the whole church. So do James and Jude, Jesus' brothers. And John also wrote Revelation, which is replete with passages about the church being comprised of both Jews and Gentiles and people of all nations, tribes, and tongues. So it seems clear that even if Paul was the one primarily responsible for carrying the Gospel to the Gentiles, others were doing it too.

Thirdly, even if the other apostles' primary work was among their own people, what's wrong with that? Usually when a missionary preaches to a certain people, his chief goal is to raise up leaders who can communicate the Gospel to his own people. Africans most effectively preach to Africans, Polynesians to Polynesians, Americans to Americans. Why wouldn't Jews be the most effective instruments of conversion to Jews? Why shouldn't Jesus' Jewish followers aim to convert their fellow Jews? In the same way, when Paul visited various cities, his main goal was to plant a new church whose leaders were from that city. He also affirmed that the Gentiles were "ingrafted" into Israel (Romans 11), and that the Gospel was to go to "the Jew first, then to the Gentile." (Romans 1:16)

So a few points should now be clear: 1) The apostles were slow to understand the nature of God's mission to the Gentiles. 2) The apostles accepted Paul's mission to the Gentiles. 3) The apostles and other believers participated in that mission once they understood it. 4) It is better (more effective) for individuals to witness to their own culture than to another.


The story of Paul

In Galatians 1:15-17, Paul gives us his version of his conversion:

“But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen [gentiles]; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.”

Writing several decades before Acts of the Apostles was written, he says that God called him, to preach to Gentiles. His itinerary shows that he immediately set out to do just this. In Damascus, the governor of the city sought to arrest Paul, almost certainly for converting Gentiles, as the governor would have had no interest in religious differences amongst the Jews. Paul escaped from the soldiers by being let down in a basket (2 Corinthians 11:33).

In Romans 15:15-16, Paul makes it clear that he sees his own mission as “the minister to the Gentiles” as special:

“Nevertheless, brethren, I have written the more boldly unto you in some sort, as putting you in mind, because of the grace that is given to me of God, That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.”

Elsewhere, he describes Peter as the apostle to the Jews, even showing how Peter was uncomfortable being seen eating with Gentiles.

On the other hand Acts chapters 10-11 tell of Peter realising he was called to preach to Jews and Gentiles alike, and how he baptised the centurion Cornelius and many others. Acts 9:20-25 gives a very different reason for Paul being let down in a basket at Damascus. Paul is preaching to Jews, and Jews alone, and it is the Jews who wished to kill Paul: And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests? But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ. And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him: But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.

These discrepancies can perhaps be explained by the author of Acts wishing specifically to give Peter full credit to Peter for initiating the decision to preach to the Gentiles. John Dominic Crossan speaks for the majority of modern New Testament scholars when he says, in The Birth of Christianity, page 21, Acts of the Apostles is theology rather than history.

The Great Commission

Matthew 28:16-20 tells us that the disciples went into Galilee, as instructed by the angel (28:7), where they met Jesus and received the Great Commission. This was the last time Jesus met the disciples, who spread out to preach the gospel:

Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted. And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

But Luke says that Jesus met the disciples at a meal in Jerusalem on the evening of his resurrection, telling them to remain in Jerusalem, then led them out to the nearby town of Bethany, where he blessed them and wascarried up into heaven (24:49-53):

And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high. And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.

To explain this difference, it is the strong consensus of scholars that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were substantially based on Mark's Gospel. However, Mark originally ended at verse 16:8, with the young man telling the women that Jesus was risen and they fled in terror, telling no one. The authors of both Matthew and Luke wished to provide their readers with evidence that Jesus had really risen from the dead but, with no guidance from Mark, each had to create his own ending. Matthew's ending includes the Great Commission, but Luke's does not.


It has been proposed that Acts of the Apostles is, in the words of Crossan, theology rather than history, and that Matthew's Great Commission was a literary creation by an anonymous author otherwise dependent on Mark and the hypothetical 'Q' document for everything he knew about the mission of Jesus. To the extent they are inconsistent with the epistles of Paul, they should therefore be considered doubtful.

Paul's own account in his epistles is generally regarded as substantially reliable. He says that God called him to preach to Gentiles, and his epistles describe him as doing this throughout his mission. Whatever the disciples, other than Peter and John, were doing, Paul makes no mention of ever being in contact with them. He mentions other missionaries, such as Apollos, but never any of the disciples except Peter and John, and James the brother of Jesus.

  • In what sense are you suggesting that Matthew and Luke "each had to create his own ending" to their Gospels? You mean they made their endings out of whole cloth? (If you are unfamiliar with that expression, see alt-usage-english.org/excerpts/fxwholec.html.) Don Mar 4, 2015 at 7:39
  • @rhetorician The resurrection appearances of Luke are very different from those of Matthew, so they can't both be correct. Matthew 28:16-20 says the disciples went into Galilee, as instructed by the angel (28:7), where they met Jesus and received the Great Commission. This was the last time Jesus met the disciples, who spread out to preach the gospel. Luke 24:49-53 says Jesus met the disciples at a meal in Jerusalem on the evening of his resurrection, telling them to remain in Jerusalem, then was carried up into heaven the nearby town of Bethany on the same Sunday. Mar 4, 2015 at 20:21
  • @rhetorician In my understanding of site rules, your first comment was appropriate, as you were asking a question about my answer. In my understanding, your second and third comments should have been posted in a chat room, as you were telling me what you believe about biblical scholarship. If you have future comments of this nature, I will be more than pleased to respond to an invitation to chat in private and exchange points of view :). Mar 5, 2015 at 1:15
  • Dick: I'm not that adept at doing the chat thing. I've done it a couple times in the past with some success. I'm certainly willing to give it a go, again, if you would like. Please accept my apology if something I've said has offended you, embarrassed you, or hurt your feelings. I'll delete my second and third comments. Shall we schedule a date? Don Mar 5, 2015 at 1:28
  • @rhetorician Thank you for your prompt reply. As you probably know, I'm a bit of a newbie, so I am even less familiar with the process than you are. Anyway: i) please do remove your second and third posts. ii) the next 20 hours from now are probably no good for me, but I think if you post a comment to DickHarfield in a chat room, I will get a message and will respond. Mar 5, 2015 at 1:57

What happened to the 11 apostles? Where are their epistles? Who were they converting among the gentiles? According to the Great Commission, they should be baptizing them in the name of the trinity

Jesus told Israel the "good news" (gospel) of the Kingdom.

Matthew 4:23 And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.

Everything had been done for Israel to have the Kingdom except for one thing. The people of Israel had to agree. Their agreement can be seen in the first covenant.

Exodus 19:7-8 And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the LORD commanded him. And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD.

The disciples of Israel were supposed to rule over Israel in the Kingdom.

Luke 22:29-30 And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

The mission of Israel in the Kingdom was to be a light to the gentiles.

Isaiah 42:6 I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles;

Isaiah 60:11 Therefore thy gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day nor night; that men may bring unto thee the forces of the Gentiles, and that their kings may be brought.

The ministry of the Apostles was inhibited by the failure of the nation of Israel to receive her King. The whole prophetic role for Israel was put on hold until a time when a faithful remanent of Israel would receive Jesus.

Revelation 1:7 Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.

Zechariah 12:9-10 And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.

The message of the gospel is not predicated upon salesmanship. It needs to have hearts prepared to receive it.

1 Corinthians 1:18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.

The preaching of Paul was not the same as that of the Apostles. He was not sent to baptize. He was sent to call gentiles and show that the time was now come for gentiles and Jews to be joined together. This was hoped to provoke the nation of Israel to jealousy so that they would receive the Kingdom.

1 Corinthians 1:17 For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.

Ephesians 2:12-13 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:
But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.

Romans 11:11 I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.

Paul expected the immanent return of Jesus and the establishment of the Kingdom. He would not have seen the failure of Israel as a failure of the Apostles to sell the idea of Christianity, but of the people and especially the leaders of Israel for their disinterest.

Acts 28:23-28 And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening. And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.
And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive: For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.

Why was Paul given the job?

Paul was not given the job to "sell the church" to the gentiles after the Apostles dropped the ball. Paul's ministry was always supposed to have been part of the Kingdom program.

Paul's comments at the end of Acts is a declaration of frustration. To the end of his life he was still preaching about the Kingdom.

Acts 28:30-31 And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.

What we have today is not so much a successful religion started by Paul, but the opportunity for some to receive new life in Christ Jesus. Many have tried to control and contain this work of God as an organizational system or a franchise brand. Many in Christianity rail against others that they have it "right". However, we might be seen like Simeon at the temple waiting for the consolation of Israel.

Luke 2:25 And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.

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