Home > Acts, Bible Study, S. Lewis Johnson > The Apostle Paul: The Silent Years

The Apostle Paul: The Silent Years


I’m now going through one of S. Lewis Johnson’s topical series on the Life of Paul, a sort of “biography” approach in chronological sequence through Paul’s life.  The “silent years,” in between Paul’s conversion and Acts 11:25-26 (when “Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch”) are also considered, especially in this message.  We don’t know the exact sequence of events, but from Paul’s statement in Galatians 1:17-21, at some point Paul left Damascus (Acts 9) and went to Arabia , then back to Damascus.  Then, after a brief time in Jerusalem to visit Peter (and he also met the Lord’s brother James), he “went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.”

But what did Paul do during those years, a period of perhaps 7 or 8 years? It’s possible that he spent the time in some solitude, to learn from the Lord.  Some have also suggested that he was useful in some evangelistic ministry.  Perhaps it was a public reason, because of Paul’s divisive character, that he was well known and his life in danger from the Jews in Jerusalem.  Dr. Johnson suggests all of these factors  may have been involved, observing:

Those silent years were years of preparation of our Lord on the human side for the ministry that he was to perform.  So Paul’s seven or eight years or more, how long they were we’re not absolutely certain, but they were a good many years, may have had some connection with the discipline of God, that the Lord wanted to put him, who is to be the great apostle of the Gentiles through.

That does not mean, of course, that he was not useful at all, but it was a necessary thing for him even through he was useful.  There is some reason to believe that when he was in Tarsus he did carry on some ministry.

Perhaps also, there is a more public reason why the apostle spent six or eight years away from the land.  After all Paul was too divisive a character.  He was the one who had advanced in Judaism beyond his contemporaries.  He was the great defender of Judaism against the newly rising Christian cult.  And so, for this one upon whom they depended on for the defeat of Christianity to turn to Christianity, that would provoke them much more than some disinterested third party, or some third party in whom they were not interested, turning to Christianity.  So it may have been that he was thought too divisive.  His life was in danger wherever he went in the land.  They sought to kill him in Jerusalem.  They sought to kill him in Damascus.  And therefore, it may have been that he was sent back to Tarsus for a period of time in order to allow that situation to die down a bit.

The New Testament gives us a few hints that Paul also did some evangelistic work while he was in Tarsus and Cilicia, though it is not recorded in the book of Acts.

1)       Acts 15:23 and Acts 15:41 – After the Jerusalem council, they wrote a letter to send out to all of the churches.  The letter was addressed to the brethren “who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia.”  Now, notice that, Syria and Cilicia, now Tarsus was in Cilicia.  So evidently there were brethren there.  Now, we will assume that perhaps the apostle is responsible for the brethren being there in Tarsus.  Then in verse 41, after Paul’s break with Barnabas and choosing to go out with Silas, we are told that “he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”  These churches were already there, in that very region where Paul had spent several years.

 So there were churches in Syria and there were church in Cilicia.  So we can just imagine that the apostle, even though he was confined to Tarsus, was not inactive.  He was busy in that particular area preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and assisting in the formation of churches.  And that’s part of the silent period of the apostle’s life.  It would be very interesting to hear exactly what had transpired with the apostle during those years.  I presume that when we get to heaven, this is one of the things that we shall hear about.  We will be brought up-to-date concerning the activities of the saints not recorded in the word of God, and not found also in the histories that have been written of the Christian church since that time.

2)    2 Corinthians 11:22-33 – In this well-known passage Paul describes his sufferings to the Corinthians, in the process of defending his ministry to them. Here he tells of experiences not recorded in the book of Acts, and we can note that “the apostle evidently had a lot of experiences that caused him to be beaten”: the five times that he received the 40 stripes less 1 from the Jews, and three times beaten with rods.  Three times that he was shipwrecked, but the book of Acts only tells us of one such time.

‘A night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren.’  There’s no need to read the whole list.  You can see the apostle had many Christian experiences that are not recorded in the Book of Acts nor found in his epistles.  So he must have had a rather rich experience over that period of time in Tarsus.

 

 

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  1. October 18, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    Hi Lynda, thank you for your comment on my site. I just checked out your site and ran into this and I’m very glad I did. I was looking for studies on the life of Paul so this look excellent, and free is always a bonus! Thanks and God bless, I’ll be sure to check back again soon.

    • October 19, 2013 at 10:31 am

      Glad it is helpful — yes, it’s a good series, available in transcripts as well as the original audio lessons. The SLJ Institute has a lot of good studies.

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