The So-Called Silent Years of Paul

29 Nov

The time between his Damascus road vision (35 CE) and the Council of Jerusalem (49 CE) are sometimes referred to as the unknown or silent years of Paul.[1] The period comprises fourteen years and we have only sporadic information about Paul’s whereabouts and what he was doing. Scholars conclude that both Luke and Paul offer little information about this period of time, and one is left wondering why such a large period in Paul’s life is so blank in the Biblical record, and, if Paul is supposed to be the Apostle to the gentiles, why does it take so long to get him on the mission field, so to speak?

If one really considers the pattern of Paul’s ministry, things seem to fit into a two to three year evangelistic/teaching labor at any one major locale, which includes a period of reaching out to surrounding communities from a primary church within that locale. He did this in Cilicia, Antioch, Corinth and Ephesus, and probably in Damascus. Immediately after Paul’s vision of Jesus (Galatians 1:15-17), Paul preached for awhile in Damascus, but then went into Arabia, showing from the very beginning of his relationship with Christ that his Gospel was independent from that of the Apostles at Jerusalem. Technically, he didn’t need the biographical accounts of Jesus to witness that Jesus had been resurrected. Paul saw the resurrected Jesus, and this is all he needed to preach Christ crucified and vindicated by God through the resurrection.

Luke shows Paul preaching boldly in Damascus (Acts 9:22), and this is largely true; Damascus was his first headquarters church locale. He first established a foundational believing community there and then sought to establish satellite believing communities within a reasonable radius of the main body, and in so doing mutual support could be enjoyed by the brethren, hence, his journey into Arabia.

When Paul met with Peter and James for the first time, it was three years after his vision on the Damascus road (38 CE). Between this time and when he and Barnabas left for Galatia on Paul’s supposed first missionary journey in 44 CE, Paul spent about three years in Cilicia and another three in Antioch doing what he had done in Damascus. In other words, what appears to be Paul’s first missionary journey is, in fact, his first recorded missionary journey. We don’t know what occurred in Cilicia, but we do know Paul established churches there, because they were affected by the men from James and letters had to be presented to them, showing that what was told them by the men from James wasn’t true. James denied that they had come from the Jerusalem church leaders for the purpose of preaching circumcision (Acts 15:23).

Both Paul and Barnabas spent a full year preaching in Antioch (cir.41 CE), during which time the prophets from Jerusalem came down and foretold the coming famine that would affect the poor in Judea especially hard (Acts 11:25-29). Paul and others in Antioch, which included Barnabas (cp. Acts 13:1) most likely spent two more years preaching to the surrounding communities of Phoenicia, and perhaps Galilee and Samaria (cp. Acts 26:20), using Antioch as their headquarter church.

In 2Corinthians 11:24-25 Paul tells us that he was beaten with a whip five times (probably by Jews), beaten with rods three times (probably by Roman magistrates) 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 (Acts 16:22-23), and Luke tells us of one shipwreck, but that may have come after Paul’s writing his second letter to the Corinthians, 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 and his excursions into Judea from Antioch, and Damascus might be another consideration for some of his beatings.

About the spring of 44 CE according to his established pattern, Paul and Barnabas left Antioch on a missionary journey which would establish churches in no less than four cities in Galatia. This, too, would take about three years to do, and when they returned to Antioch (cir. spring of 47 CE), they spent a good while there encouraging the brethren before the men from James came down from Jerusalem to alert the gentile brethren of the need of the poor in Judea, but in doing so, they overstepped their authority by teaching the necessity of circumcision for believing gentiles, causing great concern among the gentile brethren. This question was addressed and agreement was reached at the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15. Therefore, though the information is meager, all of Paul’s time from his conversion to his second visit to Jerusalem, fourteen years later, is accounted for.

[1] This blog-post represents a major revision of an early post entitled “The Eight Silent Years of Paul” which I wrote in February of 2011. Obviously, I no longer believe Paul’s whereabouts and labor are hidden. Within reason, we can tell what he was doing from the time of his conversion to the time Luke leaves off recording his labor. There are no “silent” years in Paul’s ministry. I have not deleted my previous post, but I have taken away the ability to comment there. In this way folks, if they are so inclined, may see how my views have changed as I study this wonderful book of Acts. Minor revisions are made from time to time on any posting without notice, but something of this magnitude, I think should be known. I will review other posts made about Paul at that time and make adjustments/rewrites as necessary.


Posted by on November 29, 2012 in Apostle to the Gentiles, Fourteen Years


Tags: , , , , , , ,

3 responses to “The So-Called Silent Years of Paul

  1. Eddie

    November 29, 2012 at 14:32

    Thanks Robert. I’ll be posting a partial timeline from his conversion to the Jerusalem Council in a couple of days. I would be interested in yours when you develop it. In which blog should I look for it?

    Lord bless.

  2. Robert-preneur

    November 29, 2012 at 12:41

    Thanks for this excellent study Eddie. I want to you use your research to construct a timeline of Paul’s ministry. I love brother Paul. Tough as nails.
    God bless

%d bloggers like this: