Jerusalem Knew Nothing of Paul!

07 Mar

Most commentaries I’ve read about Paul’s dramatic spiritual transformation on the way to Damascus have him preaching immediately after his spiritual awakening, discussing with the Jews in the synagogues there, showing Jesus was the Messiah. However, this makes no sense whatsoever, because Jerusalem knows absolutely nothing of Paul and his work there. Surely after a period of three years something would have trickled down from Damascus to Jerusalem showing what Paul was doing. Nevertheless, the Scriptures are silent as it pertains to Jerusalem’s knowledge of Paul’s activities.

Acts 9:26 Moffatt NT  He got to Jerusalem and tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, unable to believe he was really a disciple.

The disciples in Jerusalem were afraid of Paul. They didn’t believe he was a disciple; they didn’t have a clue concerning either his conversion or his work in Damascus! Certainly, if Paul had been preaching in Damascus and Arabia and had to escape to Jerusalem for his life, some news would have reached the brethren in the Jerusalem church. If things occurred as most people believed, surely pilgrims coming south to Jerusalem for the annual festivals would have brought word of not only his conversion, but also his work among the Jews there.

In contrast to what Jerusalem doesn’t know about Paul, Damascus seems to be well informed about his activities—not only that he had harassed believing Jews in and around Jerusalem, but also that he had come from the high priest with orders to imprison anyone calling upon the name of Jesus and bring them to Jerusalem for judgment.

Acts 9:13-14 Moffatt NT  (13)  “But, Lord,” Ananias answered, “many people have told me about all the mischief this man has done to thy saints at Jerusalem!  (14)  And in this city too he has authority from the high priests to put anyone in chains who invokes thy Name!”

Acts 9:20-21 Moffatt NT  (20)  He lost no time in preaching throughout the synagogues that Jesus was the Son of God —  (21)  to the amazement of all his hearers, who said, “Is this not the man who in Jerusalem harried those who invoke this Name, the man who came here for the express purpose of carrying them all in chains to the high priests?”

So, word of Paul preceded his coming to Damascus, but strangely enough, Jerusalem knows very little of him since leaving Jerusalem three years earlier (Galatians 1:18; cp. Acts 9:26). What are we to make of this? What is the reason for the lack of communication between Damascus and Jerusalem after Paul left to go there with papers from the high priest? After all, even unbelieving Jews hadn’t brought word to the Jewish authorities, declaring what a nuisance Paul was in Damascus. Three years (Galatians 1:18) and not a word had come to Jerusalem to either the disciples or to the Jewish authorities at the Temple that Paul had embraced Christianity and was declaring that Jesus is the Messiah to a great number of Jews at Damascus. This is quite a surprise, especially since trouble seemed to follow Paul wherever he preached. Jews from all over the world would later bring word of his preaching to the Jerusalem authorities. Yet, what occurred in Damascus seems to be the sole exception to this pattern! Isn’t that downright odd, assuming for the moment that traditional understanding of Paul’s preaching at Damascus occurred before he went into Arabia?

Josephus mentions that Herod Philip died not long after Pilate was replaced and sent to Rome. If Paul’s conversion took place near the death of Herod Philip, this would explain, in part, why word of his conversion hadn’t reached Jerusalem. The ensuing war between Herod Antipas’ army and Aretas, king of Nabataea, over disputed territory in Philip’s realm would have dominated the news at that time. However, if Paul hadn’t preached in Damascus until about 2-2 ½ years after his spiritual transformation, who would have known anything about Paul, except for a few brethren in the city. This seems to me to be the most probable reason for Jerusalem’s ignorance of Paul’s embracing Christ as Savior, and his activity since his heavenly vision.

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Posted by on March 7, 2011 in Chronology, Paul


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