One reader of this blog has recently provided some comments asking why it is that I believe Paul to be an apostle, and questioning the accounts of Paul's conversion as being inconsistent. Let me first address Paul's status as an apostle, and why I accept that. Afterward, I will provide a harmony of the Biblical accounts of Paul's conversion.
Why do I believe that Paul is an apostle? The short answer is that it is because I believe the Bible and the Bible declares Paul to be an apostle. For example, Paul is called an apostle in each of the following verses:
Romans 1:1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,
1 Corinthians 1:1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,
2 Corinthians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia:
Galatians 1:1 Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)
Ephesians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus:
Colossians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother,
1 Timothy 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope;
2 Timothy 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus,
Titus 1:1 Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness;
One might object that these are all from Paul's epistles. Of course, Paul's epistles are part of the Bible. Nevertheless, if one wanted additional demonstration, the Acts of the Apostles refers to Paul as an apostle:
Acts 14:14 Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out,
Furthermore, while Peter does not explicitly call Paul an apostle in his general epistle, Peter does refer to Paul's writings as Scripture:
2 Peter 3:15-16
15 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; 16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
Turning from the issue of why I believe that Paul was an apostle, let's consider the accounts of his conversion. There are four accounts of Paul's conversion, three in the book of Acts (Chapters 9, 22, and 26), and one in Paul's epistle to the Galatians (Chapter 1-2). It is important to recognize that none of the conversion accounts are designed to provide a comprehensive chronological biography of Paul. Thus, each account includes details not found in the other accounts.
Accordingly, it is sometimes challenging to try to convert the Scriptural evidence into a chronological list to show the relation among the passages. Nevertheless, I have provided a preliminary chronology below. This is not a comprehensive chronology, although I think it does show one way in which the details of the accounts can be chronologically arranged. In particular, I should note that I have identified two visits to Jerusalem. None of the accounts specifically identifies (that I noticed) that there were two visits two Jerusalem. Nevertheless, the combination of the accounts seems (to me, and so far) to suggest that there was a first brief visit to Jerusalem that was terminated by God giving Paul a vision, and a second visit to Jerusalem later.
Without further ado, here is the chronology:
1. Paul Persecuting Church
2. Paul’s Conversion and Beginning Time at Damascus
Acts 26:12-18, 20
3. Paul’s Trip to Arabia and back to Damascus
4. Paul’s Departure from Damascus
5. Paul’s First Visit to Jerusalem
6. Paul’s Trip to Syria and Cilicia
7. Paul’s Second Trip to Jerusalem
8. Paul’s Trip to Caesarea and Tarsus
That is not the end of Paul's life or of his missionary journeys. It is, however, the end of this particular harmonious recounting of the conversion and subsequent travels of Paul.