Acts 9 – Paul in Arabia


Bronze Coin of Aretas IV

Luke tells us that Paul spent some time in Damascus proclaiming Jesus in the Synagogue, but was forced to leave the city because there was a plot to kill him (Acts 9:23-25).  Paul mentions these events in Galatians and 2 Corinthians in far more detail.  Luke compresses three years of ministry into a few lines!

How long was Paul in Damascus and the Nabatean kingdom? According to Gal 1:17 three years pass between the Damascus Road experience and Paul’s meeting in Jerusalem with Peter and James (Acts 9:26-30). Since the story of the escape over the wall is a unique event, it seems reasonable that Luke’s “many days” (9:23) extends a full three years. Since Aretas IV died in 39, the latest date for Paul’s conversion is 36, if not earlier.

After the initial confrontational ministry in Damascus, it is possible that Paul traveled from Damascus to other major cities in Nabatean territory. This likely included cities of the Decapolis, perhaps, Geresa and Philadelphia (modern Jeresh).  Philadelphia was a large Roman city, the type of city Paul will target later in his ministry. It is possible he visited Petra since it was a major trading center at the time. He may have used Damascus as a “base” since there was already a community of believers there. We simply have no real facts to deal with for this three year period, other than he was living in that territory for three years and that he did not consult the other apostles until three years after his experience n the road to Damascus.

As James Dunn observes, the more difficult question is why Paul spent three years in the Arabia. Paul makes an emphatic statement that after receiving a commission from the resurrected Jesus to be the “light to the Gentiles,” he did not “consult flesh and blood” but went to Arabia (Gal 1:7). Like Dunn, I think that Paul is simply following through on the commission he was given, to take the message of Jesus the Messiah to the Gentiles. The Nabatean kingdom provided him with ample opportunity to do just that.

Sometimes this period is described as a spiritual retreat into the desert, to work out the implications of his encounter with Jesus. I think that it is certain that Paul begins working through what “Jesus as Messiah” means, and what his role as the ‘light to the Gentiles” should be. He likely spent a great deal of time reading the scripture developing the material that he will use later in Antioch, then on the missionary journeys.

But this is far from a period of monastic retreat! Paul is preaching Jesus and being faithful to his calling as the light to the Gentiles.

33 thoughts on “Acts 9 – Paul in Arabia

  1. It appears that Paul was travelling around on his own for years, doing his own thing, accountable to no one, making up his own personal theology as he went along that suited his own personal agenda.

    That is also what it appears Paul was doing for years around Tarsus after the Jerusalem church sent him away, and basically what Luke records Paul doing for most of the second half of Acts, from Paul’s fight with Barnabas onward. Rather than make Paul the center and insert text that isn’t there about “Paul’s First Missionary Journey, Paul’s Second Missionary Journey”, etc. why don’t we look at what Luke wrote about?

    THE Missionary Journey of Barnabas and Saul, then
    more of Paul’s personal travels, starting at the end of Acts 15, marked by Paul’s carnality, disobedience like the “New Testament Jonah”, but with some bright spots too, and a happy ending at the end of Acts.

  2. Could “Arabia” refer to (or hint at) a pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain were Moses and Elijah met God?

    Paul Wright in “Greatness Grace & Glory” writes (p. 225) “In the second century A.D. the Roman province of Arabia encompassed both Nabatean Transjordan and central and southern Sinai. Paul’s use of “Arabia” in Galatians 1:17 is probably generic enough to include the same, and it is tempting to see him retracing the steps of both Elijah and Moses to the Holy Mountain in order to sort out the ramifications of his new faith in Jesus face-to-face, as it were, with God himself (cf. Ex 19:1-25; 1 Kgs 19:1-18; Gal 4:25).

    • That is possible, although that really depends on the location of the “holy mountain”! I will have to look at Paul Wright’s book, since I am surprised Sinai could be Arabia. Thanks for the tip, though!

  3. While we know about Paul’s ministry in the Epistles, this really isn’t Luke’s story to write out. Yes, Luke is the author of the book of Acts. However, with Paul taking the three years away from the area and spreading the gospel to the Gentiles, I seem to agree with the above comment. Paul, being a part of Judaism, would make a trip to Arabia of sorts to see Mount Sinai. He also brings another message to for Christians of the time to understand the covenant between Old and New Testament. Galatians 4:21-31 describes of Sarah (Abraham’s wife) and Hagar (slave of Abraham). Hagar, who conceived Ishmael, stands as Mount Sinai and present Jerusalem and is noted as “children of the slave woman” (Gal. 4:31) where Sarah conceived Isaac, and was “born of a divine promise” (Gal. 4:23). As Paul proclaims this message, I think I he got the point of being the free and divine promise, not the slave and shackled person.

  4. We know what Paul CLAIMED about is ministry in his Epistles. But we also know that Paul was often not truthful in his claims about himself. In general Paul did not usually fabricate things out of thin air (although he sometimes did, like claiming he was appointed an Apostle and was “The Apostle to the Gentiles”, and that he was obeying God going to Jerusalem, when if fact he was clearly disobeying God going to Jerusalem.)

    Paul had a strong tendency to exaggerate his own importance and his own ministry, while he belittled almost everyone around him. Paul made things up on a regular basis.

    Also, like any normal human who is writing an autobiography, Paul in his letters wanted to show himself in a favorable light, and gloss over or cover up or refuse to talk about some his own sins and mistakes as a believer. We can’t really blame Paul for feeling this way on this last point. Who writes a true factual “Tell all AUTObiography”?

    For example, Paul circumcising Timothy was probably the biggest act of hypocrisy in the Bible. It completely contradicted all Paul’s extensive teaching on the subject. Paul never admitted it, but Luke reported it in Acts, and also reported that Paul was publicly but indirectly rebuked for this in front of Luke, Timothy, and numerous others, by the leaders in Jerusalem. [Acts 21:25]

    It is comical to listen to preachers twist and manipulate the Scriptures to “prove” that “Paul really did the right thing here”, because his heart was in the right place and he “did it for evangelism.” In fact, according to Acts, it appears Paul did NOT do it for evangelism, and even if he did, it didn’t work at all for evangelism, and it was clearly an act of disobedience and hypocrisy on Paul’s part.

    Yes, some Christian leaders love to boast and brag about “O what a sinner I WAS 40 years ago,” and give some juicy drama to get publicity and sell their books and make money. But they are selective about what they write. And usually, those same men would never dream of admitting they were in error about anything at all as a Christian leader for the last 10 years.

    They are following Paul’s example, seeing sin the opposite of the way God sees sin. Like Paul, they will talk about their own “tough guy macho man” pre-conversion sins, and act as “the accuser of the brethren” bringing up the not-so-cool pre-conversion sins of others, as Paul did writing to the church he abandoned in Corinth. But God has wiped those away, and will never accuse us of those again, so we don’t need to bring them up. Over and over and over like many pastors love to do.

    On the other hand, God DOES see the sins of Christians [See Revelation 3 & 4] and God wants us to repent. Sin is always specific. But Paul never admitted to any specific sins in his autobiography. Therefore, if we want to know who Paul REALLY was, Luke’s biography of Paul in Acts is really the place to go.

    • One quick comment, since I intend to return to the topic later: “For example, Paul circumcising Timothy was probably the biggest act of hypocrisy in the Bible” – this is false, if Timothy was considered a Jew. This would depend on whether the idea of matrilienal descent was current in first century Lystra, but if he was a “Jew” because his mother was Jewish, then circumcision is appropriate. Titus, on the other hand, is fully Gentile and is not required to be circumcised.

      Paul does not require Gentiles to accept the Jewish law, Jews, it appears, continued to keep the Law.

      • Phillip,
        You raise a valid point, and I agree with the basic thrust of your comment. In a case like Timothy’s it is possible that “circumcision is appropriate” and so we cannot say with absolute certainty that “Paul was wrong to circumcise Timothy.”

        It was certainly questionable back then, (and today), but if you look at the words of the leaders in Jerusalem [Acts 21:25] to Paul, it does seem like they are raising the issue publicly, without saying definitively that “Paul was wrong” to circumcise Timothy. It’s debatable, and there is much more that could be said.

        But the main thrust of my point here is not to prove that “Paul was wrong to circumcise Timothy”, but rather that “Paul was a HYPOCRITE to circumcise Timothy.” The points are related, yes, but not the same.

        The only information we have about Paul circumcising Timothy is what Luke recorded in the Acts. Paul himself never brought this up anywhere, never mentioned it, never explained it, never admitted it, never attempted to justify it.

        Paul preached one thing, but did the exact opposite himself when it came to circumcising Timothy. Paul has the most teaching specifically on the subject of circumcision – yet no one who tries to justify Paul here ever quotes Paul’s own teaching on the subject. (They’ll quote Paul’s general comments about himself that have nothing to do with circumcision though, like “I have become all things to all men…”)

        Either Paul was right to circumcise Timothy and his teaching about circumcision was wrong, or Paul was wrong to circumcise Timothy and his teaching about circumcision was right. I’m really not completely sure which, but it has to be one or the other. You can’t have it both ways

        In the Acts, Luke records that in the general area of Galatia, “Paul wanted to take him (Timothy) along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area…” [Acts 16:3]. After that, Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians telling them that, as Christians, they should NEVER be circumcised, under any circumstances. I won’t type out all Paul’s comments in Galatians – there are so many.

        Paul also wrote to the church in Corinth: “Each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him.” [1 Corinthians 7:17-20] )

  5. I’m curious, Matthew… on what basis do you place what sounds like solid trust in accounts by Luke when you don’t on those by Paul on himself and his activities? (E.g., differences of significance on when he went to Jerusalem, nature of Paul’s conversion experience, the actual agreement from the “Jerusalem council”, etc.) In asking, I’m not indicating I think we can/should put Paul on any kind of pedestal at all… for example, I don’t grant him any special category of “divine inspiration” for his letters, any more than I do Luke for Acts (or his gospel, or the other gospel or epistle writers).

    • Howard

      Jesus didn’t write an autobiography (like Paul essentially did in his letters.)
      The 4 Gospel writers compiled biographies about Jesus. Matthew Mark and Luke essentially left themselves out of their Gospel accounts, and John goes way out of his way not to emphasize himself, but Jesus in his Gospel.

      Two of them, The Apostle Matthew and The Apostle John, were personal eyewitnesses to much of the ministry of Jesus. Therefore, their 2 Gospel accounts are very slightly above Mark and Luke. I would not want to push this distinction too much, yet it does explain some problems – like how we’ve let Paul redefine the “Lord’s Supper” as I wrote about elsewhere here in my comments, and it appears Luke was slightly an accomplice, while we generally ignore the Lord’s Supper accounts of Matthew (who was there) and Mark.

      Jesus reminds us in John 5 that “if I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid.” And from Matthew 18, Jesus reminds us from the Law that every matter should be “established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”

      Jesus fulfilled the law – and we have the 4 witnesses of the Gospels. Yet, we’ve been programmed to ignore these words of God when it comes to Paul and think somehow, Paul is “The Exception” and doesn’t need another witness, even when he is contradicting Jesus.

  6. Matthew,

    I don’t wish to, at least at this point, contribute much to this discussion myself. But I have enjoyed the conversation I have read so far. If you don’t mind, I do have a couple of questions for you that would help me understand your point by getting a better understanding of your perspective.

    1) Excuse me for being a bit broad, but how to you view/understand of Paul’s teachings on the mystery as mentioned in the first verses of Ephesians 3?

    2) What is the relationship between the ministries of Paul and his companions and the Apostles in Jerusalem?

    Thanks for taking the time to at least consider these questions. I pray they don’t become a distraction from the conversation at hand.

    Grace and Peace

  7. Hi Jared,
    Good questions – I am happy to dialogue. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I’ll begin with a couple of broad answers here.

    My lens to view and evaluate and interpret the rest of the Bible is the words of Jesus recorded in the Gospels (or by the 4 Gospel writers – almost the same thing.)
    Paul’s teachings are Paul’s teachings. There are some gems, but Paul was wrong a lot of the time too. Paul’s words are not the words of God. Paul’s teachings are not necessarily understandable, and Paul didn’t always harmonize with himself, never mind harmonizing with Jesus.

    .2) Since you asked here, regarding Apostles, I’m reposting this exhaustive Biblical explanation for ease of reference.- hope that is OK. We need to become aware of where our definition of “Apostle” is coming from, and not “beg the question” saying “Paul was an Apostle because he claimed to be.”

    “What is an Apostle?”
    Here is the answer based on the original sources:
    The words and actions of Jesus and the Original Apostles in the text of the New Testament.

    .1) Gospel of Mark – time lag between being appointed and being sent
    “Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve – designating them apostles – that they might be with him…” [Mark 3:13-14]

    Three chapters later,
    “Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits.” [Mark 6:6-7]

    .2) Gospel of Luke – time lag between being appointed and being sent
    “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon…..” [Luke 6:12-14]

    Again three chapters later,
    “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” [Luke 9:1-2]

    .3) Gospel of Matthew – which is organized by theme, not necessarily in chronological order.
    “He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal disease and sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon…” [Matthew 10:1]

    Without any clear time reference, continuing on the theme of the Apostles, Matthew does record “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions…” [Matthew 10:5] Matthew never said that the Apostles were “sent out” immediately after being appointed. If we didn’t also have the clear records in Mark and Luke, it would be a fairly logical assumption that Jesus sent them out right away, but it would still be just an assumption. In this case, that assumption would clearly be wrong. The Twelve Apostles were absolutely NOT sent out right away after being appointed Apostles, according to Mark chapters 3 through 6, and Luke chapters 6 through 9.

    So being an Apostle of Jesus involves being sent by Jesus, yes. But that isn’t the only meaning, or even the first and primary meaning. The first thing was “that they might be with Him” personally, together, for His entire earthly ministry, from the time of John the Baptist until Jesus rose to heaven. Jesus poured his life into the 12 Apostles for 3 ½ years very personally training them to be the leaders of the church, and Jesus chose Peter as first among equals.

    The NIV translation inserts the heading “Matthias Chosen to Replace Judas” for the passage Luke wrote in Acts 1:12-26]. The NIV headings were not part of the original text, and sometimes they can be misleading, but in this case I believe the heading is right on.

    Jesus and the Original Apostles knew what an Apostle is better than anyone else in the world. Why is this a strange idea? Why do so many people frequently attack and tear down and dismiss the Original Apostles, particularly Peter, as if they were all incompetent, stupid, and wrong in so many ways, and they didn’t even know what an “Apostle” was? The answer to that question is, they have been listening to the voice of Paul, rather than the voices of Jesus and the Original Apostles.

    As we consider the question “what is an Apostle”, we should carefully listen to the words of the leader that Jesus personally appointed as first among the Apostles, and trained personally for 3 ½ years, Peter.

    “It is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” [Acts 1:21-22]

    Neither Paul, nor James, nor Luke were with Jesus and the Apostles the whole time, so they were not qualified to be a “witness with the Apostles of Jesus’ resurrection”, which is what it means to be an Apostle. Matthias was qualified, appointed, and later recognized as part of The Twelve. No one except Judas ever lost his apostleship.

    Responding to a question from Peter,
    “Jesus said to them:
    …you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” [Matthew 19:28]

    We cannot prove that Judas was present at that time, and we cannot prove that Matthias was absent at that time when Jesus spoke those words. Even if Judas was physically present, as we all realize now, he was not a true follower of Jesus. And even if Matthias was physically absent at that particular occasion, Jesus is still establishing the basic qualification for having one of the twelve thrones as being “you who have followed me,” not someone who will follow Jesus in the future, like Paul, James, Luke or anyone else in the world.

    At the Last Supper, Jesus said to His Apostles:
    “You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred on one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” [Luke 22:28-30]

    Was Judas present when Jesus spoke those words? Even if someone wants to be argumentative and say we can’t prove that Judas wasn’t there at the time, we certainly can’t prove that Judas WAS there. Judas obviously didn’t stand by Jesus in his trial, as the whole world knows. But that was the requirement Jesus gave to “sit on thrones:” “You are those who have stood by me in my trials.” “You”, speaking to His 11 Apostles who had been walking with Him faithfully for 3 ½ years. Not others in the future who will follow the risen Jesus Christ. Notice that at the Last Supper, when Judas lost his throne and Matthias was definitely absent, Jesus chose to speak of “thrones” rather than “twelve thrones” as he had previously.

    The Apostle John recorded about the New Jerusalem,
    “The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” [Revelation 21:14]

    The Apostles are 12 faithful eyewitnesses who walked with Jesus during His entire earthly ministry, and Matthias is the 12th. That’s the short version of my definition of “what is an Apostle.”

    • Thanks for the great reply. I think you make some biblical and accurate statements about the criteria for Apostleship. I do not question or dismiss the clear teachings of Jesus in his ministry or of Peter as Matthias is chosen.

      But, I still have some issue with statements you make about Paul that are quite bold. I say “bold” because it challenges church tradition from the past 2,000 years. But, if you are indeed right, we must stand firmly on the inspired Word of God and cut off all ties to church tradition that would dismiss a proper reading of God’s word. As it stands so far, it seems that we both agree on the authority of the Gospel accounts.

      If you don’t mind, I do have some follow up questions.

      Is it possible for Paul to be given authority on the level of the apostles OR that he was given the title of apostle as though he were an apostle of a different sort? Perhaps that question is not clear. But since the Lord Jesus Christ gave the conditions for becoming an apostle to his close disciples and since it is by HIS authority that they are called to be apostles (even Peter cast lots instead of taking the decision upon himself), could he not have given that authority to Paul. IF Paul is telling the truth (which I understand is not an assumption we can make in this conversation) then that is exactly the case. I do not see a problem with this. Especially recognizing that Paul, even if truly an apostle by Christ’s authority, is no claiming to be on the same authority as the twelve in the coming Kingdom. Paul does not claim a throne or a name on a gate to the New Jerusalem. In fact, I see Paul’s ministry as distinct and unique from the ministry of the twelve (especially after Acts 13). Though I do think Paul thought himself equal in authority to the Apostles, it seems that most (if not all) of Paul’s self claim to being an apostle can clearly be understood as claiming to be a messenger of Christ. IF Paul did receive special revelation of Christ to go and minister to the Gentiles then he is, without a doubt, an apostle to the gentiles (literally “a messenger to the Gentiles).

      Much of my thought is based on my strong belief that Paul’s ministry was not the same as the apostles. And so I must ask, is it possible for BOTH the twelve AND Paul to be “right” even though they may seem to contradict each other? Their audiences were far different. If you had a strong prison ministry and I had an ongoing ministry in a nursing home, we are obviously going to preach/teach different. You might claim the forgiveness of sins as most important and I might claim eternal life as most important. This is merely a simple example, but I think it illustrates the possibility for major differences in the Pauline and Petrine teachings.

      Also, how do you think you and I will experience the New Jerusalem?

      And what texts authoritatively define what local churches must ‘look’ like today? Should the Church reflect the followers of Christ in the Gospels, or do we look elsewhere for an example?

      • Jared,
        I appreciate that you are thinking, with a Bible in hand. Here is a response to your second paragraph.
        We both agree on the authority of the WORDS OF JESUS IN THE Gospel accounts. We also agree on the accuracy of the facts recorded in the Gospel accounts.

        It’s not a huge major point, but I’ve recently become aware that sometimes Luke’s editorializing personal comments putting his own spin on the meaning and interpretation of the words of Jesus are not “the word of God.” They are Luke’s spin on the word of God, which may be helpful but is not authoritative. Here are 2 examples:

        “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:” Then Luke records the Parable of Jesus – the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. [Luke 18:9-14] The words of Jesus are the words of God, but Luke’s framing of the parable and it’s meaning is not the word of God – Luke’s words introducing the words of Jesus are incomplete at best. We need to let Jesus speak for Himself, not let Luke become our special High Priest to translate the meaning for us of Jesus’ words. Sometimes Jesus gives His own interpretation of His own parables, and those are the word of God of course, recorded by the Gospel writers.

        “In the same way, after supper, he took the cup, saying:” [Luke 22:7-38]
        These are not the words of God. They are words of Luke editorializing, inserting himself into the middle of the words of Jesus, and interpreting the words of Jesus for us. The net effect is that it helps Paul redefine “The Lord’s Supper” into being a short ritual with 2 elements, a piece of bread and sip of grape-based drink, to “proclaim His death”.

        During “Communion” or what we call “The Lord’s Supper”, most Western churches most of the time read from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians [1 Cor 11] about the Lord’s Supper, or sometimes from Gospel of Luke. In over 20 years following Jesus and attending Protestant Churches, during communion I don’t recall them ever reading from the Last Supper accounts of Matthew, Mark or John. Yet Paul wasn’t present at the time. Neither was Luke, although Luke’s account certainly must have been based on eyewitnesses.

        In contrast, if you listen to the words of Jesus, and Matthew Mark & John, the Lord’s Supper really should be an extended dinner party, eating, drinking, interacting and discussing at length, to remember everything about Jesus – eternal nature, birth of a virgin, sinless life, teachings, miracles, death, resurrection, ascension, His presence with us now…. – (not simply and only “proclaim his death.”)

        For hundreds of years, I understand that the early church was famous for their “Agape feasts”. Yes, remembering Jesus includes the cross – but many other things too. I remember reading years ago somewhere that in the early church, “the cross” was present of course, but more in the background. Originally it was more like in Acts 5:20, where an angel of the Lord told the Apostles to “tell the people the full message of this new life.” (not “repeat after me the magic words and make a decision for Christ.”)

      • Jared,
        I addressed some of your points below in response to Phillip. But also, you wrote here in your third [BIG] paragraph, QUOTE: “I do think Paul thought himself equal in authority to the Apostles…”

        Yes, I also believe that PAUL THOUGHT that about himself – but no one else in the pages of the New Testament agreed with Paul about his supposed “apostleship.” This is obvious especially in Paul’s writings to the Corinthians. Paul spent chapters asserting his “rights as an apostle”, and that he was not in the least inferior to those “super-apostles.” (Paul made that word up, by the way- let me know if you can find it anywhere else in the New Testament- just as Paul redefined the word “apostle” to include himself in that elite top level of authority.) Elsewhere in false humility, Paul writes that he is the “least of the apostles,” before he goes on to brag about how hard he is working – but he is begging the question, still assuming that he is “an Apostle.”

        Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
        “Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you!” [1 Corinthians 9:2]
        So even if that may not be true for others, surely it’s true for you! Relative truth, Paul style.

        The flawed logic we’ve been taught to buy into is, “Apostle means messenger, Paul was a messenger, therefore Paul was an Apostle.” No. Apostle does NOT mean messenger according to Jesus and the 12 appointed apostles in the text of the New Testament. I don’t accept Paul’s redefinition of the word apostle, changing the meaning of the word to fit Paul. Nor do I accept modern Greek Dictionaries or theologians whose definitions are really based on Paul too – rather than Jesus and the original Apostles. Good people may disagree – I am simply challenging people to state clearly what is the basis for their belief, as I am stating my Biblical basis.

    • Matthew, you said “There are some gems, but Paul was wrong a lot of the time too.” Does this cover the canonical books, or only the few times when Paul specifically states he is giving his opinion (in 1 Cor 7, for example)? I just cannot image a “Christian Theology” without Romans! I find it hard to read Paul’s letters hoping for a “few gems.” That is the way I might read 1 Clement or Didache.

      Since you place such a high premium on the apostles, do you also omit James and Jude as non-apostles, or Hebrews as an anonymous book probably written by a non-apostle? I would think this would also lead to dismissing the unique theological perspective of Luke/Acts, since Luke is only “apostolic” as a companion/associate of Paul.

      I just think you have a overly-narrow view of apostleship that is unable to recognize apostolic authority in anyone other that the Twelve. I am not going to change your mind about that, but that is okay.

      • Phillip,
        Responding to your second paragraph,

        I place a high premium on Jesus, and give the records of Jesus written by the Apostles Matthew & John a slight edge over the records of Jesus written by Mark and Luke. Underneath that, I would give some preference to the letters of The Apostles Peter and John over the other letters.

        Why, you ask? Because the 12 Apostles KNEW Jesus personally – they walked with Jesus during His entire public ministry, and were eyewitnesses and participants. Jesus personally chose them and trained them extensively. Their apostolic authority came from close proximity in intimate fellowship for years. Some things are “more caught than taught” and they caught on more than others based on their long association with Jesus personally.

        The Apostle Peter’s Second Letter may be the most misunderstood letter in the New Testament. It’s short- only 3 chapters. But for most “Bible-believing Evangelicals”, about the only reason they ever look at 2 Peter is to find a few short “proof texts” out of context to twist and distort and use to make Peter appear to be saying the opposite of what he was actually saying. They will twist and use Peter’s own words to put Peter down and elevate Paul, when in fact Peter was distancing himself and warning people about Paul and his teaching. Peter was not “endorsing” or “affirming” or “backing” or “confirming” Paul or Paul’s supposed apostleship, or Paul’s supposed teaching that “all scripture is God-breathed.”

        I recommend stopping briefly to read the short letter of 2 Peter, and listen to what Jesus’ handpicked leader of the Apostles had to say near the end of his life – especially about his understanding of The Word of God. (No Peter never ever even implied that Paul was an apostle, and he never said that his own words, or Paul’s words, were the Word of God.)

        I do not “omit” or “dismiss” James or Jude or the anonymous author of Hebrews- none of them claimed to be apostles, or implied that their own words were the words of God (unlike Paul.) Personally I would put those 3 above Paul, and put Paul on the bottom. In terms of authority based on close personal proximity, it appears that James and Jude were the half brothers of Jesus, so even though they came to faith later, they probably “knew” the personality of Jesus better than almost anyone other than the 12 Apostles. They would probably “get it” instinctively better than most – like knowing “what would Jesus do” or say – or what would Jesus NOT do or say.

        Responding to your last (third) paragraph,

        Yes, I am “unable to recognize apostolic authority in anyone other that the Twelve.” (and Matthias is #12.) Yes, I would agree that this is the “narrowest” possible view regarding “apostleship”– but of course that does not make it wrong.

        If other followers of Jesus agree to disagree, that is fine. My Biblical sources for this belief are the words and actions of Jesus and the Apostles He appointed, recorded in the text of our New Testament. I am sure they all knew better than anyone else in the world what an “Apostle” is, and their testimony is unanimous. (They knew better than Paul, and better than Luke in his editorial comments out of context.) I think it would be accurate to say that the key word is “eyewitness” – not “messenger.”

        At a foundational level, if people have a different opinion than mine, the root of their belief is they are relying on different sources than I am. The voice of Paul alone is their primary source (plus Luke out of context in Acts 14.) Since there are no other Biblical sources, they must then look to outside sources – like dictionaries saying “apostle = messenger”, and lots of other human tradition.

        But as for me, I don’t need Paul to correct the language of Jesus and the Apostles and carefully explain what an apostle REALLY is, since God gave Paul special revelation about that, and Jesus and the 12 Apostles were either too stupid or too tongue-tied to explain it themselves. It’s ridiculous if we think about it – but we rarely do stop to think about it. We tend to just believe everything Paul said without question or examination or comparison, due to tradition.

        Some “cessationists” like John MacArthur may talk about the “apostolic age” and they say the apostles are only the 12 + Paul, and maybe a few others. They will talk about the “signs that mark an apostle”, but this is simply Paul’s false teaching on the subject. Paul was wrong about that, and was simply elevating and promoting himself as an apostle, speaking on his own. No one agree with Paul on that. Signs and wonders don’t prove that someone is an apostle; they don’t even prove that someone is a follower of Jesus.

        If you get down to brass tacks about the Biblical meaning of “apostle”, for “conservative Evangelicals” it gets hazy and fuzzy, and boils down to “Paul this and Paul that.” While someone like John MacArthur may rightly observe that thousands of people today go around falsely calling themselves “Apostles” when they are not, he is standing on quicksand – because he accepts Paul’s testimony about his own “apostleship” with no other witnesses.

    • Hello Matthew,
      Apologies for being four years late to the conversation. In your first response to Jared’s question you stated that you do not believe in the authority of Paul because they are his words and not God’s. I was going to bring up 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that says all scriptures are God-breathed, however I recognized that those were Paul’s words, so you would find them invalid in this argument. You also mention there is a time lag between being appointed and being sent out. Was Jesus not appointed to be the substitutionary sacrifice who later committed the actions necessary for that to be fulfilled? I agree that Paul’s circumstances were different from the other Apostles, however he was still filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17), which would make him just as credible in the eyes of the early church. As seen by Stephen’s speech in Acts 7, “Resistance to the apostolic message represents resisting the Holy Spirit” (Long 43). The Greek word αποστολοσ means ” a messenger, one sent on a mission, an apostle” (Strong 652). Paul was sent on a specific mission to spread the Gospels to the Gentiles. As we see time and time again throughout the New Testament, God’s works are not limited by social boundaries or human expectations.

  8. Matthew,

    What makes you think that Paul is narrowing the view of communion to “a short ritual with 2 elements, a piece of bread and sip of grape-based drink.” I do not, at this point, see anything in the 1 Corinthians 11 text that indicates or gives evidence to this interpretation. In fact, it seems as though you are reading the text through the very lens of Church tradition that you seem to be dismissing. Perhaps the traditional view is wrong (and I think it is, IMHO), but to assume that Paul means what the Church seems to claim in order to dismiss him along with tradition seems like some risky eisegesis. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    Also, does Peter not affirm Paul’s ministry in Acts 15?

    Are only the ‘words in red’ inspired? Or is the idea of “inspired Word” a fabrication?

    And why must we assume Paul is claiming to be an apostle in the same way as the twelve when he at no point claims any of the rights and responsibilities of the apostolic ministry (except that of authority)?

    Thanks for the dialogue, Matthew. I hope this communication via text does not make it seem as though I am attacking your views in any way. Though I think you are wrong, I am fascinated by your ideas and approach to Scripture!

    • Jared,
      Regarding the Lords’ Supper,

      Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11,
      “Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in?” verse 22
      “If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home.” verse 34

      In between those 2 verses, Paul made up vain repetition, which Jesus did not say, repeating “in remembrance of me” twice, with both the bread and the wine.

      May I suggest you read verses 17-34, and see all the things Paul made up, about judgment etc.

      If you are going to attend an extended dinner party, you need to make preparations, plan ahead, and you should arrive hungry, expecting a good meal. Wouldn’t you agree?

      These teachings of Paul are just a few of dozens of points that are wrong, which I have elaborated on here in the past few weeks.

      Regarding your comment QUOTE:
      “Also, does Peter not affirm Paul’s ministry in Acts 15?”
      I see “the apostles and elders” affirmed “dear friends Barnabas and Paul.”
      Here again a clear distinction is made, that Barnabas and Paul were NOT apostles, and Paul was the junior partner under Barnabas. Unless you see something else, I I think it would be stretching the text to the point of absurdity to say that “Peter affirmed Paul’s ministry in Acts 15.” But maybe I missed something.

      • I find it very difficult to personally read anything other than the apostles and elders supporting Barnabas and Paul in their ministry to the Gentiles. Perhaps that is mostly due to my biases, but nonetheless, I believe it to be a biblically responsible way of understanding the event of the 1st century Church.

    • Jared,
      Regarding your last two points:
      .1) You said, QUOTE: “Are only the ‘words in red’ inspired? Or is the idea of “inspired Word” a fabrication? “

      In the Western Evangelical Protestant World, we have been trained to play “fast and loose” with a number of terms without thinking, treating them all as synonyms and equal in meaning, when the are not. We use these terms interchangibly swapping back and forth all referring to what we call the entire “Bible” (66 Books.):

      The law my servant Moses gave you [Joshua 1:7]
      Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth [Joshua 1:8]
      The words of the prophecy in this book [Revelation 22:7]
      All the Law and the Prophets [Matthew 22:40]
      The Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms [Luke 24:44]
      From infancy you have know the holy Scriptures [2 Timothy 3:15]
      All Scripture [2 Timothy 3:16]
      Prophecy of Scripture [2 Peter 1:20]
      Prophecy never had its origin in the will of man [2 Peter 1:21]
      What is written in THEIR Law: “They hated me without reason.” [John 15:25]
      The Law
      The Word of God
      Inspired / inerrant / infallible / authoritative / God-breathed / Word

      For example, I heard a sermon preached on the passage with “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth [Joshua 1:8]”
      The pastor’s life application? That the whole church should spend a month reading Paul’s letter to the Romans together. 🙂 Before your eyes glaze over and you think, “well that makes sense – it’s all the Word of God “ – just pause for a moment to think it through. Just after the death of Moses, after Moses had completed the 5 books of the Law of Moses (the Torah), do you really think this is referring to Paul’s letter to the Romans? Is Romans the New Book of the Law?

      No one in the pages of the Bible ever said that all Scripture is equal in priority or authority or importance. No one it its pages ever referred to the 66 Books and said it is all “One Book.” It was not given that way, or thought of that way for hundreds of years.

      On the contrary, as I’ve documented here with a link, the Book of the 4 Gospels was far more important and therefore more commonly used (around 5 x more as I recall) than the rest of the “New Testament”. And still today in the (Eastern) Orthodox Church they still give the 4 Gospels top priority, above the rest of the New Testament. You can disagree with their practice if you want, but it is a fact that they still do this in Orthodoxy. They pick and choose Jesus above all others. Who are we to pick and choose Paul instead of Jesus, or pick all 66 Books and say they are all equal?

      .2) You said, QUOTE: “And why must we assume Paul is claiming to be an apostle in the same way as the twelve when he at no point claims any of the rights and responsibilities of the apostolic ministry (except that of authority)?”

      You are arguing for “relative truth” here in order to accommodate Paul – so you don’t have to break the taboo and say “Paul was wrong.” Paul redefined the word “apostle” to include himself, and we’ve been trained to seek “the mind of Paul.” Nobody agreed with Paul. It’s a fruitless quest, and source of many of the problems in the church today- treating our opinions, based on tradition, of “what Paul really meant” as if it’s “the Word of God.”

      What you are saying is, Paul had is own definition of what an “apostle” was, so we should just accept Paul’s definition, apply it to Paul himself, and ignore what Jesus and the Original Apostles said on the subject of Apostles. You are operating under the common Evangelical assumption that Paul could not be wrong, so if the words of Paul on the page are wrong when compared with Jesus and the Original Apostles, it just means that Paul didn’t really mean what he said, he really meant something else. We are so used to justifying Paul that this comes naturally- it breeds Phariseeism.

      You spoke of “an apostle in the same way as the twelve.” That is really begging the question of what is an apostle. You are beginning with the assumption that Paul WAS an Apostle, so since he was an Apostle, how can we create a definition that includes Paul? It’s not the right assumption to begin with. I am encouraged that you are willing to engage in discussion.

      • “Paul redefined the word “apostle” to include himself, and we’ve been trained to seek “the mind of Paul.” Nobody agreed with Paul.”

        This is very problematic, since Paul did not re-define anything, he calls himself an apostle in the sense of a representative of an authority sent for a particular task/mission.

        I still think you are mixing the qualifications to be one of the Twelve with being an apostle and your own prejudice against Paul (for reasons I fail to understand). Paul was never one of the Twelve, nor was Barnabas even though he is used as an apostle in Acts and called that on at least one occasion. Even James the Lord’s brother is not one of the Twelve!

        Unless you want to consider Galatians and 1 Corinthians spurious/non-authoritative, you are simply stuck with the fact Paul is an apostle. In Galatians 1 he says he was appointed to this task through Jesus and God, in 1 Cor 15:9 he is an apostle, by the grace of God even though he is “the least of the apostles” on account of his persecution of the church of God. Are these simply claims “nobody agreed with”?

        There were people who doubted his authority (and I am not sure you want to be on the side of the opponents in Galatians or 2 Corinthians!). The vast majority of the early church recognizes his apostolic authority. To make the claim Paul was pulling a con on the early church and falsely claiming to be an apostle is quite a fantasy. He never claimed to be one of the Twelve, but he did claim to be an apostle appointed by Jesus.

      • Phillip,
        Paul did an excellent job of marketing himself, making himself number one in the “apostle” category. Even today, for pretty much all Christians, if you ask them what name they think of when they hear the word “Apostle,” the answer is “Paul”.

        Share of voice equals share of mind. Paul talked so much about being an apostle, and called himself an apostle so frequently, that we just believe it. I must respectfully note that no one in the pages of the New Testament agreed with Paul on his claims to be “an apostle” or appointed an apostle, or to have apostolic authority. (We already covered Luke’s editorial comments in Acts 14)

        It comes to a question of sources for the definition of what an Apostle is: CHOICE #1 – Paul’s letters (1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Romans, and others too – but all only one witness, Paul.) Jesus reminded us from the Law that a matter should be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.
        CHOCE #2
        Jesus and the Twelve, who were unanimous that there are only twelve apostles, and Matthias is #12. Based the text, I make the case that the key word is “eyewitness” NOT “messenger” who is “sent out”, NOT “a representative of an authority sent for a particular task/mission.” Yes, you stated the commonly understood definition of “apostle” in Western Bible-believing Evangelical Christianity today, and you have a lot of company – but this is the common understanding that I am challenging.

        400 years ago, Galileo challenged the common understanding of “what the Bible said” according to the religious establishment of his day, and he spent the last 10 years of his life under house arrest for “suspician of heresy.” Galileo didn’t make the earth start revolving around the sun, and he didn’t “re-write the Bible.” He only observed facts, and corrected a misinterpretation of the text.

        Paul’s ideas of what an “apostle” is are so deep in our traditions, Greek dictionaries, theology books, etc. that it is very difficult to hear the voice of Jesus without Paul’s voice drowning him out. Yes, Greek dictionaries are useful, but on the specific subject of “apostles”, I believe the testimony of Jesus and the Original Apostles in the New Testament are more useful and more authoritative than the dictionary (Or Paul, or Luke, or anyone else.)

        Good people may disagree. I am just making my case based on my sources.

  9. I do not believe that all of the Bible (the 66 books) is of equal importance to us. Some of it is directly applicable to you and I. And, some of it simply is not. Some of it speaks of Christ life, ministry and death; while some of it speaks to the issue of a moldy house. That being said, I do not see how one can have a proper understanding of God after cutting out the majority of what I believe to be given directly by him. Of course, I don’t fully understand your position, so I can say that in ‘blissful ignorance,’ I suppose.

    I, personally, do not choose Paul over Jesus. It is by the blood of Jesus that I am forgiven. It is in the resurrected Christ that I find my hope; not Paul. But, I cannot begin to feel as though I have some direct link to all the teaching of Christ. Much of what he said was directly to Peter, James, and John. Though I believe it inspired and I believe it is authoritative to the Church today, those teachings are not directly aimed at me. Jesus spoke to his companions and friends who were Jewish believers and an intimate part of his ministry. I, as a Midwestern French Canadian/Pollock, who spends his days playing dress with a four year old and eating bacon cheeseburgers am not who Jesus is talking to when he came for the lost sheep of Israel. But, as that man, I am in awe of God that he would use Paul and his companions to reach the people that Israel had been failing to reach their beginning. Without God using men to reach Gentiles, I would not know my Lord Jesus the Christ.

    As someone who would reject most of the ‘New Testament’ as authoritative, how difficult is it for you to keep the Law? Or, is my assumption inaccurate? If so, what from Christ and his Apostles do you see as a reason to not keep the dietary laws, Sabbath, etc.?

    • Jared,
      So you and Phillip and I all agree on the point that we “do not believe that all of the Bible (the 66 books) is of equal importance to us.”

      So we are left with the fundamental question, which parts ARE the most important, what are the levels of importance and authority of the 66 Books of the Bible, and who gets to decide that?

      Personally, my answer is that the testimony of Jesus is the most important, and the words of Jesus get to decide, therefore I agree with the Orthodox position that the 4 Gospels are the most important texts.

      Your general viewpoint here is common, and probably the overwhelming majority opinion in Western Evangelical Christianity. It’s “Replacement Theology”, although many people may not know it by that name, or even be consciously aware of it. The basic idea is that The Church replaced Israel, and Christians replaced Jews as God’s people.

      In my opinion, the primary hidden root of “Replacement Theology”, is PAUL. The basic idea is that Paul the self-appointed “Apostle to the Gentiles” has replaced Jesus, and Paul’s teachings replaced Jesus for us in the Church today. Paul’s letters, to the Romans, Galatians, Corinthians, and others, replaced The Gospels as the main defining primary texts. I believe this seems to be your basic viewpoint expressed just above, which I summarized in this previous post as well.

      You wrote, QUOTE:
      “I cannot begin to feel as though I have some direct link to all the teaching of Christ. Much of what he said was directly to Peter, James, and John. Though I believe it inspired and I believe it is authoritative to the Church today, those teachings are not directly aimed at me.”

      Do you feel that way about Jesus’ most famous teaching, Matthew chapters 5-8, the Sermon on the Mount?

      • “Your general viewpoint here is common…it’s “Replacement Theology”, although many people may not know it by that name, or even be consciously aware of it. The basic idea is that The Church replaced Israel, and Christians replaced Jews as God’s people. In my opinion, the primary hidden root of “Replacement Theology”, is PAUL”

        To quote great theologian Inigo Montoya, you keep using that word but I don’t think you know what it means. Since Jared and I both associate with dispensationalists, we are about as non-replacement as it gets! I would never agree with Christians replacing Israel as God’s people, and unless you are unwilling to read Romans 9-11, you cannot say Paul thought there was no future for Israel.

        Paul is the source of Christian theology in general, good, bad or otherwise. I can really only think of one person who would want to totally reject Paul as the source for Christian Theology….

      • Matthew,

        you wrote, “Your general viewpoint here is common, and probably the overwhelming majority opinion in Western Evangelical Christianity. It’s “Replacement Theology”, although many people may not know it by that name, or even be consciously aware of it. The basic idea is that The Church replaced Israel, and Christians replaced Jews as God’s people.”

        This shows me four things:

        1) I have not been clear in the presentation of my viewpoints. For that, I apologize.

        2) My opinion that you were a replacement theologian was wrong.

        3) Your understanding of Replacement Theology is slightly different than mine (though not different enough to explain why you consider me a replacement theologian, though I am of quite the opposite opinion).

        4) I understand even less of how you formed your opinions than I thought, if it is the case that you do not consider the church today to be a replacement for Israel.

        So, now I MUST ask, what DO you think the relationship between the Church today and Israel is? How do you get to this conclusion?

        In my opinion, the source of Replacement Theology is a poor understanding of the Body of Christ. Of course, one cannot understand the Church as distinct from the church of the Apostle or the church in the wilderness without Paul’s writings on the matter. At least, its not possible insofar as I’ve ever been shown.

        I think Jesus spoke the Sermon on the Mount to a Jewish audience. As someone who is not under the Law, much of the main thrust of that discourse in Matthew does not apply to me. I believe Matthew was possibly summarizing the teachings of Jesus, though teaching in that way likely happened in similar situations. And, I think Jesus’ is attempting to remind his audience what keeping the law is all about… worshipful and authentic relationship to God the Father. As far as I am concerned, the Sermon on the Mount is a fantastic resource for understanding the nature and purpose of the Law, the importance of authentic and intimate relationship with God, and understanding some truths that apply to all people.

        Somebody who finds the words of Jesus as directly applicable to themselves must live as Jesus and the Disciples did, yes? Do you excuse yourself from Sabbath and dietary laws?

      • Phillip,
        I’m glad we both “feel pretty good about” The Sermon on the Mount – Good Vibrations, as the Beach Boys might say, to remind you of days of yore here in sunny Southern California. Sorry for the typo – yes it’s 5-7, my wife and I listened to it yesterday and again this morning online on BibleGateway.

        Until seeing your website, I was not aware of the theological hornets nest in historical Dispensationalism regarding The Sermon on the Mount. Although I got my MA there, I never heard that viewpoint during my time there, at least not that I was conscious of.

        Of course you are right in terms of Dispensationalists NOT believing that The Church replaced Israel, and Christians replaced the Jews, so yes, dispensationalists ” are about as non-replacement as it gets!” in that sense, true enough.

        Yet when it comes to teaching and “Christian Theology” and practical life application and life example to follow, it does seem to me that, to an amazing degree, Paul has replaced Jesus in Dispensationalism.

        I would agree that for the most part, Paul is the source of WESTERN PROTESTANT Christian theology in general, good, bad or otherwise. While I do not “totally reject Paul as the source for Christian Theology,” I would add that some of it is “bad or otherwise.”

        The Western Church tends to look to Paul for it’s theology, yes. The Eastern Church tends to look to the Apostle John. I’ll have to leave that topic for another time.

      • Jared,
        You wrote QUOTE:
        “I think Jesus spoke the Sermon on the Mount to a Jewish audience. As someone who is not under the Law, much of the main thrust of that discourse in Matthew does not apply to me.”
        and you asked me, QUOTE:
        “Do you excuse yourself from Sabbath and dietary laws?”

        Why do you think the teachings of Jesus in Matthew chapters 5-7 don’t apply to you? I see nothing in there at all about “Sabbath and dietary laws” I see moral teaching, and a picture of what it’s like to walk close to God, which applies to everyone. Did I miss something?

  10. I was shocked to find out that Paul was in Arabia for three years before meeting with Peter and James in Jerusalem. I have read Galatians before so I probably knew that he was there for that long, but hearing it again surprised me. I find it interesting that in Acts 9, it says that he didn’t leave for “many days”. While this is true, I wonder why Luke did not mention that it was three years until he finally left Damascus. Saying that he was in Damascus for “years” sounds like a lot longer than just being in Damascus for “days”. I like the idea of Paul staying in Arabia for the three years so that he could learn more about the Christian faith and about Jesus so that he could teach the people he was going to even better. Since Paul was a Jew and was high in the ranks, he probably knew the Bible pretty well. However, he may not have known too much about the changes that Christians made. He may have known some since he was persecuting them and had his reasons for it, now that he was a Christian, there was probably a lot more that he needed to know in order to teach people. While three years may seem like a long time to study in one place, I think that this could be true if he was safe there during his time and was not ready to go into other places where he would maybe get persecuted like he did to the Christians before he was converted.

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