Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Paul's Conversion Chronology

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

Acts. 9:1-2
Galatians 1:13-14
Acts 22:4-5
Acts 26:10-11

2. Paul’s Conversion and Beginning Time at Damascus

Acts 9:3-25
Galatians 1:15-16
Acts 22:6-16
Acts 26:12-18, 20

3. Paul’s Trip to Arabia and back to Damascus

Galatians 1:17

4. Paul’s Departure from Damascus

Acts 9:22-25

Galatians 1:18

5. Paul’s First Visit to Jerusalem

Galatians 1:18-19
Acts 22:17-21
Acts 26:21

6. Paul’s Trip to Syria and Cilicia

Galatians 1:21-24
Acts 26:20

7. Paul’s Second Trip to Jerusalem

Galatians 2:1-3

Acts 9:26-29

8. Paul’s Trip to Caesarea and Tarsus

Acts 9:30

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.



Turretinfan said...

Someone expressed disappointment that I don't just appeal to human (well, they phrased it as "church") tradition.

The answer is simple. Human testimony is not the reason I accept the Bible. Just the opposite, the Bible is the reason I accept the tradition of Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, and all other human traditions as accurate in teaching that Paul was an apostle.

If we accept human tradition, we open the door to the human tradition that accepts Mohammed as a prophet, and Joseph Smith as a Prophet.

But if we compare the teachings of Mohammed and Joseph Smith to the Bible, we see that they were enemies of the gospel, not preachers and prophets of the true faith that has been delivered to us in writing.


orthodox said...

You're so quick to equate church tradition and human tradition and Mohammad and Smith etc. But this begs the question since the church is a divine institution God called the body of Christ who is God.

Turretinfan said...

O wrote: "You're so quick to equate church tradition and human tradition and Mohammad and Smith etc. But this begs the question since the church is a divine institution God called the body of Christ who is God."

a) It doesn't beg the question, it raises the question.

b) God did not ordain "the church" as a single institutional earthly kingdom. While organizational unity is great, when it is possible, the unity of the church is one of faith in the Lord. It is a spiritual kingdom, not a carnal kingdom.

c) Whether or not God ordained the church as a single institutional earthly kingdom, the chuch is made up of men: human beings who make mistakes.

d) To preserve the teachings of the Apostles and prophets, they were committed to writing, which is how they come down (are "traditioned" if you like) to us.

e) So it is from those writings that we can see which are the true churches, rather than relying on fallible human tradition.


Turretinfan said...

Orthodox, got your latest comment.

a) Ok ... if you disclaim (b) as not being your position, it is a moot point anyway.

b) I'm not going to get into a full-fledged canon debate with you in this comment box at this time.

c) You ought to know that my reason for accepting the canon is ultimately the persuasion of the spirit, though the church plays an instrumental role.