Why did Paul go to Arabia?

One of the more tantalizing aspects of Paul’s early ministry is his “three years in Arabia.” In Galatians 1:17, Paul claims he did not go to Jerusalem immediately, but rather he went to Arabia for a period of time before returning to Damascus. A recent novel by Jerry Jenkins, Empire’s End: A Novel of the Apostle Paul, speculates about this period in Paul’s life, but what can we know about Paul’s life after the Damascus Road experience?

This period of time is not spent in modern Arabia (i.e. Saudi Arabia), but rather the Nabatean kingdom on the east side of the Jordan. As Robert Smith states, the term “Arab” “could be used as a virtual equivalent of ‘Nabatean’ (1 Macc 5:25, 39, 9:35, and 2 Macc 5:8)” (ABD, 1:326).

Jeresh, from Summer
of 2013

Paul gives us some details of these events in 2 Corinthians 11:32-33. While Luke indicates the Jews were plotting against him, 2 Corinthains adds an important fact: The local guard was looking out for him as well. He specifically mentions Aretas IV, the client-king over the Nabateans. During the reign of Aretas IV (9 B.C. – A.D. 39) Nabatean culture was at a high point. The king was responsible for the development of Petra and developed a number of cities along the Petra-Gaza trade route. He controlled territory as far north as Damascus and as far south as northern Arabia. To a certain extent, Aretas IV was the “Herod the Great” of the Nabatean kingdom. Since Aretas IV died in 39, the latest date for Paul’s conversion is 36, if not earlier.

After an initial confrontation with Jews in the synagogue in Damascus, it is possible that Paul traveled from Damascus to other major cities in the Nabatean kingdom. This would have included cities of the Decapolis, perhaps even the modern site of Jeresh. 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 on the road to Damascus.

But 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 period is not a monastic retreat! Paul is preaching Jesus and being faithful to his calling as the light to the Gentiles.


76 thoughts on “Why did Paul go to Arabia?

  1. I have always found this reference intriguing. Here are some on-line resources on this subject: N.T. Wright, “Paul, Arabia, and Elijah (Galatians 1:17),” Journal of Biblical Literature 115.4 (Winter 1996): 683-692. [https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/jbl/1996-4_683.pdf]; Martin Hengel “Paul in Arabia,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 12.1 (2002): 47-66. [https://www.ibr-bbr.org/files/bbr/BBR_2002a_04_Hengel_PaulInArabia.pdf]

    • I almost made reference to the Wright article, so I am glad you brought it up, and with links! Thanks.

      I do not remember reading the Hengel article, but I have read ( and enjoyed) several of his books on the early years of Paul, esp. Paul Between Damascus and Antioch.

    • Thank you Rob, these articles were so helpful to us and our group study on Paul, I appreciate your effort to put them here. God bless you!

    • Hi Rob et al. Lucy writing from Texas on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul , 2019…
      Firstly , I want to say Thank you.
      I am very grateful for this conversation thread I discovered TODAY, and above all, for your 2 references to the works by Wright and by Hengel. Like you said, the first 3 years of Saint Paul are foundational AND therefore of great importance, because that time and place (“Arabia” in the sense defined by the above research) set apart in his background and personal formation truly underscores and underlines the mysterious workings of the Holy Spirit (GRACE of REVELATION) upon his soul. He was a man who initially was touched by the Finger of God on the Road to Damascus , by direct way of Gods’ Kingdom Power and Glory made manifest, through a personal , mystical Revelation of Christ . In the sense of mystical theology patterns of Divine REVELATION and THEOPHANY, one need look no further than the template of the events of the Transfiguration itself, foreshadowing the revelation on the road to Damascus itself : the presence of Christ surrounded by The Law (Moses) and The Prophets (Elijah) . In fact, I am convinced THAT is what Paul was “seeking”, truly a Man on a Mission, as he took off into the Wilderness of “Arabia” : to reverence the Divine Call to spend FURTHER time with the Lord upon the great mount of Divine Revelation of the Law, Sinai. I think Shaul/Paul was desperate to have a good long talk with Moses and Elijah in the Presence of Jesus… but this time, perhaps he himself asking them questions and making them perfectly tailored Tents of Meeting !!! Indeed, it is awesome to contemplate those prefiguring , prophetic words of the awestruck PETER as he declared what would become a perfectly PAULINE suggestion : LORD, HOW ABOUT IF I SET UP THREE TENTS ! HAH! God was surely musing at Mount Tabor about what He would do for Shaul/Paul not long afterwards upon the Mount Sinai . Yes, God does have a sense of humor…. writing about these things on this Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.
      Moreover, I believe that Pilgrim Paul received through Moses upon Mount Sinai the FOUNDATIONS of the LAW he would later go on to proclaim for the rest of his missionary life , this time with another sort of ZEAL: the LAW OF THE LOVE OF CHRIST CRUCIFIED. Caritas Christi urget nos !!! AMEN?
      Further in a similar vein, I believe that IF Paul spent time in Tyre and Sidon (before setting sail) , surely it was also because he was spending time at not too distant Tabor, another special place of pilgrimage: for him to mystically encounter the PROPHET Elijah ! Suffice it to think like a pilgrim: Paul returned to places of biblical and historic anointing. This is in fact at the very root of the Mystery of Incarnation: things DO seem to happen repeatedly in patterns in particular places of blessing and anointing on earth. Places of PILGRIMAGE are part of our Faith. The Church calls it Grace of Place. Paul would have been convicted of that fact as part of his Divine Revelation. So he would have traveled there , as First Destinations of Priority, NOT part of some vague bucket list ! The powerful charism and prophetic anointing of Elijah was most certainly high up on the Pilgrim Paul’s deepest desires. “Once a mystic, always a mystic” …. because as Saint Paul would personally discover : such revelation to the Heart is indeed just as essential as the revelation to the Head, found through academic learning. Paul could have become a religious zealot of THE WAY , and dangerously hijacked the young Christian Church had he NOT found the BALANCE of his proper VOICE : the FULLNESS OF TRUTH that comes with knowing Christ in the HEART and in the HEAD. Both. They go TOGETHER. Religion without Relationship is an extremely toxic and dangerous phenomenon….as you all would surely agree ?
      If a soul has not learned the art of Silence, then it has not learned the art of Speaking. THAT IS WISDOM. Wisdom , infused knowledge, would become the foundation and basis of Saint Paul’s entire life mission in Christ. And he “got it in Arabia”….along with the deep humility to announce the Living Word with patience, perseverance and love. I believe that Saint Paul received the Gift of Tears, and much like Aquinas, he wept often as the Spirit of God visited him and transmitted Wisdom to him, not just on Sinai or Tabor but every time he prayed and sought the Presence of God. Paul was first and foremost a man of prayer in the Holy Spirit.
      Jesus in fact transformed (Metanoia ) the mind and heart of Praying Paul from one sort of Zeal to another, from an Old Testament Zeal into the proper fullness of the New Testament Covenant. Saint Paul HAD TO spend time alone with God in order to effectively receive the Revelation of the COVENANT OF LOVE made complete in Jesus Christ. Think of it this way : A conversation/encounter that was started by Saint PETER on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration , God the Father wanted to continue with Saint Paul up at Sinai. It had to be so in order to complete the Revelation of the Covenant.
      Indeed, Saint Paul is an ICON of the balance of 2 revelations taking place in both time and space: Old and New, Head and Heart…
      The BALANCE of the TWO becomes the effective and efficacious VOICE of MISSION. No missionary can go out into the world and preach for such an extended time , or have lasting impact on listeners, or undergo such extensive persecution… unless he or she is filled with BOTH heart love and head knowledge of Christ Crucified. Right? Even Gamaliel knew that: if it does not truly come FROM the KINGDOM of GOD it will never perdure….
      LATER, we know that Paul/Shaul would have met with the Apostles and “studied” in Jerusalem, in order to obtain what I would call Head Knowledge AND his pedigree or official diploma from the Apostolic team of theologians ! They would have officially SENT him “out into the deep” (Duc in altum) : the men who saw Jesus Christ in the flesh with their natural eyes and heard Him speak with their natural ears…as opposed to mystical revelation of Heart Knowledge that Paul . He understood the danger of being a potential MONSTER, that he could become a voice borne from zealous intellectual pride of the New Religion. I can promise you that Paul was humbly aware of his sins, and he did NOT want to remain the same man but by the MERCY OF GOD, was taken up on that very important mountain, on a prolonged retreat into the dessert in order to receive the much-needed METANOIA . In fact, I WOULD actually liken his “3 years” there to a life-changing time of retreat. He needed to let Christ Himself teach him about His own THREE YEARS of ministry before hearing anything directly from the Apostles. All the other reasons given for his avoidance of Jerusalem initially are in fact logical, but very earthly ways of thinking. The man Shaul/Paul has undergone a THEOPHANY. He has been touched by God. He is not the same man at all, and is highly aware of his desperate need to consolidate and deepen his RELATIONSHIP with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. What he experienced on the road to Damascus he would indeed NEED some 3 years to digest and unpack and further confirm before “setting out into the deep”. Humility taught him that. And so did Wisdom.
      In fact, I believe that our Gracious Lord Jesus wanted to confirm in Paul the many , many CHARISMS He had initiated on the Road to Damascus. He wanted to strengthen the Revelation in Paul, building strong foundations in the Holy Spirit. It is my personal conviction then , that Paul/Shaul would in fact continue to receive in this very same manner of REVELATION as opposed to RELIGION : He saw the dangers of the Spirit of Religion that had literally blinded the Jews to the Presence of the Messiah. In fact, this is why Paul speaks constantly and powerfully about the action of the GRACE OF GOD: Truth was not revealed to him through schooling of religion ( whose merits he personally knew from experience, having known the best there ever was in the Rabbi Gamaliel ) but rather through the revelation of his personal encounter with the Crucified Christ. Where else would a man converted by Theophany and devoted to the Law and the Prophets GO other than to Mount Sinai? There, he received continued Revelation and instruction , in addition to the deeper circumcising of his heart into the mysteries of the Cross of Jesus Christ.
      Thank you for taking the time to read these many words of mine, coming from one who is a living testimony of the Grace of God working in a soul today, one who finds her model in Saint Paul of Tarsus. Praised be Jesus Christ, Incarnate Wisdom and Word made Flesh !
      Saint Peter pray for us.
      Saint Paul pray for us.

      • To me, this is undoubtably the best treatise I’ve read about Paul’s three years in Arabia! Thank you for your beautiful discussion! It is excellent!

      • Very sweet … the Holy Spirit lead Paul to say, write and do everything after his “conversion experience”. All that we need to know, Paul has told us explicitly. Speculation or rationalizations are fruitless if not useless. Whatever we can logically surmise from the writings of Paul and those wrote of him (in the Bible) are complete from the Holy Spirits perspective and are easily understood after reasonable study. We don’t need to be scholars of any stripe. But I guess it’s better to fuss about the Bible then less Godly matters. Love you all.

      • Dear Lucy, I’m not on facebook or anything other than the internet, and this is the first time i”ve even attempted to make a reply. I’m 78 years old, and not every savy on the new tech stuff, don’t even have spell check and wished I did,I love digging for gems like Paul’s three years in Abrabia. i’ve been on a very unpupular quest, trying to fined out who St, Paul went to Europe to spread the gospel to, whether in Italy, Greece, Asia Minor. Who were they and did they have any pryor knowledge of the old Tesatment law, even oral handdown from generation to generation, of background tradition in and around St, Pauls time and years of travel to Europe,. Also Cornelius was an Itatian from Italy in Acts 10, 1 and 2 of the Itatian band a high ranking centurion I beleive, with having men with and under him, and living in Caesarera, Palistine, at the time some one thousand miles or so from his native country Italy.. i read there where he prayed and also gave much alms to the Lord, and the lord heard him and sent an Angel in a vision to him, Right away Cornelius said what is it lord, realizing that he was touched by the finger of the Living God of the universe,.How did Cornelius know to pray to the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob/Isreal.. did Cornelus see Paul in Rome, and heard about him and his teaching, I would have thought that Paul would have been after this event in scripture. How would a Itatian from Itaty and a soldier know about this God unless some Apostle stopped him and talked to him, doesen’t say., Anyway enjoyed reading you message and seeing your thoughts,. In Christ Jesus our Lord,, Ron Duncan

      • I could not begin to tell you how much i enjoy reading your response on Paul in arabia what a blessing May our Heavenly Father Shine On YOU

    • One must read the entire context to understand that wherever Paul may have travelled to in the immense territory of Arabia, he said:
      Galatians 1:11-12
      11 But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.
      12 For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

      For 3 years he studied with the resurrected Christ. Paul, the minister of Jesus Christ to the gentiles, was given the revelation of the sacred secret of the Church, the Body of Christ, which was not revealed in Old Testament scripture.
      Galatians 1:18
      Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.

  2. I think you’re right that Paul would have been preaching. But considering what he says and what Acts says about his ministry in Palestine after those years, I wonder how successfully. Acts seems to suggest that it was only after being sent home to Tarsus and then falling under Barnabas’s tutelage that Paul’s preaching became successful.

  3. Your premise is incorrect. Paul doesn’t say he stayed in Arabia 3 years. Look more closely at his wording in Gal.1:17-18: “…but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. THEN after three years I went up to Jerusalem…” The 3 years was after he’d returned to Jerusalem. We have no idea how long he was in Arabia (though it had to have been of short duration).

    • Damascus was in the Roman province of Arabia at the time, and the premise is he went to Arabia, the duration could be anything from a brief time up to three years (based on the three years later). The point of the post was “why Arabia?” Not how long…

    • Edward you make a good point!

      Does your research enable you to factually assign a year and month to the following events:

      1) the dating of the Stoning of Stephen
      2) the dating of the Conversion of Saul, thus the time duration between 1 and 2.
      3) after Saul departing Damascus for the 1st time, the amount of time away until Saul returned to Damascus for his 2nd known visit
      4) the dating of the arrival of Saul at Jerusalem for the 15 days

      Thank you

      • There are no dates for any of this. The stoning of Stephen is probably complete fiction. Paul never mentions t and he says he was completely unknown in Judea before he made his first trip there three years after his first hallucination (whatever that was). Paul never says anything about the road to Damascus either. That’s only in Acts (which has three different, contradictory versions).

        Acts is a fictive 2nd Century work with little or no genuine historicity.

      • The time in Arabia is Galatians 1:17, even the most skeptical scholar accepts Galatians as the authentic voice of Paul. 2 Corinthians 11:32 (another one of the core Pauline letters accepted by virtually all NT scholarship) indicates Paul was forced to flee Damascus, which was at that time in the Roman province of Arabia.

        In Galatians Paul claims to have persecuted the church zealously and violently, which is more or less what Acts 7-8 says about Paul. Paul has some sort of experience, something he calls a revelation (Gal 1:12), specifically a revelation of the son (Gal 1:16). Again, we are not far from Acts here.

        Seems like there is enough general agreement to keep one from using words like “complete fiction” (even if you did add probably). How about a “theologically motivated retelling of the story of the early church”? Most history in the first century was motivated by politically, so Acts is no different.

  4. Although Paul was converted in Acts 9 on the road to Damascus, his call happened at a later time. I never differentiated the two of these until reading through TTP, in which it makes it clear that Paul’s call likely occurred after his conversion (33). Perhaps, it could have been during these three years you have mentioned in which he was silent. It makes sense when thinking of how God calls us: normally, it seems that He makes His will known over a period of prayer and study of His word. Either way, as it says in Acts 9:15, Paul was certainly God’s chosen instrument.

  5. I agree with Adam. I believe that God used that time for Paul to be silent so that He could speak through Paul. I understand the want of knowing the exact time and date that Paul spent in Arabia, but the real point is that God chosen Paul for a certain reason. I find it interesting that Longenecker talks about how Paul could have been forced to leave Damascus, but we are not exactly sure why (35). He then returned after he got back from Arabia. So there are a lot of unanswered questions that Paul left behind. We should not be too far off the time line that Paul had during his journey.

  6. Sometimes God takes His time grooming the very difficult ministry of apostleship. It’s a selfless ministry strewn with hardship, persecution, loneliness and lack of resources – always having to rely on God for leading and guidance.
    The desert is a pretty wanton place and no better place to learn survival and develop an intimate relationship with Jesus.

  7. Paul was a man of the law. The message of grace could have been intriguing to him at first. I myself experienced that for a some time in my life as a Christian. Maybe Paul wanted to sought it out, just him and God. Especially the verse in Romans 7:9 where he says” Once I was alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. So I discovered that the very commandment that was meant to bring life actually brought death.”

    I kind of linked it to the fact that Barnabas who is called the Encourager sought after Paul in Tarsus and brought him back to Antioch with him. kind of like what happened to Apollos when he met Aquila-Priscilla — they were able to “give him a better understanding of the Way.”

    And later we see in Acts that Paul is the lead speaker in their 1st mission trip. So he finally had that figured out. But praise God for people like Barnabas.

  8. The clue might be in what has already been mentioned – trade routes!
    If Marcion, an alleged ship owner, had a hand in writing Galatians then it could be he was just on a business trip arranging shipment to the coast of goods arriving from the east. Nothing spiritual or mysterious is implied by the text.

    • This is a great observation, especially in his later travels in Acts, Paul often uses Roman roads linking cities. He may have simple worked the north-south trade route on the east side of the Jordan, the Roman province of Arabia.

      However, “If Marcion, an alleged ship owner, had a hand in writing Galatians” is not at all possible, since Galatians is universally accepted as a genuine Pauline letter and dated as early as the late AD 40s, usually no later than the mid 50s (depending on how one views the meaning of the address to the Galatians). At best, Marcion was born about AD 85, he died about AD 160.

      No way Marcion could “have a hand” in writing any NT book!

      • Can’t really say Bruno Bauer or Van Manen had much impact on subsequent (post Schweitzer) Pauline scholarship. Seems like Papyrus 46 would put to death any suggested date for Galatians in the mid-second century.

  9. Papyrology – 100 yrs between an early date and a late date. Choose your date according to your bias. Very inexact discipline and recognised as such even by those in the discipline.

  10. I have been teaching a class on 1 Kings. Recently, we came to the event with Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Elijah’s message for Israel that day was to convince them that Yehweh is God and that happens to be what Elijah name means as well. Elijah leaves Jezreel in a hurry after Jezebel’s threatens to end his life. All this is going somewhere, a few more details and I will draw a parallel between Elijah and Paul after his conversion. In 1Kings 19, Elijah has traveled to Beersheba and begins to think there is nothing more for me to do, God just let me die. But the Lord gives him food and water for two days and he goes in the strength of that food for forty days to Mt. Sinai. Now in Acts 9:19, we read that Saul took food and was strengthened. He was with the disciples several days at Demascus and immediately proclaimed Jesus to be the Son of God. This is where I think Saul left Demascus and went to Arabia. It is hard to determine the length of time he would have been there. But just as Elijah went there to receive a new purpose and mission for his life from God it seems that God might have moved Saul by the Holy Spirit to head to Arabia and Mt. Sinai to have his encounter with the Lord and to receive the ” surpassing greatness of the revelations” spoken of in 2 Cor. 12: 7. Nevertheless, we do know the apostle Paul fulfilled God’s purpose in preaching Jesus of Nazerath as the one and only Son of God . As an apostle, untimely born, your made to wonder if God devoted as much time with the risen Lord and Paul as He did with the other apostles , hence three years in Arabia. Acts 9: 16 also says, with the Lord speaking to Ananias about Saul, “I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” This could have occurred in Arabia as well. When he returned he was well equipped and met every difficulty with the full assurance of faith while continuing to love the Jewish nation, Even willing to be lost eternally to save some.

  11. Is it at possible, that Paul went to Mount Horeb, Mount Sinai in Saudi Arabia and then returned to Damascus just as Elijah did?

    • It is possible, however the location of Mount Horeb in Saudi Arabia has yet to be proven. There at least three candidates for the location of Sinai, although two are in the Sinai peninsula. Paul may have visited the site as did Elijah, perhaps for similar reasons. But he did not present his “time in Arabia” that way, and there’s no evidence either way.

  12. I don’t think the details of the exact location of Mount Horeb are important. Where ever it was, it was in “Arabia” of Roman Times—that stretched from the easternmost branch of the Nile in the eastern Delta all the way to what we now call the “Persian/Arabia Gulf.” Thus, IMHO, a trip to Horeb is not out of the question.

  13. I feel Paul’s time in the desert could have been a training period. Remember Christ had spent 3 and a half years with the other Apostles and in that time they were trained and prepared for ministry. Paul also needed that. Later on Paul mentions how Christ had shown him the last supper. He could have been shown all this while in the desert.

  14. Horeb in arabia – A place to meet Yahweh. Moses, Elijah and Paul. A place of safety.

  15. I have an old map which shows”desert of arabia” in what is now western Iraq. This was surely part of arabia in Paul’s day. Why not?

  16. First and foremost, it appears that there is an odd conflict in the timeline of Saul’s whereabouts after conversion are. Galatians states that Paul did not consult with anyone about his revelation, especially the apostles in Jerusalem. Rather he immediately went to Arabia and later returned to Damascus. This all took place for three years and then Paul went to Jerusalem and meet with Peter.

    However, Acts 9:19-22 gives a head scratching summary of what happened after Saul was converted. Verse 20 states, “Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days. And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying ‘He is indeed the Son of God’.” Later Scripture states that Saul’s preaching became more and more powerful, and the Jews in Damascus could not refute his proofs that Jesus was the Messiah (v 22). After Scripture states this it says that some Jews plotted to kill him so Saul with the assistance of other believers was lowered in a basket through and opening in the city wall and headed to Jerusalem to try and meet with the believers there. After Barnabas’ persuasion of the genuineness of Saul’s faith they all went out and proclaimed the Gospel in Jerusalem.

    So I am rather stumped as to what the sequence was for Saul upon conversion. Using Galatians 1:17 He went to Arabia and returned to Damascus. There are two theories why Paul did this. One is that he went for extended prayer, meditation, and learning the Scriptures more so. The second is that Paul preached boldly in Damascus and Arabia. It is true that Arabia would have been the Nabatean kingdom which would seem to disqualify that Paul went to where the Law was initially given at Mt. Sinai. However, Galatians 4:25 would argue against this as Paul states that Mt Sinai is in Arabia. As you have stated it is very possible that Paul went to Arabia (Nabatean territory) and had this “retreat” but meanwhile preached the Gospel and went back to Damascus to preach the Gospel with fellow believers having spent three years in a sort of isolation. I think this is where Acts 9:19-23 comes into place concerning the timeline. It is worth noting that Acts 9:19 says after Paul regained his strength he stayed with the believers for a few days in Damascus and then He left. I believe verse 26 is perhaps a continuation not of the previous verses but what Paul had stated in Galatians 1:17 after his return to Damascus.

    As far as the “why” Paul went to Arabia I do truly believe it is both. I believe that in a way I cannot explain, he did go to Mt. Sinai for extended prayer and all the while proclaiming the Gospel during his three years. This operates as Paul’s “wilderness” season just as did Jesus was led by the Spirit to go into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan and afterwards came out in “the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14).

    The New American Commentary states, “A visit to Mount Sinai, while not impossible, may be considered unlikely given its far distance from Damascus, Paul’s home base during his earliest days as a Christian”

    So the commentary goes hand in hand with what you have stated Dr. Long. However, I do not see why this information makes Mt. Sinai improbable due to the distance between Damascus and Arabia in Paul’s day.

  17. Every translation I have found of Galatians 1:17-18 reads that Paul went to Arabia and returned to Damascus and “Then after 3 years” went to Jerusalem. They all infer that he was in Damascus the additional 3 years. Not Arabia.

    • Damascus is a city, Arabia is a region.Similar to saying I was in Chicago for three years, or in Illinois for three years.

      I cite here Eckhard Schnabel’s Early Christian Mission, 2:1033, “Arabia understood as a geographical term, designates the Syrian desert between the valleys of the Jordon and the Orontes rivers and Mesopotamia and the adjacent peninsula to the south between the Red Sea in the west and the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean in the east.”

      More or less the Nabatean kingdom at the time of Paul’s conversion, Schnabel (and many many others) think Paul did some sort of ministry in Nabatea-Arabia (2:1035), and Damascus was “situated at the northern edge of Nabatea (2:1032).

  18. PS – Phillip-
    I need to correct my geographic reference to TABOR as situated near the coastal ports of Tyre/Sidon , when in fact I was thinking of and meaning to write CARMEL…as a pilgrimage place of encounter for Saint Paul and the Prophet Elijah ( as per the events of the Book of Kings) …
    Thanks !

  19. The reason for Paul’s three-year visit to Arabia could include reasons such as meditating on what his new commission was a light to the gentiles, being a light to the gentiles, and or Paul needed time to pass before his ministry started elsewhere. I agree with Long and Dunn that Paul was following through with his new commission, but I would make the argument that because of Paul’s history in persecuting Christians, he needed time to pass before he could go elsewhere to do ministry. Though Paul was still fulfilling his commission as light to the gentiles, I would state his time in the Nabatean kingdom was also a time to lay low and allow his reputation as persecutor of the Christians to pass. We clearly see throughout the book of Acts that Paul (or Saul at this point) was crucial in the persecuting of Christians (Acts 8:3, 22:4-5, 26:10-11). We also see evidence of Paul’s reputation in his epistles such as 1 Cor. 15:9, Gal. 1:13, Phil. 3:6, and 1 Tim. 1:14 thus we know that Paul had a reputation involving his persecution of Christians. Longenecker and Still state in Thinking Through Paul that Paul was so zealous to persecute Christians that he would take actions both sanctioned and unsanctioned. (Longenecker, Still, Pg. 28). Because of this reputation I suggest Paul may also have spent time in the far kingdom Nabatean to allow this reputation to pass before returning to cities and people groups that would have been scared away from the gospel message because of previous knowledge of Paul. After all, why would anyone listen to a man, known to persecute Christians, preaching the gospel Christians share and believe it was not a trap of some kind. After the confrontation with the Jews in Damascus Paul may have needed time to allow conflict to pass between himself, Jews, and Christians. Thus, Paul traveled throughout the Nabatean Kingdom to fulfill his new commission and may have also done so to allow negative relations to pass with time.

  20. Thank you. This has given much clarity on what may have been Paul’s decision in going to Arabia. FYI., I see you made a typo Galatians 7 should be Galatians 17.
    All the same I appreciate your research into why Paul went into Arabia.

  21. It is my belief that Paul went to Arabia, not only to preach, but to commune with Christ in order to be given knowledge of where he was to go and to gain more understanding of Christ and his mission

  22. Paul distorted the entire salvation doctrine of Jesus Christ. He was not legit , but a plant. Jesus had warned of him saying Beware of the yeast of the pharisees

  23. Is there any link between the Quran and Apostle Paul.Because the Apostle Paul went to Arabia when he converted from Judaism to become a follower of Jesus Christ.

  24. Nabateans were not called as Arabs that time. They were called by their language names. Arabs lived in the south. Thomas the apostle visited Yemen and Socotra and preached there on his way to India. Southern Arabia was a major Christian center prior to the coming of Islam. Queen of Sheba had her authority in that region.

    • I appreciate the comment, but my point in the original post was Paul’s “Arabia” in Galatians refers to the Roman province of Arabia and has nothing to do with modern uses of the word or, I would add in response to your comment, any ethnic group. Romans did not always care much about the relationship of the name of a region and the actual people living there.

  25. Why did Paul go to Arabia? This question is a good one but does not come with a finite and definite answer. Longenecker comes up with a lot of different possibilities, like was it a place to visit family, where he first learned his trade, to isolate, to be with other Jesus-followers, to run, to proclaim the gospel, etc. (Longenecker, pp. 35). Looking at this in more detail, we turn to Acts 9:25-26, for this is where Paul’s three-year gap in Arabia takes place. If we go only off of Acts 9:25, then it would seem as though Paul was only headed to Arabia to hide/run away from the people trying to kill him. Obviously, this is only one option, and it is uncertain as to what Paul exactly was doing in Arabia. Turning to more Scripture, we read in Galatians 1:16-17 that Paul’s goal was to preach to the Gentiles, so he went to Arabia to do just that. We also read in Acts 9:15, when the Lord was speaking to Ananias that Paul was to be used as an instrument for the Gentiles. In the Old Testament, God’s “focus” was on the people of Israel (the chosen people of God), but now Paul was a vessel for preaching the Gospel to everyone (Rom 1:16; Gal 3:28). Yes, it is uncertain as to why Paul really was in Arabia, but it does seem likely that he was there for more reasons than one. It was likely a combination of running from people trying to kill him, a great place to preach the gospel to Gentiles, and a place to have some isolation if he needed it. coming out of those three years spent in Arabia, the disciples were still uncertain about the validity of Paul (Acts 9:26), but Barnabas had his back and Paul certainly proved himself over the course of the rest of his life.

  26. Good evening. St Paul was not in Arabia for 3 years. Galatians tells us that he went from Damascus into Arabia, returned to Damascus and after 3 years went back up to Jerusalem. It was 3 years from the time he departed Jerusalem and had his conversion on the road to Damascus; until he Saul returned to meet with Cephas and James for fifteen days. How long he was in “Arabia” cannot be known for certainty. However, it was very likely that his time there was measured in months, rather than years. Hope this helps.

  27. came here just because i was excited to see my country written lol but actually was touched by this so thank you

  28. I am really satisfied. I came here with the quest of knowing why Paul decided to spend 3 years in his early stage of encounter with the resurrected Christ in Arabia, before finally meeting the other Apostles,. God bless you Lucy

  29. This is a powerful revelation
    Lucy pray me also, for am on the path to seek and understand the revelation behind the benevolence of Jesus Christ our Lord and savior

  30. Thank you for this analysis, I am a that has been living under the yoke of sin for years yet deeply wishing for a personal experience/encounter with Christ, hasn’t been some few hours that it seems like I found Jesus, feeling like spending time with God’s word I felt lead to study the book of Galatians and reading through it, it’s as if many of my questions were been answered, then I stumbled on vs 17, though I sensed why Paul may have gone to Arab, I neeChristianded more understanding and review of it. Your analysis has helped me know what step I have to take, because I dread the journey ahead for me in making sure this decision I made isn’t one off would be challenging. Once again thanks.
    James from Nigeria

  31. Tuhan Yesus Kristus Putra Allah kasihanilah hamba orang berdosa ini ya Rasul Paulus doakan hambamu ini senantiasa dibaharui setiap hari menuju sama seperti Kristus Yesus sebagai teladan hidup dalam kasih menjangkau banyak jiwa untuk kemuliaanMu. Kemuliaan bagi Sang Bapa Sang Putra & Sang Roh Kudus sekarang selalu serta sepanjang masa. Amin

    Editor’s note: For those who do not read Malay: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on this sinful servant, O Apostle Paul, pray for your servant to be renewed every day towards the same as Christ Jesus as an example of life in love reaching many souls for Your glory. Glory to the Father the Son & The Holy Spirit is now always and always. Amen”

  32. My question is what exactly did he went there for? Or to achieve…

    • Since God called him to be the “light to the Gentiles,” he likely traveled in Roman Arabia preaching to the Gentiles there. Acts 26:19-20, Paul says he was “obedient to his calling” (although that verse skips over the Arabia period.

      Less certain, he was working out the implications of Jesus as Messiah, raised from the dead and finding the strategies that worked best among the Gentiles 

  33. You made a mountain of garbage from a grain of sand. Most of what you said is non factual, its all conjecture and speculation.
    Paul’s story on the road to Dumacus is a fabrication and since it was a fabrication he could not face the diciple straight away. Jesus was very assertive in teaching to his diciples to stick to his message and to be very weary from anyone person that diviates from his teaching. He warned his diciples that after he leave the deceiver will come and the deceiver will speak in jesus name and will deceive many (they became the christains of today). But he (Jesus) vowed his diciples no to beleive the deceiver and to abide by his (Jesus) teaching.
    Paul is the cunning deceiver that Jesus warned his deciples about. The Christains are the flock of the antichrist .

  34. Jay, in your mind, who exactly are followers of Christ? How does one distinguish them from the Christians you mentioned?

  35. I wonder if another reason Paul decided to go to Arabia was to “let things cool off” after he just spent all that time persecuting followers of the Way. Immediately going into those same territories after killing someone’s buddy Stephen may have made others have doubts about if his conversion was true. It could be the same as saying Donald Trump joined the democratic party, if it happened over night it would make a lot of people have questions, going to a new territory for a time that was more Gentile centric would provide him ample time to practice his calling and return showing that he put in the work as a true follower of Christ. This era as Longenecker calls the silent years (pg. 36) does make it seem like what most of us get is rooted in assumptions and conjecture. Perhaps we will find more of Paul’s letters or historical evidence around that region to show and prove what Paul did during this time which could lead to less speculation. Perhaps Luke when writing Acts chose to omit these years of Paul as he did not see it as a significant point to include in his narrative, as Acts shows the Gospel going to all ends of the earth, Paul spending 3 years in Arabia would not show much Gospel movement.

  36. I have too always found it interesting that Paul took this little detour to Arabia. I personally love your theory. It is very likely that he went there to fervently preach Christ crucified! In addition, I would like to highlight a secondary reason for Paul taking this trip that was proposed to me by S. Craig MacDonald in his book “Questions in Dispensationalism.” His proposition was that Paul received the revelation of Jew and Gentile equality while he was ministering in Arabia. This, from his standpoint, is where the dispensational change happened, however for this blog response I would like to focus on Paul in Arabia and not relay what exact revelation he was receiving.

    First off, I believe it is important to take Paul’s letter to the Galatians and Luke’s account of Paul in Acts into consideration. Both of these accounts were written by different authors and for different audiences. Paul was writing to the Galatians to set their accusations straight, and Luke was writing to Theophilus (Acts 1:1). We see in Acts 9:19-22 that Paul was under some heat for proclaiming Jesus in the Synagogue and the Jews wanted his head – This, by the way, affirms the notion that Paul was fired up to preach the name of Jesus at any cost, a notion that is proved in many of Paul’s writings as well. (Rom. 1-14-16, 9:2-4, 10:1, 2 Cor. 11:23-28, 1 Tim. 1:12-14, etc ) — This is a very likely reason of why Paul went to Arabia like you said, but I would also like to propose that he went to Arabia to receive revelations and commune with God on top of his ministry beginning. The retelling of Paul’s call in Acts 22 proves that he knew God had set out work for him to do, but at this point he was not given any indication of what that work exactly was. In 2 Cor. 12:7 Paul mentions that he received revelations, plural, from God. As MacDonald says on page 19, “It’s reasonable to think the tremendous changes involved in the new dispensation would require some time for God to reveal to Paul and for him to understand and accept them” (2018). At the point in Paul’s life after the scales had been removed and he recognized Jesus as Messiah, he would indeed be very confused. I have some sympathy for Paul. His entire life’s mission was proven wrong in one very encounter! I do not think it is too wild to propose that on top of beginning his ministry, he was communing with God and then in Arabia received the mystery of Jew and Gentile equality. The three years could be explained as a period of time that it took Paul to fully grasp and apply God’s momentous revelation to him.

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