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Beginnings (2)

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The Beginnings of Paul’s Mission

As he writes Galatians, it is important for Paul to stress his distance from Jerusalem and his freedom from dependence upon the Jerusalem apostles. In the process we learn of his visit to Arabia and his return to Damascus.

Galatians 1:17  [I did not] go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus. 

We do not know how long he was in Arabia, or how he occupied himself. Probably he was already hard at work, preaching his gospel to the gentiles whom he would have encountered in Arabia. He did return to Damascus, where it seems likely he also was occupied with his mission to gentiles. We may note that the “return” to Damascus entitles us to conclude that the resurrection appearance took place there. Then after three years in Damascus he departed for Jerusalem, though not quite in the manner he might have wished:

2 Corinthians 11:32-33   32In Damascus, the governor under King Aretas guarded the city of Damascus in order to seize me, 33but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands. 

The First Jerusalem Visit

This is the first of Paul’s three visits to Jerusalem, visits which provide the narrative framework for his career (refer to Sequence Chart 1). The purpose of the visit is to get acquainted with Cephas (better known as Peter); Paul also meets James, the brother of the Lord, already mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:7.

Galatians 1:18-20   18Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; 19but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. 20In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! 

What did they talk about? Not about the weather, as one interpreter has quipped. We may assume that they shared their common experience of Jesus, however different that experience might have been: Cephas speaking out of pre- as well as post-resurrection acquaintance, Paul talking about his own revelation, belated as that might have been. But talking about Jesus also meant talking about the early Christian message or proclamation, of which Jesus was the center. While Paul might earlier have received that piece of tradition summarizing the common preaching about the death and resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians. 15:3-8), he certainly received it no later than his meeting with Cephas. Talking about the gospel may well have included some reference to mission strategy, if not in the detail in which it would be discussed fourteen years later at the Jerusalem Conference.

Sequence Chart 1
• Resurrection appearance
• Arabia
• Damascus
Jerusalem Visit (1)
=(for acquaintance with Peter)
• Syria and Cilicia
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
Jerusalem Visit (2)
=(for the Conference)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . 
Jerusalem Visit (3)
=(to deliver collection)

Travel to Syria and Cilicia

Galatians 1:21-24   21Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, 22and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; 23they only heard it said, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.”  24And they glorified God because of me. 

We take note of the fact that, wherever Paul might have been persecuting the church (probably in the Damascus area), he was unknown in Judea, and therefore probably did not participate in the persecution of believers in Jerusalem.








Following the first Jerusalem visit, Paul probably stopped for visits in Antioch and Tarsus, the principal cities respectively of Syria and Cilicia. Where next? Most likely he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia on his way to begin his great founding missions in Galatia, Macedonia, and Achaia (Greece), and eventually Ephesus in the province of Asia.



The alternative view, i.e. that Paul spent the better part of the next fourteen years working in Syria and Cilicia, prior to the second Jerusalem visit, is not adopted in the present work, for the reasons set forth in A Letters Based Chronology (2).


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Revised: January 21, 2003


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