No One in Jerusalem Believed Paul

01 Jun

Luke tells us that when Paul finally returned to Jerusalem after his conversion near Damascus three years previous, the brethren wouldn’t believe he was a true disciple (Acts 9:26). He was under suspicion from all sides. Certainly the high priest who sent him to Damascus knew Paul no longer supported the official understanding of what they referred to as the sect of the Nazarenes (Acts 24:5). However, when the brethren wouldn’t receive him as a new believer, Paul found himself alone in a hostile environment with no friends. What happened?

Luke tells us that Barnabas finally took Paul and brought him to the Apostles and declared how Paul had boldly preached Christ in Damascus, and Paul was finally received (Acts 9:27). How did Barnabas find out? Did he simply believe Paul, or did he come by his information in a different way? These are questions concerning which the text is not clear, and we find ourselves imagining what could have really occurred. What I find surprising is: there doesn’t seem to be an apparent revelation from the Lord to clear up the matter. Hindsight is 20/20, but Paul was definitely in dire straits in Jerusalem at this time, and, if something wasn’t done soon, he probably would have been killed (Acts 9:29-30).

We know that Barnabas was a man of encouragement (Acts 4:36), so it would be reasonable for him to be concerned over Paul’s position. He was also Jerusalem’s trusted envoy to evaluate circumstances first hand to dispel rumor (Acts 11:22). Nevertheless, Barnabas seems to have been a man who might suppress his own feelings in order to give way to the authority of Jerusalem (Galatians 2:13), so I don’t see Barnabas taking Paul’s part in opposition to the Apostles’ ruling on the matter. We don’t know exactly how Paul’s position with the Apostles turned in his favor, but Barnabas did play a major role is resolving whatever that was.

Damascus is 150 miles northeast of Jerusalem and most sources say the trip could be made in one week during the 1st century CE. If Barnabas sent messengers to Damascus, this would mean Paul would have been in Jerusalem over two weeks before ever gaining the trust of the Jerusalem church authorities. If brethren from Damascus came to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage, then Barnabas could have found out from them what Paul had done in the city at the risk of his life. In such a case Paul’s time spent in Jerusalem before he was received by the Apostles could have been shorter—perhaps a few days or even a week.

But, what would Paul have done in the meantime? If we put ourselves in Paul’s shoes, he had no friends—no one thought he was a believer. He was under the watchful eye of the Jerusalem Temple authorities who sent him to Damascus in the first place. What would Paul have done before Barnabas took him to the Apostles? Luke tells us in Acts 9:29 that Paul was disputing with his old friends in the Grecian synagogues of Jerusalem. Just as in the case of Stephen 3-4 years earlier (Acts 6:9-12), Paul met with resistance, and a plot to kill him was in the making. Yet, all this took time, but it does seems clear that Paul didn’t wait for the approval of the Apostles before he began preaching Jesus to his old friends (cp. Acts 9:29 and 22:17-21).

Alone and without a friend among the believing community, the logical thing for Paul to do seems to have been to return to his old friends and try to explain to them what had occurred. Proving himself in this way could help the Apostles to reconsider his sincerity. At first Paul’s friends may have simply disbelieved him and warned him of what could happen to him, if he continued down his chosen path. Perhaps they even thought he was beside himself, and his overly zealous attack against the ‘Nazarene sect’ had begun to weigh heavily upon his conscience and now needed help to regain his senses. Nevertheless, whatever may have been the truth about Paul’s first activities in Jerusalem, the brethren were not fully aware of his activity and rushed to his rescue only after suddenly realizing the danger he was in (Acts 9:29-30).

What does this tell us? First of all, I believe it tells us that since the Apostles and those in Jerusalem who followed them were not persecuted at this time, Paul was preaching something different than they were. I don’t mean to say that Paul preached a different Jesus—no Jesus was the same for all. However, Paul preached the acceptance of gentiles without their having to become Jews. This was part of Paul’s Gospel from the beginning, and this is what got him into trouble wherever he went. Secondly, it seems that Paul was probably in Jerusalem for over a month. It probably took Barnabas two weeks to substantiate the sincerity of Paul, and Paul spent 15 days with Peter, in Peter’s home (Galatians 1:18). How long Paul tried to convince the Apostles of his sincerity before Barnabas sent (?) to Damascus for verification cannot be known for certain, but it seems Paul’s stay in Jerusalem was a little over a month, perhaps five to six weeks before he had to flee the city. Finally, although a meeting between Peter and Paul was necessary for both Jerusalem and Paul, it seems evident Paul’s Gospel of the resurrected Jesus, the Messiah, was not dependent upon the Apostles Gospel. Paul saw his resurrected Savior firsthand and didn’t **need** anyone else to verify that. He knew what he knew and didn’t need anyone else to convince him of the truth.

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Posted by on June 1, 2012 in Paul's First Visit to Jerusalem


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