The Eight Silent Years of Paul

08 Mar

Paul tells us that between the time of his life-changing vision of Jesus in chapter nine of Acts (36 CE) and the council at Jerusalem was fourteen years (50 CE). In Galatians he says he did not immediately go to Jerusalem after he saw Jesus, but did go three years later. However, he did not go to Jerusalem again to discuss theology until fourteen years after his vision of Jesus (Galatians 2:1). So, by the time Paul met with Peter and James the first time, it was three years after his vision (39 CE), and between this time and when he and Barnabas left for Galatia on Paul’s supposed first missionary journey in 47 CE, there are about eight silent years. Technically, since not much is known of Paul’s first three years as a Messianic Jew, we could include his first three years and say there are virtually eleven silent years. However, for the purpose of this blog, I am concerned with the eight.[1]

I am a very literal person and at times it is difficult for me to pick up on the subtleties of Scripture, but I am learning. Paul tells us in 2Corinthians 11:24 that he was beaten with a whip five times. In verse-25 he says he was beaten with rods three times and was three times shipwrecked, even spending a night and a day in the deep. Luke is silent about most of these events in Paul’s life. He was beaten in Philippi and Luke tells us of one shipwreck, but that may have come after Paul’s writing 2Corinthians, which he seems to do on his third missionary journey. So, when did all these things occur to Paul? Luke doesn’t tells us and Paul doesn’t elaborate. There is a strong possibility that Paul incurred some of these trials during his ministry to Syria and Cilicia.

As seems to be Luke’s literary manner, he indirectly refers to Paul’s preaching in Syria and Cilicia when he writes of the Apostolic Decree coming out of the Jerusalem council which was addressed not only to Antioch—the church who sent Paul to Jerusalem—but also to Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:23). Why Syria and Cilicia, unless Paul had been preaching there between the time he left Jerusalem for Tarsus and the time Barnabas came looking for him to take him to Antioch? Furthermore, later Paul and Silas went to the province of Syria and Cilicia to strengthen the churches there (Acts 15:40-41).

As an aside, it may be important to explain that Syria and Cilicia at this time was one province. In his letter to the Galatians Paul writes of the “regions of Syria and Galatia” (Galatians 1:21), but this should not be construed to mean two different provinces. They did not become two separate provinces until 72-74 CE when Vespasian reunited Cilicia’s western districts with its eastern and was considered important enough to be ruled by its own proconsul.[2] This would be of interest more to those wishing to date the writings of Luke who, as shown above, refers to the province of Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:23, 41). To refer to Cilicia in this manner means Acts must have been written before Vespasian reorganized the territories of Cilicia, making it a single province with its own governor.

In any event, since the Apostolic Decree in Acts 15 is addressed “to the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia,” Luke presupposes a mission to the Gentiles in Syria and Cilicia. The only person who can be responsible for this, according to what we know in the Scriptures, is Paul, because only he had spent any length of time in that part of the Empire. At times it is difficult for me to read between the lines, but Luke expects it. That is part of his literary mannerism.


[1] I intend to revise this blog-post in the near future–by the end of 2012. Through my recent studies, I have changed my point of view about these ‘so-called’ silent years. I don’t believe there were this many silent years in Paul’s ministry. Most of it is known and covered in Acts and Paul’s letters. I’ll revise this study at my earliest opportunity. Meanwhile, if you are inclined to read some of the studies that changed my mind, the blog-posts are listed below under “Related Posts”. The point is that Paul’s first missionary journey appears (at least to me) to occur a few years earlier than most want to place it.



Related Posts:

The Structure of the Book of Acts – Part 1

The Structure of the Book of Acts – Part 2

The Structure of the Book of Acts – Part 3

They Called us Christian at Antioch

Famine-Relief from Antioch

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Posted by on March 8, 2011 in Chronology, Paul


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