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Paul Came Out Running

Posted by on Oct 7, 2010 in discipleship, scripture | 11 comments

Paul Came Out Running

In Acts 9, Luke narrates the account of Paul’s (Saul’s) conversion on his way to Damascus (Acts 9:1-8). God then sent Ananias to Paul (Acts 9:9-17). After Ananias spoke with Paul, he regained his sight, was baptized, ate some food, and began spending time with the believers in Damascus (Acts 9:18-19). So, what did Paul do immediately after his conversion? This is what Luke says:

And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” (Acts 9:20 ESV)

So, according to Luke, Paul immediately began proclaiming that Jesus is the Son of God in the synagogues of Damascus. Paul did not spend several years alone with God preparing for “ministry” before he began proclaiming the gospel and serving people.

But, in some circles, especially around the seminary, this is exactly what is assumed. Where does this come from? Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. (Galatians 1:15-18 ESV)

In this passage, Paul is claiming that God had called him as an apostle, and that he accepted that role without consulting anyone else. God told him to proclaim Jesus to the Gentiles, and Paul accepted it as coming from God himself.

Paul says that he did not go to Jerusalem to talk with the other apostles immediately after his conversion. Instead, he left Damascus for Arabia, then returned to Damascus. Three years after his conversion, Paul finally went to Jerusalem and met with Peter.

But, somehow, Paul’s narration of events following his conversion have turned into a three year stint in the Arabian desert where God taught Paul and prepared him for “ministry.” I’ve heard Paul’s three years in the Arabian desert as justification for people spending three years (or more) in Bible college or seminary during which time they can focus all of their energy and resources on study. Why? Because this is their “season” for study and reflection just like Paul had his “season” for study and reflection in the Arabian desert.

There are several problems with this. First, we see that Paul begins proclaiming the gospel and serving people immediately after he was converted.

Second, Paul does not say that he was in the Arabian desert. Paul says that he went to Arabia, but Arabia was a large place. He could have meant only a few miles east of Damascus, or any of several cities with large Jewish populations in the Arabian peninsula.

Third, Paul does not say that he spent three years in Arabia. Paul says that he went from Damascus, to Arabia, then back to Damascus. Then, three years after his conversion, Paul traveled from Damascus to Jerusalem.

Fourth, Paul does not say that he spent time “alone with God” or “studying and reflecting” during his time in Arabia. In fact, Paul does not tell us what he did while he was in Arabia. If we examine Paul’s habits, it would seem likely that wherever Paul was in Arabia, and however long he stayed there, he was proclaiming the gospel and serving people.

I don’t see any justification for substituting study and reflection to proclaiming the gospel and serving people. So, is it wrong to study or go to college? Of course not. But, we should never let school or college (or work or whatever) take the place of loving people in the name of Jesus Christ. Study can supplement our evangelism and service, but it should never take the place of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and caring for people in his name.

When Paul was converted, he immediately “came out of the blocks running.” That’s a pattern that we should follow and encourage other believers to follow – even new believers.


11 Comments

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  1. 10-7-2010

    Probably a good thing Paul did not immediately go and meet with the other apostles and just did what Christ told him to do.

    I could just see and hear it now: “Paul, I’m not sure you are called to be an apostle”, “You were not with us during Christ’s earthly ministry”, “Here, stay with us and let us teach you for a while and then after we are sure you won’t teach it wrong maybe we will ordain you”, “You not a very good public speaker”…etc. etc. :)

  2. 10-7-2010

    I’ve never heard of Paul in Arabia being used as an example of Bible college or seminary.

  3. 10-7-2010

    Hutch,

    I don’t think Paul considered going to talk to the apostles, not because of any disdain for the other apostles, but because he didn’t think it important to the work that God called him.

    Stephen,

    Here’s a link to an article (arguing the same point as me) from 1897. Here’s another more recent article suggesting that Paul’s time in Arabia was similar to seminary education. The last is more pertinent to me, since it concerns people related to the seminary where I’m studying.

    -Alan

  4. 10-7-2010

    I don’t think it was disdain either, he just like us should recognize that we do not look to others for our marching orders, but to Christ alone.

  5. 10-8-2010

    Paul’s five missionary journeys?

    We do know that Ananias knew Paul’s calling “he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:” Hard to imagine he did not tell this to Paul, who, “straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues” and “and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus.”

    Not only was Paul not likely “in seminary” in the desert for the first three years, his itinerant ministry did not begin as a result of being “commissioned” by the church at Antioch seven years later.

    Just as elders are recognized because of the example and work they are ALREADY doing, Paul was recognized by Antioch in the same way. He was already serving and planting and strengthening churches itinerantly for quite some time.

    Besides Paul’s immediate response in preaching the gospel and strengthening believers, here is what makes me wonder:

    In Acts 11:19-21 we find “Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.” They went no farther than Antioch.

    Then, some came and spoke also the “Grecians” in Antioch and a “great number” believed. Jerusalem sends Barnabas, who, in Acts 11:25, heads to Tarsus, “to seek Saul.” So, had Paul been sitting quietly in Tarsus awaiting a call or commission from a church to “get started?” Was Barnabas looking for him based solely on a few weeks in Jerusalem years earlier? Or, did Paul have a reputation in these parts?

    In Acts 15 we find churches throughout Syria and Cilicia. Where did these come from? Had Paul already been planting churches for 3 years from Damascus up through Syria to Antioch, then subsequently moving to Tarsus in Cilicia, from there throughout Cilicia?

    Is Paul’s famous “first missionary journey” actually his second or third?

    Acts 15:23 “And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia.”

    Whoa. Gentile churches in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia. Really? Not just the one in Antioch? Wasn’t Antioch THE gentile church, until Paul’s first missionary journey planted churches in Cyprus, Pamphyllia, and throughout the Galatian regions of Pisidia and Lyaconia?

    Acts 15:30 “So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle:” and finally Acts 15:36,41 “Paul said …Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the LORD, and see how they do… and then Paul and Silas “went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.”

    Through Cilicia and Syria, where WE had preached the word of the Lord? Not only the scattered Jews from Jerusalem, who went only so far as Antioch (Acts 11:19,22), and who, apart from Antioch, proclaimed the gospel “to none but unto the Jews only?” Acts 11:19).

    I think it is quite likely that Paul’s first missionary journey was from Damascus up through Syria, his second was from Tarsus throughout Cilicia, and we are already familiar with his third, fourth and fifth journeys.

  6. 10-8-2010

    By the way, this pattern of working from a base city to plant churches in a region is also seen in the Galatian churches, the Macedonian churches, the churches of Achaia, and the churches of Asia. For details, see http://churchtaskforce.org/resources/pauls-methods

  7. 10-8-2010

    Thank you Art, thats really great stuff! I came to the conclusion that by the time the other Apostles met Paul that he was very well known for his zeal and commitment to the church planting apostolic ministry he was called to so there would be no question that he was an apostle commissioned by Christ.

  8. 12-1-2011

    ??? Luke wrote Acts and Paul wrote Cor. Who would know better about what happened in Paul’s life. Luke or PAUL?????

  9. 8-31-2013

    Thank you. I had been taught (though, couldn’t find & thus was searching for scriptures that stated) that Paul had set himself aside for 3 years to be prepared for ministry. But I was taught wrong. I appreciate you sharing and pointing this out. I am very glad to been corrected and only hope I haven’t discouraged anyone by possibly sharing misinformation. I can’t remember whether or not I have, but I’m very glad now to have this reminder to search the scriptures because not everything taught from a pulpit of Christian or Bible college is the correct way to understand God’s Word. And often times, His Word is not as complicated and certainly not as cumbersome or restricting as too many would like to make it, specifically in the area of sharing the Gospel and doing what God has called one to do, especially since Paul continuously encouraged leaders in the Church, such as Timothy, to (continue to) “study to show himself approved.” It’s not like Timothy was trying to pass the pastor, deacon, or apostle’s board exams. :-) Studying is something that we should all do, always. Thank you again for this wonderful reminder.

  10. 8-31-2013

    Jayne,

    Thank you for your comment. I think that Paul (and every believer) already had (has) everything necessary to teach, admonish, and evangelize. Of course, that doesn’t mean that formal education is wrong, but it’s also not the same as spiritual maturity.

    Based on the last part of your comment, you may be interested in this series that I wrote a couple of weeks ago: “Study to show thyself approved unto God?

    -Alan

  11. 11-23-2013

    I am still not sure, why does it still seem as though Paul was somewhere undisclosed for three years. Would it not be that maybe in that time he just spend with God. What is wrong about thinking so.

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